Monthly Archives: December 2009

Integrating leftovers into meal planning

If you’ve ever paid attention to how much the food you throw away is costing you, you know that letting your leftovers go to waste can really add up! Using up your leftovers is part of carefully managing your food budget, and I have a couple of ways that I stay on top of the large amount of food that we buy and prepare to minimize what could easily become a huge amount of waste.  This is another strategy that I use to maximize our food dollars so that we’re able to eat abundantly and healthfully for our family of eleven on $600 monthly.

Firstly, on Saturday night, I inventory whatever is in the fridge, and make a list of that. These leftovers are only from Friday and Saturday, nothing before then.  Often this is a little bit of this, a little bit of that; sometimes it’s enough to serve as a main dish or as several side dishes.  Then I think about ways to integrate these leftovers into whatever dishes I’m planning for the coming week.  While most people make a menu and then go shopping, I do the opposite – I see what I have and then make the menu! Really – I almost never go out to buy a meal ingredient;  if I don’t have an ingredient in the house, then I won’t make a dish that calls for it.

To illustrate this, I’ll give a sample of what this looked like in my home this week.  When I wrote my leftover inventory, I noted that I had about 4 quarts of chicken broth, a couple of cups of jellied lamb broth (very concentrated), about half a cup of lamb fat (skimmed from the top of the broth), 2-3 c. shredded meat, polenta from Friday’s breakfast, fresh cauliflower and zucchini both on the edge of freshness, soaked and sprouted chickpeas, beef stew, two fresh salads, three pints of defrosted heavy cream, a 28 oz can of pumpkin puree, and baked eggplant chunks.  Once I had this list, I sat down to figure out what to do with it all and wrote out my menu plan for the week.

I started the week with a breakfast on Sunday of pumpkin pudding – this used the can that was opened since we thought it was tomato sauce (a toddler had pulled the label off :)).  Mixed into the pudding was one pint of the defrosted cream.  One can of pumpkin isn’t enough for a meal for our family of 11, so we mixed in a triple recipe of coconut pudding with it to increase the quantity.

Next, for Sun. lunch was a cheesy cauliflower soup that used up all the cauliflower in the fridge.  I could have used more cream for this but felt it would be more appreciated served whipped to accompany a couple of breakfasts – coconut mango pancakes (Mon) and date scones (Thurs).

On Monday the polenta was turned it into corn fritter batter and fried for lunch.

Monday dinner was beef stew with a couple of salads.  Nice when there’s enough of leftovers for a full meal!

Tuesday morning we used all the zucchini, shredded into flourless chocolate zucchini muffins.  We made these last week and the only problem was we made less than three dozen – we should have made a lot more!

On Tuesday night was West African stew.  This used the soaked and sprouted chickpeas.  (I bought some dried beans that were labeled in a foreign language, but fortunately one of the packages was in English and so I knew they were ‘chickpeas’.  They are smaller and much darker than regular chick peas, but the price was right and when the price is good I’m willing to experiment. :) At the end of last week I soaked them to see if there was an outer layer that would come off and leave them looking typically light colored underneath, but it didn’t.  So it’s clearly a different kind of chickpea.  Anyway, that’s why I had the equivalent of 1.5 pounds of dried chickpeas that were soaked and nicely sprouted!)  This recipe calls for eggplant, so I used the baked eggplant chunks.  A chopped onion for this was sauteed in lamb fat and the cooking liquid was the chicken broth.

By Wednesday just about all of the leftovers were used (usually they’re finished by Tuesday evening).  For Wednesday’s dinner I made a stir fry that used the shredded meat (that I put into the freezer on Saturday night so it would stay fresh).  Of all the leftovers I mentioned, the only one left is the congealed lamb broth.  It’s not an accident that I left this for last. Because it’s so concentrated, this will stay fresh in the fridge easily for a couple of weeks.  This was the cooking liquid for the stir fry.

