Monday, October 12, 2015

Mom's Caramel Corn (Vegan)

Mom's Caramel Popcorn (Vegan)

About 25 years ago, my sister was in a club called "Mothers' Group." One of the activities they did each meeting was having a snack, and sending each member home with a copy of the recipe. I often went with her, and this was one of the recipes that was shared. It became a family favorite, and I often made it for our Mom - who loved it. Hence the title "Mom's Caramel Corn."  Today would have been Mom's Birthday - so I thought this was the perfect time to share a favorite recipe of hers.

I veganized the recipe, but it still tastes the same.

Mom's Caramel Corn

Put 15 cups popped corn in a very large pan, or in 2 9x13 pans
Expect to use about 2 1/2 to three bags of popcorn)

Heat in Caramel Syrup in saucepan over medium heat 
until bubbles form on surface, stirring frequently:
1 cup Brown Sugar
½ cup Vegan Buttery Spread, such as Earth Balance (recipe originally called for Dairy Butter)
¼ cup Light Corn Syrup
½ tsp Salt
Remove from heat and stir in
½ tsp Baking Soda (this will significantly lighten the color of the caramel as you stir it in)

Pour Caramel Syrup over Popped Popcorn in Pans, 

Bake 200 degrees Fahrenheit 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes to break up clumps and evenly coat corn. This step crisps the caramel on the corn.

Cool briefly (just so it doesn't burn anyone) & munch! This is exceptionally good while still warm, but you won't be disappointed with it when it's cold, either ; )

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Bible or the Constitution

My Mother's Bible, and her Copy of the Constitution
There has been much discussion lately about whether it is right for a Christian - inside or outside of public office - to put his Faith first, or if he should subject his Faith to the law of the land.

First, let me say that the Constitution was written  and enacted - by and large - by devout Christians. There really should be no conflict between the Bible and the Constitution, because the Constitution itself was written in subjection to the Bible. The conflicts that have arisen between the "Bible and the Constitution" have generally been between the Bible and modern human authorities acting inconsistently with the Constitution.

There is NO place for a Christian disobeying a law that is consistent with Biblical teachings just because we don't like that law
But, let's suppose that there is such a conflict. How should a Christian resolve it?

There are two options:

The First is to obey the law, while declaring "I don't like it, but I have to do it. After all, I believe in God in my heart. Outside of Church, I have to obey the law, regardless what I think personally."

Secularists will declare that this is the only freedom a Christian has - ignoring the First Amendment's promise of "Free Exercise" and asserting that instead the Constitution promises "Free private thoughts."

We all know what happens when this sort of logic is taken to its extreme end.  We heard these arguments when war criminals tried to defend themselves at Nuremberg. In fact, nearly every large-scale evil in human history has been excused by those who committed it because "I'm just obeying orders" or "It's the law of the land."

In reality, if we put the Constitution ahead of the Law of God, we have violated the First Commandment, "Thou Shalt Have No Other gods Before Me."

Any loyalty that comes ahead of God and causes us to sin against Him violates the First Commandment, and is Idolatry.

The Second option - the Only option for a Christian, is to "Take up your Cross and Follow Me."

This means we have an obligation to obey God no matter the cost. Regardless of personal risk - including imprisonment or death - Christians MUST obey God.

"We must obey God rather than men".

Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, when faced with the ultimate penalty, we must be willing to declare,  ". . . Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."

This is, by far, the most difficult option. And, even those of us who believe it is the right thing to do risk having our courage to do it fail us when we face the earthly consequences of obeying God. We must rely on God for supernatural ability to obey Him despite painful earthly consequences, so that we may obtain the "Crown of Righteousness." 

This is the example set by Jesus Himself, by the Martyrs, and by many modern heroes of civil disobedience.

Some would argue that such an attitude makes one unfit for public service - that anyone who serves his country must put the Constitution before the Bible. But I would argue that putting God first is the ONLY thing that makes one fit to truly honor the Constitution. Without Godly men applying the law, our Constitutional government would become the most corrupt of all systems.

As John Adams put it "[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

The Founding Fathers were quite vocal in their support of the Bible above the Constitution.

Many of our laws could be carried out by computer. There is no pragmatic reason, for instance, that sentencing of criminals couldn't be done by a computer algorithm. As a society we choose to have human beings use their wisdom, which comes from God, in applying the laws. This is why computers aren't chosen to do these sorts of tasks. 

