Category Archives: Family Life

If I Had a Million Dollars: What the Kids Say

So, what if you could ask for a million dollars and someone just gave it to you like this guy:

I asked my kids what they would do with that much money.

7 year old Zee said he would save it until he had 2 million and then he would use it to buy food for his kids. So practical!

13 year old J said that he would buy cows, goats, and some land. . . oh and seeds to plant. Oh and he would get a Wii and some DS games . . . I might be inclined to think that he is telling me what I want to hear, but I know him better than that. I think that he actually WOULD get a farm – probably a full scale vermiculture operation. And a Wii – that is if I would let him.

Well, If someone just gave me a million dollars, I know what I would do. I would donate 10% to the charity of my choice because nothing falls out of the sky like that on its own, and then I would probably find a nice big piece of land – maybe 10 to 20 acres – with a 6 or 7 bedroom, 3 or 4 bath house, budget max of $350,000. Cash should provide a big enough incentive for the seller 😉 If there wasn’t already an art studio and a commercial kitchen, I would have one installed, I would do a lot of the work myself and get it done for under $50,000 maybe less if I could get used equipment. I drool over Hobart mixers and Harsch crocks . . . I would install an actual brick oven and buy cast iron and stainless steel cookware with an amazing set of knives.  I would put $50,000 away for each of the kids for a college fund, and I would put $100,000 in a Roth IRA for retirement. (I still have a few years to grow that before I need it) and I would invest another 100,000 in starting a business – either a bakery or contract IT services, or maybe both. Then I might use some cash and buy newer full size 4 wheel drive pickup truck with a quad cab – not new, and a nicer minivan, I would install a sustainable energy source for my home, and buy some animals (for family food production, not full scale farming), and build up my garden, a small greenhouse, and a root cellar. I figure that would leave me a decent sized emergency fund, which I would stow away in a money market account with a decent interest rate.

So, anyone wanna give me a million dollars? Pretty please?

Kids in The Kitchen: 10 Tips for Teaching Kids to Cook

My mother never shooed us out of the kitchen. Instead she put us to work! Since I am from a very big family (12 children), in a word, it was chaos, but it was beautiful chaos. I prepared my first full meal when I was only 8 years old. My mother grew up in a family where everything was cooked from cans, so it was very important to her that we know how to cook from scratch. As a teenager she taught herself to cook real food and then took over the family meals. One of the first things that I ever learned how to make was bread, and the first job we had as kids was to knead the dough. I can imagine now that my mother may not have wanted to do all of the kneading herself – she baked bread every Saturday – but at the time it was great fun!

When I was in college, I found out that not everyone’s mothers thought that learning to cook was important – I taught a few roommates how to do some simple things – like read recipes, boil water to make pasta, make dinner rolls, and to bake cookies (a skill that no enterprising – and starving – college girl should be without!) But I appreciate the skills I learned as a child even more as a mom. After meeting people who didn’t even know how to boil water or follow simple instructions on a box of rice-a-roni (which I honestly had never even HEARD of until I was in college), I decided that ALL of my kids would learn to cook because there is nothing sadder than an adult college student struggling on a small budget, who can’t even take care of themselves in this most basic way.

So here it is! My list of ten tips to help you teach your kids how to cook:

