Homemade Whipped Cream

Homemade whipped cream and I… we’re tight. We’ve been friends for about a year now, and even though I know it’s not good for me, I can’t quite get away. Oh sure, I could if I really wanted to, but honestly? I don’t. Homemade whipped cream is delicious. Indulgent. Creamy. AND, the best part? It’s super simple to make.

The biggest issue I’ve had so far is finding and appropriate size bowl to make it in. Too small, and the whipped cream flies everywhere. Too big, and you can’t really get in there to whip it up properly.

Until a close family friend – and I feel it’s important I mention they’re Irish immigrants, because we’re also Irish, and we love all the true Irish customs they bring to our celebrations (brown bread, anyone?) – she recommended a tip. And guess what? It worked. And now, I will share that tip with you!

So here we go!

1 cup Heavy Whipping Cream*
2 Tablespoon Powdered Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla
*Note: Be sure it’s heavy whipping cream, not just “whipping cream”.

Measure 1 cup of the Heavy cream into a 2 cup glass Pyrex measuring cup. (This is the tip our family friend taught me!) Add the vanilla.

Using a hand mixer on low, whip for 1-2 minutes. Add the powdered sugar. (You can add 1 tablespoon if you’d prefer it less sweet.) If you have the powdered sugar pre-measured, you can add it while you whip. If necessary, you can stop the mixer to add the powdered sugar and then start it again. Increase the speed and whip until it’s thick and forms peaks.

wpid-20151123_094648.jpg wpid-20151123_094637.jpg

That’s it! You’re done!

Some of my favorite ways to enjoy homemade whipped cream?
– Pie topping (Pumpkin or Chocolate Peppermint Pie, for example)
– On your coffee (Especially this Peppermint Mocha)
– As a brownie topping (try these Guilt-free Black Bean Brownies)
– A lighter dessert of strawberries & whipped cream

Quick Tip – Peeling Garlic

For awhile I’d heard this rumor that if you put a head of garlic in between two stainless steel bowls and shake it violently, it would remove the skin.

Sounds a little unreliable, don’t you think? Like, too good to be true?

I finally did try it, and guess what? It worked! And it’s so simple! Just put that garlic in between the bowls, and shake it like a Polaroid picture (Shake it! Shake, shake it!)… Okay, not really – more like a bartender shakes a drink mixer.

I did have to do this 3 times before it removed ALL the skin. So each time I separated the bowls to check on the garlic, I put the skin in one bowl and the garlic cloves in the other:

Separate the peel from the cloves, throw away the peel, and start again

Separate the peel from the cloves, throw away the peel, and start again

After 3 shaking sessions about 10-20 seconds each, I ended with this beautiful sight:

All cloves were free of peel!

All cloves were free of peel!

Now, if I only need 1 or 2 cloves, I probably wouldn’t use this method as it takes more time and effort than it’s worth; you should definitely wash the bowls to remove any residual oils or small pieces of peel. But when you need lots of cloves (I was studding a beef roast with them) it’s definitely a time saver. And it keeps your hands clean of that sticky garlic residue!

Plus, who doesn’t love a built-in workout? 😉

Semi-related articles: How & When to Plant Garlic and 5 Ways to Grow Garlic (because I want to this year!)

Overnight Chicken Stock

This is Recipe #3 of the Meal Plan using Chicken breasts. 

The first time I made homemade stock it was vegetable, because I forgot to pick up a whole chicken. I was nervous because it was the first time I had made it. I found a recipe for an overnight crock pot stock and thought, this sounds easy enough! A big thanks to her, because I tried it, and it turned out great! I immediately used it in chicken soup the next day. That’s what we’re going to do here: make the stock overnight, and use that stock in a chicken soup the next day.

I’m really enjoying the homemade stock because it’s the ultimate way to get the best bang for your buck, using scraps, and using up your OHI. You can’t really mess this up. And this way, you just set it and forget it in the crock pot. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

What I USED:
3 Chicken breasts, ribs in, most chicken used (for this and this) but some still attached
Broccoli stalks (leftover from this dinner)
Celery and celery leaves, cut into chunks
Parsley – a moderate bunch (I used the tops of the leaves of a bunch that was starting to turn yellow on bottom)
Half a Red Onion (or yellow, or white… whatever your OHI is), skin on is okay
Garlic (1 head, cut in half), again skin on is okay
9 1/2 cups water
~1/4 cup or so of cooking water from carrots from this meal

All you have to do is toss everything in your crock pot, add the water, and set to low for 8-10 hours.

Veggies and chicken bones in the crock pot

Veggies and chicken bones in the crock pot

Don't throw away this nutrient-rich cooking water. Drain into crock pot instead.

Don’t throw away this nutrient-rich cooking water. Drain into crock pot instead.