There are other things that aren’t leftovers but also need to be used in a timely way, like the fresh fruit and vegetables we have on hand, as well as the perishables, like dairy.  These aren’t leftovers but also have to be managed carefully so that they’re used while they’re fresh; otherwise they end up getting thrown out.

Can you see how planning a menu with my leftovers in mind makes efficient use of what I have on hand?  Most of these things would easily end up getting thrown away without a plan, since they were a bit of this and a bit of that.  But it would have been a substantial amount of food when considered in total.

Then, because leftovers continually accumulate, there’s the second part of managing them.  As you know from my weekly menus, Thursday night is usually CORN – Clean Out the Refrigerator Night.  Lunch is a great time to use any leftovers from the night or two before; by the time Thursday rolls around, the only leftovers we have to work with are generally from about two days prior or less.

This process is very simple.  It repurposes leftovers into something new and delicious,  so no one is left feeling like they’re constantly being served the same food over and over. It keeps food from having to be thrown away, and it saves you money!


Chocolate Zucchini Muffins (gluten free)

I’ve been enjoying learning to bake with nut and coconut flours.  The consistency is different but it’s nice to know that there are ways to make baked goods that are typically not gluten free.  These muffins are so good you could call them cupcakes and serve them for dessert!

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

  • 1/2 c. melted butter or coconut oil
  • 1/4 c. applesauce (we used the applesauce we preserved from the apples we gleaned last fall)
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 medium zucchini, grated and squeezed dry
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1 c. almond flour
  • 1/2 c. coconut flour or finely grated dried unsweetened coconut
  • 1/4 c. cocoa or carob powder

Mix the butter, applesauce, honey, eggs, zucchini, baking soda, and vanilla well.  Mix the nut flours and cocoa/carob powder in a separate bowl; then mix into the zucchini mixture.  Pour into a muffin tin or muffin liners, and bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes.  Yields 12 muffins.

When kids get yummy stuff like this for breakfast, you don’t hear complaints from them about having to eat healthy food. :)


Child care arrangements for Torah Home Education Conference

I just posted this on the international list serve for Torah homeschoolers, but since last year more of you who attended were blog readers than from there (and some of those I know are interested in coming aren’t on that list), I thought it would be appropriate to post here as well.  For those of you who are on that list serve, sorry about the redundancy!  Feel free to pass details to interested friends.


The arrangements for the upcoming conference are coming along beautifully!  We have amazing speakers who are being lined up and you are going to get so much from every single one of them!  If you can come, you’ll be very glad you did – it will be a day packed with inspiration, encouragement, and fellowship – you won’t want to miss it!  (Can you tell I’m excited?: lol:)

To accomodate those of you traveling from out of the area with children, we’ll be having a day camp for children ages 4 – 10, with activities including swimming (swimming will be segregated, of course).  There will be a fee per child to cover the expenses involved, but as with everything else, this isn’t a money making endeavor and the fee will be as low as possible.  When it’s closer to the conference I’ll be able to give an accurate figure regarding the price.

We’ll also be hosting a teen girls gathering (ages 11 – 17), with swimming, basketball, and ping pong available, in addition to puzzles and board games.  And just hanging out and getting to know each other, of course!  No fee.

I still need to firm up some details regarding child care for infants 0 – 3, but will b’ezras H-shem that will also be available. There will be an hourly fee per child for this service, which will be done by a licensed staff and facilities in the building where the conference will be held.

So if child care is an issue, hopefully this will help out!  One of my goals is to build a sense of community among the homeschooled kids as well as among the homeschooling parents, and I think this will help kids to not only get to know others who homeschool, but help them feel less ‘different’.

Feel free to contact me if you’re interested in coming. You can check out the website – for price details, discount on hotels, and when the workshop schedule is ready, I’ll post it there in addition to here.

Trust me – you are NOT going to want to miss this!!


How to make butter

I got a great buy on organic cream a week and a half ago, and this morning I decided to show the kids how to turn it into butter.  This is a fun and simple activity for  kids of all ages, two and up – it’s like magic to see cream turn into butter before their eyes!