  1. Never shoo your children out of the kitchen. Instead, put them to work! Even small children can do something, even if you just give them a small piece of dough to play with. At 3, measure ingredients and let them put the measured ingredients into the mixing bowl. At 4 and 5, you can hand them a vegetable peeler. At 6, let them read the ingredients out of the recipe book and show them how to measure. You can set them up with a knife to chop vegetables (supervised of course) and at 7, let them measure out ingredients for you, or even try a simple recipe all by themselves. At 8, let them prepare a simple meal for the whole family without any help.  Not only have they learned an important skill, but they have realized that they can be an important member of the family, and they have earned confidence!
  2. Provide your children with easy access to healthy recipes that are easy to follow, and that are in a format that is easy to use and can take a beating. You may be interested in my Healthy Kid’s Recipe Cards, which you can find online here
  3. Hold a weekly family night or regular family activities so that you can provide additional opportunities for your children to make snacks or treats to showcase their newly learned skills.
  4. Praise them when it is warranted. Do not overdo it by ignoring faults and flops though – good food is expensive and good instruction that includes correction when needed helps avoid unnecessary waste. I recommend a sandwich style praise and correction model. If the recipe turned out badly, praise them for what they did right (wow, you did this all by yourself?) and then provide gentle instructions (next time, call me in if you need help with measuring the salt.) Then another good thing (It looks like you baked these for just the right amount of time!)Your child will want to know what went wrong so that they can make it better the next time around.
  5. Expect your boys to learn as well as your girls! Boys need these skills just as much as anyone now! You can’t make the mistake of assuming that your son’s wife will know how to cook or you may end up with grand kids who are part of the McD’s generation. Besides, it might be just the thing that will help him catch the girl of his dreams! My husband cooked for me on our first date. Children who learn to cook are less expensive to support through college, and will be healthier as well.
  6. As your children get older, do not hesitate to give them more responsibilities. Alternate the responsibilities for making breakfasts, allow them to pack their own lunches for school, and assign them one night a week to make dinner for the family.
  7. Always verbally thank the one responsible for the meal publicly around the dinner table. Point out the best parts of the meal and say exactly what you like about it. This is not the forum for corrections unless the child acknowledges something himself – like if a cake fell or if there was too much pepper in the gravy.  If they point it out themselves  in this setting, you can down play it for the moment (“yes, but the potatoes are perfect!”) and help them fix it later.
  8. When your child is old enough, help them plan a month of menus and execute a shopping trip. This lets your child learn the logistics of planning a meal from start to finish, including what constitutes a balanced meal, what you have already on hand and which items they will need to buy, and how much those things actually cost.  A child should be able to plan one day’s meals at the age of 7 or 8, a week’s worth of menus at 9 or 10, and a month of menus at 11 or 12.
  9. Don’t hold back on letting your child make a complicated recipe. I made bread on my own for the first time when I was not even 8 years old. You as the parent can trust your instincts about what your child is capable of at what age. Allow your child to challenge herself even if you are not sure if she can do it on her own. I was pleasantly surprised the first time my daughter made apple pie.
  10. Avoid relying on boxed items or pre-made foods for teaching kids how to cook. Children can read and understand recipes and it is a good opportunity for kids to learn about measurements, how ingredients work in a recipe, and many other things that kids can’t learn by making ramen noodles or microwavable boxed macaroni and cheese. Children are capable of much more than we give them credit for, and besides, teaching from scratch allows your child to form good nutritional habits early on, which will allow them to have a healthier lifestyle and a better quality of life.

How Fresh is YOUR Chicken?

I thought this was funny:

20 Things to do With Soured Raw Milk or Cream

Raw milk or cream sours much differently from commercially prepared milk or cream. In commercially prepared milk, the product has been pasteurized, or heated at high temperatures, to kill any bacteria that may have been in the milk. As a result, not only are the pathogens killed, but also the beneficial bacteria that aid your body in digesting the milk, as well as the enzymes and most of the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D and magnesium which help you body absorb the calcium in the milk. This is why artificial vitamin D is added to milk – to replace what was destroyed in the pasteurization process. Also, the milk is usually also homogenized, or forced through a screen that breaks the cream into unnaturally small particles so that it will not separate.

Because of this, pasteurized homogenized milk is much different from farm fresh milk straight from the cow. Milk that has undergone this type of processing putrefies as it sours because for one, it is a blank slate so to speak, and any wild bacteria floating around in the air can settle in the milk. In our environment many types of bacteria are commonly found which can become pathogenic, or dangerous, under the right conditions. These bacteria – e-coli, campylobacter, staphylococci, salmonella, and others – are common and generally benign in our environment until they find the right media in which to grow. Pasteurized milk provides an ideal environment, where unpasteurized milk contains many beneficial bacteria which naturally inhibit the growth of these types of pathogenic bacteria.

Try this: Set two jars of milk out on the counter in a warm location for several days – one pasteurized milk and the other raw or unpasteurized milk. The pasteurized milk will begin to stink, while the raw milk will generally have a more mild cheese like smell. The pasteurized milk would be dangerous to drink, while the raw milk would be perfectly safe, even if you did not find the flavor pleasant. Many traditional cultures actually did drink their milk clabbered, and even preferred it that way.