In the morning when this is finished, it might look something like this:

You can drain using this method. (If you come up with a better one, let me know!) Just like recommended on original recipe, I set up a bowl with a colander over it (mine has a nifty little hook!). Using tongs, I remove the larger pieces of veggies and bones and put them in the colander.


Dump in garbage when full and start again.

Then I use a ladle to spoon the contents (including liquid) into the colander as well. (I’m experimenting to see if those carrots will be useful for anything. I’ll let you know how it goes.)
Once full, I again dump the colander contents and store the stock in a jar or a tightly sealed glass container until ready to use. (If you are going to use the stock right away, like we will in the meal plan, you can leave it out for an hour or two to let it cool to room temp while you prep the veggies for the soup.)

After draining, I had about 8 1/2 cups of stock (all of which we will use in our next meal, chicken noodle soup!).


Beautiful homemade stock!


If you have bits of fat after storing, you can skim them off the top before reusing the stock.

Boiling Water for Beginners (and other pasta cooking tips)

I remember when the hubs and I first got married and realizing I was going to have to cook dinner every day. I watched my mom cook plenty of times, and probably helped her a bunch too – but I definitely did not do enough to be solely responsible for my own and my husband’s meals every night.  (How did I get through college?? I must’ve eaten more dorm & fast food than I thought.)

There I was, a newly blushing bride, utterly uncomfortable in my own kitchen. The few things I did feel comfortable making were frozen pizza, sandwiches, French toast, and I figured I could handle Mac N Cheese or maybe spaghetti (not with homemade sauce, the way my mom made it; but the store-bought stuff I could surely handle).

I remember filling the pot with water and wondering if it was too much or not enough. Should I keep the lid off or put it on? Shouldn’t I put salt in the water or something? I stared at that pot of water waiting for something to happen. I was so scared of messing up that I kept messing with the heat levels. After what seemed like forever, tiny little bubbles appeared on the bottom surface of the pan. Is this it?  I remember thinking. Should I put the macaroni in now? I just didn’t know.

So I called my mom.
You can imagine how that went. Thankfully my mom is an incredibly patient lady!

So to spare a newbie an embarrassing phone call, I figured I’d go back to basics and share a few tips on boiling water and cooking pasta.

To Boil Water:
1. Start by choosing a pot based on the quantity and type of pasta you’re making. Spaghetti or fettucine calls for a large stock pot. Smaller amounts of shape pasta (rotini, macaroni, bow tie, shells, etc) can be cooked in a medium size pot.

2. Now fill that pot with hot water. The hotter the water, the faster it will boil. (If you don’t believe me, you can ask the hubs who was CERTAIN cold water would boil faster. So we did a friendly little experiment and I proved him wrong 🙂 I usually fill my pot to three quarters full. You definitely want enough that when you put the pasta in, all of it is covered completely under water, with an inch or so of water above it.
If you put too little water, the pasta might soak it up and you will end up with dry sticky pasta. You do not want to ‘crowd’ your pasta as it will prevent it from cooking properly.
I don’t believe there is any such thing as too much water – as long as you’re not overflowing your pot. Remember: when you add the pasta, the water level will rise also. 

3. Put 3-4 shakes of table salt from your salt shaker in the water (or, 2 pinches of Kosher salt). The salt not only will flavor the pasta, but there’s a wive’s tale out there that says it helps your water boil faster. Cover pot with a lid (clear lids are preferable so you can see what’s going on in there) and set heat to medium. If you’re brave and impatient you can set it to medium high or even high – but don’t you dare leave it alone!

I can’t give you a time on how long this will take, because there are many factors – how hot your water is; if you have electric or gas; how big your pot and how much water is in there.

First, though, you will notice small clear bubbles forming on the bottom of your pan. This will happen right before the boil. It will probably only be another minute or two (depending on your heat level) to develop into a full boil, which is defined by large clear bubbles rising to the top of the water.

4. This is the time to add your pasta! Measure if your recipe calls for it. You will get better at knowing how much you need for yourself/family/recipes with time. Immediately after you add the pasta, give it a stir with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking. You will have to stir about 2-3 times more before it is time to drain the water.
Do not replace the lid! It will trap the heat and your pot will boil over – creating a nasty mess for you to clean up.

Here is a picture of a ‘rolling boil’:

Usually after you put your pasta into the boiling water, you will see this white filmy looking layer on top. This is caused by the pasta releasing its starches.
Most of the time I leave my water at a medium-heat setting. This allows the pasta to have a big enough boil to cook without overflowing your pot or overcooking your pasta.

5. Cooking times: You can pretty much ALWAYS find the cooking times for your pasta on the box or package it came in. Some guidelines:
*Fresh pasta (refrigerated or homemade) takes the least amount of time to cook – usually only 2-4 minutes.
*Semolina pasta (white pasta) can vary depending on thickness. Angel hair (capellini) takes less than Spaghetti, for example. These usually take anywhere from 6-9 minutes.
*Whole Wheat pasta takes the longest – usually around 10 minutes.

