September Website Review: Khan Academy and Discovery Streaming

– johanna | September 6th, 2011

Filed under: THE BOOKSHELF

The question is not

HOW

it is done but rather,

WHY

does this work!

Science is fascinating. I hate math. But, science is fascinating to me. I can’t get enough. Sites such as Khan Academy, Discovery Education Streaming, and Math Magic offer amazing educational videos…for FREE.

I am a visual learning as is my son. Digital media is an invaluable tool we use at home to learn to cook, understand science and keep up with current events. If you have a child who is struggling to grasp the WHY, show them a video. Conduct your own experiments. Khan Academy, Discovery Education Streaming and Math Magic are the means to do and learn just about anything.

Discovery Education and Khan Academy is set up for use by both teacher and parent.

Clipart Source: Scientopia.org

Khan Academy is a self paced learning tool for math, science, and history. The site offers an extensive video library, practice exercises, and the ability to monitor each student’s progress from any computer anywhere. Kids can track their work on a really cool spider grid and earn badges for the completion of subjects.

Discovery Education is a learning site that provides both students and teachers with access to thousands of videos and webinars. The webinars are great. Sign up to listen to scholars around the world. When you sign up for the free webinar session your child has the opportunity to submit a question to be answered by the speaker during a Q&A after the webinar. Teachers and parents can use the building tool to create lesson plans, quizes, search for thematic ideas and keep track of each students progress. My kids love the Spaced Out! videos in the video streaming area of the site. Here you can search a vast library of videos by topic and/or grade level.

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Pork with Balsamic Cherry Compote

– johanna | September 2nd, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Main Dish

On our last outing of the summer before school started we stopped by our favorite fruit stand. We like to stock up on strawberries, cherries, and a bag of farm stand made chocolates. I had planned on making cherry turnovers; however, with the onset of school I ended up throwing the cherries into the freezer until a later date.

While researching a recipe for Pavlova, a native Australian meringue based dessert, I came across a cherry and goat cheese appetizer. My brain got to wheeling and I came up with a balsamic cherry compote idea. Two weeks later as I am making plain boring salt and pepper seasoned pork chops the thought occurs to me to have a go at the cherry compote. The compote was not intended for our picky eaters. Yet, surprisingly they each gobbled it up asking for more.

Source: Adapted from Just A Pinch
8 thickly cut boneless pork chops
Salt
Pepper
Dried sage
Olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 1/2 cups frozen cherries
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

Season pork chops with salt, pepper and sage.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Coat bottom of skillet with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Place pork chops in skillet. Cook 3 minutes per side, until no longer pink in the middle. Remove from skillet.
(If grilling drizzle chops with oil, season then place on grill 8-10 minutes each side at medium heat.)

Add onions and butter to same skillet. Saute until onions are translucent. Add the sugar; continue cooking over low heat for 5 minutes longer, until caramelized. Add the cherries and vinegar to onions and increase heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat. Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes more.

Serve each chop with a spoonful of cherry sauce.

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Grilled Apricot Chicken

– johanna | August 26th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Main Dish

Patterson California is known as the apricot capitol of the world. To celebrate the city’s stardom, every year the city crowns a new apricot princess in the downtown square. The orchards in spring are quite and impressive sight. The luminescent green underfoot the lacy canopy of blossoms reminded me of the cherry lane to Green Gables in the movie “Anne of Green Gables”. I was heartbroken a few years ago when progress swept up the orchard near the city center and planted a Walgreens on the corner.

The apricot harvest is at its peak right now. Apricots blossom early spring/late winter. But the fruit does not appear until July – August. Apricots were first discovered 4000 years ago in the mountains of China. Exports trickled into the Mediterranean and across Europe. The Spanish explores brought the apricot to California in the 18th century where they continue to flourish. The apricot’s beta-carotene orange coloring marks it high in iron, fiber and vitamin A. Medicinally apricots were once used with honey to reduce fever. The leaves can be applied to scabs, sunburn, and eczema to relieve itchiness.

The sweet tart flavor of apricots goes with just about everything from herbs to meats to salads.

