Summertime Fresh Fruit Salad

– johanna | July 29th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Breakfast, RECIPES - Sides, RECIPES - Snacks, RECIPES - Treats

Long about March the produce section at the supermarket was looking, well… pretty drab. Apples were out of season. The onions looked like they had traveled a great distance. I was so excited when the local fruit stands started opening up.

I love everything about summer, the warmth, the surf, picnics, being outdoors and the colorful array of fruits. These sweet gifts of nature look brillant in a fruit salad. So many dabs of color and texture. Fruit salad makes a wonderful end to an evening meal or a healthy homecoming after school snack.

Serves 8-10 generously
1 small Watermelon, cubed
1/2 Pineapple, cubed
1 Peach, 1/4-inch slices
1 Red Plumb, 1/4-inch slices
1 pint Raspberries
2 Kiwi, sliced

Place pieces of fruit in a large bowl and toss.

Best eaten the same day. If the leftovers seem dry and tasteless, add enough fruit juice to coat. Let sit a few minutes to absorb.

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Watermelon Frost Popsicles

– johanna | July 22nd, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Beverage, RECIPES - Snacks

I have dubbed my oldest son the official watermelon picker. I was certainly not gifted my Aunt Ruth’s talent for choosing sweet ripe watermelon. The trait was passed on to my son. After we had our fill of watermelon we made watermelon popsicles. A request from my son who liked the watermelon flavored ice water I made the week before. I happened to have a container of juice concentrate I was planning to use to flavor snow cones with. You can substitute pomegranate or cranberry juice for the concentrate, adding a little sugar if the mixture is not sweet enough.

Source: Two Peas in a Bucket

4-5 cups seeded cubed watermelon
6 strawberries, optional
6 ounces frozen berry fruit punch concentrate

Puree watermelon and fruit concentrate in blender. Divide among 16 small popsicle molds and freeze.

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The Mighty Blueberry

– johanna | July 19th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Beverage, RECIPES - Breakfast, RECIPES - Main Dish, RECIPES - Treats, THE BOOKSHELF

Photo: Courtesy of Wiki Commons

July is National Blueberry Month. The honor was issued by the United States Department of Agriculture on May 8th, 1999. However, blueberries have been recognized for their health benefits and as a major food staple for centuries.

Blueberry season is at its peak and there is much to celebrate about this plump little orb. The blueberry, unlike apples which came from Europe, is indigenous to North America. Native Americans referred to them as ‘Star Berries’ for the five-pointed star that forms on the underside of the berry. It was believed that the Great Spirit sent the berry from the stars to sustain them, and the wild animals, during times of famine. The blueberry plant was utilized as a whole in various ways. The leaves and roots were steeped to make teas. The berry juice aided coughs and made excellent dyes for fabrics. The berries were eaten fresh, dried, and in powdered form in cultural dishes ranging from stews to seasoning for meats.

The blueberry contains the richest source of antioxidants among all fruits and vegetables. Scientists believe the high concentration of flavonoids in the blueberry just might hold the key to resolving some of the most serious threats to our optimal health- heart disease, obesity and various cancers.

Antioxidants are made up of minerals, vitamins and flavonoids. Antioxidants work to neutralize the cellular dammage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals. Free radicals have been linked to the development of cardiovascular diseases, cancers, neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and blindness to name a few. The body is exposed to free radicals when burning sugars for fuel and other bodily functions; as well as from natural and chemical pollutants.

We get the purest form of antioxidants from eating raw fresh fruits and vegetables. The substance in blueberries, called polyphenols, is what gives the fruit its blue color and delicious flavor. Polyphenols are made up of two antioxidant compounds: non-flavonoids (ellagic acid in berries) and flavonoids (anthocyanins in fruit). Polyphenols are major contributors in cardiovascular health. Ellagic acid, when consumed regularly, has been shown to prevent against arterial hardening, or atherosclerosis. Moreover, the anthocyanins compound can inhibit the formation of new baby fat cells; thus, reducing triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood stream used for energy) and cholesterol.

Before running off to stock up on all things blueberry remember not all things are as they seem. Many of the foods advertised as containing blueberries are really synthetic knock-offs. Read the labels first to make sure the package actually contains real blueberries. As always nothing is better than the real deal. Stock up on fresh ripe berries this summer to enjoy later in the winter.