When time is up, drain the pasta by pouring the entire contents of the pot into a colander in the sink. (Or, if you have cool pasta pots like I do, which have holes on the lids, you can drain directly from the pot without a colander. Just be sure to keep a firm grip on the lid and use a potholder to prevent burning.)

Here’s another little trick. If you want your pasta to soak up the flavors of the sauce it is in (you do!), cook it a few minutes less than what it says on the box. Drain early, and add to the sauce. Let it cook for the remainder of the time in the pasta sauce, stirring occasionally.
Regardless if you add sauce after letting cook the entire recommended time, or if you cook it awhile IN the sauce, be sure to add sauce immediately after draining to prevent it from turning into one big pot shaped mold. 😉

A few notes:
Boxed pastas generally hold their shape better than fresh. It is much more difficult to overcook and make them mushy. (Unfortunately I think it has to do with preservatives.)
Also, many times those boxes include a recipe for an accompanying sauce. Take a look next time you’re at the store, and decide if it’s something that looks easy enough for you to make. They are usually pretty basic, but good, recipes.

Trouble shooting:
*I cooked my pasta for the recommended amount of time, but it still came out hard and chewy. You probably got scared of the boil and reduced your heat too low, and the pasta was unable to cook enough. Maybe you turned it down because you had to walk away for a minute (that was smart) but forgot to turn it back up (not so smart). Leave it at a moderate boil (medium heat should do it) and stick nearby next time, until you get the hang of how long it takes.

*My pasta is really soggy and sticking together. Most likely you either forgot to stir your pasta while it was boiling, or you let it cook too long. This can also happen if you leave it alone too long after draining and don’t add a sauce immediately. If your sauce isn’t ready yet, add a few drizzles of olive oil and stir just to keep it from sticking.

So there it is. Hopefully I have spared a few newbies some headache and embarrassment!

And even if I didn’t, the best way to learn how to cook (and in life!) is through your mistakes. Try, Fail, Adjust!

NEW – Beginner’s Series

When I consider where I started in my cooking journey, I remembered how long it took me to really grasp certain concepts. Many hours watching cooking shows, asking my mom questions over the phone, poring over magazine articles and recipes; I eventually got familiar with the basics: necessary prep, different cooking methods, different ingredients, and most importantly, CULINARY LINGO. (Because I remember not knowing the difference between a dice and a chop and a mince, and why did I have to do one to an onion and another to a clove of garlic? What’s a HEAD of garlic, and what’s a CLOVE? And how do you get the skin off that garlic anyway??)

So, in an effort to aid others who may be in the same boat I was, I am starting a Beginner’s Series. These posts will discuss very basic things like how to boil water; cooking pasta; the difference between broiling, baking, frying, steaming, etc.

If you, as a reader, have a question, please post it here and I will do my best to answer, as best I know how!

Happy cooking!

A good place to start learning is by searching the “Quick Tip” Category.

No More Picky Eaters! Developing your Kids’ Palate

I wrote a post awhile back about how to get your kids to eat more vegetables. You can consider this an expansion of that idea. This week, we made oatmeal, and through the process I realized, in more detail, how I am helping my kids eat a wide variety of foods. I thought I should share this new clarity, in hopes that it will help you! (Even if you don’t have kids, you can use this guide to expand your own palate!)

First you have to understand the reasoning behind the way I cook. These ideas help me meal plan each week.
My Goals:
1. I want to expose my kids to different cultures through food. Every culture uses different flavor profiles, different spice and ingredient combinations, which yield a unique result. Exposing them to different ways of preparing an ingredient can help them realize they do, in fact, like that vegetable/grain/protein. The more ways I prepare something, the more likely we are to find a way they enjoy it.
2. I want them to have an extensive palate encompassing a variety of spices, vegetables, fruits, proteins, grains. I want to introduce them to new ingredients – even when (and sometimes because) I have never tried said ingredient before.
3. I want to discover my kids’ preferences. I want to find a way of preparing healthy ingredients which they enjoy. B&C love raw tomatoes. A doesn’t, but when they’re cooked with other veggies, or in a sauce, she does.
4. I don’t want to force them to eat healthy foods but rather, hear them ask for it.
5. I want to remove the fear of trying new things. I prefer they appreciate new dishes, and be willing to try things even if they don’t like them. (Our taste buds do change, and at some point in their life, they might change their mind!)

