Fall in Love With the World Challenge

Sorry, I hope you don’t feel too abandoned.  I didn’t mean to abandon you, we just had our annual Escalante hiking trip, and were away from the Internet for five days!  As I sort through five days of hiking pictures to show you the best of the best in the coming weeks, I have an exciting challenge to share with you.

In honor of Earth Day (a little late), and in the spirit of this challenge about falling in love with the world, I am showing you just one way I challenge you to enjoy nature each day of this week.  As you try out the nature challenges through this week, please take pictures and post links in your comments, so that we can all enjoy this beautiful spring time together.

Challenge #1 –Sniff a tree.

Go ahead, inhale deeply.  Enjoy the wonderful smell of a tree.

This is a Ponderosa pine.  It has a wonderful vanilla/cinnamon smell.

But Lucy likes the smell of old wood better.

Please leave me a comment and a link below, and meet me back here tomorrow for the 2nd challenge for this week of falling in love with the world.

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First Fruit of Spring: Rhubarb

Suddenly, rhubarb season is upon us.  After a winter of canned, frozen, or sad imported fruit, rhubarb gives our taste buds the jolt they need to know that spring is really here.  My darling husband was able to go pick rhubarb from his mom’s large patch this morning.  Rhubarb is a huge, beautiful plant.  The leaves are inedible, and the stalks look like celery.  They are very sour, but mixed into sugary desserts they are delicious.

We like to cut up and freeze rhubarb to have during the winter as the main fruit in our Breakfast Cake, to make rhubarb muffins, and even to throw into smoothies.  We also love stewed rhubarb with strawberries as a special breakfast treat with Greek Yogurt.

To freeze rhubarb, rinse well and cut into 1/2 to 1 inch thick slices.  We put it into freezer bags in 2 cup measures, because that is how much our favorite recipes call for.  Later, it can be used without thawing in many recipes, including the Breakfast cake.

Today, though, I made a batch of stewed rhubarb with strawberries.  I will serve this for breakfast with vanilla Greek yogurt, and it will be like dessert for breakfast with a secret batch of healthiness thrown in!

Stewed Rhubarb

Makes about 4  cups

Clean and chop enough rhubarb to make 2 cups chopped

Clean and quarter one pound strawberries

Place in saucepan together with 1/4 cup water.  Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and simmer until the rhubarb has completely come apart to make a sauce with chunks of strawberries floating in the sauce.  Add honey or sugar to taste (you will need 1/4 to 1/2 cup.)  Sprinkle with nutmeg.  Serve hot or cold.

I hope you can try this recipe and enjoy the first fruit of spring.  I would love to hear about your favorite rhubarb recipe in your comment.  Have a great day!

Kids in the Kitchen: Easy Stuffed French Toast

Lulu made more bread for us this week.  We put her to work this morning making breakfast from her homemade white bread.  We found a new way to make a delicious “fancy” breakfast without much effort at all.  The first step is to whip up the “dip” for the sandwiches, the egg/sugar/milk mixture that makes french toast so custardy.

The next step is to slice the bread thinly and spread with a cream cheese/jam combination or peanut butter and jelly.  Top with another slice of bread to make sandwiches.

Fry these delicious sandwiches in butter until the outsides are golden brown and the filling is melting.

Serve with syrup for a delicious breakfast.

Recipe:  Stuffed French Toast

For dip:

5 eggs

1 cup milk

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix vigorously in a bowl wide enough to fit your sandwiches for dipping until thoroughly combined.

For filling:

1 block cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese

1/2 cup jam (raspberry is wonderful)

Mix together with a hand mixer until thoroughly combined with few to no lumps.

Assemble the sandwiches:  spread the filling on one slice of bread, top with the other slice of bread.  Meanwhile, heat a large skillet with 1 tablespoon of butter.  Dip the sandwich into the egg mixture (using your hands is easiest, although messy.)  Fry on one side, then the other about 2 minutes per side, until golden brown.

