Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Natural Food Dye Strawberry Cake Experiment

For my birthday this year I wanted a healthier strawberry cake with no artificial food dye.  (Our 5yr old has neurological reactions to artificial food dyes, plus they aren't good for any of us.)  To start with I purchased a Duncan Hines white cake mix (never use Pillsbury brand, they have red #40 even in the white cake mix!).  I separated the white cake mix powder into 3 bowls using a measuring cup to get as equal portions as I could. The box mix called for 3 egg whites so it was simple to add 1 egg white to each bowl.  Next the recipe called for water, so I put a 3rd of the amount of water in one bowl for the white batter.  For pink batter I used fresh strawberry juice (we have a juicer) instead of water and for the dark pink batter I used fresh beet juice (again, from our juicer).

I've been seeing the camouflage cakes in Target and Walmart over the past year or two and thought it would be neat to try making one of those.  I easily found the instructions online and it was simple to alternate blobs of batter in my cake pan (see picture on the left).  While researching the camouflage cakes I stumbled upon something called a zebra cake that had really neat stripes. Since I was already playing around I figured now was the perfect time to try one of those too.  The instructions called for putting a small blob of batter in the pan and continuing to alternate colors placing each spoonful in the center of the pan.  Gradually the batter spreads out and covers the whole pan (see picture on the right).

The colors aren't near as bright after baking, but still looked awesome in the cake pans.  We were so excited to put this cake together.

For the icing I used a simple recipe that called for fresh strawberry puree, powdered sugar, vanilla and salted butter.  The icing tasted GREAT, but next time I will make up a larger batch.

Here's a picture of what the cake looked like once sliced.  The bottom half (left) was the zebra striped layer and the top half (right) was the camouflage layer.  We were really disappointed at how the dark pink of the beat colored batter turned tan after baking.  The light pink and white layers were mostly unchanged, but really not that noticeable unless you were looking for them.  The cake tasted great, which is of course the most important thing, but as a camouflage and zebra striped cake go the colors after baking were a flop.

I haven't given up though. I think I'll try some darker berries or something other than beats next time to see if the cake will retain it's color after baking.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Kindness of Strangers

This afternoon I took our children to Toys R Us so they could give me some ideas about what they want for Christmas.  I had my handy smart phone with me so I could snap pictures (and prices) of the things they wanted the most, then my husband and I could review the photos later.  The children were warned in advance that this was NOT a buying trip, simply a looking around and checking prices trip.  We spent well over an hour looking at toys of all shapes and sizes with me taking pictures of the most desired ones.  As we made our way towards the front of the store we passed the stuffed animals and our daughter saw the stuffed cats.  So, of course we stopped to look at them.  She chose a kitty that she just loved and kept hugging it to her chest while her big brother was looking at these huge stuffed snakes.  Several minutes went by and both children were asking how much the stuffed animals were, but the prices on the shelves didn't seem to match up with the hodge-podge assortment of stuffed animals.  I figured what the heck, we'll check the prices, put them back on the shelf and head out to the car.  Well things didn't go quite that easily.

The price scanner nearby didn't work (of course!) so we took them to the register and asked an employee to check the prices.  After she scanned them I told the children okay, we know the prices and can add them to the Christmas list so go put them back on the shelf.  This is when my sweet little almost 5 year old went from her begging/pleading face (see picture to the right) to full-on heart breaking sobbing.  She cried and cried, not loudly but with huge tears running down her face as she put her $8.99 stuffed kitty back on the shelf.  I felt like a terrible, horrible parent for making her put it back, but my thoughts were:
  • Her birthday is in 1 month
  • Christmas is in 2 months
  • She has over 15 stuffed cats already at home
  • This was a "looking" trip, not a "buying" trip
  • She's just really tired and could use a snack
So we headed out to the parking lot, with 1 crying child, 1 quiet/deep in thought child and me with a broken-heart questioning if I did the right thing.  Her soft sobs really were quite heart-wrenching.  I'm thinking all this when I hear someone behind me say, "Excuse me Ma'am?".  I turn around expecting to see an employee, but it's a customer who has followed me out of the store.  The nice lady then says, "Could I buy those toys for your children?"  I told her she was really sweet to offer, but it wasn't necessary.  I explained that we were simply looking for Christmas ideas and that my sobbing daughter already has quite a few stuffed cats.  The lady replied that if there was a problem or something she really didn't mind paying for them.  I declined again, but thanked her for her kindness.  Talk about total stranger kindness!  What a blessing to have someone offer to buy a toy to help cheer up a child.

