June 17, 2011

New Guest Blogger on The Book Blawg

I have some exciting news. My son, Chris, who is 10, will be writing short reviews of some of his summer reading on one of my other blogs, The Book Blawg. Right now he is reading through the Redwall series by Brian Jacques and the Dragon Keepers Chronicles by Donita K. Paul, although I am letting him choose his writing topics. I also plan to format the posts only but not edit his writing, as much as it irks me to publish something with grammatical errors :).

June 6, 2011

Sourdough Bread Part I: Starter

"You start it," said Ma, "by putting some flour and warm water in a jar and letting it stand till it sours." "Then when you use it, always leave a little," said Laura. "And put in the scraps of biscuit dough, like this, and more warm water," Laura put in the warm water, "and cover it," she put the clean cloth and the plate on the jar, "and just set in in a warm place," she set it in its place on the shelf by the stove. "And it's always ready to use, whenever you want it."
- Laura Ingalls Wilder, By the Shores of Silver Lake

Why Sourdough Bread?
For a while, I've been thinking about making my own sourdough. At a certain point, I realized that commercial baker's yeast is a processed food.  You can make the most healthy, whole grain, organic bread, but if you are using yeast that you buy in the grocery store, you are adding a shelf-stable manufactured product. It's the bread equivalent of pasteurized milk - or worse, milk powder.

Second, I've been using the no-knead Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method and love it. I just don't like the yeasty taste that my bread gets if I don't bake it within a day or two of mixing it. It's not that I don't like the taste of sourdough or yeast, I just don't like the particular sour yeasty taste that my bread takes on when I add commercial yeast.

Third, we've been making some dietary changes in our family in order to address some health and behavioral problems. Primarily, this has involved removing dairy from our diets, but sometimes we wonder if the combination of dairy and gluten causes problems as well. We're not really at the point of going gluten-free, and I think we would know if anyone in our family had a serious gluten intolerance. But the bacteria and yeast in sourdough helps pre-digest the gluten in bread, in the same way that aged cheese and yogurt have less lactose than milk, because the bacteria feed on the lactose and gluten and break them down.

How to get Sourdough Starter
Sourdough starter is a symbiotic combination of wild yeast and lactobacillus. There are several different ways to get your own sourdough starter (sometimes called a sponge). You can grow your own, like Mrs. Ingalls did. You can borrow some from a friend. Most interestingly, you can order starter on the internet. San Francisco sourdough gets it's distinctive taste from the wild yeast that populate that geographical area; and you can buy Alaskan sourdough, Italian sourdough, Parisian sourdough, etc. - some strains are over 100 years old. A strain that has been around a while is bound to be dependable. Of course, some say that eventually your sourdough starter will be overtaken by your local wild yeast. Fresh sourdough starter generally runs $6- $12. King Arthur Flour is a reliable source.

However, being a frugal person, I opted for the free starter (and seeing as how this is my first time experimenting with sourdough; I don't want to pay for something only to kill it or loose interest if it doesn't work). You can get Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter free for the cost of a self-addressed stamped envelope. Instructions are at carlsfriends.net.

Carl is long gone, but his friends keep his sourdough culture alive and will dry it and send it to you. What a deal! The only drawback is that you have to take a little time to re-activate it. The Carl's Friends website has instructions. Put some in a dish, add some water, and stir:

Add a little water and flour, and when it bubbles, stir it and add a little more flour and water. The whole process takes several hours. Store it in a non-airtight container. A French canning jar with the gasket removed is perfect - it lets gasses in (and out) yet protects from accidental spillage, insects, and one-year-olds:

If you are going to be using the starter daily, keep it out at room temperature. If you need to store it, put it in the refrigerator.

Feeding Your Starter
I've only been doing this for a few weeks, so I am certainly no expert. You can find a ton of advice (often conflicting) on the internet about how to care for sourdough starter. There are YouTube videos, online courses, and endless websites. But here's the simple, what-works-for-me version:

So, the bacteria and the yeast feed on the four. After a while, they run out of flour and then the bacteria starts eating the yeast. This products hooch - the alcoholic liquid that forms on top - and is a good sign that you need to feed your yeast. Just add a tablespoon of flour and a tablespoon of water. Some sourdough experts say that you should add the same weights, not the same amounts of flour and water, so depending on the density of your flour the amount of water will be different. However, I try to keep my starter the consistency of pancake batter. So if it is too thin, I don't add so much water, and if it is thick, I add a little more.  If you add too much flour and water, see what happens:

I found a great article at GNOWFLGLINS, 6 Tips to Prevent “Sour” Sourdough, which advises you to pour off the hooch rather than stir it in; and to feed the starter more often. So I feed my starter 2-3 times a day when it is out on the counter, and 3 times a week when it is in the fridge. I put in a tablespoon of flour and water, give it a stir, and that's it. If I'm going to bake bread, I take it out of the fridge several hours to a day before, feed it 1/2 a cup or so of flour and water, and let it sit until I am ready to bake.

