Saturday, September 19, 2015

Caprese Bruschetta

As the warm season winds down, I'm making the most of the remaining fresh tomatoes and basil.
Those two flavors will be sorely missed in a few months, but for now I am still finding many ways to enjoy them.  The latest is a very simple yet elegant combination: caprese salad on toasted sourdough bread.  This caprese bruschetta is so delicious that both of my children were moaning happily when we had this for lunch last week. Caprese bruschetta comes together so quickly that it is perfect for a quick lunch.

Caprese Bruschetta
Serves 2
  1. Lightly toast the sourdough bread.  Butter the bread lightly. (I typically like to slather on the butter, but this recipe works best with just a light amount of butter.)
  2. Slice the tomato and place a couple slices on each piece of toasted, buttered bread. Place a slice of mozarella on each tomato slice.
  3. Place the bread under a broiler for a few minutes, to melt the cheese. I like to use our toaster oven for this.
  4. In the meantime, mince the basil leaves.
  5. Once the cheese is melted, remove the bread from the broiler and sprinkle the basil over top.
  6. Drizzle with balsamic glaze. Serve and enjoy! 

What is your favorite way to enjoy basil and tomato? 


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Sunday, September 13, 2015

10 Tips on Making Read-Alouds a Success

This post is the third in my Back-to-School Series for 2015-16. 
Reading aloud to my children is an essential part of our homeschooling.  Through reading aloud:
  • I am able to introduce my children to new ideas, cultures, and places. 
  • We can immerse ourselves in other loving households, in the triumph of overcoming struggles and challenges, and in the wondrous fantasy of fairy realms.
  • Our family is able to have some of our most important discussions, leading to the foundation  of good character, integrity, responsibility, and kindness in our children.


10 Tips for Successful Read-Alouds

We read aloud the vast majority of days, and often more than once per day.  Throughout our 8+ years of reading aloud, I have learned multiple ways of ensuring that our read-aloud time is a success.

