Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Gingerbread Custard Cake (grain-free : gluten-free : nutrient-dense)


Creamy and spicy: Gingerbread Custard Cake is a great complement to the holiday season. I developed this recipe with my husband in mind;  he loves gingerbread and likes to eat Custard Cake for breakfast most mornings.  For an extra special treat, this custard cake can be topped with sweetened whipped cream.

This will be my last post until 2015. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to you all!

Gingerbread Custard Cake
Serves 8
  1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  Turn off heat and allow to cool a bit.
  2. In a large bowl, combine eggs, sucanat, sour cream, molasses, vanilla, almond extract, spices, orange zest, and salt.  I like to use my immersion blender to mix it all up together, but you could certainly use a whisk or mixer instead.
  3. Add melted butter to wet ingredients and whisk or blend.
  4. Add coconut flour* and blend until well-combined (or use a mixer or whisk until smooth).
  5. Add the applesauce, and whisk well to combine.  I prefer to use a whisk for this step so the applesauce still remains a tiny bit chunky.
  6. Use a bit of cold butter to generously grease an 8X8 glass dish.
  7. Pour the batter into the glass dish and bake at 325° for 70-80 minutes. The custard cake is done when the edges are lightly browned and the center is no longer wet with just a bit of jiggle.
  8. Remove from oven and cool.  Don't cut into this while it is piping hot. This can be served at room temperature or cold. For a special treat, top with a bit of sweetened whipped cream (recipe follows). 
*The coconut flour will need to be sifted if you are not using an immersion blender.   

Sweetened Whipped Cream

  • 2 cups cream, preferably raw
  • pinch of fine ground celtic sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp organic vanilla extract
  • 2-4 Tb raw mild-flavored honey, to taste**
  1. Beat the cream and salt together until the mixture starts to get thick and fluffy.  I like to use my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer with the wire whip attachment, but you could also use a hand mixer.
  2. Add the vanilla extract, and drizzle in the honey while the mixer is running.  Alternatively, you could drizzle in the honey a little at a time and mix between each honey addition. 
  3. If you're using a stand mixer, use a silicone spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times to make sure you don't have any clumps of honey at the bottom.  I like to beat it until it gets a bit stiff since it will tend to soften up a bit in the fridge over the next few days.
  4. Store the whipped cream in the fridge in an airtight bowl.
**If your raw honey is very crystallized, place it over a bowl of warm water to make it a bit runny.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

How and Why I Limit Technology in Our Home and Homeschool

Computers, internet, iPads, TV's, video games, smart phones: in this digital age, we are immersed in technology. Over time, my family has evolved from watching TV every night and playing frequent video games as a young married couple to now making seldom use of these devices in our family hours.

 

Why I Limit Technology

  • Zombie Effect: My husband and I learned early on that watching TV could turn our toddler daughter into a zombie who became utterly zoned out and would not even answer if spoken to. I confess that I did use this to my advantage sometimes; on nights when I wasn't able to give as much attention as she needed, I would let my daughter watch TV (usually Signing Time or Curious Buddies) while I made dinner.
  • Tantrums: My son did not experience the Zombie Effect, but instead, whenever he was not allowed to watch TV or use the iPad, he would start screaming and throw a fit (and of course we did not give in to this behavior, but it persisted nonetheless).
  • Addiction: “Can I play on the iPad?” “Can I watch a video?” “When can I...?” Even though they were never allowed to use technology to any large degree, my children were still easily pulled into the addiction cycle of wanting to do it more and more. I, myself, have also struggled with feeling compelled to use the internet, e-mail, and Facebook far more than I know is good for myself and my family. 
  • Better Things To Do: To me, with the exception of work, use of technology is by-and-large a waste of time. (My husband would disagree with this sentiment.) There are so many more enriching activities that I and my children could do than sit in front of a screen (even if it is "educational"). Playing outside, reading a good book, building a fort in the living room: these are the things I want my children to remember about their childhoods.
  • Lack of Boredom: Often, technology is used to rid us of boredom, but I think boredom is actually a good thing. Boredom is what leads my children to find new ways to play, to use their creativity, to pick up a new book to read. Boredom leads to innovation.

