Monday, November 4, 2019

3 Ingredient Greek Tzatziki (Greek Cucumber Yogurt Sauce)

Easy, 3 Ingredient Greek Tzatziki Sauce or Dip
 Tzatziki is a delicious, savory Greek Yogurt Sauce. It is perfect on traditional Souvlaki (normally made from Pork), Chicken Souvlaki, or Lamb.

For us vegetarians, it is delicious with Oven Fries, over Potatoes, with Pita, or on Salad in a Pita!

It is also delicious just plain.

No matter how much I make, "Leftover Tzatziki" is a bit of an oxymoron at my house!

And, really, that's okay. Because Tzatziki is best when it is freshly made. As the cucumbers sweat, they become less crisp, and the liquid settles to the top of the dip. It's still delicious the next day - just not quite as delicious. But with a recipe this easy, I don't mind whipping it up when needed : )

Here's my basic batch:

Tzatziki
1 Small to Medium Cucumber, Shredded with the Large Grater holes
1 Pint (2 Cups) Greek Yogurt (I use nonfat- but it's totally your decision!)
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons Garlic Salt (to taste)
Stir, and serve

The following makes a nice, big batch. I have yet to discover a "too big" batch size of Tzatziki - everyone loves it so much! 

Large Batch Tzatziki
1 (32 oz) container Greek Yogurt (I use Nonfat. This is approximately a Litre)
2-3 Small Cucumbers, Shredded (or 1 Very Large one)
2-3 teaspoons Garlic Salt (to taste)

Now, I know what some of my readers are saying, "But MY Yiayia uses (insert ingredient here: Dill, Mint, Oil, Vinegar, Lemon Juice, Sheep Yogurt, FRESH Garlic, etc)"

That's the beauty of a recipe like this one. As a traditional recipe, every family has its own wonderful variations! But once you have the basic formula - it's oh so easy to change it up to match your family's taste!

Καλί Όρχεξι! (Enjoy!)

Try this delicious Dip/Sauce with any or all of the following favorites:





Greek Souvlaki at Home
Greek Skillet Chicken
Bulgur Pilaf ( Pourgouri )
Greek Stuffed Veggies ( Gemista )
Mushroom Kabobs, Grilled ( Manitarakia )
Orzo Pilaf
Greek Inspired Oven Fries
Rosemary Roast Potatoes in the Slow Cooker


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Monday, October 21, 2019

Za'atar Hummus

Za'atar Hummus
This flavored hummus combines to great Middle Eastern flavors - Za'atar & Hummus - in a distinctly
American way.

If you're looking for a new twist on Hummus - this is a great variation!

Here's how to make it:

Za'atar Hummus
In food processor, combine:
1 (15oz) can Chickpeas, Drained
2 to 4 Tablespoons Tahini
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 teaspoon Fresh Minced Garlic (I use the kind from a jar)
Scant teaspoon Salt
Blend, adding water as needed for desired texture:
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
Allow processor to run for several minutes, to get smooth, creamy texture
Then add and pulse briefly
2 1/2 Tablespoons Za'atar (Middle Eastern Seasoning Blend)

Serve with Raw Veggies, Pita Triangles or Crackers - or spread on a Sandwich.

Enjoy!

If you're a fan of Hummus, try my other variations:

Hummus with Capers 
 
Hummus, Roasted Red Pepper, Copycat Sabra 
 
Hummus, Smoky 

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Monday, October 7, 2019

Can You Homeschool College?

Can You Homeschool College?
Does homeschooling have to stop when children start college?

There is a common assumption - even
amongst homeschoolers - that High School is the "end of the line" for homeschooling.

But, that's simply not true.

And there's another assumption that college needs to cost a lot of money - that's not always true, either.

(A little note for international readers: the words "college" and "university" are virtually interchangeable in everyday American speech - I am using the word "college" here to mean both college AND university)


In my opinion, college is different from high school, in that there is a legitimate need to have an institution document learning. So, in that way, homeschooling college differs from homeschooling at the Primary and Secondary levels. If you don't care about that documentation,  there ARE wonderful courses online for free from many universities - and a few of them are even beginning to offer top notch degree programs ways to document that learning!

Just search for "MOOC" (Massive Open Online Course) to find lists like this:
 https://www.mooc-list.com/

But, if you DO care about that documentation, keep reading . . . 

There are many reasons a parent might choose to "send a child off" to college: networking, learning under a certain professor, taking a specific program that only one university offers, learning a hands-on profession that must be mentored and practiced (like, say, brain surgery or musical performance).


But, there are many reasons NOT to send a child off to college! The spiritually, psychologically and academically damaging "party" atmosphere at many universities, the promotion of an anti-Christian worldview at many universities, and the high costs are just a few.

If a child is  academically ready to learn college level material at perhaps 15, but too young to live independently or deal with the pressures of a full course load, homeschooling college might be a great alternative.

