Creative Crafts to Celebrate Independence Day

– johanna | June 28th, 2011


The Fourth of July marks the birth of the United States of America and the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted. On July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed declaring independence from Great Britain. The Declaration outlined the colonists desire for “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Those loyal to the idea of a new free America celebrated their hope for freedom four days later on July 8, 1776. However, that freedom would not come for some time nor without a hefty price.

The American Revolution would in turn test the resolve of many colonists. Yet, every summer even during the war they continued to celebrate the prospect of liberty.  In 1783, America finally won it’s independence. In 1938 Independence Day was dubbed a legal holiday.

Since July 8, 1776 American’s have celebrated Independence Day with community parades, fireworks, and live music. Independence Day is a perfect excuse to gather with family and friends. Below are some favorite 4th of July craft ideas.

Happy Independence Day!

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Honey Whole Wheat Bread

– johanna | June 24th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Breads

In my hometown where I grew up there was bread factory. The smell of delicious fresh baked bread permeated the still early morning air. It was a stark contrast from the pungent aroma of rotten oranges emanating from the orange juice factory on the opposite side of town. Accompanied by the fishy stench from the ocean side.

My experience with bread making has seen more failures than successes. Nevertheless I refuse to accept defeat. I now have a small arsenal of bread recipes. That despite my lack of talent tends to come out no matter what. In fact, the dough for Honey Whole Wheat Bread has never been the same every time I make it. Yet the final result is always the same.

My idea of a good bread recipe uses minimal ingredients and is user friendly. This recipe accomplishes both. The idea of letting the sponge (wheat flour and water) rest for an hour is genius. No bitter flavor here. I read once years ago that honey was used in wheat bread to offset the strong flavor of the wheat. However, honey can also contain an overpowering flavor. So often my whole wheat loaves were bitter due to the combination of honey and wheat bran. In the King Arthur Whole Grains cookbook the recipe for whole wheat sandwich bread calls for orange juice instead of honey. They claim the OJ placates the strong flavor from the wheat. Still the recipe involves the additional ingredients of potato flakes and dry milk. These three ingredients were not a common staple in the pantry. Thus, the recipe did not meet my criteria for a good loaf of bread.

This recipe yields a tender crumb and no bitter taste. Yet it is a hearty loaf. This is not a recipe for a light airy wheat sandwich bread.

Source: The Fresh Loaf
makes two loaves
1 pound whole wheat flour (3 cups)
12 ounces hot water
8 ounces bread or all-purpose flour (2 cups)
1 5 ounces milk
1/3 cup honey
2 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons instant yeast

Mix the hot water and whole wheat flour together in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic and set aside until around room temperature, at least 1 hour.

Add the milk, honey, salt, yeast, and bread flour to the original mixture and mix until well combined. Add additional flour and knead by hand or in a stand mixer until a tacky but not completely sticky dough is formed. Place the ball of dough in a well-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise for 60 to 90 minutes.

Divide the dough in two and shape the loaves. Place the loaves in greased bread pans, cover the pans loosely with plastic or in a large plastic bag, and set aside to rise again for 90 minutes.

During the final 30 minutes of rising, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the pans into the oven and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Bake for approximately 45 to 55 minutes, rotating the pans once so that they brown evenly, until the internal temperature of the loaves is around 190 degrees and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.

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Summer Solstice

– johanna | June 21st, 2011


“The Sun” by Cathy McClelland

As the southern hemisphere of the earth approaches winter the northern hemisphere is just beginning to welcome in summer. The first day of summer begins each year on June 21st. The Summer Solstice sun reaches its maximum height on the first day of summer. This is relatively the longest day of the year because the time lapse between sunrise and sunset is the longest. In fact the regions closest in proximity to the North Pole experience a 24-hour period of daylight called a “Polar Day”. A solstice happens only twice a year; in the winter when the sun reaches the southern most position in the sky and on the first day of summer when the sun is in its northern most position.

This extended period of sunlight continues to shorten the farther south you travel from the tip of the Arctic Circle. During the following two months the polar cap is bathed in continuous sunlight; meanwhile, the subarctic regions experience a shorter night beginning anywhere between 12am or 2am. As the summer progresses towards fall the path of the sun descends.

For centuries people have gathered together in various parts of the world to celebrate the Summer Solstice through music, art, dancing, and festivals. For our ancestors the Summer Solstice was a joyous occasion. Summer meant an abundance of crops as a result of the increased warmth and light from the sun. For that gift many gave thanks by way of celebration.

Our dependance on the sun and the earth’s resources is just as important to us today as it was for our ancient ancestors. In honoring an amazing phenomenon such as the summer solstice we teach our family to recognize the intricate details of nature and how to show appreciation for the many gifts our earth provides. With a focus on nature and giving here are some fun ideas to celebrate the first day of summer.

