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Butternut Pear Soup

As if I really needed to dig myself further into the fall spirit, I have officially received my annual cold. This time around it even warped into inflammation going on within my head and inner ear, causing insane tension headaches and vertigo!

Of course being sick on cold fall days require some TLC…usually in the form of comfort food. Obviously the cook in the house is myself, so I needed a recipe that would be both delicious and easy. I didn’t want to spend too much time standing in a hot kitchen when I could have been lounging on the couch watching Sid the Science kid with the four year old.

This unique soup managed to hit the spot just right. The unique flavor worked as both an enjoyable dinner as well as the medicine needed to make me feel better.

It will definitely appear on my table again, hopefully under better circumstances.

Butternut Pear Soup

Ingredients

1 butternut squash – cubed into small pieces
3 Tbsp. olive oil (plus another Tbsp)
3 Tbsp.  rosemary
1 Tsp cinnamon
1 Tsp salt
3 cups vegetable stock
1 cup green onions
2 large pears – peeled and chopped
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
mozzarella cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl mix the squash, olive oil, rosemary, cinnamon, and salt. Spread the mixture on a foil lined baking sheet and back for 45 minutes (you want the squash to be tender when poked with a fork).
  2. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add green onions and cook for about 5 minutes. Add pears, chicken stock, and syrup. Bring the mixture to a boil.
  3. When the squash is done roasting, put both mixtures in a blender or food processor. Blend until the soup is smooth.
  4. Serve with a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese over the top of individual soup bowls and Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Cake with Marshmallow Frosting

I am not ashamed of the fact that I am the most typical American girl when it comes to fall. I obsess over pumpkin spiced things, I’m over eager to pull out my sweaters and boots even if the weather isn’t quite cold enough to warrant such attire, and come September I’m immediately diving into autumn themed recipes.

Even as a child, before social media caught on to the fact that fall is the best season of the year, Autumn was my happy place. I have fond memories of Friday night football games and sitting around the campfire with friends in jean jackets. I remember the feeling I got when I woke up Thanksgiving morning to find my grandmother already working her way around the kitchen as she prepared our meal.

Baby’s first Autumn

It’s something I will never out grow, and I will continue obsessing over fall probably for the rest of my life. Even my son is well aware of how much I love fall. The other day while running errands with my husband, he picked up a pumpkin spiced candle at the drug store and asked to buy it for me.

I do feel a great need to point out, however, that there is more flavor to fall than pumpkin spice. I love pumpkin, and I am creating quite a collection of pumpkin flavored food for myself, but there is a tendency for pumpkins to spend a little too much time in the spotlight while the cider, apple, maple, and zucchini flavors are neglected.

When Thanksgiving comes around, and you’re trying to decide what unique culinary creation you want to contribute, try something a little different. For example: A sweet potato cake.

This recipe is truly delicious, and captures that spicy fall goodness we all love. Ever since I posted a photo on my facebook, people have been asking for the recipe, and those who’ve eaten it so far seemed to enjoy it quite nicely!

The cake itself is sweet potato, however, the frosting is actually homemade marshmallow fluff. Basically this is a creative alternative to the typical sweet potato casserole. The store bought fluff isn’t going to work as well for this frosting, and it does require a decent amount of patience to get right. I also loved the crispiness of torching the surface once the cake was put together, but if you don’t have a kitchen torch than it isn’t too much of a loss.

The end result looked like a giant marshmallow, and it certainly captured a great deal of attention. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Cake With Marshmallow Frosting

Ingredients
For The Cake
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp salt
6 tbs butter, melted
6 tbs vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 sweet potatoes
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

For The Frosting
8 egg whites
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp creme of tartar
2 tsp vanilla
(have powdered sugar on hand)

Directions
For The Cake
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  and prepare 2- 8 inch cake pans. Begin by preparing a sweet potato puree. Boil sweet potatoes in a pot. Every now and then poke them with a fork. When the potatoes are softened, drop them in a food processor to puree them.

2. In a large bowl mix flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.

3. In a separate bowl whisk butter, oil, sugars, eggs, and sweet potato.

4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and mix until well combined.

5. Divide the batter into the two pans. Place them in the oven and bake for 40 minutes.

6. Cool on a rack for at least ten minutes, or until cakes are completely cool.

For The Frosting
1. While the cake bakes in the oven, prepare the frosting. Begin by placing egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in a heat proof bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of boiling water. Whisk the until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is warm (about 5 minutes).
2. Remove from heat and beat with an electric mixer. Begin on low and slowly increase speed. White peaks will begin to form.  Add vanilla and continue to beat the mixture for about 7-10 minutes. If the mix is too runny, add powdered sugar (about 1/2 cup at a time) until you’ve reached the desired consistency. The frosting will be slightly softer than store bought fluff.
3. Place frosting in the fridge until ready for use. To assemble, spread frosting in between the two cake layers. Spread frosting over the top of the cake as well as the sides. For the roasted look at taste, run a kitchen torch over the surface of the cake, being careful not to burn the frosting.