All you need is heavy cream and a container with a lid.  I used a glass jar, but if you’re going to let a two year old do this, use a plastic jar, like an empty mayonnaise jar with a tight fitting lid. You can even use a disposable water bottle – it doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s something that will close tightly and be easy for your child to handle.

Pour a cup of heavy cream into the container, making sure not to fill the container more than half way, and tightly close the lid.  Hand it to your child and tell them to shake it until it turns into butter.  That’s it.  :)  At first the cream will become whipped cream – we stopped and let them taste at this point.  Then as they continue shaking it, it will form a solid ball as the liquid separates.  This takes a lot of shaking – great to use up some little kid energy!

If you’ve used a narrow plastic container like a water bottle, cut it open (since the ball of butter obviously won’t fit through the opening); otherwise just open the container and pour out the liquid. Reserve the liquid to use for soaking flour or grains; pour out the butter and put it in a closed container in the fridge.

We gave each of our kids a small container to put the finished butter in, and after smoothing it into the container, they marked their butter with their initial.  I let my ds7 and ds3 make this first, and everyone else was so interested that they asked if they could also make some.  It’s a good thing I bought a lot of cream!  For the first batch we didn’t add salt, but I told the kids who wanted to make it afterwards that they could decide if they wanted to salt theirs, and choose the kind of salt and proportions they wanted to use.

My kids were wondering if it was cheaper to make butter than to buy it, so naturally I told them to figure it out.  :)   But I’ll do the math for you.  😀  A pint of heavy cream yields a half pound of butter.  Since I bought the cream at the low price of .79, our homemade organic butter comes out to 1.58 lb, which is cheaper than regular non-organic butter (which is what I usually buy).



Weekly menu plan

I hope everyone had a wonderful Shabbos!  My husband was away and we all missed him, but the kids and I had a nice Shabbos nonetheless.  We’re glad to have him home, though!

Shabbos – dinner – challah, chicken soup, chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, baked eggplant, green bean salad, brownies; lunch – cholent, kishke, chicken, potato kugel, coleslaw, green bean salad, cashew butter balls  (I didn’t write the menu in my planner this week so I’m going by memory and know I’m leaving things out)

Sunday – breakfast – pumpkin pudding; lunch – creamy cauliflower cheese soup; d – going to bar mitzva

Monday – b- coconut mango pancakes with cream; l – cornmeal fritters, salad; d – beef stew, green bean salad

Tuesday – b – chocolate zucchini muffins; d -West African stew

Wednesday – b- quinoa porridge; l – West African stew; d – meat stir fry

Thursday – b – date scones with whipped cream; d – CORN

I liked how it worked last week not to plan all the lunch meals in advance, since I kept finding that I wasn’t cooking everything as scheduled because using up what we already had was taking priority.  Last week I had so many  leftovers to start the week that they significantly contributed to the first three dinners of the week.  This week I don’t have quite so much, but I’m going to leave a couple of lunch meals unscheduled for this week.

Every week when I post my menu, I think how simple and boring it looks.  But our meals really aren’t boring at all!  There’s always much more on the table that what I write down here.  So in case you’re looking at this and wondering how our kids don’t pine away from starvation, rest assured that they’re getting plenty to eat!  I generally just list the main dish for each meal.


Unschooling and the role of limits

>>the question, and your answers made me think about unschooling, as sort of a polar opposites, and how both hope to produce the same sort of person at the end. I’m curious how you view the ‘no rules, just principles’ aspect of radical unschooling… allowing children to pursue what they find they want to, without limits (I am not including hurting themselves, or running in traffic, or other dangerous things like that) and not requiring behaviors/chores of them. I’m sure I don’t completely understand the theory, so I’m having trouble encapsulating it here. When reading on it, I get the impression that rules/limits are damaging a child, emotionally.<<

The term ‘unschooling’ was coined by John Holt, who wrote several books on education.  His definition can be summed up here. I’ve read all of John Holt’s books and he doesn’t advocate educating children without guidance, limits, or saying ‘no’.  In fact, one of the first things I ever read about homeschooling was in Mothering magazine – it was an article by a homeschooling mother whose family was close to John and tried her best to integrate using his principles.  In that article, she described how he helped her daughter understand the mathematical concepts she was then struggling with.  He didn’t tell her that her daughter shouldn’t be learning math because she was frustrated and didn’t want to!  What he did was try to connect with her desire to learn and provided guidance according to her learning style.