This recipe makes enough for 8 sandwiches, plenty for 6 hungry people.  Serve with syrup or a sprinkle of powdered sugar.  We like to use this same recipe with peanut butter and jelly instead of cream cheese.  We don’t bother to mix the peanut butter and jelly together, just make the sandwiches, dip and fry.  The peanut butter is wonderful when it is hot and melted, mixed with syrup.

Hope you are enjoying your weekend!  Have a wonderful day.

Family Hike: San Rafael Knob

On April 15, we headed out very early in the morning to the San Rafael Knob.  It is the highest point on the San Rafael Desert, and we hoped to climb to the peak before mid-day.  It had been rainy and snowy the three days prior, but we were hoping Sunday would be fine enough for a hike.  We decided to drive in the right direction, hoping the weather report would be correct.  Just after passing Soldier Summit, the highest point on our drive, we saw a small herd of elk including two bulls with fine racks.  We had to stop to try to capture the beautiful pink sky.

It was icy cold there at the summit, and though the river was not frosty, it definitely looked like a winter day.

To reach the San Rafael Knob trail, we exited I-70 at the Moore exit and headed south along the Justensen Flat road.  It is good dirt road, but shortly after it turns toward the Copper Globe mine, it gets quite rough.  I am not a good 4-wheel drive rider, and although everyone reassured me there was nothing scary about this road, I was much happier when we finally crossed the sandy wash and reached a parking space where we could cross the rocks on our feet.  There are some excellent camping spots along the rough spots of this road, especially where the road is close along the edge of the ravine.  A tent could be placed near the cliffs, and they would be wonderful to explore.

Although the wind was quite brisk, the sun was shining and we were able to leave the big coats at the car as we began our hike.  We immediately found some rocks to climb on as we followed the ATV track along the bottom of the wash.

We also enjoyed some “baby slots.”  Just another million years or so and we will be able to hike the bottom of this slot canyon.

The ATV track continues climbing gently through junipers and pinons to a clearly cairned trail leading up the side of San Rafael Swell.  Dad kept saying, “We’re heading for that Ponderosa!”  And sure enough, we ended up halfway up the side of the Knob under that Ponderosa pine.  We dropped our packs there as a lunch spot, and continued climbing the side of the Knob.

There were lots of paths on the Knob.  The trail that promised to lead us to the top, however, included a very narrow section at the top of a long drop-off.  Shandy crossed it and it seemed to continue for a while, but we decided that it was not a wise choice for the little kids, especially considering that we didn’t know if there would be more of the same, but with the certainty that we would have to cross that point again to get back down.  We decided to turn around there and head back to our packs for lunch.

When we got back down to where the trail had left the ATV track, we continued on around the Knob to where the ATV track ended.  We could see no surer way to the top of the Knob, but since we had seen posted pictures from the top, we are sure some have made it to the top.  We will have to save that attempt for another, braver day.  Round trip (not quite to the top) was a total of 8 miles.  It was a very easy hike, most of it practically road walking, and an excellent family trip.

The San Rafael Swell is a wonderful place to spend some time in the quiet of the desert.  The breadth of the view and the width of the sky is very restorative.  When you are tired of “hustle and bustle,” the desert is a place to rest your mind and heart.

I hope you enjoyed your weekend.  Did you spend some time outdoors?  Are you a desert rat, or do you prefer mountains or beaches?  Please, leave me a comment.

A Mexican Feast: Molotes and Tres Leches Cake

Inspired by a desire to try the Pioneer Woman’s Tres Leches Cake recipe, I planned a Mexican feast for last weekend. As a sort of side note to this post, I want to refer you to an excellent post I just read about kid’s cookbooks.   I absolutely agree with this article, that kids can learn to cook from any book that inspires them to work toward making good food an important part of their lives.  I think the Pioneer Woman cookbooks do this, and are especially excellent for kids to use because the photos show how each step should “turn out.”  In addition, every recipe I have tried from these two cookbooks has turned out wonderfully.  As you can see, we added a fruit salad to the side of our Tres Leches cake to make it more authentic.  It was a big hit, and I strongly recommend you try it today!  Eden followed the recipe step by step.  It was her first time making a sponge cake, and it turned out wonderfully.

