Monday, July 27, 2009

Oh The Places You'll Go! Back to School Dinner

The Evening: School is starting. To my little ones, this annual ritual is fraught with some nervousness but mostly excitement. They must have at least a few token new outfits, a new backpack, and we shop the sales for all the crayons, pencils, sharpeners, glue-sticks, and markers we will need for the year. So many musts. . . so many rushing preparations. We took an hour or two to stop, to ponder, to dream, and to mark the passing of another ritual, the upcoming first day of school. We invited some friends who were also starting school (with year round,some friends start a month later).


  • A dollar store sign greeted our guests and will stay up till after the first week of school.
  • Tables set up in the library were covered in brown paper. Problems of various skill levels were drawn all over the paper waiting to be solved by the guests of honor. Self adhesive alphabet name tape for desks ($ store) lined the edges, while crayons, colored pencils, and markers tied in smart blue ribbons marched down the center of the table.
  • A hall pass ($ store) hung by the door for bathroom runs.
  • Name tags ($ store)

  • Brown bagged lunches included all the packaged foods kids love so much, fruit kabobs, ham salad sandwiches, and zebra doodles.

  • Each child was given an Honor roll certificate ($ store) filled out by Mom to honor the accomplishments of the past year. One by one we honored them and presented their certificates with a ribboned school supply.
  • We read Oh, the Places You'll Go. Must READ. Really. The adults liked it better than the kids.
  • Each person, including the adults made a page for our "Places You'll Go this Coming Year" Book. Some drew pictures, others simply wrote their plans.
  • Played the Game Oh the Places You'll Go which is great for thinking about the future and life possibilities.
Today there is only one because who can't make a decent brown bag lunch?

Lunch Bag Zebra Doodles:

Snickerdoodles (purchased or home made)
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
2-3 ounces Carmel topping
4 ounces chocolate chips

In small bowl, mix cream cheese with caramel topping. Frost on half the bottom of half of the snickerdoodles, cover with the other half. Microwave chocolate for 1 minute, stirring after 30 seconds. Dip sandwich cookies in melted chocolate. Place on rack to drip dry. Can place in the refrigerator to cool quickly.
Favorite Snickerdoodle Recipe
This recipe is made with butter instead of shortening. This makes it soft and chewy but with a better flavor.

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter for 30 seconds. Fold in sugar, egg, and vanilla. Beat well. Add half of the flour, baking soda and cream of tartar. Beat until thoroughly combined. Fold in remaining flour mixing thoroughly. Cover and chill 1 hour. Combine sugar and cinnamon. Shape dough into balls and roll balls in cinnamon, sugar mixture. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-11 minutes.

Loved the evening. It got me thinking about new starts and my goals as well as thrilled the kids. My friends were a complete delight as usual. Great way to spend the evening!!!!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Little House/ Pioneer Dinner


I've always wanted to do a book review for dinner. We just finished The Little House in the Big Woods. Briz read the chapters just before bed. Pa came alive in Briz because he knew and understood love for the woods, for making your own way and the magic of watching deer and fawns gaze trustingly at you. My children fell in love with Laura and Mary just as I did many years ago as I lay in my pink checkered bed at dusk and listened to my mother's magical voice bring the little house alive.

In addition, we are celebrating Pioneer Day this week. July 24 is the day the pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley, so besides parades and the like, our book review dinner will be an added piece in our celebration/ search for appreciation and understanding.

If you are not hungry when you begin the Little House Books, you certainly will be when you finish. Johny Cakes sizzle on the fire, bread carries Ma's signature hand print, cheese and butter production is described in detail, as is roasting the pig tail. Though I've never thought I wanted a pig's tail, I do while I read these books. In short, it is a perfect book to review during dinner.

Little Mother sat down to put on a video. "Sweetie, I thought we'd play a little game this evening and pretend we were pioneers like Laura and Mary. Would you like to play with me? Great. Then they didn't have DVD s did they. What would they be doing right now? Helping mom with dinner? Excellent. Come over here and we'll learn together how to do new things."

We started the cheese. Then she tried the pioneer secret of holding bread in her mouth while chopping onions. While I continued with some "boring stuff", she outfitted Sunshine and herself as best she could. She set the table with pie tins, tin cups, wild flowers, and our pioneer courting candle.
The meal was surprisingly good. Everyone polished their plates. We tried buttermilk with our meal. Some liked it but most only took a couple of swallows. After dinner we made maple candy, the children did dances and performed songs for us and we played games around the table. Sunshine wants to be a pioneer because she could go on hikes all the time. Little Mother isn't quite so sure the wants to be a pioneer. Pizza is still a better option for her.