I can already hear the nay-sayers arguing that "you can't shield them from the 'real world' forever!" Which is very true! But, my experience and observation of modern undergrad dorm life is that it is about as far from the real adult world as one can get. Thousands of young people without adult responsibility, such as being required to support themselves and pay for their own bills, without accountability to parents any longer, but WITH lots of money and freedom - is a recipe for disaster. 

Of course young people will be out on their own - as responsible adults - when that is appropriate. But going off to grad school alone, taking a job in a distant city, or building a home with a family is much truer "real life" than undergrad dorm/fraternity life ever was.

Over the years, I have become familiar with various methods of gaining college credit  - or even a full degree - from home.

These are some that I have personal familiarity with, and can vouch for how wonderful they are:

Thomas A. Edison State University
My own Alma Mater, Thomas A. Edison State University is one such option. I completed my degree there while living abroad in a location where traditional university wasn't an option. I found myself well prepared for graduate work when I was done. They offer remote classes, credit by exam, and credit assessment for learning accomplished outside of class, among other options. They're fully accredited. Prices were VERY reasonable!

Modern States
Another great option that I am personally familiar with is Modern States - also known as "First Year of College Free". At Modern States - for free - you can watch a full course of lectures, read a free textbook, and answer practice questions. When you are done, put in a request for a voucher and they offer to PAY for your CLEP exam to gain college credits for what you have studied! This wonderful service is provided by Philanthropist Steven Klinsky, who wants to make college more accessible for everyone.

College Level Examination Program and DSST
Which brings me to CLEP and DSST exams. For a reasonable fee, MUCH less than tuition for a similar class, you can take one of these exams and gain credits which are accepted by many colleges and universities. Some colleges accept many - some few - so talk to your desired institution and see which ones they will accept - or chose an institution that accepts more of them. I used these exams for a substantial portion of my Bachelor's degree. I graduated debt free : )

Community College
Community Colleges offer many of the same courses as 4 year colleges - often for about 1/4 the price. Staying home and commuting for the first two years can be a great option for many. It's not homeschooling, but it can be a nice transition. Many programs offer the added benefit of qualifying graduates in a trade. This way, they can work in their target field in while schooling continues. For instance, if your student wants to be a Dentist one day, he or she might benefit from learning to be a Dental Hygenist or Assistant at community college. Then, while working for the additional degrees, that part-time job can be a resume and experience builder - and also pay much more than many jobs other undergrads can get. Likewise, the aspiring lawyer can become a paralegal first, and the aspiring nurse-anesthetist can become an LPN or RN first through community college training.

Here are some I have heard about that I am unfamiliar with personally, but look like they are worth checking out. 

Saylor Academy 
Note - some of their courses offer exam credit that is transferable - some do not.

Saylor has a great list of "Partners" - colleges which are easy to work with from home : )
This page has a list of many colleges that are easy to work with from home. I haven't tried them out, but it's a great place to start research!

College Plus, Unbound
Read more about College Unbound HERE

Oak Brook College of Law

Coursera -
Now offers some degree programs, too! And some of those are from top name universities!

One last note - beware of Diploma Mills and College Debt. If the college you're looking at has rates that are very high or preposterously low, admits students without sufficient proof that they are ready for advanced studies, or offers "easy" or "quick" degrees - beware! Make sure they're accredited. Check their reviews online. I still remember meeting a colleague years ago, who had gone to a disreputable college, and who was devastated that she had paid three times as much as I had to get a degree, but was completely unprepared for the professional world.   Make sure you do your research! 

But, with a little research, and some well chosen resources, homeschooling part or all of college can be done! : ) 

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Monday, September 30, 2019

Homeschooling Record Keeping - The Portfolio

The Homeschool Portfolio
What is a Homeschool Portfolio, and why should you keep one?

A Homeschool Portfolio, in some states (such as mine), can be a way of certifying to the state that your child has, in fact, received an education in the past year (this is not legal advice, be sure to research the laws of your state). For this reason, some home educators find them intimidating - but they're really simple to assemble!

A Homeschool Portfolio is also wonderful keepsake - a way to remember what things your child did and learned in a particular academic year. I love being able to look back and see all the happy memories of earlier years.

A Homeschool Portfolio also a great organization system, because once you have curated the best items of the year into one tidy binder, the remainder of worksheets, scratch paper, writing efforts and artwork can be freely discarded if you do desire. All your happy memories are tidily arranged in one spot!


How to assemble one? 

Well, the ways to make them are as unique as the people who make them.

Most of the online articles I've seen involve pretty print-outs, but I'm not a pretty printout sort of Mom ; )

Our Portfolio is very utilitarian, and relies upon my daughter's actual work to make it attractive.

If the mood strikes her in a given year, she might make a piece of art to grace the cover.

I use a plain 3-ring binder, usually about 1" or 1 1/2" thick (thicker is fine if you need it!)

At the beginning of the school year, I put .in some filler paper, graph paper, and various yet-to-be completed assignment pages - such as workbook pages or writing assignments.

During the course of a school year, I add these things to our binder:

If she receives a certificate for some achievement during the year, like completing swim lessons, or finishing a level of music education - that goes in the portfolio.

