Thursday, December 30, 2010

Training Up My Children... And Myself

I have realized that I am often just getting through the days and working as hard as I can for as long as I can and then I shut down for a few hours in the afternoon.  But, this isn't the best way for me or our family.

Some time this summer, I picked up a book for a quarter called Confessions of a Happily Organized Family by Deniece Schofield.  It was published over 25 years ago--in 1984.  But, the first chapter still rings true.  Here are a few quotes from pg. 8 "Organization, and even cleanliness, is a means to an end.  In and of itself, it's worthless.  The object of efficient home management is to do the right job right...moderation is the key to successful home management...Pay attention to the messages that you're sending to your family.  don't ever give them the impression that the house is more important than they are."  Later, she talks about goal setting.  It is our goals that set our priorities and what we choose to do with our time.  When we procrastinate our time is still getting spent, but that time is getting stolen from something else.

These thoughts gave me pause--particularly a story who got hit by a car and was concerned that her mom would be upset because her clothes were torn.  There are times when I get upset by little things and I don't want my kids to remember me that way.  What goals are guiding my decisions when I overreact?  What am I considering to be the most important things in those moments?

As a Christian, I have always just accepted the goal of glorifying God as the assumed goal.  But, I don't think I've articulated that in practical terms for what I want for my children.  This is my working list that I'm beginning right now:

1)  I hope my children will grow up knowing and loving the Lord.
2)  I want my children to feel unconditionally loved--as much as I am imperfectly able to do that.
3)  I want my children to feel safe and comfortable in our home.
4)  I want my children to feel a sense of order and discipline about their lives--that they might glorify God by taking care of their bodies, hearts, and minds.  That they might not be entrapped by the struggles of selfishness and laziness.  As the quote above says--I desire this in moderation, not in a legalistic way.
5)  I want my children to feel grateful  for what they have and not to feel entitled to life being easy or to have everything they want when they want it.

There are a few things that I see in our culture that grieve me.  One thing that many friends of mine are struggling with is the entitlement mentality that has stolen into our children's minds and hearts.  Many books have been written about how to cultivate a hearts of gratefulness in our children.  Earlier this year, I read a book titled Growing Grateful Kids by Susie Larson.  I enjoyed the book and it was challenging to me.  The author repeatedly said that we cannot give our children something that we ourselves do not have.  For each of the five goals above, I cannot give these things to my children if I do not have or am not seeking them myself.

Another thought that has been nagging at me is that my children are at an age where they need to start doing more.  I commented to my pastor's wife, Jenny, last Sunday that I admire how her boys all have jobs to do when they arrive at church Sunday morning.  I want my girls and my little boy to learn how to see what needs to be done and then to go do it.  Starting this Sunday, I'm going to teach them how to set up our little church nursery.  I think they can do it.  But, talking to her made me realize that I need my kids to learn how to do more all around.  I carry in all the groceries, do all the laundry, take care of all the cooking, cleaning, etc.  There have been many reasons over the past few years why I've done everything, but the biggest of reasons is that my girls are little.  Autumn is a head shorter than girls her age and Sami's 2 inches shorter than her.  But, they're bigger now and more coordinated and I realize that it's time.  It's time for them to help more and it's time for me to start letting them!

In Confessions of a Happily Organized Family, Ms. Schofield identifies six reasons why we don't delegate to our families.  from pg. 91...
"1.  It's easier to do it myself.
2.  I get the job done the way I want it done, if I do it myself.
3.  I don't have time to work at the kids' speed.
4.  I don't have time to train the help.
5.  Actually, I don't mind the housework.
6.  I hate to nag."

It's number 6 that is the trap for me.  Someone told me in her book about the lies women believe, Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes about how we tell ourselves that we can do everything--and even that we must do everything!  This is the trap I fall into.  It kind of lumps 1-6 in all together.  I also won't tell my children or my husband (who I ask, not tell) to do something more than once before I just go do it.

But, I'm doing such a disservice to both my husband and children by doing this.  I'm even doing a disservice to myself.  It's not best for anyone!  So, my new resolve, along with updating my Mom's Home Journal which I started earlier this year (and I'll write about next post) is to take the time to remind my children and teach them.  So far, I have to be honest, I am finding I have less time.  It takes more time to remind them, but I am trying to keep my goals in mind--my long term goals and not just my short term ones like getting dinner on the table.  I know those short term ones are important too, but I need to balance them and make good choices with the little time I have.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Food Substitutions

During my senior year in college, I was the weekend cook at my sorority.  It was a great little job and I remember one of my friends teasing me pretty badly when I had actually made the corn bread according to the recipe.  She knew that I had a penchant for changing any recipe I started with.  Fortunately, the food I cooked always tended to turn out pretty good.  I never heard any complaints from the gals I cooked for.  At the time, the internet was just in its baby stages of development, so there wasn't any way I could have searched for food substitutions when I needed them.  I just used my own experiences cooking as my base for ideas.

When I was just out of college, I found a little food substitution book, Substituting Ingredients, in an out of the way used book store in rural Colorado.  I was so thrilled!  I'd found a book to go to when I found myself in a jam missing a spice, tomato paste, or an egg.   That was thirteen years ago and I've used that book for all this time.  This year I discovered that an updated edition had been published.  A few months back, I posted a review for this book.

Although it was a big improvement over the older edition I had, I realized that there were so many things that were still missing!  There were so many substitutions that I went looking for regularly and still couldn't find in the book.  One of the prominent ones was for wine.  So, I began a search for another cookbook of this type that would be more helpful in all the cooking I do.

In my search, I came across two books that I reviewed recently: How to Break an Egg and How to Squeeze a Lemon, both published by Taunton Press.  These books were more tip oriented.  The substitution sections at the end of the books were tiny and only as helpful as the chart that's on the inside cover of many basic cookbooks on my shelf.  The tips were fun to read, but I realized my search needed to go on.  Please forgive the song allusion, but I still hadn't found what I was looking for.

What I wanted was a thorough substitution book that covered both the basics and the out of the way, unusual ingredients.  But, I also wanted it to be formatted well.  Formatting, I've discovered, makes a huge difference when you're pressed for time and trying to find an emergency substitution.  Your fingers have to be able to flip through the book and your eyes have to find the page you're looking for in a few seconds.  Formatting truly makes all the difference in the world when it comes to this kind of cookbook.

It was the formatting that I felt needed improvement in the two books of cooking tips which I reviewed.  Substituting Ingredients solution to the formatting was to make a small book with small type, less words, and more spacing.  For people who only do basic cooking, that cookbook is probably the way to go.

But, for those of us who love to cook or just simply cook a lot, I finally found a book that I think hits the mark!  It's the second edition of
The Food Substitutions Bible 
by David Joiachim  
The title was actually a bit off-putting to me because the Holy Bible is very important to me and I've noticed a trend to use the word "Bible" in the title of various books over the past few years.  You can laugh at me because it was actually the title that caused me to overlook this book many times over the past few years as I was searching for a better food substitution cookbook.  Now I wish I hadn't waited so long to pick up this book!

The first time I opened up this book it was hard to put down.  I expected to find a very dry, boring book of substitutions.  Please don't get me wrong.  I was just expecting information that was only useful, not information that was engaging and interesting as well.  This book drew me and my husband in with its funny stories and interesting tidbits of information.  For example, I had no idea that "Saanen, a Swiss cheese of amazing longevity, sometimes edible for 200 years.  Traditionally, a child's birth is commemorated with an individual saanen cheese.  Tiny pieces are consumed on special occasions during the person's lifetime.  In some cases, the cheese outlives the person." p. 481  Other notes are helpful to explain things I've always wondered about.  Savory is a spice I've come across over the years in various recipes and have puzzled about.  It is "known in parts of Europe as the bean herb because its pleasant spicy nature benefits beans, peas, and lentils.  Summer savory is milder and the spiky leaves are more tender than those of winter savory." p. 496  Under the substitution section for savory, several good alternatives that are on my shelf were listed--thyme, rosemary, and safe.