– Check the local newspaper or City website for celebrations in your area. Some businesses such as museums offer discounts to ring in the new season.

– Observe the sunrise or sunset.

– Create banners, sun masks (using paper plates, gold paints and jewels) and wreaths.

– Host a neighborhood parade or an impromptu music jam session in the park.

– Make fruit candles. Scoop out the insides of an orange or apple. Place a small candle inside or pour hot wax and add a wick.

– Have a fairy themed party.

– Have a campout in the back yard. Tell magical stories and let the imaginations run wild.

– Plant a garden. Set a place within for an enchanted fairy princess.

– Have a BBQ with a feast of roasted vegetables and fruits.

– Make individual sun shaped bread rolls.

– Make candle boats to release on the lake.

– Make a time capsule. Include pictures and drawings, things interested in, things everyone would like to change or goals. Seal the box or envelope until next year.

– Write a play to perform for friends and family.

– Find a You-Pick farm to pick berries.

– Come up with ways to save energy and water at home during the week.

– Help keep the earth beautiful by recycling and placing liter in garbage cans.

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Italian Dressing Mix

– johanna | June 17th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Soup / Salad

You can’t beat homemade dressing. In this recipe alone I eliminated about a 1/3 cup of oil as called for decreasing the oil to 1/3 cup instead of 2/3. I also replaced the salted herbs with non-salted herbs and omitted the sugar.

This is a recipe for an Italian dressing powdered mix. Each mix makes about four 8-oz servings of dressing. I like to combine all of the ingredients in a jar and shake to combine. It is faster to use the jar than whisking in the oil separately.

Source: Adapted from
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
2 tablespoons salt

In a small bowl, mix together the garlic salt, onion powder, sugar, oregano, pepper, thyme, basil, parsley, celery salt and regular salt. Store in a tightly sealed container.

For Dressing:
To prepare dressing, whisk together 1/4 cup white or red wine vinegar, 2/3 cup canola oil, 2 tablespoons water and 2 tablespoons of the dry mix. Store in the refrigerator.

**The oil will separate after sitting for a period of time. Just shake or whisk the dressing to incorporate the ingredients before serving.

– Use orange juice in place of the water with red wine vinegar.
– Use half the oil reducing the amount to 1/3 cup.
– Use the powdered mix to marinade steaks, chicken, season popcorn and chips.
– Mix Italian dressing mix into 1/2 cup mayo and 1/2 cup sour cream to make a veggie dip.
– You can find a better deal on bulk spices and herbs at culinary shops like Smart & Final or club warehouses or Big Lots.

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Family Togetherness: Dance Party Saturday Night

– johanna | June 13th, 2011


Photo: Party Tent, property of Lenny Steele

Dancing has been my passion since I was at least three years old. I danced and leaped all over the house begging my mom to let me take ballet lessons. I was captivated by shows like Shirley Temple and the live recorded ballets shown on the PBS channel. The highlight of my youth was scoring tickets to see my idol MikhailBaryshnikov perform live at the theater. In my college years it was an honor to be able to study under such greats as Natalie Nijinsky, a prima in the Moscow Ballet, and my friend Karen, a prodigy of Rudolf Nureyev. An injury prevented me from staying with ballet; however, the dance bug never left. I took to the dance halls of a local Disco studio. Living it up in platform shoes, bell bottoms and afro puffs. I even worked for a party company reliving the 20’s and 50’s era style of dance. Dancing was my life. If I was angry…I danced. If I was stressed…I danced. When I was happy…I danced! I am so happy that my children share my enthusiasm for dance.

After a long week we crank up the music and find our groove. The kids all have different tastes so it gets a little crazy after a while changing from girlie pop to raging metal; with a slew of garage band and Indie Rock in between.

The preschool aged guys tend to be less concerned about how they look and more focused on having a blast. For this age group just turn on the music and boogie.

As kids get older it is probably not so cool to cut the rug with mom and dad. For school-aged children Playstation, XBOX and Wii have games like Dance Revolution that are not as lame as watching mom do the Macarena.

For the scholarly age group of youth you can choose to learn a different style of dancing as a family at a local studio. Think ballroom, jitter bug, swing, scottish, clogging, salsa, disco, ect.

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Jen’s Basic Granola Reserve

– johanna | June 10th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Breakfast, RECIPES - Snacks

Granola is a combination of grains (particularly oats), nuts, dried seeds and fruits seasoned with spices. It makes a terrific breakfast cereal with yogurt or milk. Take some along for a quick pick-me-up snack. Homemade granola is not like the hard clusters found in cereal boxes on the grocery store shelves. Although mixed with a medium it can be made into a portable snack bar or nuggets. I love Jen’s recipe the best for cereal because it is light with a pleasant hint of vanilla. It is not overly sweetened either. The only place I could find unsweetened coconut and real coconut flavoring was at the health food store such as Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.