When she finishes a "grade" of Math in Khan Academy, there is a list of all the skills that were learned in that grade. I copy that into a word processing document, and print it out for the portfolio.

I keep some plastic sleeves in the portfolio with samples of her best artwork, tickets to plays, brochures from field trips - the type of thing you might put in a scrapbook.
 
Our state requires "work samples" from the student, which is challenging because most of her work has been done on the computer, or is not normally recorded. It is hard to have a sample of something like reading aloud, flashcards, singing a memory song, giving a speech, or an oral spelling test.

So, I make a point to do some work offline primarily for the purpose of creating a portfolio. Not busy work, but some well-chosen assignments that will supplement her online work.  We usually have some time during the year when we are away from technology - whether we're traveling, or simply have a power outage because of a storm! During these times, I use workbook-type materials which create a record of her current learning. I actually keep these pages in her portfolio before they're completed, and she uses it as a school notebook, as she finishes the work, it's already in her portfolio.


I really like Amy Maryon's Free Curriculum for the needed workbook-type pages. And of course, there are many other great paper resources out there, too! 

Some assignments, like book reports or handwriting practice, naturally create a paper trail - and they're completed on the paper already in the portfolio! If typed, we print them, hole punch them, and add them as soon as they're done.

I also keep representative copies of her handwritten working-out of math problems (what we called "scratch paper" when we were in school!). She does this on the graph paper that was already in her notebook.

At the end of the academic year, we print out The Annual Academic Summary and The Daily Log and put them in the front of the binder.

Since we add pages to the portfolio all year, and do much of the work right in the portfolio binder, "assembling" it at the end of the year is as simple as removing those pages that don't belong. Pages that aren't complete are removed, or put in the NEXT year's portfolio, to be done later.

If pages are redundant, they're removed and can be discarded if we wish. Which is to say, if she did 100 pages of addition drill, it doesn't ALL need to be left in the portfolio.

Perhaps I should mention, as a side note, that we don't follow "graded" curriculum. I don't think to myself, "She's in First Grade, so we must start and finish a First Grade Language Arts book this year!" Instead, I teach by skill - so "Phonics," "Spelling," "Bible," "Foreign Language," or "Multiplication" simply take however long they take, with no concern for grade level (more than a year, less than a year, it doesn't matter). It doesn't bother me a bit to move unfinished pages from one year's book to the next, if needed. Likewise, we might complete a Khan Academy Math "Grade" in the middle of a year, and immediately start the next one.
 .
 So, that's it! Once the portfolio is assembled, it's ready for review, and then it can be placed in our family archive. Electronic documents (Annual Summary and Log) are also filed in our electronic archives, for handy access.

In summary, at the end of the year, our portfolio contains some or all of the following: 
Annual Summary
Daily Log
Certificates
Artwork Samples
Creative Writing Samples
Math Samples
Research or Science Project Documentation, if applicable
Tickets, memorabilia (photos if desired)
Printouts of Khan Academy Math Skills Summary
And anything else we feel is appropriate that year!

I hope you find this helpful.

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Monday, September 23, 2019

Homeschool Record Keeping - The Annual Summary

Homeschool Record Keeping, The Annual Academic Summary
At the end of a year of homeschool, it's a great feeling to be able to look back and see all that we've accomplished! An Annual Summary makes that possible.

What is an Annual Summary? It is a document that lists every resource we used in the course of a year, all in one place. Every book read, every concert attended, every skill acquired. But, unlike the Daily Log, it doesn't show the day-to-day, just the big overview.

It is very easy to assemble, and I update it as I go.

When I create an annual summary, I try to keep in mind what things are considered educational in traditional schools, and/or are required by my state, that I might tend to overlook when recording. For instance, "academic hours" in traditional schools include such things as attending concerts, finger painting, fire drills, field trips, learning about culture and traditions, attending plays, and learning about bowling. And, in Christian schools, academic hours also include chapel, religious education, singing hymns, Sacraments, and Bible reading. If you just think "3 Rs" it's easy to mistakenly overlook a ton of academic hours.


Here is a fictitious annual summary (for the sake of my daughter's online privacy). She's not really in First Grade, nor are these our current materials. However, many of the First Grade materials I used for this example ARE ones I am enthusiastic about! : )


First, I create a Word Processing document - I keep this one on my computer desktop all year for easy access, along with my other record keeping documents.

(Feel free to copy & modify this template for your own use. That's what it's there for!)

The document itself is entitled with the current grade, like this:
 "First Grade, Annual Academic Summary"


Then, I paste my template into my desktop document:


Annual Summary, First Grade


Religion:

Language, English:

Reading:

Spelling:

Writing:

Foreign Language:

History, US, State History, National, State & Local Government, Geography:

Math:

Science:

Health:

Physical Education:

Fine Arts & Music:

Home Ec:

First Aid, Safety & Fire Prevention:



As the year goes, I enter our completed academic accomplishments and experiences into the document. I add specific titles, authors, and URLs, rather like a bibliography.