How do I achieve those goals? Here’s the clarification.
My methodology
1. Use descriptive cooking terms with your kids. Discuss texture, heat, spice. Words I regularly use with my kids: acidic, aromatic, bitter, sour, sweet, salty, bland, bold, burnt, buttery, cheesy, candied, stale, strong, chewy, crunchy, creamed, crispy, watery, moist, thin, thick, chunky, soft, dry, fruity, sweet, gooey, heavy, healthy, herbal, hot, cold, spicy, tart, juicy, mild, mushy, peppery, refreshing, sharp, slimy, smooth, soggy, thick, tangy – as well as whatever method of cooking I use (bake, broil, saute, steam, etc.). When you sit down to eat, discuss your food so that they understand the meaning of these words and can use them accurately on their own.
2. Introduce them to new foods. Set a goal on how often – once a week, or once a month, for example – and plan to use that item in different ways (remember this?). Educate yourself before you buy: Search for recipes, google cooking methods, ask someone you know if they’ve used it and how. Get inspiration from magazines, blogs, cooking shows, and restaurants. Let go of any preconceived notions about limitations to kids’ diets, or about kids being picky eaters. Just because they’re kids doesn’t mean they can’t eat basically the same thing that you eat. The only adjustments you should be concerned with are portion sizes, bite sizes, and sometimes the level of heat/spice in the dish.
3. Make them try at least one bite. Everyone can be afraid of new things. Help eliminate that fear by requiring one bite before they are allowed to reject it – and then let them. Offer to pick out what they don’t like, offer more of a different item, or be sure they understand that if they don’t eat what you make, you’re not making anything else.
4. Ask them if they like it. To avoid a dismissive ‘yes’ or ‘no’, phrase it this way: “What do you think?” Here’s the most important part: The goal is not to force them to blindly eat whatever you put on their plate “because you said so.” Or even, “because it’s good for you.” This should not be a power struggle! (I don’t feel like anyone ever wins in a power struggle anyway, right?) Remember we want to learn their preferences. Ask them what they do or do not like about it. Encourage them to use the descriptive words. ***Not only does this expand their culinary vocabulary, and make them feel heard, it allows you to adjust your preparation of the dish next time, to suit their taste.***
5. Give them some space. I don’t ask how they like it after one bite. I give them a chance to eat some of it first, usually after I can tell they like it. If you’re too overeager in asking this question, they’re going to feel pressured. Give them time to try it and decide what they do and do not like. I also don’t give them a laundry list of what’s in it before they even take a bite. I wait for them to initiate the conversation.
5. I’m saying it again: Encourage them to discuss and describe their food. Start the discussion yourself:
“MMM I love how sweet carrots are!”
“I like how the tart apples balance the spicy crust on the pork.”
“I love how buttery and melt-in-your-mouth salmon is.”
“I like crunchy, salty pecans.”
6. Answer their questions. When they ask what’s in their meal, don’t avoid the question or lie to them! Tell them what it is. Almost every night, my kids will choose something from their meal and ask “What’s this?” Sometimes it’s before they take a bite: “What’s this green stuff Mommy?” Sometimes it’s after they’ve taken a few: “Is there spinach in this?” (Most of the time when they ask a question like that, the next comment is “Mm! I love spinach!”) Don’t be wary of honesty, which leads me to the last point…
7. Remember: you shape their first impressions (and can reshape previous bad ones)If you are nervous and afraid they won’t eat their broccoli, they probably won’t. Keep calm and feed on. (I had to.) The moment I stopped being so worried, uptight, and forcefully claiming “You have to eat your veggies”, it became much easier. It was suddenly a non-issue. They have no idea what food is good and what is bad or ‘yucky’. YOU teach that to them. If you just naturally eat your veggies at every meal, so will they. Here’s where you claim your control – not during a power struggle at the dinner table, forcing them to eat something – but by smart meal planning, prep, knowing your kids’ preferences, starting small, and gradually expanding your repertoire. Don’t make it such a big deal; don’t stress. You are their prime meal preparer; you control what’s normal for them to eat. They only know what you teach them.

I’m giving you permission to allow yourself a transition period. Don’t try to switch everything overnight. Start by changing or introducing one thing and work your way from there. I used to be that mom that fed my daughter mac and cheese, chicken, hot dogs, PBJs, pancakes, and pizza. That was basically all she would eat, because I THOUGHT that’s all she would like. It took time to change our eating habits, but it was worth it – and the transition happened before I knew it.
All it takes is a little mental tweak, a little planning, and some extra effort. Try it, and watch your kids surprise you! 🙂

Read the story of how making Irish Oatmeal sparked this post.

Related Article: The Dessert Deal
 I just came across this on Facebook and LOVE it. I’m sure we’ve all used the ‘Dessert Deal’ one time or another.

