Picnic Time!

“He giveth snow like wool: He scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes. He sendeth forth His ice like morsels: who can stand before His cold?” Psalm 147:16,17.

When days are cold and seem to be in a rut, it’s a good time for a picnic. If it’s still really cold and dark where you live, just put a sheet or blanket on the floor (in front of a fireplace is nice) and have your picnic in the house. Consider not doing school book work, or less of it, and making it a “snow day.” Have your favorite picnic foods and play some games. Games like musical chairs and charades are active to get the kids moving. You could also do some table games or read stories. Maybe start some early garden seeds. You can grow things like leaf lettuce in a container that’s at least six inches deep, that is put near a window that gets a lot of light.

For the menu, we like baked beans (recipe to follow), either potato or pasta salad, a veggie tray, and maybe some cookies or other treat. Sometimes we do sandwiches and a salad. Mostly keep it pretty simple, so that you have more time to have fun together.

Baked Beans: two cups or one 1 pound bag dried navy or small white beans; soak over night, rinse, then cook the beans (may be done in a slow cooker/crock pot)

Then add: 1/2 cup maple syrup (can use molasses)

1/2-1 onion chopped

3 cloves of garlic minced

2 teaspoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (optional)

up to 1 teaspoon Wright’s Liquid Smoke (optional)

1 teaspoon salt (especially if not using Bragg’s or Smoke flavor)

When beans are almost done, add rest of ingredients and cook until beans and onions are soft. Make sure you have enough water in the beans not to burn them.

Variation: add up to 1 cup of tomatoes.

Enjoy!

 

Healthy and Happy in the Kitchen

We are not a perfect family. We try to eat healthy, but do not always succeed. At home I fix mostly vegan meals. Still, my kids love to go to Grandma’s for mac and cheese and ice cream. What to do? How do I instill in them a positive emotion towards healthy foods? While I don’t have all the answers for sure, this is what we’ve done to foster health and happiness in the kitchen. The side benefits, of course, are the skills they’re practicing in math, food science, home economics, nutrition, and time management. But, we won’t tell them all that!

Let Them Cook

My 12-year-old son has taken a liking to baking and cooking. What a delight! Steering him in the direction of foods that he loves to eat, which happen to also be healthy, is the ticket. We started with corn bread (from Cooking Entrees with the Micheff Sisters: A Vegan Vegetarian Cookbook) and moved on to vegan mac and cheese. Once he realized, “Hey, I can read any recipe and follow directions,” he moved up the difficulty scale to vegan lasagna. We served this scrumptious dish to company, and he got praise and positive reinforcement for his efforts. Double bonus!

Other favorites are pasta with sautéed mushrooms, garlic, basil, oregano, and tomatoes, using the pasta water to get the right saucy consistency; and, the ever requested grilled “cheese” sandwich made with vegan CHAO slices on whole grain bread.

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When the boy wants to make banana bread or muffins, and there are no eggs available, he simply looks up a vegan recipe online and goes to work. Through this process he has learned how to substitute ground flax seed and water for eggs. We are also blessed to have a vegan society in our town and take both our kids to the vegan potlucks where they get to sample a variety of yummy nutrition packed food. At one dinner my lucky son won a cookbook, “The Uncheese Cookbook.” I never thought I’d see a pre-adolescent boy get so excited about winning a cookbook. He was thrilled!

Younger kids can start helping in the kitchen by measuring and mixing. My five-year-old has become quite adept at “skinning carrots.” That’s what he calls it! By helping us when we juice vegetables and fruits, he then wants to sample the juice and has loved it from the start.

Below are some of the kids favorite recipes to make.