It looks something like this (but of course, will probably be longer than this at the end of a year of study!) :


Annual Academic Summary, First Grade


Religion:
The Beginner's Bible
Attending Sunday School
Liturgy on Sundays
Family Devotions: Reading Genesis & Matthew
Learning the Lord's Prayer
Attending Baptism of Baby Nicholas Pappas
Attending Wedding of Maria and Andreas Kostas

Language, English:

Reading:
Learning Phonics with Blend Phonics
http://donpotter.net/pdf/reading_made_easy_with_blen.pdf
Bob Books
The Beginner's Bible for Toddlers
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Starfall Learn to Read
https://www.starfall.com/h/ltr-classic/

Spelling:
McGuffey Speller by Alexander H. McGuffey, pages 3-5

Writing:
Copycat Books, Proverbs 
http://www.copycatbooks.com/

Foreign Language:
Salsa Spanish Videos
http://www.gpb.org/salsa
Duolingo Spanish, alphabet lessons
https://www.duolingo.com/course/es/en/Learn-Spanish

History, US, State History, National, State & Local Government, Geography:
Visiting State House
Heritage Village Field Trip
Liberty's Kids videos
If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 by Ann McGovern

Math:
Khan Academy First Grade Math
https://www.khanacademy.org/math/cc-1st-grade-math
Starfall Games 
https://www.starfall.com/h/math0/

Science:
E-Learning for Kids
https://en.e-learningforkids.org/science/
Greg's Microscope by Millicent Selsam
Field trip to Natural Science Museum

Health:
Attending Health Fair at Park
Learning Song about Brushing Teeth
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCio_xVlgQ0 

Physical Education:
Swimming Lessons
Folk Dance Lessons 
Riding Scooter

Fine Arts & Music:
Field Trip to Art Museum
Making Stamp Art with Cut Potatoes and Paint 
Piano Lessons at Hoffman Academy
https://www.hoffmanacademy.com/
Attending play: Little Red Riding Hood at Community Playhouse

Home Ec:
Making Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
Sweeping with a Broom
Emptying Dishwasher

First Aid, Safety & Fire Prevention: 
Attending Fire Safety Day at Firehouse
Fire Drill
Learning about hydration and heat safety
Water Safety lessons at Swim Class


**************************************************************

That's it! By keeping this on my computer desktop (and I do sit at my computer to teach), it is very easy to update this document regularly. Every time my daughter finishes reading a book, it goes in the log. If she reads parts of a book, like three chapters from a science textbook, I add the word "selections" after that entry. Field Trips, Cultural experiences, Phys Ed outings, and Religious instruction are all included.

At the end of the year, this document is printed and hole-punched, and goes in the front of the Portfolio. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Homeschool Record Keeping - The Daily Log

Homeschool Record Keeping - The Daily Log
Homeschool record keeping intimidates many parent educators. The sheer volume of "printables"online attests to that fact. And, if that isn't enough, there are also fancy online services that promise to help you with this task - for a fee!

Good record keeping is easy - and it can be done without any printables or expensive services at all! I do mine all on a word processing document on the computer. It is VERY easy - and since I'm at the computer during my daughter's school day, it's a simple matter to keep records current.

This is my primary method of ensuring that I meet my state's legal attendance requirments. State laws vary (Check your own state's laws! This is not legal advice); some states require a certain number of hours per year, others require a certain number of days, and some require certain subjects. This Daily Log provides reassurance for me that all of the legal blocks have been checked.

Each year, I certify to my state of residence that I will complete their legal requirements for my daughter's education. As a Christian, I take "giving my word" very seriously, so it is important to me that I do what I agree to do - whether or not anyone ever asks to see proof that I have.

I prefer computer records to printables for a few reasons: 
1) My handwriting is atrocious!
2) A computer record can be searched quite easily for a specific entry
3) If you forgot to enter something three days ago, it can be added without making a mess and
4) The record can be sent electronically, if for some reason you need to share it with someone else.

 I have been doing this for a number of years for my daughter, but for this post I am creating fictional entries for a younger virtual child, in the interest of online privacy.

My basic method is this: I create two documents, and place them in a desktop folder. The first document is a "Log" - inspired by my earlier professional life when recording my work was a routine task.

The second document is an Annual Summary - a concise overview of the detailed Log. It will be the subject of my next post (Next Monday, God willing). Stay tuned for that! : )

My third  post will be about assembling a Portfolio (God willing, Monday after next),

But for now, I'll just say that both of the Log and the Summary documents are printed at year's end, and added to the Portfolio, as well as being stored on my computer.

Folder

I keep a folder on my computer desktop which is labeled with the current grade. In it, I put the current documents, along with any computer resources for that grade (for instance, our PDF music book, and things like current Grammar Charts and Math Reference pages go here).

The folder might be called, for example, "1st Grade" or for a home with more than one child, "Suzie, 1st Grade"

The Log

The log is a simple list which days we school, how many hours we school per day, and a list of the tasks accomplished each day. I keep an ongoing Word Processing document on my desktop, and back it up regularly by emailing it to myself - that way if my computer crashes, it is still out there in the ether.