In the car we had a snack and a drink, then my sweet little girl fell asleep within 5 minutes on the ride home.  Food, drink and a nap cures most tears and what that won't cure a mom's kisses usually will.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Organizing Family Life

I try to be an organized person, but from the outside I know my life appears very unorganized.  In an attempt to feel more organized I've made a few changes.  Some of these ideas still need a bit of tweaking, but so far they are helping.

First I purchased these cool tie-dye posters to display the children's most recent artwork.  The many drawings and paintings they do were beginning to take over the house.  My hopes are that we will replace these with new pictures every few months and take photos of our favorite artwork.

Next I labeled their book bins, not because they needed it, but because I wanted to give each child a sense of pride that these were their books that they were capable of reading whenever/wherever they wanted.  Don't let the mess of the other books fool you.  I could straighten these shelves every morning and they would look like this by the end of the day.  We are a family who loves books.  We love to read aloud to each other or just thumb through the pages looking at the pictures.
-Side note:  I've actually re-organized these shelves since taking this picture and hopefully it will be easier for the children to re-shelve the books they take off now.

After that I decided to label the children's toy bins.  For the past couple of months it has become a problem to get them to clean up their room because they don't know where to put things.  (Basically this means the Legos and stuffed animals have taken over.)  I purchased several plastic bins with lids that fit under the bed, plus these handy drawer units seen to the left.  The under the bed bins have Legos, baby doll clothing and small stuffed animals in them.  They're all labeled so the children and their friends can easily see what goes where.  The empty drawers in the picture aren't empty due to lack of toys, we just couldn't decide what to put in them yet

I firmly believe that every child needs family chores or responsibilities that they do NOT get paid for.  No one pays me to clean or wash dishes, and no one pays my husband to cut the grass or change the oil in the car.  Why should we pay our children to do things they are "supposed" to do as part of the family?  Now, in saying that, I will pay them for doing extra chores.  Things like picking up limbs in the yard, folding towels or helping me mop the floor.  I created some responsibility charts that I thought were awesome and used a ticket reward system so if they completed everything each day they earned 1 ticket that evening.  Below is an example of my initial responsibility chart.

We used these charts for one week but after just a couple of days it was obvious they needed to be re-done.  Our daughter is only 4 so she doesn't read very well plus the type on this was just too small.  I was so pleased that they worked for ME, but they didn't really work well for the children at all.  So.... I spent another evening creating these charts.

The responsibility charts above have been working great so far, though I'm sure I'll find some way to improve them in another week or two.  Our 7yr old doesn't need the picture clues on his chart, but I felt it was important to have both charts in the same format.  Most of these items are things that the children tend to forget to do without a daily reminder so this seems to really help.

What do you think?  How do you keep your child's artwork organized?  What about weekly chores?  I would love to hear ideas from other parents.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Games We Love to Play

Over the past few months our children have finally reached the ages where we can truly play family games together.  We enjoy many of the classic games such as Sorry, Uno, Old Maid, and Go Fish.  We've also found some of the newer games to be a ton of fun.  My personal favorites so far are Bananagrams and Blokus.  (Okay, so I'll admit Bananagrams is waaay over our children's heads.  Mostly they just try to spell a word or two out of the letters.  My husband and I enjoy playing Bananagrams enough for the whole family so I felt it worthy of being included on this list.)

Side Note: Our six year old has recently discovered the game of chess.  I've played against him several times over the past couple of weeks and frankly I'm floored that he actually understands all the movements each piece can make.  (I don't think I understood chess until I was well into middle school).  An adult playing against a six year old in chess isn't exactly challenging, but the point is he learns from his mistakes so each time he gets a little bit wiser and thus plays better.

Now, back to the other games... 
If you haven't played Uno in a while (like 20 years or more) then I must remind you that this is not a quick game.  Though a couple of times we've played a game in about 20 minutes, most of the time it takes almost 45 minutes to an hour to play just one game.  Several times we've just had to set a time limit and call it quits.  :-/

Sorry can be equally long and painful at times.  It's a bit easier to manage because if you want a shorter game then just play with 2 pawns per player instead of the full 4.

Old Maid and Go Fish are both pretty quick and simple games.  Perfect for filling in the dead time while waiting for food at a restaurant or for waiting in a doctor's office.  I haven't tried either of these (yet) but that's about the time it takes to finish one game.

Blokus... Now this game can take as little or as much brain power to play as you want to put into it.  It's colorful and engaging for the children, but challenging enough for adults to keep our interest too.  The goal is to play all of your pieces, but it's not as easy as it looks.

If you enjoy Scrabble then you will surely like Bananagrams.  There are several different ways to play and the instructions include a shorter version of play as well.  My husband and I can typically play one game the regular way in about 25 minutes, or we can play the shorter version in about 5 minutes.  This one really makes you use your brain but the challenge is worth it!