If there is no ultimate Reference for morality, then the majority - whether of the Supreme Court or of the populace - can mandate immorality. We've all seen in the past where that sort of logic can lead. Jim Crow, Dred Scott and the Nuremberg laws all had popular support, and were, at least superficially, "lawful." But, any modern person who claims that those laws should have been followed just because they were enacted is declared to be advocating an unconscionable position. Hindsight is often 20/20.

I want to be totally clear here - I am not in any way advocating rebellion against authority. That is a great sin. I am advocating OBEDIENCE to a Higher Authority.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Build-Your-Own Week of Meals

Build-Your-Own meals are perfect. They're easy for the cook - they can accommodate the Vegan & Omnivore at the same table. They can also provide a satisfying meal for a variety of special diets - not to mention picky palates.

If you're hosting a potluck, you can provide the "base" (pasta, potatoes, bread, - you choose white, whole wheat or Gluten Free  - this recipe will be the one in the title link) and ask your guests to each bring a topping. 

These are also a great way to dress up leftovers, simply add the leftover items, whether they're veggies, sauces, or meats, to your Build-Your-Own Bar.  Or use those little jars of sauces and dressings in the door of the fridge. I'm giving several ideas for toppings, with the idea that you'll choose those that appeal to you & your guests.

I took inspiration for this post from the menu of our local public high school. They repeat the same Build-Your-Own Meals every week, all year!

Of course, if you don't want to have these meals every day all in the same week, you can work them into your Vertical Meal Plan.


Fill Your Own Tortillas (see link for lots of ideas for this one)

Stuff Your Own Potatoes

In addition to Slow-Cooker Baked Potatoes,
Topping Ideas:
Chili con Carne
Vegan Chili
Shredded Cheddar
Sour Cream
Vegan Buttery Spread
Vegan Bacon-y Bits
Ranch Dressing
Vegan Cheeze Sauce
Guilt Free Spinach Artichoke Dip (a favorite of mine : )

Build Your Own Rice Bowl

There are SOO many variations on rice, that you might want to also have an ethnic theme to simplify things a bit (Chinese, Indian, Mexican, etc).

A while back, I had a family of children at the house, and although they had a reputation for being "picky" they made & devoured more than one serving of this. (I found that having fruit and fun veggies - like baby corn - increased their interest). You can really tailor the toppings to your audience here.

Topping ideas:
Asian Peanut Sauce
Spaghetti Sauce
Baby Corn
Raw Carrots
Diced Apple
Diced Chicken
Shredded Cheese
Any sort of saucy cooked bean dish
Chopped Salted Peanuts
Shredded Napa Cabbage

Pasta Bar

Pasta (a choice of shapes can add fun)
Spaghetti Sauce
Alfredo Sauce
Vegan Cheezy Sauce
Asian Peanut Sauce
Greek Tahini Sauce
Sliced Almonds
Parmesan (Dairy or Vegan)
Red Bell Peppers
Loose-Cooked Hamburger or Sausage
Vegan Burger Crumbles
Copycat Skyline Black Beans & Rice
Lentil Soup

Build Your Own Burger

Black Bean Burgers
Oven Fries
Vegan Burgers
Zippy Sweet Potato Baked Fries
Potato Chips
Bread or Buns of your choice
Mayo (of your choice)

Personal Pizza Night

(sometimes I do this one on my homemade Naan that I keep in the freezer- you can use white or whole wheat)

Provide personal-sized discs of dough, and let diners top their own before baking (above link is traditional, scroll down for gluten free)

Gluten-Free Crusts
Bell Peppers
Cheese (Shredded Mozzarella, Feta, Vegan, etc according to your family's taste)
Pizza Sauce
Refried Beans (if offering Refried beans, you might want to offer other Mexican food inspired toppings, like Salsa, Cheddar (Dairy or Vegan) Shredded Lettuce & Tomato)
Pickled Pepper Slices

Sandwich Bar



Homemade Yeast Bread
Pita Bread
Gluten Free Bread if needed
Baba Ganoush
Red Pepper Walnut Dip
Olive Spread or Tapenade
Bell Peppers
Cold Cuts
Sliced Cheeses

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Monday, September 21, 2015

How Much Do You Know About Weston Price?

Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston Price
There is much talk on the internet and in society about Weston Price and his teachings. A while back, a friend told me about Dr. Price and I checked out a book from the library that cited his work repeatedly. From that book, and from what I read on blogs, I got a certain mental image of what Dr. Weston Price taught. But, I wanted to see for myself. I did an internet search for his book (it is old enough to be public domain and therefore free online Nutrition and Physical Degeneration) and read extensively the actual writings of this man. Here are some questions to see how well you know this important figure:

Please answer the following True or False:

1. Dr. Price did studies on traditional people groups to determine the overall health effects of their diets on their health.

2. Dr. Price found that the groups he studied had in common that they consumed bone broth.

3. Dr. Price discovered that the groups he studied had in common that they ate fermented food.

4. Dr. Price discovered that the groups he studied had in common that they soaked their grains.

5. Dr. Price advocated the consumption of animal foods such as organ meats.

6. Dr. Price researched and discovered that the women in the cultures he studied had few fertility problems.

7. Dr. Price discovered that people with traditional diets enjoyed greater longevity.

8. Dr. Price compared vegetarian diets with animal food based diets.

Ready to check your answers?











ALL of the above answers are False. Surprised?

1. False. Dr. Price was a dentist. The only health issue he studied in detail was dental health. He also took a long look at tuberculosis transmission rates between those living in crowded urban settings and those living in open air with lots of sunshine. He did not do a comprehensive study of health in general, although he occasionally would make a tourist-type observation about general health, for instance, that he noted that he saw a woman in her sixties that seemed very strong.

Dr. Price's Research Focused on Dental Health

2. False. Many of the groups in his book did not consume bone broth. In fact, some of them did not consume the food of animals that had bones, but lived only on vegetables and shellfish.

3. False. Many of the groups in his book did not eat fermented food.

4. False. Many of the groups in his book did not soak their grains, in fact, some of them did not even have regular access to grains - others consumed lots of grains.

5. False. Dr. Price actually advocated an Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian diet in a letter to his own nieces & nephews. He observed many traditional groups and recorded their diets, but did not advocate eating exactly as they ate. For instance, the Masai of Africa consumed a substantial amount of fresh blood from living cattle. Dr. Price recorded this, and recorded the good dental health of the Masai who consumed this diet, but did not advocate or denounce it. (unfortunately, the actual letter in which Dr. Price advocated vegetarianism  is at this site, The Price Pottenger Foundation, but requires a "membership" for access. There are many summaries and excerpts of the letter available at other sites, such as this one written from a vegetarian perspective, Or this one, written from another perspective . Unfortunately, I cannot find a copy of the letter alone without editorial comment for free)

6. False. Dr. Price did not study fertility rates. He did occasionally make an anecdotal observation. For instance, he spoke with one doctor who treated one tribe. That doctor offered the undocumented and unresearched offhand opinion that fertility issues seemed to have been better before his arrival. But, Dr. Price only offered these third party observations anecdotally, he did not do studies on fertility.

7. False. Dr. Price did not do his research on longevity rates.

8. False. Dr. Price's work involved examining the teeth of those on traditional tribal diets with those on a "modern" diet high in refined grains and sugars. Some of the traditional tribal diets has lots of animal food, and some contained a very high percentage of vegetarian foods. The traditional diets were all whole foods diets, and the modern diets were all high in refined foods.

Dr. Price Focused on Dental Health - Comparing Whole Foods & Refined Food Diets
I would encourage everyone to read the actual work of Dr. Price - it IS fascinating! But, whenever a third party cites the work of anyone - especially without the endorsement of the person being referenced - I would encourage readers to check the original author's work.

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Monday, September 14, 2015

The Perfect Homeschool Organizer

The Perfect Homeschool Organizer
The Homeschool Organization System that Stays Organized - and is Portable, Too!

Please tell me that I'm not the only homeschooler out there who is like this:

1. Not naturally tidy.
2. Teaches from the same table where family dinners are eaten.
3. Has been known to slide messy school materials to one end of the table at the end of the day so that dinner can be eaten.

I can't be the only one!

