Monday, April 30, 2012

Why Modesty - Part 1

Most of you who read Home Joys know that I call myself a Mennonite. Although I dislike labels, I use “Mennonite” as a way to explain my lifestyle and choices. But from some of the questions I received, maybe it is time to tell you more about why I practice some of the distinctive traits that are considered “Mennonite”.

One of the questions I have been asked is why I dress the way I do and my beliefs on modesty.

To be honest, it scares me to write about modesty in a public forum like this. Christians have various opinions on how to put to practice the Biblical command for modesty. I don't expect everyone who reads this to agree with my choices and I don't want to start a debate. I hope we will each search the Bible for direction on what we choose to wear. You all have been so kind in your comments and questions, that I'll trust this is a topic we can discuss with love.

I was blessed to grow up with a mother who believed and practiced modest dress standards. Her example had a huge impact on whom I have become today. The church I have chosen to be part of also affected my clothing choices. But, whatever the tradition in my upbringing, ultimately I want to obey the Word of God concerning my clothing.

Dressing modestly is not an attempt to win favor with God or earn salvation. Christ's death on the cross was complete payment for my sin. I seek to obey God's commands, including the Biblical requirements of modest dress out of love for my Saviour.

We will continue this series to look at what the Bible says about a woman's clothing.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Review - Worth Remembering

Worth Remembering is a book full of fatherly stories. Robert Stauffer shares stories from his childhood, mission field experience and every day life, along with words of wisdom from the Scripture.


This book is a perfect read aloud for family's searching for wholesome reading material. I would put the target age at young teens and up. Some of the stories were over the head of our youngsters, but with some explanation, they still benefited from the discussion. My just-turned-eight-year-old begged for dad to read this book so apparently she enjoyed it despite the sometimes advanced subject matter.

Besides enjoying the stories and lessons from Worth Remembering, the book inspired me to share my stories with my children and to tell my children the ways God has worked in my life.

Worth Remembering is illustrated with line drawings and contains over 50 short stories. The book is available from Christian Light Publications.

I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher but all opinions are my own. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Spring Gratitude

Counting my blessings...

The asparagus is up! With our unusually warm spring, it tried to come up several times, and each time was hit by a cold spell and froze at only a couple inches tall.

But the past week we've cut asparagus every other day which means lots of good eating.



Asparagus Stack

The first fresh vegetables of spring remind me that their is lots of good eating from the garden coming!

Saturday was an beautiful day - and Ed was home! We spent all morning working in the garden and planted green beans and corn. The children helped plant seeds by using their planting sticks.

We finished just in time. In the afternoon we received some much needed rain, and it continued for three days. To have our garden planted right before the rain was an extra blessing!

God is so good - why am I so slow to notice?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How To Make Chicken Broth

Making homemade chicken broth is simple with the help of a slow cooker.

Last week, I cooked a whole chicken in the slow cooker. You can also use chicken pieces. I added salt, pepper, chopped onion, and minced garlic. I added only a little water to the bottom of the slow cooker because I wanted the chicken to be roasted and not stewed. Slow cookers will vary but I usually cook on high for an hour or two, then turn to low for the rest of the day. By evening the kitchen was filled with wonderful aroma!

I pulled out the chicken and deboned it. All the bones and skin I placed back in the slow cooker. I filled the slow cooker up with water, added a dash of vinegar, and cooked on low all night.

By morning, it was full of good rich broth. I strained the bones and skin out of the broth.

The bowl of broth was placed in the refrigerator.

The next morning, all the grease had risen to the top. I skimmed off the grease and what remained was wonderful rich chicken broth. This broth was so rich that when I made chicken soup, I watered the broth down by half and still had very flavorful soup!

Do you make your own chicken broth?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Giveaway - Simply Organized Recipes

I need help. I tear recipes out of magazines, print them off the computer, or jot down recipes at a friends house on scrap paper.

My recipes are scattered between a wooden recipe box, several three ring binders with page protectors, a spiral notebook, and a pile of papers with recipes scrawled in pencil, some lacking even a name of the recipe.

Sometimes I can actually find the recipe I'm looking for. Other times I give up, call my mom, search my blog, or decide to make something else for supper.

