Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Five Reasons I Wasn't Going to Buy an Instant Pot

Instant Pot IP-DUO80 7-in-1 Programmable Electric Pressure Cooker, 8 Qt

Five Reasons I Wasn't Going To Buy an Instant Pot

- But Did Anyway

1. Everyone was doing it.

I'm not a trend setter. I'm not a fad follower. Call me stubborn. Or independent. But when everyone is talking about the same product, or book, or diet...I roll my eyes and expect to find those products on the Goodwill shelf in three years.

But...when my sister-in-law, and friends, and much of the blog world, and even my mom have an Instant Pot on their kitchen counter, I begin to think that maybe I need to reconsider.

2. The name.

"Instant Pot"? That sounds like false advertising. Nothing worth doing is instant. Nothing worth eating is instant. I love quick and easy, but instant isn't believable. Besides, I'm more of the long-rise sourdough kind of gal.

I know, "7-1 Programmable Electric Pressure Cooker" doesn't have a great ring. But I've used an electric pressure cooker. They are not instant. Yes, they cook food faster, but they take time to bring the pot up to pressure and to bring the pressure down to safely open the lid.

But...even if it wasn't instant, sometimes a mom needs even a few extra minutes. My sister-in-law, a homeschool mom of six just like me, kept telling me that she used her instant pot nearly every day and didn't know how she would manage without it.

3. New technology.

My favorite kitchen gadget is my cast-iron skillet that was used by Ed's grandmother. My second favorite is an 8-quart stainless steel soup pot that was a wedding gift.

I use these two pans every day. They are indestructible. They have no buttons. They have nothing to break or wear out. I can use them every day of my life and hand them down to my grandchildren. I can use them on a campfire if the electricity is out.

But...I do love my slow cooker. And the liner has a crack and needs replaced. Maybe this was a good time to upgrade to an Instant Pot which includes a slow cooker but much more.

4. The user's manual

I don't like to read user's manuals. I don't like to figure out new gadgets. I grumped for weeks when my laptop died last year and Ed kindly bought me a new one. It took me months to grudgingly say that I liked it. I'd rather use something half broken or obsolete than learn something new.

All those buttons on the Instant Pot? Scared me silly. And a user's manual printed in several languages? I probably wouldn't even understand the English version.

But...I talked to a friend of mine who is even less in love with technology and user's manuals than I am. And she said that she figured out all those buttons in a short time. Maybe I can too. In fact, don't I tell my children that sometimes they need to try something that looks hard?

5. I am a tightwad.

I try to say I'm frugal. But it might slide into stinginess. Ask Ed who watched me fight with a half-broken hand mixer. I don't mind spending money on things that bless others. (Like the incredible amount of food this household consumes.) But buy something just to make my life easier? That is hard for a tightwad. I can usually talk myself out of any purchase just by checking the 1-star reviews on Amazon. (Never mind that the average is 4.5 stars.)

And the Instant Pot isn't cheap. Nearly everyone I knew had (and loved) the six-quart Instant Pot. But with our family's food consumption it seemed silly to me to buy anything less than an 8-quart Instant Pot. (Remember, my favorite soup pot is 8-quart.) And I could buy four or five slow cookers for the price of the 8-quart Instant Pot.

But...Ed said, "Just order it."

And so I did.

The huge box arrived on the porch last Friday. I was not. going. to. be. intimidated. The money is already spent. I couldn't waste those dollars because of fear. I pulled the Instant Pot out of the box, read the directions in the user's manual (in English I could understand), threw rice in the pot, and served it for supper that very night.

I've used the Instant Pot at least once every day since then.

 Instant Pot IP-DUO80 7-in-1 Programmable Electric Pressure Cooker, 8 Qt

So am I the only one who has crazy fears over learning to use something new?

And to all you Instant Pot users, what should I make next in my Instant Pot?

Want to learn more? This is the Instant Pot I bought. And here is the 6-quart. 