The Recipes:

"They all hurried to the kitchen for plates, and outdoors to fill the plates with snow. ..She and the other Laura, and all the other children, scooped up clean snow with their plates. Then they went back into the crowded kitchen. Grandma stood by the brass kettle and with the big wooden spoon she poured hot syrup on each plate of snow. It cooled into soft candy, and as fast as it cooled they ate it. They could eat all they wanted for maple sugar never hurt anybody."

Maple Candy


  • 2 cups pure maple syrup

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

  • saucepan (non-stick works best)

  • candy thermometer recommended


  1. Cook syrup until it begins to boil, stirring frequently.

  2. Continue boil until it reaches 233°F on the candy thermometer.

  3. Remove from heat and cool for approximately 60-70 minutes, or until the temperature on the candy thermometer reads about 110°F

  4. Add the vanilla extract and heat until smooth and fluffy.

  5. Shape this mixture into small patties, or while still warm you can pour onto pans of clean snow as Laura did. If you have no snow, you can blend ice cubes until they are crushed, then place crushed cubes into a pan before pouring the maple candy. You can also use candy molds.

  6. Maple candy must be stored in airtight containers to prevent the candy from drying out.

From Little House in the Big Woods

"What would you like best to eat?" They talked about spareribs, and turkey with dressing, and baked beans, and crackling cornbread, and other good things. But Almanzo said that what he liked most in the world was fried apples 'n 'onions. When at last, they went into dinner there on the table was a big dish of them! Mother knew what he liked best, and she had cooked it for him. Almanzo ate four large helpings of apples 'n' onions fried together." - Farmer Boy pg. 73

Apples 'N' Onions

Servings: 6


  • 1/2 lb bacon or salt pork

  • 2 lb yellow onions (about 6)

  • 2 lb tart apples, chopped (about 6)

  • 2 tbsp brown sugar


Fry bacon slices in 12-inch skillet until brown and crisp. Set aside on a warm serving platter. While meat is frying, peel onions, leaving stems to hold for slicing. To prevent your eyes from watering, hold a slice of bread in your teeth while you slice the onions as thin as possible.

Core apples and cut crosswise in circles about 1/4-inch thick. Apple skins help the slices hold their shape and add color to the dish, so don’t peel unless skins are tough or scarred.

Drain all but 1 Tbsp fat from skillet, then add onion slices. Cook over medium-high heat about 3minutes.

Cover with apple slices in an even layer. Sprinkle brown sugar over all, cover skillet, and cook until tender, a few minutes more. Stir only to prevent scorching. Remove to warm plate with bacon slices.

"When the milk was heated enough, Ma squeezed eery drop of water from the rennet in the cloth, and then she poured the water into the milk. She stirred it well and left it in a warm place by the stove. In a little while it thickened into a smooth quivery mass. ..Ma cut it into little squares and let it stand while the curd separated from the whey. Then she poured it all into a cloth and let the thin, yellowish whey drain out." - Little House in the Big Woods pg. 188

Easy White Cheese:
Great for breading and frying, stir-frying with vegetables, or by itself, this mild cheese will keep refrigerated for one week.

1 gallon milk
2 T. lemon juice
3 T. white vinegar
3 teaspoons chives

1 teaspoon dill weed

Pour milk into a large pot. Slowly bring the temperature up to 180F. This may take an hour. Stir frequently to prevent scorching, and hold the temperature at 180F for four minutes. Combine vinegar and lemon juice and add to the milk, stirring gently, until the curds separate form the whey. Line a colander with cheesecloth, and pour the contents of the pot. Tie the corners of the cheese cloth together to form a bag and let it hang to drain for three hours. The cheese will be solid when its ready. Place in bowl and salt to taste. Wrap and refrigerate. Yield: one pound. Variation: Herbed Easy White Cheese -- Add chives and dill to the curds before hanging.

Johnny Cakes were a staple of the Ingall's family as for many of that time period. The are mentioned particularly in On the Banks of Plum Creek. A Johnny cake is cornbread that could be made on a hoe. Originally called Journey Cakes for their ability to travel, the name was shortened to Johnny Cakes.

I found this recipe from 1796:

Scald 1 pint of milk and put 3 pints of Indian meal, and half pint of flower -- bake before the fire. Or scald with milk two thirds of the Indian meal, or wet two thirds with boiling water, add salt, molasses and shortening, work up with cold water pretty stiff, and bake as above.

