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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Monday, April 15, 2019

Vegan Dump Dinners - Cuban Black Beans

Vegan Dump Dinner: Cuban Black Beans
Dump dinners are great - dump everything in a gallon zipper freezer bag, label it, and toss it in the freezer. Thaw it the day before you want to eat it. On the day you choose to eat it, just pour the contents of the bag into your slow cooker, set and go. A few hours later, you have dinner.

These are perfect for busy days when you'll be coming home late and/or tired. They're also perfect for new baby time, convalescing, or those days when you need someone to cook who doesn't know your kitchen.

But, finding good, easy vegan dump dinners can be a challenge. There are lots of meaty dump dinners out there, but very few vegetarian or vegan ones. And most of those are soup. While I like soup a lot, I don't want it every meal. A little variety is good : )

This is my latest innovation - Cuban Black Beans. They can be served over rice, with crusty bread, or as Black Bean Enchiladas - rolled up in a Tortilla, covered with Enchilada Sauce, and baked (or even microwaved ; ) to warm : ) Or as Wet Burritos (aka Smothered Burritos). Scroll on down for directions for all!

Vegan Dump Dinner: Cuban Black Beans for Fill-Your-Own-Tortilla Night

Here's the plan:

Cuban Black Beans 
Label Gallon Zipper Bag and fill as follows:
3 (15 oz) cans Black Beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz) can Chopped Tomatoes with Juice
1 (8 oz) can Sliced Mushrooms, drained 
1 (12 oz) Frozen Bag 3 Pepper and Onion Mix (or 1 cup each, Sliced Bell Pepper & Sliced Onion)
2 Tablespoons Homemade Taco Seasoning (or 1 envelope store-bought)
2 T water

Toss bag in Freezer. The day before you plan to enjoy this meal, put it in the fridge in a plastic box (to prevent drips) and defrost. The day you plan to eat it, put it in the slow cooker, and cook on high 3-4 hours.

Serve over Rice.

Or with Crusty Bread.

Or for a Fill-Your-Own-Tortilla night.

Or make Enchiladas: fill tortillas, top with Enchilada Sauce and bake 350 degrees, 15 minutes.

Or Wet Burritos: Instead of Enchilada Sauce, mix 1 (8oz) can Tomato Sauce with 1 1/2 to 2 Tablespoons Taco Seasoning, and use to top Tortillas which are filled with this filling. I like to line up 9 of these in a 9x13 glass casserole, for an attractive presentation. Heat in oven or Microwave.  When serving, top with Shredded Lettuce, Tomatoes, and  Avocados, if desired.


If you really love Dump Dinners, and want more Vegan options, check out these:

Vegan Dump Dinner: Curried Chickpeas over Rice



Nine Vegan & Cluten Free Dump Dinners



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Monday, April 8, 2019

Fat Free Vinaigrette and Italian Pasta Salad

Oil Free Vinaigrette & Italian Pasta Salad

Here's how you can make a wonderful Italian Pasta Salad with little or no oil.  This amazing recipe for Fat Free Vinaigrette has a flavor & mouth-feel that gives the impression that there's oil, but it's way healthier!

Pasta Salad is delicious, but the normal Pasta Salad is drenched in fat - either mayonnaise or oil. This option now becomes a healthy choice to put on your family's table.

This is a great recipe because your add-ins can come from what you have on hand- or even leftovers in the fridge! You can vary add-ins according to the taste of your family members.

I chop, cook pasta, and make sauce whenever, then combine the ingredients just before serving. This may be served either at room temperature or chilled.

I make the dressing right in a 2 cup Microwavable glass measuring cup. If you don't use a microwave, you can do the first step quickly and easily on the stove top in a saucepan.