Source: Cooking Light
3 tablespoons apricot preserves
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
2 bone-in chicken breast halves, skinned
2 bone-in chicken thighs, skinned
2 chicken drumsticks, skinned
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine apricot preserves, red wine vinegar, oil, and garlic in a small bowl, stirring well.

Prepare grill for indirect grilling. If using a gas grill, heat one side to medium-high and leave one side with no heat. If using a charcoal grill, arrange hot coals on one side of charcoal grate, leaving the other side empty.

Let chicken stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Sprinkle chicken evenly with salt and pepper. Place chicken, meaty sides down, on grill rack coated with cooking spray over direct heat; grill 5 minutes or until browned.

Turn chicken over; baste with apricot mixture. Grill 5 minutes over direct heat or until browned. Turn chicken over, moving it over indirect heat; baste with apricot mixture. Cover and cook 15 minutes. Turn chicken over; baste with apricot mixture. Cook 20 minutes or until done.

Variations:
- Asian Glazed Grilled Chicken: Combine 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil, 1 teaspoon sambal oelek (or other hot chile sauce), and 3 minced garlic cloves, stirring well until blended. Baste chicken with hoisin mixture after each turn.
- To roast in the oven bake at 350 degrees. Follow the directions listed above.

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Family Togetherness: Snapshot Scavenger Hunt

– johanna | August 23rd, 2011

Filed under: CREATING MEMORIES

When I was a youth I loved scavenger hunts. The hunts involved having to bag of road kill, singing in a public place, or visiting a shop or spooky cemetery in the dark for the next clue. It was pretty outrageous. My little ones mirror my enthusiasm for scavenger hunts. Our hunts are a bit more tame such collecting a purple flower or black bobby pin.

Scavenger hunts are a great learning tool for preschoolers. Send them off looking for 1 worm, 2 pebbles, 3 flowers, 4 leaves, and so on up to 5 or 10. When the kids were little I drew pictures to illustrate the article to be found on a large sheet of paper. As they found the items they taped them to the paper next to the picture.

Lately the kids have been fascinated with taking pictures and movies using the camera. Why not turn it into a game.

1. Make a list of items such as objects or places. Work as a team or separate into groups depending on the number of cameras available. Take stills of each object.

Here are some suggestions to add to the list:
Picture of a team
Flag
Swing
Statue
Garden sculpture
Museum
Glass building
Wooden bridge
Forest
Cemetery
Worm
Butterfly
Fire
Rain
Cloud animal
An ant hill
Chicken
Cow patty
Political activity
Map
Mailbox
Bus
Keys
Graffiti art
Roadside memorial or shrine
Types of food

2. Organize the photos to make a movie or collage. If there are multiple teams hold an art exhibit or screening to judge the best works of art. Offer rewards based on the most comical, serious, original, ect.

Variations:
- This concept may also be used to illustrate the various elements of photography: warmth, strong, light, shadows, lines, and so on.
- For a fine art rendition try to find examples of Abstract, Deco, Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, Renaissance, in addition to depictions of famous artists.

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Strawberry Mixed Green Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette

– johanna | August 19th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Sides, RECIPES - Soup / Salad

My summer canning is done. The pantry is stocked. I love seeing the jars sitting on the pantry shelf. It is a nice warm homey feeling. What is even better is being able to walk outside and pick the fruit from vines in the backyard. I was lazy this year and did not even attempt to garden. The planters I put together last winter are hidden in a torrent of weeds. While mine is a sad story some of my friends have had a wealth of garden gifts to enjoy this summer.

Strawberries are an amazingly versatile plant. At our last home we used strawberry plants as ground cover. They spread like mad in the couple of years after we planted them. Generally strawberries do not last a day around here. When there are a few stragglers the day after they are either pureed into a smoothie or chopped and used in a salad. I love the combination of salt feta cheese with the sweet strawberry. If feta is too salty try using goat cheese.