To accompany the cake I made a wonderful deep fried concoction called in Spanish Molotes but which my family calls affectionately, “salsa cars.”

Originally inspired by the Rick Bayless cookbook, I attempted this recipe without having eaten them before, but soon thereafter was describing the dish to a friend from Oaxaca.  She couldn’t believe that I knew the dish, saying they were a “plato tipico” from her country.  She soon invited us to eat them at her home, and sure enough, I had made molotes myself!  In fact, I still use the Rick Bayless recipe with some alterations, because her recipe did not include the mashed potatoes and the dough was not as tender.

If you have not tried patting out corn tortillas before, this is a good recipe on which to make the attempt, as it doesn’t matter at all if you leave them quite thick, or if they do not turn out round.  Also, the dough is a little more forgiving than regular corn tortilla dough.

This recipe makes 14 molotes, enough for a hungry family of 4, but stretched to fit our family of 6 with beans, lettuce and vegetables on the side.

Molotes

makes 14

2 potatoes, boiled until tender and then mashed.

2 cups masa harina

Water

1 teaspoon salt

1 pound queso fresco

Oil for Frying

Boil and mash the potatoes, and then put them in a mixer bowl with the masa harina, salt and start with about 2 cups water.  Add enough warm water as you beat the ingredients together to make a very soft dough — like a soft cookie dough.  As the ingredients mix together, take an old plastic grocery bag and cut out two circles about 8 inches in diameter and wash with soapy warm water.  Dry thoroughly.

Take a big spoonful of the dough, roll into a ball, and pat out into a circle on the plastic bag circle.  You should make about a 6 inch diameter circle.  Cut a 1/2 inch by 3 inch rectangle of queso fresco and place in the center of the dough circle.  Fold the circle in half and pinch the edges together.  Using wet hands, pat it into a torpedo shape and place on a plate covered with plastic wrap to wait while you make the rest of the molotes.

Heat the oil at a depth of about one inch to 350 degrees (I don’t use a thermometer, I just test for sizzle by dipping the edge of one of the molotes into the oil.)  Fry the molotes a few at a time, turning after about 2 minutes.   Remove from oil and drain on a paper towel.

Serve as shown in the photo, with refried or pot beans, sliced lettuce and salsa.

I consider trying new cuisines an important part of our homeschool.  We love getting to know a little about peoples and cultures by trying new foods.  Is that something you enjoy?  Please leave me a comment.

 

Happy Sunday: Apron Art

The picture says it all.  Fabric markers + white apron = happiness!  For a great helper.

How do you make your chore helpers happier?  Leave me a comment!  Enjoy your day.

Early April Nature Walk

Inspired by this post, we watched videos of Horse Chestnut blooms unfolding on YouTube last week.  Unfortunately, the weather got nasty before we had a chance to find some horse chestnut trees and catkins around our area.  Today, we took advantage of the beautiful day to walk to the local cemetery and look for trees in bloom.  We were a little early for the horse chestnuts, although we saw some beautiful catkins.

We had picked plum blossoms and drawn pictures and “dissected” last week.  Lulu and Max enjoyed describing these in their nature journals when we got home, as well.

The maple trees were in few bloom.  We also saw owl pellets — spring is a good time to spot owl pellets, before the lawns have been mowed and all the garbage picked up out of the grass.  Max and Lulu discussed the time we dissected owl pellets, looking for enough parts to make an entire mouse skeleton.  Max really wanted to do that experiment again, but we convinced him that we still remembered well enough and could save a re-do for another time. (It was actually quite gross to have dead mouse hair floating around the yard!)

We heard first, then spotted, a Northern Flicker.  It wasn’t frightened of us at all, and we stood right beneath the tree and watched it tap and then eat insects.  We wanted to wait until it flew away so that the kids could see the flickering motion that gives the bird its name, but the tree must have been a good one.  The bird would not fly, even when Max and Lulu threw pine cones in the air near it.

Do you collect “mementos” of the spring?  What do you do to help your kids notice the little things around them?  Please leave me a comment!