Fat Free Vinaigrette
Combine in microwavable glass measuring cup:
1/2 Cup Water
1 teaspoon Tapioca Starch
Cook 30 seconds, stir. Repeat. Stir. Repeat. Stir.
(I find this takes 60-90 seconds total, you want it to bubble and turn clear)
Remove from heat/remove from microwave.
Next Add & Stir
1/2 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
Then,
1 teaspoon Dry Basil
1 teaspoon Sugar
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Minced Garlic (or 2 cloves, minced)
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
Stir. May be used immediately, or chilled. Stir again before using if chilling.
If you like, you may add:
1-3 teaspoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil - that still keeps the oil content VERY low compared to a normal pasta salad. 

Pasta Salad
Cook according to directions and drain.
1 pound Pasta (shapes like Shells or Bowties are nice for Pasta Salad)
Rinse several times in cold water
Add your choice of the following, according to what you have on hand. I like to choose ingredients with flavor & texture contrast - crunchy, sour, salty, sweet, beany.
Green Peas (fresh or frozen)
Sweet Corn
Chopped Fresh Tomato
Chopped Fresh Cucumber
Chopped Fresh Celery
Chopped Fresh Bell Pepper, in various colors
Snow Peas or Sugar Snap Peas
Rinsed, Drained White Beans
Capers
Black Olives, Sliced
Green Olives, Sliced
Carrots, Sliced
Chopped Onion
Scallions
etc, etc, etc

Top with dressing & toss just before serving time.

Tip for dining with Omnivores:
You may choose to add the following to the portions of Omnivores:
Parmesan Cheese
Diced Ham
Diced Salami
Diced or Shredded Chicken

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Monday, April 1, 2019

Vegan Dump Dinner - Curried Chickpeas Over Rice

Vegan Dump Dinner - Curried Chickpeas over Rice
I love the concept of Dump Dinners. I love making them! You just dump everything in a gallon freezer bag in a few minutes and pop it in your freezer. The day before you cook, pull it down the the refrigerator to thaw overnight. Then, on serving day, pour everything into the Slow Cooker (I use a Rival brand Crock Pot).

Unfortunately, many "Dump Dinners" you find on the internet are simply meat, meat and more meat. Often they're not dinners at all - only meat. I've actually seen many that are nothing more than a lonely hamburger! You still have to make the REST of the meal on serving day!

It's nice to have a few vegan options for your freezer : )

These are wonderful for busy nights,  or for a night when you need provide something easy for someone else to prepare (kids, grandma - whomever) while you're out of town or convalescing.

But also they're great to share with a vegan friend, or an Orthodox Christian friend during Lent or Advent. If you know a family with a new baby or some other need, this is a great meal to drop by : )

If you're Gluten Free, make sure all the ingredients you choose for this recipe are Gluten Free. Regular Soy Sauce contains Gluten, but Kikkoman makes one with a blue label that is Gluten Free.

A while back, I wrote a post of 9 Vegan Dump Dinners (that could be made in about 1 1/2 hours) - and it was a huge hit.

Well, today, I just discovered that another one of my family recipes makes a great dump dinner!

It's SOOO quick & easy to fix!

Curried Chickpeas
Pour into Freezer Bag
1 teaspoon to 1 Tablespoon Oil
1 Onion, thinly sliced in rings or crescents
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 Tablespoon Curry Powder *
½ cup water (a little more if you need a longer cooking time)
3 (16 ounce) cans Chickpeas, drained (or 4 1/2 cups home-prepared)
5 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 T Soy Sauce
1 ½ teaspoons dry Parsley (or 3 Tablespoons fresh)

Freeze

Thaw overnight before cooking. The day of serving, pour into slow cooker. Cook on high 2-3 hours, or low 4-5 hours, until onions are tender. The flavors are really beautifully developed here with the slow cooking!


Serve over rice or with Flatbread.
Rice and flatbread also freeze well, so you can make these ahead, too, if you like.

Serve with Salad & Indian-style Pickles.