Next up: Sourdough Bread Part II:  Baking

May 5, 2011

Refried Beans

Beans are a great, cheap, nutritious food. My boys, however, act like they are allergic to beans - even though they ate them when they were little. At a certain point, we noticed that whenever we went out to eat, they would quickly devour bean dip with tortilla chips, even as they disdained the same beans which appeared on their plates next to the rice. Go figure. So the obvious solution was to make my own bean dip, a/k/a Frijoles Refritos, or refried beans.

Now, I know some of you like to soak dried beans and cook them all day, but I needed something that was quicker and took less preparation. After googling some recipes and a little experimenting, I came up with this:

Garlicky Refried Beans

2 cans pinto beans
3 T fat or oil (olive oil, coconut oil, lard, bacon grease, etc.)
1 or 2 cloves pressed garlic
1/2 t. onion powder
dash or two of cayenne powder (red pepper)
1/2 t. cumin (optional)
1 t. coriander  (optional)
dash or two of black pepper

salt to taste, about 1 1/2 t.
squeeze of lime juice (2 t. )

Open cans and drain the beans, reserving the liquid. Heat the oil in a cast-iron skillet or your
favorite frying pan. Add garlic and saute for just a minute, until it barely starts to brown. Dump in the beans, spices, salt, and 2 T. of the reserved bean juice. Cook on medium-high heat for a few minutes, until the beans look hot and you have had a chance to find your potato masher in the drawer. Reduce heat and mash up the beans until fairly smooth. Add as much bean juice as you need to reach the desired consistency, keeping in mind that the bean dip will thicken as it cools. I usually find that the liquid from one can of beans is just right. Add some lime juice. Stir it all up real good, scraping the bottom of the pan; and serve warm with tortilla chips.

A couple notes:
- You can use black beans instead of pinto.
- If you are not fond of garlic, skip the fresh garlic and add 1/2 t. of garlic powder instead.
- On the other hand, if you prefer your beans oniony, sautee fresh minced onion in oil instead of (or in addition to) the garlic. Adjust amounts of onion powder and garlic powder accordingly. Dried onion flakes will work as well.

Play with the amounts and kinds of spices until you find a blend that you and your family love. Yum!

April 27, 2011

Instilling Honor in Boys Through Literature

Cindy, homeschooling mom of nine, has a list of literature (fiction, biographies, and poetry) on her blog which tends to instill honor in boys without moralizing:
Our goal is not to produce self-righteous prigs like our old friend Eustace Scrubbs before he met the dragon (See: The Voyage of Dawn Treader) but rather to motivate our sons by the examples of true heart change whether that heart change is in the real man Stonewall Jackson or the fictional mouse Reepicheep.
My boys have read a few of these already. How about yours?

March 18, 2011

Irish Soda Bread

Happy St. Patrick's Day! My friend Julie over at Mommie Cooks posted this yummy-looking recipe for Irish Soda Bread, so I decided to try it. Our family is spending a couple weeks eliminating dairy (milk) from our diets, so I made a couple of modifications to the recipe:

- Rice milk instead of buttermilk (added a tablespoon of lemon juice and let it sit while I mixed up the dry ingredients).
- Instead of 4T melted butter, 2T each olive oil and coconut oil (warmed slightly).

I also substituted one cup of whole wheat flour for white and nixed the caraway seeds, because I hate, hate, hate them.

The bread was easy to make and all my boys loved it - and asked for seconds!

February 20, 2011

Children in Church and Sermon Notes

Years ago, I found a form on the web for young children to use to take notes in church. Recently, I tried to find it again and was unsuccessful. However, I did find this form from Blue Ridge Bible Church which is perfect for my older kids to use.

BRBC's post on Kids and Sermon Notes references another really good piece by John and Noel Piper called The Family: Together in God's Presence which discusses both the practical aspects of teaching children to take notes, worship, etc., but more importantly the "whys" of family-centered worship. A must-read for those attending family-integrated churches or who prefer to keep their children with them in church services. I explained to my 5-year-old who can't read enough to sing along that his job during worship is to "listen very hard" and that seemed to click with him.

After a lot more google searching for the old form (most searches for "kid's sermon notes" and the like pulls up Sunday school or children's church lessons and activities), I discovered that Ginger, a friend from our old church in Texas, has created a very similar Worship Notes for Children form. I think I'll give this one to my 5yo and maybe my 8yo, who isn't quite getting the hang of note-taking on the other form. Thanks, Ginger!

