Monday, October 22, 2012

Anabaptist Cooking

I think it's so interesting that there is this fascination with Amish and Mennonite cooking.  I had a thought about why this might be just now.  I think they are seen as simpler, back to the basics, from scratch cooks--who embody that idea of "wholesome goodness" in their cooking.  I think it is because we romanticize the way of life of the Amish and Mennonites.

That being said, I have been told by many who make treks up to nearby Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that the Amish and Mennonites are good cooks.  Such comments pique my curiosity.  I've had Amish cookbooks before and they have never wowed me.  But, I can't resist trying a new cookbook.  Hence, my mom and I found ourselves trying out recipes from a new cookbook coming out, A Farmer's Daughter: Recipes from a  Mennonite Kitchen by Dawn Stoltzfus.  My rule of thumb is that I must try at least three different recipes from a cookbook before reviewing it.  In this case, we tried the Baked Peach French Toast, the Creamy Baked Macaroni and Cheese (crockpot option), and the Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars.

Here's my take:

1) Cookbook mechanics:  The recipes are easy to read and well written.  Ingredients are easy to identify, common, and labeled well.  It's black and white without any pictures, but the ease of reading the recipes partially makes up for that.

2)  The food itself:  I admit it.  I'm picky.  I have tried a lot of recipes over the years.  Of the three recipes, they were all just okay.  The peach french toast was pretty good for oven baked french toast, but it really wasn't anything special.  The "creamy" mac and cheese was not "creamy" at all when make according to the author's crockpot directions.  Finally, the bars were well received by the folks who ate them, but I found fault with them.  The peanut butter was very difficult to spread on the bottom layer and the chocolate chips just wouldn't stick at all to the top!  When I cook recipes from a cookbook I'm reviewing, I want to feel like I'd definitely want to make them again.  I just didn't feel that way with any of these recipes.  They're fine, really.  Competent.  Just nothing out of the ordinary or especially yummy.

Verdict:  If you want from scratch cooking, I have a list on one of the tabs on this blog of my all-time favorite cookbooks and I am a cook who cooks from scratch.  I am coming to realize that I am very picky when it comes to cookbooks.  Reviewing so many over the past four years has made me much more selective about what I recommend and what I consider fine, good, and great cooking.  Sadly, I'd pass on this cookbook.  It's just one I'd rarely pick up.

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

Friday, October 19, 2012

Maple Butter Recipe

A friend of ours is from Vermont and she made some maple butter, which she kindly shared with us!  I asked if I could share her recipe because it was so good.  It totally trumped my homemade strawberry jam which was on the table.  

Sami told me she was sorry, but that if the maple butter wasn't there, then she'd eat the jam.  What a cutie!  

So, here's the original recipe my friend started with and her recipe.  She had to play around with it to get it to work right, so the testing and experimenting has already been done!

Original recipe:
1 cup pure maple syrup and 3/4 cup melted butter. 
Heat the maple syrup until a small amount forms a soft ball in cold water. 
Then add the butter and beat w/ a rotary beater until thick and creamy. Serve it warm on hot bread. 

Our friend's version:
1 cup pure maple syrup heated as above.
Beat it into room tempeture butter (not melted), then put in the fridge until it cools. If you don't put it in the fridge, it tends to separate a bit.
According to the internet, it can take up to 10 minutes. 

She noted that Martha Stewart recommends putting the butter into the pot once the syrup is at the soft ball stage and having it melt there, then immediately transferring it to a bowl where you beat it for 8 minutes until it's the right color/consistency.  But, Martha Stewart's recipes and I have never seen eye to eye (for some reason they never work for me).  So, I think I'll stick with my friend's version!

Happy Maple Buttering!

Oh, as for the best price--Costco or BJs.  Both used to have a great price a few years ago before Maple Syrup took a huge price hike.  But, their price is still better than other places.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Photography for Children

One of my methods for saving money right now is to write my own curriculum.  So far, I've put together a PE curriculum (here) for this year and two literature units for 4th/5th grade (email me if you're interested and I'd be glad to share them).  I'm starting work on a photography curriculum.  The curriculum I'm working on is for ages 6-8 or 9 years old.  It's the very basics of using a digital camera. When I'm done, I'll post my basic outline on this site.  In a year or two, we're going to do another quarter of curriculum and then in a few years after that another quarter.  There's so much to learn when it comes to photography.  

There are two books that have been awesome tools for me.  One book helped me break down the basics that I need to teach my children this year and the second book will come into play more after they learn the basics.  The second book actually has helped me a lot in my own photography.  It's easier to read and more simply written than an adult photography book.  This book is titled the 4-H Guide to Digital Photography.  It is written by Daniel Johnson.  It is perfect for anyone in grades 6 or 7 on up.  This book covers and talks about both point and shoot and DSLRs.  The other book that helped me condense and figure out what I need to teach my children was DK's Digital Photo Magic.  