I must not  be the only one who struggles with recipe organization. Simply Organized was designed by a busy mom to have a beautiful tool to organize her burgeoning recipe collection.

Simply Organized consists of a three ring binder with 12 pretty section dividers.

Three different sized recipe cards are included to slip inside of specially designed plastic sleeves. I like that I can choose a different size card depending on the length of recipe. More cards and plastic sleeves can be purchased as needed.

Vision Publishers is offering a free copy of Simply Organized to a Home Joys reader.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment sharing your recipe organization system - or lack of organization! One week from today, I'll choose one random comment to receive Simply Organized. Please be sure to leave a email address so I can contact you. Almost every time I do a giveaway, I have to choose a new winner because the first did not leave a email address.

Giveaway open for one week for US residents. I received a review copy of Simply Organized from Vision Publishers but all opinions are my own.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Regina's Chocolate Chip Cookies

After reading Regina's Natural Sugar article I finally mustered up the nerve to try adapting a cookie recipe to natural sweeteners. I have adapted bread, muffins, and other recipes but I was scared to try cookies. I made two batches of my usual chocolate chip cookies - one I replaced the sugar with honey, the other with stevia.

The results were almost funny. You would never guess by looking at these cookies that they were the same cookie!

The ones on the left were made with stevia. To add bulk, I used mashed pumpkin.  My dough was too stiff and didn't spread out at all. My children said they tasted like pumpkin muffins - and liked them! Next time I'll try yogurt and see if I can get the cookies to spread out more.

The cookies on the right were made with honey. They baked as flat as a pancake but tasted delicious! I did not decrease the liquid as Regina recommended. Next time I'll cut back on the butter to make up for the liquid in the honey.

Because there will be a next time! My children didn't care if they were flat or rounded!  With a little practice I think I can improve the texture and have a perfect naturally sweetened cookie!

Maybe you were like me, you read about Regina's chocolate chip cookie experiments  and wished to try her recipe!

I asked for it...and Regina agreed to share it with us!

Regina's Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 c. butter
1 1/4 c. Sucanat or sweetener of choice
1 t. vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/4 c. flour
1 t. soda
1/2 t. salt
2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Cream butter and Sucanat.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.  
Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes.
Recipe may be doubled.

Are any of you attempting to try to use some natural sweeteners?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Natural Sugar - Part 6

This is the final segment of Regina's article. She shares some miscellaneous information and also some places that she has purchased natural sweeteners.

Natural Sugar and Spice - CAN Really be Nice! Part6
Guest Post By Regina
First read part one and part two and part three and part four and part five

I use only stevia for canning my peaches, pears, and other fruit. I stir 1 ½ tsp of powdered stevia in my 3qt. pitcher of water; it dissolves easily. In my canned fruit, I have never detected an aftertaste. I've asked friends what they think after serving the fruit to them, and they are surprised to learn it was canned with stevia. The best part: my children can drink all the peach juice they want and get no added sugar!

I also use stevia to sweeten my pizza sauce and applesauce. Don't forget how potent stevia is. I almost ruined a batch of pizza sauce by adding too much stevia, (and we are talking about a ½ tsp!). You can always add more, but you can not take out!

Try mixing half stevia with another natural sweetener in garden tea and other drinks if the aftertaste bothers you. Liquid stevia by NuNaturals leaves virtually no aftertaste.
Xylitol dissolves easily so it works great in cold drinks and dressings. Just always keep in mind the side effects of it and don't try it on your guests! They might not visit again.
As you can see, using these types of sweeteners is easy and just takes “doing it”. Get familiar with the different choices, the textures and tastes; you will soon have a feel for what works best in your recipe.