Our youngest opening wide for another bite of dinner to 'earn' her cookie

Our youngest opening wide for another bite of dinner to ‘earn’ her cookie

But lately I’ve been wondering: what am I teaching my kids? Finish your food, and your reward is to eat more (sugary) food. 
No wonder we have a childhood obesity problem. I have started to offer healthier things for dessert (but that’s for another post) 😉

5 Tips to Offset the Price of Buying Organic & Natural

1. Know your budget. I almost forgot to include this; but being aware of and sticking to a predetermined budget is the first step to maximizing your savings. Having even an approximate amount in mind will keep you from overspending unnecessarily.

2. Plan your meals based on sales. Most grocery stores put out a weekly ad – even the more popular produce stores, like Whole Foods or Mariano’s – and if you don’t get it in the mail, you can view it easily online. I usually base dinners around a protein, and buy the family size packs so I can either separate into 2 meals or make a Second Meal from the leftovers. The protein (fish, poultry, pork, beef, etc.) will usually be most expensive, so consider this first before looking at other specials. Then check out the produce sales. We shop at Meijer, and their store brand organic often goes on sale. This is how I decide what to buy that week. Same goes for their Meijer Naturals grocery products. If you can’t afford to buy everything organic, check out the Clean 15 & Dirty Dozen lists. If you’re only buying a few items organic, you might want to choose items on the Dirty Dozen list to reduce the chance of pesticides.
*Note: If you’re just starting out, it might take awhile to understand what a good sale price is. Don’t stress. Just do the best you can for now, and eventually it’ll be second nature to know when an item is overpriced, when it’s an average buy, and when it’s at a DEEP discount price.

3. Make a list and stick to it. Write down everything you plan to buy based on the ad. Double check your meal plan for the week, cross check your pantry, and add any missing ingredients to your list if necessary. If you’re on a really tight budget, estimate the cost of each item and get an approximate total, adjusting your list if necessary.
Then, when you get to the store, STICK TO YOUR LIST. I know the lure of the produce section… you suddenly get the urge to try a blood orange for the first time… or to buy an exotic root vegetable you’ve never used before. THIS. IS. BAD. Not only will it put you over your carefully constructed budget, but if you don’t have a recipe or specific use in mind for that item, chances are you will end up tossing it anyway, or wasting another item you bought. Reducing your waste (Read: the stuff you throw away because it’s gone bad) is a huge way to save money. If you were really deliberate about your list, you should have just enough produce to make it through each meal of each day for the week. Resist the urge to impulse buy; if you see something new you want to try, make a note of it, search recipes when you get home, and put it on the list for next week.

4. Check for coupons before you go. Part of the reason I love Meijer is because of their mPerks. Not only are there coupons for name brand products, but also for their store brand – which as I said, has great organic and natural products. So when I find a coupon that matches with a weekly sale, it’s a home run! or a 3 pointer! or a touchdown! (insert your favorite sport term here.) So check your favorite grocery store’s website for store coupons on generic items, including produce. Some stores have rewards programs; others have digital coupons you can load to a loyalty card. A little research goes a long way.
And if you are buying a specific brand name, check your local newspaper inserts. In our area, the best website for this is www.coupontom.com. It references an extensive catalog of all the current paper and printable coupons. When you search an item (by brand name or item name) it will pull up any coupons available and where to find them.

5. Enroll in rewards programs. As I said earlier, research if your favorite store(s) has a rewards program. A lot of stores have a point system connected to a loyalty card – and the points can then be converted to savings later. Some stores have a quantity requirement program (Buy 10, get the 11th free). Other stores give stickers based on your total spent within a qualifying time period, which can be returned at the end for products. Meijer has a great one they’ve recently instituted – you choose one reward in each of three categories. (For example, Spend $60 in produce, Get $5 off.) This is cumulative for the entire month. Once you reach the goal amount, you can ‘clip’ your reward to your mPerks account, and it is applied toward your total basket on your next trip. You can work towards 3 different rewards at a time, and if you finish a goal before the end of the month, you can choose another one. Again, check your favorite store’s website, or ask an associate next time you’re in store.

By investing a little time and research, buying healthier, natural, and organic food can be realistic for even the smallest budgets!

Garlic & Onion Crusted Pork Loin with Red Wine Jus

Every Thursday my eldest has dance class from 4-5. It is at least a 15 minute drive, more if we get stuck in rush hour traffic. I knew when I signed her up that I’d have to be strategic about dinners on these days. I figured it was a perfect opportunity to try new slow cooker meals!

Most times my meal planning is influenced by the sales that week. This particular week, pork loin was on sale, so I searched for pork loin crock pot recipes. I came up with this: Amazing Pork Tenderloin in the Slow Cooker. However, since Kelly’s Honest Mom interview, I’ve been following her tips to read labels, and trying to do better in choosing products with more natural ingredients. One of the ingredients in this recipe was Onion Soup Mix. I checked the label at the store, and it had dehydrated onions, salt, onion powder, and some paprika – and a bunch of things I couldn’t pronounce. I decided to skip the mix and replicate the spices myself. I also adjusted the recipe because I bought a 4.8lb pork loin, and the recipe only calls for 2lbs. (I’m planning on making a Second Meal with the leftovers!)

