Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What Homeschooling and Cookies have in Common

Homeschooling your children is a little like baking cookies. We all have different recipes our families enjoy. Some insist on all organic ingredients right from their own farm. Some use a box mix. Some experiment with a mixture of home grown and store bought ingredients. Some get their recipe from the internet, a friend, or a cook book. Some recipes were passed down over the generations. Sometimes we even try out a new recipe now and then. Some are nuts... errrr... I mean throw in nuts.


When you are a guest in someone's home and served cookies, would you ever criticize the recipe? Would you say "You didn't do this correctly. You should have used all organic ingredients!". Never! That would be rude. However, if the hostess asked for your advice on cookie baking or asked about your favorite recipe, you would gladly share and it would be gladly received. You would be excited to give your friend your favorite sources for ingredients or a favorite recipe. They may try your recipe or get your ingredients and find their family dislikes it. Would you be offended? Of course not. Every family is different. Would you insist if they didn't make the cookies "the old fashioned way", by hand mixing the ingredients like you, that they were, in fact, not baking cookies at all? Ridiculous. Would you argue that your family recipe would always be better than any new recipe off the internet? You might if you were not open to trying new recipes.

Recently, I came across a line of discussion on a homeschool group where women were debating the issue of supplementing home educating with outside classes. Several old time home educators were criticizing one mother who had decided that what was best for their family was to supplement a class or two outside the home. They so much as told her that she was not, in fact, homeschooling at all because she was supplementing with outside classes. It made me so sad that these women have now instead of graciously presenting their favorite recipe for homeschooling, are criticizing others with words that cut and divide.

It made me pause to think of why these old time home educators might be reacting this way. I thought about these women and the fact that they were home educating when it was illegal or very soon after it became legal. They knew that this right was precious and hard fought. Did they perhaps think that these modern homeschool families were spitting in the face of this hard fought freedom? Maybe they are thinking "We fought for you to educate your children at home and now you are ending up right back in a classroom setting. How ungrateful of you." Now we are getting somewhere.

When our forefathers were fighting for their independence against the British, there were hard feelings against the British. We shot the British. A generation later, those feelings lessened. That energy was put to the task of growing the nation. They no longer pointed the business end of a gun at a visiting Brit. They remembered their past, but moved on.

Same with homeschooling. Yes, those freedoms were hard fought and we honor their struggle. We also keep an eye out to protect those freedoms. But homeschooling is legal now. We don't have to hide in the shadows and homeschool our children. We proudly exclaim that our children are home educated. We gather in huge groups and encourage each other. We even form small groups and educate each other's children. We bring in experts to educate our children in areas we ourselves are not well-versed in in. So let's celebrate our freedoms and our differences. Old timers, celebrate the fact that our newbies are spreading their wings and searching out new and different ways to educate their children. You might even learn something from them. They might even learn something from you.

But, unless asked, keep your recipe to yourself and go add some nuts to your own organic fruitcake cookies. Great, now I'm hungry for cookies.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A yummy Gluten/Egg/Dairy Free Dessert



I was determined to make a yummy snack for a friend that is gluten/dairy/egg free. That was a challenge, but not impossible. Call me silly, but I kinda liked the challenge. More like an adventure. What will be the texture of this flour substitute? How will an egg substitute perform?

What did I learn? That the substitutes work very well and are quite good! And Enjoy Life chocolate chips are so yummy!


So Delicious Coconut Milk Yogurt - PlainAfter browsing the recipes on the Sensitive Pantry's website (gluten/egg/dairy free recipes), I found one that peaked my interest... Deep Dark Chocolate Muffins. It seemed that chocolate might cover a lot of the strange substitued food tastes like the flour and egg replacer and plain coconut milk yogurt. Well... yes and no. Yes in the final product, no in the batter. I was worried after I sampled some of the raw batter (which was egg free so it was ok). The final product was quite different! Very yummy!

Here is that recipe with a modification:


Deep Dark Chocolate Muffins

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare your muffin pan with liners—makes about 6 or 7 jumbo or 12 cupcake sized muffins.
Whisk to combine and set aside:
½ teaspoons EnerG Egg Replacer
2 tablespoons warm water
In a large mixing bowl mix together:
1½ cups GF Flour Blend (I used Bob's Red Mill gf all purpose baking flour and I had to add 1 1/4 tsp. xanthan gum)
½ cup pulverized walnuts*
2/3 cups organic coconut or cane sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
In a 2 cup measuring cup whisk together:
1 6oz container plain or vanilla yogurt (for dairy-free/vegan use coconut milk yogurt)
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon molasses (optional) I used it!
½ cup water  warm coffee
egg replacer you prepared earlier
1/3 cup grapeseed or other vegetable oil Coconut oil
Pour about half the wet mixture into the dry and give it a few turns with a spoon or silicone spatula. Add the rest of the liquid and stir until combined.


