Monday, November 30, 2009

Making Thanksgiving Slightly Healthier

My attempt at creating a healthier apple pie was a smashing success! My dad, who hates whole wheat bread and my husband, who said it's a crime to try to make Thanksgiving food healthy, both gave it the thumbs up for delicious!
1 C. whole wheat flour
1 C. unbleached all-purpose (or experiment using a different kind)
1 t. sea salt
2/3 C. coconut oil
5-7 T. cold water
6-8 apples, peeled and sliced
1 T. lemon juice to stir into apples to help them retain their color
1/2 C. honey (I warmed this in the microwave and mixed in the spices and butter and then dumped over the apples)
2 T. ww flour
1 t. cinnamon
2 T. butter

Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes! This was the yummiest pie I've ever tasted! I think a big part of that was knowing that I was eating a somewhat more nutritious piece than one loaded with lard and bleached flour and white sugar!
Ali made this green bean casserole with her Mama's help. Though the fried onions still make it a high-cal dish, it was a bit healthier made with homemade cream of chicken soup from my last bulk cooking day, which was made with ww flour.
These luscious butterhorns are my favorite! I substituted half of the white flour for whole wheat and I always use butter instead of shortning. You can use coconut oil in place of butter if you have it. The recipe is here.
No one even noticed that I used half plain yogurt mixed with half of the ranch dressing. If you make your own dressing, you could use all yogurt in place of sour cream.
NOT PICTURED: The potatoes I made were from Trisha's freezer mashed potato recipe. Instead of peeling them, I mashed them up with the skins on, for a higher-fiber dish. It was so handy having some freezer stuff on hand to make cooking for Thanksgiving much easier!
Alas, one's best efforts to make a healthy meal are in vain when a Grandma is around! My mom, as usual, had a sugary treat for the kids. I thought the indian corn was cute, although sickly sweet, so I included a pic here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Recent Pics

Playing "train" together
Learning about measurements with water

Playing dress-up. Thankfully someone recently gave us a carpenter and dinosaur costume for Jeremiah so he doesn't have to put on girly dress-ups anymore.

Our boys discovered swordfighting with tools the other day

3 little munchkins ready for bed!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Homeschooling Pics

Enjoying some new birthday paints we bought for Jeremiah to replenish our waning stash. Their paintings will end up as wrapping paper for Christmas gifts!
A reading treasure hunt game I made for Ali since she enjoys reading words, but gets frustrated with the length of books at this point in time.

Her exuberance upon reading the clues!

Looking under the rug. The last clue led her to some Hershey's kisses in our pink library bag.

Ali showing Justus how to color

Homeschooling is a lot of fun! I must admit I was surprised that Ali learned to read in mid-October, just by playing with some alphabet blocks. Learning the letters at age 2 from Leap frog toys and songs and books, taking pre-school from Miss Jenny last year, and doing lots of letter worksheets and phonics practice so far this year was the foundation for quickly learning to read! She doesn't enjoy reading books very much although I've started her on the Bob books and some easy readers some friends gave us. She prefers to make words with blocks or magnetic letters, spell out words on her own as she hears them, read words in games or on reading flashcards, etc. I was stunned that she started reading so quickly, almost without any help on my part! Here I had been saving the book How To Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons for January, thinking that we would review letters and sounds until then! I didn't want to rush her or push her into it too soon. I guess I may not even need the book, at least until Jer is ready for it!
Because Ali is reading now our schooling day now includes more reading activities and 5 spelling words per week, including an informal spelling test at the end of the week. We're still doing hands-on activities, lots of art and crafts, and reading lots of books. I've discovered that I love the Explode the Code books a veteran homeschooling mom recommended to us. Ali finished the first book in just 6 weeks. She begged to do more and more pages each day even though I would have been happy with 2 or 3. We ordered the next 4 workbooks in the series so those should keep her busy for a while.
I've found that as we push towards the end of this "semester" it is definitely hard to be self-disciplined every single day. We've taken some break days just to break up the routine and so that I could do bulk cooking or so that they could rest more to prevent colds. At the beginning I was more formal and stern about hours, but now I feel that as long as we have covered about 1-2 hours a week for 4 days out of the week we're totally good. Following the recommendation of the excellent book "A Well-Trained Mind" I am letting the kids listen to books on CD at night in bed and also during nap/quiet time in the afternoon. The kids are delighted with this and now I'm kicking myself that I didn't do it a few years ago when I was having major naptime struggles wtih Ali. It keeps them quiet and gives me a little break in the afternoons even though Jer is joining his sister these days in the I've-Outgrown-Naps-Club. Instead of being pestered by the kids for endless requests at bedtime, after we do their prayer/snuggle/Bible story bedtime routine, they are excited to listen to their audio books while drifting off. So far, they've listened to these books from the local libary, several times each: Pippi Longstocking, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Boxcar Children, Hank the Cowdog (a few different books in this series), and the Bible (we own this one).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Adding Beauty

Pretty candle holder from the thrift store (5 cents), candles, $2
Bouquet from hubby, "just because."