The unwillingness to provide any structure/guidance/limits is where my main disagreement with radical unschooling lies.  While I know of several families who unschool and are bringing up lovely families, every one of them has clear guidelines and expectations, sometimes in the academic arena but definitely in other areas.  They don’t have a laissez faire, let the kids do whatever they want, when they want mentality that is part and parcel of radical unschooling.  Unfortunately the definition of unschooling has been co-opted by radical elements of the homeschooling world and it’s become very confusing to sift through the variances in different approaches.

To quote something I once heard on a parenting cassette: “Discipline without love is harsh.  Love without discipline is child abuse.”  I think that parents who won’t say ‘no’ to their children are misguided and harming their children in the short and long term, but one person’s opinion really is of minimal value.  What matters is what are the results these parents are getting?  Are parents who raise their children without boundaries raising giving, kind, and concerned individuals who are making the world a better place?  (When I read this  article six months ago, I saved it to share here –  it’s relevant to this discussion now so don’t skip reading it!)  Start paying attention to the families you see – look for parents with older kids because that’s when you see the long term results of a particular parenting approach.

Life inherently has limitations. Being a religious Jew means limitations – we live a life structured by G-d’s rules, and true freedom paradoxically comes with structure.  Otherwise you become a slave to your own desires, and that’s the farthest thing from freedom!  While unschooling can be compatible with Torah, radical unschooling can not.  I’ve said again and again that you must lovingly set and clarify boundaries – because there have to be limits.

A person must have some guidelines in life except doing whatever they feel like, when they feel like it, how they feel like it.  It’s wonderful to follow your passion, but kids who haven’t learned some inner discipline won’t be able to sustain the necessary effort to follow through – and success in any field requires effort.  Even when you don’t feel like it.


Keeping an eye on littles

>>How do you always keep an eye on the younger ones and still do things (cook, prepare for shabbos, etc…)? Can you see their play area from the kitchen or do you have them play by you?<<

>>How does one take care of the littles and still get everything done when there are no older children around to entertain/watch them?<<

When we were looking at homes to buy several years ago, I consciously looked for a certain kind of layout that would work well with my parenting style.  I have an open floor plan on the main floor, which consists of the living room, dining room, and kitchen.  I can pretty much keep an eye on what’s going on from wherever I’m at. That helps alot.

Of course at this stage, having older kids is also helpful!  But since I had six kids in nine years, I didn’t have older kids to help out with this for a long time!  And it’s not like my older kids have become primary caregivers for their siblings, so I still use the same three basic strategies:

1) Have the kids work with you – this means taking extra time to involve them, but kids enjoy the time and feeling of accomplishment.  My littles run to the rag drawer to get their own rags when they see me start to clean walls or cabinet fronts.  :)  Let them help to the degree that they are interested and willing, as much as you are emotionally comfortable with it.

2) Do the bulk of your work when they’re asleep.  I can get a lot more done in an hour or two when the house is quiet than I can with them awake and messing up things five minutes after I clean them up!  For major work, this is my preference.  I can easily feel like I’m not getting anything done if I spend most of my time cleaning up after them when they’re awake, and feel my time is better spent interacting with them (which happens to limit messes in their scope!).

3) Do some things when they’re happily occupied and in view, so you can make sure they stay happily occupied.  :)

Often some work can be shifted from the room it usually takes place in to the room where your kids are. Eg – laundry can be sorted and folded in the living room, vegetables can be peeled at the dining room table – if you’re willing to be flexible, there are ways to bring the kids into your work area or move yourself into their play area.