Blokus photo by Greg Aleknevicus
Bananagrams photo by CenturyHouseGifts.com

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Healthy Fast Food Restaurant... Would You Eat Here?

Why do 99% of American fast food restaurants offer french fries as a side item?  Because people BUY them.  In recent years some of the more popular fast food chains have begun offering apple slices or a fruit cup in exchange for the fries, but only when you buy a kids meal.  If I want fruit instead of fries I would have to bring my own because it's just not an option at most restaurants.

Below is my ideal menu for a healthy fast food restaurant.  (Note: This restaurant does not exist, yet.  Perhaps you the reader will be interested in opening one?)

I'll start with the side items.  You may be wondering why.... well because these are the items that need to change the MOST to make fast food healthier. 

Roasted Chickpeas
photo courtesy of Maggie Hoffman
Healthy side items:

sweet potato fries
apple slices
mandarin oranges
raw baby carrots
yogurt cup
lime seasoned roasted chickpeas
chili seasoned roasted chickpeas

Healthier dessert choices:

pumpkin chocolate chip cookie
Healthy entree choices:

Turkey burger on whole wheat bun
Garden burger on whole wheat bun
Grilled chicken sandwich on whole wheat bun
Vegetarian pita sandwich - hummus, lettuce, tomato, onion, green pepper, feta cheese and provolone cheese on toasted pita bread
Grilled cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread 

Healthy topping choices for burgers and sandwiches:

Fresh Spinach
photo courtesy of Clearly Ambiguous
turkey bacon
fresh spinach leaves
fresh romaine or red top lettuce (no iceberg lettuce found here)
fresh green bell pepper strips
fresh purple onion strips
fresh diced tomato
organic ketchup (no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial
colors or flavors)
lite mayonnaise
lite ranch dressing
low fat white American cheese
low fat provolone cheese
low fat pepper jack cheese

So, would you or your family eat here?  Would you even miss the french fries with so many healthy choices?  I know our family would love these foods and would likely eat here several times a month if it were available at a reasonable cost.

In addition to the above, I would love to find a family friendly restaurant that not only offers healthy, wholesome foods, but offers food without any artificial food colorings, artificial flavorings and no high-fructose corn syrup.  Think it's not possible?  Well I think it IS possible.  We the consumers just have to demand these types of foods.  The stores track what we purchase and therefore stock more of what we purchase.  Restaurants do the same.  Items that don't sell very well won't remain on the menu.

Choose to eat healthier foods.  You and your family will be happier and healthier for it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Best Friend Conversation In Darci's Apartment

Darci's balcony
As soon as they were both sitting Darci turned to Verdin and asked, “Okay, what’s going on?”  Seeing that Verdin wore a surprised look, she decided he might need more explanation for her question.   “You have always been super polite and courteous when in my home, but you’ve also been relaxed around me as well.” She paused to see if he was following along before she continued.  “Just now you practically forced me inside from the balcony and said it was too windy for me.  Then you stood and waited for me to ask you to sit, while normally you would have been already lounging on the couch before I came back from the other room.”  Darci looked at him intensely and saw that his clear gray eyes looked a bit taken aback.  “I want you to tell me what you are thinking,” she said softly.  “Why are you acting this way?”  

Verdin looked away from Darci and closed his eyes for a brief second before looking back at her again.  She was so astute at what he was feeling, he thought.  Apparently he gave away too much information with his actions.  Taking a deep breath he began to try to explain.   “I’m sorry if I have made you uncomfortable in your own home.  I realized today that I am perhaps the best friend that you have.”  Verdin paused to see if Darci would object to this comment, but she didn’t so he continued.  “After realizing that I was indeed your friend I figured I needed to do a better job and make sure that you were taken care of.  I didn’t mean to almost ‘force’ you inside; I merely wanted to get you out of the wind so you wouldn’t become ill.”  Verdin gave her his best abashed look and hoped she would understand.  “Please,” Darci burst out with a laugh. “I’m not a fragile flower and a little cold wind is really nothing.”   He saw her look down at her lap before looking up at him again. “But I do appreciate your concern,” she added quietly as she gave him a smile.

This is an excerpt from a book I've been writing.  Comments welcome.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Homeschooling Blog Move

A couple of months ago I decided there was a need to have a separate blog for my homeschooling information.  I had been wanting to create a Word Press website for a while so it was the perfect opportunity for me to combine both of these into a new site.  You will see some of my older posts from this page on the new blog as well as a bunch of new information as well.

I'm keeping this blog up as a personal blog and place to share the funny and cute things that happen in our lives, but 99% of all homeschooling stuff will be on the other blog.  If you enjoy reading about our homeschooling journey or want to find out more information join us.  You never know what you might be missing out on.  My latest post is, "Why Do People Underestimate Children?".