If you like this recipe, check out my other Vegan Dump Dinners

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Monday, March 25, 2019

Vegan Bacon Bowl

Vegan Bacon Bowl
If you love the Sweet, Salty, Smoky taste of Bacon, but prefer to avoid the actual stuff, here's a great lunch idea:

Layer in a bowl your desired ingredients, like these:

Vegan Bacon Bowl
A grain:
Rice, Quinoa, or Couscous, for Example
A Cooked Veggie
Corn, Black Eyed Peas, Green Beans or maybe Broccoli
Some Raw Veggies, for Example:
Tomatoes
Cucumbers
Snow Peas
Celery

You name it! Fill your bowl with your favorites, with a nice texture and flavor contrast. Think of foods that are traditionally served with Bacon, to find compatible flavors.
Sprinkle with Bacon Seasoning Salt


Enjoy!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Bacon Seasoning Salt Recipe

MYO Bacon Seasoning Salt Recipe
Do you love the salty, smoky, sweet, spicy taste of Bacon? But would rather not eat actual Bacon for
some reason - perhaps you're observing Lent, you're Vegetarian or Vegan, you keep Kosher, or your doctor has told you to take better care of your health?

Once you have this stuff, you can put it on anything your heart desires. Imagine Bacon Popcorn, Bacon Rice, Bacon Oven Fries, Bacon Veggies, or even a Bacon Salad! Or, just keep it at the table, and use it like salt! Your imagination is the limit!

I recently noticed ads online for Bacon Seasoning Salt. There are a few different brands out there, like Deliciou's Bacon Seasoning and J & D's Bacon Salt, but they have one thing in common: a higher price than I care for, and they're only available online - at least in my area. So, I've never tried them - but like the idea : )

Then I looked for a recipe, and found precisely one (it was on more than one website, but the recipe was identical). It calls for a lot of exotic ingredients that I don't keep on hand, and using that recipe would probably double, or maybe even triple, the price of purchasing this stuff online.

So, I decided it was time to craft my own recipe.

And of course, once I craft a recipe, I like to share it!

Now, when my daughter has friends over, she tells them to  smell the Bacon Seasoning Salt. Their eyes light up. They say things like, "Mmmmm!" and "It's BACON!"

This one used all ingredients that I already had on hand, and had purchased fairly cheaply. Here it is!

Bacon Seasoning Salt
1 Tablespoon Sugar (or measures-the-same Sugar Substitute of your choice)
1 Tablespoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika
3/4 teaspoon Garlic Powder
3/4 teaspoon Onion Powder
3/4 teaspoon finely ground Black Pepper (use less if you don't like heat, but don't omit)
1/3 teaspoon Sumac (a Middle Eastern or Arabic spice)*

OR Large (or Small) Batch Bacon Seasoning Salt: 
Choose your size of Scoop (for instance a 1 teaspoon, or a 1/4 cup scoop), and use:
1 Scoop Sugar (or measures-the-same Sugar Substitute of your choice)
1  Scoop Salt
1 Scoop Smoked Paprika
1/4 Scoop Garlic Powder
1/4 Scoop Onion Powder
1/4 Scoop finely ground Black Pepper (use less if you don't like heat, but don't omit)
1/8 Scoop Sumac (a Middle Eastern or Arabic spice)*


Measure the ingredients into your upcycled Spice Jar (I re-used an Onion Powder jar)

Close & Shake

Label (I use masking tape, and write "Bacon Seasoning Salt" on the front of the jar, and the recipe on the back - for easy refills : )

This is SO easy - and SOOO Bacony! My bacon-loving daughter was delighted with it : )



*If you cannot find Sumac in your area, I think you could omit it without ruining the recipe. It lends a little tart or lemony taste, which gives the flavor a little "pop" : )

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Monday, March 11, 2019

Lenten & Vegan Church Coffee Hour Plan

Hosting a Lenten Church Coffee Hour
Our Church is FILLED with excellent cooks! We even have restaurant owners & caterers in the Parish. When they host coffee hour, it is a feast. I picture them spending hours, if not weeks, doing all their preparation!