If your state requires so many academic hours, or so many days' attendance, this might be a great way to document that.

At the top of the Log, I enter the child's name, grade, and year.

The Schedule

Then, I put an anticipated schedule that will be followed most days. It includes a list of subjects, and which resource is usually used for that subject at the current time. I boldface it. It looks something like this: 

Religion: The Beginner's Bible
English: McGuffey Reader, Pictoral Primer
Spelling: McGuffey Speller
Foreign Language: Salsa Spanish Video
Math: Starfall Games 
Science:eLearning for Kids
Social Studies/History: Liberty's Kids Video
Art: 
Home Ec: 
Phys Ed:
Music: Hoffman Piano Unit 1

Each Day's Entry

Then, to make each day's entry, I simply put the date for a day's entry, and anything special about that day "Valentine's Day" or "Uncle Dave arrives for visit" I then Copy & paste the boldfaced schedule onto that day, and add details & additional resources to each line, subtracting any subjects that are not covered that day. I might also record at the end of the post (for my own sake), any personal or family notes that would help me remember that day. So a day's entry might look like this:

January 1, 2020, New Year's Day - 4 hours
Religion: The Beginner's Bible, Noah and the Ark & Steve Green Hide 'Em in Your Heart Songs
English: McGuffey Reader, Pictoral Primer, page 37
Spelling: McGuffey Speller, column 1, page 3
Foreign Language: Salsa Video, Goldilocks Story
Math: Starfall Games - Bowling subtraction game

Social Studies/History: Liberty's Kids Video, Episode 19
Art: Fingerpainting

Phys Ed: Riding Bike
Music: Hoffman Piano Unit, Unit 1, Lesson 3, Hot Cross Buns
Out to dinner with Smith family for Mexican. Suzie learned to tie her shoes today : )

Periodically, within the document, I subtotal the hours accomplished, so I can see at a glance how close we are to completing the state requirement for the year (and it reassures me that we usually exceed the state requirement by quite a bit!) 

As you can see, once you have the daily schedule template, updating it only takes the tiniest bit of time, simply fill in the pages or lesson number for each entry, and add or delete as appropriate : )

Curious as to WHY you'd want to do this? Check out last week's post:
10 Reasons I Keep Homeschool Records
 Stay Tuned for upcoming posts on the Annual Summary and Assembling  a Portfolio

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Monday, September 9, 2019

10 Reasons I Keep Homeschool Records


10 Reasons I keep Homeschool Records
This is a little series on how and why I keep thorough homeschool records.

Knowing why we do something often makes the "how" so much easier! 

So, I'll start with explaining why I keep homeschool records at all.

Many states do not require record-keeping as such. But just because the law doesn't require something, doesn't mean it's not a wise practice.

***This is not legal advice, be sure you check the laws in your state on your own!***

There are several reasons that I choose to keep homeschool records:

1.  Self-confidence.
Have you ever had one of those days (or weeks, or years) when you think, "I felt so busy, but I don't think I got anything DONE!" A written record lets ME know what I've accomplished each day as a teacher.

2. Family togetherness
A good record of our school days lets my husband know that we're getting a lot done, so he can rest easy.  It also lets him be more included in our day-to-day educational process, so that he can easily chose to contribute to our current topic.

3. Sharing
Sometimes I'm discussing with a friend some book, website or video that was helpful in years past.  Thanks to good record-keeping, I can do a quick computer search, and let my friend know exactly where to find the material. Likewise, if I meet a new homeschooler who wants to know exactly what our homeschool days look like, I can show her.

4. Legal Peace of Mind
Sadly, "Innocent till Proven Guilty" only applies to criminal law cases, not civil law cases. I find it reassuring to know that should the question ever arise about my education of my child, I have documentation to demonstrate that I am doing a thorough job, that my legal representation could use to defend against false accusations.

6. Gap Prevention
I have a schedule, but without record-keeping, it is too easy to let one subject be forgotten. With good record-keeping, I can see at a glance that all the boxes are getting checked regularly.

7. Organization
With all the records neatly in place, such tasks as compiling a portfolio, filing paperwork with the authorities, or creating a transcript become easy.

8. Keeping on Track
A good record-keeping system helps me remember where we are in which subject, so that if a bookmark falls out, or a computer link disappears, I can find my place.

9. Creating an Independent Learner & Providing for a Substitute
At this point in our journey, I am the motivating force behind my daughter's education. But, if I need a "sick day" - it's nice that my job could be done by my husband or someone else, without missing a beat. Also, a good record-keeping system makes it possible for my daughter to gradually take over more and more responsibility for her own education.

10. Memories
A good homeschool record makes the perfect memory book for a growing child. A full record of accomplishments, names, memories, and highlights, without having to keep every scrap of work ever done!


Stay tuned for upcoming posts on the Daily Log, the Annual Summary, and the Portfolio! 

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Monday, July 8, 2019

Asian Cucumber Salad

Asian Cucumber Salad
When I cook, I like to serve a variety of dishes so that each meal will have a variety of contrasting but complimentary flavors, textures and temperatures.

