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A New Kind of First Day!

We ushered in a new era here in our home this week. I had plans to write about it all summer long, but before I could get the words out, it was time for us to start. Yep, we started school this past Monday, and our families brand of school this year is a rare sort of hybrid. We joined the ranks of home schoolers, but we started our week by dropping the boys off at a local Christian Montessori school for two days of home school enrichment.

Everyone at our house is excited about these new changes, but at least some of us know that however exciting this is, it is also big and weighty. It feels a little bit like a new pair of shoes right now; you can’t wait to wear them, but there’s bound to be some blisters. I am certain that we will have to fine tune our system as we get into a groove of learning in so many places and ways, but we all feel like where we are allows time and space for everyone and everything we need.

We dropped the boys off for their first day with appropriate mama created provisions. They each took hand knitted felt slippers for use in their classrooms with them, and they both carried mama sewn tractor backpacks per their requests. Our four year old was headed for his first day of school ever, and took a mama created nap mat with him.

It’s inevitable that the decision to home school your children, especially after a career as a public school educator, brings about questions about why. I vow to address these questions in another post soon, but I feel like this one should be all about the boys, our excitement, and generally keeping it positive.

We are all thrilled to have found a place they can go that is just so very perfect for us. The school they attend two days a week sits on 5 acres, there are chickens and a pig (yes, a PIG), and the students eat lunch on picnic tables outside as long as the weather permits. Being a true Montessori school, students are given choices and allowed to be independent in their work. All of this was very important to ALL of us. After years of raising kids to live naturally and close to the land, after all the attachment parenting, after teaching them that God comes first, it was easy for us to send them to a school that fits well with all of these ideals.

There were, of course, some first day jitters and some over-tired, over whelmed second day tears when I picked them up (One of the boys was begging me to stay there!), but dad gave pep talks and hugs to both boys. We made certain that they were settled, and then we were off to a rather quiet house.


The Edible Ice Pop Stick

Honestly, this was not *completely* my idea. We popped some ice pops into the freezer one afternoon, and one of the boys announces that we should use sticks you can eat. An idea flashes through my mind instantly, but I don’t bother to share it, saving it instead as a surprise for them.

I immediately think that a pretzel rod would make a great edible stick, and start mentally searching for flaws with the plan. I decide that it would get soggy in the blended liquid before things solidify in the freezer, and settle on a thin coat of chocolate.

This was super simple; just melt some chocolate, add a bit of oil, and dip the pretzels leaving just enough room for a handle. Let these set up in the fridge or freezer while you mix up your ice pop of choice. We went with straight up strawberry here, but I keep dreaming of these with pineapple or cinnamon honey coconut. Pour your mix into cup and freeze for a few minutes, adding the pretzel sticks after they’ve set up just enough to hold the stick up straight. Finish freezing and enjoy!

These were met with oooo’s, ahh’s and exclamations of “You can eat the stick!!!!” around here. We all agreed that the very best bites are the ones where you get ice pop, chocolate and pretzel all at the same time.


Freeing ourselves…

I updated this post to fix a few important errors on August 7, 2012. Please not that the “coconut butter” listed in the cashew butter coconut sorbet was changed to coconut milk, and the corn breading recipe changed from 1 cup to a 1/2 cup of water. I’m really hoping this didn’t cause a problem for anyone before it was fixed.

…of gluten, that is.

We decided to ditch gluten a while back to see if it would help clear up some health issues troubling some of our troops. I’m happy to report that living without gluten is not as hard as it may seem, and that it has helped us some as well. While it’s not always difficult to eat gluten free, it has it’s challenges. In an effort to get a better grasp of getting all the gluten out of all our diets, I decided to join a small group of people I know online in a 5 day challenge. I also turned up the pressure a bit for myself and tried to cut out refined sugar as well; I’ve done this before, so it should have been a pretty easy task. Uh, yeah, not so much. I’m still working on it. In the mean time, here’s a few recipes, adaptations and meal ideas for those of you who are eating gluten free.