For pasteurized milk of course, there is really only one thing that you can do with it once it has reached this point unless you want to risk becoming seriously ill – throw it out! Soured raw milk on the other hand can be used for many things. Of course you could drink it, but many people now are unaccustomed to the sour flavor of clabbered milk, so I have put together a list of 20 things that you can do with raw milk or cream that has unexpectedly gone south while you weren’t watching.

  1. Use the whey, or the clear liquid that separates from the milk, to soak nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains, which makes the nutrients in these foods more readily digestible. You only need a tablespoon or two to add to the water that you are using to soak your grains. After the grains have soaked for 24 hours, cook them as you normally do before using them.
  2. Mix soured milk into pancake batter, biscuits, or quick breads in place of buttermilk or other liquids called for in the recipe.
  3. Mix soured cream into scrambled eggs or eggs used for french toast before cooking them.
  4. Mix soured cream into mashed potatoes instead of milk
  5. Add a little buttermilk culture and set it out on the counter for another day – then gently heat the milk until it curdles and then strain, add a little fresh cream and salt – viola, cottage cheese!
  6. Add a little buttermilk culture and allow it to sit until fully separated. Then strain soured milk in cheesecloth until you have cream cheese.
  7. Use the soured cream on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise.
  8. Warm slightly soured milk on the stove top and add cocoa powder and raw honey or raw cane sugar for a delightful cup of creamy hot chocolate.
  9. Use soured cream to make white sauce or cheese sauce
  10. Use it to make kefir or yogurt
  11. Use a dollop of soured cream to top a baked potato or a bowl of chili
  12. Add seasonings to the cream and turn it into a yummy ranch dip for veggies.
  13. Whip slightly soured cream with a bit of cream cheese and raw honey for a delightful whipped topping for fruit filled crepes
  14. Make mozzarella cheese – it’s easier than it sounds!
  15. Add a little buttermilk culture to slightly soured cream, allow it to sit on the counter for a day, and then pour it into your food processor or blender and make it into cultured butter.
  16. Throw it into the blender with berries an a banana to make a yummy smoothie
  17. Use the soured milk or cream in any recipe that calls for milk – pumpkin pie, clam chowder, etc.
  18. Treat your pets, chickens, pigs.
  19. Pour it on your compost pile.
  20. Put a cup of sour milk in a gallon of water and spray it on your garden for a fabulous fertilizer.

I am sure that there are many other things that you could make or do with sour raw milk or cream – experiment and be creative! – but this should be a good start for those of you who are wondering “What do I do with this now!?”

How to make mozzarella: – It is not necessary to microwave the curd – just drain the curd, heat the whey to about 175 F  and use heavy kitchen gloves to hold the cheese ball under the water for several seconds, then remove it and stretch it; if it breaks repeat the process, but do not leave the cheese in the boiling water or it will dissolve into the water and you will lose your cheese!


Some experimenting with Photoshop watercolor effects


Where’s The Beef!?

Or should I say “Where’s the blog?” I have really been starting to feel the guilt of a sadly neglected blog weighing down on me lately, and in my defense, since school started this year, for me it really just seems like a few days . . . so, I will give you all a recap of where my last few months have disappeared to.

1. A new school year, always means new teacher drama for me as my very active and gifted son, Zee, adjusts to a new school year and new teachers. Let me recap – Me: Zee, school is starting up again next week. Zee: complete and utter melt down, involving kicking, screaming, etc. Me: You have to go, I can’t leave you home alone, blah, blah, blah, and all kinds of other reasons that mean absolutely nothing to him, while in my heart I am wishing I could quit my job and homeschool him so he could have an education from someone who really appreciated his genius, even though it is trying at times, (like when he took the door handle and latch on the sliding glass door apart and reassembled it backwards when he was 3.)