Which is why, when I recently hosted coffee hour, I was pretty intimidated. I'm no expert at cooking for crowds. I'm not a caterer. I just cook for my family, and occasionally a few friends. And hosting during Lent means you can't just set out a tray of cold cuts & cheese, and a purchased cake made with eggs!

But, over the years, I've gotten some advice from others who ARE experts - and I decided to put it to use!

One Cousin hosts amazing family dinners at her house for the extended family. She might host 60 people, and serves amazing food. I asked her how she did it, and she said,

"I just prepare one dish per day, and put that dish in the freezer or refrigerator (if necessary) for the big day. Then, when the day comes, it is easy to just heat up and set out all the food"

That certainly sounded more approachable than preparing a huge feast the day before or the day of the event!

Another bit of advice that I read years ago:

When you host, make one or two dishes that take some time to prepare - then make sure everything else you serve is very easy.

Another dear friend advised:

Prepare EVERYTHING ahead - even set out your bowls for chips and crackers before you host. Those little details each take a little time, and they all add up!

Again, this bit of advice made hosting coffee hour seem much more approachable. It is also advice that I've taken when serving guests at home! Although I CAN make most of these things from scratch, I don't chose to make every one from scratch every time I host. So, although my homemade salsa, and homemade cookies or desserts can be a great option, I know I can't do everything all in one week, and still meet my other obligations.

Finally, coffee hour is right after Liturgy. And, as in the story of Mary and Martha from the Bible, I don't want to be running around making preparations, when I SHOULD be in Church! So, it is important to me to serve things that don't require me to be cooking when I should be worshiping.

I wanted things that could be fixed and stored in the Church kitchen by Saturday, so that my Sunday morning would be peaceful and focused.

Early in the week, I did the shopping for things like crackers, frozen foods, canned beans, quinoa, cookies & salsa - things that didn't need to be purchased fresh right before use. I also bought bananas to give them enough time to ripen for the fruit salad.

Friday, I shopped for last-minute fresh items, like peppers, & tomatoes.

Saturday night, I put out plates & napkins & utensils. I also took ALL of the food to the Church, and put it in the refrigerator. I also prepared bowls (by lining them with napkins and setting the sealed box of crackers inside) to fill with crackers, etc, at the last minute. That way the crackers wouldn't get stale by being set out too far ahead of time.

One Blessed Church Member always does the actual coffee making for us! : )

So, we were able to stay in the service through the time of Holy Communion. At the end of Liturgy, my family & I simply opened crackers & snack mix & poured in prepared baskets or bowls, and removed lids from other dishes.

So, this is the menu I served.


Smoky Hummus & Hummus with Capers 
(I made these on Thursday)



Cut Veggies (Some Purchased Pre-cut, some cut at home.)

Cracker assortment tray (I used Purchased Crackers from Dollar Tree.)

Salsa & Chips (I simply plated purchased ingredients)


Black Bean Salad (I Rinsed Beans & Cooked Corn on Friday and put in Serving Bowl, I added other Salad ingredients and stirred on Saturday)






Quinoa Salad (I cooked Quinoa on Friday, prepared Salad on Saturday)



Fruit Salad (I prepared on Saturday)



Snack Mix (I purchased & placed in Bowl at serving time)

Cookie Assortment (Purchased. I put them in Lidded Plastic Serving trays in advance, then at serving time it was simple to just remove the lids. It is a little-known secret that the cheapest cookies are often coincidentally vegan. When manufacturers don't have to add Butter & Eggs, their prices go down! Check ingredient labels for Vegan cookies at Dollar Tree & Walmart's Great Value Brand. Many are Vegan & Lenten!)

To serve all this, I used these Nesting Storage Bowls from Walmart  (Not affiliate link - I just like them!)

 

For the cookies, I used these lidded containers from Dollar Tree that displayed a single layer of cookies: (again, NOT an affiliate link, I just like them!)