Cashew Butter Coconut Sorbet

  • 1 can coconut milk, slightly warmed
  • 1/4 cashew butter (or your favorite nut butter)
  • 1/4 honey
  • pinch of sea salt

Blend all ingredients in a blender until just combined and freeze according to the directions for your ice cream freezer. We ate this topped with a small handful of chocolate chunks. The recipe is small, making only 3 or 4 small servings; double it for larger parties or left overs.

Carrot Muffin Adaptation

You’ll find my carrot muffin recipe here. This adaptation will mix and bake just like the original; there are just a few simple changes in the ingredients. You’ll need to substitute 1 1/4 cups of corn flour for the whole wheat flour, double the crushed pineapple from 8 ounces drained to 16 ounces drained, and add an egg for a total of 3 eggs.

Frozen Chocolate Covered Bananas

  • 4 bananas
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4 coconut oil
  • crushed nuts, GF pretzels or other crushed or small toppers (optional, of course)

Peel and slice each banana in half; push a popsicle stick into the cut end and place on a sheet tray that will fit in your freezer. Freeze these until frozen through; best done a few hours or more before you’d like to serve them. When you are about ready to serve them, melt chocolate and coconut oil together and pour into a tall glass or my favorite, a 2 cup pyrex measuring cup. Work with one banana at a time; dip it in the melted chocolate, tipping the container to be certain you get chocolate all the way up the side. Then roll it in the topping and let sit until the chocolate is firm before serving. (Obviously, this recipe isn’t refined sugar free. It’s a treat around here, but a great one for the end of a HOT summer day!)

If that’s not enough snacks and treats for you, check out my last post for a chocolate coconut sorbet recipe that you can make into hot cocoa this winter. Or you can try a GF version of our homemade granola bars by using GF oats and substituting your favorite GF flour blend or grinding 2/3 of a cup of GF oats for the whole wheat flour.

Snacks are where we struggle most around here. That may not be true for you and yours, and you may be struggling more with meal ideas. There are simple ways to eat around breads and pastas if you are willing to think “outside the bun” and be a little creative. Some things we have tried and love:

  • corn tortillas – we love to eat tacos and fajitas at our house. I make our corn tortillas using masa we buy at the store, a tortilla press and the directions on the package of masa. If you don’t have a press, I recommend buying one for these; they just don’t hand roll well at all.
  • Salads. If you are grain free, put your taco filling or fajitas on a bed of greens, top with salsa and sliced avocado or guacamole. Or turn your sandwich into a salad by putting what you’d normally put between bread on greens instead.
  • GF pasta is available in many varieties. We like the quinoa pastas the best, but if you are going grain free altogether, try putting your favorite pasta sauce over roasted eggplant. Quarter smaller eggplants and slice larger ones into 1/2 inch discs, toss with a generous amount of olive oil, season with sea salt and bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour until the eggplant is soft all the way through.
  • Wrap your sandwich in lettuce instead of bread. You can even order sandwiches this way at some restaurants.
  • Don’t discount just eating things bun-less. We’ve eaten burgers topped with homemade GF onion rings, grated cheese (for those of us who can have it) and BBQ sauce with a side of sweet potato oven fries.
  • Fry things up anyway, just use corn flour. I’ve breaded everything from onions to chicken in corn flour. We’ve made our chicken fried chicken just the same as we always have directly subbing corn flour. Our onion rings go in a batter of 1 cup corn flour, salt to taste, seasoning of choice, and 1 egg mixed into 1/2 cup water. Stir to combine, dip onions and fry. I am certain this would work for other veggies; I’ve done zucchini this way as well.
  • Put things on baked potatoes. We love to take left over pulled pork, shredded beef, or other things that might go on a bun and put them on simple baked potatoes.
  • Make soup. I’ve made everything from a southwestern black bean and kale soup with purple rice in it to a roasted tomato bruchetta with cilantro. Honestly, if you have an idea for soup, try doing an online search, you will likely find a recipe. I’ll post soup recipes later.