With many meals, that simply means that I put a nice green salad on the table with my entree and some bread. But, a salad made out of lettuce just doesn't seem to "go" with most Asian-Style meals.

Inspired by the actual salads I have enjoyed at Asian restaurants over the years, I created this simple salad. It became a huge hit at our house!

Here's how to make it:

Asian Cucumber Salad
Slice cucumbers lengthwise, then slice each half into semi-circles'
(I use one large English Hothouse Cucumber OR 3 small Salad Cucumbers)
Add
3-4 Tablespoons Seasoned Rice Vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Dark Sesame Oil

Toss & Serve
*If you have them handy, you could sprinkle on a few Sesame Seeds, too 

This dish is best chilled, but usually cucumbers are in the fridge anyway, so that detail takes care of itself.

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Monday, July 1, 2019

The Best Chef's Knives - With the Least Money

The Best Chef's Knives for the Least Money
There is a popular opinion that spending more on a Chef's Knife, will enable you to become a better
cook than you would be with cheap, ordinary knives.

For a long time, I bought into that opinion.

As a young person, one of my first jobs was in the housewares department of a higher-end department store. I became familiar with the better brands, and how amazing they were.

And, in fact, I own some "great knives." Some of them were gifts, and I love them for sentimental reasons. They have a "steel" that you can use to keep the cutting edge in perfect condition. And, of course, you'd never put them in the dishwasher!

But, on a recent adventure, I left my "good knives" behind, and decided I could wing it with "cheapies" for a short period of time - a few months. I  started out with an 88cent model - one of those things that could serve double-duty as either a kitchen knife or a saw. It worked well enough to get me by for the short term, but was no joy to use.

Then, one day, I was shopping at the Dollar Tree, and saw a Santoku 7" Chef's Knife, and decided to splurge and upgrade - after all, it was only $1! What could go wrong?

I brought it home, and was quite pleased with it! It cut nearly as well as my "good knives!" And, it was CHEAP!

But, of course, it wasn't long before it wasn't cutting so well. So, I bought another one for backup - because I could see this wasn't going to be a long-term solution.

Then, I thought about knife sharpeners. I had always been told that you could ruin a good knife by sharpening it with a home sharpener. And if you sharpened a knife too often, or too ambitiously, you'd wear the blade away! (To prove it, we had a family hand-me-down in a drawer that had met with that exact fate - and could nearly double as a toothpick ; )

But then it occurred to me - these are $1. knives. So WHAT if I ruin them with a cheap sharpener?!

So, I ordered one from Amazon. The locally available sharpeners at the national retailers were "too rich for my blood" ; ). This is the one I bought - by "Smith's"



And, I honed my $1. knife.  First with the coarse edge, then with the fine edge.

Guess what? It has turned into - hands down - the most effective knife I've ever owned!

I "over sharpen" it - nearly every time I use it, I run it thru the fine edge - just two or three times.

I can put it in the dishwasher if I want (tho, usually, I DO wash it by hand, just out of habit).

Instead of a knife block (who has that kind of counter space?!), I made my own sheaths out of cereal box cardboard.



This knife is a dream to own, and a pleasure to cook with. And, is embarrassingly cheap ; )

I haven't had to open the "back up" knife! BUT - I did buy an additional one in a smaller size to use where a smaller knife is better.

Who knew? Like my previous experience discovering that the Bread Machine and the High Speed Blender weren't necessary, Fancy Knives just aren't necessary kitchen equipment!

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Monday, June 17, 2019

Vegan Dump Dinners - Claire's Southern Delight

Vegan Dump Dinner, Claire's Southern Delight
This is a perfect meal for those times when you need to walk in the house, and have food right away. Plan this for nights when you're coming home late after a weeknight Vespers, or for a great Lenten luncheon after Sunday Liturgy.

Planning ahead for this simple meal means avoiding the frustration of hurried cooking when everyone is too hungry, and also avoiding the temptation to stop by for a restaurant meal that would probably be less healthy and more spendy.

And, it's great that this is a meal the family really enjoys, and only takes minutes to assemble as a "Dump Dinner."

This delicious dish is named for our dear family friend, Claire, who is a phenomenal cook, and an expert in Christian Hospitality!

Here's the Plan:

Claire's Southern Delight, Dump Dinner
In a Labeled, Gallon Zipper Freezer bag (or other favorite container) pour

3 (15oz) Cans Kidney Beans, (Drained. Light or Dark Red, your preference)
1 (8oz) Can Tomato Sauce
3/4 teaspoon Celery Salt
1 teaspoon Onion Powder
Dash Cayenne Pepper (optional)
1 Tablespoon Dried Parsley
1 teaspoon Fresh Minced Garlic (I use the kind from a jar in the produce section)
1 1/2 Tablespoon Vegetarian Bacon Bits
1/4 Cup Water

Seal Bag, Combine ingredients by squishing the bag with your hands (squeeze gently - don't try to mash the beans!)

Toss in Freezer.

Thaw in fridge 12-24 hours before use.