Time lapse – school has started and I am once again getting daily notes and phone calls from the school. A new teacher who I had so much hope for at the back to school night, because she had rotating classroom assignments, which is always a good thing for Zee, because he is just one of those kids who needs a special job. But no, it seems those only apply to a certain part of the day. And the teacher insists that he must do worksheets and readers – the really mundane ones with two or three words to a page. He has been reading words since he was 2. He hates the readers and tears them up on the way home from school so I won’t make him read them. They send home 6 a week, each one to be read 3 times each. HELL. Not that he can’t, but he wont. He got a zero on his reading assessment, and was in the 95th percentile for comprehension. HOW does that happen? I can tell you, the but teacher is ‘puzzled.’  I call the teacher and tell them we will be opting out and reading Charlotte’s Web instead. It is a book he picked out on his own and has been reading a little at a time already, even though it is hard right now for any book to hold his attention for very long. More notes and phone calls – he is hiding under his desk, pretending to eat gravel on the playground at recess, not staying in his seat, chewing on paper, talking to himself at his desk (probably on some Calvinesque adventure) turning the lights on and off, not bringing his ‘stop and go’ slips back to school with my signature, etc., etc, etc.

Then they call me in for a meeting with the teacher. She informs me that he is not behind, but that she is worried that he might fall behind at some future point. It would be terribly unjust of me to not take him to the doctor and put him on meds because if he falls behind it could jeopardize his entire school career. Me: He is board. I am not going to have him medicated for being board. Teacher: No, he is not board, he just refuses to do his work. He needs to be on medication. It’s not fair for you to not medicate him! Me: Over my dead body will this kid be medicated. They bring in the school councilor who says that he has been observing him over the last week and that he was only on task for some percent of time. Me: did you send him back to his seat? Teacher: I can’t be sending him back to his seat all the time. Me: did you give him a special job like I suggested? (That really helped last year) No, they did not. can they give him more challenging material? No, the district requires this set of readers and this stack of worksheets for every second grader in the district. Me: Kids are not cookie cutter replicas of each other. This is not working and something has to change! They say that they know this but their hands are tied. The district dictates it. (Yeah, bs!) I tell them I don’t give a crap about what the district says, I will not medicate my son for the reasons they stated, and if they can’t find a way to fix it, they will just have to deal with it.

canning tomato sauce

I go home and dig up research and info on the law about a teacher suggesting medication in the great state of Utah and the law is on my side 🙂 I print the legislation and research studies and other information. (The Kids on ADHD Drugs Do Poor at School) look into other schools for him. A week later I am called in again, this time to meet with the principal and a district special ed specialist. I am armed with my husband, a voice recorder, and all the papers I printed out. I was pretty sure that they were going to bully me into medicating. I had an “Acceptance of Responsibility” form ready for them to sign just in case they pushed it that far. It turns out that the district specialist didn’t know about the medication issue, and the principle was hoping to keep it that way. I didn’t give her the pleasure. At the same time, I didn’t end up needing the form – the specialist said he had observed Zee and agreed with me that he was board and didn’t need to be medicated. I let them know that there would be a legal issue if it was ever brought up again, and that was the end of that. Now the teacher is doing ‘interventions’ or more plainly, alternative learning activities instead of worksheets. But I am sure she wasn’t excited about having to do one more extra thing. Especially for the kid who asked her if she was going to shave her mustache. It was an honest question – really he didn’t mean to be rude! (but I did have a talk with him about tact and appropriate ways to ignore other peoples unsightly features.)  Now the drama has gone back under the surface, but I am pretty sure that next year it will resurface and rear its ugly head once more.

2.In the midst of all the teacher troubles, I am on a quest for real food real cheap, since we are also broke, and I refuse to resort to the use of artificial food-like substances to feed my family. I found a lot of good stuff in the classified ads, and all organic and locally grown! Woohoo! It felt pretty good to have something going right! I got 6 bushels of heirloom tomatoes, 24 sugar pie pumpkins, 200 lbs of potatoes, 30 lbs of onions, also organic, 2 huge banana squash, 7lbs shelled walnuts, 1 quart jar of no sugar pectin, a 25lb bag of brown short grain rice (the only thing not local) all for less than a regular grocery shopping trip. And I just scored a quarter of a grass fed beef for $1.50 a lb cut and wrapped! We will be set for groceries for a while 🙂 Looks like I found the beef!