Back To School and Bannock Recipe

Last year, when my son was two (almost three) years old, I decided to start our adventure into homeschooling. Beginning at this young of an age has given me the practice of routine, scheduling, and also getting to know my son’s learning style all before we enter into the school aged years that will eventually require more depth, focus, and discipline.  We learned how to read an write our alphabet, counting and writing numbers, basic shape and color recognition, and we explored more abstract concepts through various books we read. It was an incredibly enjoyable experience to see my son absorb knowledge, and I was excited when he started to express interest in reading and math toward the end of the year.

After a summer break (which included an amazing vacation), I have been so excited to get into our homeschooling routine again. This year, however, I decided to include a lot more material to meet his interests and abilities. I receive a ton of questions regarding how I’m homeschooling him. Do I use a curriculum? What is my routine? How do I plan? It’s always a little awkward trying to answer those, because truth be told I’m just trying to go with the flow. I’m still sorting through what works best for my son and me, and it takes a lot of trial and error before getting it right.  So far I think we are starting this year off with a good rhythm, and as we get better at the routine of having a designated “school time”, I’m feeling significantly more confident in my abilities for the future.

With regards to curriculum, there are a variety of resources we are using this year:

Five In A Row – Five In A Row is a literature based curriculum that covers a little bit of everything. Each week we have a book that we read together, and various themes and lessons are pulled from the story. The curriculum provides weekly ideas on math, science, literature, geography, and art to create a well rounded curriculum that is very much appropriate for young children. The expectation of Five In A Row is simply to read and converse with your children. It’s nothing fancy and tedious, and it’s effective (at least it has been with my son). There are ideas for extra activities to go along with each book, however, most of the learning is intended to take place via reading and discussion. We use Five In A Row for geography (each book takes place in a different place), science, art, and any other abstract subject presented in the curriculum. For other subjects, particularly reading and math, my son needed/wanted something a little more concrete.

Math U See – As someone who had significant struggles in math, I have come to adore Math U See. It’s manipulative based in that the curriculum uses block pieces (think legos) to physically demonstrate the concepts being taught. I also love how the lessons build on one another. The sequence of learning follows a logical path – introduce, review, practice, master – and the order in which students progress helps solidify their understanding of concepts. At the moment we are using the primer, which has been amazing. We’ve gotten through basic number identification and counting, identifying shapes, and at the moment we are introducing place value. We picked up Math U See toward the end of last year, and this year we are continuing his lessons at the pace he naturally sets for himself. The good thing about the primer is that, unlike the rest of Math U See, it is not meant to provide mastery. It’s simply an easy way to introduce math in preparation for future lessons, so it’s great for younger ages. It’s a significant relief for me to see that my son is forming a love for math, because that was a major stumbling block all through my personal school experience.

Spelling-You-See – Since Math U See has worked so well, I decided to pick up Spelling-You-See to help with reading and writing. It’s a very simple workbook that teaches basic phonics. So far the progress I’ve seen has been absolutely wonderful, and my son learned very quickly how to sound out small words.

Time To Read Hebrew: A very simple workbook series that teaches Hebrew. You are given a few letters at a time, and immediately you begin seeing them used in words (for example, the first letters you learn are shin, bet, and tav…which spell “Shabbat”).  We use the workbook as a guide for progress, but mostly we are working with various games we play with flashcards.

The Bible Story Series by Arthur S. Maxwell – Chances are you’ve seen these books while sitting in a doctor’s office. They are everywhere, and yet most people don’t pay too much attention to them. Yes, they are a little outdated in artistry (think 1950’s or 60’s), however, I am finding these books to be fantastic reads for my son. The main focus I have at the moment with regards to teaching my son the Bible is simply familiarizing the stories. What has worked the absolute best for us has been to follow the model Five In A Row intends – we simply read through the story and discuss. These books are associated with Seventh Day Adventists, though there are very few grand theological pushes within the stories. The thing I absolutely love about this series is the fact that it covers Biblical stories your typical storybook Bibles leave out (for example – we just the other day read a chapter specifically about Enoch, and later on they cover various prophets that are seldom mentioned in storybook bibles).  While I do have to switch up some of the language while I’m reading (again, a few decades outdated), I do find these books to be a great way to introduce my son to the Bible (on top of the children’s Bibles we’ve already been reading).

Our first couple of weeks started out smoothly! Week number one was a lot of short, sweet, and simple activities that got us back in the swing of having a “school” time in the morning. I introduced the theme of Geography, and we spent a lot of time studying the map we now have hanging on our wall. Together we read Flat Stanley, and he even created his own Flat Stanley for The Flat Stanley Project! (Now, I just have to send those out…)

Week number two was a little closer to what I’m aiming for a far as goals and routine. We started Five In A Row with the book The Very Last First Time by Jan Andrews, which introduced us to Canada! More specifically we focused on Inuit culture. We placed our story disk on Ungava Bay, learned about how the Inuit fish beneath large blocks of ice , we studied igloos, and we also listened to Inuit throat singing (it was hilarious watching my son give that a try). We also learned about aurora borealis (northern lights). This provided an awesome opportunity to introduce my son to water colors while we painted pictures of the northern lights!

I also have a goal of bringing the various cultures we learn about into our home through food. I’m hoping that with each location we “visit” in his schoolwork, we try at least one culinary dish from that culture.

Since we were learning about Inuit culture, our food this week was bannock!