This book is hefty at 696 pages.  But, the heft is worth it.  This book doesn't sacrifice meat for size the way Substituting Ingredients and other books I've seen recently do.  The type is very readable.  The formatting is excellent--all of my complaints I've had with other cookbooks this year about formatting are null and void when it comes to this book.  The book is arranged in alphabetical order with several helpful ingredient and measurement guides at the end.  I would suggest using some tabs to mark the guide pages at the end that you tend to use a lot, then you will be able to flip to them quickly.

The ingredients in this book range from things you use every day to that strange spice you once saw in a Middle Eastern cookbook named Za'tar.  Even "egg scissors" are explained.  The irony was that we just had soft boiled eggs last week--it would have been helpful to know about egg scissors then! I was particularly curious about this book after I read a negative review of it that complained of its listing of ingredients you'll never use.  Now, although you might never use many of these ingredients, you never know.  I wish I had known the substitution for Golden Syrup a few months ago when I bought a bottle of it for a specific recipe.  I had no idea that the substitution of light corn syrup or maple syrup (both of which were in my cupboard) would have been quite easy.

But, the true test of a substitution cookbook is whether they will work.  I looked up many substitutions I've been using faithfully in my cooking over the years and they are in there.  The ratios of things I use are also there.  The charts of similar ingredients like flours, apples, and chiles also agree with all that I've read and discovered cooking over the years.

There is only one thing missing that I've discovered so far--which I didn't expect to find.  The author assumes that people only use store bought whole wheat flour.  I know I'm one of those unusual people that grinds their own grain at home.  The substitution I've discovered is 1 1/8- 1 1/4 cup fresh ground whole wheat flour to 1 cup of store bought whole wheat flour.

If there are substitutions you use regulary, make yourself a cheat sheet or use sticky notes to tab the pages you turn to a lot.  There is a lot of information in this book and it will take up a bit of space on your shelf, but my feeling is--it's worth it!  If you happened to get a little money as a Christmas gift and you're trying to figure out what to get, this book would be a keeper.  It's going to have a permanent place on my shelf for many years.

My compliments to the chef--this is a great cookbook!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from The Lisa Ekus Group.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Kitchen Gadgets and Appliances

Kitchen appliances are funny things.  For many of us, we have the same ones that our parents had when we were kids.  For me, it was my Kitchenaid that I saved up for when I was 20 because I couldn't imagine making cookies without it.  I was living on next to nothing, but the kitchenaid was worth saving for!  We also add a few along the way, like our grain mill and coffee grinder.  Sometimes the appliances we get end up on our counters and sometimes they end up in the garage.  I remember one gal who had a quesadilla maker and I always wondered where she found room to store it.  She probably wondered the same thing about my rice cooker!

On my counters are quite a lot of appliances, considering the small space we have.  Our Bunn coffee maker (which I love!) sits on one small section, a large knife block on another section and in the largest section is a round container with utensils, my Vitamix, the grain mill, and the coffee grinder.  Our miniature microwave is on a kitchen cart around the corner from the coffee maker.  The 2 slice toaster is in the cupboard, but it comes out easily enough as does my rice cooker.  Our kitchenaid mixer sits on our kitchen island.  I used to have 2 crockpots, one large and one small.  The small one's knob got broken by my youngest son over a year ago, so I finally got rid of it a month ago and am now down to just the large one.  My zojirushi bread machine actually sits on a shelf on my book shelf in the space between the living room and dining room.  I suppose that sounds like a lot of appliances, but I use them all! 

I have tried to simplify over the years.  My vitamix replaced my food processor and my blender.  I also thought about getting a grind and brew, but if one part of it breaks, the whole machine is done for.  Our coffee maker died two years ago, but our grinder has been going strong for four or five years now.  Kitchenaids aren't really made to handle wheat dough, so I can't get around having a bread machine either.  No simplifying  possible there.

I bought two gadgets in the spring that I really thought I wanted and sadly, I've used one of them once and the other not at all.  I am so surprised by this, so I wanted to share about them.  They are a deep fryer and a Cuisinart ice cream machine.

The deep fryer has not been used.  At all.  What happened was that this summer I learned how to be a better fry cook with my cast iron pan with deep sides.  It's less to store and less to clean.  The other day we pulled the fryer out with the intention of using for the first time when we realized that deep fryers are really made for refrying precooked items!  If you use raw potatoes for french fries you have to double fry them for quite along and it is not a simple process, either.  It involves soaking the potatoes in water for a time, frying them, letting them sit for a period of time, and then frying them again.  Wow!  But, frozen french fries are only fried for a few minutes and then will be done.  The realization of this was quite discouraging to me.  I had purchased it with the intention of being healthier by choosing to fry foods at home when the craving hits instead of eating them out.  I will still do that, but likely in my cast iron pan.  So, if you're local to me (you know who you are) and would like a new deep fryer, please just let me know.  It's truly brand new and has never been used.

The second appliance I still have hope for.  It's the Cuisinart ice cream maker.  I made it once and the kids loved it, but I have to have the right ingredients on hand and be able to get everything out.  The cylinder also has to have been frozen, which means a lot of space in my freezer is needed.  For a few months, it just felt like one more thing.  As much as I love to cook, by the end of the day, I'm whooped!  I don't want to do any more cooking and that's the time that would be most appropriate for making ice cream during the summer.  I do still have hope that maybe next summer will get into a routine and start making it regularly, but we'll see.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pancake Molds

If you're ever tempted to buy those appealing looking pancake shape molds, don't.  I'd recommend spending the money on some good cookie cutters instead.

I have several of these from one of my sweet aunts.  I've sprayed them with cooking spray and put them with my cast iron pan with pancake batter poured into them several times.  No luck.  What I've discovered though, which appeases my children, is using those same forms as "pancake" cutters once the round pancakes are cooked.  The kids still get a duck, bunny, snowman, or Santa and they're pleased.  

But, if you don't have such molds, don't buy them.  Just use the cookie cutters you already have at home for making sugar cookies or gingerbread cookies.  Save the pancakes you cut the shapes out of.  I cut them off to the side and then distribute them among their plates.

I think this is one of those make lemonade out of lemons kind of things!  I think the saying goes, "When life gives you lemons, make some lemonade!"  That's how I feel about many things.  If it doesn't quite work, then figure out something else to do with it or another way to make it work.  Pancake molds are just one of those things!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Best Fried Chicken

Back in June I posted a recipe for Fish and Chips aka Fried Chicken in our house.  I also mentioned at the time that you can use the same recipe for chicken.

Over the past few months, I've made that recipe several times alternately for Fish, serving it with Tartar Sauce, and Chicken, serving it with BBQ sauce.  When I make the recipe using fish, I typically use Tilapia or an inexpensive thin white fish.  I do cut the fillets to the size of fish sticks/strips that I want.  With the flour coating, it is better to cut the fillets.  It makes a better serving size for children and adults.

When I use the recipe for Chicken, I use chicken breasts and slice it into strips, again whatever size my family prefers.  I would recommend adding seasoning to the flour.  I love the Montreal Chicken seasoning, so I add a good sprinkling of that to the flour before I begin the coating process.  But, add whatever spices you like and add them to taste.  One last trick that I've found over time is that I use a slotted spoon to flip the pieces over in the frying process--not tongs.  I've tried tongs and then tend to tear the coating off.  If I use a spoon instead, I'm able to gently flip them over.  

So, here's a revised copy of the recipe I posted back in June...

