Remembering the butter — and the bread knife

Mamacita ran into a former student — now a father of three — in Kroger’s. He told her his fondest memory from eighth-grade English was making butter, just like pioneers did in “that olden-days book.”

Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

“My kids and I love to make butter, just like you showed us in 8th grade,” he told her.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy “was perfect for a low-ability class of 37 14-to-17 year old students, all boys, who hated reading,” recalls Mamacita. The boys saw no connection between books and the outdoors lives they led, which included hunting, farming, 4H, cattle raising and fixing things.

Using a churn was too complicated, Mamacita recalls. “We poured the cream into a big Tupperware thing and passed it all around the class and the boys shook it while listening to me read.”

When the butter “came,” the boys went into action.

(They) poured off the buttermilk and squeezed the butter until it stopped weeping. They sprinkled just a little salt into the butter and kneaded it in. Then they all washed their hands and whoever’s turn it was that day sliced the bread and they all put napkins in their shirt collars and tucked in. We used KNIVES to slice the bread and to spread the butter. Heavens to BETSY.

Other teachers criticized her “because watching sourdough rise, and making butter, weren’t proper English lessons,” she writes.

I maintained, and I still maintain, that anything we as teachers or parents do that makes learning come alive is a proper English lesson. Science lesson. History lesson. Math lesson. Life lesson.

Finally, the principal told her to stop. “There really wasn’t time, anyway, what with all the ISTEP prep the boys needed to do.”

Teach gratitude by giving kids less

A Pick a Brick Wall at a Legos store.

Teach your kids to be grateful by giving them less, writes Jenn Choi in The Atlantic.

Tired of her kids’ picky, wasteful eating habits, she consulted Susan Roberts, author of My Kid Eats Everything. Children are less likely to help prepare food, set the table, clear and do dishes, says Roberts. They just sit there and expect to be fed. If the family eats out often, children get used to ordering what they want instead of eating what’s been cooked for the whole family.

Choi decided her eldest son, a 9-year-old, would make the July 4th cheeseburgers. He helped buy the ground beef,   then made the patties, grilled them on the barbecue and washed the dishes.

To teach her kids to value their toys, she took them to a Lego store. At the Pick A Brick Wall, they saw children “dumping handfuls of bricks into containers that customers could buy for a fixed price ($7.99 for the small and $14.99 for the large).”

I gave the kids two options: get the small container and not be questioned about its contents or the bigger container but only if they followed my lesson on being resourceful. I would pay for only one option. They chose the latter. So to gain the most value for our money, I asked them to snap a row of same-color bricks together and then carefully place them into the container. . . .

It was a laborious process, but her kids saw they could get a lot more bricks.

After all that hard work of stacking as many as 270 (1×4) bricks into that one container, they poured in their favorite pieces into the many gaps between the stacks. These were tiny translucent studs that they use as “treasures” when they play. Since then, my kids have become more enthusiastic about building and take better care of the bricks they own.

Now, they always go to their favorite bricks first, the ones they worked so hard to get.

And if they’re not grateful for their toys,Choi will pack them up and donate them to someone who will be.

We spent Thanksgiving in the Chicago suburbs with the granddaughters, who are used to getting what they want and own many toys. We gave the five-year-old her birthday present, a family trip to see a child’s version of The Wizard of Oz. They’ll visit us in California after Christmas. Maybe we’ll give them a day at the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose.

If your nanny isn’t a chef . . .

If your nanny serves mac and cheese instead of citrus-glazed salmon and a gluten-free kale salad, hire a nanny consultant to turn the sitter into a chef, advises the New York Times in its Style section.

Don’t have time to sneer at the affluent kale-snappers? Allison Benedikt will handle it — free! — on Slate’s XX blog.

For $2,500, the upper-class New York City family gets 30 to 40 recipes based on their child’s eating habits and “areas for improvement,” plus shopping and cooking instruction for the nanny.

(A consultant will) come to your home for a two-day cooking demonstration, during which your nanny, who up until now has been eating all the wrong peaches, will learn how to debone a fish, cook Tunisian couscous with braised carrots, and make cinnamon ice cream with toasted almonds.

Erela Yashiv, 5, “likes pizza and cupcakes,” reports the Times. Mom wants her daughter to “adopt a more refined and global palate, whether it’s a gluten-free kale salad or falafel made from organic chickpeas.”

Both parents work and don’t have the time. And their Wisconsin-bred nanny “does not always know the difference between quinoa and couscous.”

Some nannies “are throwing chicken fingers in the oven, or worse, the microwave,” a consultant tells the Times.

So how did Erela’s parents even let it get to this point, where their young child actually likes pizza? asks Benedikt.

“We were too basic with her food in the beginning, so we want marc&mark to help us explore more sophisticated food that has some diversity and flavor,” [Johnson] said. “I don’t want her growing up not liking curry because she never had it.”

“Thankfully, Johnson and her husband caught the curry deficiency in time and were able to get the outside help they need,” writes Benedikt.

When the nanny moves on, she’ll be able to command a higher wage because of her skill in quinoa identification, adds Matt Yglesias.

Commenter Chris Hayes suggests the New York Times rename its Style section “First Up Against the Wall.”

Top chef trained at community college

Richard Rosendale, chef at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, hopes to be the first American to win the Bocuse d’Or cooking competition in France. Rosendale earned a culinary arts associate degree at a community college, then entered the Greenbrier’s apprenticeship program.

Easy-Bake for all

Hasbro will meet with a 13-year-old New Jersey girl who wants a gender-neutral Easy-Bake oven suitable for her little brother.

McKenna Pope complained the oven  is only available in “girlie purple and pink colors,” she wrote in a petition on

My husband asked for an Easy-Bake oven for Christmas more than 50 years ago. He didn’t care about the color. He just figured he could eat more cupcakes if he made them himself, instead of having to wait for his mother to bake.  Later he honed his cooking skills by working in a pizza place.

Gender scrambling is in, writes Hanna Rosin.

. . . Mattel unveiled the Mega Bloks Barbie line, which encourages girls to do what their brothers used to do to annoy them: take apart and rebuild the Barbie house. Lego’s surprise hit this season is a construction kit called “Friends” aimed at girls. Yes, it’s pastel colors, and the characters—Mia, Olivia, and Stephanie—are much curvier than your usual Lego figures. But their logos, printed on the boxes and online, are practical-minded construction type phrases such as: like, “Let’s get to work,” or “Let’s figure it out.”

Costco, meanwhile, is selling a “Police and Fire Playset” that looks remarkably like a dollhouse, with kitchens, bathrooms and loungy sofas and chairs, all in primary colors.

Other popular dollhouses this season stress “female independence,” writes anthropologist Lisa Wade. Instead of a “heteronormative” husband, wife, and children, kids can play with several Barbies and one Ken.

And we all know Ken is gay.