I've been making a more concentrated effort to add beauty to my kid's lives, especially around the table. While I love simplicity, I want our home to reflect warmth, personality, art, and beauty, in appreciation for and reflection on our great God.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Yummy Meal--Mexican Casserole

8 oz ground beef
1 can (12 oz) whole kernel corn, drained
1 jar ( 12 oz) chunky salsa
1 can (2 1/4 oz) sliced olives drained
1 cup of cottage cheese
1 carton ( 8 oz) sour cream
5 cups tortilla chips
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped tomato

Brown ground beef in large skillet; drain. Add corn and salsa. Cook until heated. Reserve 2 tablespoons of olives. Put remaining olives in beef mixture. In a separate bowl combine cottage cheese and sour cream in bowl. In a 2 quart casserole, layer 2 cups chips, half of meat mixture, 3/4 c. cheese and half of cottage cheese mixture . Repeat layers, cover. Bake in preheated 350 for 35 minutes. Line edge of casserole with remaining 1 cup of chips and top with tomatoes, olives, and cheese. Bake for 10 more minutes or until cheese is melted and chips are hot.

I've found that substituting black beans for hamburger works great too! If you don't like olives, try a different item, like green chilis, or onions, etc. My friend made this for me (pictured above) when we were going through our rough time with getting ready to move and house hunting and it was such a tasty meal!

I had trouble layering the cottage cheese mix so when I make this again I plan to just mix everything together, except the chips, and just skip the layering steps.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sister Swap!

I was so excited to participate in the Noel Sister Swap this year hosted by sister bloggers, Carrie of With All That I've Been Given and Monica of Homespun Heart. It was my first swap and I ended up being paired with Carrie! I enjoyed making a new friend in her and found out we have lots of things in common, including a love for stationary, hot cocoa and chocolate, and simple living! A lovely card with a handwritten note on the back was the first thing I saw!
A lovely green crock to hold Christmas cards or even Christmas goodies.

Vanilla Bean Noel hand soap from Bath n' Body Works!
A wonderful holiday scent!

Look at how cute the homemade hot cocoa was packaged! We both sent each other some hot cocoa and a chocolate bar! You can't go wrong with those! Yum!

A yummy-smelling candle

Martha Steward Christmas cards and fun stickers to decorate them with!

Christmasy paper hankies and even a little gift for the kids: an advent devotional!

Also included but not pictured here was a chocolate candy bar from Germany (fair trade item--not sure what that means but I'm guessing it's buying international goods without exploiting the workers--offering them a fair compensation).
Want to see more pics of Noel Swap Gifts, including what I put together for Carrie? Visit her blog today!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How To Make a Monster Truck Cake

My little boy loves monster trucks and apparently he's not alone! When looking for cake ideas I noticed that almost all of the cakes had a THREE candle on top of them. Must be a 3-year-old boy thing! I combined several of the ideas I liked from cakes I found online and got some tips from a friend who made a monster truck cake last year.

Large glazed donuts covered in black frosting, make the wheels. Every mama of boys should have a jar of black food coloring around so she can make racecar/tractor/truck wheels, soccer balls, etc. I put Hershey's Kisses in the wheels for hubcabs.

One gal online had built a wooden platform for her cake. I decided to do something similar. I have a little wooden cutting board that is the size of a loaf pan. I covered it with foil and "glued" four baby food jars to the bottom with honey.

One person had made no-bake cookies for mud. I liked this idea, but knew that with all of the cake and ice-cream, we'd have enough sweets, and Mommy especially doesn't need the temptation of no-bake cookies around! So, I just took a few cups of oats out of my 50# bag and colored them with a couple of Tablespoons of cocoa and about 1/2 C. of water. They look lighter in this pic but they are actually darker and looked just like dirt.


