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!