Our Technology Uses and Limitations


Every family must decide what works best individually, and I am not professing to know the “right” way to balance use of technology. But I do know what is working well for us right now with a 7-&1/2-year-old daughter and nearly 5-year old son. My husband looks at me like I have a 3rd eye when I say that, if it was up to me, we would get rid of our TV and any video game devices altogether.

  • NO:
    • No TV, iPad, or video games when Dad is not home - This rule alone ensures that for nearly 50 hours a week, I am not hearing anyone ask to use a screen.
    • No smart phone for myself - I think a smart phone would be like a black hole for me that I would get sucked into and have a hard time getting out of.
    • No computer/internet usage for myself on Saturdays - This allows me to unplug for one day each week.
    • No Facebook for myself most of the time - I find Facebook to be particularly addicting, so I limit my usage of it. Over time, I tend to use it more and more (especially the TJED Facebook Group), so periodically I will refrain altogether for at least a month to break the addiction cycle.
  • YES:
    • Pandora radio or music CD's - We all enjoy listening to music and I don't restrict its usage.
    • Family movie night - On Saturday nights, we watch one movie together as a family.  We all take turns choosing the movie each week.
    • Video/computer games for children once a week for 30 minutes - My children usually play their video games after Dad comes home from work on Friday. This includes "educational" apps and games (such as Starfall), drawing/painting on the computer, and mindless games such as Mario Kart. Any whining or complaining about video games results in a suspension of this privilege.
    • Audio books during Daily Quiet Time - Both of my children may listen to audio books of  classic literature (such as At the Back of the North Wind and My Father's Dragon), which I have downloaded for free from Librivox. I love that my children typically engage in other activities such as drawing or coloring while they listen.
    • Occasional computer usage for school - We occasionally use the computer for school-related tasks. For instance, if my daughter wants to type a story, she may. And we use it for entering our bird-watching stats on ebird.org or feederwatch.org (through which my daughter is learning to make scientific observations).
    • Dad's gaming - Since most of my husband's friends do not live nearby, for a few hours a week he meets up with them for online gaming.
    • Mom's work - Obviously I also use the computer for work (blogging, writing articles for Real Food and Health Magazine, and working on homeopathic cases).
    • E-mail and general internet usage - Both my husband and I also use the computer for checking e-mail and various internet tasks (such as paying bills, shopping, etc.)  This is done in a mindful way so that it is minimally interruptive of our family life.

Putting It Into Practice and Reaping the Benefits of Limited Technology

I have observed significant benefits over the years as our use of technology has diminished more and
more.

Self-Sufficiency
When I first started working as a homeopath from home (which is mostly accomplished by phone since many of my patients live far from here), I was very tempted to use the TV as an electronic babysitter. I worried what my children would do while I was working, whether they would disrupt me, how they would deal with being unsupervised. I resisted using the TV because I knew that, once I did, I would have a very hard time stopping the cycle of watch-TV-while-mom-is-working.

Fortunately, I read Peter Gray's inspiring book, Free to Learn, and that gave me the confidence to let my children learn how to be on their own while I worked without using technology as a babysitter. The results have been fantastic: my children have learned how to play on their own and take care of themselves while I work. Yes, there have been a few hiccups in the process, and yes, I do remind the children before any long appointments that they are expected to play nicely, share well, and separate from each other if there are any issues. But now my children don't just take care of themselves while I work, they are thriving in being able to do so.  They come up with elaborate games to play, they have tea parties, they read books together. They have learned self-sufficiency!