I didn't get pics of the body of the cake. Oops! I used one white cake mix and baked it in two glass loaf pans. I discovered that I could have used two cake mixes because the loaf pans were deeper than I had realized. Be sure to grease and flour the pans well so the cakes come out nicely. Cool completely in the fridge or freezer for a few hours. I dumped out the loaf pans and since one loaf of cake wasn't thick enough I put them together on top of the base board and then took a knife and made a diagonal cut down the front to make the windshield. The piece I cut off was then placed in the middle of the cake body to form the cab of the truck. Then I covered the whole thing in frosting. If I did this again I would probably use a whole cake mix in one loaf pan for the body and then a rectangular chunk of cake added on top from another loaf pan for the cab.

Reese's candies for tail-lights

I used homemade cream cheese frosting. One batch was more than enough for the whole cake. If you purchase your frosting, buy at least two containers of it. Jer wanted a green truck but you could make any color you choose. Laffy Taffy ropes make a nice roll-bar in the back. You can also use sour straws. Foil makes nice windows on the truck. If I ever make another (and no doubt I will with two little boys in the house!) I will add the child's name on the side of the vehicle.

If you want to get more dramatic you can even smash the little cars with a hammer before putting them in the dirt.

There are numerous monster truck cake photos online if you want more inspiration! Just google Monster Truck Cakes

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pretty Table Decorations

My sister-in-law Anna had a lovely autumn display on her table when we visited them a couple of weeks ago. I had to share it here!

When Mom, Ali, and I visited my brother and Anna we hit Sam's and the mall. Shopped till we DROPPED!

Jeremiah Turns Three!

Our sweet little boy turned three the other day! It's hard to believe how fast the time with him has gone. He had a delightful day and especially enjoyed his monster truck cake, his new monster truck toys, semi, and wooden train, and we went swimming in the evening at his request. My brother and his wife were in town for the weekend and were able to join us and my folks for homemade pizza and cake and ice-cream. We are so thankful God blessed us with our tenderhearted little man!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Baking/Cooking Day!

The results of my two day cook-a-rama!
Multi-grain roll mixes. I just need to throw a bag in the bread machine, add water, and 2 T. butter. I find that as a homeschooling mom, I have less motivation to bake so making mixes will get the ball rolling and could also be used for holiday dinners and/or church potlucks.

Results of Day #2, minus a couple of the pizza ingredients for my son's upcoming birthday (still in the fridge). I'm doing 4 homemade pizzas for a family birthday party.

Results of Day #1, not including 4 bags of tortillas (already in the freezer), and 2 batches of Chicken Tetrazzini (we ate one for supper and gave one to my mom as a fun surprise when she dropped by after work for a minute.)

Lots of food!

Did tortillas for a couple of hours while chatting with
a dear friend on the phone (kids were asleep in bed.)

40-ish wheat tortillas ready to go! My family will have these eaten in no time!
Healthier and cheaper!

Homemade cream of chicken soup. Used wheat flour instead of white. Using natural chicken broth (no MSG) and milk and spices makes a much healthier cream soup than store-bought.
Froze it in baby food jars and when I ran out I used plastic cups and when they are frozen I plan to pop the soup out and put in a ziploc.

Cramming it all in the freezer was no easy task!

Making pumpkin pancakes (triple batch) for breakfast
Cream butter imported from Denmark was on an amazing markdown deal this week so I snatched up a few. It is delicious butter!
Super yummy granola using this recipe. I substituted butter for the oil and did a double batch.
Written Results of Baking Day:
4.5 cooked, shredded chicken breasts
1 dozen hardboiled eggs (kid snacks)
3 # elk hamburger cooked as taco meat
4 bags of brown rice
4 bags of chicken tetrazzini
5 C. zesty hummus
40 large whole wheat tortillas
2 dozen pumpkin pancakes
Pizza dough for 8 pizzas
Bagged 10# of mozzarella from Sam's Club divided into 2-pizza portions to freeze
4 multi-grain rolls mixes
4 cornbread mixes
4 large bags freezer potatoes
2 gallons honey/raisin granola
10 C. of homemade cream of chicken soup
All in all, I think it took about 10 hours of work in two days. We still did a park playdate, went to the grocery store, went to the post office, and did schooling one of those days (the other day my daughter wanted to nap, and since she NEVER wants to nap, I felt her body must really need the sleep!)
How did I get it done with kiddoes? About 6 of the cooking hours were when they were napping or in bed for the night (and my daughter colored pictures while the boys napped) and when they were awake I allowed them to watch one movie each day while I cooked. If Justus was awake he sat in his high chair and snacked or ran around in the kitchen or re-arranged my pantry (one of his favorite pasttimes.)
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