Serves: 6-8 generously
1 bag baby spring mix salad greens
1/2 bag Arugula
1 small cucumber, sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
6 fresh strawberries, sliced
1/4 cup crumbled traditional Feta cheese
Champagne Vinaigrette

Mix the arugula and salad greens together in a large bowl.

Evenly top the salad greens with the cucumbers, then onion slices, followed by the strawberries. Sprinkle with Feta cheese.

Toss with vinaigrette immediately before serving onto plates.

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Tutorial Guest Post: Black Forrest Ham and Provolone Sandwich

– johanna | August 16th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Snacks

This week’s post is a guest post by my niece Alexis Morris. Alexis made this lip smacking sandwich all by herself. We love to support the youngsters for their culinary ingenuity.

Sandwiches can be a healthy snack for starving after school bodies. Add some leafy lettuce for extra beneficial vitamins and minerals. Many children who refuse to eat a bowl of salad will tolerate a single leaf in a sandwich. Choose a darker leafier head such as red tip or romaine. The wholesome fiber found in whole grain breads minus all the artificial fillers fills the kids bellies and the zero or low sugar does not leave them craving more sugar.


The Alexis Delux:
Two slices whole wheat bread
Mayo
1 slice provolone cheese
2 slices black forrest ham

Spread slices of bread with a thin mayo. Layer one slice of bread with cheese, ham, and then lettuce.
Serve with a side of pringles chips and a glass of orange juice.

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Virgin Strawberry Daiquiri

– johanna | August 12th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Beverage

Photo Source: Better Homes and Gardens

The first time I had a strawberry daiquiri was down in the Florida Keys. My best friend’s family invited me to tag along on their family trip that year. We were young teenagers at the time. The excitement unbearable. We thought we were so cool to hang out in the spa sipping a glass of non-alcoholic strawberry daiquiri.

The original daiquiri is believed to have originated in Cuba in the early 1900′s. The concoction combined three of the country’s largest exports: rum, sugar and lime juice. The modern day American strawberry daiquiri incorporates blended ice. Although daiquiri connoisseurs believe the classic slushy strays too far from its roots. The preferred method for rum purists is shaken not stirred.

The strawberry season is at a close here in the valley. The farm stand’s daily rations are diminishing more and more each day. On the way home from our last outing of the summer we stopped by the stand to stock up on strawberries. Taking a cue from my Aunt Ruth I chopped some up to freeze. They will be great in a smoothie or as a topping over cake. We made another batch of strawberry jam. The last of the strawberries were made into various treats for my daughter’s strawberry tea party. There were strawberry shortcake cookies, crepes with strawberry cream cheese and chocolate sauce, tuna tea sandwiches, and a strawberry daiquiri.

Source: Ariane Hundt (Personal Trainer and Nutritionist)
5 ounces water
6-8 ice cubes
9-10 strawberries
3 tablespoons sugar, or sweeten to taste

Mix ingredients in blender. Serve in individuals glasses with a garnish of strawberry and whipped cream.

Serves: 4

Variations:
- Replace sugar with honey or agave syrup
- Add a shot of lime juice or grapefruit juice

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First Day of School Traditions

– johanna | August 9th, 2011

Filed under: CREATING MEMORIES, THE BOOKSHELF

Photo: Property of the CupcakeProject.com

When my oldest child was about to start kindergarten I had not begun to think about the yearly rites of passage. I was too consumed with the swirling emotions of sending my baby off to all day kindergarten. Stephen delightedly recalled memories of school clothes shopping and the first day of school photo. The mention of school shopping sent my mind back to the Saw Grass Mills Mall in South Florida. Who could ever forget retail bliss a mile long. As I reminisced a little while longer I remembered a few of the odious haunts of the 80′s I chose to leave buried in the past. The K-Swiss sneakers from 10th grade were not so embarrassing as the white Reebok high-tops I had to have in 9th grade and the orange neon pleather purse I just could not live without in 6th grade. Just Scary.