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Grandma's Coconut Cookies

My daughter is the resident cookie baker at our house. With her on staff, it is far more rare for the cookie jar to be empty than when I was the sole baker. Coconut cookies are one of her current favorites. My mom gave me this recipe years ago, but I'm not sure who "Grandma" is. I need to ask if this is an old family recipe or just the name on a recipe pulled from a magazine years ago. 

Not that it matters. For my children, these coconut cookies are from Grandma and will continue to be a favorite.

I always use coconut oil in this recipe. I think it accents the coconut, but if you prefer, butter is also a great option. The oatmeal and whole wheat flour help me pretend that these cookies are good for me.

And as always, the secret to any good cookie is to not overbake. I like to pull them out slightly underbaked and allow the cookies to continue to bake for a few minutes on the pan before removing to a cooling rack.

Grandma's Coconut Cookies

1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup coconut oil or butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (or white if you prefer)
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 cups quick oatmeal
2 cup flaked coconut

Cream sugar, brown sugar, and oil/butter. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Mix in remaining ingredients. Place dough on cookie sheet, slightly pressing down dough. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Remove from pan and cool.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Bookmarks: Picture Books About Refugees

One of the best ways to gain empathy for others is by stories. If you read Voices from Syria and want to share refugee stories with your children here are several picture books about children who had to flee their home. Some of these stories took place many years ago, others are more recent, but each one tells the story of courage and friendship. These books were all available at my public library, but some I've enjoyed so much that I've added them to our home library.

Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee
Hundreds of Jewish refugees are gathering at the Japanese consulate in Lithuaia to request visas. When the Japanese government refuses to give the visas, Sugihara and his family make a crucial decision that will save the lives of thousands. An amazing true story from World War 2.

The Blessing Cup, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
We love Polacco's books. She is known best for her heartwarming stories about her family. The Blessing Cup records their journey from Russia and the kindest that was shown to them.

How I Learned Geography, written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz
Fleeing from the war in their homeland, they now face poverty and hunger in a strange land. But instead of bread, Father brings home a map. A childhood memory from World War 2.

My Name Is Sangoel by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Catherine Stock
Because he is a refugee, Sangoel arrived in America from Sudan with not much more than his family and his name. No one can pronounce his name until Sangoel comes up with a creative solution.

One Green Apple by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ted Lewin
A young Muslim immigrate joins her class on a field trip to an apple orchard. Ted Lewin is one of my all-time favorite children's book illustrators. The watercolors take you to a sunny fall day and the story reminds us of the power of shared laughter.

My Name Is Yoon by Helen Recorvits, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
Yoon loves her Korean name and its happy dancing figures but her father says she needs to learn to write her name with English letters. At her new school, Yoon tries out some new names. A special book about adjusting to a new country.

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Doug Chayka

When relief workers bring clothing to Lina's refugee camp in Pakistan, she is thrilled to find a beautiful sandal that fits perfectly. But another girl has claimed the matching sandal. Will the two girls find a way to share the sandals? A sweet story of friendship.

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Voices from Syria - a review

We are hearing a lot about immigrants right now. I have no desire to add to the contention. I've learned that if I haven't walked in another's shoes, I probably should withhold my opinion.

In 2015, about the time we were horrified at the photos of the drowned body of a small refugee boy, Katrina Hoover traveled to Jordan and Lebanon. Her goal was to interview Syrian refugees and share their stories.

The result of the interviews was two books, Faces of Syria and Voices of Syria.   Faces of Syria is a photo-heavy book with short excerpts from the interviews. Voices of Syria is a longer book sharing the complete story of Katrina's trip.

Voices of Syria

Voices of Syria is part travel memoir, part refugee interviews, and brief factual reports of the history of Syria. I know so little about the history of the Middle East and I was glad for the refresher course on the various events that have shaped recent events.