Pour in Slow Cooker. Cook on Low, Three Hours. Alternately, you can simply heat this on the stovetop for about 20 minutes.

Serve over Rice (I make rice ahead of time, then simply heat at serving time if time is an issue)

Accompaniments (all optional, according to what you have on hand): Tortillas, Green Olives, Shredded Lettuce, Better than Coleslaw, Corn Chips.

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Monday, June 10, 2019

Homeschooling - When Are We Doing ENOUGH?

Are We, as Homeschoolers,  Doing Enough?
This is the time of year when many homeschoolers do planning for the coming year, and in that process, many look back and review the effectiveness of the previous year.

The latest homeschooling fad is the discussion of whether we are doing enough. Whether in  a blog post, a popular book, or a real-life discussion, the gist is always the same:

"Are you insecure, guilty, worried that you're not doing enough?" 
"Do you think your kids deserve more?"
"Are you 'enough?'"
"Do you feel inadequate?"

The answer is always the same, and goes something like this:

"Well, relax!"
 "Kids need time to play!"
"You need 'me' time!"
"YOU are more than enough!"
"Public schools don't finish the book, either!" 

"You don't want to stress your child out!"
"Your child might begin to hate learning if you require too much of her!"

Have you ever heard a single argument from someone who is in favor of homeschool, but says that maybe we're NOT doing enough? 

I haven't.

And that makes me suspect that maybe we're dealing more with a "politically correct" attitude that permits no open discussion, rather than honestly assessing the situation.  

We're in danger of becoming like the citizens of Lake Woebegone, where everyone thinks of him or herself as "above average" ; ) 

*****************************

Decades ago, my Mom, of Blessed Memory, was a public school teacher. She told me one of her teaching secrets one day, when I was still a child. It is a bit of wisdom that has stuck with me for the rest of my life. 

She told me that if a student walked up to her, paper in hand, and asked her if it was "good enough" she never doubted what answer to give.

The answer was always, and certainly "No."

As a child, I was shocked and horrified.

"YOU DIDN'T EVEN CHECK TO SEE HOW GOOD IT WAS, MOM?" I demanded

"No, I didn't have to," she replied, with full confidence.

"But why, Mom?"

"Because there is only one reason a child would walk up to me and ask if his work was good enough - and that would be because he was trying to get away with less than his best," She declared.

Then she continued: "When a child has done his best, he would always walk up and say, 'Hey, teacher, look what I did!'" not 'Is this good enough?' When the children had done their best, they didn't need to ask!"

How does this apply to homeschoolers?

God's standard isn't "Do as much as the public school." or "Do what you can get by with" or even "Do enough to beat everyone else on the college entrance exams." or "Make sure your kid is at least better than the neighbor kid" but rather, it is:

"23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." (Colossians 3:23-24, NIV

If we are obeying this command, we are doing "enough" - even if our kid has learning challenges and is 5 grades behind.

And if we're not obeying this command, we're NOT doing enough - even if our kid were to be so "gifted" that he is 5 grades ahead!

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Monday, May 13, 2019

Copycat Sabra Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Copycat Sabra Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
My daughter recently declared her love for purchased Sabra Brand Roasted Red Pepper Hummus. I make hummus at home. She likes my hummus. But she liked Sabra's even better. That made me sad. Store bought hummus is a lot more expensive than the homemade kind!

I, too, love Roasted Red Pepper Hummus. Since before she was born! And many times back-in-the-day I had tried to make it - but with no success. Roasted Red Peppers PLUS Hummus - sadly - did not taste like the kind I could buy at the store.

Back then, I did a fair amount of research trying to tweak just the right taste. I finally read about a "secret ingredient" - balsamic vinegar- that worked perfectly to turn my roasted-red-peppers-added-to-hummus into Roasted Red Pepper Hummus! Unfortunately, I don't remember where I found that bit of info - but it was very helpful!

Then, having solved my personal mystery, I had moved on to making other flavors like Smoky and Caper - and had forgotten all about my research project.

Until my daughter reminded me. Years later.

Then, I pulled my research out, and finished the project of creating the perfect Roasted Red Pepper Hummus - just like Sabra's. She acted as my focus group, and let me know when I had it just right!

Now I can go back to my frugal ways of making my own : )

(This is best made in a food processor. I use a Sunbeam Oscar, that I found at the thrift store, but any good brand of machine should work)

Here's the recipe:

Copycat Sabra Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
In food processor, combine
1 (15oz) can Chickpeas, drained
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 1/2 teaspoons Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 jar Roasted Red Peppers, drained (about 1/4 cup or so - I buy a 10oz jar)
1 teaspoon Salt
2-4 Tablespoons Tahini
1 teaspoon Minced Garlic (I use the jarred kind from the grocery's produce section)

1/4 teaspoon Paprika
Start the Processor, 
Then add Water as needed - usually 1/2 cup makes the right consistency. I add most of the water all at once, the gradually add the last bit to fine-tune the consistency.

Then leave the food processor on to do its work.