To teach photography to elementary children, I'd start with DK's book (which is $4 including shipping and handling used on Amazon).  Take one lesson at a time.  The smaller the amount of info, the better.  The most important thing is practice.  Explain a concept to your child.  Show them by example what you're talking bout.  Then let them practice--a lot.  Don't rush.  The practice is what will improve their skills.  Upload the pictures periodically during your practice so they can see the pictures better.  Google's Picasa program is an easy editing software that is free and easy to use.  

For middle school students and older who know the basics of how to use a digital camera, I'd start with the 4-H Guide to Digital Photography.  One of the first things I look for in a photography guide is whether I like the photographer's pictures.  In this case, I definitely do.  Mr. Johnson includes great examples of the concepts he is talking about in the book.  He covers all of the basics and then some.  It's simple enough for a beginning photographer, but reviews the basics well for people and students who've dabbled in photography already.  I'd still start with identifying the parts of the camera and then turning it on and off (Chapter 1).  I have to admit that I didn't pick up the manual for the first year I owned my DSLR and I was completely unaware of how to really use my camera.  So, no matter how much a student thinks he or she knows, I think it's good to review the basics to begin with.  When I use this book with my children in a few years, my plan is to take each chapter and write out a brief assignment.  That assignment will be for the student to explain the major concepts of the chapter and illustrate what that means by showing me at least two pictures--one that uses the information from the lesson (taken after the lesson) and one that doesn't (taken before reading the chapter).  Preferably, I'd have a student pick three subjects and go out and take 3 pictures.  Then, the student would read the chapter and take 3 new pictures of the same subject using what they know.  Then, we'd look at them and discuss them together.  There is a lot of vocabulary in this book and I would also ask my students to keep a vocabulary notebook with the terms and their meanings written in their own words.  Still, photography is a class that is less about reading and writing and rather more about doing.  So, I would recommend previewing each chapter and dividing it into section.  Practice one concept at a time.  Sometimes it's too complicated to do everything at once.  

For middle schoolers and high schoolers interested in dabbling in photography, I think Mr. Johnson's book is a great place to start.  As for the question of whether a student should use a point and shoot or a DSLR--  if you have a point and shoot, then start with that.  You'd be surprised at how many different features it has when you look at the manual and all of the settings that you can adjust.  Then, if a student is really interested in photography, get a DSLR. A basic DSLR will start at about $500.  I'd go with Canon or Nikon because they are the major brands and usually you stick with one brand over time.  I'm a Canon person.  

If you only want to purchase one book, I'd get the 4-H Guide to Digital Photography.  At $13 on Amazon, it isn't priced too badly and it won't take up too much space on your shelf. I'm much more conscious of this these days as I need to have materials on our bookshelf for three homeschooling students.  

These websites give a quick list of what to teach them:
None of these are homeschooling sites.  I'd pick the middle one.  Use those 13 lessons and teach one for a week or longer.  Give your student plenty of time to practice before moving on.  Use the 4-H Guide by Johnson to give you the background knowledge you need and the websites to succinctly list what you want to teach them.  

So, that's my plan.  In case you're interested, my plan is to post my outline of our photography course by Christmas since we're going to be starting photography in January.  

Please note that I did receive a complimentary copy of the 4-H Guide to Digital Photography for review from Voyageur Press.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

Super Yummy Mac and Cheese, from scratch

Below is my mother in law's recipe for mac and cheese.  It came from an old BHG cookbook.  The new one they post on the web isn't the same.  Variation #2 is my own version.

Macaroni and Cheese
16 ounces dried elbow macaroni or desired-shape pasta
6  tablespoons butter or margarine
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tsp. salt
4 cups low-fat milk
16 oz. sliced American cheese
1.       Cook macaroni according to package directions; drain. Meanwhile, for cheese sauce, in a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour, salt, and pepper. Add milk all at once. Cook and stir until slightly thickened and bubbly. Add cheese, stirring until melted. Stir macaroni into cheese sauce in saucepan, stirring to coat. Cook over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes or until heated through, stirring frequently. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.  If you like to reheat mac and cheese, this is the best way to make it.
      Makes 8 servings

      But if you like a crispy crust on top, then try this variation...
Variation:  Oven Macaroni and Cheese:: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare as above, except increase milk to 2 cups. Transfer mixture to a 2-quart casserole. Sprinkle panko bread crumbs over top for a crispy crust.  Bake, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbly and heated through. Don't overbake!  It will dry out if you do.  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Variation 2:  Add 16 oz. frozen peas (defrosted and cooked) with 1 ham steak (chopped) for a more complete main dish.

Happy Mac and Cheese making!  We've been eating this a lot lately because my kids love it so much and honestly, it's just as good for you as the packaged stuff (several people commented online that they were concerned about the fat content.  If the American cheese and milk are reduced fat, I feel like it's a pretty good ratio.  It is mac and cheese after all!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The consequences of having kids

I was thinking of some other title, but that one sounded the best for the moment.  I had 3 kids and gained 40-45 lbs with each pregnancy.  I exercised after each one, but there was a consequence of having 3 kids for me.  It was my stomach.  I hate ab exercises.  I can get myself to walk and do walkerobics, but not do ab exercises.  