3. Canning, freezing and preserving all the food

4. And, I made a nice big batch of my Momma Nature’s No More Owies (or Owie Cream as my kids like to call it)

5. Not to mention work. Did I mention work?! 🙁 I have one question – How did I survive?!

6. Up next, helping the kids with their homemade Christmas presents. I just helped my oldest daughter refinish her dresser so she could sell it so she could have money to buy her friends presents. It looks amazing!

Bee’s Door Knobs

Bee had her hair done up this morning in what she is calling “door knobs.”Bee's Door Knobs

7 Good Alternatives to Processed Sugar

Anything natural is better than artificial sweeteners, so nix on the Splenda, sweet ‘n low, and aspartame 🙂 but you already knew that.

Even refined sugar is better than all of those nasty things, but then when you get into the research, you can see that sugar does a lot of damage to our bodies by causing tooth decay, insulin resistance, yeast overgrowth, and weight gain among other things. So we start looking for alternatives so we don’t have to feel bad about treating ourselves (and our kids) to treats every so often. I think that anything – even if it was once natural- if it is over processed,  and even though it may be better than fake sugar, is still something you want to avoid. Things that fall into this category are refined sugar, most brown sugar (which is often just white sugar with molasses added back into it), high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and sadly the onetime favorite of many health conscious individuals, agave nectar. I am also very skeptical of Xylitol for this very same reason. Even refined white sugar is still better than HFCS, because the processing that HFCS goes through causes molecular level changes that have turned out to be REALLY bad. (Think cocaine, and then think crack cocaine – This may be an extreme example, but the basic idea is there)

So what sweeteners are ok, or even good for you in small amounts? My take on this is that if God didn’t want us to have sweets, there would not be dates, bananas, honey, maple syrup, or many of the other good sweet things we have that are naturally sweet with no monkeying around. Of course, we need to use sweeteners in moderation, and you can overdo any good thing. So when it comes to sweeteners, the more natural and the less processed the better.  Here are 7 good alternatives to processed sugar:

  1. Raw Honey: My first choice is all natural raw honey, straight from the hive, maybe run through a strainer, but that’s it. (make sure that the bees have not been fed sugar water – that changes the whole composition of the honey and that is a whole ‘nother story!)
  2. Maple Syrup or Maple Sugar: My next choice would be natural maple syrup, or maple sugar, which is dehydrated maple syrup. These are much less likely to cause your blood sugar to fluctuate – that is the major problem with sugar and that is what leads to insulin resistance.
  3. Raw Cane Sugars: Other good sweeteners are made from raw cane sugar, which is basically dehydrated cane juice, like mascavo, rapadura, turbinado, and sucanat. These can be coarse, medium, or even ground finely into a confectioners sugar, but still has the natural brown color to it, with a lot of vitamins and minerals that are typically removed during processing.Make sure that you get organically grown, otherwise any benefits of vitamins and minerals in the sugar will be outweighed by negative factors, such as pesticide residue.
  4. Blackstrap Molasses: Molasses is another better alternative to sugar – it is the stuff removed from the sugar during processing. You would want to get good quality, again, the less processed the better.
  5. Date Sugar: There is also date sugar, which I have never tried, but I have heard that it is very good and easy to use as a substitute for sugar in baking. But it is really expensive – nearly $50 for an 11oz package! Ouch!
  6. Coconut Palm Sugar: Like cane sugars, organic coconut palm sugar is also very easily used in baking, and is comparable in price. It is more expensive compared to honey, but can be substituted 1:1 like cane sugar. It is not nearly as expensive as date sugar though. You can get an 8oz package for between $6 and $10, depending on the brand. Coconut palm sugar is a darker brown sugar and tastes more like brown sugar than cane sugar. There are questions for some people as to the sustainability in the production of coconut palm sugar, for example they say that carelessly harvested palm sugar can damage the coconut trees from which it is harvested – if all the flowers are removed, no coconuts will be produced, and then no new trees can grow, resulting in fewer and fewer coconut trees, and therefore fewer coconut products like coconut oil, etc. Traditional harvesting methods of palm sugar ARE sustainable, and actually improve the yield of coconuts, and is more friendly to the environment than cane sugar production because it requires no artificial irrigation. There are other types of palm sugars other than coconut palm sugar, but I do not know enough about those to comment on them – see comments for more info on other types of palm sugars 🙂
  7. Stevia Leaf Powder: Then there is stevia. This is also 100% natural and doesn’t cause your blood sugar levels to fluctuate, and a little goes a loooooong way. It is up to 30 or more times sweeter than sugar, and can be used in recipes instead of sugar in very small amounts with the same sweetness. However, I don’t like the flavor of it, as it can leave a bitter aftertaste, and darn it, one of the only good reason to eat sweets is for a treat, so don’t use it if you don’t like the taste – it defeats the purpose!