This year our daughter is about to embark on her first year in Kindergarten. In keeping with our newly found family traditions she got a new backpack, a lunch box, and a new coat in addition to several new outfits. When the big day arrives we will take the much anticipated “first day of school” snapshot. To let her know we are thinking of her she will find a special note attached to a yummy (but healthy) treat inside her lunch pail. That night the dinner menu is kids choice (within reason). It is always nice to have a relaxing comforting meal at the end of a high anxiety day.

The following is a list of fun ways to help motivate the kids in preparing them for back to school.

  1. Back to School Shopping: Make a special day of it. Take your daughter for a pedicure, take the boys to the movies.
  2. Back Packs and Lunch Boxes: We have a tradition once the kids start Kindergarten they get a new backpack and lunch box.
  3. Special Breakfast: Try to avoid sugary foods that tend to cause the kids to crash. Fill their bellies and minds with hearty oatmeal or protein boosting eggs and toast. Pair proteins like nuts, eggs or yogurt with sugary dishes like pancakes.
  4. Back to School Brunch: The day before the big day invite friends or keep it just family to a back to school brunch. This is a more appropriate time to serve favorites such as cinnamon rolls or doughnuts. Set up a table with packages of needed school supplies such as crayons, pencils, rulers, paper, ect. Help the kids put their supplies in their backpacks so they are all ready for school in the morning.
  5. Back to School Dinner: If breakfast is too rushed plan a  special dinner. The menu can be kids choice, a family favorite, or go out to eat.
  6. Ice cream sundaes: Treat the kids to an ice cream dessert. Invite friends over after school or serve as a dessert with dinner.
  7. 1st day of School Photo: The first day of school picture can be a fun group photo or a single snapshot of each child. Some families like to use the same backdrop year after year. Have the kids hold up the same number of fingers as the grade they are entering or create a banner with their name and grade to stand in front of.
  8. Decorations: Secretly hang up balloons and streamers the night before to surprise them in the morning. Make a banner with glitter and markers for the front door that includes the kids names and grade.
  9. Make Goals: At breakfast or the day before gather as a family to come up with individual and family goals. Review goals once a month. Discuss what is expected of them at home and at school. No TV until chores and homework are done. If the week is hectic maybe you plan to move chores to saturday. If someone has a hard time with math discuss ways to help them.
  10. After School Treat: Bake homemade cookies for when they get home. Nothing says love like fresh baked bread or cookies.
  11. The Back to School Fairy or Magic School Bus: Leave a backpack filled with snacks and school supplies by their pillow or by the front door.
  12. German Schultuete: This giant posterboard cone is filled with back-to-school goodies and supplies as a token of good luck. Similar to a Christmas stocking. Decorate with stickers and markers or use fancy paper. Fill the Schultuete with edible treats, fun bright supplies (markers, glue, pens, erasers, Post-it notes, magnet letters, ect), and small trinkets or toys.
  13. 12 Days Before School: Hang the kid’s backpacks on their door. Put something new in it each day to count down the days to school.
  14. Color of the Day: Choose a color the whole family will wear on the first day.
  15. Swim and BBQ party: Plan a swim party before school starts or a week or two after. Waiting a week allows the kids to invite a friend or two from school. Have games to play or another kind of fun activity.
  16. Letter to Child: The start of school is a major milestone. Take the time to write a heart felt letter pointing out how proud you are of your child. List several attributes you admire about them and why.
  17. Classic Tradition: Come up with a fun song to sing or a story to read during breakfast each year on the 1st day of school.
  18. Walk to school together: If possible park several block away and walk your child to school. The leisurely stroll will help release some of the tention.
  19. Special Touches: Send the kids to school with a special treat in their lunch bag- a love note, a sandwich cut into a fun shape using cookie cutters, or a favorite snack.

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Aunt Ruth’s Sour Cream Pound Cake

– johanna | August 5th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

This week my son requested pound cake for dessert. I was surprised to find I have yet to post the recipe for my Aunt’s Sour Cream Pound Cake. My Aunt always had a round of her famous sour cream pound cake tucked away under the lid of the stainless steel cake dome. I know I gush a lot over my great Aunt Ruth. She is an amazing woman. She is a strong classy lady with loads of common sense wisdom.