Yes, all these sweeteners are more expensive than white sugar. But by cutting out white sugar, you and your family may enjoy better health and less colds and sickness. The money saved from one less doctor visit will buy a large jar of stevia from Berlin Seeds. With what our dentist charges to fill a cavity, each tooth saved will buy me a 75 to 100 pound bag of Sucanat! That sounds like a good deal to me! 
Finally, as I mentioned in the first article about the dangers of sugar, keep a good balance. There is no need to refuse a slice of coconut cream pie your friend offers you only because you know it was made with white sugar. Let your child enjoy a lollipop from the bank. If you have a busy week, don't feel guilty if you buy a box of granola bars for the children's lunches. By using natural sweeteners most of the time, it will help offset the few times you do consume white sugar. 
Do not think you are a health nut for using natural sweeteners. Remember, honey, Sucanat, maple syrup and stevia, are so minimally processed they are close to the original form God made them. Centuries ago, these were the only sweeteners available for use. Man is the one who has refined sugar to the point our bodies have become dependent on it. The American habit of being excessive has seeped into our way of eating and has turned sugar, which seems so harmless, into an epidemic of health problems. 
So why not teach our children better ways of cooking and eating habits? In turn, they can pass on grandmother's cooking legacy, only changed for the better!

Where to purchase:

Berlin Seeds:

Pure Organic Stevia - 1 lb. $64.00 + shipping
Xylitol – 4 lb. $18.00 + $7.50 shipping
- 20 lb. $80.00 + $11.50 shipping
Phone: 951-616-3600
  • Fax: 951-616-3601
NuNaturals liquid stevia- 2fl.oz bottle $8.49 + shipping
Kal powdered stevia - 3.5 oz. $20.43 + shipping
( This size lasts me at least two years with canning several bushes of fruit)
Sucanat organic- 2lb. $6.20 + shipping
Dutch Valley Food Distributors: (located in Myerstown, Pa. They will be able to tell you of any bulk food store in your area)
toll free phone: 800-733-4191
toll free fax: 866-933-5466
Sucanat – 50lb. $85.33 + shipping
Xylitol - 10lb. $48.29 + shipping

Thanks Regina, for sharing all your research with us.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Natural Sugar - Part 5

Natural Sugar and Spice - CAN Really be Nice! Part 5
Guest Post By Regina
First read part one and part two and part three and part four

I've created a chart to make it easy to see and understand how we can use all the sweeteners we have discussed.
Sweetener            Ratio to 1 c. sugar      Decrease                   Add                    

2/3 to ¾ c.
Liquid by ¼ c.
¼ tsp. baking soda
decrease by 25 degrees
Maple Syrup
2/3 to ¾ c.
Liquid by 3 T
¼ tsp. baking soda
decrease by 25 degrees
Cup for cup
Keep same
1tsp. liquid or
1/3 to ½ tsp. powder or check the back of your container to see what the company recommends.
Add 1/3c. of bulk per 1c. of sugar replaced. Use yogurt, applesauce, egg whites, smashed bananas, etc.
Keep same

Cup for cup
Absorbs a lot of moisture so add 1T of liquid.
Keep same
(Gina - Oops! The right hand column isn't showing up and I don't know how to fix it. The missing column lists the oven temperatures. For honey and maple syrup, decrease oven by 25 degrees. For the others, stay the same.)
Note: To replace corn syrup in baking or candy making, use a generous ¾ cup of honey plus 2-3 tablespoons of water to make 1 cup - for every 1 cup of corn syrup. 
These sweeteners replace white and brown sugar and corn syrup very well. In making icing and recipes that take a lot of 10x sugar, I have not found a good substitute.
Armed with these ratios, I did a test bake in the kitchen one wintry day. I used my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and made four batches replacing the white and brown sugar with honey, Sucanat, stevia, and xylitol.

The cookies made with honey baked beautifully. They were extremely moist and soft and had a delightful flavor. 
The Sucanat cookies baked flatter but crispier and darker. It is hard to tell when they are done because of the darker color; be careful you do not over-bake.

The stevia cookies baked fat and very soft. 
The xylitol was my flop. The cookies baked flat and lost all shape; I think I added too much extra water. They had a shiny appearance and after sitting a day or two, began to be crumbly. (Xylitol worked great when I made a chocolate cake.) 
Now came the fun part; I HAD to eat cookies; it was part of my homework assignment!