Add to the batter and mix in:
These are so delicious!
½ cup Enjoy Life chocolate chips
Spoon into the paper liners filling them about ¾ full. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and enjoy.
*I pulverized the walnuts in a small food processor (or you might be able to use a coffee grinder) until they were the size of large grains of sand. Measure after they’re chopped.

I added a delicious chocolate glaze to the top.

Chocolate Glaze


4 Tbl. of unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbl. + 2 tsp. shortening
4 Tbl. + 2 tsp. sugar
3 Tbl. Willow Run butter
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
3 Tbl. + of hot water or coffee

Mix together. Add more water/coffee as needed to get the consistancy you want.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Breakdown of Cost for Square Foot Gardens

Gardens 1 and 2 - cabbage, oregano, cilantro,
lettuce, celery, parsley, broccoli, kale, rosemary and
three decorative flowering plants
We had such a mild winter this year in the Houston area. After the heat and the unprecedented drought of this summer, any temperature dip was a welcome relief. While I am not looking forward to another sweltering Houston summer, I am looking forward to spring and all that it brings in the garden.

If you have been following this blog, you know that I stepped into Square Foot Gardening the fall 2011. I started out with only three 4 x 4 gardens. I had wonderful results and I am ready to see what kind of yields I can get from a spring garden. As you can see from the pictures below, we have been very busy! We have added an additional 5 boxes! This will give me 8 boxes which gives me the recommended 2 boxes per family member. I cannot tell you how amazing it has been to go outside and "grocery shop" in my own backyard. All the winter vegetables are coming to the end of their growing season and now it is time to plant all our spring plants. This winter, we have enjoyed fresh organic cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet peas, tomatoes, parsley, cilantro, celery, lettuce, green beans, oregano, kale, green onions, rosemary...
Garden 3 - end of the winter garden, broccoli, green onions
2 kinds of lettuce, kale and sweet peas going strong!

One of the benefits of Square Foot Gardening is that you don't have to dig into the soil or amend your soil. However, you do have to have a flat surface to put your 4 x 4 garden on. My small city lot is relatively flat, but the spot I needed to put my new gardens on was uneven. We flattened out the ground where the new gardens would go, removed a bush and a tree that were taking up valuable garden growing area. My friend had a large amount of newspaper that she generously let me have. We laid it down about 6-8 sheets thick* and rolled out weed barrier and placed the boxes where they will go. Next, we will add the pine bark nuggets around the boxes and Mel's Mix in the boxes. You do not have to put weed barrier and pine bark nuggets around your boxes, I just like it and think it looks pretty.


We had to level this patch of the yard a bit
Newspaper, weed barrier and then the boxes
Next comes the pine bark nuggets and Mel's Mix
Here is the other garden just off the patio. The other frame is just off camera.
I would also like to address the cost of the boxes. When you start out, you have to purchase the lumber, materials for the climbing nets and the "Mel's Mix" which is vermiculite, peat moss and compost. Each year, you only need to replace the compost and the plants. You can reduce this cost by growing your own plants from seeds and making your own compost from kitchen and yard scraps. The vermiculite was the most costly and hard to find. I finally located it at Cornelius Nursery in Houston for $30/bag. [update: I found a new source for vermiculite here in Houston for $16 a bag! It is called Vermiculite Products at 713-869-6663 (3025 Maxroy St. Houston, TX 77008) ]

Here is the cost breakdown to build 3 boxes and 2 climbing vines:

The boxes themselves:
Top Choice pine lumber 2 x 6 x 8 for the boxes themselves - Lowe's 6 boards @ 3.14 each = $18.84
(word to the wise here - have Lowe's cut it in half for you in the store before you leave - FREE)
(more words to the wise - DO NOT use treated lumber. You don't want those chemicals to seep into your nice organic soil)
Premium furring 1 x 2 x 8 for the dividers that go on the top of the box  (have Lowes cut these in half too)- Lowe's 9 boards @ .75 each = $6.75
Box of outdoor wood screws 3" long - we already had this - but it is approximately $3.00 for a box 
TOTAL for 3 boxes is $28.59 or $9.53 per box