Regaining perspective

This morning I took ds2 and ds3 to a local story hour, and afterward they made a craft and did some painting.  It’s the first time I’ve done this with them, and though we do things like this every day at home (except for painting – that rarely  happens), I wanted to take them out so it was a special outing with them.  It was very nice for us all.  When I came home with them, a puzzle was in the early stages on the dining room table, so while I waited for lunch to heat up, I started putting it together.

Though I rarely do puzzles, I enjoy them – I find it relaxing and satisfying to watch one come together, and after interacting so intensively with the littles for quite a while, was enjoying doing something quiet and purposeful.  After about ten minutes, dd9 came by, saw me working on it and asked if she could join me.  I told her ‘sure’, so she started working with me.  But as her arm was repeatedly moving in front of my face and making it hard for me to see, I started to feel like she was getting in the way of me getting the puzzle done.

After this happened about fifteen times in two or three minutes, I felt annoyed and was about to tell her that I couldn’t get anything put together like that.  I started to say “It’s so-” and abruptly stopped as I remembered that it really didn’t matter how fast the puzzle got done, or even if it was finished at all.  What mattered was taking the opportunity to do something fun with dd.  As she continued busily trying out puzzle pieces in various spaces, she asked me, “‘It’s so’ what?”  And instead of telling her ‘it’s so challenging to get the puzzle done with your arm blocking me every ten seconds’, I told her, “It’s so nice that you’re doing this puzzle with me.”  And I meant it.

So often we get busy and lose sight of the forest for the trees.  We have things to do, and more things to do after that, and sometimes we rush right through everything.  Isn’t it obvious that the puzzle didn’t matter?  But it just goes to show how we can easily lose perspective, even with things that are unimportant and are supposed to be fun!!


Advising teen children towards long term choices

Recently I’ve begun researching various colleges for my dd15, and yesterday after taking ds16 to have his wisdom teeth out, I stopped at the community college office to ask some questions.  I’ll have to go back with my kids and get an appointment with an advisor for each of them.

Right now I’m feeling conflicted about some issues on the horizon regarding my kids and college.  Dd15 is strongly leaning towards a profession that would be a very good fit for her and I’m very supportive of it.  It also is academically vigorous and will require 7 – 8 years of college.  There are only about 16 colleges that teach this field in the US – and none of them are anywhere close to the state we live in, which necessitates living away from home and raises the bill by about another $10,000 yearly.  Each year of schooling costs about $25 – 30,000 before living expenses, and there is very little financial aid available except for student loans.  Dd can get started within a year and could theoretically be finished as early as when she’s 22.  In the broad scheme of things, that’s pretty young, and she would have a career that could be balanced with raising a family and do something she enjoys and finds satisfying.

I have several views about life/family that aren’t easily reconciled when looking at this particular career path (similar though different issues with ds16), and I’m grappling with how to best guide my children.   I’m not telling them what to do or how to do it- that isn’t my role – but not to give them some direction when they’re requesting support would be wrong.  I’ve raised my children with the perspectives below, so these are currently views they share (which obviously might change with time).  1) If a couple is old enough to get married, they’re old enough to support themselves.  2) When someone is emotionally mature and ready for marriage  and finds the right person, that’s the time to get married – regardless if numerically that seems young or old to others.  3) Children are a blessing and a newly married couple shouldn’t  purposely put them on hold to complete academic requirements.  4) The responsibility for supporting the family is on the husband, not the wife.  5) Debt can become a huge albatross around the neck that can force people to make choices they don’t want to make.

Add in to this mix the desire of dd15 to spend a year in Israel, the desire of ds16 to spend several years in yeshiva once he’s 18 (ie, both potentially ‘time outs’ on the career path), and the reality that larger families generally require more financial resources.  So guiding them means considering a number of factors with both the long term and short term in mind.