Kids in the Kitchen: Lulu’s Homemade Sandwich Bread

The weather was too beautiful to do regular school today.  I have been wanting to introduce Lulu to yeast bread making, and we decided today was the perfect day for this.  We started early this morning.  This easy bread recipe is successful every time, smells delicious while it is baking, and is easy to knead and form.

The first step is heating the buttermilk and butter just to the point where the butter is starting to melt, but not hot.  That way you don’t have to cool it before using it in your bread.  (If you do get it too hot, just set it aside to cool to lukewarm.)

Next, mix water and yeast in the bowl of your mixer.  After watching that your yeast has started to work (it starts melting out of its little balls and forming a brownish scum in the water,) put in dry ingredients.  Pour milk and butter mixture on top of the flour, and begin mixing with the dough hook of your mixer or with a spoon.

A smooth dough should begin to form.  Slowly add about one-half cup more flour to make a stiffer dough before turning it out onto the counter to knead.

Flour the counter well, especially if this is your first experience with yeast dough.  Kneading is basically four movements stretch, fold, press and turn.  Grab your ball of dough at the side farthest from your body, stretch it out and fold it over onto itself and press down hard and away from your body.  Give the dough a half turn, and repeat.  As you gain experience your hands will become less sticky because you know how to touch the dough lightly but firmly.  Try to use mainly your fingers instead of your whole hand.

When the dough forms a nice ball but is not too stiff, put it in a greased bowl to rise.

After about one hour, the dough should be kneaded again, divided in half and formed into loaves.  These loaves can be baked on a greased cookie sheet, but I love this kind of bread for loaf pans.

Allow to rise another 30-45 minutes, until the loaves are approximately doubled in size.  Preheat the oven to 350 and bake about 30 minutes.  Try to restrain yourself from eating it until it cools enough to cut nicely!  We went on a nature walk, and then had our bread with honey for lunch!

Buttermilk Sandwich Bread

Makes 2 loaves (try not to eat them all at one sitting)

2 cups buttermilk

4 Tablespoons butter

1/4 cup lukewarm water

1 Tablespoon active dry yeast

4 cups flour

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

In a small saucepan, heat buttermilk and butter over low heat just until butter begins to melt.  In a large mixing bowl, proof yeast in lukewarm water.  Add dry ingredients, then pour buttermilk mixture into the mixing bowl.  Stir with a large spoon or the dough hook of your mixer until a soft dough forms, adding up to 1 cup of flour to make the dough.  Knead until smooth, then allow to rise in a greased bowl for 1 hour.  Form into loaves, and place in greased loaf pans.  Allow to rise again for 30 to 45 minutes.  Place in preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and pans, cool on cooling rack until ready to eat.

Hope you’re enjoying this beautiful spring day.  There’s nothing a little homemade bread won’t make better.  As Max says, “It smells like heaven!”  Eden was glad to know that heaven smelled like our house!

The Case for Book Ownership


I have a guilty confession to make.  I know a lot of you are becoming “e-readers”, some of you especially because you don’t want to accumulate more “stuff.”  While it might make me appear materialistic, I have to tell you, I disagree.  I am a bibliophile in every sense of the word.  I don’t just love the words on the pages, I love the pages themselves.  Why just today, I ordered six more books!  We check out books by the dozens from the library, but even the large library where we pay for membership in a neighboring city doesn’t have many of the older books I love.  Or, if they have the books, they are lacking the original illustrations that make a book really beautiful.  This is another reason I don’t love e-books.  The illustrations often make the story.

Another reason I love book ownership is that everyone in the family can read the book at his or her own pace without running out of renewals.  We often buy books that we want to read aloud as a family — the pressure to read it in the 6 weeks allowed by the local library just isn’t worth it.  We buy books that we want to use for school, and we often buy cookbooks (Eden and I just made the first Tres Leches cake from the new Pioneer Woman cookbook today) because we want to be able to take them on trips and get them messy.  We buy books to replace books that we have “read to death.”  We buy books so that we can loan them to our friends.

