Sunday, October 26, 2014

Make Your Own Pumpkin Puree

With Halloween and Thanksgiving just around the corner, it's time to make pumpkin puree.  Homemade pumpkin puree is much more tasty than the canned variety. 

My method for homemade pumpkin puree is simple: bake whole, scoop, and puree!  Each year, I make lots of pumpkin puree, to be stored in the freezer.  Lots of pumpkin pie clafoutis, pumpkin spice bread, and pumpkin crumble will keep us happy over the winter.

You can use any type of winter squash you like, such as pumpkin, hubbard squash, and butternut squash. My favorite type of pumpkin to use for puree is NOT the sugar pie pumpkin. It is actually a variety of pumpkin called the Long Island Cheese. This pumpkin has vibrant orange flesh and excellent sweet flavor.

Recipe: Homemade Pumpkin Puree

Baking whole pumpkins is the easiest way to cook them. It does take a while, but it is so much easier than trying to cut up a raw pumpkin as they are VERY hard before they are cooked. 
  1. Place the whole pumpkins on your oven rack. I place a cookie sheet underneath just in case of any drips.  
  2. Bake for several hours at 200 degrees F.  A ten pound pumpkin will take about 3 hours to cook.  Larger pumpkins will take closer to 4 hours. A small pie pumpkin should be done in 1-2 hours. 
  3. To test for doneness, wrap your hands with a dish towel and gently squeeze the pumpkins.  Check them on multiple sides (and you may even need to rotate the pumpkins partway through if you cook more than one at a time, like I do). If the pumpkins are soft enough to squeeze a bit, then they are done!
  4. Remove from the oven and place on a cookie sheet or large baking tray (such as a 9X13 glass dish). Carefully use a knife to make a slice down one side of the pumpkin, slicing all the way down to the bottom. This allows the water and heat in the pumpkin to be released.  Let cool for awhile.
  5. Once cool enough to touch, finish cutting the pumpkin in half. This is amazingly easy to do since the pumpkin has already been cooked. Scoop out and discard the seeds and stringy bits.  
  6. Being careful to not get any of the skin, scoop the soft flesh out with a spoon and place it into a food processor.  Let the food processor whir the flesh to make a beautiful puree. This may take several batches depending on the size of your pumpkin and food processor.
  7. Store the puree in airtight containers.  Keep it in the fridge if it will be used in the next few days. Otherwise, store it in the freezer, where it will last for many months.  
What are your favorite ways to use pumpkin puree?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Peanut Butter Cookies (grain-free : gluten-free : nutrient-dense)

During the hot summer months, I craved light foods such as salads and raw veggies. Now that the weather is getting cooler, my tastes are changing and I find myself wanting more comfort foods. These peanut butter cookies fit the bill: they are chewy in the middle, crispy on the edges, and super tasty.

Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes 30-40 cookies

  1. Set your oven racks so that none are in the bottom third of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 325 F.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the salt, baking soda, baking powder, ground nuts, and coconut flour. Whisk or sift well to combine and break up any lumps.
  3. In another bowl (or stand-mixer), beat the softened butter and sucanat together for a couple minutes, until well mixed. (I love using my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer for making cookies as it makes it very easy to add the ingredients while the mixer is running.)
  4. Add the peanut butter to the butter mixture and mix to combine. (I love to use a Measure All cup for measuring peanut butter and other thick ingredients such as honey and sour cream.)
  5. In the meantime, combine the eggs, vanilla, and almond extract in a small bowl. (I find that a Pyrex glass measuring cup works great for this because the pour spout makes it easy to add these ingredients to the mixer while it is running.) Do NOT mix up the eggs at this point.
  6. Once the butter, sucanat, and peanut butter have become well-mixed, mix in the eggs one-at-a-time.  With my stand-mixer, I can just pour in each egg while the mixer is still running.  Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice to get everything incorporated well.
  7. While the mixer is running, add the dry ingredients.  Since coconut flour does not contain gluten, there is no worry of over-mixing it!
  8. Scoop the cookies onto greased cookie sheets (or line the cookie sheets with silpats, which are wonderful since the cookies never stick and are less likely to burn).  I like to use a 1-Tb scoop for consistently pretty cookies, but you could just use a spoon. Do NOT flatten the cookies as they will spread plenty while cooking.
  9. Bake the cookies at 325 F for about 15-18 minutes (or a few minutes longer if you are cooking them on stoneware). They are done when the edges get a bit dark and crispy.
  10. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 5-10 minutes.  Then use a spatula to move them to a cooling rack.
  11. Once cool, store these cookies in an airtight container.  They can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer if you won't be eating them all in the next few days.  They are nice and chewy straight from the fridge, and even soft enough to eat straight out of the freezer!  Storing them in the freezer will also remove the pressure of having to eat them all in a week or so, as they will last for months in the freezer.
*I used to avoid consuming peanut butter because of the potential for aflatoxins. However, now that I am consuming a more sustainable, less restrictive diet, I have added small amounts of peanut butter back into my diet. Rather than obsessing over every detail of my diet, I'm finding a place of balance that can be sustained for the long term.  