Spinach Lasagna by Heather McDougall (adapted from the Forks Over Knives App)

Ingredients:

2 lbs. water-packed firm tofu

2 tsp. garlic, minced

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1 Tbs. parsley flakes (or fresh parsley, chopped)

1 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup soy milk

1-2 lbs. fresh spinach, chopped (can use swiss chard)

8 oz. no-boil lasagna noodles (gluten free noodles work as well)

7 cups pasta sauce (we use Trader Joe’s Marinara)

1/2 cup Vegan Parmesan Cheese or daiya mozzarella style shreds

Directions: To make the tofu ricotta, combine tofu, garlic, nutritional yeast, sea salt, parsley, basil, oregano, lemon juice, and soy milk. Mix in food processor or with hand held mixer until just slightly lumpy. Place in large bowl, set aside. Chop spinach and mix into “ricotta.”

Preheat the oven to 350 ºF.

Spread 1 cup pasta sauce over the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Cover the sauce with a layer of noodles. Next, bread half of the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Top with 2 more cups of the sauce. Add another layer of noodles, the rest of the tofu mixture, 2 cups more of the sauce, and the rest of the noodles. Put remaining sauce over the noodles (make sure you cover all the edges), and sprinkle some parmesan or “cheese” over the top. Cover with parchment paper, then foil (we just use foil).

Bake for 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 30 minutes before cutting.

 

Baked Macaroni & Cheeze (adapted from The Uncheese Cookbook)

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Ingredients:

1/4 cup water + 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice

1 large onion, chopped

1 lb. elbow macaroni

2 cups water

1/2 cup pimiento pieces, drained

1/2 cup raw cashew pieces

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. onion granules

2 tsp. garlic granules

1 tsp. salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 ºF.

Heat the water and vinegar or lemon juice in a large saucepan. Add the onion, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender (about 15-20 minutes). If onion sticks to the pan, add a few teaspoons more water to loosen it.

Cook macaroni in boiling water as directed on package. Drain and set aside.

Process the onions and remaining ingredients in a blender for several minutes until completely smooth. Stir blended mixture into the macaroni and spoon into a lightly oiled 3-quart casserole dish. Bake uncovered for 25-35 minutes. Serve immediately.

Healthy and Happy in the Kitchen

Yes, my son loves to make chocolate chip cookies and pizza too. But, I’m hopeful that his positive exposure to healthy foods and fun healthy cooking experiences will carry into his adult choices. At least he won’t find healthy foods unusual or different, just a taste of home!

How have you instilled healthy and fun eating habits in your family? Has cooking helped your children grow and learn in surprising ways? Share in the comments and let’s support each other on this homeschooling journey.

Tang Hulurs

imageWhen my son was small and we were just beginning our homeschool journey, my good friend, Tanya, loaned me her Sonlight curriculum for grade 1. Although I chose not to use it, I did read most of the books to my little boy. I have wonderful memories of sitting under the big maple tree in our backyard reading one of our favorites, “Little Pear,” by Eleanor Frances Lattimore. In this enchanting book, the main character’s favorite treat to buy is a tang hulur. My child liked this book so much that we borrowed the others in the series from the library. Our favorite part that has stuck with us all these years (he is 12 now, but still likes to be read to!) is the fascinating idea of a tang hulur. We have our own idea of what they look like, and when we see a resemblance of our conception, whether it be in a store or picture, we always exclaim, “Look! It’s a tang hulur!”

In this blog post, I share with you the day we made tang hulurs, better known as rock candy. This is a fun activity to go along with a science lesson or unit on rocks. We actually made the rock candy with our small Pathfinder group as part of the Rocks and Minerals honor. We had attended a gem and fossil show the week before, a first for all of us. A day or two later, I received an email to sign up for a free online science class to learn about rocks, including experiments to do at home. Thinking this was perfect timing, I bought the necessary supplies for the experiments and showed the video to the Pathfinders. To be honest, the video wasn’t a big hit, but everybody loves an edible experiment so that saved the day!

