Cooking, Finances, Home and Family, Homemaking, Homeschooling, Organization

It’s summertime!

Okay.  I admit it.  Summer is NOT my favorite season of the year.  Heat is not my friend.  Pulling weeds is exhausting.  I’m not a huge fan of bugs.  Yet there is one thing that I do love about summer; it gives me a chance to regroup before the return of cold weather, canning season, and the next school year.  What do I do each summer that makes me smile?  It’s time to start making lists, so I grab a notebook and pencil, and inventory my life.

Closets get a good once-ever.  Out with the stained, ripped, ill-fitting, and simply-not-worn items (other than gardening clothes.  They don’t have to look impressive…or even respectable.  As long as they are modest, I’m good.).  I can fill in the gaps I create for minimal cost as I thrift.

Food storage is checked and straightened.  What do I have that needs to be used, or tossed? Which foods need restocking through canning, drying, sales, etc.?  Have our eating habits changed?  How does that affect what I should be storing?  I love seeing neatly faced shelves, and the knowledge that I can cook whatever strikes my fancy without an emergency shopping trip!

This is a great time to tidy, sort, and overhaul the school stuff.  Which items need to go to someone else?  What is so loved (translation: worn-out) I really ought to find an additional or replacement?  What have I not used because I forgot about it?  I also take time to move the contents of my games/learning activities shelves around.  It gives my grandchildren and others who visit a chance to rediscover old, forgotten favorites, and try new things.

I check the linen closet.  It contains not only my towels, wash clothes, and such, it is where I store the OTC meds, extra supplements, first aid and personal care products.  What needs to go on the case lot shopping list?  Having this closet stocked and things in an easy to find place before cold and flu season hits gives me great peace of mind!

As I sort, I am making mental and written lists of needs to look for as I shop, or items to add to the budget to minimize surprises later.

While this list seems overwhelming, remember it is best to eat an elephant one bite at a time!  Pick one shelf, one closet, one drawer, one category and sort that, then in a day or two, work on another one.  In a week or two, you can look back and surprise yourself with how much got done!  And don’t forget to involve the children!  They can empty shelves, take things to the trash, assist with decisions (depending on their age), and if they helped create the mess, they get to help sort it and put it away properly!  Work with one or two kids at a time, or dive in with everyone and when you’ve finished, go do something fun or eat something yummy to congratulate yourselves on a job well done!

By the time autumn rolls around, and I am ready to hunker down for the coming cold weather, the house is ready.

Happy sorting!

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Cooking, Home and Family, Homemaking

Confessions of a reluctant cook

Thanksgiving is this week, and I am beginning to shudder when I step into my kitchen.  We have close to twenty guests this year, and the cooking begins today. Don’t get me wrong.  I love Thanksgiving.  And I really enjoy the traditional foods for the holiday; I just don’t necessarily love cooking.  When I find a way to simplify things, I do.  So how do I cook for twenty in bite-sized chunks (pun intended)?

  • If I can make it ahead of time, I will.  The next few days will include grinding flours for rolls and pie crusts, making refrigerator roll dough and pie dough (kept in the fridge until Thursday morning), peeling potatoes (and leaving them in water so they don’t brown), par-baking and slicing yams, and anything else I can think of getting done.
  • Pull it from storage.  I bottle, dehydrate, freeze, and cook in large batches-not because I love to do it, but because one day busy in the kitchen helps save me time the rest of the year.  Our apple pie filling will be from the batch of 25 quarts we bottled a few weeks ago.  The apple butter is from a batch of 36 pints we put up in a couple of hours.  The corn is from my garden via the freezer.  Ditto on the peas.  Wassail will also come from the juice in 2 quart bottles downstairs.
  • Assign some things to others who are coming, or enlist the help of those who are at the house.  Working together helps the meal come together more quickly, and is definitely more fun!  (I claim the titles of Mother, Keeper of the Hearth, and a few others, but I am not a serving girl, servant, or hired help.  The Little Red Hen is one of my favorite stories after all!)
  • Smile.  Enjoy the wonderful smells in the house.  Anticipate the meal, and the yummy creations to follow in the next few days.  Enjoy the spirit of the season!