Better Behavior
Less usage of technology in our home has led to better behavior over time. There are no more tantrums or whining about watching videos or playing video games. (Constitutional homeopathic treatment deserves a large amount of the credit as well, since it has made my children much more stable emotionally.) Part of what has worked for us is a zero-tolerance policy regarding bad behavior related to technology.  For instance, whining about not being able to play video games as long as a child wants to leads to not being allowed to play video games at all for a period. I have also intentionally educated my children about why we are limiting videos and screen-time in general, so that they can make wise choices in the future.


Spending More Time Together, Fully Engaged
Limiting my own use of technology allows me to spend more quality time with my children instead of giving them the half-attention they receive when I am on the computer. Without relying on technology to entertain us, my family is able to spend more quality time together. We read and discuss books together, play games together, work together in the house and yard.  These shared times allow us to grow as a family, and to increase the strength of our relationships.

Less Need for Entertainment
The less technology we use, the less we want to use.  Initially there was some resistance to changing our use of technology; yet over time I have seen that our desire for electronic entertainment has diminished.  Because we so infrequently consume videos and video games, my children just play and learn without even asking to use those devices. Certainly, they enjoy our once-a-week movie night and video game time, but outside of those times the children just know how to be, how to play, how to explore naturally.  They don't need electronic entertainment because they know how to entertain themselves in ways that involve creativity and learning. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

I'm sure that, over time, we will continue to refine the use of technology on our home.  What is working now may not work as well in five years. But for now, we are content with the boundaries and allowances that we've put into place.

Do you have any limitations on technology in your home? What is working for you and your family?


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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Holiday Gift Ideas

As the holidays approach, I thought I'd share some my favorite gift ideas. Please share your own favorite gift ideas in the comments section.

Toys That Fuel Imagination and Active Play

  • Play Silks: Super soft, lightweight, and beautiful. My kids love using their playsilks as capes, blankets for stuffed animals, parachutes, ropes, and much more.
  • Active Play: The Mini Micro Scooter is absolutely fantastic; it has 3 wheels (so it can be used by children as young as 3 years old) and uses the natural tendency of leaning to turn. When my children were younger, they learned how to balance on a bike by using the Kazam Balance Bike. It has no pedals; rather the child is able to walk and eventually run while learning to balance. 
  • Marble Run: My children have gotten much use out of their Marble Run. They love to rearrange the parts to create new ways for the marbles to reach the bottom.
  • Pelikan Watercolor Paints: These paints have gotten our whole family painting.  They are not washable, but they are really vibrant compared to the Crayola watercolors we've used in the past.

Skin and Body Care

  • Homemade Hard Lotion and Lip Balm: Hard lotion bars are made from coconut oil, shea butter, and beeswax. These are a favorite for many of my friends and family.  Hard lotion works wonderfully as an all-purpose moisturizer as well as for extra-dry spots such as winter-time feet. It can even be used as a hairstyling product!
  • Homemade Whipped Body Butter: Body butter is an all-purpose moisturizer that is lighter than hard lotion and applies very smoothly and easily.  One good way I have found to store it is in a deodorant-type container; that allows for it to be easily smeared on legs, arms, or anywhere else. Whipped body butter would also make a great belly moisturizer for any expectant mothers. 
  • Coconut and Papaya Bar Soap: This luxurious soap has a wonderful, light scent, a smooth, foamy lather, and it doesn't dry out the skin.   
  • Herbal Healing Salve: This salve combines healing herbs such as calendula with coconut oil, beeswax, and essential oils. Healing salve works great for cuts, scrapes, bites, bruises and more. A good salve is an essential item for parents and homesteaders.

Natural Candles

  • Homemade Tallow Container Candles: Tallow candles are made using rendered beef tallow as candle wax. Tallow was traditionally used to make candles hundreds of years ago, and makes for pretty white candles.
  • Homemade Beeswax and Coconut Oil Candles: These candles impart a light, sweet smell to the air. This tutorial shows how to make them. (I used unrefined coconut oil instead of palm oil).