Here’s what you’ll need:
Pork Loin (again, mine was 4.8lbs)
1/2 c chopped onion
4 Tbspn minced garlic
3 Tbspn Soy Sauce
3/4 c Red Wine
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 tsp Garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp Onion Salt
1 c Water

First I trimmed the pork loin of some of the fat, since the hubs and I are eating healthier. But don’t remove it all – you’ve got to leave some for flavor and tenderness!

Then I cut it in half (it was big! too big to fit in my crock pot otherwise) and layered the chunks in the crock pot.

Next I sprinkled the seasonings over top (onion salt & garlic powder) and added the liquids: wine, water, and soy sauce. Be sure to pour some of the soy sauce directly on the meat – it will sink in and make for a delicious bite!
Next I placed the onion and garlic over top of the meat and cracked the pepper over top.
Replace the lid and cook on low for 8 hours.

When it’s about half-way through the cooking time, splash 4 more dashes soy sauce and about 1-2 more tablespoons red wine directly on the meat.

Good luck resisting the amazing garlic smell coming from the crock pot all day. It’s worth the wait though, with a distinct saltiness and tender pork that pulls apart with no effort at all. The onions and garlic almost form a crust on top. So good!
Save that juice and pour some over your meat and whatever side you choose; I served it with egg noodles and homemade creamed spinach.
Save the leftovers for a Second Meal – pulled pork sandwiches, wraps (they’d be great with avocado, lime, and a little cheese!) or pork soup!

Quick Tip – Mince Garlic

A quick tip today to prep for tomorrow’s recipe!

Remember where I came from as a cook – not knowing how to cook pasta. Somehow I knew how to mince garlic, but I did have to google it the first time I did it to be sure I wasn’t just making it up.

Hence, how to mince garlic:

1. Start with one garlic clove and a clean cutting board. Remove the skin from the garlic clove by placing your knife horizontally above the garlic. Rest it there gently. Use the heel of your palm to slam the knife down.
When you move the knife away, the skin should be broken and easily peeled away. (If it’s not, try smashing it again.)

2. I always cut off the very bottom tip of the clove.

3. Slice the garlic thinly – horizontally first.

4. Now slice in the opposite direction. Continue gathering the garlic into a tightly condensed pile and cutting until the pieces are very small.

5. Here comes the mincing part. Hold your knife at an angle over your now finely chopped garlic. Firmly press the blade down over the garlic. I find it’s easiest to do if you first condense into a tight pile again. Then start at one side and move across to the other, repeating as necessary. (You’re basically smashing the garlic to release the oils.)

And voila! You have now minced garlic!


Honest Mom Series – Feature #4, Kristina

Welcome to the fourth feature in the Honest Mom series! Click here to read the previous interview.

Our next mom is 31 year old Kristina, wife to Bruce and mom to 3: Big Brother, T (6), Little Sis, A (almost 3), and Baby Brother Z (1). I’ve always respected that Bruce & Kristina have such confidence in the decisions they make, doing whatever is best for their family. Kristina is a very sweet friend, super creative lady, and a homeschooling SAHM.

A little about her:
Kristina is very enthusiastic about peanut butter – and ice cream. Even better? Peanut butter IN ice cream! She’s always had the travel bug, studying abroad in England and Scotland, where she’d love to return for its beauty. She would also love to go to Greece, where her grandparents are from.

When asked about her parenting style, she says she keeps these words in mind: “Love, nurture, and enjoy.” She depends on God and her own experiences, trying her best by relying on convictions from the Holy Spirit to continue or change her ways. She admits that doesn’t always happen: “A lot of times my parenting style and choices are a reflection of how I was brought up – which are sometimes good, and other times bad. I have read a few parenting books, most of which are about “Hot Topics” that have either convicted me to change my thoughts on a subject or confirm that what I am choosing for my family is right.”