The BIG mistake in homemade hummus production is turning off the processor too early. Give it some time. Be patient. Wait for it to become smooth and creamy. Cover your ears ; )

Once it's done, it's ready to enjoy! Or, pop it in the fridge, and serve it chilled later. Hummus normally thickens up a wee bit with refrigeration.

This is perfect to serve with crackers, pretzels, homemade bread, or your favorite veggie dippers. 


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Monday, May 6, 2019

Tandoori Skillet Chicken - Freezer Meal

Tandoori Chicken Freezer Meal (with Lemon Rice and Peas)
Tandoori Chicken is great to serve with any Indian Meal. When I buy a large package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, this is one of the Freezer Meals that I prepare. Then, when I'm serving Indian Dishes like Dal or a fancy Rice dish, I can easily cook this for the meat eaters in the family.

Since I'm vegetarian, I like having handy freezer dishes like this to prepare for the meat eaters in my family, without having to make an entire second meal.

That way, I just serve a vegetarian meal with an optional side of meat : )

I adapted this from a recipe I found years ago in a cookbook called Miserly Moms

Here's how I make it:

I cut the chicken in slices about 1/4" thick. I use about 2 pounds of chicken (which fills a 1 quart freezer bag). Usually that's 2 large chicken breasts. I don't weigh them, I simply look how many there are in a package, and I check what weight is listed on the package. Usually it's an 8 to 9 pound package, with 8 to 9 breasts inside. If it's a 3 pound package with 6 breasts, I'd use 4 of them for this recipe.

Preparing the meat this way makes it marinate more easily, thaw more easily, and cook more quickly. Besides that, it allows each diner to eat exactly the amount he or she desires, instead of being forced by portion size to take too much or too little.



After I cut the chicken, I pull out a 1 quart freezer bag and label it "Tandoori Chicken."

Then, I measure the marinade directly into the bag:

Tandoori Chicken Marinade
1/2 Cup Plain Yogurt
1/2 teaspoon Paprika
1/2 Tablespoon Curry Powder
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon fresh minced Garlic (I buy the kind in a jar in the produce section)
1 teaspoon fresh Ginger (again, from a squeeze jar from the produce section)

1/2 Tablespoon Lemon Juice

I close the bag, and squish it several times to mix the marinade.

Then, I open the bag again, add the sliced Chicken, re-seal, and toss in the freezer.

The day before cooking, I pull it down to the refrigerator in a plastic food box (to avoid drips), and let it thaw overnight.

Then, on cooking day, I remove the chicken from the marinade with a fork, and grill it in a lightly oiled, nonstick skillet.

Omnivores will like this with your favorite Raita (Indian Yogurt Sauce).

I like to serve this with any of the following Vegan Dishes:

Indian Chickpeas in Ginger Sauce over Rice
Indian Lemon Rice with Peas 
Indian Mung Beans 
Indian Spiced Blackeye Peas over Rice
Whole Wheat Naan (or White Naan made by the same method from this recipe)
Lemony Dal
Masala Dal

If you like, the dishes in this Indian Vegan Freezer Cooking Plan  (which includes several of the above dishes) all go nicely with this Tandoori Chicken : )

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Monday, April 29, 2019

Mexican Layer Dip - Low Fat or Vegan

i
Low Fat Mexican Layer Dip
This is a popular "Snacky Dinner" at our house. And, last time I took it to a potluck, it disappeared before I could blink!

But, the real beauty of it? It takes minutes to prepare, and can be tailored to fit your dining preferences.

I use my homemade, Healthy (Fat Free) Refried Beans. They taste SO much better than the canned variety. I usually make a big batch, and keep them on hand in my freezer in meal-sized containers.

Here's the Recipe:

In your desired casserole dish, layer your ingredients, be careful as you spread the Sour Cream, put several spoons full evenly distributed over the top, then blend the little mounds together, so as not to mix the Salsa into the  Sour Cream by accident. I use the following:

Low Fat Mexican Layer Dip
Refried Beans (I use 2-3 cups in a 2 quart casserole dish)
Salsa (I use a purchased "medium" heat, and use a thin layer - like applying pizza sauce to pizza)
Sour Cream (I use Fat Free - about a cup)
Shredded Cheddar (again, I use Fat Free)
Diced Tomatoes
Sliced Black Olives (optional, of course)

But, when we make it Vegan, here's the plan:

Vegan Mexical Layer Dip
Vegan Mexican Layer Dip
Refried Beans (I use 2-3 cups in a 2 quart casserole dish)
Salsa (I use a purchased "medium" heat, and use a thin layer - like applying pizza sauce to pizza)
Finely Shredded Lettuce
Diced Tomatoes
Sliced Black Olives (optional, of course)

No matter which recipe I make, I serve it with Baked Tortilla Chips (I like Tostitos Brand). If we're at home, I also serve some Flour Tortillas & Lettuce, so we can make our own Burritos, too : )

If you'd like other Vegan and Vegetarian Mexican food ideas, check out these:
Mexican Meals for a Week



OR, for Chicken or Steak Fajitas:
Fajitas



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