Mel's mixture inside the box:
Vermiculite - 4 cu. foot bags - you will need two Cornelius Nursery $29.99 each = $59.98 (do not have a heart attack here - you will never have to purchase more for these boxes. That's it!)
Peat Moss - A 3.8 cubic foot compressed expands to 8 cubic feet. I couldn't find it in this size. So I purchased two 3 cu. foot bags (they are compressed and poof out) - 2 bags at Lowe's $9.75 each = $19.50 - you won't need all of it (again, you will never again have to purchase more for these boxes.) 
Compost (get as many different kinds as you possibly can find... cow, chicken, mushroom...) for three boxes you will need 8 cubic feet total  - it costs me approximately $15.00 total for all my organic compost. If you make your own, it will be FREE the next year. You will have to replace a trowel full of compost for each square each time you plant a new plant in that spot. 
TOTAL for 3 boxes is $94.48 or $31.49 per box. 
Don't panic! REMEMBER - that is the starter cost only. After the boxes are started, your only cost for soil will be in compost and that can be FREE if you make your own compost from kitchen and yard scraps. 


Weed barrier landscaping cloth - WeedX roll 3' x 100' (you will use this for many, many boxes)- at Wal-Mart $18.72 You may be able to find a smaller roll for less. We purchased a large roll because we use it in other areas of our yard. 
Weed Barrier landscaping cloth staples - $4.00 for 25 staples

2 Climbing Vines (I only put climbing vines on two boxes) (simple instructions are in the NEW Square Foot Garden book:
1/2" electrical conduit 10 feet long. 4 @ $1.69 = $6.76
1/2" Insider Corner pieces 4 @ 4.34 = $17.36
Netting (I found one big enough to cut in half and use on both) $4.97
Rebar 3/8 x 24"- 4 @ 1.52 = $6.08
TOTAL for 2 nets $35.17 or $17.59 each

Now that those three boxes are built, and I have made my own compost and grown my own starter plants from seeds I previously purchased, my out of pocket this year for those three gardens is practically nothing. It will make the harvest that much sweeter! Happy planting ya'll!

*A word about newspaper: It really does the trick at keeping out the grass and weeds. You absolutely do not have to clear out the grass or weeds before laying down the newspaper. We had to even out the ground before putting out the newspaper, that's why you see dirt in our pictures. The newspaper is very effective at wiping out everything but you must lay it down thick. 3 sheets thick will not do it. Go for at least 6-8 sheets thick or more if you have enough to spare. If your grass/weeds are tall, go ahead and mow them very short just to make it easier to lay down the newspaper. Weed barrier cloth must be laid on top of this as the newspaper will eventually decompose. If you are putting out the weed barrier around your boxes, you will also need to put something on top of the weed barrier cloth as a further barrier.  (I still put weed barrier inside my boxes for an extra measure of protection, but it is unnecessary around the boxes. The newspaper will do the trick as long as you keep a thick layer of mulch or chipped up trees from a tree trimmer - which is free. See "Forest Floor" page with links to the right.) I suggest large/medium decorative pine bark nuggets in a thick layer (2"). I do not recommend pine bark mulch. The nuggets decompose slower and you get longer life out of them. Mulch will do in a pinch, but try to find the nuggets. You'll thank me later.(I now recommend "Forest Floor" instead of pine bark nuggets)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gluten Free Recipes - modifications of my favorite blog recipes!

Gluten free cooking sounds so intimidating doesn't it? It really isn't. Our home school group "Real Meal Blessing Team" has the privilege of cooking for a family that eats gluten/dairy/egg free. I have modified my regular recipes here to help our group find some recipes. I am not holding myself out as an expert or anything, but really it isn't that difficult to use your favorite recipe, check the ingredients, make a substitution or two if necessary and go for it. I hope this inspires you! I also noted that I need to invest in stock in the Muir Glen Company. You'll see why when you start looking through the recipes! I promise I do not work for these people (but maybe I should). 



HEB has a large selection of gluten free items. Check out the list here http://www.heb.com/static/pdfs/Gluten-Free-List.pdf You can also check your recipe items here http://www.celiaccess.com/

Here are the recipes on my blog that have gluten/dairy/egg free options. Look toward the end of the blog entry to see the modified recipe:
Chicken Cacciatore
Enchilada Casserole
Inside Out Cabbage Rolls
Rice Dressing
Spaghetti Sauce & Meatsauce or Meatballs
Sticky Chicken & Rice
Rice Pilaf
Chicken Corn Soup
Taco Soup


Please also look here for more recipes 

http://glutenfreegirl.com/

http://gingerlemongirl.blogspot.com/

http://www.elanaspantry.com/

Dessert? Yes please. Remember no egg here. There is a really good powdered egg substitute I have successfully used in the past called "EnergG Egg Replacer" which is dairy/egg/gluten free and can be purchased at HEB. 

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