Fill your pan with about 3/4-1" canola oil and heat over med high heat until you can sprinkle a little water on it and it pops.  You don't want your oil to be too hot because the coating can cook too quickly and not cook the chicken or fish inside.  But, if it's not hot enough, the oil will simply soak into the fish or chicken.  That's the best way I can think of to describe it.  Once the oil has gotten hot enough, you can turn it down a little to keep it at a good steady heat.

Dip the strips of white fish or chicken in 3/4 c. buttermilk (regular milk also works just fine) and 1 egg mixture, then dip in flour (w/whatever seasoning you want or just salt and pepper).  Then REPEAT!  Egg once more and flour again.  Heat oil in deep skillet and fry.  The coating sticks =)  Yahoo!  And it's awesome.   Cook 3-5 minutes on a side.  The order is what is key.  Because you end with the flour, it keeps from sticking to the bottom if there's enough oil in the pan.  (But do keep an eye on it when you first put it in so that the pieces aren't on top of each other and they have space--not a ton, but enough so that they aren't touching and that you can turn them over)

Sometimes I fry it in a cast iron chicken fryer pan that I bought at a garage sale last week and it works great.  The sides are about 4 inches.  Otherwise I use my deep dish cast iron skillet, whose sides are about 2" tall.   It was like a deep dish skillet.  

Serve fish with lemon wedges and tartar sauce (mayonaise, pickle relish, and lemon juice all mixed to taste) and chicken with BBQ sauce, ketchup, or whatever sauce your family loves!

I was quite skeptical of how well it would fry before I did it, but the flour on the outside keeps it from sticking to the skillet or the other pieces.  It was amazing!  I've fried a lot of things over the past 10 years and I've had a horrible time with sticking.  I do suspect the nonstick cast iron pans help too =)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Paring Knives

Kuhn Rikon Knife Set
My paring knives were dying so I finally threw them several of them away.  All I had left were 2 Kuhn Rikon knives with the sleeves that I bought 2 or 3 months ago at BJs for $10.  One is serrated and the other is a regular blade.  With this recent purge of my knives, I knew I needed to replace them.  I lean on my paring knives for most things.  I can throw them in the dishwasher, which I can't do with my nice set of knives.  They are decent at cutting.  They aren't as good as a $30 Henkel, but definitely as good as the inexpensive Forschner or Henkel paring knife set that Target carries (which has several impractical knives)  I've had them for a few months now and they're just as sharp as they started out.

So, here's the comparison shopping for them:
Amazon $8.96 per paring knife, $12 for the serrated one, or $24.36 for the set of 2 that I bought at BJ's
Kitchen and Co., a local store: $15 for the set
BJ's:  Still $10 for the pair.  The current set is pink and purple though instead of the former yellow and green set that I bought.  My girls were thrilled with the colors!

I bought a set at Kitchen and Co. and was thankful the price was less than on Amazon.  And today I bought another set at BJ's.  Sometimes I really go through knives--especially if my husband is cooking with me.

What I actually like most about these knives is that they come with a handy sleeve to go over the blade.  A few months ago, my youngest started opening up the knife drawer!  EEK!  I was scared, so I moved the knives to a basket on a shelf.  The new problem?  Me reaching into the basket with open blades!  So, knives with covers has been a great solution to saving my fingers.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Something to think about...

These two quotes were in the Bible study I just finished up Becoming a Woman of Simplicity by Cynthia Heald.

"There are two ways to get enough.  One is to continue to accumulate more and more.  The other is to desire less."  G. K. Chesterton

"Everything we own owns us.  IT takes time to use it, dust it, paint it, maintain it, build space in the house for it, and work to pay for it...Every thing has the potential to become a hindrance to "fixing our eyes on Jesus."  Richard Swenson

They are very good food for thought for me as I look forward to Christmas coming in two weeks.  My husband made a comment yesterday about how many things we hold onto, but are we really ever going to use or read them again?  I regularly look through my cookbooks and get rid of ones I just don't use.  I still have a lot, though, because I happen to love cookbooks and good food.  But, yesterday, I went through my books on the bookshelves again--though I think I've gone through them twice in the last month.  And I asked myself if I would really recommend or loan a particular book or if I would really ever read it.  I ended up with two more stacks to donate.  Knowing that they will leave my house soon made me feel a little lighter inside.  That's how I feel every time I get rid of things.  I'm trying to keep that in mind.

That's not to say that my kids aren't getting any presents for Christmas.  I realize that everything has cycles.  On Wednesday, I am looking forward to going to Kohls to get them new pajamas for Christmas--it's our tradition.  Every Christmas Eve they get to open one present--a fun new set of pajamas.  But, I look forward to every spring and fall when I get to purge their clothes and pass on the ones they've grown out of.

I just want to keep a balanced perspective.

In the next year, my mom is hoping to sell her home, retire, and move in with us.  For her, that means a lot of things.  It means moving out of her home for the past 18 years and then moving across the country and leaving behind all of her friends and her church.  I can see God preparing her for this huge change in her life.  I am thankful for His preparation and how He is allowing her to do it gradually.  She broke her kneecap a few weeks ago and although it is suffering, God is using it for good.  My mom can now rest and has had time to get her place fixed up and ready to sell.  She wouldn't have had that time otherwise.

For us, her move also means a lot.  It means that we need to get our home repaired and in the best shape it can be in.  It also means finding a new home or adding on to our home.  I don't want to add on simply because I'd like a little more room all the way around so we won't all bump into each other.  But, we'll see what God has for us.  Reading these quotes reminds me that I don't want a huge home that is difficult to take care of.  I would like a home that isn't high maintenance but that is big enough for all of us.  This quote reminds me to be wise about what we look for.  This next year portends to be an interesting one full of change.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Post Office

Last week, I pushed myself to get my packages for Christmas ready to mail.  My trips to the post office are made during my oldest daughter's piano lessons on Monday afternoons so that I have 2 instead of 3 children.  It still was a challenging experience.

I haven't pushed my children to carry packages and belongings.  They don't have to regularly carry backpacks since they don't go to school.  So, on Monday, Sami had a small box to carry in to the post office that she quickly started balking about.  She dropped it and fell and I had little sympathy.  She had been crying about everything all morning.  I'm sure the other gal thought I was a callous mom, but I wasn't budging.  Mean mom.  I encouraged and told her to get up and come.   We made it into the post office with the help of a lady nearby and stood in line to mail our packages.

What surprised me was my conversation with the postal worker.  Before I got up to the counter, I overheard one of the workers explain away the increase in postage as solely due to inflation.  Well, no, actually that's not true.  The reason for the increase is because people aren't mailing as much as much mail as they used to.  Probably for several reasons...  1)  Email is cheaper--it's free.   2) the Post Office often is not a fun place to go.  The attitudes of the workers can be off putting and dour.  It is discouraging.  So, I think many people avoid it if possible.  One can buy stamps in the grocery store or other places.  So, the post office has had to raise rates to compensate for the decrease in their mail delivery--NOT simply because of inflation.  I'm sure some of it is, but from what I've read that is not the primary reason.

When I did get to the counter, the man who was helping me weighed my package and showed me two rates--priority and first class.

I asked, "Isn't there anything cheaper?"  THIS was his reply

"You Asked The Magic Words."

I did?

It turns out that postal workers are now instructed that they cannot offer the lowest shipping rates (parcel post or media mail (for media items only)) unless you specifically ask for those rates or ask the question I did!

Ay Ay Ay!

So, as you are mailing your packages this Christmas season, remember to ask if there are any other cheaper mailing options!  They aren't going to tell you if you don't ask!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Facebook Update

It has been an interesting week for me and Facebook.  It turned out that I was a part of that bug that Facebook had on Tuesday that deleted many, many people.  But, it really made me pause.

My Bible study that morning was on "The One Thing".  The one thing being God.  When we spread ourselves out in so many directions and give so many pieces of ourselves away, we can't focus on what really matters.  Facebook can be like that sometimes for me.  It draws my attention away from what really matters in my day.