  1. Do something active BEFORE reading aloud - This very important strategy helps to ensure that the children will be able and willing to sit and listen during read-aloud time. Having physical activity before reading is especially important for high-movement children.  In our household, we will often take a walk or bike ride before reading aloud. I, myself, tend to feel best when I am active, so on days when I am feeling a little stir-crazy during reading time, I may also do gentle stretching or walking while I am reading a chapter book aloud.
  2. Do NOT make read-aloud time into a requirement - Forcing children to listen during read-aloud time is a sure way to make them resent it. Allow children the freedom to participate, or not.  But also, be willing to read fun books that are easily engaging for children, especially in the early years of reading aloud. With the right books, it is easy to capture a child's attention.
  3. Allow and encourage quiet activities during read-aloud time - When reading books with
    few or no pictures, allowing the children to engage in quiet activities can increase the amount of time they want to sit and listen.  My children are free to color, draw, work on simple sewing projects, or work on their letters to grandma (which they dictate to me beforehand, and I type and print out so they can trace the letters). In our family, I find it works best to not allow activities such as Legos, playing with cars, or playing with figurines while we read aloud, as those activities are likely to involve conversation which disrupts the reading.   
  4. Take time to pause during the reading to discuss or answer questions - Although it can sometimes go against my "get it done" mentality, taking the time to encourage discussions during our read-aloud time has proved to be one of the most important aspects in making read-aloud time valuable. Our discussions include things such as:
    • When characters make poor choices or have tough decisions to make, my children and I will talk about what they could do in similar situations. 
    • When we encounter new places in our reading, I will take the time to get out our globe or maps to show the location of the new place in relation to where we live.
    • When we read about new animals, insects, or plants, we will look them up in the encyclopedia or on the iPad so the children are better able to visualize what they are hearing about.  
  5. Don't "retire" the picture books just because the children are getting older and know how to read.  Even with a 4th grader in our home, picture books are still a wonderful asset to our read-aloud time. Picture books are very engaging, some are very funny, and they can be so very enjoyable to read together. They also give me further reading options for times when we may have just a few minutes to read and don't have enough time to dig deep into a chapter book. I find that picture books are also one of the best ways to be able to incorporate my children's own interests into our reading time (such as reading aloud picture books about vehicles for my son, or about my daughter's current animal interest). You can see our Top 25 Picture Books here.
  6. When starting to read chapter books aloud, begin with classics that have illustrations and accessible language. As a general rule, I only read aloud books that I find enjoyable, and this means I don't read aloud many of the more simplistic or formulaic modern books (such as Magic Treehouse and Rainbow Magic Fairy books). My daughter is free to read those on her own, but for read-aloud time I instead focus on classics. Not all children's classics work well for immediately engaging children's attention, though. For example, Charlotte's Web and Little House in the Big Woods are much easier to start with than Alice in Wonderland and Black Beauty. (I'll be writing a follow-up post about our favorite books for getting started in reading chapter books aloud.)
  7. Give one character in the book a special accent or voice. My children love it when I use a "special" accent or voice for one of the characters in each book.  Often, I will use my own (not-very-accurate) British accent, or give one of the young characters in a book a "baby" voice. My kids love this so much that they are very quick to bring to my attention any momentary lapses in giving a particular character a special voice.  I always see my children smiling when they hear me use the special voice. 
  8. Find a time that works for reading aloud and make it a regular part of the routine.  I find that, as a general rule, if I try to read-aloud when my children are engaged in play, they are not very interested in stopping to read. But there are lots of other times when they do like to listen to read-alouds.  Some times that work for us include reading aloud right after the children awaken in the morning, during meals/snacks, after going for a walk, and, of course, before bed.
  9. Have a rotation for who gets to choose the math/history/science read-alouds. I aim to  read-aloud books on math, science, and history every week. One thing that has helped the children be even more engaged in this reading is for them to take turns selecting our reading for each week.  For instance, recently my son has chosen to read Sir Cumference, Story of Inventions, and The Puffins are Back!; my daughter has recently chosen to read Bedtime Math, Children of the Tipi, and The New Way Things Work.
  10. Create a home atmosphere where reading is a main form of entertainment.  In our home, limiting screen time makes it possible for reading to be one of the top forms of entertainment every day of the week. In quiet moments, we naturally seek out books to enjoy singly or together.
Reading aloud has become such a treasured part of our home life. I hope these tips are helpful for those who have struggled to have successful read-alouds, or those who are just starting out with reading aloud chapter books.


Do you have any tips to share for read-aloud success? 

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream (nutrient-dense : raw : primal : no refined sweeteners)

My son's pumpkin harvest is rolling in, and he has garnered many more pumpkins than I expected. Since it is still fairly hot here, we've been enjoying pumpkin ice cream. Creamy, spicy, and cool: this ice cream is so good!

All of the pumpkin ice cream recipes I found on the 'net involved cooking the cream, eggs and sugar to make a custard base, but I wanted our pumpkin ice cream to be raw and simple to make.  So I've relied on my old standby for sweetening ice cream, which is a combination of maple syrup and raw honey.  With plenty of spices and egg yolks, this ice cream is rich, smooth, and yummy.

This ice cream comes together quickly and easily by just mixing everything in the blender before pouring it into our ice cream maker.  You could also try this method to make ice cream without a machine.

Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream
Makes about 6-7 cups of ice cream
  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender. Add the honey last, and then blend it right away so the honey doesn't have a chance to harden and clump.
  2. Whir for several minutes, until well-combined.
  3. If you don't have an ice cream maker, you can follow these instructions to make ice cream without a machine.
  4. If you do have an ice cream maker, pour mixture into your ice cream maker and follow the instructions for your maker.  I use the Kitchen-Aid ice cream maker attachment, and it works great!
  5. Transfer to the fridge to freeze solid for several hours. 
  6. Scoop and enjoy! If desired, top with chopped candied ginger or crumbled Ginger-O's.
*Since the egg yolks in this recipe will be consumed raw, it is a good idea to make sure the eggs used are from a trusted source.  Salmonella is typically only an issue with unhealthy hens.  Washing the eggs before you crack them will also reduce any potential salmonella risk, since it actually comes from bacteria on the OUTSIDE of the egg shells.  

What is your favorite pumpkin recipe?

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