We buy books online, through Amazon, Abebooks (my favorite for used books) and Alibris.  We buy books at library book sales, yard sales and thrift stores.  Our friends and parents give us books they think we might enjoy.  The fact is, we hardly ever say no to a book.  We do sort occasionally and pass books on.  In fact, we are needing to pass along a lot of fairly good condition children’s books right now — Max is outgrowing all but the very favorite of the picture books.  I wish we could find a place to donate them.  Then we would have room for more books!

Thank goodness I am married to a finish carpenter!  He has built wonderful bookshelves in nearly every room of the house.  There are a few rooms lacking bookshelves — the bathroom (Our last house had a bookshelf in the bathroom, but I couldn’t keep any books I really valued there.  It was too dusty.), the kitchen (but I would love one, I just can’t find the spot.), and my bedroom (I know, strange.) All of the kids have their own bookshelves in their bedrooms, and consider it a privilege to have  certain series in their own collection, along with books purchased specifically for or by themselves.  You should have seen the joy in Max’s face when he was allowed to put all the Mrs. Pigglewiggle books on his own shelves.

Don’t you think there is still plenty of room for books on all these shelves?  I mean — look closely.  There are holes!

What do you do?  Do you collect books, or do you love them and let them go?  Leave me a comment.

Preparing to Hike with Your Family — Spring

As spring in Utah alternates between hot and snow, hiking season has definitely arrived. Unfortunately for us, the snow is usually on the weekends, and the hot is mid-week. Shandy has been tied down by his work lately, so we can’t just throw everything over and go hiking mid-week right now. Even so, I wanted to share some pointers with you
about how to take best advantage of spring hiking season.

  • The most important step is to prepare your mind.  Don’t be depressed because of the weather, but get your mind set to take advantage of the great weather the moment it happens.
  • Have some plans in mind (and maps printed out.)  Spring weather is unpredictable, but you can be ready to go when good weather arrives.
  • Check out books at the library such as “Best Day Hikes” in your area, or search the internet for hikes that are within driving distance.  Print out maps and have those prepared so that if the weather is good, you can take advantage of it.
  • Keep hiking snacks ready.  We allow junk food while we are hiking, although rarely at other times.  I buy water bottles, Pringles (they hold up well inside a backpack), pretzels, Gatorade and candy and stash it for the unexpected hiking trip.  If I have a (hidden) cupboard stock, I don’t have to do a last minute grocery trip.
  • Review your equipment.  Spring is a great time to review your equipment and make sure everything is in good repair.  Backpacks do wear out, although they can often be repaired with a little needle and thread work.  Make sure everyone has good hiking clothing – jeans with seams that do not rub, sweatshirts that pack into a daypack well.
  • Pre-pack your packs.  First-aid equipment, batteries, headlamps, rain ponchos, extra socks, hats and gloves can “live” in your backpack. I often pre-pack water bottles and granola bars so that we have a start on snacks.  If your backpack is ready to go, you can throw in snacks, maps and camera and be ready to go.
  • Make a master packing list for car camping, day hiking, and backpacking trips.  I maintain three separate lists because I pack different gear depending on where I am going.  We have more padding to sleep on when we are car camping (obviously we don’t carry an air mattress or pillows when we backpack!)  I have been reviewing those lists and making sure that they are updated.  As the kids grow, they can carry more of their own comforts, but I still don’t allow them to become loaded down with too much stuff.
  • Review backpacking gear lists, and make sure you are fully equipped.  Reviewing these lists and crosschecking with your own list can help you evaluate oversights.  Remember, just because it is on someone’s list doesn’t mean it has to be on your list.  Backpacker magazine has good gear lists, and it is good to review what you have and what you really need.
  • Freeze some water bottles for the cooler.  No matter how long your hike, it is nice to come back to some cold drinks.  I freeze water in used 2-liter soda bottles to be a source of constant cool in our cooler.  These are nice because they won’t leave your cheese floating in melted ice, and still keep everything very cold.

These are the things I am doing in the snow today so that as soon as the sunshine breaks – Saturday, Sunday, Monday? – I can hit the trail with my family.  Hope you’re enjoying your spring as well.