February 12, 2011

Dairy-free Cornbread

When I want to make really awesome cornbread, I use Patsy Watkin's Rocking Cornbread recipe, which I cut out of the newspaper several years ago. It involves melting butter on the stove in a cast-iron skillet, adding the ingredients including buttermilk, then baking it in the oven. You can add corn, cheese, and jalapenos if you like, and it's really, really good.

However, when we want something easier to assemble, dairy-free, and just pretty good, I use this recipe:

Beat together:
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 1/2 cups rice, almond, or soy milk (or other milk substitute; or you could just use milk if you don't need it to be dairy-free)

Then add:
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 1/2 cups flour
6 T. sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt

Bake in a 9" square pan at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

You can fiddle a bit with this recipe and it will still come out well. I've used whole wheat pastry flour when I was out of white four; and more white flour when I was out of cornmeal. Just make sure you use a total of 3 cups flour with approximately half of that being cornmeal. If anyone tries this recipe with gluten-free flour, let me know how it turns out!

January 9, 2011

Hot Cocoa

My boys love hot cocoa. In fact, sometimes I think they go out to play in the snow just so they can come in and demand cocoa. But have you ever read the ingredients on a packet of store-bought cocoa? Yuck! Instead, I make my own dry mix in a big batch and just add it to hot water as needed.

My basic recipe is:
3 cups non-fat powdered milk
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
dash of salt

I use 4 tablespoons of mix for every 8 oz of water.  You can punch it up with vanilla extract, chocolate syrup, chocolate chips (or grated chocolate if you want to get fancy), peppermint or peppermint flavoring, cinnamon, etc. And don't forget the marshmallows!

January 6, 2011

Free Homeschooling Resources

If you are homeschooling and have not visited Successful Homeschooling - you need to! Carletta has a website, a monthly newsletter, and a blog, all full of helpful information. This week she has compiled a quite comprehensive list of Free Online Homeschooling links. I see all my favorites listed, plus a lot of sites I was unaware of. My older boys got mp3 players for Christmas, so I'm off to download some free audio books!

November 30, 2010

How not to be a stupid maniac when buying Christmas gifts

My friend Jody wrote this great post How Not to be a Stupid Maniac About Gifts. If you are shopping for your kids, you must read it.

Free Veggie Tales Download

Veggie Tales' album The Incredible Singing Christmas Tree is available to download for free from Amazon.com for a limited time only. You may need to install an (also free) Amazon MP3 downloader utility; but I found this to be quick and trouble-free. Amazon will also ask for a shipping address and generate an order invoice, but does not ask for your credit card number. Just click on the link below to go to the download page.

November 19, 2010

Thanksgiving Freebies

Head on over to The Homeschool Freebie of the Day  and Money Saving Mom for Thanksgiving activity and curriculum resources.

October 9, 2010

Easy Black Bean Chili

My new secret to making yummy home-cooked meals is to open some cans, season appropriately, and throw in the crockpot for a couple hours. Seriously, I get raves on my beans & rice, and I feel guilty because it's just three cans and a cup of dried rice.

Anyhow, here's my black bean chili recipe:

1/2 to 1 lb. ground beef, browned (can sub ground turkey, TVP, etc.)
1 can diced tomatoes
1-2 cans black beans
8 oz. tomato sauce
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp lime juice
dash or two of red (cayenne) pepper
optional:  1 can whole kernel corn

Combine all the ingredients in a pot or crockpot and turn on high until it is simmering; then reduce heat and simmer on low. In my opinion, it needs to simmer for at least 30 minutes, and an hour is best. If you put it in a slow cooker, it may take an hour or more to get hot enough to simmer, so keep that in mind. But if you are in a hurry, do it on the stove and you can be eating chili in under 45 minutes.

Top with grated cheese, sour cream, tortilla strips - whatever you like.

If you like stronger onion or garlic flavors in your food, use fresh instead of dried ingredients and put it in with the meat when you brown it. You can also adjust the red pepper if you like your food spicy. Use a whole pound of meat if you like your chili meaty, and two cans of beans instead of one if you like it beany (or are thrifty).

For you vegetarians - I once made this chili without the meat when we had company for dinner, and my husband never even noticed that it was veggie.

October 7, 2010

Cleaning out your clothes closet

Here's a tip I picked up along the way: At the beginning of a season when you do whatever you do with your clothes - you know, put up your summer clothes and get out your winter clothes (Or once a year. Or right now.), reverse the direction that the hangers face on the closet rod. This doesn't involve taking the clothes off the hangar, just flip the hanger 180 degrees so it is pointing out, not in.  When you wear a garment, put it back in the closet in the usual way. When you get to the end of the season, you will be able to tell at a glance which clothes you are not wearing. Get rid of those clothes. Of course, you will make some exceptions, such as that cocktail dress or the ugly sweater that your aunt knitted for you. But basically, if you are not wearing it, it shouldn't be in your closet.