Bannock is a type of bread that can be found in a variety of cultures, but is pretty popular among the Inuit. Essentially it is flour that’s been fried in lard or shortening, and can be eaten in a variety of ways. We made ours for breakfast, and included some jam to go along with it. To make it extra delicious, you can sprinkle some powdered sugar on top for a tasty treat (it’s similar to an elephant ear you would find at a fair).

My son loved the stuff, and gobbled down the entire batch before noon. It’s super easy to make, and I will definitely be making it again as a special treat!

Bannock 

Ingredients

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
water
2 cups shortening

Directions

In a frying pan on medium heat, heat the shortening.

While you are waiting for the shortening to completely melt, mix together in a separate bowl the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Gradually add water, mixing it well, until you have the consistency of batter.

Drop spoonfuls of the batter into the hot shortening. Once the bottom is golden brown, flip it over once to brown the other side.

There are a variety of ways to serve bannock. As I said, eating it with jam is a tasty breakfast and sprinkling them with powdered sugar makes them a delicious treat. However, you can also eat them with soups and stews!

Parmesan Cream Zoodles

I am not especially crunchy. Maybe a little crispy around the edges, but certainly not crunchy. Vaccines. Formula. Gluten. These are things I have proudly taken advantage of. Essential oils and salt lamps…not so much. On the other hand I make my own baby food, I think kale is delicious, and we are planning to raise our own chickens soon. On a scale of marshmallow to granola, I’m about fried pickle percent crunchy on a good day.

I do, however, have plenty of friends who have their own versions of crunchiness, and I believe that when I host them I need to try and meet their preferences. Having religious observances that dictate certain food restrictions, I know the deep appreciation I feel when someone goes out of their way to make sure my dietary needs are met. It makes me feel cared for and honored, and I like knowing that perhaps I’ve made someone feel the same way when it comes to their concerns regarding food.

That is why I love finding delicious recipes that can meet various dietary needs. I love when I can serve a friend something that isn’t thrown together in a mediocre attempt to feed them within their barriers, but a dish that is enjoyable and tasty. Something that I would whip up for myself simply because it tasted good, regardless of whether or not I follow a particular diet.

While this dish isn’t for the vegans or dairy-free crowd, I did manage to throw together something the gluten free eaters would appreciate. As an added bonus I got to play with some kitchen toys (the spiralizer), which I love finding excuses to use.

Most importantly, however, I found a delicious meal.

Parmesan Cream Zoodles

Ingredients

5 zucchinis
1TBS butter
*3 cloves minced garlic
5TBS milk
8 oz cream cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese
Cherry tomatoes (sliced)

  •  my general rule for cooking is to take the amount of garlic in a recipe, double it, and then pour Eeven more in. If you’re not as crazy about garlic as I am, the 3 cloves are a good start. If you love garlic, toss in what you like.

Directions

  1. Spiralize 5 zucchinis and set the bowl aside. Heat butter in a skillet, and saute garlic until well browned.
  2.  Once the garlic is cooked, add milk and cream cheese to the skillet. As the cream cheese melts, stir the mixture to create a creamed sauce.
  3. Fold in the zucchin noodles until it is well covered with the sauce.
  4. Add tomatoes, and stir in the Parmesan cheese until it is well melted, and the noodles are sufficiently cooked.

Homemade Blueberry Pie Ice Cream

Living in an agricultural state, we have this trend of finding entertainment in paying other people to let us preform the work of picking produce. I know some of my Yankee friends like to poke fun of the concept, but there’s an odd satisfaction in enjoying fresh fruits I’ve picked myself. It’s also a wonderful educational experience for kids, and helps build an appreciation for where our food comes from. I enjoy the tranquility, and kids somehow find it fun and exciting. It’s totally worth it to me.

Since reading Blueberries for Sal as part of our Before Five In A Row curriculum last year, blueberry picking has been a tradition we’ve recently started to pursue every summer. We go to a small family owned farm in our area and fill a bucket with as many blueberries as we can possibly gather. Once we bring our fresh fruit home we immediately can them and add to our ever-growing-never-ending collection of homemade jam.

This year I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had a lot of blueberries left over after the canning process. Considering that I’ve been in love with making homemade ice cream lately, the next idea I had for the blueberries was, of course, blueberry ice cream!

When I got around to actually making the ice cream, I decided to play around with texture and taste a little more than I intended. The result was incredibly delicious, and now a new favorite of mine. It’s rich in flavor, has a great texture, and I cannot stop eating it!

Also, if the blueberries are replaced with bananas this would make an excellent “banana pudding” ice cream!

Blueberry Pie Ice Cream

Ingredients

1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
2 tbs vanilla
2 cups fresh blueberries
1 11oz box of Nilla Waffers

Directions

Combine milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl. Whisk for about two minutes, until the sugar is well dissolved.

Mix in blueberries.

Fill a zip lock bag with Nilla Waffers (I used about 3/4 of the box). Using a meat cleaver or hammer (or whatever tool you have on hand), smash the cookies to a powdery consistency.

Mix the cookie powder in with the ice cream mix.

Prepare ice cream according to the manufacturing instructions of your ice cream maker. I have a niffty Cuisinart ice cream maker that has a freezable bowl I prepared a head of time. Your ice cream maker might require ice to be added. Read up on the instructions and become familiar with your maker.