I went through a bit of withdrawal on Tuesday.  It felt like the teacher was saying "You can't play with everyone else".  But, it also felt good to reset my brain and how often I gravitated to the computer.  I genuinely prefer email to Facebook.

This morning I went back to Facebook and deleted a lot of friends that are people I have "known" but were never really friends with.  In fact, when I knew them a lot of them didn't like me!  So, why was I friends with them now?  That's a funny thing to think about.  I think I wanted to feel connected to the kids I went to school with--though I can't articulate why.  But, I have realized over the past few days that I rarely checked their pages and simply don't know them.  I use Facebook to keep in touch with the people I know and am friends with.

Facebook has its own culture.  If someone sends you a friend invite, you can feel obligated to "friend" them because you should be nice.  Or you just want a lot of friends.  One teenage I know has 1300 friends.  I can't imagine that they're all really his "friends" and that he knows all of them well.  He isn't even 20 years old yet!

As for Facebook's practices, I never did get a message it had been deactivated, but I eventually did get one that it had been reactivated (as they said in news reports they had done).  One of my friends contacted me and let me know I was back on her friend list.  It makes me very uneasy the way it was all done and I am going to begin shifting my communication and friendships away from facebook for this reason.

Someone commented to me that it was good to know that there was security out there for everyone else.  In reality, what happened to me showed that it could happen to anyone and if anyone had opened an account in her name before or after her with her birthdate--she would be the one to have to show she was really her by uploading her id.  I think most of the safeguards in place are to protect Facebook, not the users.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Holiday Celebrations

From the moment my girls hear the word "Christmas", they start getting excited about the coming holidays--Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I think they love just about everything about these holidays--family, friends, yummy food, presents, being thankful, and most of all celebrating Jesus' birth.

A new book about celebrating the holidays has just been published by Moody titled Putting God Back in the Holidays, by Bill and Penny Thrasher.  I really looked forward to reading this book and getting some ideas for ways to talk to our kids about the holidays through the year and some fun ideas for celebrating.

The easiest way to express what I think about this book is to say that there are some thoughts and ideas in this book that I really like and others that either I'm not comfortable with or wouldn't be realistic for my family based on the personalities of me and my husband.  Reading this book reminded me that every family I know has different family traditions.  

Many of our family traditions come from things that our families did when we were growing up.  Every Thanksgiving, I make spiced peaches.  Every Christmas Eve, we had friends over for homemade noodles and sauce.  My husband's family made pizzelles and gingerbread cookies every Christmas Season.  But, there are other holidays that we don't celebrate as much.  I do celebrate them with our children as part of homeschooling, but they aren't family holidays. 

Sometimes I think reading a book like this can make a mom feel guilty or struggle that her family doesn't or can't celebrate holidays the way the Thrashers talk about.  I can be prone to envying families that get to do things that I wished for when I was a young girl.  But, I tell my children that when you envy others you miss out on what you have.  I think the same is true for me.  I may not get to do some of the things with my family that I dreamed of as a young adult, but I do get to homeschool them and spend time with them.  They are very different things and not connected at all, but I hope you get the idea.

What are some possible reasons why we might not be able to celebrate this way?  1) A marriage is between 2 people.  Both people have a say in how the family runs with the husband having the ultimate authority and responsibility to be the leader of the family. 2) Physical or financial limitations and availability of resources.  I believe these are both legitimate reasons.

So, if you are like me, how can we respond?  I think we can find our own ways that do work within the framework and finances of our families to celebrate these holidays.

The bulk of this book is devoted to spiritual birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  My favorite section is actually none of these, but actually the section for other holidays.  I enjoyed the discussions of Valentine's Day, MLK, Jr. Day, Presiden'ts Day, Arbor Day, and other American holidays.  I know that I am going to reread the pages on these holidays as we go through this next year.  I may not "do" anything per se other than talk and discuss with my children what the days are about, but those discussions matter.  I look forward to talking with my children about submitting to authority on President's Day and praying for the leaders of our country.  I am very thankful for the biblical passages that the Thrashers included in their discussions.

There is a short section devoted to birthdays, but a larger section is devoted to "spiritual birthdays" and having a blessing party.  This is one of those topics that I wasn't sure what to think about as I read it.  I've talked to several people about it.  I don't think the idea of "name it and claim it" is biblical.  God does listen to our hearts and he does give us the desires of our hearts--when those desires are in line with His will for our lives.  But, simply praying and asking or "claiming" a blessing is no guarantee that we will receive what we ask for.  I have encountered discussions like this before and I am uneasy about it.  It doesn't sit well with my soul.  My pastor's wife shared with me that she believes God can give us wisdom about what to pray for for our children.  I do agree with her.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and I began to realize that this book will be loved by many people.  If your family enjoys celebrating holidays together and your husband would really enjoy the ideas in this book, I think you'll probably love it.  I have one friend that I can see just loving this book (and I'm sure you know who you are!)  I'm so thankful that this friend is able to celebrate holidays this way and I am certain her children are blessed by their family traditions.  I hope my children are encouraged by our family traditions even though they are different and less in number.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Moody Publishing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Facebook Alert

I got quite the surprise this morning when I tried to go on Facebook.  I was kicked off of it!  They disabled my account.  I think what happened is that I did not attach my primary email, but rather my secondary email, to facebook--for obvious reasons I'm sure y'all understand.  So a few months back, I opened an account with my maiden name to check on who had gone searching for my name on facebook.  I believe this was a violation--which I had no idea of until this morning when they disable the account I use.  Obviously, I wasn't trying to do anything wrong, but my what a surprise.  Somehow, they figured out that I had done that.  When I think about how they did that, it makes me anxious.

Here's the kicker--in order to get my account back or rather--to apply to have my account reactivated, I have to upload and send them a copy of my federal id.  Obviously, I am NOT going to do this.  So, NO more facebook for me.  I'm sure God has a plan for this for me, which probably includes more time in my day that I was spending on Facebook.

What scares me is how much information they were able to take away from me because of a violation they thought I had made--I had no notice or warning!  I posted yesterday a picture of my daughter on her fifth birthday.  They took all of my pictures and information away from me.  I almost feel as if my identity was stolen by Facebook.  So, please be careful my friends about Facebook--you truly never, ever know what they are going to do to your account!  Please pass this message along to any friends you'd like to.

This feels really yucky.  I have been very antsy about Facebook these past few months and I guess now I have a clue as to why.  Please pass this alert on to warn your friends about what Facebook can do!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cooking Tips

One time when I was at a book sale, I met a gal who bought cookbooks not to cook with them, but simply to read them.  She sincerely enjoyed reading cookbooks.  I had never looked at cookbooks that way before.  I have always skimmed recipes and have tried to glean the essentials so that I can get to the meat of the information I need.  But, I started thinking about it and now I try to read cookbooks more closely.  I'm not always very good at it, but I've found several I enjoy.

I love Ken Haedrich's stories in his soup cookbook, Soup Makes the Meal, and his cookbook PIE.  I used to have another pie cookbook that shared the history of pie in the United States.  I had no idea before that about the cultural significance of pie and how much it is a part of our food history in this country.  The older I get, the more I seem to appreciate and enjoy learning about history.

Another type of cookbook that is simply fun to read are books of tips for cooking.  This week I received two cookbooks in the mail filled with kitchen tips and techniques from the publisher of Fine Cooking Magazine.  The first was published a few years ago.  It is titled How to Break an Egg.  There are numerous tips from the editors, contributors, and readers of Fine Cooking Magazine.  Some of them are tips I'd do and others aren't.  But, they are all very interesting!