Nature-Inspired Gifts

  • Sock Bird Feeders: Our sock bird feeders bring us so much joy and wonder. They attract the cutest little birds.  We love to hang ours close by kitchen windows where we can watch the birds as we share meals or wash dishes.
  • Wooden Ornaments: My blogger friend Taryn and her husband Jeff make a wide assortment of wool and wooden objects, including beautiful Christmas ornaments.  I am astounded by the beauty that Jeff can create in these handmade ornaments.  
  • Celestron 44202 Microscope: A microscope is a fantastic way to see so much of the detail that goes into every natural object. We love using our Celestron microscope to take a closer look at insects, plants, rocks, and anything else we think of.  
  • Live Butterfly Garden: A live butterfly garden can bring such delight and wonder to children (and adults too).  This is a kit that comes with everything needed to raise caterpillars into butterflies. We re-use ours every year when we find caterpillars in our yard, whom we supply with ample food while we watch them grow and metamorphosize, eventually releasing them back out into our yard.

Do you make any homemade gifts? Which are your favorites?

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pumpkin & Chocolate Chip Muffins (nutrient-dense)

A friend recently offered me a pumpkin muffin and I was surprised to find chocolate chips inside. I'd never had pumpkin with chocolate before, and I was enamored of this new flavor combination.  I was inspired to make my own version of Pumpkin & Chocolate Chip Muffins; these muffins are super tasty and will now be a regular part of our Fall breakfasts.

Pumpkin & Chocolate Chip Muffins
  1. Line a muffin tin with paper cups.  (I prefer If You Care Unbleached Baking Cups because the muffins do not stick to the sides of the cups.)
  2. Combine the einkorn, coconut flour, ground nuts, salt, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves in a medium bowl. Whisk it all together to break up any lumps.  
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. Combine the butter and sucanat in a large bowl (a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer works great for this recipe). Cream together for a couple minutes until the mixture turns slightly lighter in color.
  5. Mix in the molasses until well-combined. 
  6. Combine the eggs, vanilla, and almond extract in a small bowl. (I find that a Pyrex glass measuring cup works great for this because the pour spout makes it easy to add these ingredients to the mixer while it is running.) Do NOT mix up the eggs at this point.
  7. Mix the eggs one-at-a-time into the butter/sucanat mixture.  With my stand-mixer, I can just pour in each egg while the mixer is still running.  Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice to get everything incorporated well. (It is okay if the mixture looks a bit curdled during this step.)
  8. Mix in the pumpkin puree.
  9. Add the dry ingredients a bit at a time.  Because the Einkorn flour does contain gluten, make sure not to overmix or the muffins will be tough. 
  10. Stir or mix in the chocolate chips.
  11. Use a 3-Tb scoop or large spoon to scoop the batter into the muffin cups.
  12. Bake the muffins at 350 degrees F for 27-32 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out dry.
  13. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit before serving.
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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Our Daily and Weekly Homeschooling Routines

One of the questions I am asked frequently about our homeschooling is what our daily and weekly schedule looks like.  When I first started homeschooling over 3 years ago, our schedule was very regimented. Over time, our schedule has become more relaxed and flexible; this is commonly the case with many homeschoolers who figure out that recreating a "school" atmosphere at home can actually have many disadvantages.  Here is a peek inside our routine.

Weekly Routine

Because I am balancing homeschooling with being a homeopathic practitioner, no two weeks are precisely the same. However, I do have a loose weekly schedule that I aim for.


Many will see this schedule and immediately wonder: "Is that it? What about math and writing?"  Our weekly schedule is a sort of bare-minimum. In reality, a substantial portion of our learning and school activities happen spontaneously throughout the week. For instance, there are often little math lessons when my children want to count up their money to buy something at the store. Writing happens as we make lists of things to buy, create cards and letters, journal in our nature notebooks, and play games.