Jen’s Notes:
“This recipe can also be cooked on Low in a crockpot. It’ll take a couple of hours – stir frequently for even browning. I suppose you could make a half batch, but since it stays good a while and we eat it for breakfast and snacks, I prefer to make a whole recipe.”

Source: Jennifer West
1/2 cup Honey
1 cup Oil
2 teaspoon Vanilla
2 teaspoon Coconut Flavoring
1 cup Dry Milk
3 cups Unsweetened Dried Coconut
7 cups Oats
1/4 cup brown sugar or 1/2 teaspoon Stevia

Combine the liquid ingredients (I use a glass measuring cup because it’s easier to pour into the dry ingredients in the next step) and heat in the microwave for a minute or so while you combine the remaining ingredients.

Stir together the dry ingredients until well mixed. Stir the liquid ingredients in the measuring cup to combine. Slowly pour the liquid ingredients into the oat and coconut mixture, stirring constantly. Continue to stir until liquid ingredients are evenly distributed.

Divide granola between two 13 x 9 baking pans. Smooth out tops for even browning. Bake at 325 for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir to ensure even browning. (I use a spatula to lift and turn the mixture onto itself, working around the outside of the pan, then lifting and turning the cereal in the center.) Redistribute evenly in the pans, smooth the tops and return to the oven. Bake 10 more minutes, and stir again. Bake another 5 minutes and stir. Bake another 5 minutes, if necessary – you want a nice golden brown, but not too dark. After removing from the oven, stir a final time (or the cereal that’s in contact with the pan will get too brown). Makes about 1 gallon.

-Add 1/2 cup each type of chopped nuts if adding more than one: walnuts, almonds, pecans or whole pine nuts. Reduce oil to 3/4 cups.
– 1/2 cup sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds.
-Add 1/2 cup dried fruit such as raisins, cherries, blueberries, dates or cranberries. Dried fruit such as apricots will need to be chopped first.
-2 tablespoons wheat germ or flax meal.
-1 tablespoon cinnamon.
-1/2 teaspoon ground ginger.

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June Website Review: Factory Tours USA

– johanna | June 6th, 2011


Photo: Acoustic Gibson Guitar Property of

Factory Tours has been my favorite site this school year for field trip ideas. Factory Tours is a website dedicated to sharing factory industry tours in addition to museums, farms and off beat venues available to the public across the United States. The website is updated by supporting members who agree to scout out and submit the business information not widely publicized.

To access tour information simply click on a state. Tours are listed in alphabetical order by business name not city. Because this is a third party website always call the vendor or visit the website before planning a visit to clarify the information listed is correct. If you wish to become a contributor simply register as a member.

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Honeydew Lemonade

– johanna | June 3rd, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Beverage

I am guilty of wasting money by tossing overripe fruit instead of trying to find a way to “recycle” it. I should clarify here that I do not actually throw the food in the garbage. Rather I throw it in a pile in the back yard for compost. However, I was not feeling well with the idea of chucking usable produce. Maybe it was the thrifty side of my brain watching the all the money go to feeding the plants instead of the kids.

Recycling food is nothing new. People have been doing it for generations. Brown bananas are perfect for making banana bread. Mushy pears mix well into muffins. Tomatoes easily become a pot of tomato sauce. Smoothies are hands down the best way to transpose dying fruit. But what about melons? I had a large tasteless honeydew in my refrigerator that no one wanted to eat. I could not just throw it out. So what do I do with it?

I would have never considered pureeing a melon and adding it to lemonade but it works. In fact I think I prefer Honeydew Lemonade to plain lemonade now. It makes for a harmonious blend of sweet and tart without the overly sweetness of refined sugar. I will offer one word of caution. I had this brilliant idea to blend the sparkling water with ice to make a slush. Do not do it. Rather I would try freezing the honeydew/syrup mixture then blend with the water. Adding the extra ice drowned out the lemonade. We were left with watered down lemonade.

Source: Fine Cooking
Grated zest of 2 lemons
1 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 small honeydew melon (about 3 lb.), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
2 cups plain or sparkling water
Thin lemon slices and fresh mint sprigs for garnish

Combine the zest, lemon juice, and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer until the sugar dissolves, about 5 min. Strain and cool.

Purée the melon in a blender. In a pitcher, combine the melon juice and the cooled syrup and mix well. Chill. Just before serving, add the water and serve over ice, garnished with the lemon slices and mint.

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