Here are a few examples...  I appreciated the explanation of molasses.  I just puzzled last week about the difference between blackstrap and dark molasses.  Right above it was information about storing maple syrup--which I've had an issue with.  You need to store it in a glass container, not plastic container.  And if it gets mold in it, boil it and then restore in the fridge.  I hate to admit this, but somehow our plastic syrup container did get mold in it and I wish I had known this then!  I also want to mention that the way they crack a cooked crab is the way we do it in Maryland--I've seen several books get it wrong.  The pictures were great for that section!  There is also a section of baking problems--cakes, pies, and breads.  I need this quick reference.

You can flip it open to any page in the book and just start reading.  If you know someone that isn't able to focus and read long books but enjoys reading, this would be a great gift.  I have a friend with a medical condition that diminishes her attention span and as I'm sitting here, it occurred to me that she might really enjoy reading this book.  It would be a wonderful gift for someone in the hospital, someone visiting someone in a hospital, or someone who has to wait for a lot of doctors appointments when all you have is do is sit.

This book is one that you want to sit on a couch with and just pick up for fun.  It's a great coffee table book.  Keep some post it tabs nearby so you can mark the pages you want to come back to frequently.

The only thing I'm not so crazy about with this book is the formatting.  The formatting in the illustrated section is great.  But, for the rest of the book, the formatting simply isn't especially eye catching.  You have to read the pages to really find the information you want.  In the second book, the formatting is improved and more easily navigable.  The section I wish was also expanded was the substitution section.  It is quite short and didn't include a few of the substitutions I use most of the time, like for Tomato Paste (an equal amount of ketchup if it's only a few tablespoons or less).  But, all in all, this is a fun book to sit down with and read.

Then this week, they published a sort of "sequel" called How to Squeeze a Lemon.  For the most part, the information in this book is new and not a duplicate of the first book.  The sections I noticed that are duplicated are the substitution information and the charts for problems with baking.   But, there is some extra information in the substitution charts, though it's hard to tell because the information is formatted differently.  The formatting makes the information in this book easier to navigate with your eyes and it's easier to keep your place on the page.

There is helpful information in there like a two page discussion on the difference between thickeners (flour vs. tapioca, vs. cornstarch).  There are helpful charts on food safety and an easy to use chart on how long to store foods.  In the first book, there is a discussion on how long to keep leftovers.

Just as when I read the first book, I found a lot of interesting tips.  One was to store a pepper mill in a ramekin so it doesn't get pepper everywhere when it isn't in use.  Another I read was to use a paper plate as a funnel when you have to grind spices to add to a recipe.  Grind the spice on the plate (you really do need all that space to catch the spice!) and then fold it into a funnel to pour it in.  I don't want to share too many tips, but I want to share two examples to show that the ideas could be useful.

If you like the first book, I'm certain you'll like the second.  The formatting makes it easier to use.  But, again, keep some post it tabs nearby when you read it, so that you can mark your favorite pages!

There are a lot of kitchen tip books out there.  We bought one a few years ago by Cooks Illustrated that had a lot of illustrations.  I enjoyed reading it, but never really used any of the tips.  I think I'm going to get a lot more use out of the tips in these two books.  I miss the illustrations, but the information is more helpful and that makes these books much more handy to own than the one we've been keeping on our shelves by Cooks Illustrated.

I think I'd give them both 4.5 stars.  I do really like them, but I don't quite love them.  I think the formatting could still be improved to make them easier to look at and read.  But I like the information in them.

Please note that I received complimentary copies of these two books from The Taunton Press for review.

Shopping Wisely;_ylt=AgKEpzDQFxCE1kT65V1L3oEJo9IF;_ylu=X3oDMTFhdnI1aG9mBHBvcwMyBHNlYwNmZWF0dXJlZEFydGljbGUEc2xrAzdyZXRhaWxzYWxlcw--?mod=bb-budgeting
One of the biggest marketing ploys by stores this year is store credit cards.

My husband came home and talked to me about credit cards the other day.

On Thursday, he proposed to me cutting up all of our credit cards except for the main one we use.  His reasoning was two-fold.  1)  They're a time consumer.  2) They're a liability.

1.  They are a time consumer on so many levels.  When you have a credit card for a store, you are more likely to think about think about shopping at that store and feel like you should comparison shop.  When you get ads in the mail, you're more likely to look through them when they have an added store credit card discount.  Then at the end of the month, you have to pay one more credit card bill and take the time to do it.  You also have to keep track of what stores and with what cards you've shopped with each month--because of reason #2.

2.  They're a liability if your purse/wallet gets stolen.  They're also a liability if the bill gets lost in the mail and you don't get it in time.  You're going to be liable for interest or you're going to have to take the pains to fight the interest fees with the store--not something I'd want to do.

Many stores, but not all, make it only a really good deal to shop at those stores if you have their store credit card.  Target is now offering a Debit or Credit Card option.  But, the debit card introduces its own source of liability--once that money is withdrawn from your checking account, it is gone.  With a credit card, you do have recourse with the company if purchases are made on it that aren't yours.

In this age of comparison shopping, I'm realizing that we shop around a lot.  I do this all the time.  But, with the money I save am I only shopping more?  Is that worth all the effort?  Am I missing out on living and on other things I should do with my time--because I'm shopping (whether online or physically in the stores)?

My husband has been talking to me this week about not being so consumed by getting the best deal, but rather focusing on buying less instead.  I think there's got to be a balance.  I'm hoping that I will take a few minutes in the future to do some quick comparison shopping online, but then after that to let it go.  The problem with comparison shopping is that it makes me feel bad if I don't get the best deal out there.  But, have I really gotten the best deal when I've lost a half hour surfing the web instead of making a batch of homemade cookies?

I'm starting to rethink how I shop as I get ready for this holiday season.

Conclusion:  We decided to close several accounts.  I appreciate my husband's desire to help me be wiser with the limited time we have.  As he said to me, right now money is not our most precious commodity--time is.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Going On a Hunt...

Tonight I went on a hunt for a birthday gift for my daughter Sami.  We had already decided we were going to get her the Belle dress for her Princess and Me doll and a Radio Flyer scooter like her sister Autumn had gotten for her birthday.  So, I started out with Toys R Us.  No luck.  It retails for $60 in the store.  So, I ran across the street to Target.  Still no luck, but the price on the shelf for it was $52.99.  So, I ran to the other Target 10 minutes away.  Again, no luck =(  Goodness!  A gal at Awanas suggested checking online even though it won't get here by her birthday.

I started with Walmart:  $54 (free site to store shipping)
Then Target $64.99! (free shipping)
Finally, Toys R Us:  $47.99 (shipping:  $9 for a total of $57).

Surprisingly, I think I'm going to opt for the Toys R Us online option.  I just don't have the time to call Toys R Us and wait until it comes in.  I'd like to get it from Walmart, but for $3, I think I'll save myself the running around and have it shipped to our house where Sami can open it up when it comes.

I'm really shocked that the price varried so much between the three stores--and that the stores varied so much from their online prices.  I'll definitely be checking around when Christmas comes!

Post Script...  We went out on Thursday and found the scooter in stock at the other Toys R Us near us.  We opted to pay the $60 so that we would have it for her birthday on Monday.  I wish I had planned farther ahead and had been able to take advantage of the savings online.  But, sometimes that just isn't possible.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Simply in Season: Pumpkin Sausage Pasta

Every week the recipe on this page changes, but the one this week is one I've tried--and really liked!  It's called Pumpkin Sausage Pasta.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Birthday Parties, Holidays and Saving Money

Saving money with the holidays has been on my mind this week.  I've decided that I'm going to send as many emails with our Christmas letter as possible this year.  After watching two episodes of hoarders a few weeks ago (which I still need to write about), I am very reticent to send too many letters out.  I am one of those people who keeps the letters everyone mails out, but I know most people don't keep them.  Not because they don't care, but because they don't have the room =)

The holidays in our house are always coupled with the girls birthdays.  I've ended up planning multiple gatherings for them this year because only a few kids could come on the original day I'd planned.  I try to be simple about their parties and be creative about the planning.  After all is said and done, I'll post what I did and how it all went =)  It is interesting to me, though, how something we purchase for convenience really can quickly suck up all the money for the party.  On Monday, I bought two bags of chips and a package of Capri Sun 100% juice pouches.  In all, the two items cost $16.  I got home and realized that I needed to be much more careful this month, so on Tuesday I took them back.  Two bottles of apple juice costs $2.50 and 2 bags of chips from Aldis will only cost $2.50-$3.  Total:  $5-$6 which is a lot less than $16.  Yes, it is a birthday party, but it isn't the juice and chips that will make the party =)  it's the fun that the kids will have being together and playing games.

