Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Superfood Soda Concentrate (nutrient-dense : raw)

Refreshing, tart, and sweet: my family has been enjoying this simple drink concentrate for over a year. It combines two traditional superfoods, raw honey and raw apple cider vinegar, which combine to make an uber-healthy, wonderfully tasty drink.

I have hesitated to share this recipe, because it is so simple and easy to make.  But after having multiple friends ask me for the recipe, I figured my blog followers would like to know it, too.

Superfood Soda Concentrate

  1. If your raw honey has become thick and crystallized, warm it up by placing the jar in a bowl of warm water. This will allow the honey to become thin and pourable. 
  2. Combine equal parts of raw honey and apple cider vinegar. My favorite way to do this involves no measuring and minimal cleanup: Use a half-full jar of raw apple cider vinegar. Place a funnel into the jar, and pour in the honey through the funnel.  It may take a couple refills of the funnel depending on the size of your vinegar jar and funnel. Be patient, as the thick honey can take quite awhile to drip through the funnel; I like to find something else to do in the meantime.
  3. Put a tight-fitting lid on the jar.  Over the next day or two, periodically invert the jar and swish the contents around. It can take awhile for the honey to fully dissolve into the vinegar. 
  4. Once the honey has been fully dissolved in the vinegar, the soda concentrate is ready!
  5. To make a drink, simply pour some of the concentrate into a glass, add your favorite sparkling mineral water, and stir.  The amount of concentrate to use will vary depending on your preference. I like to use roughly 3-4 Tb of concentrate per one cup of fizzy water.
  6. If you don't like fizzy drinks, this same concentrate can be combined with plain, filtered water for a nice electrolyte drink.  When using plain water, I use less of the concentrate, about 1-2 Tb per cup of water.

What is your favorite summertime drink?

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Our Top 25 Read-Aloud Picture Books

If I had to choose just one method for homeschooling, it would be reading aloud. With the right books, my kids can learn about anything. Even more importantly, books can teach kids about living with integrity, responsibility, joyfulness, and contentedness. 

Through books, kids can be exposed to so much more than they see in their everyday lives. In this way, books help kids gain perspective on how their lives compare to others. They are able to see people overcoming tough challenges, to watch as others choose to keep their honor intact rather than taking the easy way out.

But there are an awful lot of books that I would NOT read to my kids. I find that, especially with many modern books, the standards are being set far too low. Those books glorify people behaving inappropriately and being inconsiderate. Even in many of the seemingly harmless series' (such as Junie B. Jones), I find there to be an insidious undercurrent of disrespect towards others or the family. (Yes, I know I am a book snob.)

So I wanted to share our list of the books that we treasure. These are books that demonstrate people living with character and decency. These are books that expand my children's horizons. I'll start with picture books and then move on to chapter books in a following post. I've left off some of the well-known classics such as Corduroy and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, since everyone seems to know about those already.

Picture Books That Build Character


Dogger by Shirley Hughes - This is a fantastic book that tells of a little boy named Dave and his favorite stuffed animal, Dogger. When Dogger gets lost, Dave's older sister chooses to make a sacrifice to get Dogger back. My kids relate well to Dave and his sister, and they are moved by this story.

Great Big Treasury of Beatrix Potter - Beatrix Potter's stories are filled with animals who have all sorts of mischievous adventures, and have to pay the price for their misdeeds. This book is a collection that includes nineteen individual stories, along with beautiful illustrations. My kids request that I read this book very frequently.

Among the Meadow People by Clara Dillingham Pierson - This is a collection of stories from the early 1900's that tells of all the living things in the meadow. My children are fascinated by these stories, and they have also learned a lot about the different creatures and plants through these stories. There are many more in the same series.

Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton - When the city gets completely snowed in, all of the truck plows break down. Only one could save everyone: Katy!  My kids adore Katy and her perseverance to dig out the post office, the airport, the fire station, and the rest of the city.

The Little Soul and the Sun by Neale Donald Walsh - This is the story of a Little Soul who wants to experience forgiveness. In order to do so, another Little Soul must be willing to do something that needs to be forgiven.  This story creates lots of thoughtful conversation whenever I read it to the kids. 

Tootle by Gertrude Crampton - Tootle is a train that wants to learn to be a flyer, but first he has to overcome his desire to romp in the field with a horse!  My son, especially, loves this story.

Madeline and the Bad Hat by Ludwig Bemelmans - When a little boy moves in next door to the orphanage where Madeline lives, he gets into all sorts of mischief. The little girls spurn him, but finally realize that he just needs a friend. My kids think the little boy's shenanigans are hilarious, and they love to see the happy ending.


Picture Books That Give a Taste of Culture and History

The Everyday Life of an Egyptian Craftsman by Giovanni Caselli - This book tells the story of a young boy in ancient Egypt. My kids are fascinated with life in Ancient Egypt. The detailed illustrations in this book are wonderful. My daughter is in love with all things related to Ancient Egypt, and she loves to read this book over and over.

Gilgamesh the King by Ludmila Zeman - This book is the first in a trilogy wherein the Epic of Gilgamesh is re-told for children. The illustrations in these books are absolutely gorgeous.  These books are filled with action and love, making them a great introduction to one of the oldest stories in the world.

My Name is Georgia by Jeanette Winter - Filled with pictures in the style of Georgia O'Keefe, this book tells the story of Georgia and her unusual life. From her childhood, through life in the city, and finally ending with many years in the desert, the beauty of Georgia's life shines through in this book. My children love to read about Georgia.

Lugalbanda: The Boy Who Got Caught Up in a War by Kathy Henderson - I was fascinated when I heard of Lugalbanda, which is the oldest known written story in the world - nearly 5,000 years old! My children love the illustrations in this book, and love to learn about Lugalbanda, a boy who brings peace to his people.