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Here is what we did to create our version of tang hulurs. This makes a big batch, so you might want to reduce it. We added eight cups of sugar, which was a small four-pound bag, to three cups of water gradually, and then heated it on the stove. Do not let it boil. We did not use a candy thermometer, but you can. The mixture should change into a cloudy yellowish color with all the sugar dissolved, and should be hot to the touch. Let it cool enough to pour into a glass container. We used mason jars. You can add flavorings and/or colors at this point.

imageThen position a skewer in the middle, holding it in place with a clothespin laid across the top.

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The skewer should be moistened and rolled in sugar to give the crystals something to adhere to.

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Now you just wait for the crystals to form. That can take hours or even days; we just kept checking ours.

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Break up the edges and pour out the excess liquid after it has crystallized, and set the jar in hot water to remove your creation. It’s not the healthiest treat, but fun to make to demonstrate crystals when studying rocks. Enjoy your tang hulur while reading a good book, like “Little Pear,” or even a book about rocks.

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Oh, and by the way, here’s what tang hulurs really look like! Much more tasty to me!

 

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Making Holiday Memories That Last!

I absolutely love this time of year! I have so many fond memories as a child that I find myself sometimes going a little overboard trying to bring that specialness to my own children — so much so, that I can even resemble Griswold from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”! It can be stressful!! So, I began to think back and evaluate what I really remember as a child. Honestly it wasn’t any of the presents I received or all of the holiday parties we went to. It was those simple traditions that we did together as a family. One of those memories that stands out is of us making sugar cookies together. We made them every year and have carried that tradition on with our own children.

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What is it about cookie-making for us? It’s not that they are yummy, or pretty, or messy, or fun….well it’s actually all of that plus more! It’s that we do it together. We get flour on our cheeks and frosting on our fingers. We laugh, talk, create, and eat. Togetherness is what creates the memories that really make an impact on our children’s lives!

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During the month of December, I like to switch up our curriculum and take on a more simplified and holiday-focused theme. We learn compassion through gift giving and random acts of kindness. We learn counting and calendars through our Advent calendar. We read classic Christmas literature and poems and work on math, science, and home skills through baking. We also tie in art and music through special church programs and creative crafts we do. We help feed the homeless, and collect items for those in need. There are so many different subjects you can tie into Christmas-themed projects. But, to really make whatever you do memorable, do it together as a family!

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Just for you, here is my late mother’s tried and true sugar cookie recipe!

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Fun in the Sun and the Kitchen

My blog posts this year center around the theme of homeschooling in the kitchen. I want to share some of the things that happen in our kitchen that are connected to learning. In science, my son was learning about solar power, so we decided to make solar ovens. To increase the fun quotient, we decided to do this project with friends that also homeschool.

In order to make these solar ovens, I went to Bertucci’s Pizza to get some pizza boxes. I asked if I could buy some, but when the manager heard what we wanted them for, he offered them for free. He also asked if I would share pictures of our project with the restaurant.

We made two different kinds of solar ovens, both very simple. The first one was made with a regular large, square pizza box. We cut a square flap into the center of the lid of the box, and covered the open area with plastic wrap and the underside of the flap with aluminum foil. We lined the bottom of the box with black construction paper to absorb the heat. We filled the boxes with a variety of food to see what affect the solar oven would have on each of these items. These included grilled cheese sandwiches, open-face cheese sandwiches, a veggie hot dog, a tomato, and quesadillas. Then we propped the boxes open with rulers and set them on the back of our truck in full sun.

The other solar oven we made consisted of a smaller box; I believe it is a box meant to carry your leftovers home in. We pushed the lid of this box into the box itself and covered it with aluminum foil. Then we pushed wooden skewers containing marshmallows and a bit of hotdog through the box. This was also placed in full sun.

Now the wait and…voila! Lunch is served!

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This was a fun learning project with a great end result — something to eat! My son loved it and cooked many other meals in it, experimenting with different foods. He also tried it various times of the day and in different types of weather.

So on the next hot day, get out of the kitchen and make your meal in a homemade solar oven. Bon Appetit!