Cookbook on Sale at Costco

I noticed in the Costco magazine that $4 will automatically be taken off purchases of the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook from 11/15-11/28.

I have continued to try recipes from it over the past few weeks and have been really happy with them!  Last night, I made the chicken noodle soup (with my minor alterations so that it would cook more quickly--like cooking the chicken separately at the same time and then adding it at the end).  It was very good!

Cookbook on Sale at Costco

I noticed in the Costco magazine that $4 will automatically be taken off purchases of the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook from 11/15-11/28.

I have continued to try recipes from it over the past few weeks and have been really happy with them!  Last night, I made the chicken noodle soup (with my minor alterations so that it would cook more quickly--like cooking the chicken separately at the same time and then adding it at the end).  It was very good!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

With some books you just know you're going to love them...

Last week, I wrote that America's Test Kitchen's Healthy Family Cookbook had arrived.  I was so excited to start trying recipes.  It was very interesting to peruse through it.  One of my favorite cookbooks is America's Test Kitchen's Family Cookbook (minus the healthy title).  I've had it for three or four years and have a bunch of favorite recipes in it.  Basically, that cookbook is an updated, modern version of Betty Crocker or the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  There's more flavor and spice in America's Test Kitchen's recipes than in the two I just mentioned.  When I heard the Healthy Family version was coming out, I was very curious.  We strive to eat healthy foods, but we have our share of foods that we love that aren't so good for us, too.  Overall, though, I think we try to eat healthy foods.  I also am always on the look out for good low fat recipes because they inspire me to cook and eat better.

When I first opened this cookbook, I noticed that a few sections are different than the regular family cookbook such as stir-fries and curries and kid pleasing foods.  Though I haven't tried any of the stir fry sauce recipes yet, I am looking forward to it!

For the most part, the recipes in this cookbook are different than in the original cookbook, though a few have only minor changes.  It is a different cookbook.  I was most curious about the baking recipes.  I tried the brownie recipe and was wowed by it!  Last night, I made the oatmeal raisin cookies and when my neighbor tried them, her eyes widened.  She loved them and so did I!  I made the Butternut squash soup this week--which was very good though it didn't need the extra vegetable broth added to it.  I made several other recipes along the way including the strawberry banana smoothie and all have turned out well.  I also made the Chinese chicken salad.  I was so surprised at how they made it lowfat!  I still added 2 Tbsp of sugar because I do like it just a tad sweet, but that's a far cry from the 1/2 cup sugar in my original recipe that I've been making for 10 years.  With one recipe I did skip a couple of their steps because it simply wasn't practical for me and the recipe still did turn out okay.  But, in general, you do need to follow the recipe's directions in these two cookbooks.  They often add different quirky and unexpected steps in that make the recipes come out better work.

One big difference that I noticed in this cookbook was that the recipes are either designated Fast or they have no time identifier.  In the original cookbook, there was a prep time identified which I usually found inaccurate for me (and I am a quick cook).  So, I suppose it's probably wiser to omit the prep time estimation altogether.

I liked the philosophy that this cookbook had about food.  It was moderate, middle of the road and wasn't extreme.  I typically do choose lowfat over nonfat products.  When products go the way of nonfat, many artificial ingredients are added in.  The other bits of advice scattered throughout this cookbook about cooking equipment and ingredients is all very helpful.

I highly recommend this cookbook.  But, I have one last piece of advice.  What I did with my original cookbook is get a separate binder and take my favorite recipes and put them inside sheet protectors.  I will likely do the same with my favorite recipes from this one.  It is a large binder with thin, magazine thickness pages.  It is durable enough for looking through once in a while, but if you use it constantly, the pages just won't hold up.

If you're looking for one family cookbook, I'd recommend this one first--simply because the recipes are healthier.  But, the original family cookbook is wonderful as well.  They compliment each other!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Boston Common Press.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Being Patient For Wishes

On Thursday night, the women in the church had their monthly meeting.  Recently, I was on the phone with the gal who was the host and she happened to mention her high chair.  I asked her if she would like mine.  Eli had grown to big for it.  She replied that she would indeed like to have it--that it was an answer to a desire in her heart that she hadn't even been praying for recently.  It was a huge blessing to me--to get to pass on something that had in turn originally been a blessing to me.  I had found the high chair at a garage sale in the two weeks before Eli was born.  I realized I needed one and God had graciously provided one--for $10 at a garage sale.  It was a $70 or $80 high chair.  I took it home and cleaned it up and it looked awesome--it was a diamond in the rough.  It always brings me joy when I get the chance to share something with someone else that had been a blessing to me.

Often I can't find anyone who wants the things that are precious to me--that are symbolic to me of God's provision for my family.  I've taken to simply donating them to the local thrift store--which happens to be a favorite spot of one of my friends.  I know that people find treasures there and the funds from that shop bless American Veterans.  But, there's something about getting to simply give something--without any funds changing hands.

After the meeting, I called the gal to let her know what a blessing it was to get to see her home.  I love getting to see family's personalities reflected in their homes.  You get to know someone when you see their home.  We talked a bit about the high chair and I shared with her about what a blessing it was to give it to her.  She shared how she had wanted one a long time ago, but hadn't asked and it just didn't seem to be the right time.  She made a wise comment that I want to remember.

She said--that sometimes there is patience required on the part of the receiver as much as it is required on the part of the giver.  There is effort and waiting involved--holding onto the item and looking for the right home for it.    It isn't a holding on for the sake of hoarding and not letting go.  It is like flying in a holding pattern and waiting to land.

This morning my garage saling partner and I set out with the kids.  When I realized that we weren't going to do anymore shopping this fall, I was a little concerned but we decided to set out one more week.  What a blessing it was!

I have wanted a digital camera for the kids to play with for several years.  I just thought they'd have fun with it.  But, they ranged in price from $35-$60.  My husband didn't think it would be wise and so we never decided to get one for them.  This morning I found one for $1.  It needed to be cleaned up, needed new batteries and didn't have a USB cable.  So, I knew I was taking a chance.  I brought it home, replaced the batteries and tried out the cords I had.  Guess what?  One of them works!

The camera is the Little Tikes pink camera that retails for $35.  It doesn't take the greatest pictures--but the kids are having a great time with it and are excited to have it.  I'm thankful I waited.  I'm thankful I didn't buy one when I'd wanted one for the kids before.  I'm thankful I was patient.  But, most of all, I'm thankful for how God blessed us with a little camera for the kids to play with.

I'm going to try and keep in mind more often what my friend said about patience--both in receiving and giving.

Monday, October 4, 2010


Growing up, we didn't eat a lot of processed foods, but two that my mom did get were Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Spaghettios.  We didn't eat them very often, but I remember them and I remember liking them a lot. I had to find a substitute for Kraft's Mac and Cheese since it has artificial colors and such.  So, we've gone with Annie's--it's pretty affordable at Trader Joe's (their version) and at BJ's.  Spaghettios has been a little different.  It has high fructose corn syrup--one of the other things that I try to avoid.

So, my solution has been tomato soup from Trader Joe's with alphabet letter noodles.  Shoprite and Giant both carry the noodles in their store brand.  I smile knowing that this is one of my kids favorites.