Pork with Savory Blueberry Sauce:
Mixed Greens with Feta, Almonds and Blueberries
Refrigerator Blueberry Jam:
Blueberry Pops:
Blueberry Pancakes:
Blueberry Sauce:
Blueberry Pie:
Blueberry Smoothie:
Blueberry Crisp:
Blueberry Scones:
Blueberry Bars:
Blueberry Muffins:
Maple Almond Granola With Dried Blueberries:

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Garlic Ginger Pork

– johanna | July 15th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Main Dish

Many “Sticky Ginger Pork’ recipes have failed to produce the ‘sticky’ element. I won’t discount my own user errors. Recipes are so temperamental. One day they are a keeper. The next time a flop. My problem with sticky recipes was they were runny, salty and just like every other generic stir-fry recipe. I wanted the sauce to cling to the meat not run off. I wanted less soy sauce and more tangy sweetness. I started with a recipe from a friend of mine. It was a typical Sticky Chicken recipe. With a pair of safety goggles and a science book I went to work to discover the secret of sticky sauces.

When a starch (such as flour, arrowroot, corn starch, or potato starch) is added to a liquid the chemical compound of the ingredients change. If the mixture is heated the starches gelatinize and thicken. Starch base thickeners are useful in soups, stews, gravy and sauces.

When a sugar solid is heated it turns into a liquid. The sugar’s chemical structure changes allowing it to bind to the other materials. Heat water and sugar and you get a simple syrup. Simple syrups are used in lemonade, granitas and to brush the tops of cakes to keep them moist. On the other hand if sugar is boiled with corn syrup the result is candy. If the candy is heated for a short duration the ingredients will create a sticky base like a caramel. If heated too much the sugar will either harden (think lollipops).

To make a thick sticky syrup the sugar, in this case the honey, is boiled with a liquid (soy sauce) and a thickener (corn starch). The chemical reaction is much like as described above. The glucose molecules are broken down creating a sticky syrup. The corn starch then binds with the liquid syrup to thicken it.

For this concept to work perfectly the ratio of each ingredient is factored into the equation.
The formula for a simple sugar is as follows:
Thin simple syrup – 3:1 water to sugar (used to glaze cakes and cookies)
Medium simple syrup – 2:1 water to sugar (used to make sweeten beverages)
Thick ‘basic’ simple syrup – 1:1 or 1:2 water to sugar (used in cocktails, fruit beverages, flavored ice)

For a thicker syrup I used two parts sugar to one part soy sauce. I wanted the sweet golden flavor of the honey to stand out with the ginger as opposed to the saltiness of the soy sauce. As for the thickener many recipes call for 1 tablespoon corn starch. It seems to chalky for me. Cutting the starch in half was just enough to give the sauce the lift it needed without the taste. The measurements worked perfectly. Just the right amount of sweet and salt melded together with the perfect hint of ginger.

I use this garlic ginger sauce on everything from pork to salmon. You can alter the ginger to your own tastes. Do watch the sauce closely as it cooks to prevent it from burning.

1 tablespoon sesame oil or olive oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch or arrowroot
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup of honey
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
4 to 6 pork chops
Garlic powder
Salt
Pepper

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Season both sides of the pork chops with the garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Place chops in the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes per side (or thin cut chops) or 4-6 minutes per side (for thick cut chops). Remove chops from pan to rest.

Reduce heat to medium. In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and soy sauce until smooth. Add to the pan, stirring constantly. When sauce has thicken slightly add the honey, garlic, and ginger. Bring just to a boil stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Return chops to the skillet with the sauce or place chops on a platter and pour sauce over top.

Serve with brown rice and steamed vegetables.

Variations:
– Replace pork with salmon or chicken.
– Use sauce as a marinade. Omit the cornstarch. Do not boil. Season chops as directed then place in a baggie with the other ingredients. Add the meat, turning the bag to coat and let sit at least and hour or up to overnight.

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Family Togetherness: Family Reunions

– johanna | July 12th, 2011

Filed under: CREATING MEMORIES, THE BOOKSHELF

Artwork: ‘The Tree of Life’ by Fawaz Alolaiwat

Family reunions can be a source of great enjoyment. Each time I am able to make it across country to be with my family it feels like a family reunion. The last time I visited there was an intimate reunion at my cousin Kitty’s home. It was nice to see the cousins I had not seen for ages. Every summer the relatives on my dad’s side gather together in Georgia. It is such an amazing experience to connect with those whom I have never met before.

Reunions can be a social gathering to celebrate a holiday or special occasion. They can also be a once in a lifetime event to join generations of family together. To have a successful reunion all it takes is some advance planning and a few helping hands.

1. The Guest List: The first step to planning a reunion is figuring out who is invited? How far out on the family tree do you want to branch out? Is this going to be a small affair between immediate family (grandparents, parents and grandchildren)? Or is this a once in a life time reunion to mingle with distant relatives?