My Aunt Ruth can farm and hunt with the best of tom boys; yet, she can don a gown and ballroom dance with a regal air. She has the purest heart. She never gossips or speaks ill of anyone. She believes in the saying “if you can’t say something nice do not say anything at all.” So you will find she does not talk too much. When she does she has so many adventurous stories to tell. My Great Aunt Ruth was unable to have children of her own but she was a loving mother to many. You can’t help but love her. She has an infectious smile with a down to earth personality. She is the most amazing cook too. Her meals are simple. No fluff. Just simple fresh ingredients.

My Aunt Ruth always served her pound cake with fresh chopped strawberries. The strawberries were tossed with sugar to draw out the juices to create a syrup. She always had pint sized containers of fresh picked strawberries and blueberries in the freezer ready to top pound cake or be made into a cobbler.

Pound cakes get their name from the weight of the ingredients used: a pound of butter, a pound of flour, a pound of sugar and a pound of eggs. Always try to use the freshest good quality ingredients when preparing pound cake. Because pound cake gets the majority of its flavor from the butter there is no substitute for real butter. Use a low protein flour such as Pillsbury or a cake flour to keep the crumb tender.

Pound cakes do not use baking powder to give them rise. Instead they rely on the power of eggs and whipped air incorporated into the batter during the creaming and addition of the eggs. Over mixing the batter can result in a dense crumbly cake rather than a lighter moist version. In this recipe the butter, butter-sugar mixture, dry ingredients and egg whites are all whipped separately before combining them. It is equally important to mix each stage properly.

2 sticks butter, room temperature but still cool
2 3/4 cup sugar
6 large eggs, separated, room temperature
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt, room temperature but still cool
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 tsp lemon flavoring (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour the bottom, sides and cone of a 10-inch tube pan.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar; cream until light colored and fluffy. About 5-7 minutes.

**Do not stop beating sugar and butter too early. Continue beating until the mixture is light in color and fluffy not stiff and dull.**

Whip egg whites until just stiff. (about 2-3 minutes with a mixer) Add the eggs to the butter mixture one at a time, alternating egg yolk then some egg white.

**Do not over mix each addition. Mix in each egg addition just until the color of the egg yolk or egg white disappears.**

In a small bowl sift the flour, salt and baking soda. Using a large spatula, fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture alternating sour cream then flour; mixing until just combined. Add the vanilla and lemon; fold in until incorporated.

Pour the mixture into a greased and floured 10-inch tube pan. Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan to finish cooling on a wire rack.

To serve: top cake with glaze and a dusting of powdered sugar. Or omit the glaze and dust with powdered sugar. Serve with sliced berries, ice cream or whipped cream.

Glaze: Beat the following ingredients together until smooth and creamy.
8 ounce package cream cheese
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 box powder sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

**Tips:
– Try to use a lighter aluminum tube pan. The darker pans tend to darken the sides and bottom of the cake more.
– Bake by instinct not time. Watch the cake at about the 1 hour mark. Test for doneness by pressing on the top. If it feels firm and bounces back the cake may be done. If it jiggles or feels fragile under pressure it is not done.
– If the cake is browning too fast cover the top with aluminum foil and place pan on a baking sheet. This will insulate the cake from further direct heat.
– Weather and ovens vary the end result of baked goods.
– There is no substitute for lemon extract. Lemon juice contains acids while the extract has more of an essential oil base. You could try a tablespoon of lemon zest, if in a pinch, added to the glaze.

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August Website Review: Alleyoop

– johanna | August 2nd, 2011

Filed under: THE BOOKSHELF

Alleyoop is a college ready prep website dedicated to preparing graduates for a collage education and career. The site caters to both middle and high school kids and their parents. The staff at Alleyoop discuss things like:

- Career plans.

- The transition from high school to college.

- When to apply.

- Moving away.

- Finances.

- Get tips from majors in the field.

- Academic help.

The Alleyoops-Skipping Dinner Parents website is open to to browse. The Alleyoop Teen site does require an email address to join.

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