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    Wednesday, October 15, 2014

    How We Use Nature Study in Our Home School

    While I did include some aspects of nature in our early home schooling experience, it wasn't until I read about Charlotte Mason that I began to intentionally make Nature Study a formal part of our studies. Over the last two years, nature study has become an integral part of our science curriculum.

    "The child who learns his science from a text-book, though he go to Nature for illustrations, and he who gets his information from object lessons, has no chance of forming relations with things as they are, because his kindly obtrusive teacher makes him believe that to know about things is the same as knowing them personally." - Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series
    Nature Study allows my children to focus their hearts and minds on the beautiful cycles that flow through our outdoor world. When they connect with nature, there is serenity, wonder, and joy.


    Planning for Nature Study

    To make Nature Study an intentional part of our schooling, I plan and schedule it into our school days. I schedule time for nature study at least twice a month. On days when I plan for us to do Nature Study, I make sure that we have at least 2 hours that will be uninterrupted by other events or projects.

    In addition to our scheduled Nature Study times, I also watch the outdoors for Nature Study opportunities. For instance, since we live in the desert and have infrequent rain, I try to be flexible so that my kids are able to enjoy the rain and mud when they are present, and that we can explore the outdoors afterwards to see the changes that rain brings. I watch for seasonal changes that we can observe together, such as the budding of flowers and the changing of leaves.

    I also keep Nature Study in mind for rough days, when the children are overly argumentative or are bickering incessantly. Nature Study can be a complete mood-changer on those days. It can bring us back to balance and peace.

    Examples of Our Nature Study

    Some days, our Nature Study can be very simple; other days we make it more complex and in-depth. A few ideas from our Nature Studies are the following:
    • grab our nature notebooks and head out to the desert where we can observe and journal about plants, insects, and animals
    • take short field trips to the arroyo (dry creek bed) behind our house, where we can observe the way that water shapes and reshapes the land
    • make leaf rubbings of various leaves
    • capture a bug or critter, which we can observe in a small terrarium for a few hours before setting it free
    • work in the garden, preparing the soil, planting seeds, weeding, watching the plants grow, and reaping the fruits of our labor
    • observe and collect wildflowers
    • capture and raise a caterpillar into a chrysalis and then butterfly
    • birdwatch through our windows, observing the different species and their variety of behaviors
    • use a microscope to study and perhaps draw samples of any of the above
    • use nature observations as a jumping off point for further study with library books


    Just Get Outside

    Nature study doesn't have to be formal. In A Charlotte Mason Companion, Karen Andreola writes, "young children will discover toads, butterflies, beetles, earthworms, robins, thistles, squirrels, mushrooms, berries, and run into thorn bushes on their own, without any prodding from us."

    Making sure that we spend time outside is one of my priorities. While my daughter loves to play outside, I find that my son often requires some gentle nudging to go outside. Once he is outside, however, my son thrives on the experiences of watching birds soar overhead, collecting rocks and leaves, and finding insects.

    I also have to intentionally find time for myself to be outside; I can too easily stay indoors working, writing, and studying, but yet I find that I, too, benefit from spending time outdoors. Even simple things such as reading aloud in the back yard can make a difference in my mood and well-being.

    Resources and Materials that Aid Nature Study

    We can certainly explore nature without any special materials or equipment, and yet I have found the following items to be particularly useful in making Nature Study an intentional part of our home schooling.

    Reference Books

    Do you incorporate Nature Study into your lives? What are your favorite resources for Nature Study?


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    Friday, October 3, 2014

    How We've Improved Our Marriage This Year

    My husband and I have been together for over 15 years, and have been married for nearly 12 years.  We have a strong marriage, but things have definitely changed over time as we became parents of one, and then two children. Daily life with young children is so busy that we can go along without putting any real effort or thought into our marriage, and over time that can take a toll on our relationship.