(Just remember, even though these sweeteners are natural and better for you than white sugar, that doesn’t give you or Tommy free reign to eat all the baked goods you want. It doesn't put them in the same category with veggies and fruits. Honey, maple syrup and Sucanat will still add calories to your food and will affect your blood sugar levels.) 
To me, the honey cookies won hands down for flavor and texture. 
My husband disagreed and placed his vote on the Sucanat. He liked the crispy texture and the deeper flavor Sucanat added. 
Even though they flopped, the xylitol cookies were surprisingly good. I detected a slightly cool aftertaste in my mouth, but others in the family could not.

Stevia cookies looked nice, tasted very sweet, and were moist and soft. The drawback was the slight aftertaste, but even with that, I enjoyed the stevia cookies the most because they were sugar-free and were missing the calories honey or sucanat would have added. If you don't need to worry about calories- count your blessings!

Thanks for following along on this series on natural sweeteners. I'd love to hear your experience with using natural sugars in baking.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Natural Sugar - Part 4

Continuing to learn with Regina about natural sweeteners...

Natural Sugar and Spice - CAN Really be Nice! Part 4
Guest Post By Regina
First read part one and part two and part three


Honey and maple syrup- are slightly acidic, so the experts recommend adding ¼ tsp. of baking soda to help neutralize the acid. This would only apply to cookie and cake batter and would not be needed for recipes that already call for baking soda. Because these sweeteners are in a liquid form, you need to reduce the liquid in your recipe. It is a good rule of thumb to reduce the liquid that is called for in the greater amounts. (For example, reduce the milk not the egg.) You also need to reduce your oven temperature  to prevent browning. 
Sucanat- replaces white sugar cup for cup, which makes it easy for beginners. Being coarse and dark, it will make your baked goods darker. For example, if you make sugar cookies you may want to use a different sweetener to keep the lighter look and flavor. With molasses cookies, Sucanat will work great! Because it is course, Sucanat does not dissolve well in cold drinks such as iced tea and lemonade and should be cooked into a sugar syrup before you add it. You may not like it in your coffee or hot tea because of the strong molasses flavor. (Although my hubby loves the flavor and it is his first choice for his morning cup of joe!)

Stevia- is very concentrated; a tiny bit goes a long way. Since sugar adds bulk to your recipe and you are removing this bulk by using stevia, you need to add another bulk to take it's place. Yogurt, applesauce, sour cream, mashed bananas, pumpkin puree, and egg whites, are all choices you can use. Choose your added bulk to enhance the flavor of the recipe. For example, if you're making banana nut bread, than yogurt, sour cream, or more mashed bananas would be a better choice instead of pureed pumpkin.

Stevia can leave a slight aftertaste, but with time, you can get used to it. 
Not all stevia is created equally. The taste of stevia will vary with manufacturers. Also, be aware of what you are buying; some stevia will have filler added. Buy only pure stevia and don't be shocked at the price; stevia is expensive. The upside? A little stevia goes a LONG way.

After trying different brands of stevia, the Kal (pronounced “cow”) brand became the winner to me. The aftertaste is minimal, it is not bitter, and it is very concentrated. One 3.5 oz. container will last me through several canning seasons.

Xylitol- I found, was the hardest to bake with. It soaks up moisture so your cookies can turn out crumbly. Some cooks recommend adding an extra tablespoon of liquid to your batter to balance it. I know cooks have found great success with using it in baking; just be prepared for trial and error. 
All of the above can be found at health food stores (although they will cost more), bulk food stores and through mail order. If your bulk food store does not carry a certain item, they should be able to order it. Most grocery stores carry the turbinado sugar, xylitol, and stevia, but check the ingredients! The sweeteners sold at a grocery store are more apt to have the added filler. I checked a bag of xylitol and found that maltodextrin was listed along with the xylitol. The owner of my health food store recomends buying only xyltiol that is manufactored in the USA and xylitol that is extracted from the bark of birch trees. Since xylitol is expensive, some manufacturers use corn husks (the sweetener base) from China. If you do not know much about what you are buying, ask, research, or make a phone call. Be in charge of what you buy.

Using these sweeteners will take some practice and a few flops, but even the chickens can benefit from those! To help you decide which natural sweeteners could work for your family, here are some ideas.

If you need to cook or bake for a diabetic, or if you want Tommy to lose a few pounds, stevia and xylitol would be a good choice. Both will not affect blood sugar. Stevia is calorie-free and xylitol has nine calories per teaspoon. 
If you are a beekeeper, or live close to someone who sells honey, well then, that's obvious!