I was telling all this to a good friend last night, and she told me I’m once again going to have to blaze my own trail.  And I told her, I’m tired of blazing my own trail for every single thing – I want to find someone who has similar values who has successfully navigated this, and just do whatever they did.  I don’t want to have to think, research, and reflect so much.  😆 But as I know very well, a meaningful life of joy doesn’t come from following the crowd unless that’s where my heart is.

So here’s where I’m at with all of this: sometimes I get too uptight and have to step back to regain perspective!  I have to remind myself that H-shem created a world where doing His will is the goal, and whatever we’re doing, it’s with the desire to serve Him and to be responsible stewards in this world of the resources we’re entrusted with.  I have to let go of trying to figure all of this out in advance, and do the best I can one day at a time, and trust that the partner that I’ve had raising my children all these years – H-shem – will continue to support us all and help us make the right choices.

Practically speaking I don’t know what that will look like, but I’ll share it with you when we figure it out!


Getting wisdom teeth removed

Today I took ds16 to the oral surgeon to get three wisdom teeth extracted.  I can remember getting my wisdom teeth out – also when I was 16 – like it just happened.  When I was 16 I was practically an adult; it’s strange to have a child already at this stage.

The surgeon we used has a very good reputation, which was a good thing, since his bedside manner was seriously lacking.  I timed how long the entire procedure took- six minutes for him to be given the painkilling injections, then the doc went out to work on someone else for ten minutes, then came back in and all three teeth were out within eight minutes.  14 minutes hands on time for the oral surgeon, and he had all four rooms full and was rotating through them simultaneously.  Not bad, is it?

Ds had a lot of bleeding that wasn’t stopping, and when I called three hours later, they told me to give it another couple of hours.  When I called back right before they closed two hours later, I got the doctor himself on the phone.  He told me to wrap the gauze pads around a regular (non herbal) tea bag, have ds bite down firmly, and replace it after 45 minutes, and it would stop the bleeding.  The tannic acid in the tea is the effective ingredient – I was glad to learn of it being used like that; I wanted to give ds a capsule partially filled with cayenne pepper to slow the bleeding down but his throat hurt too much to swallow even water, so the capsule was out.

Then I asked about the pain ds was having and the doctor asked if I gave him painkillers.  I told him not yet, that I planned to fill the prescription as soon as bleeding stopped and that ds was still numb, and he responded with an an impatient tone as if I was the biggest idiot in the world, “That’s why we give you painkillers, so you can give it to him before he feels any pain.”

Now to be accurate, they didn’t give me any painkillers, they gave me a prescription for antibiotics and painkillers (without verbal instructions); when I asked the assistant who gave me the prescription she said the painkillers aren’t necessary.  His tone remained impatient when I was clarifying how long the numbness, pain, and bleeding would last, and what steps to take for each (it would have been nice to have been told about this after the surgery).  The entire call might have taken two minutes, so it wasn’t like I was haranguing him. He said something that sounded like ‘that’s very dumb’, so I firmly told him that it was inappropriate to say that.

He then apologized, clarified that he was saying ‘numb’, and at the end of the conversation apologized again profusely.  Though it was my mistake in mishearing what he was saying, he must have realized that if I thought that’s what he said, it’s because it made perfect sense in the way he was speaking to me.  Some people mind this less than me, but I really dislike being condescended to or being treated as an imbecile.  Until fairly recently, if someone spoke to me like this, I would have felt angry and resentful but  just swallowed it and held that inside me.  So it was good to use this opportunity to be respectful yet assertive, and not be left with a negative feeling inside.

My husband said the doctor was very chatty and pleasant when he went for the initial visit, and he called later tonight to check on ds and was very nice.  I’m sure he was just having a rough day – we all have times where we don’t put our best foot forward, don’t we?   But if I had felt victimized by the way he acted at the office or later on the phone, I would be holding onto an impression of him as rude, impersonal, impatient, and nasty – and that wouldn’t have benefited anyone.  So nice to have a healthy perspective and just move on with life without getting stuck in the small stuff!