While Voices of Syria shares heartbreaking stories, it does so tastefully. I was able to let my daughter read the book without worrying that it would be too intense for her. But when I read the book, I found myself reading very slowly. This is a book to linger over. After reading a few interviews, I felt the need to just stop and pray for these dear people who have lost so much. I'm usually a fast reader but this is one book that felt wrong to rush through, as if it would be doing injustice to the refugees stories.

I also enjoyed reading about the churches and organizations that are doing what they can to relieve the suffering of the refugees. Their sacrificial giving made me consider what I should be doing to help those around me who are hurting.

I highly encourage you to read Voices of Syria if you want to understand more about the Syrian refugees or if you need a reminder of how blessed your life is.

You can buy the book from TGS International. My copy was given to me by Katrina to review, but the opinions in this review are my own. Katrina blogs at 500 Words where she shares about her life as a cardiac nurse living in a diverse neighborhood. Even though her life and mine are widely different, her blog is one of my favorites.

Have you read any books about current events that have given you a wider perspective?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Sourdough Sticky Buns {Or How to Adapt a Recipe to Sourdough}

I'm often asked how to adapt a typical yeast-bread recipe to a sourdough recipe. I could make a guess, - decrease the water, substitute the yeast for sourdough starter, and extend the rising time, but I had not actually tried it. 

But a few weeks ago, I ran out of yeast and didn't want to make a special trip to the store when I was hit with an urge to make sticky buns. I figured this was the perfect opportunity to try adapting my mom's sticky bun recipe to sourdough. 

I can now say with assurance that it works to adapt a yeast bread recipe to sourdough. Works very well.

When I mixed up the dough, I omitted the yeast, added some active sourdough starter, and cut back the water. I placed the dough in the bowl and began to wait. And wait. It took over four hours for the dough to nearly double in size. Sourdough is never  mistaken for the fastest baking method.

After rising, I divided the dough in half, rolled it out, and sprinkled the dough with brown sugar and cinnamon.

I rolled the dough tightly and sliced the dough into fifteen slices and placed it into a 9x13 pan with prepared slurry.

I could have cut them into fewer slices for larger buns, but I knew these will increase in size and be perfect for our family. I did the same with the second half of dough, resulting in two pans of buns.

Again, these took a while to raise (2-3 hours) but eventually they filled the pan and were ready to bake.

After baking, I turned them out onto a pan and let the syrup drip down into the buns.

But the real question - what about the flavor? Do sourdough sticky buns taste sour? 

If you have eaten a San Francisco-type sourdough, you know that sourdough can taste truly sour. But not all breads made with a sourdough starter has that distinctive flavor. I actually wish we would use "wild yeast" or some other term instead of "sourdough."  Bread that is made with a large quantity of starter and risen in warm temperature won't have as strong a flavor, because it will rise quickly and not allow the "sour" flavors to develop. Bread that is made with less starter and risen cold and slow, will have a more developed flavor. 

Your pleasure in more or less flavor will depend upon your goals or your tastes. Our family enjoys sourdough. While my children like if I occasionally make a typical yeast bread, Ed says that the typical yeast bread has no flavor. 

(Warning: get your husband hooked on quality bread, and you'll spoil him for any other bread - for life. Last week, when he was traveling for work, I heard a litany of complaints about the horrid sandwich bun he was forced to eat. But doesn't every wife like to know that her husband likes her cooking best?)

But I wasn't sure if the combination of sour and sweet in these sticky buns would be complementary. 

There IS an undercurrent of a sweet/sour tang in these buns. And we loved it. It reminded me of a citrus tang, like adding a lemon glaze to a sweet cake.

But of course just one attempt wasn't enough. I had to make these buns again to makes sure that the first try wasn't just a lucky success. And this time they were even better. I omitted the slurry or goo, instead making plain cinnamon buns. Then I added a peanut butter fudge frosting. I'm sorry. We were eating the last of the batch when I realized I had not taken a photo. 