Once the ice cream is finished, pour the rest of the Nilla Waffers into the zip lock bag. Once again crush the cookies, however, this time keep them a little more chunky and textured.

Pour the rest of the Nilla Waffers into the ice cream and mix well. Put the ice cream in a storage container and pop in the freezer to continue forming.

 

Family Road Trip Hacks

When my daughter was born this past December my husband received four weeks of family leave. He could take it at any point within a year of her birth, and the policy states that he must take the full four weeks at once. Since she was born in December he had time off for the holidays anyway, therefor it didn’t make too much sense for him to use his leave immediately. Knowing we had to make a trip to Chicago for a wedding this past June, we considered the possibility of using his time off to extend that trip into an even larger vacation. We had never been west of Chicago (together), and both of our kids handle car rides very well. It was something that could easily be pulled off with a little planning. We started plotting ideas for where to visit, planning how long we intended to drive for each day, what attractions we could hit throughout the various areas of the United States, and how we intended to make this adventure affordable. In the end we ended up with an incredible road trip that lasted 30 days. It was absolutely amazing.

Our final itinerary ended up looking like this:

Cherokee, North Carolina
Mammoth Caves, Kentucky
Hodgenville, Kentucky (Lincoln’s birthplace and childhood home)
Nappanee, Indiana (Amish Acres)
Chicago, Illinois
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Badlands, South Dakota
Black Hills, South Dakota
Devil’s Tower, Wyoming
Little Big Horn Battlefield, Montana
Yellowstone, Wyoming
Salt Lake City, Utah
Las Vegas, Nevada
The Hoover Dam (which is in both Nevada and Arizona)
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
Santa Fe, New Mexico
San Antonio, Texas
Houston, Texas
New Orleans, Louisiana
Atlanta, Georgia
Charleston, South Carolina

It was every bit as wonderful as I imagined, and we now have lovely memories to look back on. I also have a number of tips and tricks for lengthy car rides we might take in the future (though after living a month as a nomad, I think “lengthy” is relative).

So, how did we pull off a month long road trip? Here are the things I found most helpful…

Packing

Packing is perhaps those most frantic portion of any vacation. I’m a procrastinator, I’m always aware of the fact that I’m most likely going to forget something , and I’m a dreadful over-packer. Packing is chaos.

This time around I started preparing to pack early without actually packing. The first step began about a month before we left (we didn’t even have our itinerary worked out at this point). My mind isn’t organized enough to make a list in one sitting, so instead I kept a running list using a note taking app on my phone. When I randomly thought of something we needed, I jotted it down on my list. By doing this I removed the stress of trying to recall important items, yet I was able to come up with a way to help keep me organized while I packed. Also, I constantly reminded myself that if we were to leave anything behind we can take comfort in the fact that Walmarts are everywhere. Remembering that bit of information can bring a little calm in the storm.

Besides the basic clothes and toiletries, there were a number of items I wanted to make sure we had on hand. When packing for a road trip, I would suggest keeping these items in mind for a safer and easier vacation:

  • Plastic bags. We took a huge bundle of them, and they proved to be useful for a number of purposes.
  • Paper plates, cups, and cutlery. We picnicked a lot, so these were pretty necessary. I skipped out on plastic bowls, since cups could be used as both cup and bowl.
  • Lunch boxes and picnic blankets (you can find really convenient picnic blankets that fold into a neat portable carrier)
  • Paper towels. Whether it’s a spill or car sickness, paper towels can come in handy.
  • Wipes. I carry wipes with me at all times now that we have a baby again, but keeping a spare bag in the glove box is generally a good idea, as they are useful when the car is getting a bit grubby. Also if you’re traveling in a particularly secluded area (which is a huge chunk of western United States), you may need to pull over in order to let your small child use the side of the road as a rest stop. Wipes could be a necessity in those cases.
  • Placing a plastic bin on the floor of the back seat really assisted in keeping our car tolerable. Throwing in a plastic bag made it a very convenient trash can that we emptied whenever we pulled over for gas. I am particularly glad I remembered this.
  • Thermometer
  • First aid kit (band aids, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, etc.). Getting a kit from the medical section of a grocery store would be the easiest way to insure you have the majority of what you might need. I keep one in the car at all times, and it just so happened that we needed to open it for the first time during our trip (a bandage for a skinned knee).
  • Basic medicines such as tylenal (both for adults and kids), allergy relief, and Dramamine. Thankfully we had no need for any of these medicines (didn’t even have to deal with car sickness!), but it’s good to have them on hand just in case.
  • Cash
  • Flashlights
  • Umbrella
  • Bug spray
  • Suntan lotion
  • 1 out of season outfit per member of the family
  • I personally found that maxi skirts and dresses were the easiest piece of clothing to pack for this vacation. While I normally prefer trips that require hiking boots and a t-shirt, we were traveling with small children and therefor couldn’t do anything too strenuous anyway. Maxi skirts provided casual and comfortable clothes to wear while out and about, and yet they could easily be made into a nicer outfit if you wanted to do something slightly more formal, such as going out to dinner. Just throw on a necklace and put your hair up. A maxi skirt/dress could easily work for two different settings.
  • A good rule of thumb for packing children’s clothes: Take the number of days you’ll be gone and multiply it by 1.5. That will give you a rough guess as to how many tops or onsies you should pack. For pajamas divide that number by two.
  • A laundry bag and laundry pods (your laundry bag could be a roll of garbage bags. Just something to separate your dirty clothes).  If you’re going on a particularly long trip, you might end up using a hotel’s laundry room. If that’s the case, pods are significantly easier to carry than a container of liquid detergent.