I have learned through experience that the unplanned lessons which my children learn as we go about our lives are often the most valuable. By being flexible, I can capitalize on the many opportunities for learning that naturally arise. Sometimes I even ignore the plan altogether and use a whole week to delve deeper into something that has captured my children's excitement. These unplanned lessons are fueled by passion, and that makes them seem to stick in my children's brains much more than worksheets ever could.

Daily Routine

Our daily routine varies considerably depending on my homeopathic appointment schedule and whether or not we stay at home all day. A typical weekday at home looks like this:
  • 6:30-7:15AM
    • I typically wake before the children, so I grab a quick snack and head to the computer to work on e-mail, blogging, articles, or homeopathic case study.
  • 7:15-7:45AM
  • 7:45-8AM
    • Family work: The children and I clean the kitchen, start laundry, make beds, etc.
  • 8-8:45AM
  • 8:45-10AM
  • 10-11:30AM
    • Children have free play while I work on homeopathic cases, blogging, or household tasks.
  • 11:30AM-12:30PM
    •  Lunch and clean-up.
  • 12:30-2:30PM
    • More free play while I work on homeopathic cases or blogging. 
    • Frequently, this time also includes more reading aloud or playing a game together.  
    • Snacks.
  • 2:30-4PM
    • Quiet Time: 
      • Children go to separate rooms where they play quietly, listen to audio books, work on projects, color, etc. These days my children will often spend about 30-45 minutes on their own and then collaborate quietly on workbooks, legos or cuisenaire rod projects.
      • I take a 10-15 minute power nap, then study homeopathic texts, homesteading-related books, or 7 Keys Certification materials.
  •  4-5PM
    • Chores and cleaning:
      • My daughter does her chicken chores (feeding, watering, egg collecting, etc).
      • Both kids finish and clean up any Quiet Time activities.
      • I work on laundry, cleaning, or short homeopathic phone appts.
  • 5-6PM
    •  Dinner prep and/or free play
  • 6-7PM
    • Dinner and cleanup
  • 7-8:30PM
    • Free time for all, including playing, discussing, reading, creating, etc.
  • 8:30-9PM
    • Prepare for bed and family read aloud. 

Do you have a weekly or daily routine? How does it vary with the seasons?

    Thursday, November 6, 2014

    Slow Cooker Chicken and Mushroom Soup (grain-free : gluten-free : nutrient-dense)

    Years ago when I first started using a slow cooker, I was repeatedly disappointed by overcooked, dry chicken. It took me awhile to figure out that, unlike beef roasts which benefit from slow cooking over a long period of time, chicken is best if slow-cooked for only a few hours.

    One of my favorite chicken recipes is chicken and mushroom soup.  The earthy flavor of mushrooms contrasts nicely with the light flavor of chicken. The herbs and vermouth give this soup outstanding flavor. 

    Slow-Cooker Chicken and Mushroom Soup
    Serves 5-7
    • 1 large white onion, diced
    • 1/2 cup vermouth (or dry white wine)*
    • 2 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
    • 3 to 3&1/2 pound whole chicken
    • 1 lb of brown mushrooms, sliced
    • 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1 tsp of dried thyme
    • 1.5 tsp dried parsley
    • 1 Tb celtic sea salt (or less if your broth is salted)
    • freshly ground pepper
    • 2 T white rice flour or arrowroot
    • 1/4 cup sour cream
    • 1/4 cup filtered water
    1. About 8-10 hours before dinner, add the onion, vermouth, broth, and a sprinkle of salt to the slow cooker. Cook on HIGH.
    2. Six hours before dinner, it is time to add the chicken and mushrooms.  Start by washing the chicken well inside and out with plenty of water. Add the chicken to the slow cooker. Sprinkle the mushrooms around the chicken.
    3. Sprinkle the garlic, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, one Tb of salt, and pepper (to taste) over the chicken and mushrooms. (My broth is unsalted; use less salt if your broth is salted.) Don't worry that there is too little liquid in the pot; the chicken and mushrooms will release a lot of moisture as they cook.
    4. Cook on LOW for about 5 hours, or until the internal temperature of the chicken has reached 170 degrees. If you cook the chicken too long, it will be dry and overdone.
    5. About one hour before dinner, pull the chicken out of the slow cooker and place it in a large bowl. Allow to cool enough that you can handle the chicken without burning yourself. 
    6. Use a fork or your fingers to pull the meat and skin off the chicken. Set the bones and any chewy bits/tendons aside; if desired they can be used to start a pot of broth cooking after dinner. Chop the chicken and skin into bite-sized pieces. 
    7. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, 1/4 cup of filtered water, and arrowroot or rice flour. Whisk this into the soup broth 30-45 minutes before dinner.
    8. Stir the chicken meat/skin back into the pot about 20 minutes before dinner. Reduce the heat to WARM. 
    9. Taste test the broth and adjust the salt as needed. Ladle into bowls and serve! This soup pairs nicely with Cheesy Bread and a side salad. 