If you work with a lot of doughs and yeast, then stevia and xylitol are not options. Honey, sucanat, and maple syrup are.

If you are just trying to cook healthier and want to cut out white sugars, than any of the sweeteners mentioned would be okay. 
Now that you have had a crash course on different sweeteners and sugars available, roll up your sleeves and get ready to bake something that will make even Tommy happy. 

Next time I'll share a chart that was helpful in my baking experiments. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Natural Sugar - Part 3

In the last natural sugar post, Regina shared with us about the various products in the sugar cane family. Today, she shares information on two other natural sweeteners. 
Natural Sugar and Spice - CAN Really be Nice! Part3
Guest Post By Regina
First read part one and part two
Stevia is an herb that grows wild, as a small shrub, in parts of Paraguay and Brazil. The leaves of the stevia plant are very sweet and are used to make the stevia extracts which can be bought in a powder or liquid form. Since stevia is an herb, it will not affect your body's blood sugar and does not rate on the glycemic index. This is a great choice for a diabetic and also for dieters because it is calorie-free. 
Because stevia is not a sugar, it can not be caramelized or used to ferment yeast and sourdough starters. This is good news for those who struggle with candida or are on a candida cleanse diet.
What about a sugar alcohol sweetener? Is this an okay, natural alternative?

Xylitol is considered a sugar alcohol sweetener; these types of sugar alchols are identifiable by the suffix "-itol". They are close to a sugar and resemble alcohol, but are neither. Xyltiol is derived from the fibers of vegetables and extracted from husks, berries, and mushrooms. It is as sweet as white sugar but has 40% fewer calories. Since it is slowly absorbed into your body, it will not affect your blood sugar as drastically as white sugar. Because of this, xylitol has been used in many countries for diabetic diets since the 1960's.
Xylitol has become popular with dentists in recent years. Experts believe xylitol can prevent bacteria from sticking to your teeth. Because it does not break down like sugar, researchers think it could keep a natural pH balance in your mouth, which means less decay and cavities. 
It is sold as “natural” and spoken of highly by many health care professionals as a safe alternative to white sugar. It does not leave an aftertaste, has little calories per teaspoon, and does not affect blood sugar. Sounds like a great product, so why the question mark in my mind? 
When I first researched and wrote this article, I was excited about this “natural product” and experimented with it in cooking and in cold drinks. I had known xyltiol could cause cramping, bloating, and many trips to the outhouse, but with my use of xylitol we had never faced any problem. But then came The Night. 
I made homemade salad dressing for our salads and used xyltiol instead of the white sugar called for. An hour after eating the wonderful salad, our stomachs began to make many strange noises and we didn't “feel good”. Needless to say, the rest of the evening we experienced the known side effects of xylitol! For an experiment, I used the same dressing the next day for lunch. Again, the same results.

Now I wondered, how can something supposedly “natural” affect us in this way and be considered okay? 

After more research, I found others have became sick, developed headaches, experienced extreme indigestion, and had other side effects after eating xylitol or using a product like toothpaste that had xylitol in it. In fact, it is recommended not to give this product to children for these reasons. (Note: xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs even in a small amount.) There are those who have used this product many times and experienced none of the above. 
Xylitol and other sugar alcohols are created through a manufacturing process even though they are touted as natural. They begin with some form of sweetener that is extracted from a natural source. The sweetener is then taken through a chemical processes to make the xyltiol crystals that we use. Because of the steps in creating xyltiol, it can not be called a food. Sugar alcohols are found naturally in fruits. Our own bodies make a small amount of xylitol, but these forms are made in nature, not in a lab. 
So with the known benefits and side effects of xylitol, and with it being sold by health experts, is it an okay sugar substitute? That decision is up to you. If in doubt, remember that honey, maple syrup, sucanat and stevia are so minimally processed they retain a lot of their vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. They are a food close to the natural state created by God. 
Although I have question marks about xylitol, I will include my experience with using it for those who are still interested!