I've tried a couple of organizing methods that haven't worked very well:

1.  The School Cabinet or shelves a few feet away, where the days materials can be pulled out, then put away at then end of the day. They're beautiful at the beginning of the year. I love the pics posted by those picture-perfect homeschoolers. And, they work great for those folks who naturally put everything away when they're done with it. For us less-tidy folks, this method meant that things seldom got put away, and when they did, they were usually shoved randomly onto increasing untidy shelves. Because, if you're a not-so-tidy person, you need to be able to put things away right where you naturally drop them! (Learn more on this concept from The House that Cleans Itself)

2. The dump-it-all-in-a-box-and-hide-the-box-when-people-come-visit method. It didn't take long until I couldn't find anything in the box, important lessons got filtered to the bottom and forgotten, and I even forgot to hide the box when people came!

Well, rather serendipitously, I found the solution to my problem recently when I was thrifting.  It was $2.99, used : )

View from the top, with zippered compartment open: big & small books, DVD cases, Manipulatives, Pens, etc all fit!

It's stunningly simple, and works great!

There's a place for everything, big books, small books, pens, pencils, crayons, CDs, DVDs, manipulatives, etc. (I use cups for pencils and such, as the sections are not sewn at the bottom in my brand). Because it has well-organized compartments, the crayons get put in the right place - where they can easily be found. And the books get put in their nice spot. I'm pretty sure I could find what I need blindfolded on any given day!

I carry it to the dining table at the beginning of the day, and pull out each item as I need it - then the organizer is right there - so it's very easy to put everything away, right where it goes. Right where I would naturally drop it if it weren't there! If we need to take school on the road for some reason, all we have to do is carry the organizer to the car. It holds everything we need for a day's work, and since everything is visible and has its own spot, there's no danger of losing important things at the bottom of the box.  At the end of the school day, it gets put back on the other side of the room. We still have a "school cabinet" to store items not currently in use, but our everyday items are all tidily in one place.

It's a Car Office Organizer (note: that's not an affiliate link - just a link). These are often used by folks like visiting nurses or traveling salesmen (mine had been previously owned by a nurse - I could tell by the medical company logo embossed on the front). I bought a "Case Logic" model, but many other models are out there that also look good. Even though I bought my organizer cheap, I like it so much that I think I'd be willing to pay full price to replace it.

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Monday, September 7, 2015

St. Euphrosynos, the Patron Saint of Cooks

St. Euphrosynos, Patron Saint of Cooks
A favorite family read-aloud in our house is The Boy, A Kitchen, and His Cave by Catherine K. Contopoulos.

The book imaginatively tells the story of the 9th Century Saint, Euphrosynos (Ehf-ROH-see-nohs). It tells of a boy who is not academically gifted, or artistic, or even street-smart - in fact - the casual observer might have assumed that St. Euphrosynos had no gifts at all to serve God with. As a boy, St. Euphrosynos is ridiculed by others for being "stupid." As a man, St. Euphrosynos gives away his few possessions and becomes the humble assistant cook in a monastery - but even in the monastery he is looked down upon for being simple and lacking in impressive skills or gifts. He's not an Iconographer or a Theologian, he simply peels the vegetables, stirs the soup, and scrubs the kitchen floor!

But, St. Euphrosynos, it is discovered, DOES have gifts - a pure heart, humility, and a gift for being thankful in any situation.

Finally, the Monks discover through a miracle that the simple cook in their midst is a Holy man. Being humble, St. Euphrosynos cannot bear the adulation that follows their discovery.

This book, much like its namesake, humbly and gently challenges our preconceived ideas that only the great and accomplished can serve God. Many times those who cook - whether for families or for the public - feel like the gift they offer is less valued by God than the flashier gifts - but the story of St. Euphrosynos reassures us that those gifts we offer in thanksgiving, with a pure and humble heart are treasured by God. And the child reader is similarly reassured that his gifts to God are not judged by God as humans tend to judge.

The book also gently deals with the topic of a Godly response to bullying - whether the reader is at risk of being picked on, or of picking on others.

The Boy, A Kitchen, and His Cave
The Boy, A Kitchen, and His Cave   is a charming book that is suitable for all ages. It carries a message that is just as compelling for adults, teens and older children as for young children. The board-type binding might lead one to believe at first glance that it is a book only for young children, but the complexity of the text & vocabulary make it best suited for reading to the entire family. And, the illustrations are simply beautiful.