Want to try it? Here is the recipe for the sourdough sticky buns adapted from my mom's sticky bun recipe.

Sourdough Sticky Buns

1 cup warm potato water
1 cup mashed potatoes
2 cups active sourdough starter
2/3 cup butter or oil
1/3 cup honey (or 2/3 cup sugar)
2 eggs
2 tsp salt
3 cups white flour
3 cups whole wheat flour (more if needed)

Mix all ingredients together. Add more flour if needed to make a soft dough. Knead for five minutes. Place in greased bowl and raise until doubled (at least 3-4 hours). Divide dough in half and roll half into 12 x 18 inch rectangle. Sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar. Roll up jelly-roll style from long side. Slice in 15 pieces. Place in 9x13 pan. Repeat with the second half of dough. Raise for 2 (or more) hours until doubled. Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes.

Variation: Place slurry (or goo) in pan before placing rolls if you want sticky buns. My mom's recipe is 2 cups brown sugar, 1 cup water, 4 T molasses, 4 T butter. Stir together in pan and bring to boil. Simmer for one minute. Pour in baking pan before placing rolls. Remember to flip out of baking pan immediately after baking.

Second Variation: After shaping buns, wrap pan tightly in plastic wrap and place in fridge. They will rise slowly. One or two days later, remove from fridge. Allow to warm up for 30 minutes then bake them for fresh buns.

I'd love to hear your attempts in adapting recipes for sourdough.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Two Things I'm Enjoying Right Now

1. Redwall on Audio

I'm not sure why I have saved audio books for long trips. Maybe because I enjoy reading aloud to my children so much. But I don't have time to read all afternoon even when I wish I could. 

Recently I picked up the audio version of Brian Jacques' Redwall and it was perfect for wet days this winter when we needed a quiet afternoon activity. Redwall was written as a story for blind children and the descriptions and action kept my children glued. And I'll admit that I chose an activity nearby so I could enjoy the story too. The audio is narrated by the author and includes an excellent cast of readers. The evil voice of Cluny and the kind wisdom of the abbot came alive.

I'll even admit turning it on over lunch when I'm weary of the ruckus. It turns a meal from chaos to silence in seconds. 

Note: Redwall is the story of war between the mice and rats. Though it is not graphic, it is dramatic; a young or sensitive child may not enjoy it. 

We enjoyed this audio so much that I'm looking for more at our local library. I'd like to figure out Audible as well. I'm so slow on learning anything new, but I've heard enough good things about some of the good Audible deals that I should figure it out. I'd love to hear your favorite audio book suggestions.

2. Walmart Home Delivery

For years I've been a fan of online purchases. I buy birthday gifts, vitamins, kitchen gadgets, and, of course, books, from Amazon. 

My sister-in-law has been telling me for months that I need to get my groceries from Walmart online. I not sure why I took so long to take her advice.  

I don't enjoy taking six children shopping. And the longer I procrastinate, the longer my list grows, until I have too much to fit in one cart. By the time I get home and am faced with the huge stack of groceries to put away, I'm determined not to go again for a long time.

Finally, a few months ago, I tried Walmart home delivery. And now I'm placing a Walmart order every few weeks. Of course I can't get all my groceries. They don't carry everything online and I can't get fresh produce or dairy products. But I'm finding that if I cross off the big, bulky items like diapers, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, toothpaste, and some canned goods, my list is not nearly as overwhelming and my cart isn't heaped. 

The best part? For my last order, two-day shipping for a $35 order was Free. I'm not sure how long this deal will last as the shipping deals do fluctuate. Sometimes I need a $50 order (which is no problem in this household) and it isn't always two-day shipping, but there is always some way to get free shipping. 

Not having to take six children grocery shopping? I'd pay money for that convenience.

But don't tell Walmart. 

I'd love to hear your tips on surviving grocery shopping.


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