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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Kodomo no Hi - a Japanese FREEBIE!

This is our first year "celebrating" Kodomo no Hi, Japan's Children's Day. With Mag having one Japanese uncle and another Japanese almost-uncle, I'm not sure how we missed this event in past years... but anyway, better late that never.

For today's focused fun, we learned color names in Japanese. There's something fun (and easy!) about color names in other languages, isn't there?

I made a mini-poster and a coloring sheet for this activity, which are available for FREE at my TpT* store. The poster is in Japanese (complete with Japanese characters!). Each coloring sheet combines Japanese with 1 of 4 languages, English, Spanish, French, or German, making them perfect for school, homeschool, dual language immersion programs, everyone!

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click image for FREE TpT download

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FREE coloring sheets available in English, Spanish, French, and German

*Why do I love TpT? 80,000+ free teaching resources (like my Kodomo no Hi freebie!)... plus a lot of great not-free ones, too... what's not to love? Race on over and become a member!

More Kodomo no Hi coming soon...

Edited to add:
This post is linked up to "Manic Monday" FREEBIE linky party at Classroom Freebies. Swing over to check out 90+ freebies (at the time of this posting... more to come, I'm sure).

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Friday, April 26, 2013

Kodomo no Hi... the "other" Cinco de Mayo

Yes, we all love a good Cinco de Mayo celebration. The food, the music, the piñata... But have you ever wondered if there might be more to the Fifth of May than just what's happening South of the Border? Well, there is!

"Kodomo no Hi" is Children's Day in Japan.

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Like Mexico's Cinco de Mayo, Kodomo no Hi is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the year.

The most noticeable tradition associated with Kodomo no Hi is the koinobori pole. In the past, only families with sons flew these koi-shaped windsocks atop their homes. These days, the koinobori generally represent sons and daughters of a family. Traditionally, the top koinobori is black, representing the father, followed by a red koinobori for the mother. Below that are seen a blue koinobori for the eldest son/child, then green for the next child, and either purple or orange (depending on the region) for more children.

Kashiwa-mochi (rice cakes filled with red bean paste and wrapped in oak leaves) and chimaki (sweet rice paste wrapped in an iris or bamboo leaf) are traditionally served on this day.

We will be making koinobori later in the week, and possibly trying our hand at a modified mochi recipe... or maybe swinging by the local Asian grocery store to see what they have for the big event.

And you? Have you celebrated Kodomo no Hi? Any fun ideas?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Healthier Baguette? ...Mais oui!

I am almost ashamed to admit it, but since posting about my first homemade baguette only 5 days ago, I have since made the quintessential French bread 3 more times. Mais oui, trois fois! ...and I have my insurance physical coming up in mere days. Youch! Any hope that I'll still qualify for reduced good-health premiums after this carbohydrate extravaganza?

Never fear, though. If you know our kitchen, you know we don't tend to stick to original recipes too long, but work to adapt anything we love to its healthiest version tolerable. So in the time since I last posted, I have determined the following to be the perfect balance between healthy and authentic-tasting. I give you:

The Healthy Baguette

2  C bread flour
1  C oats
½  C whole wheat flour
1-¼  tsp salt
1-¼  tsp yeast
1-¼  C warm water

Place ingredients in bread machine according to manufacturer's directions.
Start machine on dough setting.
When dough cycle is complete, remove dough to floured surface and cut in half.
Shape each half into a loaf about 12 inches long, in the shape of a baguette.
(Optional: cut into 10 pieces and shape into French rolls.)
Use kitchen scissors to make several slits across the top of the loaves.
Place on greased/silicone-lined baking sheet and cover with a towel.
Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.
After letting rise, brush with egg wash, if desired, for crustier baguette.
Bake at 400ºF for 14-18 minutes, rotating the pan after 8 minutes. (I reduced the temp in my oven since the first posting, but ovens vary.)

This recipe yields a baguette that is only slightly darker and minimally more dense than the original, with a very similar taste. What a perfect chance to sneak some Super Food (oats) into the day! You know we're all about the super foods around here, so:

Vive les avoines!