Joseph Smith's Johnny Cakes

3 cups cornmeal

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons molasses

3 cups buttermilk

2 eggs – well beaten

Sift the dry ingredients, slowly stir in molasses and buttermilk and mix well. Add the eggs and beat hard for 2 minutes. Pour into shallow well greased pans and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Eat with butter and honey.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Teamwork Dinner

The Story:

I found some amazing books on cooperative games, my favorite being Cooperative Games and Sports by Terry Orlick . . . I was interested in the author's assertion that aboriginal games were non competitive, non eliminating, easily played with a variety of ages, and simply fun. Our family has a problem with competition between themselves. "Who does it better Mom, me or her?" and "Look what she did. I behaved nicely."

Somehow, there is too much competition in our world, a belief that there is not enough love, approval, or whatever to go around. I knew I need to foster a spirit of "the team" with my family. I so want them to realize that what we can accomplish together is so much greater than what we can do alone. Now, I realize that this cannot be accomplished with one dinner, but, why waste a dinner when you can add a little learning opportunity with the time we share. Right?

So... this was our least organized and unplanned dinner, but there is a place for those because life is what it is and it doesn't have to be perfect to be worth it. We had some friends with older children join us and it really improved our activity. The bigger numbers made it funner, and my children idolize Trent and Erin who took such good care of them.

I had parts of the food pre-made; the fruit salad dressing, the chicken, the noodles, and the salad dressing. On two tables outside I placed a fruit basket, carrots and a grater, vegetables, knives, and cutting boards.

I began by pointing out the unappetizing look of the unprepared dinner in front of each person. Onions and a knife were in front of one, pine nuts in front of another, and so forth. I mentioned that as a team, they had a quest to fulfil in order to enjoy the feast to it's fullest potential.

I had several activities in mind, the books were full of so many great activities. But mindful of time, I picked a few.
  1. First we made a sticky popcorn ball. Everyone scattered around the yard and Sunshine started popping like popcorn. When she popped next to another person, they stuck to her and the popped over to someone else until everyone was one large sticky ball. I would love to see 20 or so teenagers bouncing around together.
  2. We formed teams and used blankets to throw and catch a ball. I required 20 successful throw/catches to fulfill the quest. I think this would be funner with a volleyball net and maybe more people around the blankets.
  3. We played fruit cocktail. The fruit for our salad was in a basket across the yard. The group had to transport the fruit to the table without using their hands, feet, or mouths to touch the fruit.
  4. Each individual picked a task that needed to be performed for dinner to be completed. They could ask anyone for help if needed. (slice the cucumber, grate the carrot, chop the pineapple, etc.) It was heartwarming to see Trent, a senior in high school help the little ones with tasks that were a little above them and to see help and encouragement given.
When tasks were complete, the separate dinner salad ingredients could be combined to create a whole that was greater than it's parts. While we ate, I asked for input on what our words had to do with our meal. I was lifted by the insights of the little and big ones. We discussed each individuals importance in the team effort. A team is made up of individuals working together for a common goal. Trent gave us a deep thought, "The name on the front of your shirt is more important than the name on the back of your shirt."

After our friends left, our girls chanted "Team ______!" as they carried in various items and assisted in clean up. "We're such a cool team Mom. We're _________." Sunshine stated. I'll need to do a lot of follow up, but it was a fine introduction to begin thinking as a team.

The recipes:

Asian Chicken Salad
This fresh tasting salad has an amazing mixture of flavors and textures and feels perfect for summer.

1/4 cup sesame or olive oil (I use a bit less)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1 T sugar
1/4 t hot sauce (I use chili paste)

Individual Ingredients
5 ounces angel hair pasta
3 chicken breast halves, cooked and chopped (I cooked a chicken in the crock pot, leftover rotisserie chicken works well too)
3 cups shredded cabbage
3 cups spinach or other dark greens
2 shredded carrots
3 green onions, sliced diagonally
1 peeled and sliced cucumber
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

In a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients and set aside. Cook pasta according to directions; drain, rinse and place in a bowl. You can combine the remainder of the ingredients in the salad, or let everyone make their own from the individual ingredients.

Cantaloupe Fruit Salad
Perfect sweet side for any BBQ. Does not, I repeat, does not need sweetener.

1 cantaloupe cut in chunks
1/2 pineapple cup in chunks
1 apple, cored and chunked
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup plain yogurt
1 t grated orange peel

Mix bottom 4 ingredients together and stir over fruit.