Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Star Movie Review

If you're looking for a GREAT movie to take your kids to see this Christmas season, this is it!

I didn't receive free tickets or any other compensation for writing this review - I simply liked the movie so much that I wanted to encourage YOU to go see it! 

I have a confession to make. We're those "weird" homeschoolers who don't own a television. Our daughter has NEVER been to a Cinema to see a movie.  We watch videos from the library or Youtube or our own collection, but we don't GO to movies. Until last night, that is.

A friend recommended this film, and I became curious. I thoroughly checked out the online reviews and made sure there was no objectionable content. I wasn't just looking to make sure it was "G-Rated" but I also wanted to be sure that the Christian story was reverently and sensitively depicted. I could find no problems and lots of positive reviews, so we set out to see it.

Having not been to a cinema in a number of years myself, it was a novel experience for me to sit in recliners to watch a movie for the first time!

Prices have changed a lot since we last went to see a movie, but I like the idea of supporting the GOOD films that Hollywood makes, to encourage them to make more good, wholesome entertainment. 

My daughter told everyone she met that this was her first movie going experience EVER. She was super excited!

When the lights went down, what we saw on the screen was even better than I had hoped from reading the reviews. Throughout much of the movie, my daughter was laughing so hard, that I was concerned other moviegoers would be annoyed! And yet, none of the jokes were offensive or irreverent. Artistic license was taken with the Story, but in a way that was in keeping with the spirit of the narrative.

(As a side note for Orthodox & Catholic viewers, Mary & Joseph were depicted in a "Protestant" way - as a young couple in love, but Mary was portrayed as a Virgin throughout the movie)

I don't want  to add any spoilers here, but there were many devout, touching moments in the movie that brought home the Spiritual significance of the Birth of Christ. There was a stunning amount of  Christian content without ever being "preachy."

It was a charming, funny tale told from the perspective of the animals - but the glimpses into humanity - and Theology - were profound.

There ARE some intense or frightening scenes for small children or sensitive children involving snarling dogs and their menacing keeper - minions of Herod. No actual (non comedic) graphic violence, but still, it might be troubling to very little viewers.

As a little bonus, the voices were done by an all-star cast. I won't pretend that I knew who most of the Hollywood stars, were, but I noticed in the credits that Christopher Plummer (of Sound of Music fame) had done the voice of Herod - fascinating since he also played (another) Herod in Jesus of Nazareth.

The Star gave me hope for our culture, that Hollywood can still produce movies that are worth watching - and so much fun at the same time!

If you're only going to see one movie this year (or this decade ; ) The Star should be it!

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Easiest Ever Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Walnut Bread

Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Walnut Bread

This Delicious Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Walnut Bread is Whole Wheat, No Knead, Refrigerator Rise, Vegan, and Oil Free. And, best of all, Tasty!

Just measure, stir, wait, form, pop in fridge, wait and bake! It takes about 10 minutes hands-on time - if you're a slow worker : )

And, an added bonus, this same dough can be used to make a variety of other Whole Wheat Breads on this site, like Sandwich Loaf, Cinnamon Rolls or Dinner Rolls. 

This is my own recipe, but I got the method from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day - whose work I highly recommend!

Easy Soft, No Knead Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread Basic Dough
 (Makes 2 batches - for a one batch recipe, see my Whole Wheat Rolls post)

I prepare a double batch of dough in a plastic shoe box from the dollar store
Be sure to add ingredients in this order:

3 Cups Warm Water
5 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour
1/4 Cup Tapioca Starch (you can substitute Cornstarch, if you like)
1 Cup Potato Flakes (yes, the kind people make instant Mashed Potatoes with)
1/2 Cup Sugar*
1 Tablespoon Yeast
1 Tablespoon Salt

Stir well with a spoon till well combined and no floury patches remain. If it is VERY hard to stir, and doesn't look like the picture below, you can add a couple more Tablespoons of Warm Water.

Dough Right after Stirring

Cover loosely (I put the shoe box lid on, but don't snap it down on one corner) and allow to rise for 2-5 hours on counter.

Dough after initial rise - ready to place in fridge or use.

Place in Fridge till needed, or use right away (ideally, use this within a week)

When you're ready to use it, oil a loaf pan. (You may line the loaf pan with parchment paper if you absolutely cannot have any oil.  "Cut" it in half with your hand, then gently form into a ball. This will be approximately a 2# ball of dough.

"Cut" Dough with your hand

Gently Shape into a ball and place in oiled loaf pan.
Pat the Dough into a large rectangle. I pat mine out on my Plastic Cutting Mat (from the dollar store) that's 12"x15"

I Flour, Pat, Turn, Flour, Pat, Turn, till the rectangle is the right size.

Then, I spread with 1/2 Cup Applesauce (I use one of those little Lunch containers). Leave a border of  about 1/2" around the edges.

Sprinkle VERY GENEROUSLY with Cinnamon Sugar mixture.

Then, Sprinkle with Raisins and Walnuts (Both are optional - the loaf will turn out just great if you like plain Cinnamon Swirl Bread instead)

Turn Lenthwise, and roll up

 Fold in the ends so it will fit your loaf pan

Fold in the Ends

 Turn over (so tucked ends are underneath) and pop into oiled loaf pan.

 Now, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge to rise overnight
Allow to rise on the counter for 2 hours

Now it is risen, and ready to bake. I put some slashes in the top - but that's optional.

At baking time, preheat the oven to 350, and bake loaf on lower shelf of oven  (place shelf so that the MIDDLE of the loaf is in the MIDDLE of your oven - a middle shelf tends to place the top of a loaf too high, and it darkens too quickly) for 50 minutes.