Mais oui, trois fois! (French) = But yes, 3 times!
Vive les avoines! (French) = Long live the oats!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Do French Women Get Fat? ... and a recipe

Remember a few years back, when an intriguing book by Mireille Guiliano was all the rage? French Women Don't Get Fat... the concept captivated American women, at the same time infuriating us by its insinuation.

I must admit, I didn't read the book when it was first out. I had already lived in France, had been changed by it, had no need to understand its relationship with food on such a cognitive level.

Now, however, after spending the past 3 weeks in France (and/or along its border), participating in phenomenal gastronomic events on a daily basis, I am completely fascinated by the premise of this book. Once I catch up with the laundry and remember just where the empty suitcase is supposed to get stored, French Women Don't Get Fat is moving to the top of my to-do list! I mean really, did I truly eat what I ate for the last 3 weeks and not gain a single pound? How is that possible? I have got to get that book!

While waiting to read the book, and in an effort to keep the spirit of travel alive, I have decided to not return to my American eating habits just yet. It has been croissants and café for le petit déj each morning since our return on Monday. French breakfasts have been so enjoyable that today, when the pangs for le goûter hit, I decided it wasn't yet time to revert to American snacking styles, either, and threw together my first ever homemade baguette.

Now for some reason, bread machine recipes for baguette quite often have long ingredient lists. But thinking back fondly to an afternoon I spent shadowing a boulanger in my town in the South of France, I knew a true baguette needs only 3. And so I used this recipe (which is a slight alteration of this recipe, courtesy of Marie at food.com):


3-½  C bread flour
1-¼  tsp salt
1-¼  tsp yeast
1-¼  C warm water

Place ingredients in bread machine according to manufacturer's directions.
Start machine on dough setting.
When dough cycle is complete, remove dough with floured hands and cut in half on floured surface.
Shape each half of dough into a loaf about 12 inches long, in the shape of a baguette.
Use kitchen scissors to make several slits across the top of the loaves.
Place on greased/silicone-lined baking sheet and cover with a towel.
Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.
Bake at 450ºF for 14-18 minutes, rotating the pan after 8 minutes.

We could barely wait for this to cool, and when it did, it was worth its weight in Nutella, which, of course, we generously smeared on each delicious bite. I might be so bold as to say this was actually better than baguette from a boulangerie; it had a satisfyingly crunchy crust that fell just short of tearing up the roof of the mouth like a true baguette would have.



le petit déj (French), slang for le petit déjeuner = breakfast
le goûter (French) = afternoon snack
un boulanger (French) = a baker
la boulangerie (French) = bakery
Parfait!(French)  = Perfect!
peut-être (French) = perhaps

Want to read the book, too? Look for it at your local library, of buy your own copy, peut-être:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fortress at the Crossroads

Yesterday we visited the city of Strasbourg (whose name comes from Germanic origins meaning "crossroads" and "fortress"), in the Alsace region of France.

 Strasbourg boasts many interesting tidbits of trivia, both past and present:

Originally named Argentoratum, Strasbourg has been the site of permanent settlement since the year 12 BC.

When Strasbourg's Gothic cathedral, constructed of red stones from the nearby Vosges mountains, was completed in 1439, it surpassed the pyramids of Gaza in height to become the tallest construction in the world. The spire remained the tallest in Christendom until the 19th century.

The German Johannes Gutenberg exiled himself to Strasbourg, where he lived at the time of inventing the printing press. Somewhat related, the world's first public newspaper was printed in Strasbourg.

The French national anthem, La Marseillaise, originally entitled "The War Song for the Army of the Rhine," was composed in Strasbourg at the request of the mayor of the city.

Strasbourg is the official seat of the European Parliament.

Here are a few shots from our day in this amazing city (where, yes, we got rained on, again):

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We have spent these recent days touring the major cities of Alsace. However, it was a tiny Alsatian village that we called home at night. Baldenheim is so small that it has no restaurant of its own. However, once a week, a traveling restaurant comes to town, parks in front of the mayor's office, and offers made-to-order pizza to anyone with 6€ to spare.

Here is our little village street, rue de l'Eglise, complete with 2 churches (thus the street name), and a boulangerie 3 doors down, followed by Baldenheim's favorite, and only, restaurant:

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Il ne reste que trois jours, puis nous rentrons chez nous.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Alsace, my Fatherland

Today we had the pleasure of visiting Colmar, in the Alsace region of France. Alsace is interesting in so many ways, not the least of which is its shared German and French heritage. Founded in the 9th century, and French for most of its recent history, Colmar was under German control from 1871 to 1918, and again from 1940 to 1945. (It also did a brief stint under Swedish rule in the 17th century.)