September 22, 2010

How to Bake A Potato

When I need to bake a potato, I consult the aptly named howtobakeapotato.com.

September 14, 2010

Checklists for Children

I'm a list-maker by nature. One thing that I have found to be helpful is to make checklists for children to remind them of routine things they need to do. For instance, now that my older boys are in school, here is the list of morning "to do" items:

  • Get dressed
  • Put away your pajamas
  • Make your bed
  • Eat Breakfast or grab to-go cup
  • Brush Teeth
  • Put Lunch & Water bottle in your backpack
  • Put on Socks & Shoes
  • Put on Sweater 
  • Grab your backpack – make sure your homework is in it.
I also have an after-school list. I post one copy of the list in their room, and another in the entry way. The checklist helps us in three ways. First, it cuts down on *my* frustration. Instead of constantly reminding them to do this or do that (and, when you have 2 or 3 boys at different stages in the getting-ready process, that's a lot of words), all I have to say is, "where are you on the checklist?" or "check the list!".

Second, it makes the boys responsible for their own daily tasks without asking them to remember a bunch of stuff first thing in the morning when they are still half asleep.

Third, I have one child who has difficulty processing verbal information, so for him, being able to read a list increases the chances that he will get himself ready in a timely manner, without my nagging at him.  And since my husband is usually the one getting the boys up and ready in the morning, it helps him remember, too.

For pre-schoolers, checklists are great, but they need to be short, simple, and combined with pictures or symbols. For little ones just learning to go potty on their own, I post this list in the bathroom:
  • SHUT DOOR (I add this to the list when we have a crawling/walking baby in the house.)
By each item on the list, I have a simple clip art drawing; for instance, a pair of hands or a bar of soap for "wash hands"; a light switch for "turn off light". You can search the internet for simple black & white clip art, draw your own, or cut pictures out of magazines. I can never get the hang of formatting clip art images within word processing documents, so I print them on a separate page and glue them to the list.

Some people have a chore chart which includes everyday tasks like making beds. But I find it easier to have targeted lists for particular days and times of day that can be posted in a location where the tasks are to be done, rather than in a central location. If you homeschool but go to church on Sunday mornings, you might want to put weekday tasks on your chore list in the kitchen, then post a Sunday Morning checklist by the front door just for getting ready. You can even make a list for yourself!  Keys, bible, diaper bag, etc. You know, the stuff you are always running back into the house for.

Another nice thing to do is include a message at the top or bottom of the list ("Welcome Home from School! Don't forget to...") and a scripture, motto, or encouragement.

August 10, 2010

History Movies - Story of the World

For history, we have used a combination of Veritas Press' history cards and Susan Wise Bauer's Story of the World. The two flow together nicely with just a little re-arranging. One thing which is fun and (usually) educational is to watch movies (documentaries, historical fiction, etc.) to go along with each time period. Sometimes it's a challenge finding movies which are both interesting and appropriate for the maturity level of the child - there just aren't too many kid-friendly animated versions of Beowulf out there, but I found one. Between your local library and a service like Netflix, you can find quite a few resources.  

Mommy Lawyer Angela has put together a wonderful chapter-by-chapter list of movies and videos to supplement Story of the World which is available to download.  You can get more suggestions at The Well-Trained Mind forums, and at the Mothering.com forums here and here.

August 2, 2010


Granola is easy to make, yummy, and good for you, too. I got this recipe from my mother-in-law, and my boys love it. Eat it with milk or sprinkle on top of yogurt. Throw in some nuts and chocolate chips and it makes a good trail mix, too. Put it in a cup, though - it doesn't clump up. You can customize this recipe to your family's taste.

Barb's Granola

Mix in a large bowl:
6 cups rolled oats (old-fashioned, not quick)
3 cups Grapenuts (we use store brand)

And as many as you like of the following, between 1/2 and 1 1/2 cups each:
shredded coconut (we use unsweetened)
sesame seeds
sunflower seeds
sliced or slivered almonds
raisins or dried fruit bits
sunflower seeds
ground flax seed meal
wheat germ

Combine, heat, and pour over the ingredients: (I microwave on high for about 2 minutes but you can heat in a pan.)
1/2 cup olive oil (or coconut oil)
3/4 cup honey
1 T vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract (optional)
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt

Stir well and spread out in two 9x13 pans (or one large sheet pan). Bake  @ 350 degrees for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Let cool, and enjoy!

August 1, 2010

The Mommy Blawger at Home

I've been meaning to start this blog for quite some time. I even have quite a bit of content drafted. See, I have lovely template all ready to go, links on the side bar and everything, but no posts. The problem is that I am a) a procrastinator and b) a perfectionist. I've been trying to write (in my head) the perfect introductory post, and it's just not coming together. So instead, I'm just going to start posting and worry about explanations later. 

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