Food

We did hit a number of great restaurants. Ri Ra Irish pub in Vegas, Gabriel’s in Santa Fe, and Medieval Times in Atlanta were places we splurged on (with no regrets). However, in order to make this road trip affordable we did try to avoid eating out. That meant I had to consider what meals we would bring with us in addition to the snacks we munched on during the drives. Bringing a cooler gave us more flexibility in what we could prepare. It became routine to empty the water and replace the ice every morning, which wasn’t too much trouble at all. Many hotels these days provide a microwave in some way. Most places we stayed had a microwave in the room, and when we didn’t there was usually one available in the lobby. That helped us significantly. Our ideas for food included:

Snacks:

  • Dried fruits and veggies
  • Mozzarella cheese sticks
  • Hummus (as well as carrots, pita chips, and anything else to dip)
  • Popcorn
  • Pouches of yogurt
  • Chocolate and/or cookies (something to settle the sweet tooth cravings)
  • Granola bars
  • Apples/grapes/clementines
  • Horizon milk boxes for the kiddos
  • Crackers
  • Pretzels
  • Animal crackers

Breakfast:

  • Baked goods. I simply grabbed some frosted rolls from the bakery section of the grocery store, and that was breakfast for the first few days.
  • Nature’s Path toaster pastries (especially good if you have a microwave in the hotel room, but also good enough unheated)
  • English muffins. Prepare them by adding turkey and cheese before popping them into a microwave.
  • Yogurt
  • Oatmeal: use the coffee maker in your room to heat up the water
  • Fruit
  • Bagels and cream cheese

Lunch:

  • Sandwiches are an obvious choice. Find different ways to change the flavors you’re eating throughout the trip so as not to burn out. Every time I went to replenish supplies, I choose a different type of lunch meat (turkey, shredded chicken, and then roast beef). Play with different ingredients to liven up the taste. Ideas for more interesting sandwich toppings and spreads include: sprouts, guacamole, hummus, salad dressings, horseradish (especially with roast beef), and herbs (such as fresh basil leafs).
  • Salads. To be completely honest, I simply grabbed pre-made (and pre-washed!) bags from the produce section.
  • Turkey rolls: Hawaiian bread with turkey, cheddar, and mayo (or mustard)
  • Quesadillas give you the option to make various sorts of wraps if you want to change things up from sandwiches. It can be as simple as turkey and cream cheese, or you can spice it up by making even more complex rolls (using the same ingredients as you would a sandwich). These are also easier for road trips since you wouldn’t need to worry about squishing bread.
  • Bagel pizza: Squeezable pizza sauce, shredded mozzarella, and turkey pepperoni.

Dinner:

With dinner we ate a lot of very cheap food to avoid going out. Most of the time I ended up using something from the lunch category, but I also had a number of foods to heat up in our hotel rooms.

  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Hot dogs
  • Soups that can be microwaved in their containers
  • There are any variety of microwave meals you can bring along if you’re willing to take a cooler with. Organic sections of grocery stores tend to have more interesting varieties (and more healthy options).
  • Frozen burritos
  • Frozen veggies

Also to keep in mind: Give your child his/her own lunch bag to keep in the back seat. It will keep them from bugging you about being hungry every ten minutes. You have control over portions, and they have the freedom of choice. When their inventory starts to run low, simply refill it.

Activities for kids

One of the biggest struggles parents face when traveling is, of course, keeping the kids entertained. I’m not going to lie about our use of electronics. The tablet definitely kept our driving easy and peaceful. However, there were other things we did to try and keep our son entertained throughout the trip. In between the two car seats I provided a basket with various activities he could access, which he was involved in helping to put together. We also tried to find ways to relieve any boredom that might have built up. Rest stops provided space to run around. Walmarts and grocery stores can be an excuse to get out of the car and walk around during longer stretches of driving. Public parks can be a wonderful release of pent up energy, and most major cities have some sort of children’s museum (we visited the Salt Lake City children’s museum while passing through).

Our activity bin included:

  • A cookie sheet with magnetized puzzle pieces. The preparation was simple. I stuck magnet strips to the back of puzzle pieces and threw them in a baggie with a cut out of the completed picture for reference.
  • A lego baseplate (also with magnetic strips on the back) with a small container of legos.
  • Rubix cube
  • Sticker sheets along with a small notebook to decorate (though most stickers ended up in various spots around the car)
  • Mess-free coloring sheets (Crayola color wonder) with their markers (markers were stored in a pencil bag)
  • An activity binder I put together. I printed various worksheet activities and slipped them into page protectors inside a binder. I also included a pencil bag with dry erase markers, which could be wiped off of the page protectors for reuse. Ideas for pages included: Activities from letter and number writing workbooks, a map of the United States so my son could follow along and keep track of our journey, various puzzles and maze activities I found online, and coloring sheets.
  • Glow sticks – they were a hit when we drove into the night
  • Books. Of course we brought a ton of books
  • Calculator. I  grabbed a cheap one at the dollar store (a wonderful resource!) before we left, and it turned out to be incredibly entertaining for my 3 year old. Particularly when his imagination turned it into a phone.