2. Budget: Money is such an ugly word sometimes. Unfortunately cost is a pretty important aspect of organizing a family reunion. Keep in mind phone calls will need to be made. Invitations mailed. The venue: camping, rec-hall, park, garden, ect. Then there is the food, lodging, gas, decorations, games, and a myriad of other small details that can quickly add up. Reunions can last from one day up to three days. The general rule is the farther family have to travel the longer the reunion.

3. Buzz: Determine if there is any interest among targeted family members. Send out a survey to let relatives know a reunion is in the works (about a year or two in advance for larger get togethers). This allows those interested living a great distance away to start planning. Ask for feedback on possible dates, type of reunion (picnic, BBQ, resort, cabin, cruise), venue location, and interest in helping with the planning. Encourage them to respond back by a certain date. Use the survey to collect missing contact information.

4. The Team: The number of committee members will depend on the scale of the reunion. Divide the tasks up into categories and delegate if needed. Make sure each committee understands what their budget is and sticks to it.

  • Chairperson: The chairperson is usually the one who came up with the idea. Or find someone in the family who is responsible enough and enjoys planning and executing special events to help co-chair the project. The chairperson oversees the entire production to ensure that the event runs smoothly. They procure the location and keep tabs on each committee.
  • Finances: The finance committee works closely with the Chairperson and the fundraising committee (if using). They remind each sub-committee to stay on budget. They are also responsible for collecting the monetary contributions from each family.
  • Fundraising: If you plan to raise money for the reunion by way of auction, raffle, or other fund raising activity you will want to create a fundraising subcommittee.
  • Promotions: This group is in charge of collecting addresses, making phone calls, and printing and mailing invitations. The invitation should include: time, place, theme, cost person family, menu arrangements- particularly if a potluck dish required, request for photos and stories, accommodation information, and RSVP information. Follow up with those who RSVP a month before the scheduled reunion day.
  • Decorations/Setup/Cleanup: This group is in charge of ordering rental equipment, setting up the tables and chairs (if needed) and clean up. They also are responsible for coming up with ideas for decorating the welcoming table, the dinner tables and location.
  • Food: This group organizes the food whether it is ordering from a caterer, managing a pot luck, or making reservations at a restaurant.
  • Activities: The activities committee ensures everyone is having a good time. They plan the music, entertainment, games, sports, crafts, and activities for the kids as well as adults.
  • Accommodations: The accommodations committee is responsible for the lodging of any out of town guests. This may include reserving campsites, blocks of hotel rooms, or spaces in the homes of local relatives.
  • Photographer: After all the hard work and effort you want something to show for it all. The photographer is responsible for taking all the keepsake shots during the reunion.
  • Favors: The favors committee is responsible for the memorabilia. T-shirts and hats could be purchased to wear at the event. A completed family tree with picture/s from the event or newsletter may be mailed later.

5. The Venue: When choosing a location take into account the demographics of those attending. Children need room to run. Older people may prefer more shade when out of doors and comfortable seating. Some ideas for types of reunions include the following–

  • A Picnic / BBQ: This is the easiest and least expensive way to have a reunion. It is especially great for large groups. Choose between morning or late afternoon. Hold it in the backyard, at a park, the beach, or rec-center. Each family can be responsible for their own food or asked to bring a side dish.
  • Dinner Reception: This type of reunion is hassle free but more expensive. It is usually held at a nice restaurant, hotel, or resort where the hotel’s Events Planner can take care of most of the planning.
  • Camping: Camping trips are reserved for smaller groups typical of a more intimate family gathering. Rent cabins, an RV or camp in a tent. A good state park provides hours of fun: boating, skiing, swimming, hiking, golf courses, biking, ect. The only downside is the locale may not be suitable for some of the older family members.

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Strawberry Shortcake Cookies

– johanna | July 8th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

There is a fresh strawberry stand within biking distance from our home. The strawberries are always so juicy and sweet. Problem is I have two little ones who can down a whole flat of berries in one day. My daughter did not like the idea of using the strawberries she could be eating to make cookies. She went so far as to accuse me of making her starve to death. She reluctantly helped me chop the strawberries and prepare the batter. However, I did not hear a single complaint when it came time to eat them.

Strawberry shortcake cookies are similar to a scone or biscuit. I diced the pieces of strawberry about the size of a pea. I did not want a soggy cookie that can sometimes result from larger pieces of fruit. I also used raw sugar in the place of the sanding sugar. The effect was essentially the same just not as sparkly. If you do not have kosher salt you can substitute regular table salt decreasing the amount slightly.

Source: Martha Stewart
12 ounces strawberries, hulled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (2 cups)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon or lime juice
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2/3 cup heavy cream
Sanding sugar or raw sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375F degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine strawberries, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 7 tablespoons of granulated sugar.

Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter, or two forks until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Stir in the cream until dough starts to come together, then fold in the strawberry mixture, just until combined. Do not handle the dough to much. It will cause the cookies to become tough. If the mixture is too dry add another tablespoon of crea to the bottom of the bowl and fold in.

Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop or two tablespoons, drop dough onto parchment lined baking sheets, spacing evenly apart. Sprinkle with sanding sugar, if using.

Bake until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes; or until a light golden color. Remove from the oven and transfer cookies with a spatula to a wire rack, and let cool.

*These cookies are best served the day they are made, but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 to 2 days.*

Yields: 3 dozen Cookies.

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July Website Review: Teach by Magic

– johanna | July 5th, 2011

Filed under: THE BOOKSHELF, THE CRAFT CLOSET

Teach by magic is a fun innovative way to motivate kids to learn. Teach by Magic hires Magicians from all over the world to think of exciting magic tricks specifically designed to teach all age groups. What kid does not delight in a magic trick?

Simple tricks such as the Bottle Rock It – Challenge, we just did for the Fourth of July, teaches physics through learning how to draw a dollar bill from between two towering bottles of water. Teach by Magic covers everything from reading, history to math. Enter a topic on the search bar and a list of videos on that topic spring up. If the kids are in need of a fun bordem buster this summer try a few magic tricks.

The videos are set up in two sessions. The first session the magician gives a brief explanation about the trick. . Session two shows the solution to the trick. The tricks range from fairly simple to moderate practice needed. Although trying to figure out how the trick works is the best part.

Free membership is available but with limited access. To gain full access purchase a membership for $50 a year. This gives you all the videos, answers, and worksheets. Half price memberships are available for a limited time by using the Friends Code: LFG. The Teach by Magic book is also available for purchase through Amazon.

My kids require a lot of hands on manipulatives. Teaching tools such as this has been an invaluable resource as more and more studies show that kids learn and retain information faster through play. Just be prepared to answer many thought provoking questions.

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Dairy Free Amish Coleslaw

– johanna | July 1st, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Sides

Cole slaw is a type of salad made with shredded cabbage (green and/or red varieties) and optional ingredients such as: shredded carrot and raisins; dressed with a mayo vinaigrette. Cole slaw has long been associated with the South; often viewed as a traditional Southern food typically served at picnics and barbecues. The truth is coleslaw has an extensive history expanding its roots to 4000 years ago in Ancient Asia.

There are many varieties of the cabbage plant. And although the name cabbage is French in dialect Ancient China was home to the cabbage plant. The cabbage cultivated by the Chinese, and Medievale Europe, was a loose leafy version closer in appearance to kale as opposed to the tightly wrapped head of cabbage that we see today. Cabbage was highly favored in Asian cuisine for its propensity to easily pickle. A preferred delicacy in ancient china was pickled cabbage leaves served over a bed of rice.

Around 600 BC pickled cabbage made its way into Roman and Greek cuisines. The Romans believed that cabbage held natural healing properties. Some of our understanding of these medicinal uses of herbs was handed down from ancient Greek Hippocrates in the form of a medical textbook called The Hippocratic Corpus. We know today that cabbage is beneficial in treating constipation, intestinal parasites, stomach ulcers, the common cold, whooping cough, frostbite, mental depression, and irritability. It is no surprise that the Dutch carried sauerkraut with them when on extended voyages to prevent scurvy and gangrene.

Cabbage continued to spread from Asia across Europe by way of Irish Celtic wanders. The Celts returned to Ireland from China and began cultivating the Chinese variety of cabbage. Favored uses of cabbage included pickled with vinegar or a brine, raw salads, and soups. Pickled cabbage, or sauerkraut, remains a mainstay of the German diet. The term ‘Coleslaw’ however, is of Dutch origin, referred to as ‘koolsla’, dating back to the Medieval period. Dutch settlers later introduced koolsla to the American settlers in the 18th century. However, the addition of mayonnaise is only about 200 years old.

I choose this version of coleslaw because Stephen is not a fan of mayo. It took some coaxing to get him to try it but well worth the effort. He was just as pleased as I was.

Source: an old Baptist cookbook
1 medium head of cabbage, shredded
1 onion, thinly sliced (use red or yellow)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup white vinegar
2/3 cups canola oil
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard

In a small sauce pan bring the sugar, vinegar, oil, celery seed, salt and mustard to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl mix the cabbage and onion.

Pour the boiling liquid over cabbage mixture while hot. Cover bowl and place in fridge for overnight or 24 hours before serving. Stir well before serving.

Variations:
– Mix in both regular green cabbage and red cabbage.
– Add any or all of the following: 1 carrot shredded, 1/2 cup raisins, 1/4 cup roasted pine nuts

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