My memories from when I was a kid seem to give me comfort, a sense of security, and a sense of history when I can't go see the places anymore and when it is long spans of people between when I get to see my family.  And as silly as it might seem, the foods from my childhood remind me of the things I liked and enjoyed when I was a kid.  They make me smile.  And it makes me smile to get to share these things, and new ones, with my kids.  We're making our own traditions.  I hope some day that they will share these things with their children--the things they loved as children.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Truly Great Lowfat Homemade Brownies

This week America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook arrived in the mail.  I was so excited to start cooking with it!  This week I'll post a review of it and explain how it's different from the Family Cookbook--which honestly I wouldn't trade it for.  They're different from each other and have different recipes.

Anyways, tonight I made the Butternut Squash Soup which, though flavorful needed less broth.  I would have left the vegetable broth out completely.  The soup was pretty runny.  And I would have roasted the vegetables for another 10 minutes.  But, even so, it was very good.  I served it with a dollop of lowfat sour cream, tiny alphabet noodles (aimed at the kids) and some pepper.  I served it with wheat bread and butter.

For dessert, I made these brownies with one alteration...
I don't buy bittersweet or baking chocolate anymore.  I actually haven't for years.  I substitute 3 Tbsp cocoa and 1 Tbsp butter for 1 oz. of baking chocolate.  So, in this recipe I substituted 2 Tbsp melted butter and another 1/3 cup cocoa.  I also added 1/2 cup chocolate chips.  I know that they're not as low fat this way, but they are a great improvement over the brownies I usually make.  The brownies I normally make have 1 1/3 cup sugar, 3 eggs, and 9 Tbsp of butter total (compared to 4 Tbsp in this recipe).  These brownies tasted just as good and surprisingly just as rich!

I'm going to keep trying a few more recipes through the week before I post my review for this cookbook, but so far so good!


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gluten-Free Cookbook

I just got a new cookbook from Amazon for review:  Cooking For Isaiah by Silvana Nardone   It was one of the two that I mentioned the other day.

I think Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free cooking would be hard, though it's becoming easier with the increase of products now available in mainstream super markets. Even General Mills is coming out with Gluten-Free baking mixes. But, for families that want to cook from scratch and not use premade gluten-free products, cooking has a lot of challenges. I was really curious how Silvana Nardone would deal with the struggles of substituting wheat and dairy in this cookbook. 

Rachel Ray wrote the forward for this cookbook, but I've found that her recipes often use expensive ingredients and are more time intensive then they sound. Honestly, I haven't liked her cookbooks or recipes.  So, I wasn't sure how this cookbook would be. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Silvia Nardone did just what I hoped she would--she developed a gluten-free flour that can be made into a pancake mix and used in a variety of other ways. She generally uses normal ingredients outside of the flour ingredients themselves. To make this mix more affordably, you can grind your own rice flour using a Nutrimill (though I'd suggest you call the manufacturer for tips on how much at a time to grind because I had a friend who was helped by doing this). It won't grind the other ingredients, but you can get them in bulk at some Whole Foods or at Amish Markets (which would likely be the cheapest option). But, if you're not in a big city, Bob's Red Mill products are carried by many main stream grocery stores now.  Usually, people use spelt as a substitute, but you're still stuck needing good recipes using that substitution.

I was a bit surprised with her choice to use vegetable shortening for baking as a substitute for butter. But, I realized that while Ms. Nardone is taking out the wheat and dairy, she wasn't taking out the partially hydrogenated fats or high fructose corn syrup. I did a little research though and the verdict (at least on the internet) is that fully hydrogenated shortening is okay--it has no trans fats and Crisco makes a shortening that fits this bill. She also uses Marshmallow Fluff and Light Corn Syrup in a few recipes. 

The other substitution she makes is rice milk--which I think is a great choice. It tastes far better than the others and it's least expensive of dairy alternatives if you get it at Trader Joe's. I used to have to drink it because I was lactose intolerant for 2 or 3 years in my 20s.  I'm trying not to give too much away, but I don't think I am, because it is her recipes, experiences, and stories that make this cookbook what it is as much as her flour substitution recipe. 

As for the recipes, they'd be great for adults. Many of the recipes are far simpler to make and in flavor than the names would make you think--which is a good thing. It would be very easy to modify the recipes and make them little kid friendly by taking out a few of the spices or decreasing them. The main dishes are much more to the tastes of adults than children--but I think that is one of the easier meals to modify--baking and breakfast are far trickier. Her recipes don't use non-dairy cheses, which are expensive and taste different. 

I think this would be a great cookbook to try--even if the main dishes aren't to the taste of you or your family. Her ideas and flour recipe are worth the cookbook.  I haven't made any of the recipes yet, but I'm going to make the butternut casserole tonight and I'll post tomorrow how it turns out!  It's a good one to check out from the library first--to see how you like it.  If you do, would you please comment and let me know how you like it?

She does have a website that looked great:  And on her site she lists her favorite gluten free websites.  So, I think if we had to go towards a gluten free diet--I would definitely start there =)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


My brother often tells me that everything is going to eventually progress to online shopping.  I have a hard time believing that after this past weekend.  After a month of wrangling with Sharp, we finally were able to return our broken tv to Costco (11 months after purchase) for a refund.  We didn't find what we were looking for at Costco.  Although I love Costco, one of the hardest things is that there aren't sales people with detailed knowledge of their products.  Such was the case for us on Friday when we really needed some helpful advice about picking out a new television to replace the broken one.  So, we headed over to Best Buy.  God was very gracious to us and we ended up with a young man who wasn't intent on selling us an LED tv.  He explained the differences to us between Plasma, LCD, and LED.

Plasma was the first to come out.  It has a glass front so it can get glares from lights or reflections from the light from windows.  But, it has the best colors of the three.  Panasonic and Samsung are the two primary makers of plasma televisions.  Panasonic's technology actually came from Pioneer, I believe the salesperson said.  There used to be huge concerns about leaving the television on because it would burn the image into the screen.  Our salesperson said the technology has improved so that you don't have to be as concerned about this as one used to.  The frames are 600Hz as opposed to the much lower Hz available in LCD and LED at the same price.

LCD (which is what we used to have) is good technology and came out after plasma televisions.  Samsungs and Sonys are the highest thought of brands with LG often being one of the top ones as well.  You want 120 Hz if you have a BluRay player because of the speed of the frames.  The 60 Hz won't show the picture to the fullest capability of the BluRay player.

LED televisions are the newest technology.  They use the least amount of energy and are the flattest screens of the bunch.  It was an amazing picture.   With the LCD and LED televisions, you do not get the glare that you can get with Plasma televisions.  Again you do want a 120 Hz or more if you have a BluRay player.

I am not technologically savvy enough to explain the difference between LCD and LED televisions.  I can say though that we ended up buying a Plasma.  For the same size screen, plasmas are significantly less than LCD and LED.  The biggest downside I see for the Plasma is the glare from the glass.  But, we don't watch a lot of television.  We primarily like to use it for movies at night, so it works great for that!

I was very thankful for all the help our salesperson gave us and that he didn't try to pressure us.  I am thankful I was able to walk into a store that had a helpful sales person and get the answers I needed to the questions we had.

Our second experience was at Guitar Center in Towson, MD.  Musician's Friend is an online music store that has been around a long time.  But, Guitar Center is a chain that continues to stay in business.  I learned on Saturday why.  My husband needed to purchase an acoustic electric guitar for church.  We've been looking around and it finally seemed the right time to do it.  The thing about guitars is that they all play a little differently and it isn't something that can easily be bought online--you have no idea how the strings and guitar will feel in your hands.  A review by someone else can't tell you that.  We had a great experience at the store and we found a used guitar that someone had just decided they didn't want to purchase.  I am so thankful for it!  I am also thankful that the shopping is done!