The Feast Day of St. Euphrosynos is September 11.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Easy, No Knead, Vegan Challah

So, this is the challenge: create a bread that is moist, tender, flavorful, mildly sweet, & pulls apart into tasty layers when you tear it. But, it doesn't have eggs, butter, milk or oil. Oh, and did I mention that it should be super-easy to make?

Well, some friends recently asked me if I knew of a recipe that would do just that. I didn't. So, I did some online research for them. I couldn't find anything that was JUST right.

I always make bread by the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method  (and, I think EVERYONE should own their book!). I sought to use that method, but vary it so that it would be Vegan and Oil Free, and, of course, delectable. I also found a festive loaf recipe by Bryanna Clark Grogan, but it wasn't JUST what I was looking for - and it was a old fashioned recipe requiring kneading. So, I took those two ideas and ran with them.

I set about experimenting to create just the perfect recipe. It took a lot of tweaking, but the more I played with the idea, the more great variations I ended up with. Challah, Tsoureki, Crescent Rolls, Brioche a Tete, Greek Olive Rolls, Dinner Rolls . . . . and the variations are still being created. I hope to feature many of these recipes in the months to come.

The use of Tapioca Starch, Potato, and Sugar tenderizes & moisturizes the dough, and make a moist, tender, fluffy loaf without the use of oil or eggs. 

I'm featuring Challah today, because it is a very good "Basic" recipe from which the other variations can be made. And, it's pretty. And, well, this is the season for it! : )

It is SOOO easy to make - and produces such spectacular results! This recipe produces 2 loaves, 2 pounds each. (You could also make 4 small one pound loaves if you so desire)

Easy, No Knead, Vegan Challah **** (Scroll Down for Smaller Batch)
Measure into a 6 quart container*, in this order
3 Cups Warm Water (baby bath water temperature. If in doubt, make it too cool rather than too warm)
5 1/4 Cups Unbleached, All Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Tapioca Starch (I get this cheap at the Asian Ethnic Market)
1 Cup Potato Flakes (yes, that's right, the stuff people use to make Instant Mashed Potatoes)
1/2 Cup Sugar
1 Tablespoon Yeast
1 Tablespoon Salt
Stir well with a spoon till no patches of dry Flour remain.

The dough should look like this right after you stir it.

Cover loosely with lid (don't fasten so securely that it cannot "breathe")
Leave it on the counter for 2 to 5 hours.
Now, put it in the fridge till you're ready to use it **

The dough should look like this after it has sat out on the counter for 2 to 5 hours.

Note - do not "Punch Down" this kind of dough. 

When you're ready to bake the bread, remove it from the refrigerator and dust it VERY WELL with Flour. This is a moist, sticky dough, so don't be afraid to use lots of Flour!

Oil your pan (I use a Perforated, Non-stick Pizza Pan, like this one for baking)

 Gently Divide the dough in half, and divide one half into three pieces. Pull each piece into a long rope & dust with flour again. Lay the strands side by side, and braid them. It works best if you start at the middle and braid toward the end. If you've never braided bread before, this is a great tutorial post - but because of its lower gluten content, you may find this dough a little easier to form into ropes that the bread in the tutorial.

Shape another loaf with the second half of the dough if desired***, or return the remaining dough to the refrigerator to use later. This dough CAN be kept in the fridge for a week or more and still be quite good to use, but with this particular dough, you'll find the fluffiest, sweetest results if you bake it within a day or two of mixing.

Leave to rise for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and bake in the middle of the oven, without steam for 35-40 minutes.

For best results, cool before serving.

Small Batch Easy, No Knead Vegan Challah
 (Makes 2 pounds of dough - for one large loaf or two small ones)
Follow above directions, but use these amounts
I prepare a batch this size in an 8 Cup Container - the one in the above pictures.
Be sure to add in this order:

1 1/2 Cups Warm Water
2 1/2 Cups + 2 Tablespoons Unbleached, All Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Tapioca Starch
1/2 Cup Potato Flakes
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/2 Tablespoon Yeast
1/2 Tablespoon Salt

Stir well, then follow above directions - the same as for a large batch.

* For my 6 Quart Container, I use a new plastic shoe box from the Dollar Store.
** This dough CAN be used the day it is made - but it is a tad easier to shape after it is refrigerated.
*** If you bake two loaves at the same time, put one loaf on the middle rack, and one on the bottom rack. Then, set a timer to switch their positions half-way through baking, so that they brown evenly both on the top and on the bottom.

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