 

While road trips take time and require some preparation to pull off,  they are amazing experiences. These little details helped get us across America smoothly, with only very minor hiccups we can laugh about as we look back.  We returned home safe and sound, and we now have amazing memories to remember. I can’t wait to see how our next adventure goes!

 

 

Passover Recipe Ideas: Chocolate Coconut Mousse and Brisket

Food plays such an intensely important role in our lives, and it isn’t just the fuel required to sustain us. Taste is an enjoyable phenomenon that can bring happiness into any moment. Unique ways of preparing food is a cultural foundation for all people. When friends and family come together they usually gather around food in some way, whether it’s a dinner party or chicken wings during a football game.

When we celebrate an event there is food. When a person mourns they are immediately provided with food from their loved ones. It is the most instinctive way we care for those we cherish, and preparing a meal for a guest is a simple way to honor them. Taking the time to choose dishes you know to be someone’s favorite, or putting in the effort to creatively and deliciously meet the dietary needs and/or restrictions of others can be an incredibly touching gesture.

I love everything about hosting. I love having friends that know our door is always open to their company. I love providing a feeling that my home is their home. I love feeding people. I love the sound of children giggling together in the playroom while the parents enjoy some adult time. I love providing a space to worship G-d through conversation and fellowship. After all, doesn’t the Bible say in Matthew 18:20 “For where there are two or three gathered in my name, there am I among them“? My closest friends know that in my mind someone’s home can be their own personal ministry, and most people who spend significant amounts of time in my house know that I enjoy welcoming company, and I especially love feeding people. I don’t let you walk out of my door hungry if I can help it.

This is perhaps one of the reasons why Passover and Sukkot are my two favorite holidays. Both are home based festivals that encourage an open door (or tent flap in the case of Sukkot) for guests. They are an exercise in extreme hospitality, and I feel completely in my element when I prepare for these awesome celebrations.

Naturally, the details I tend to focus most on when it comes to inviting people into my house is food. What would they like? Are there any allergies or other dietary restrictions? What foods pair well with one another? Is this enough or should I throw in another dish? (Side note: I always have enough food). With Passover specifically it can be even trickier. Some guests may have varying levels of observance regarding their regular religious food restrictions. On top of that we have holiday specific dietary needs (no leavened foods), and even within those restrictions there are various levels of observances to consider. So every year I stick with relatively the same menu that I’ve perfected over time.

Matzo ball soup. Salad. Roasted vegetables. Curried fruit. A potato dish. Matzo kugel. Salmon. And a delicious brisket.

This year I finally figured out that a chocolate coconut mousse was the perfect dessert to go along with our Seder meal. It requires only a couple of ingredients, is very easy to whip up, and most importantly it is light, fluffy, and delicious. It will definitely appear on future Seder menus.

So, if you’re looking for a dessert that will feed people with any number of dietary restrictions, this mousse is perfect. If you’re planning a special dinner and want to share something nice and tasty with your guests, this brisket is great choice!

Chocolate Coconut Mousse

Ingredients

2 13.5 oz cans coconut milk
2 tbsp powdered sugar
5 tbsp coco powder

Directions

  1. Scoop the cream at the top of the coconut milk into a bowl, and discard the rest of the liquid. Add sugar and beat together using a hand mixer until creamy and thick.
  2. Fold in the coco and continue beating. The mixture will begin to have a more fluffy texture.
  3. Place in the refrigerator to chill in order to give it a little more form, otherwise it can be served immediately

 

Brisket

*NOTE: I have three necessary rules about cooking a brisket. First: You cook the meat with the fat on it. This is crucial for maintaining flavor. Second: Baste every 30 minutes. It will give you that nice fall apart texture. Third: You should cook the brisket a day ahead, and serve reheated. This gives it time to soak in the juices and takes in as much flavor as possible.

Ingredients

1 4lb beef brisket
6 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp kosher salt
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary (needles taken off of the stem and chopped)
1/4 cup olive oil
Black pepper
4 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
3 celery stalked, cut into chunks
4 red onions, chopped
1 bottle of dry red wine (or about 2 cups)
1 16oz can of whole tomatoes (hand crushed)
a handful of fresh parsley
3 bay leaves

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Stir together garlic, salt, and rosemary. Combine with olive oil and set aside.
  2. Season both sides of the brisket with a decent amount of salt and pepper. Place the brisket into a dutch oven or pan over medium-high heat and sear both sides until browned.
  3. Transfer to a roasting pan (or keep it in a dutch oven if there is room). Arrange vegetables around the pan, and pour the garlic rosemary mixture over the entire brisket. Pour in the wine and tomatoes, and add the parsley and bay leaves.
  4. Cover the pan with aluminum foil, or the cover of the roasting pan. Bake for 4 hours, basting every 30 minutes.
  5. Store the brisket in the refrigerator over night (keeping it in the pan with the juices). Reheat in a warm oven before serving (I started on 350 until it heated through, and then left it at 170 for a couple of hours before we were ready to serve).