While I may not love cooking, the time with family and friends is precious.  The peace that comes with a grateful heart is needed and cherished.  And food feeds not just our bodies; it also feeds our souls!

Cooking, Homemaking

Canning season has begun

It has begun- the season of food preservation.  Every year I grin as we plant our garden.  The sun is finally back, the soil is warm, and I look forward to those first, fresh shoots of green.  Then it hits.  Lots of green.  Lots of food.  Time to do something with it all.

Peas get blanched and go into the freezer today.  Snow peas are soon to follow.  The big project for the next two days though is bottling beef.  I found a tremendous mark-down on hamburger and roast this week, so into bottles it goes.  Once processed, it is fully-cooked and ready for whatever is on the menu.

Here is how it works:

Pack prepared canning jars to just under 1 inch from the rim with hamburger or beef chunks.  Add 1/2 tsp beef soup base to each quart (half that amount for pints).  Put sterilized lids and rings on, and process in a pressure canner  at 15 pounds pressure for 90 minutes (75 minutes for pints).    Remove when the pressure is down to zero.  Let cool and store in a cool, dark place.  (These are the required amounts for the Rocky Mountain region.  Check with your local extension service for correct poundage and cooking time for your area.)

What do you do with it?  LOTS!  Here are just a few ideas:

  • Stroganoff
  • Beef enchilladas
  • Stews/soups
  • Meat and gravy
  • Chili
  • Tacos
  • Spaghetti
  • Calzones
  • And one of our favorites.  Cook off beef/liquid.  Add sauted peppers and mushrooms.  Add provolone cheese.  Use all ingredients to fill rolled-out bread dough.  Roll and cut as if for cinnamon rolls.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  YUM!

I love having meat already prepared for those days when I forgot to thaw something the night before.  (I also bottle boneless/skinless chicken using the same method.)  If I can put up proteins (next week I will bottle dried beans) before the craziest part of the food preservation season hits, I know that I have easy meals ready for those days when I want/need to spend minimal time cooking so that I can spend it in the garden, or putting other foods up for winter.

Cooking, Gardening, Home and Family, Homemaking, Organization

The right tools for the job

This evening, I was in the kitchen cooking dinner and happened to look around at the beehive of activity at my house.  I had both ovens going with food for dinner.  I was using various pans and Pyrex dishes for meal prep.  There was the immersion blender for mixing milk, and the spoons made of various materials for stainless steel and non-stick pans.  After we eat, the dishes will go into the dishwasher to get clean.

My husband and son-in-law were outside with the weed-whacker, mower, and tiller in use as they cleaned up the lawn, and prepped three grow-boxes for the corn and beans to be planted tonight.  Three loads of laundry are on the clothesline drying.

Downstairs were the washer and dryer helping me complete the days laundry.  (I don’t hang underwear, socks, towels, or wash cloths on the line.)  My daughter is teaching her five boys.  Some academics.  Some cleaning skills.  And sorting as she goes.

None of this would be possible without the correct tools for the job.  No tiller would mean a full day of amending and mixing soils before we can plant.  No immersion blender could result in lumpy milk.  Doing laundry with modern appliances just doesn’t bear thinking about at all.  And without the ability to plan and the correct supplies, raising and teaching children is tough!

We don’t have the “ideal” world of years gone by in which to rear a family, but we don’t have to go plow the “back forty” with a horse and plow either.  I will take the 21st century anytime!  I will use my curriculum, my scriptures, and lots of time talking with the young ones as I use the wonderful tools at my disposal!  We are so blessed!

Cooking, Homeschooling

Using the newpaper to the fullest

I recognize that newspaper subscriptions are not as common as they were before the advent of the internet, smart phones, and other new technologies.  Such a shame.  We used the newspaper in so many different ways as I was teaching my own children, and I still use it as I work with young people today.  Here are just a few ways it can supplement your academics:

Discovery learners (explanation in my post on Feb. 26, 2013)