    *I love to use vermouth, as it doesn't go bad like unused wine. Vermouth is shelf stable, can be used in place of dry white wine in cooking, and can be stored at room temperature indefinitely.

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    Saturday, November 1, 2014

    Ham, Broccoli, and Cheddar Quiche (grain-free : gluten-free : Primal)

    Mmmm, quiche. My 4-year-old son's favorite food is quiche: eggs and veggies in cheesy goodness, what's not to like?  Usually I make mushroom and cheddar quiche, but this week I wanted something different. Ham, broccoli, and cheddar made a fantastic combination.


    Ham, Broccoli, and Cheddar Quiche
    Serves 6-8
    • 1&1/2 cups broccoli florets, fresh or frozen, preferably organic
    • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, preferably from grassfed cows
    • pinch celtic sea salt
    • 1 tsp green onion, minced (green parts only)
    • 1 small clove garlic, minced
    • 4 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
    • 9 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
    • 3/4 tsp celtic sea salt
    • 3/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt
    • 2 ounces chopped ham
    1. Chop up the broccoli into smallish bits. 
    2. Melt the butter in a well-seasoned 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Add the broccoli and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
    3. Saute the broccoli for 5-10 minutes, until it has released its moisture cooked down a bit.
    4. Add the green onion and garlic, and saute for a minute or so, until they are fragrant.  Turn off heat and allow to cool some.
    5. Meanwhile, break the eggs into a large bowl.  Add 3/4 tsp celtic sea salt and beat with a fork. Stir in the cheddar cheese, ham, and yogurt.
    6. Stir the egg mixture into the skillet with the broccoli.
    7. Place the skillet into a 350 degree F oven, and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the quiche is set in the center and beautifully browned on the edges.
    8. Let cool a bit, then slice and serve!  This pairs wonderfully with crispy fried potatoes and a green salad dressed with vinaigrette.  
    9. Store leftovers in a covered dish in the fridge.  They reheat well in a toaster oven at 250 degrees for 20 minutes.

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    Sunday, October 26, 2014

    Make Your Own Pumpkin Puree


    With Halloween and Thanksgiving just around the corner, it's time to make pumpkin puree.  Homemade pumpkin puree is much more tasty than the canned variety. 

    My method for homemade pumpkin puree is simple: bake whole, scoop, and puree!  Each year, I make lots of pumpkin puree, to be stored in the freezer.  Lots of pumpkin pie clafoutis, pumpkin spice bread, and pumpkin crumble will keep us happy over the winter.

    You can use any type of winter squash you like, such as pumpkin, hubbard squash, and butternut squash. My favorite type of pumpkin to use for puree is NOT the sugar pie pumpkin. It is actually a variety of pumpkin called the Long Island Cheese. This pumpkin has vibrant orange flesh and excellent sweet flavor.