Next time, I'll share tips on baking with natural sweeteners.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A New Brother

Today my sister married and I gained a new brother.
My parents with my sister, Danae and and her groom, Kilian

Danae and Kilian with all Danae's siblings 
It was a little startling to realize that my sister, who was born when I was fifteen, is old enough to be married! As a teen, I had given up on ever having a sister, since I only had brothers. But, as you see in the photo, God not only gave me Danae, but also two more sisters.

The bride and groom with Danae's nieces and nephews
Getting photos of eleven children was a challenge but they cooperated well. And yes, the girls are outnumbered 3 to 8!

The bridal party

My youngest daughter with her favorite cousin

Best wishes Danae and Killian for many happy years serving the Lord together!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Natural Sugar - Part 2

Natural Sugar and Spice - CAN Really be Nice! Part 2
Guest Post By Regina
First read part one

So what do you do if Tommy doesn't like the taste of honey or maple syrup and thinks he needs a real sugar fix? You might go to your bulk food store, look at the choices of sugars on the shelf, and decide it is easier to let Tommy eat his 36-bags-of-white-sugar! But don't, because there is the difference.

You can find Sucanat (which is a contraction for “sugar cane natural”), Rapadura, Evaporated Cane Juice, Raw sugar, and Turbinado sugar. These forms all come from sugar cane. 
Let's start with Sucanat (a registered trademark name) and Rapadura. According to my research, these products are basically the same, only made by different manufacturers. Since Sucanat is well known I will not mention Rapadura any further.

Sucanat is the most minimally refined cane sugar you can buy. Back in those good-old-days, this is the form of sugar people used. (Ever read “The Yearling”? Ma Baxter dries her sugar cane for the year's supply of sugar.)
Sugar cane is cut, then crushed in a mangler which extracts the sweet juice. The juice is heated to reduce the water content, then allowed to cool and dry by a process called - hand paddling. In this process, granules are formed. The result is pure dried cane juice which retains all the molasses; the vitamins and minerals are not displaced during the processing. Hence, Sucanat has been proven to have the highest nutrient content of all forms of cane sugar. Because of the molasses, Sucanat has a strong, distinctive flavor and is grainy, rather than crystalline. It contains less sucrose since it is not purified; white sugar is almost pure sucrose. This makes Sucanat not as sweet as white sugar and it will not affect your blood sugar to the extent white sugar will. Sucanat contains 15 calories per teaspoon.

Raw sugar is processed into crystals instead of granules by a commercial process, not hand paddling. (Hand paddling helps to keep the molasses and nutrients in Sucanat.) According to one source, true raw sugar is not sold in the United States due to impurities.

Turbinado sugar is a form of raw sugar and is also known as “Sugar in the Raw”. The difference between raw sugar and turbinado sugar is turbinado sugar goes through more processing to remove impurities and surface molasses. It is not refined to the extent of white sugar. It contains some molasses content (which means it retains some of the nutrients but not as much as Sucanat), and is lighter in color and taste than Sucanat.

Evaporated cane juice is light brown, granulated, and close in taste and texture to white sugar. Evaporated cane juice skips the refining or bleaching process that takes place with white sugar.
Brown sugar is white sugar with some molasses added back into it. This adds to the flavor but does not add nutrients back into the sugar.
In simple language, sugar cane is boiled to remove water from the sugar solids. At this point, Sucanat is hand paddled to dry and form granules. At this same point, raw sugar is processed into crystals by a commercial process instead of hand paddling, and Turbinado sugar is further refined to remove impurities. Evaporated cane juice and white sugar is even further refined, and then, white sugar is bleached. 
Since Sucanat is the healthiest choice of the cane sugars, I will not mention the others. 
Leaving the sugar cane family, next time we'll take a look at another natural sweetener. 

Do you use any of the less refined alternatives to white sugar?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Natural Sugar - Part 1

Do you remember the series of posts last fall on the dangers of sugar? Many of you asked about sugar alternatives after those posts.  My friend Regina has been experimenting with some natural sugars and agreed to come back and share her research with us.

Regina lives back a long dirt lane with her husband and five children, where she milks goats, tends her large garden, and hosts fancy high teas. I love spending time with Regina, as I always learn something new. Thanks Regina, for sharing with Home Joys for the next several days!