    About 8 months ago, I stumbled across something that has changed my life, my relationships, and my parenting: Energy Profiling. Although I am always open to new information, I wasn't looking for a change when I found Energy Profiling. In hindsight, I can see that finding this information was a true blessing for me and my family.

    What is Energy Profiling?

    Carol Tuttle's Energy Profiling System is a way of understanding people and the way they move through life.  Carol breaks down the world into 4 Types.  These 4 Types are seen throughout nature and the natural world.

    In her book, It's Just My Nature! A Guide to Knowing and Living Your True Nature, Carol wrote,
    "The truth is, at your very core, you express a unique, natural energy that influences how you approach new experiences, relate to people, manage challenges, and move through life in general. The truth is, your life runs better in every way when you understand your inner nature and live true to it, rather than fight against it."

    The Energy Profiling System is much more than just a personality profiling system. A person's Energy Type encompasses:
    • introvert versus extrovert tendencies,
    • how a person relates to the world (emotional versus logical),
    • body language and physical features,
    • the filter through which a person sees the world around them, and
    • where a person fits in the whole cycle of doing/accomplishing things, such as having the ideas (Type 1) , planning how to do something and working out the details (Type 2), getting it done (Type 3), and perfecting how it is done while looking at the big picture (Type 4).

    What are the 4 Energy Types?

    On Carol's Energy Profiling site, she gives the following brief description of each of the 4 Types. To learn more, you can access her FREE Energy Profiling Course here

    "Type 1: The bright, animated person who has a gift for new ideas and possibilities. The natural movement of Type 1 is upward and light. A person with a dominant Type 1 expression is naturally an upward, light, upbeat person.
    Type 2: The soft and calming person who has a gift for gathering details and making plans. The natural movement of Type 2 is fluid and flowing.
    Type 3: The swift and dynamic person who has a gift for moving into action quickly to create practical and lasting results. The natural movement of Type 3 is active and reactive.
    Type 4: The structured and exact person who has a gift for looking at the world through a critical eye and perfecting it. The natural movement of a Type 4 person is constant and precise."

    How Energy Profiling Has Improved Our Marriage

    I initially watched the free 6-part Energy Profiling Course on my own. I was excited about what I learned and immediately wanted to share it with my husband. He was a bit doubtful at first, but that changed once we watched the course videos together. We had (and continue to have) some profoundly insightful conversations as a result of learning about our Energy Types. 

    Learning about our Energy Types has allowed us to come to a new understanding of each other. We understand better why we each do the things we do, and this understanding has helped our relationship in many ways. Some of the changes have been small, just little details, but others have been more meaningful.

    For instance, knowing my husband's Type 4 nature has allowed me to understand and celebrate some of his traits that are often looked at as being "negative" in our society. Being a Type 4, my husband has a natural need for solitude and reflection. Before I understood this, I could easily misunderstand why my husband would often retreat to be alone for some time in the evening. As a Type 4, my husband also has an eye for perfecting things, which could be seen as pessimism, when in reality it is a gift for perfecting.  

    My husband has been able to learn more about why I do the things I do, too.  He used to frequently say that I should slow down and relax.  I have a very hard time sitting still or even getting through a whole movie without feeling the need to get up and do something. It turns out that this is part of my dominant Type 3 nature. As a Type 3, I naturally feel the need to accomplish things, lots of things, every day.  When I fight against this aspect of my nature, I find that I feel tired and lethargic.  

    Type 3's can also be very impulsive, springing into action very quickly and completing tasks.  On the other hand, my Type 4 husband looks at the big picture and the best way to complete a task.  My natural tendency is to push through and move quickly, whereas my husband naturally wants to work more deliberately and carefully.  Understanding this has made it clear why we can sometimes become so frustrated when trying to work together on a project, and now we are able to talk through these things to make the most of both of our gifts.  

    Energy Profiling has allowed us to discuss aspects of ourselves that we may have never even quite understood ourselves. In doing so, our marriage has grown stronger and our family life has improved.

    Did having kids change your relationship? Have you improved your marriage this year? What Energy Type are you?

    Links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you use these links, your price remains the same, but I earn a small commission. Energy Profiling has been such a fantastic resource for my family that I have signed up as an affiliate for the Energy Profiling System. The initial Energy Profiling Course is free, but if you go on to purchase related products, I will earn a small commission (while your price remains the same). Thanks for supporting this site!