Can you describe a typical day at your house? My oldest son is the early bird and typically wakes up between 6-7 A.M. and will play in his room until someone else is up. If his little sis wakes up next, he typically will play with her and/or his baby brother. I am so NOT a morning person… so it takes me a while to want to get out of bed! Once I do, we head downstairs and I make breakfast and the kiddos watch some T.V.—usually Curious George and Cat in the Hat. Afterwards, we will either do downstairs to do some school stuff, play, or head up-stairs to get ready for the day. Lunch is anywhere between 12-1 P.M, depending on what we are doing that morning. After lunch, Little Sis takes a nap and/or has quiet time for a minimum of an hour. Big Brother and I will then do some more school stuff. Afterwards, he has some play time and I get on the computer to blog, check email, etc. Around 4:30ish, I’ll start figuring out what is for dinner. After dinner, we play some more, watch some t.v. and kiddos get to bed around 9. The bedtime routine is more go-with-the-flow, because I’m still nursing our little one. Typically I read a couple of books to Big Brother, lay with him for 10 minutes, then go to Little sis’ room and read a couple to her. More often than not, I lay with her until she falls asleep. However, if I’m busy with Baby Brother, Daddy takes over reading duties! Every day is a little different, but we pretty much stick to that schedule, adjusting for everyone’s moods, weather, or special plans.

You’re a Homeschooling mama! What would you like to say to other homeschooling moms? Oh wow, this is kind of a loaded question! We’ve been homeschooling from the get go, meaning that when Big Brother was around 3ish, I started to involve more learning activities in our day. We then continued on using a literature-based curriculum for his 4K and 5K year.  And now here we are in his 1st Grade year! I still feel like such a “newbie,” however I would encourage a homeschooling mom by telling her to remember it is a journey.  Do not focus on what others are doing and/or learning—You know your children best and know their needs and what works best.  It is so easy to think of all they eventually need to know, but take it day by day.  I would encourage her that yes, the days may seem long, it may feel like your child will never learn his/her math facts, remember simple spelling rules, how to form his/her letters, etc… but when frustration strikes, step back and know they WILL learn it eventually.  And it truly is a beautiful thing to get to experience that with your child.  With Big Brother, I really feel like I made many mistakes pushing him and being hard on him by expecting too much; I suppose it happens with the first.  In this journey, I just would want them to know that YOU are indeed capable and able to teach your child what he/she needs and wants to know.  There are so many great resources out there to help you along the way—you are not alone.
Oh, and give your kiddos and you plenty of GRACE!  It isn’t always easy (isn’t that parenthood in general?!), but remember tomorrow is another day.

What is the best part about homeschooling? There are so many great things about homeschooling: being able to spend time together is huge; these moments go by so fast and I love that we are together everyday, learning and playing side by side.  I believe that homeschooling is a lifestyle and it allows us to follow the lead of my children by getting to learn what they are most interested in at the moment.  Another one is getting to experience new things together!  When learning about “amorphous solids” (aka Oobleck), Little Sis and Little Brother were able to have some messy fun, too!  It is a family affair. : )

What is your least favorite part about homeschooling? Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t all sunshine and roses.  Many days I am just flat out exhausted by mid-morning! 😉 There have been many times that my son and I have butt heads and we’ve been “in the trenches” trying to get things done.  However, I think most of that stems from my unrealistic expectations. Bad attitudes and resistance to doing anything school related come and go, but that is when it is time to step back and evaluate what you are doing and why. Also, when starting your homeschooling journey, I believe there is a great deal of pressure to make sure your child is learning like his/her peers and homeschooling starts looking like “school at home.”  Playing the comparison game is a sure-fire way to kill your child’s curiosity and love of learning.  It makes homeschooling a “chore” and school time is thus fun for no one.
But then this circles back to one of the great things about homeschooling: you are on your own child’s learning schedule; homeschooling allows you the freedom to go at the pace set by your child.

I love that you turned that back into a positive! What are your suggestions to get started homeschooling? First I’d like to encourage you that if you have any sort of inkling that this is something that would suit your family, I say pray and “Just Do It.”  Some people have no desire to homeschool, but some do and it honestly saddens me when they talk themselves out of it by saying, “ I just can’t teach my child….  Or I could never do it.”  Mama- you ARE fully capable of teaching and leading your child!!
So once the decision has been made, I would check out what your State Requirements are—each State is different; some are very lax and some are very rigid, so it is very important to know.  You can check out https://www.hslda.org/laws/.
There are many ways to homeschool; another idea is to figure out your child’s learning style and YOURS!  There are many schools of thought on how to homeschool your child—Unschooling, Classical, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Eclectic, etc.  Check your local library for books and it’ll explain the different philosophies in greater detail or search the web.  You will truly be amazed at how many resources are out there to help you!
Once you have an idea, next you’ll need to find a curriculum.  They can be boxed- meaning every subject is lined out and provided for you or you may choose to pick and choose products from different companies.  Just remember to find what works for YOUR family. Research if there is a curriculum fair in your state and if so, attend one.
If possible, find other homeschooling mamas that have been there & done that—whether that is through a local Co-op, homeschooling group, homeschooling bloggers, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  We are all on this journey together!