    Recipe: Homemade Pumpkin Puree


    Baking whole pumpkins is the easiest way to cook them. It does take a while, but it is so much easier than trying to cut up a raw pumpkin as they are VERY hard before they are cooked. 
    1. Place the whole pumpkins on your oven rack. I place a cookie sheet underneath just in case of any drips.  
    2. Bake for several hours at 200 degrees F.  A ten pound pumpkin will take about 3 hours to cook.  Larger pumpkins will take closer to 4 hours. A small pie pumpkin should be done in 1-2 hours. 
    3. To test for doneness, wrap your hands with a dish towel and gently squeeze the pumpkins.  Check them on multiple sides (and you may even need to rotate the pumpkins partway through if you cook more than one at a time, like I do). If the pumpkins are soft enough to squeeze a bit, then they are done!
    4. Remove from the oven and place on a cookie sheet or large baking tray (such as a 9X13 glass dish). Carefully use a knife to make a slice down one side of the pumpkin, slicing all the way down to the bottom. This allows the water and heat in the pumpkin to be released.  Let cool for awhile.
    5. Once cool enough to touch, finish cutting the pumpkin in half. This is amazingly easy to do since the pumpkin has already been cooked. Scoop out and discard the seeds and stringy bits.  
    6. Being careful to not get any of the skin, scoop the soft flesh out with a spoon and place it into a food processor.  Let the food processor whir the flesh to make a beautiful puree. This may take several batches depending on the size of your pumpkin and food processor.
    7. Store the puree in airtight containers.  Keep it in the fridge if it will be used in the next few days. Otherwise, store it in the freezer, where it will last for many months.  
    What are your favorite ways to use pumpkin puree?

    Thursday, October 23, 2014

    Peanut Butter Cookies (grain-free : gluten-free : nutrient-dense)

    During the hot summer months, I craved light foods such as salads and raw veggies. Now that the weather is getting cooler, my tastes are changing and I find myself wanting more comfort foods. These peanut butter cookies fit the bill: they are chewy in the middle, crispy on the edges, and super tasty.


    Peanut Butter Cookies
    Makes 30-40 cookies

    1. Set your oven racks so that none are in the bottom third of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 325 F.
    2. In a medium bowl, combine the salt, baking soda, baking powder, ground nuts, and coconut flour. Whisk or sift well to combine and break up any lumps.
    3. In another bowl (or stand-mixer), beat the softened butter and sucanat together for a couple minutes, until well mixed. (I love using my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer for making cookies as it makes it very easy to add the ingredients while the mixer is running.)
    4. Add the peanut butter to the butter mixture and mix to combine. (I love to use a Measure All cup for measuring peanut butter and other thick ingredients such as honey and sour cream.)
    5. In the meantime, combine the eggs, vanilla, and almond extract in a small bowl. (I find that a Pyrex glass measuring cup works great for this because the pour spout makes it easy to add these ingredients to the mixer while it is running.) Do NOT mix up the eggs at this point.
    6. Once the butter, sucanat, and peanut butter have become well-mixed, mix in the eggs one-at-a-time.  With my stand-mixer, I can just pour in each egg while the mixer is still running.  Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice to get everything incorporated well.
    7. While the mixer is running, add the dry ingredients.  Since coconut flour does not contain gluten, there is no worry of over-mixing it!
    8. Scoop the cookies onto greased cookie sheets (or line the cookie sheets with silpats, which are wonderful since the cookies never stick and are less likely to burn).  I like to use a 1-Tb scoop for consistently pretty cookies, but you could just use a spoon. Do NOT flatten the cookies as they will spread plenty while cooking.
    9. Bake the cookies at 325 F for about 15-18 minutes (or a few minutes longer if you are cooking them on stoneware). They are done when the edges get a bit dark and crispy.
    10. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 5-10 minutes.  Then use a spatula to move them to a cooling rack.
    11. Once cool, store these cookies in an airtight container.  They can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer if you won't be eating them all in the next few days.  They are nice and chewy straight from the fridge, and even soft enough to eat straight out of the freezer!  Storing them in the freezer will also remove the pressure of having to eat them all in a week or so, as they will last for months in the freezer.
    *I used to avoid consuming peanut butter because of the potential for aflatoxins. However, now that I am consuming a more sustainable, less restrictive diet, I have added small amounts of peanut butter back into my diet. Rather than obsessing over every detail of my diet, I'm finding a place of balance that can be sustained for the long term.  