Teaching Our Children The Story Of Passover

Ever since our first year of marriage it has been a tradition for my husband and I to eat matzo pizza while watching Prince of Egypt at some point during the week of Passover. It is one of the most beautiful depictions of a Biblical event that exists, and no matter how many times I’ve seen it I am always struck with the magnificence of the Passover story. I cannot watch (or listen to) the burning bush scene without my emotions being rubbed raw. Between the dialogue and music it always manages to bring the sting of tears into my eyes.

So, you can imagine the conflict I felt when my son (who has yet to see the movie) asked to join our annual viewing. On one hand I was excited. Finally I get to share this gorgeous biblically based filmography with my kid. On the other hand I was hesitant. Is he ready for certain scenes? Is he ready to know the specifics of what Moses was up against?

This year Passover has gotten a little more exciting than it has before. My son, being 3 1/2 years old, is at a point in his life where he is starting to internalize the more abstract workings of the world. This means that as we prepare for Passover he is asking a lot of questions. Why do we need to buy special crackers? Why do we need to deep clean the house? What is a Seder, and why do we have to eat horseradish? Sometimes his questions have a straightforward response. Other questions require significantly more detailed explanations and a careful choice of words. Exodus is packed with the theme of G-d’s redemption and the fulfillment of His promise. I am beyond joyful to share those elements with my children. There are, however, darker portions of the narrative. Slavery. Murder. Even justice is a struggle to understand in the situation of the exodus. Telling only half of the story isn’t good enough. To understand the magnitude of G-d’s miracle, one must be aware of what Israel was being freed from, and what it took to accomplish that redemption.

I am a firm believer that if children are able to ask the right questions, they are ready for at least some version of an honest answer. Yet I don’t feel ready to explain to my small child the wrath of G-d,  and it pains me to introduce him to things such as slavery and oppression. His perception is still innocent. In his mind people are still good and the world is a safe place to live. Evil isn’t something that has caught his attention yet, so why point it out while he’s still in this very brief moment in life where everything is secure?

As much as I wish to keep him in the dark for a little longer, I am also against the idea of purposely withholding honesty in favor of over protectiveness. He has been asking questions, therefore I have been delicately crafting careful yet honest answers. As we prepare for Passover this year he has become a little more aware that there are, in fact, bad people in the world. There are people who hurt other people. There is unnecessary sadness caused by evil. And sometimes, in order for the greater good to prevail, G-d responds with force.

As my mind shifts from the chaos of seder preparations to the intricacies of how to explain what is true in a way that is not going to scar a child’s mind, my thoughts are also churning over the deeper messages I as an adult still need to contemplate during this season. Part of observing Passover includes the acknowledgment that people around the world have always suffered, and continue to suffer, under the hands of oppression. Persecution and annihilation attempts directed toward Israel didn’t stop upon leaving Egypt. From Antiochus’ desecration of the Second Temple, massacres taking place as a response to blood libel in the 1100’s, the still-tender memory of the holocaust, or the more recent comments made by leaders such as Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (e.g. Israel is a “disgraceful blot” that needs to be “wiped off the face of the Earth”), antisemitism has presented itself within every generation.

And if it isn’t antisemitism it’s other people, in other places, with other versions of suffering.

Rwanda. Cambodia. Child soldiers. Bosnia. Darfur.  Blood diamonds. Guatemala. Sudan. Isis. Human trafficking. Civil war.

We have a list of buzzwords that can easily cause us to wince and recoil, because they serve as reminders of atrocities human beings are capable of. This is all too evident as news reports and videos of the recent Syrian chemical attack make their rounds in our media at this very moment. As I sit here contemplating how best to comfortably present a movie to my child because it depicts an animated and watered down version of evil, parents elsewhere in the world do not share that same luxury. The nightmare of such maliciousness is an everyday reality for them, and it has no care for the age of it’s victims.

I take for granted that I am able to shelter my children from the vile ways people can treat one another. I have the ability to protect their innocence, and build for them a foundation of safety and security. That is a blessing I am relieved to have, and I bow my head in thanks for the mercy G-d has given our family.

But that is all the more reason to not shy away from the specks of curiosity our children begin to show. Our unviolated safety makes it even more important for us to introduce them to things we would rather pretend don’t exist. Eventually these issues will hit their radar. They will process a little more clearly the events described in their books. They will catch snippets of news reports and over hear the adults whispering among one another. The existence of evil won’t be hidden forever, and when we leave them to process this information on their own we run the risk of allowing such things to turn their hearts and minds bitter.

We need to confront the situation and we need to extend a guiding hand for our children. We need to teach them that they can be different than this. They can be the difference. After Israel came out of Egypt, G-d introduced them to laws that included instructions such as feeding the poor, caring for the orphans and widows, and treating the sojourners among them humanly. The commands within Torah are filled with love and compassion. After being redeemed from enslavement and abuse, Israel is called to be something better than those who had oppressed them. They are called to improve the world by example.

This is the element I cling to when talking to my children about the Exodus, and all the baggage that comes with such themes. Yes, there are bad people in this world. Yes, people hurt other people. There is no use hiding from it since those truths will be crystal clear eventually. But rather than pulling the covers over our head and pretending there’s nothing to be done, we need to think about what contributions we have to fix our situation.