What do you think is the biggest challenge involved with homeschooling? I think the biggest challenge in general, in ALL areas of motherhood, seems to be this ‘you vs. us’ mentality; it’s sometimes referred to as the “Mommy Wars.”  It just seems like there is always something or someone telling us we are doing it wrong: that we should be homeschooling or not, breastfeeding or not, vaccinating/not-vaccinating, eating this and not that. I think we all should just agree to disagree instead of mocking each other’s choices and telling them they are wrong. In the end we should be doing what is best for our children – and what is best for mine may not be the best for yours. Our children, our experiences, strengths and weaknesses are all different, so who am I to judge your choices?

Well said. That is part of the reason I chose to do this series in the first place!

Other than mother and teacher, are you also homemaker? Are you responsible for the housework as well? Yes, I guess. I do the cooking, cleaning, etc. Hubby deals with making the money and with the stuff outside and whatever maintenance inside. However, he is great at helping out if I need it!

How about the kids – do they do chores? Yes, but not consistently. The kiddos are very helpful- most of the time, and will help if I ask them. Big Brother is much more inclined to help if there is a reward or it is made into a game. Little Sis is a typical toddler—may help, may not help… you just never know! 

How do you discipline them? First they are given a warning. If they repeat the behavior they get time out or something taken away. Sometimes it works. Big brother can get quite sassy sometimes, so daddy usually has to have “a talk” with him. Sometimes they are effective. Sometimes, no. We just have to make sure they know that kind of behavior is NOT acceptable.

What are your nutritional guidelines? The kiddos LOVE fruits, so we’ve got that covered. Big Brother eats most veggies—it wasn’t always like that though! Little Sis is adventurous and will try new things more than the boys, but her tastes change daily! Little Brother still nurses several times a day, so I know he’s eating well. Otherwise, I try and make three meals a day from scratch. I try to stay away from boxed foods- but it doesn’t always happen, and I refuse to beat myself up over that. We don’t buy many snack type foods as they never last more than a few days and well, they just aren’t good for you anyway! I’ve taken to the phrase, “everything in moderation.”  

What about you? Do you ever get time to yourself with all you’re doing? I’m definitely an introvert and NEED time to myself! Although with a house full it doesn’t happen much. Yeah, a bathroom break involves one or more of the kiddos opening and closing the bathroom door and/or getting into the cupboards, toilet paper, or something they are NOT supposed to. This is also the time when everything -i.e. good behavior- seems to unravel and chaos breaks loose. Thus, I probably end up spending too much time in the bathroom! Ha! I will also venture to the store childless or with one… so much different and EASIER with one. Geesh! That’s always a good time!

Do you have hobbies to help you focus your energy? In the summertime, I work in the garden. I like to craft for myself and with the kiddos. I browse Pinterest a lot. And I blog, which started out more of a family blog detailing our homeschooling activities with my oldest, but it has grown into crafts and other learning activities too. I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book, and while that still has yet to pass, I enjoy blogging for now. I just shared my 300th blog post not too long ago! It’s so crazy to think I’ve had 300 things to share!

I’ve seen your blog. There’s a lot of content and it looks so professional! How do you find the time to do it, what with everything else you do? I probably get a bit obsessed (okay, it’s not probably– I do. ha!) and stay on the computer a bit too long during the day. Sometimes I do it in the mornings while the kiddos play after breakfast.  Sometimes it is after Big Brother and I finish school work and he plays while Little Sis is still napping and/or having quiet time.  Sometimes it is after dinner when we are all just hanging out.  Sometimes it is when the kiddos go to bed and I stay up a little too late.  Most days it is a mix of all of those. And of course it’s always right when I’m about finished that the kiddos have gone wild! But it’s something I enjoy and is “my time” and a way for me to beat cabin fever!  As for the kiddos beating cabin fever we try to take advantage of our Rec Center activities, do field trips, or crafts.  And sometimes it means putting on a show and/or movie!

Tell us about your struggles and challenges as a mom. Time management is my biggest struggle, mostly due to our go-with-the flow, loose daily schedule. Seems like there is so much to do, that I want to do, need to do, that just doesn’t happen. Patience is another one… yep, it wears thin some days! And some days I didn’t get the memo that I need a lot of it! I need to improve at being quick to LISTEN; it’s real easy for me to see or hear something I do not like and put an end to it without getting the full story.

What is your greatest fear as a mom? That I am doing it all wrong!

What are some of your proudest moments? As I sit thinking about it, so many things make me happy and proud. That my children are happy and healthy; that they are great friends and loving playing together… to my son’s 1st goal in soccer or when Little Sis loves on her baby brother.

What is your greatest hope for your kids?  I hope for success in all areas of their life; that wherever they go and whatever they do they know God loves them and wants them to be happy and prosperous. To know they can dream big and to pursue those dreams. To know they are loved and special.

You can read more about Kristina, get ideas for kid-friendly educational crafts, and their adventures in Homeschooling at School Time Snippets.