  • Have them identify letters and numbers from the large print.
  • Cut apart the lettering in the headlines.  Have them create their spelling words, or simply assemble familiar words from the letters.
  • Look for the pictures which accompany the stories.  Cut out various pictures which can then be categorized into different emotions.  If you use images from throughout the paper, you may be surprised at the variety of feelings caught on film.
  • Give each child a length of print and have them look for the most commonly used letters.  Make a graph or a chart with tally marks.  Look at other print media.  Do your findings match there as well?
  • Later discovery learners can look for the most important or persuasive words in an article.  Why did the journalist choose those words?  Which other words could they have chosen?
  • Put together a family newspaper.  Have your children play reporter/journalist.  Call extended family members and gather information about each person, then try and write articles that are informative and interesting.
  • Find the weather report and track what is forecasted as well as the actual weather happenings.  How are they the same?  Different?  What other information is included with the forecast?
  • Many papers offer an educational page or insert each week.  Look for them.  They often have games, and activities to make your studies more interesting.  Can’t find one? Call your local paper and ask.

Analysis learners- many of these will work for application learners as well (explanation in my post on Feb. 27, 2013)

  • Give your teen an amount of “money” to invest.  Have them choose stocks to purchase, and then follow the stock prices in the economy section to see how well they did.  Watch the stocks for two months or more to get a clearer picture of what happens with the stock market.  Graph the results.
  • Have your youth clip coupons and use the ads to put together menus and the shopping list for the week.  Go to the store and see how well they can stay within the family budget.
  • Have your student copy a sentence or two from an article of their choice.  Have them diagram it.
  • Look for recipes that feature foods your family likes or would like to try.  Organize them into a three-ring binder.  As you make them, make a note of which ones you enjoyed, what worked well, what might be a way to “tweak” them, or just toss the ones which you wouldn’t make again.  (Often the recipes in the paper are taken from the latest cookbooks.)
  • Look for unfamiliar words to use in a vocabulary list.
  • Read an article looking for a specific part of speech.  Circle or underline the nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, etc.
  • Cut out or copy a comic strip.  Put white out over the text in the thought bubbles/spoken words.  Have your students write their own text.
  • Read the editorials together.  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Why?  Can you find a flaw in the argument?  (We did this daily for years.  My entire family became much more competent at putting a well-worded argument together, and were able to discuss current events intelligently with those around them.)
  • The local section of the paper often lists upcoming events.  Plan a field trip as a family.
  • Track your favorite sport or team.  Learn to analyze stats, memorize players and their numbers, or look for the ways injuries, weather, playing fields, or fatigue affect the game.

Application learners (explanation in my post on Feb. 28, 2013)

  • Use the classified ads to look for jobs requiring different levels of education.  Using the salaries listed, have them look for housing, food, transportation, and other living expenses to put a budget together for a month or more.  (You will have to provide utility costs.  Those aren’t in the classifieds.)
  • Keep a notebook of clipped articles dealing with a current event or social issue important to your family.  Watch for changes as time passes, or look for the various biases of different reporters.  After you have taken time to examine the issue more fully, write a letter to the editor explaining where you stand and why.
  • Keep reading the editorials together.  Consider having your young adult write a paper on an issue which they find concerning.  How does it affect them as they move into adulthood?  How might change be accomplished?  What roadblocks would need to be overcome?
  • Look for recent quotations or famous sayings to put in their quote/penmanship books.  Why did they choose what they chose?
  • Do the crosswords puzzle, or at least attempt it.

The newspaper is not as popular as it once was and yet it can assist us in the most challenging part of home schooling- using different media in order to avoid academics from becoming mundane.  It can enlighten, challenge, and shed light on a considerable number of items in our lives.  This list is just the beginning.  Take a minute and spend time in your local paper, and see how many different ways you can use it in your own home!

Cooking, Parenting

Cooking with children

Food is a huge part of family life for us.  Really huge.  All of us have so many memories attached to meals, or specific foods. It started as I was growing up and would come home to warm cookies and milk after school, or cocoa and toast at the end of a long week.  Often my mom would make something yummy so that I would stay and talk.  It took me a long time to realize that was why she cooked so much, but I admit I have adopted that same strategy.  I would often bake bread and serve it with apple butter as my boys came home with their buddies.  It made for a kitchen full of happy, chatty young men.  Great fun!