Today, traces of all eras of Colmar's history are evident in its food, architecture, language, and culture. Also of special interest to Americans, Colmar was the home of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor who created the Statue of Liberty, and many other works throughout this city. Such a delightful city to visit!

Before sharing a few of our favorite snaps of the day, I have to vent my weather woes yet again: Colmar boasts the driest climate in France, thanks to the protection of the Vosges Mountains to its west... But guess what? We got rained on! All day! Yes, snowed on at the Eiffel Tower, and almost frozen out of Disneyland Paris and even my sister's wedding, and now rained on in France's driest region. Quelle surprise! But a wonderful day, nonetheless. See what a charming city:

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A quick look at my family's Alsatian history: my great-grandfather grew up in Alsace. There was a significant difference in age between my G-G and his brothers, enough that my G-G grew up speaking German and eventually emigrated to the United States as a German speaker, while his brothers' formative years were under French rule, thus when they eventually moved to the US it was as French speakers. Perhaps this split language family history contributes to our on-going fascination with languages. Peut-être...

Un jour de plus en France, puis on rentre encore une fois à Deutschland. À la prochaine...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

eine Hochzeit in Deutschland

We have been without Internet our whole week in Germany. I am looking forward to taking some time soon to write a little about the Mosel River Valley region. In the meantime, though, I wanted to post a few wedding pictures for any family and friends at home who are waiting for a quick look at the big event... and for anyone else interested in having a peek at a German wedding.

And so, without further ado, I give you Herr My-Bother-in-Law and Frau My-Sister:

(If you are just joining us, I should say that the reason this wedding is in Germany is that my BIL is from Germany. He and my sister met in and live/work in England.)

German weddings, as is many countries, require a civil service to take place before the church wedding, in order to be legally recognized. Here is the signing of all the official government paperwork, which was done in a special civil service room at the reception site:
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Although the civil service generally precedes the church wedding by at least a day, and often even by weeks or even months, my Sis and BIL made special arrangements to hold both on the same day, due to the number of guests coming in from other countries, including France, the UK, Scotland, and of course the US. Here we are, shortly after the civil ceremony, heading to the remote abbey where the wedding mass was held. (Yes, it was as chilly at it looks. And as beautiful, too!)

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Here is a shot inside the abbey. You might notice there is no bridal party, just the bride and groom. German wedding couples have no bridesmaids or groomsmen. However, I was fortunate enough to be a "Trauzeuge," or witness. That position allowed me the honor of signing a fair number of forms, as well as front row seats at the civil ceremony and mass. We did inject a small degree of American tradition by color-coordinating my scarf with the groom's tie and flower girls' sashes, but that was as far as it went. How different from the extremes of a typical wedding in the US! Oh, and you might notice that my sister is wearing a jacket with her gown... there is no heating system in a remote, centuries-old German abbey, and it was only about 40 degrees indoors and out. Youch!

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A glimpse of the reception. The wedding dinner included an impressive buffet of regional and national specialties, wines and cheeses. We have found, surprisingly, that German food surpasses all expectation, with the wedding feast being the pinnacle. We are surprised that we have preferred German food to French cuisine. I know, a shocker!
(Admittedly this is not the best photo of German food, but I did want to include a shot with the gorgeous background of the low mountains of the Region of the Eifel, as you see out the window.)

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Another favorite moment was the first dance, which was a Viennese Waltz. My BIL had been a competitive ballroom dancer in the past, so their first dance was beautiful to observe. Unfortunately, I don't have a pic of that yet today. Also worth mentioning was my father's toast, which he worked on diligently for weeks to present in German. Some of us with lesser German skills are still waiting for release of the official translation, but it appeared to be very well received by the host nationals.

And finally, one of my favorite pictures of the day: Mag and her new French cousins (the daughters of my sister's French "sisters" of the family she lived with in France, many years ago) They look so French, n'est ce pas?!

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And now, packing to head back to France, this time the Alsace region.