Read Regina's series What is So Wrong with Sugar Part 1, 2, 3, and 4 to get some background information before starting her new series.

Natural Sugar and Spice - CAN Really be Nice!
Guest Post By Regina

Author's note: It is not my intention to make moms feel guilty, or add to their already heavy burden of raising children. I only want to make us aware of what is hidden in our foods, and some options we do have for a healthier change if you so desire. It is not a change that can be made overnight, but I have found a little here and a little there is a great way to start!

Okay, so we don't want to fight our German heritage love for sweets (can always blame the genes), and we're not ready to give up our grandmother's cooking legacy. But we would like to eat healthier, lose a few pounds and stop using our money to fund Tommy's 36 -bags- of-sugar- a-year-addiction.

For a quick recap, research shows that white sugar is empty of any nutrients and minerals. The rise of diabetes, obesity, and other health problems has made us aware of white sugar's effects on us and the alarming amount Americans consume. The average person will eat 170 pounds or more of sugar this year compared to only 10 pounds of sugar annually 200 years ago.

How do we begin this journey, this seemingly impossible goal- to consume less sugar? To change our eating habits and way of cooking can be overwhelming. I know it was for me! But after learning how excess sugar affects us, and knowing I was responsible for what my family ate, it was a change I had to at least consider. At first, it was very confusing with the variety of natural sweeteners available. But after researching, getting advice from friends, and trial and error, I realized how simple and easy it was to cut out sugar. So what are a few options?

Honey is natural and in its raw form, which means it is not pasteurized, contains many vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. That makes it not just a sweetener but an actual food that our bodies will recognize and be able to use. (Sugar has no nutrients.) It's also been discovered that honey is a powerful antioxidant and may increase calcium absorption. (Sugar causes calcium leakage out of our bones.) Studies have shown that honey does not make blood sugar rise and fall as suddenly as white processed sugar does. 
Honey has more calories per teaspoon than sugar (21 vs 16), but honey is sweeter than sugar, so less is needed. Honey adds moisture to baking and gives a wonderful flavor. You can replace sugar with honey in pizza dough, breads, cookies, baked goods, drinks, and soups.

Purchase raw honey from your local apiarist (beekeeper) from June through October. Honey sold after October is heated to prevent crystallizing. When honey is heated at a high temperature, the healthy enzymes are killed. Because of this, if you are using honey only in baking, there is no need to buy raw honey. Commercially bottled honey will have the nutrients and enzymes killed because it was pasteurized to keep the honey liquid. Commercial honey may also be mixed with corn syrup and the honey may have come from another country. Bottled honey purchased at a local apiarist is pure honey and is heated at the minimum heat needed to preserve it. Because of this, it may still contain some enzymes. 
How can you always have raw honey on hand (so you don't need to buy the bottled), and how can you keep from crystallizing? My beekeeper-friend gave me this idea: purchase several gallons of raw honey in the summer, divide it into quart containers and freeze. Freezing honey will not kill the enzymes and will keep it in liquid form.

Maple syrup is also considered a food, is minimally processed, and is high in manganese, zinc and other vitamins. Compared to honey, maple syrup is lower in sodium and is suitable for low-sodium diets. Maple syrup has 15 times more calcium than honey. It is sweeter than sugar and more flavorful.

Next time we'll look at some other natural sugars options.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Training Children to Serve

This morning was rough. Whether a result from our busy weekend of traveling, or just the Monday morning blahs, we needed some attitude adjustments.

After a lunch accented with more whines, I assigned each of the children several jobs, decreed a ban on complaints, turned on some loud march music, and we whirled around setting the house back in order after a busy homeschool morning.

Then we all went outside, and I haven't heard a sign of the grumps since.

I'm always amazed at the benefit of working together with my children.

I shouldn't be surprised. My parents did a great job in training us nine children to work together on the farm. When my mom was overwhelmed with tasks, my dad would often tell her that she was not utilizing her resources. Many times I have heard my mom encourage young mothers to work together with their children and train their children to take responsibility to help around the house.

But training my own children has been a challenge. Dealing with the bad attitudes, sloppy work, and uncoordinated, inexperienced hands was far more frustrating than doing the work myself. So I thought.