For other containers, to serve chips and crackers, I used the baskets owned by the Church, lined with napkins.

So, just a few ideas here, how you can host coffee hour without missing Liturgy - even if you aren't a Restaurateur!

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Monday, March 4, 2019

Orthodox Christian Cheesefare Menu

Orthodox Cheesefare Menu - Spinach & Feta Bake
It's that time of year - the wind-down week before Great Lent.

The week after "Meatfare Sunday" and lasting until Cheesefare Sunday, is a time when meat and poultry are off the menu, but dairy & eggs are still permitted.

Known as Cheesefare week, it's the time to use up all the dairy & eggs that you have in the house.

As you can see from the pictures, most of these menu ideas have an easy Vegan alternative built in (but a few are uniquely cheesy or eggy : )

I have made all of these recipes with fat-free cheese (Fat Free Shredded Mozzarella, Fat Free Shredded Cheddar, Fat Fee American Singles, Fat Free Cottage Cheese, Fat Free Sour Cream, and Reduced-Fat "Italian Topping" -Parmesan Substitute) with good results, so if that is your preference, go for it!

For some easy nights later in Lent, double the recipes for Copycat Skyline, Chili, Beans for Haystacks, Plain Spaghetti, and Pizza Dough. Then, when you want to go to a Lenten Service like Akathist or Presanctified, you'll know that dinner is waiting without any extra trouble.

Here are some menu ideas which we like at our house:


For the night with no time or energy:
Plain Spaghetti topped with Plain Yogurt & Cheese (Parmesan or your favorite Shredded variety) 
(If you make and freeze extra spaghetti, you'll be ready for basic Spaghetti with Marinara during Lent, or for this Spaghetti with Kale & Tahini)


Easy & tasty - serve with salad & muffins:
Spinach & Feta Bake





This one can be made ahead, and baked when you're ready:
Lasagne
I LOVE this recipe from "Mom on a Mission" - and it's SO easy!


This Chili can be made ahead, or made in the Slow Cooker, so it's ready when you are:
Chili with Rice, Cheese, & Chips




I think it goes without saying that you can top this one with cheese! The dough for this can easily be made in advance (it really DOES take 5 minutes!) and it's so simple to assemble the pizza when you're ready.  Of course, if you're not up to cooking, this is the perfect one to order in: 
Pizza





Copycat Skyline Black Beans & Rice with Finely Shredded Mild Cheddar



Mexican Haystacks Topped with Shredded Cheddar and Sour Cream



Breakfast Ideas:

Copycat Egg McMuffins
Toasted English Muffins topped with American Singles & Fried Eggs.

OR

Fruit & Yogurt


Dessert:

Cheesecake, of course!
OR
Custard Pie is also good.

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Monday, February 18, 2019

The Fault in Our Stars – a Christian Mom’s review


Christian Review of The Fault in Our Stars

Plot Summary & 
Christian Review of 
A Fault in Our Stars 
by John Green.

Spoiler Alert!



I got this book in a grab bag of kids’ books from my thrift store. Since I was unfamiliar with it, I thought I’d read it before deciding when and if it would be appropriate reading for my young daughter. I have since discovered that the book was also made into a movie – which I have not seen and am not reviewing here.

The main characters in The Fault in Our Stars are a teenage girl, Hazel Grace, and her boyfriend, Augustus Waters. At the beginning of the story, Hazel is terminal, but Augustus is in remission. By the end of the book, his cancer has recurred, and he has died, and she does not have very long left to live. Their friend, Isaac, is also suffering from cancer, and in the course of the story is blinded by the disease, and his girlfriend callously dumps him for being blind. Much of the story’s action centers around the support group they all attend in their Episcopal Church basement. The characters are all nominally Christian, but their faith seems to be a very thin veneer over their lives, one that is more cultural than deep and profound.