Fred Rogers, known as the beloved Mr. Rogers, once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, ‘look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping'”.  As we explore these difficult topics with our children this is the attitude we need to have. While they are still young and soaking in all we have to instill within them, we need to point out the warriors who combat nefariousness with love, compassion, and mercy. We need to draw attention to the midwives Shiphrah and Puah, who’s fear of G-d led them to defy Pharaoh’s command to kill newborn Hebrew boys. We need to point out the “righteous Gentiles” who helped hide and aid Jews in Europe during the holocaust. We need to show them the various ways people continue to work toward feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, sheltering those in need of protection. We need to teach our children how to become those people.

I could give it another year. I could choose to ignore the grit of what Passover is, and leave it as a holiday where we have a fun dinner and eat special crackers for a week. But a lot of development happens in a year, and more of my son’s personality is going to establish itself within that span of time. Eventually we have to teach our kids this reality, because it is not something we want them stumbling upon elsewhere. We shouldn’t let the bad overshadow the good. We have to be intentional in pointing out that for every mean person who raises their hand against others, there are good people rushing to defend. We learn our history so that we don’t repeat it. We retell these stories so we become familiar with what went wrong in the past, as well as what went right even in the face of monstrosity. There is a G-d who has upheld His promises and will continue to do so. The world is currently suffering, but He will intervene at the time He deems right.  He led us out of Egypt, He brought us our Messiah, and we can confidently believe with complete faith that He will come back to correct the wrong and bring restoration. Until then, however, we have our own work in repairing our broken world. Despite the challenges that are sometimes found in upholding kindness, compassion, mercy, and love, it is what we are called to do.

I want my children to grow into people who stand up in righteousness. I want them to be an example of love that casts a light against the shadow of hate. These lessons start in our home and from there they are carried to the playground, extra curricular activities, schools, work places, and wherever else life takes them.

So I stick with my original conviction that if children know the right questions to ask, they are ready for some version of the truth. We don’t have to side swipe them with the gory details that can haunt their psyche,  but being age appropriately upfront and honest at a time when personalities are being cemented is, perhaps, one of the most effective ways we as parents can change the world.

Caprese Chicken Lasagna

With Passover coming up it is once again time for me to go through my kitchen and find ways to use the breads and pastas hanging out in the back shelves of my pantry before the big chametz clean. “Kashering”, which is what we call the process, is basically a major spring cleaning right before the beginning of Passover where we rid our home of any food and ingredients that contain leavening (crumbs and all). At the end of the prep there are a few moments where I can sit back and sigh in relief as I enjoy the house being the cleanest it has been all year. It’s one of the more taxing parts of my job as matriarch of this house, but I love the end result.

Leading up to the big sweep I try to salvage what I can in terms of food. This time around we had a ton of lasagna noodles, so of course this meant Shabbat dinner was going to be more on the Italian side this week.

Usually I stick with one particular recipe I’m familiar with. A basic vegetarian lasagna my grandmother gave me. This time around I wanted to try something a little different to add to my collection of recipes. Caprese is an Italian salad I absolutely love. It’s simple to throw together, it warms my heart and waters my mouth whenever someone provides it at a pot luck, and it’s sure to win people over whenever I introduce it to those who have never tried it. For those who are not familiar, caprese is a piece of tomato, basil leaf, and fresh mozzarella cheese put together with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Sometimes it is tossed together in a salad. Sometimes the basil and mozzarella are laid on top of a piece of sliced tomato. Sometimes they are made into a cute bite sized appetizer by using baby tomatoes and toothpicks.

This time around I decided to turn caprese into a lasagna, and the result was incredibly delicious.

For those of you needing to use up that box of lasagna noodles before Passover, here’s your answer. For those who are simply looking for new dinner ideas or something to provide at a pot luck, this will put smiles on the faces you serve.

 

Caprese Chicken Lasagna 

Ingredients
1 box of lasagna noodles
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast
1 tbsp oregno
1 tbsp parsley
1 tbsp thyme
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
5 cloves of garlic (divided)
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp all purpose flour
1 yellow onion (chopped)
2 1/2 cups milk
5 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 – 15 oz container of ricotta cheese
1 egg
4 tomatoes
1 cup thinly sliced basil leaves
extra balsamic vinegar for a glaze

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and cook noodles according to package instructions

2) In a large skillet heat olive oil over medium heat. Cut up the chicken and mix with oregano, parsley, thyme, and salt and pepper. Cook until golden. Stir in balsamic vinegar and 2 cloves of garlic until well combined. Set aside.

3) In a sauce pan melt the butter. Saute chopped onion and the remaining garlic for about two minutes. Add flour and cook until a golden color. Stir in milk and simmer until the texture is creamy. Add one cup of mozzarella and the Parmesan cheese.

4) In separate bowl stir together ricotta cheese and egg.

5) Assemble the lasagna in a large baking dish. Spread a thin layer of sauce. Add a layer of cooked noodles. On top of the noodles spread a third of the ricotta cheese mixture, followed by a third of tomato slices, and a third of mozzarella. Repeat layers.

6) Bake for about 35 minutes. Once the lasagna is bubbly, drizzle a balsamic glaze over the top and serve!

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