One of the smartest things my husband and I did as we were raising our family was to assign each person a night when they were in charge of dinner starting when they were 7 or 8 years old.  This included both meal planning and food preparation.   A parent would cook with them as they were learning, and by the time they were 10 or so, they could take over an entire cooked-from-scratch meal.  That ability freed me up to fold the mountain of laundry on the couch, plan for the coming day, or just sit and read.  When they left for college, they took their own basic kitchen equipment and cook books with them and they actually knew how to use them!

Cooking with children does require a modicum of common sense and a bit of patience.  Don’t start them off with sharp knives or frying oil, rather let them help plan the menu, wash vegetables and fruits, stir batters, and measure ingredients.  Learning to use a timer or a rubber spatula, buttering bread with softened butter, and licking the beaters can be done by a young child.  As their small muscle control develops, teach them the basics of correct knife skills using sharp knives and lots of ADULT SUPERVISION. They can also learn to read a recipe, knead dough, use a rolling pin and stand mixer, and control heat on the stove as they are ready.  The payoff?  Having four teenagers capable of cooking one night a week!

Here are some of our favorite ideas for simple meals to start:

Grilled cheese and vegetable strips (using a choice of breads/cheeses)

Spaghetti with salad and bread (homemade sauce)

Mac-n-cheese, spam, and applesauce

Tuna noodle casserole with peas and corn

Tacos

Chili

Beef roast with carrots and potatoes

Homemade soups/rolls

Stew and biscuits/cornbread

Each of my children now cook for their own households.  My still single university student cooks for his roommates, and has even cooked for a few dates!  Some enjoy cooking more than others, but they all are competent and can provide a healthy, well-rounded meal for themselves and others.

And when they come home for Sunday dinners and holidays, you’ll find us in the kitchen surrounded by pots, pans, cutting boards, and delicious food!

Cooking, Finances, Home and Family, Homemaking

Broth- a wonder food!

My house smells heavenly this morning.  There is beef broth simmering away in my Crock Pot. (It is being created from the trimmings of the beef we bottled yesterday.)  Broth is so simple to make, and has so many uses!  And all this from the bits and pieces that would otherwise be thrown out.

I use my Crock Pot when I make broth.  I can leave it on the counter overnight or when I am out and around during the day with no worries.  Broth needs time to develop flavor, so it will cook on low for 12-24 hours.  Once the flavor is well-developed, strain the broth off into a pitcher or large bowl, and chill it overnight in order for the fat to rise to the top and solidify.  When it is chilled, skim off the fat layer and use it, or bottle/freeze it for later.  I have dozens of bottles of various flavors in our food room just waiting for use.

Basic broth

Place bones, fat, skin, or any part of the meat you don’t intend to eat in to a Crock Pot.  Add onion, celery, carrots, bay leaves, peppercorns, and turnips (if the meat is beef) to the crock.  Fill with water.  Turn the Crock Pot on low and let it cook.  (You can use the peels, leaves, or trimmed ends from any of the vegetables for broth.  Just ensure they are clean, and throw them in.)  I have made broth from chicken, turkey, beef, ham, and fish.  You can also make it from vegetables.

If you find you don’t have adequate trimmings to fill your Crock Pot one-third full, freeze them.  When you have gathered enough for a batch, thaw them and you’re in business!

We add broth to grains such as rice and cracked wheat when we cook it for dinner.  (We used ham broth last week when we made pinto beans and rice for dinner.  There was no meat, but it tasted like there was! Yummy!)  You can use it for gravies, sauces, soups, or risotto.  I also use it for braising meat.  It is inexpensive to make, and is so versatile.

My husband has a rice/vermicelli side dish recipe that is fantastic and uses whichever broth goes with the meat you are serving.  This recipe feeds 8-10 people.  Feel free to cut it in half.

1/2 stick butter

2 cups vermicelli, broken into 1/2 inch pieces

3 cups rice

2 quarts broth

2-3 teaspoons soup base

Melt butter in 4-6 stock pot, or large pan.  Add rice and brown until very light brown.  Add vermicelli and continue browning until pasta is a toasted.  In a separate pan, combine broth and soup base until heated.  Add enough broth to cover the rice/vermicelli mixture to the stock pot when browning is completed and boil until liquid can no longer be seen (a glass lid is perfect for this if you have one).  Take off heat, and allow the grains to continue to absorb the remaining liquid-about 20 minutes.  Serve hot.