So, I'm still of the mind that I like being able to shop in stores and don't have to do it all online.  And--I am very thankful for good customer service.  It will very often persuade me to make my purchase at one store over another.

Two New Cookbooks

I am very excited.  Two cookbooks are on their way that I will soon get to review.  One I requested because I have many friends with gluten or dairy allergies.  We do not have these allergies in our family, but I think that my body does not tolerate it well if I eat too much dairy.  I am hopeful that this might be a good one, or at least that it will have some good ideas.

The second cookbook, I'm especially excited about.  One of my favorite cookbooks is America's Test Kitchen's Family Cookbook.  Basically, it's a modernized Betty Crocker cookbook.  The basics are updated with more flavor and spice.  America's Test Kitchen is publishing a new Healthy Family Cookbook this month.  I am looking forward especially to see what they do in the baking recipes.  So often the substitutions people do are expensive or use artificial ingredients.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

It's gonna be alright...

Last night, God was so gracious to me.  I had a horrible day yesterday.  I was cranky and so frustrated with life. I needed perspective and encouragement.  And even as I struggled with God, he was loving to me.

When I say that I homeschool, people say many things.  One is that they could never do that.  Another is how lucky I am to stay home.  Sometimes people aren't sure what to say.  Homeschooling is a wonderful thing, but it's like being a full time stay at home mom (which is a full time job) and then being a full time school teacher on top of it.  So, it's a bit like doing two jobs many days.  I do love that I get time with my kids and that I get to see them learn.  But, there are many struggles amidst the joys.

This year I was so overwhelmed that I pulled out of the homeschool co-op group I was in last year.  But, then yesterday, I realized that I needed them.  I need my friends.  As much as my kids need social interaction, I needed the other moms--even if I'm only able to keep track of people and dialogue online.  I need to know that I'm not alone.  I need to hear about the struggles of other moms to help me put my own struggles in perspective.

As I was driving last night to get together with my friends, I heard these songs..
For several years, Sara Groves music has been a blessing to me.  Her songs express such an honesty.

This first song was me yesterday--fighting my private wars in my own heart.  The video isn't of Sara Groves singing, but the gal who sings does well, I think.

When I am in the midst of struggles, I find myself feeling these words from
the lyrics from The Long Defeat by Sara Groves...

I pray for an idea 
and a way I cannot see 
It's too heavy to carry 
and impossible to leave 

We walk a while we sit and rest 
we lay it on the altar 
I won't pretend to know what's next 
but what I have I've offered 

I pray for a vision 
and a way I cannot see 
It's too heavy to carry 
and impossible to leave 

I met with my friends and it was just good to be with them.  To talk and know I'm not alone.  It gave me perspective on my struggles without me saying a word about all of them.  And then on the way home, I heard this song...

And then finally, I was ready to remember that I want to be one of the saints marching home.  

dear friends, if you are struggling today please know that my heart and prayers are with you.  We are walking through these struggles together.  We are not alone.  I was reminded of that last night and I am so thankful that God blessed me with fellowship and friends in the heart of my weakness and cries.  I didn't deserve it.  At all.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


My children get some choices but not as many as a lot of children probably.  I don't remember what it was like when I was a kid except that I didn't have many clothes.  The kids in my classes made comments--and those I do remember.  It was hard.  So, the summer after 6th grade when I started working, I started buying my own clothes.  I didn't have a lot of taste though and had no idea what was in style, but I tried.  I had Guess, Bongo, and Esprit clothes like everyone else--except that I bought them on clearance and at outlets.  My husband has a memory of being given a pair of shoes as a child that he had to wear and which he hated.  It made an impression on him.  Now, he wants to wear what he wants to.  Surprisingly, he will let me shop for him.  I bring home clothes, he tries them on, and I return the ones he doesn't like.  Sometimes that means that I return everything and sometimes I return only one or two things from a group of five items.  Today I get to return one of three packages of socks =) to Marshalls.

Based on my own childhood experiences with clothes and my husband's, I've thought about when and what clothing choices I should give my kids.  A couple of months ago, I donated a bunch of the girls clothes that they weren't wearing.  A month ago, Autumn mourned the loss of one of the dresses because now she wants to wear it.  It frustrated me, but at the same time I knew that the point of donating the clothes was to help her learn to be thankful for what she has.  My kids get to choose what they wear each day from their clothes (given a parameter like shorts and a shirt).

But, when it comes to choosing what clothes we purchase, my kids get to choose between two shirts, but they've never gotten to simply go into a store and pick out clothes that they'd like to buy.  I can't afford to give them that choice.  So, there is a balance that I have to find.  When I am able to give them a choice between two things, I do--like which color they'd like for their winter coat.

This is an example of how it plays out when we go shopping...
I needed new shoes for Eli for the wedding and new sandals for Sami for the last month of summer since hers were torn and stunk! =(  We headed to Payless for their BoGo 1/2 off with an extra 20% coupon.  I tried to get Eli to try on a pair of dress shoes.  He refused.  I held out another and he refused again.  I found a nice pair of tennis shoes with colors that matched his outfit for the wedding and he lit up.  I was concerned because the price tag said $16.99.  He tried them on and they fit.  I had my own concerns about the heels on the dress shoes and how much Eli runs around, so the nice tennis shoes made sense to me.  I thought I would only buy one pair of ballet shoes and use one pair of our old ones for the fall for the girls since they cost about the same as the price tag for the tennis shoes.  Then, I set to looking for a pair of sandals for Sami.  I couldn't find anything less than $10.99.  Finally, my eyes landed on a pair that were $7.99!  I pulled them out and showed them to Sami.  She loved them--yay!  Then, I went to look for the box for Eli's shoes and discovered that there was a tag that said they were $9.99!  I was thrilled.  I could buy 2 pairs of ballet shoes and the others.  After the 20% off and bogo, Sami's sandals ended up being $3.20, Eli's $8.00 and the ballet shoes averaged $12.  I was very thankful!  I have come to feel that it is not really me that helps me find the right shoes for my kids, but it is God's hand.  I seek to be a good steward and stretch what the finances he has given us, but at the very same time I have seen him provide choices that we're able to afford.  I came home very thankful!  Sami is very happy and doesn't feel like she didn't have a choice.  And Eli loves his shoes too and I feel good about them too.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Spaghetti Sauce my whole family loved!

Last night, I was doing my usual--getting ready for dinner with less time than I needed.  Pasta and sauce were on the menu.  I've been searching for a good tomato basil sauce for a long time and last night's turned out to be a hit with my family.  I started with a recipe from a cookbook, but I altered it so much that it didn't end up at all like what I made, so I feel comfortable posting this recipe as my own.  So, here it is:

1/2 cup olive oil
15 fresh bail leaves
1- 28 oz can diced tomatoes with juice
2- 8 oz cans of tomato sauce
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp sugar

Microwave the olive oil in a pyrex dish for 1 minute (1 1/2 minutes if you have a mini microwave like mine).  Add the basil leaves and microwave for 15-30 seconds.

Dump in blender with tomatoes and tomato sauce and garlic.  If you have a Vitamix, I turned mine to 7 for about 1 or 2 minutes.  I would do the same with a regular blender on the low setting.  Not all of the tomato sauce may fit in a regular blender, so if it doesn't just add it after you've blended when you pour the blended mixture into a saucepan.

Pour the blended mixture into the saucepan and add everything else.  Cook uncovered for 10-15 minutes to help it thicken a little.  Add more pepper or salt to taste.  If you don't like things salty, start with only 1/4 tsp instead of 1/3 tsp.


My kids all ate it up--even Sami who wanted 3rds!!  My husband who is the pickiest person about pasta sauces in our family since he's the most Italian one gave it a big thumbs up.

And I'm happy that my family was happy with my cooking =)