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I think every mother has a nightmare of having her child get a tooth knocked out. I had this lovely opportunity today – Bee was running down the cement steps to our back yard, tripped and fell and came back up minus a front tooth! Much of the edge was taken off on this for me, since the tooth has already been dead for a couple of years, as the result of getting headbutted (accidentally) by her older brother Zee when he was her age.

Unfortunately, since it is Saturday, our dentist is not open,

and she will have to wait . . . but I really doubt there is anything that they can do anyway. If the tooth had been alive, I think they can fix it, but with a dead tooth? I’m not so sure. But for now, the tooth is in a Ziploc bag with some ice in the refrigerator.  Just in case . . .

After cleaning up the blood and giving her a piece of ice to suck on, her take on the whole thing? When asked if she wanted the tooth fairy to bring her money,  she said “No way, I want candy!”

Making Yogurt with Villi and Greek Cultures

This entry is part [part not set] of 1 in the series Making Villi and Greek Yogurt

When I got my yogurt cultures in the mail from Cultures for Health, I was really excited, but had to put the project on hold due to my trip to the Raw Milk Symposium that weekend. I wanted to have plenty of time to do it right. So when I got back from Wisconsin, I pulled out the packets and with some very enthusiastic help from 7-year-old Zee, I went to work. We started with the Villi culture. Zee opened the packet for me and measured out the recommended 1/2 tsp of culture, which I mixed into 1/2 cup of raw milk. I left this in a canning jar on my stove top for 24 hours checking it occasionally – OK, so I hovered a little, I’m a little controlling – sorry! – after 24 hours, it was still not setting up, so I checked the instructions and saw that on the back of the page of instructions there was a special section for raw milk! So, I set the first try aside and started over, this time I slowly heated the milk to 160° and then cooling the milk to room temperature before adding the culture, and then began the waiting process all over again. Being a somewhat scientifically minded person, I left the first batch on the stove top along with the second one, and waited (alright – I already said I am not much good at waiting, but I really don’t think I hurt it any.) The next morning, the first batch had gelled up to a kind of slimy runny consistency, while the second batch was still not set up. I left it there and decided I would check it again when I got home from work.

When I got home, the first batch had gelled into a very soft yogurt that held form when first scooped up, but then collapsed into a really runny yogurt, more like kefir. The second one was much more firm and was beginning to separate from the whey. Glad that there was an extra half teaspoon, I used the pure starter and mixed it in to a quart of raw milk that I had mixed in about 1 cup of cream, and set it on the counter again. This batch set up very nicely after 24 hours and had a really nice thick mild flavored yogurt. Yum! I used the 3rd 1/2 tsp to make another pure starter (done right by heating the milk first) and put it in the refrigerator to be used in the next batch – I will make another pint of yogurt by heating the milk and then I can use 2 Tbsp in each quart of raw milk without having to heat it again until I want to make another batch of pure starter. This is done to preserve the integrity of the villi culture, because bacteria from the raw milk can change the culture and yield unpredictable results.

The Greek yogurt was a bit different – it requires very low heat. I started out right this time, warming the milk to 180° this time (as per instructions) and then cooled it to 110° before adding the culture.  With only 1/2 cup of milk, much of the liquid evaporated out. I used my food dehydrator and I am wondering if it may have been a little to warm. I put the starter into a Ziploc baggie and put it in the refrigerator. I think I will bring in the cooler and use the hot water method instead.

To be continued! . . .