This week, I finally found something I'm willing to do--and that will fit in my schedule (which feels so busy right now).  For me, that's the key to exercise.  It has to be something I'm willing to do.  And honestly, I hate pain!  Part of what I'm doing is PE with my kids.  A few weeks ago, I felt the Lord bring PE to my attention. I needed to make it a daily part of our lives in a way that it hasn't been before.  We started running around our house each day and stretching.  But, running won't fix my stomach.  

So, here's what I'm doing.  My husband hung his pull up bar on a door frame on Sunday.  I am doing 5 leg lifts (just to waist height) 2-3 times a day.  It takes me a few seconds (which is all I have).  I'm also doing 2 plank exercises 2-3 times a day. (also just a minute)

Exercise #1: Dolphin Plank
I hold this for 20 seconds.

Exercise #2: Plank with Arm Lift
This plank I don't go down onto my forearms for.  I do a push up position, and then lift one arm back to my side for 2 breaths. Then, I repeat it on the other side.  I do this 2-3 times.

There are many variations of the plank exercises, but I can feel the effects of these two and I'm thankful for that.  I probably will add other variations over time.  

I think the biggest thing I've found with exercising is that I have to want to do it!  These exercises are doable for me, so I'm thankful.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tracking and Hacking

Last night, I watched something on youtube in several parts.  I have trusted youtube over other sites.  But, every time you're on the web, the reality is that there are risks.

Tonight, I was logging into one of my email accounts and I briefly saw a pathway flash through the toolbar.  It was a youtube pathway.  Red lights went off in my head.  So, I started a virus scan right away.  Then, I went into my browser settings and cleared all cookies and data.  Then, an interesting thing came up.  It said that there were 2 users on my computer.

2 users?  The second user had a funny name and a hamburger symbol next to it.  Hmmm...

I went to my husband and asked if he'd created it.  


So, I went ahead and deleted it.  

The internet is a scary place.  I'm praying and hoping that's all there is to this, but I'll be on my guard for a while.  My husband was just telling me last week how important it is to regularly change passwords and make sure information is secure.  I wish the world wasn't this way, but it is.  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Dangers of Delaying

This Sunday's paper contained the Parade magazine as usual.  The cover article is this one: on vaccines.  I think this article is well written and not extreme.

I have been concerned about the increase in the number of parents who are not vaccinating their children.  Honestly, this article expresses my concerns well.  I remember visiting a church a few years ago where I knew many of the parents were choosing to delay or not vaccinate their children.  I was quite anxious about my children being in the nursery.  One thing most people don't realize is that when they choose to delay or not vaccinate their children, they are not only putting their own children at risk, but also those who are unable to be vaccinated for health or age reasons.

Our culture is so self-centered.  We are encouraged to think more of our own families than of the greater good.  We don't think about how our actions will affect others.

I have a friend who is a pediatric ICU nurse.  We've had long discussions about the vaccines.  She explained to me about what she's seen in her job and that people don't realize the impact of the diseases that we are warding off by vaccinating our children.  I've even heard people make light of whooping cough and hepatitis.

Our generation has not had to experience these diseases in epidemic proportion.  So, I believe it is very difficult for us to accept the reality of how an epidemic would impact everyone.  But, outbreaks are increasing.

Can you imagine having your child die of a disease that could have been prevented by a vaccination?

Many people are now putting off the hepatis vaccine, because they believe it is not necessary.  I have known several people with hepatitis.  While it is not life threatening, it is life-altering.  There are many effects.  One is that it can affect one's ability to get pregnant.  Another person I knew struggled with fatigue and other symptoms that made it impossible for her to hold a ft job.  It also damages a person's liver and can lead to liver cancer.

Another vaccine that people are putting off or not getting is the chicken pox vaccine.  It is seen as not essential.  But, there is an additional affect of not getting the vaccine besides chicken pox.  Many people who got the chicken pox as children are now getting shingles as adults.  It is the same virus that causes shingles.  I have one friend who's had shingles 3 times.  She has explained to me how painful it is and that she made sure her children got the chicken pox vaccine.  Most parents think that if their children get the chicken pox then it is done.  But, unfortunately, it isn't.

I know many parents believe that vaccines have damaged their children.  I do not know how to respond to what they believe in their hearts to be true.  I do know, though, that the link between vaccines and autism has been consistently disproven and debunked by research.  There are other potential causes that researchers are investigating.  This article lists a few of them:  Our culture is so cynical and distrustful.  We are prone to believing conspiracy theories, like the ones that have been perpetrated about autism and vaccines.  We need to be careful about such theories--they affect our well being and that of others.