Mr. Semolina Semolinus by Anthony L. Manna- This Greek folktale tells of Princess Areti, who makes a man to marry out of sugar, almonds, and semolina wheat. When he is kidnapped by an evil queen, Areti must go on a quest to rescue him.  My kids think this book is so much fun; they always laugh at the end when the queen tries to make her own man and fails because of her own vileness.

Fun and Silly Picture Books

Some Smug Slug by Pamela Duncan Edwards - My kids adore this book, which tells the story of a slug who travels unawares to the top of a toad, and gets promptly eaten.  I have great fun reading this book, filled with an amazing number of "s" words.

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey - Mr. and Mrs. Mallard seek to find a safe place to raise their ducklings in this great story.  My kids love seeing the city life in this book, and my son especially loves the friendly policemen who come to the rescue. 

Sophie and the Next-Door Monsters by Chris Case - Sophie starts out being scared of her new monstrous neighbors, but in the end she makes a new friend. My kids love seeing the monster child turn Sophie's cat into a potato and then back again to a cat.

The Hat by Jan Brett - Hedgie the hedghog gets a mitten stuck on his head, and soon enough all the other animals want something to keep them warm for the winter, too.  We adore Jan Brett's illustrations and the way she shows previews of what is to come on the right side of every page. My kids laugh and laugh at the animals wearing woolens.


Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal- Little Pea hates candy. But he has to finish it before he can have his spinach dessert. My kids love this story; they can't imagine anyone hating candy and I think it makes them more excited about eating veggies too.

Picture Books the Very Young Will Love (and my older kids still like them, too)

Babybug - Back when my eldest was an infant, she received a subscription to Babybug magazine for a few years. Here we are 7 years later, and both of my kids still love to read Babybug.  It is filled with lovely stories, poems, and pictures. These magazines are printed on very thick paper, so they don't tear easily. We are still cherishing ours from 2007-2011!


 A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle - Hermit crab has outgrown his shell and must find a new one. As he settles in, many other creatures from the ocean adorn his new shell. My kids love to watch hermit crab make his way in his new home.


Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo! by Rosetta Stone - This book has a wonderful cadence and rhyme that makes it quite fun to read. My kids love to see all the things that could happen because... just because... a little bug went Ka-Choo!


Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton - I have such fond memories of both of my kids giggling over and over from my lap while I read them this book when they were toddlers. It is simple and funny. It is good for teaching color recognition too.


Cookie's Week by Cindy Ward - This short, simple book tells about Cookie the mischievous cat, and the trouble he gets into each day of the week. Beginning in toddlerhood and still to this day, both of my kids love reading Cookie's Week.

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey - This is the story of Sal and her mother, who get mixed up with bears while picking blueberries to can for the winter.  As toddlers, both of my kids requested to hear this book night after night. Now as a preschooler and a 2nd grader, they still like to hear about Sal periodically.

Brush Mona Lisa's Hair by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo - This book, and the others in the same series, is a great child's introduction to art.  This books shows masterpieces of art, along with something tactile added to each page. Kids can touch Mona Lisa's hair, touch a lacy collar in another picture, and blow on feathers to make the angels fly.  My kids still like to read and play along with this book.

Out and About by Shirley Hughes - This collection of poems and illustrations takes us through all four seasons of the year. It has a way of making me long for each and every season. My kids love to see what the kids do in each season.

What are your favorite picture books to read-aloud?

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Friday, June 6, 2014

BBQ Beef Open-Faced Sandwiches - No Grill Required! (gluten-free and grain-free options)

It is over 100 degrees outside here, and at this time of year I avoid using the oven or slow cooker because I don't want to heat up the kitchen too much.  This recipe for BBQ Beef Open-Faced Sandwiches cooks up in less than 30 minutes, and my family loves it!  We prefer to eat these open-faced, with just one piece of bread each, so we eat this meal with forks and knives.

Most of us eat this BBQ Beef on toasted, buttered sourdough bread; since my daughter still does best avoiding gluten most of the time, I serve hers on top of a homemade gluten-free freezer waffle. (I now leave the vanilla extract out of the waffle recipe so that I can use waffles as an all-purpose bread substitute for my daughter.) For a grain-free alternative, grain-free sandwich bread could be used.

BBQ Beef Open-Faced Sandwiches
Serves 6-8
  1. Melt  2Tb butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the diced onion, sprinkle with salt, and saute for 10 minutes, until the onion is translucent. 
  2. In the meantime, combine the BBQ Sauce ingredients in a medium bowl and stir to combine.
  3. Crumble the ground beef into the skillet with the onion. Brown the meat for several minutes, stirring occasionally. It is not necessary to fully cook the meat at this time.
  4. Add the minced garlic and saute about 30 seconds, just until fragrant.
  5. Pour the BBQ Sauce over the meat in the skillet and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat a bit, just to maintain the simmer. Loosely cover the skillet and allow to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. In the meantime, toast the bread and lightly butter it. Shred the cheddar cheese.
  7. Take the lid off the meat, and allow to cook a couple minutes uncovered to allow some of the moisture to evaporate. Taste the meat for seasoning and add salt/pepper as needed. When it is done cooking, the sauce will have thickened, but will still be very moist. Turn off heat.
  8. Arrange the toasted, buttered bread on plates. Top it with the BBQ Beef and a sprinkle of cheddar cheese.  Crispy fried potatoes and a side salad make great accompaniments! Or to keep it simple, you could just serve these sandwiches with some organic Kettle chips
*Since the probiotics in fermented ketchup would be destroyed by cooking, I use storebought Annie's organic ketchup in this recipe.

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