The book focuses largely on Hazel’s obsession with a book, An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten. (The book itself is a literary device of the author of The Fault in Our Stars – you can’t really go get it from your library).  An Imperial Affliction is a book about a girl with cancer, which abruptly ends with the main character’s death, leaving many unanswered questions. Hazel is obsessed with finding out how the book’s author envisioned what would happen to the characters after the end of the book. She shares this obsession with Augustus who then uses his “wish” (granted by a cancer charity) to transport them to meet the book’s author in Amsterdam. There they find that the book’s author is a huge disappointment, but they fall in love with each other. They return to America for the final stages of Augustus’ illness, and his death.

John Green is a very skilled writer, and presents the story eloquently. I found it a very compelling read, full of thought-provoking phrases, concepts, and symbolism. It might be a very helpful book to read to understand the psychological struggles of young people going through this experience – and experiencing this great trial with only a superficial Christian faith, or none at all.

I have very conflicted feelings about this book. The book examines the very real emotions and doubts that children and their parents deal with when suffering such a tragic, terminal illness. Throughout the book, witnessing the existential crises of the young characters, I was really pulling for them to find meaning, Truth, and, yes, God, in their struggles. And they themselves were looking for these things diligently.

In the course of the book, the characters swore a lot, referred to sex crudely, drank illegally, and had sex on their second date. There was no concern over whether risking pregnancy while terminally ill was fair to the baby they could conceive if their protection failed. There was no concept – at all – not even a passing thought– that sex should be in the context of marriage (other than a flippant remark in another context that Christian girls should "save it for marriage"). To the author’s credit, the sex scene was not titillating or graphic.

I suppose that many folks believe that books for young people must have this sort of content to be “authentic” or “real.” But, the fact is that many authentic young peoples’ lives are not filled with these things, and filling Young Adult genre books with these things actually serves the function of encouraging young people to make these things “normal” in their lives, too.  What reader of fiction has not gone out and tried a new food or a new experience after reading about it in a book?

I can understand a person who is confused about life and angry about being ill, might engage in all the above behaviors in the course of a search, so I was not overly concerned about this as an adult reader. But, since as a family we do not have the habit of swearing, or of thinking of sex as a thing that should happen on a second date, I would be greatly concerned at my daughter reading such things and deciding such behaviors were "okay."

The book’s characters theorized about whether eternity existed, some believing in an afterlife, some not. They were affiliated with a Church, and went to a cancer support group in its basement.  Augustus’s funeral was at a Church. But, they seemed to not worry much about whether God existed, much less to reach out for any personal relationship with Him (except with the symbolic representations of him). Sadly not a single adult in the book provided the children with the support or guidance that might help them understand life’s ultimate meaning.

A concept that runs throughout the book is "hamartia" - which many Christians will recognize as the Biblical Greek word for sin - but in this book it is translated as a fatal or tragic flaw, often outside a person's control. Cancer is referred to as an hamartia.

The book has a couple of men who symbolize God (according toFAQs on the author’s website) – one a character in An Imperial Affliction known as "Dutch Tulip Man"– and the other the author of that book, Peter Van Houten, . These men were SO exceedingly unlike the God of the Bible that I didn’t even realize their symbolism until I read the author’s explanation after finishing the book. The young people diligently search the book to find the meaning of life and death, with Hazel even referring to it has her “Bible.” The symbols depict God as either impotent, or worse, wounded, despondent, angry, alcoholic, pathetic, and largely malicious toward creation.  At the beginning of the book, Hazel believes that if she could just connect with the author of the book, she could die happy. By the end of the book, Hazel has completely and angrily rejected this man who is the book’s symbol for God, and instead has effectively made her beloved, dying boyfriend into her “god.”

The parents in the book were excellent, caring parents in every secular meaning of the word. They truly loved their children, did everything they could to help them and to communicate love to them,  and care for their psychological health. But other that the occasional vague feel-good reference to God, the parents were as spiritually rootless as the children, and so were unable to help in the ways that truly would have mattered the most.