Allow to cool briefly on the counter, then carefully remove from pan and cool thoroughly on a wire rack. This bread will slice best if it is cool, but if you can't wait to enjoy it warm . . . .; ) I didn't wait to slice mine. You can see the slices are a little imperfect.

Yummy Toast! (Yup - I burnt the edge -but you don't HAVE to do that ; )

Fresh from the Oven

When I make this, I thoroughly cool it, then immediately slice it and wrap it and put it in the freezer (any that we didn't eat right away). Then, when you're ready to use it, just warm it up in the microwave, and toast lightly in the toaster oven to give that fresh-from-the-oven taste : )

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Real Life Advent Menu (for all 6 Weeks!)

Real Life Advent Menu

 Okay- it's easy to design a perfect menu. But, sometimes the best laid plans collide with real life!

You know - sometimes life throws you a curve ball. Like maybe the oven catches on fire or something. Not that I'd know anything about that ; )

So, I thought for this seasonal menu, I'd offer a glimpse of what we ACTUALLY ate for Advent last year. I usually only plan or record one meal a day (occasionally two) - so this is not an exhaustive list of every bite that went into our mouths, just a snapshot of dinners.This is real life, every day eating - occasionally repeating a recipe more often than I'd like, or having yet another "quick meal" of pasta this week - and includes dinners out and dinners at friends houses or at Church. Just the authentic schedule.

For us Orthodox Christians, Advent starts November 15 and runs through Christmas Eve. Ideally our menus do not contain meat, dairy or eggs during that time. 


15  Lemony Dal

Lemony Dal

17- Claire's Southern Delight

Claire's Southern Delight

18 – Penne with Marinara

19 – Peas & Artichokes Yachni

Peas & Artichokes Yachni

20 – Leftovers for Lunch: Peas & Artichokes,  

Dinner: Family Favorite Lentil Soup

23  - Split Pea Soup, Whole Wheat Rolls, Veggies, Hummus with Capers

Split Pea Soup

Caper Hummus Tray

24 – Thanksgiving at Friends' Home – brought dinner roll assortment
Whole Wheat Rolls 

Dinner Rolls, Vegan, Soft & Fluffy, No Knead, Refrigerator 
Easy, No Knead, Greek Olive Crescents (Eliopites) 

Soft & Fluffy Vegan Dinner Rolls

Greek Olive Crescents

25 – St. Catherine’s - Leftovers

26 -  Stir Fry Veggies Over Rice

Stir Fry Veggies over Rice

27 – Black Bean Soup (Slow Cooker),
Dinner: Spaghetti with Marinara

28 – Greek Green Beans ( Fasolakia Yachni )

Fasolakia Yachni

29 – Chili, Rice, chips, Salad

30 – Chinese Buffet with Friends

1 Dec- Pasta & Sauce (Kids' meeting night)

2 - Spinach & Mushroom Calzones

Spinach & Mushroom Calzones

3 – Leftovers – mainly Pasta & Sauce, Spinach & Mushroom Calzones

4 - Greek Bean Soup, Favorite (Fasolia Yachni) ,Homemade Yeast Bread, Smoky Hummus , Dolmades (from can)
Eve: St. Nicholas Concert & Reception

Fasolia Yachni

5 – Greek Bean Soup, Favorite (Fasolia Yachni) ,
Dinner: Asian Noodles

6 – Brunch after Church: Pancakes,


Dinner: Claire's Southern Delight over Rice

7 – At Friends for Lunch – they served Lentil Soup,
Dinner brought by another Friend Pasta Salad, Bean Dish, etc

8 – Sausage Patties, Vegan & Tater Tots (from Grocer's Freezer)

Vegan Sausage

9 – Chinese Restaurant for my Nameday

10 – Indian Spiced Blackeye Peas over Rice

Indian Spiced Black-Eyed Peas over Rice

11  – Spaghetti With Marinara Sauce, Quick and Easy.
Oven Caught on Fire when Preheating to bake cookies.
We would not have a replacement oven for 11 days!

12 – Chinese Buffet with Friends

13 – Greek Bean Soup, Favorite (Fasolia Yachni)  made in Slow Cooker, Garlic Toast, Dolmadakia (from Can), Olives

14 – Greek Style Black-Eyed Peas ( Louvia ) made in Slow Cooker, Veggies, Dolmades, Garlic Toast

15 – Red Lentil & Artichoke Stew  Made in Slow Cooker

Red Lentil & Artichoke Stew

16 – Easy Yeast Bread in the Slow Cooker , Leftovers, Hummus, etc

17 – Lunch at a Class at Church provided by Friend: Spanakorizo, Spinach & Potatoes, Bread 
Dinner: Black Bean Burritos (Black Beans in Microwave, Rice in Rice Cooker), Slow Cooker Cinnamon Rolls (Recipe under construction!)

18 – Lunch at Friends' – Fasolia Yachni, Black-Eyed Pea, Rice & Spinach Salad, French Fries, Green Salad, Etc. Dinner: Leftovers

19 – Black Bean Soup (Slow Cooker), Rice in Rice Cooker, Tomatoes, Tortilla Chips

Black Bean Soup

20 – Stuffed Manicotti in the Slow Cooker

Stuffed Manicotti

21 – Chili in Slow Cooker, Rice in Rice Cooker, Tortilla Chips

22- Riblets (Purchased from Freezer Section of Grocery, heated in Microwave), Rice, Corn, Edamame

23- Family Get Together – bringing Hummus with Capers tray, White Bean Salad

24- Christmas Eve Brunch after Church:
Vegan Sausage Patties

Vegan Sausage

Cinnamon Rolls 

Fruit Salad

Fruit Salad

Cucumbers & Tomatoes
Family Favorite Lentil Soup