Hopefully this is enough to keep those of you in need of ideas going a little while longer while you change your habits. Happy eating!


Fire and Ice: Coconut and chocolate, hot or cold

When you can’t have dairy but love hot chocolate and chocolate ice cream, eventually you find a way to make the good stuff. I had an epiphany of sorts two winters ago that resulted in a hot chocolate recipe that became my go to comfort drink on those especially cold, hard days. In the heat of summer, of course, I can’t even imagine those cold hard days, and last summer it I wondered what would happen if I put the hot chocolate in the ice cream freezer. All I can say is yum. It’s one base recipe with only a handful of ingredients that can be heated or frozen to create at least two yummy finishes.

Base Recipe: Coconut Chocolate Ice Cream or Hot Cocoa

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 t vanilla
  • pinch of sea salt

To make ice cream: Warm the coconut milk just enough to melt the fat back into the “water”; we like to stick our can out in the sun for about 15 minutes to do this, then shake it. Mix all of the ingredients together using a whisk or pop it in the blender, blending just until combined (Be careful not to blend to long and get coconut whipped cream bits floating in the mixture. If this happens, just heat the mixture to melt them and then continue.) Chill this mixture in the fridge for at least an hour or two; then freeze according to your ice cream freezers directions. This recipe only makes 2 or 3 servings, so we like to double it.

To make hot cocoa: Put all ingredients in a small sauce pan. It’s easier to get the coconut fat out of the can if you heat it a bit first. You can follow the solar heating method listed for ice cream if you have a warm, sunny winter day on your hands, you can heat it in some warm water, or you can just scrape the fat into the pan with a rubber scraper. Add 1 cup of your preferred milk (we use rice, but almond, cow, goat, sheep, etc. will all work)  and heat, stirring with a whisk or a fork until the mixture comes together and combines. Makes 2 generous or 3 small servings.



Turning 6 in Narnia

The biggest Schmitzlet turned 6 recently. His birthday was welcomed with all of our traditions, including a mama made birthday shirt and the wearing of his birthday crown. The celebration also included a Narnia themed party; at his request we donned pajamas and ate breakfast for dinner in Narnia. We converted the house with a simple painting hung on the inside of our storm door to look like a wardrobe door (This was probably the least effective of our decorations, but the boys helped with the painting and their inclusion was much more important than the end result.) and a simple hanging rod holding coats on hangers just inside the door. The coats gave way to Christmas trees, fabric “snow” on the floor, and a lamp post. The boys also helped me make a banner with stenciled lions, and I crafted Cair Paravel, based on the illustration in the original book, out of cake.

We created another butterfly net similar to the one he gave his brother for him, and I also made him an apron and chef hat. Our friends and family stitched up some handmade love for him as well. He was thrilled to get a dinosaur tail just like one the middle boy received for his birthday in May, and one of his aunts made him the worlds most adorable stuffed lion. The boys have spent much time playing a game they call “whack with dinosaur tails”, and the lion was instantly adopted as his nighttime companion.

Party goers were invited to make a crown and given a naturally hand dyed play scarf as a favor. They dined on scrambled eggs with toppings like grated cheese, avocado, and salsa, bacon, homemade carrot muffins and fruit; each item specially selected by the birthday boy.

The big guy’s 6th birthday was magical. I really enjoyed getting ready for a party in Narnia, and I hope I get to do it again sometime in the future! For now, I want my 6 year old to know that he is even more magical. He is intense, creative, dramatic, persistent and vibrant, and he challenges me to be the best parent I possible can each and every day. It is truly an adventure to live with this boy; his imagination is bigger than our home. It is not possible to keep up with him these days, and I resign myself to the sidelines much of the time, left to watch him explore, discover, create and learn. I am amazed every day as I observe him encounter this world, and I pray, pray, pray for him without ceasing.