At the end of the book, the characters sort out their own answer to the meaning of life, death, and suffering – which the book depicts (among other things) as eulogies that the teens write for each other, in advance of death. The book’s conclusion seems to border on nihilism – that the most we can hope for in a well-lived life is to not injure each other too much. No eternal purpose in life is really envisioned, as the existence of Eternity itself seems to be a matter of opinion among the characters. The final lesson seems to be that it is up to each person to figure out what the meaning of life is for them – and there are no right or wrong answers. No thought is given to the Revealed Truth that Christianity offers us. Instead, sentimental opinions about human kindness are offered to replace it.

Whether to let a young person read this? Tough question. If they tend toward depression and despondency, this book’s nihilism might tip them over the edge. The book’s endorsement of swearing, vulgarity, and premarital sex might encourage them to also take these things casually. Since those things were done by sympathetic main characters, it is very easy to see these actions as okay, or even right “in their circumstances” –which is of course, an extremely dangerous conclusion. The book might pull the teen toward Atheism and/or Nihilism. But, if you are a parent whose child is drawn to this book, you might read it at the same time they do, and use its text to open up great discussions with them on these very issues, and help them find the very real answers that God offers us on these questions. A good parent read-along might be (in addition to the Bible, of course) TheProblem of Pain by C.S. Lewis. I don’t think it would be wise to allow any young person to read The Fault in Our Stars without any parental guidance or assistance. Indeed, a lot of adults might even be spiritually damaged by reading this if they lack a strong Christian faith.

All human beings struggle with the questions of life’s ultimate meaning, the reality of a God who Loves us, the purpose of suffering, the reality of life after death. For many people, the teen years are a time when this struggle is most pronounced (others deal with this question at other stages of life). And, of course, a terminal disease amplifies these questions for all of us.

This author's gifts give him a HUGE potential to reach out to young people and help them find the Ultimate Truth. He is an extremely skilled writer, and has a great way with kids (my own daughter LOVES his Youtube Crash CourseHistory videos – and begs to watch them despite the swearing. Sadly, I can’t always permit it – because of the swearing and occasional political commentary in some episodes.) He has the potential to do a lot of good in this life with his gifts. I can only conclude that it is possible that he himself has not yet developed the kind of deep spiritual life that provides the Saints with heartfelt, unshakable answers to life’s most difficult questions. Not “easy answers” but the kind of certainty of God’s Love that allowed these Saints to embrace martyrdom without hesitation.  I pray that John Green might progress in his own spiritual journey, to a certainty of the Goodness and Love of God, and His Resurrection so that we might share in His Eternal Life. And, with that experiential knowledge of God, might use his great gifts to reach out to young people and help them.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Homeschool Writing & Typing - for Cheap or Free!

Homeschool Writing and Typing - Cheap or Free!
Writing involves a complex set of skills, making it a daunting subject to homeschool. But, when those skills are broken down into groups or categories of skills, quite frequently the teaching of it seems much simpler, and in fact, it can be done - like the other subjects - for cheap or free!

These are the materials that have worked, or are still working well in our homeschool. I used some trial and error finding these resources - I'm sharing "the best of" here : )

Here are some categories, and the resources I have used for them - most are free!

Modeling through Reading- FREE

It is my firm belief that the most effective writing instruction is READING well-written books and other materials. The BEST modeling resource is a well-translated Bible. It is impossible to be a good writer without reading well, and reading a lot. For this reason, I allowed my daughter several years of reading before I embarked on any sort of rigorous writing curriculum. In the early years, we just practiced writing letters and words, copywork, typing, and the occasional short composition. So, here are my posts on reading:

Teach Reading with Confidence: Homeschool for Chea...  