I know how much I appreciate my parent's efforts to teach me good work skills, and want to give the same to my children. I want them to know the joy in serving others unselfishly and contributing to the well being of the home.

I've tried several kinds of job charts but never was disciplined to stick with anything for long. What has worked best is attaching specific jobs with meal times, especially lunch. If each child has their job that they do each day, such as vacuuming under the table, or washing dishes, eventually it becomes habit and I nag less.

The last few months we have started what we call "kitchen servants."

When I was a teen, my parents started a "servant of the day." We were never a quiet family and with eleven people jumping up to get whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it, meal times were crazy. Breakfast was especially bad. Every time the toast popped, half a dozen persons would jump for it. Add in someone who wanted honey instead of jelly, another going for milk instead of the juice on the table, and there were too many people colliding in the kitchen.

My parents gave each of the older children a day of the week that was their day to be the "servant." When meal time began, the servant was the only child allowed to get off their seat. If anyone wanted something not on the table, they had to kindly ask the servant to get it for them. It worked beautifully. As we older ones married, one of the younger ones became servant on our day. I believe they still have a servant of the day these many years later.

I decided to adapt the "servant of the day" to meet my needs. I gave my three oldest children each a meal to be the kitchen servant. For their meal, the servant is responsible to help me in any way needed. They may help with meal prep, set the table, or wash dishes.

The children have (mostly) taken on their new role with pride. No longer do I ask someone to set the table only to hear complaints that they always have to set the table. They know that this time it is their turn; a sibling will be asked at the next meal. My just-turned-five-year-old was given breakfast since he is our early bird. Most mornings he is out in the kitchen asking what he can do to help before I call him.

There is many other areas of my household that I need to improve upon, but our kitchen servant has been a blessing to our meal times.

I'd love to hear your ideas on training children to help at home.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Homemade Tacos

We love homemade tortillas. I enjoy making them and we think they taste better than bought. But in my admitting that "I can't do it all" tortillas are something I have been purchasing. But when I saw the homemade taco recipe in Mennonite Girls Can Cook, it so simple, I had to try it.

This recipe makes a batter and is poured in a pan, omitting all the tedious rolling that tortillas require. The result is more like a thin pancake or crepe then a tortilla. My family rolled up them up with meat, beans, cheese, and the works and loved them. If you are hungry for a soft homemade taco, give these a try.

slightly adapted from Mennonite Girls Can Cook

1 cup flour (I used half white/half whole wheat.)
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 cup water
1 egg
1 tsp salt


Whisk ingredients together until smooth. Lightly oil skillet.
Heat pan on medium heat for one minute.
Pour 1/2 cup batter in pan, with back of spoon, swirl batter into a very thin circle.
Allow taco to set; flip and fry other side.
Cool on wire rack.


 Fill with your favorite taco filling -refried beans, ground beef, chicken, peppers, onion, cheese, salsa, sour cream, lettuce, etc.
These don't freeze well, but I made a double batch and still didn't have any leftover.
We ate the tacos just like this but you could deep fry them in oil to become crisp if you wished.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cookbook Challenge - Mennonite Girls Can Cook

I've been in a cooking slump. I've not been meal planning or feeling inspired in cooking this winter. Time for another cookbook challenge - where I get out one of my cookbooks and deliberately try some new recipes.

It has been a pleasure to have Mennonite Girls Can Cook cookbook on my counter the last couple weeks. Not only did I find some good recipes, but the pictures and extra comments, stories, and devotionals make this cookbook special.

I wouldn't call this cookbook low-fat or particularly health conscious. Some of the recipes are special holiday treats that are too complicated, and rich, for every day. But many are simple country cooking that can fit into a busy schedule. Many of the recipes are family favorites from generations past and call for basic ingredients already in my kitchen. The exception would be the gluten-free recipes which contained things I never heard of.

I didn't take many photos but some of our favorites were apple pancakes, sausage quiche, blueberry muffins, french toast, blueberry scones, meatballs, green bean stew, and butterhorns.

Tomorrow I'll share the recipe for the tacos.

Do you have a favorite cookbook you are working through recently?


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