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      Wednesday, October 15, 2014

      How We Use Nature Study in Our Home School


      While I did include some aspects of nature in our early home schooling experience, it wasn't until I read about Charlotte Mason that I began to intentionally make Nature Study a formal part of our studies. Over the last two years, nature study has become an integral part of our science curriculum.

      "The child who learns his science from a text-book, though he go to Nature for illustrations, and he who gets his information from object lessons, has no chance of forming relations with things as they are, because his kindly obtrusive teacher makes him believe that to know about things is the same as knowing them personally." - Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series
      Nature Study allows my children to focus their hearts and minds on the beautiful cycles that flow through our outdoor world. When they connect with nature, there is serenity, wonder, and joy.


       

      Planning for Nature Study

      To make Nature Study an intentional part of our schooling, I plan and schedule it into our school days. I schedule time for nature study at least twice a month. On days when I plan for us to do Nature Study, I make sure that we have at least 2 hours that will be uninterrupted by other events or projects.

      In addition to our scheduled Nature Study times, I also watch the outdoors for Nature Study opportunities. For instance, since we live in the desert and have infrequent rain, I try to be flexible so that my kids are able to enjoy the rain and mud when they are present, and that we can explore the outdoors afterwards to see the changes that rain brings. I watch for seasonal changes that we can observe together, such as the budding of flowers and the changing of leaves.

      I also keep Nature Study in mind for rough days, when the children are overly argumentative or are bickering incessantly. Nature Study can be a complete mood-changer on those days. It can bring us back to balance and peace.

      Examples of Our Nature Study

      Some days, our Nature Study can be very simple; other days we make it more complex and in-depth. A few ideas from our Nature Studies are the following:
      • grab our nature notebooks and head out to the desert where we can observe and journal about plants, insects, and animals
      • take short field trips to the arroyo (dry creek bed) behind our house, where we can observe the way that water shapes and reshapes the land
      • make leaf rubbings of various leaves
      • capture a bug or critter, which we can observe in a small terrarium for a few hours before setting it free
      • work in the garden, preparing the soil, planting seeds, weeding, watching the plants grow, and reaping the fruits of our labor
      • observe and collect wildflowers
      • capture and raise a caterpillar into a chrysalis and then butterfly
      • birdwatch through our windows, observing the different species and their variety of behaviors
      • use a microscope to study and perhaps draw samples of any of the above
      • use nature observations as a jumping off point for further study with library books

       

      Just Get Outside


      Nature study doesn't have to be formal. In A Charlotte Mason Companion, Karen Andreola writes, "young children will discover toads, butterflies, beetles, earthworms, robins, thistles, squirrels, mushrooms, berries, and run into thorn bushes on their own, without any prodding from us."

      Making sure that we spend time outside is one of my priorities. While my daughter loves to play outside, I find that my son often requires some gentle nudging to go outside. Once he is outside, however, my son thrives on the experiences of watching birds soar overhead, collecting rocks and leaves, and finding insects.

      I also have to intentionally find time for myself to be outside; I can too easily stay indoors working, writing, and studying, but yet I find that I, too, benefit from spending time outdoors. Even simple things such as reading aloud in the back yard can make a difference in my mood and well-being.

      Resources and Materials that Aid Nature Study


      We can certainly explore nature without any special materials or equipment, and yet I have found the following items to be particularly useful in making Nature Study an intentional part of our home schooling.

      Reference Books
      Materials

      Do you incorporate Nature Study into your lives? What are your favorite resources for Nature Study?

       

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