Read-Alouds, Best Family

Manuscript - Forming letters - CHEAP OR FREE

For the earliest writing practice, we used a wipe-off book like this (long out of print), that I found at a thrift store. There are lots of models of this sort of wipe off book for kids - choose one that appeals to your beginning writer:

Fisher Price Little People Wipe Off Alphabet Book

 Later, we moved into doing copywork from this site. They have a few free downloads, they also have inexpensive books to download and print.

Copycat Books


Cursive - forming words - FREE

I tried several resources to teach this skill, and it just wasn't working very well. I found this great, free resource, and it worked great for us. And, even better, it was free & didn't take very long!

This is a direct link to the PDF, but I enthusiastically recommend Don Potter's Website - it has a HUGE number of great free resources, including many on teaching reading well.

Direct Path to Cursive


Typing - FREE

Typing is a skill that many think may be more important than handwriting in the coming years. Touch typing is a skill that is necessary for academic success - and for success in many careers.  (altho there are brilliant hunt-and-peck typists, they waste a lot of their own time by not developing this skill!)

Here are a couple of typing sites that we have found tremendously helpful.

Typing Club

KidzType

We also saw a BIG boost in skill levle when we did these, but we did spend under $5. for purchase.

 Typing Instructor for Kids
(and it's Disney themed cousin- which we found in a thrift store : )



Spelling - FREE

For Spelling, I simply use the McGuffey Speller. It works great for us.  I actually inherited a hard copy from my Mother - but if I hadn't I would have downloaded it for free!  I encourage my daughter to study by observing which rules are followed by the words, and which words are spelled differently that she might expect from simply sounding out the word. Where are there double consonants? etc. She has become very efficient at learning new spelling words by this method.

Grammar - FREE

In the home, most of our skill with grammar comes from two sources: 

1) Speaking correctly in the home environment makes proper grammar "sound right" when we hear it. And of course, speaking incorrectly on a consistent basis does the opposite.

2) Study of a foreign language. Figuring out which word in the target language to replace with which English word - and why - provides a great foundation for English grammar.

But, additionally, here are some of our favorite Grammar resources

 Parts of Speech Poem

Our Favorite Online Videos
 
Khan Academy Grammar 

Grammar Gorillas Game 

E-Learning for Kids Language Arts 

We also liked this book, which we found at a thrift store:

Painless Grammar 


Composition and Creative Writing - FREE

The number one source of writing skill is practice and then revision with an adult who can write. Two great resources we have found are: 

When my daughter was very young, we used a book called "Story Starters" from the Target Dollar Bin. It was simply a book of fun writing prompts with pictures and some space with wide lines for a little one to write in big letters. I cannot find these books any more, but if you do an internet search for "Writing Prompts for Kids" you'll find a slew - and some of them are likely to resonate with your student!

After that, we have LOVED for both grammar and composition:

Amy Maryon's FREE English Texts

Mrs. Maryon's books are Workbook style, with only a short explanation of the assignment. For example, She might say something like, "Write a descriptive paragraph about your favorite meal" For assignments like those, I hop over to youtube and search for "writing descriptive paragraphs for kids" - and find a few explanations for my daughter to learn from along with Mrs. Maryon's excellent lessons.

We also used basic instruction on "P.E.A." Writing structure. Though we prefer to call it "T.E.A." - Topic, Examples/Evidence, Analysis.  It's an easy way to learn to construct a basic paragraph, and later, a basic paper.

This video has been a great help, too, along with some other Nessy channel offerings : )

 

If you liked these ideas, you might like the other posts in this series:




Teaching Math: Home School for Cheap or Free

Science Fun Homeschool Video Day

Teach Reading with Confidence: Homeschool for Chea...

Home School for Cheap or Free: Why Greek is Better than Latin!
 
Home School for Cheap or Free: Greek Reading

Home School for Cheap or Free: Greek Conversation

Great Ways to Homeschool History 

History & Geography Videos, Homeschool Video Fun Day
  
Teaching Music: Homeschool for Cheap or Free


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