Italian Sausage

Italian Sausage

We love to make meat sauce, Tuscan soup, stromboli, and pizza with sausage, but we don’t like fake ingredients.  In a search for Italian Sausage the tastes as good as our favorite store-bought kind but doesn’t have MSG or preservatives, I tried multiple recipes from the Internet.  None of them were quite what I was looking for, so I tweaked.  Lots more fennel, nix the paprika, etc., etc.  and I ended up with a new favorite.

For every two pounds of ground pork, mix the following spices in a bowl:

2 large cloves minced garlic

3 tsp toasted fennel seeds (Toast by letting them heat in a heavy frying pan, moving them around a little, until they start to put off a wonderful aroma.)

1-1/2 tsp. salt

1-1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (+/-)

1/2 tsp. ground anise

1 Tbs. parsley

3/4 tsp. sage

2 Tbs. dry red wine (optional)

Add pork, and mush well. My grocery store carries tray packages of ground pork. It’s important to get meat with enough fat, not ground pork loin. I sometimes find a pork shoulder or other nice darker  cut on sale, and process it in my food processor by partially freezing the chunks first, and then pulsing them ’til they look like ground meat.

This mixture can sit in the fridge or freezer to allow flavors to meld, or it can be cooked right away. My advance-planning deficiencies mean that I usually cook it right away, but it would sure be nice to take a pound already made out of the freezer on a morning when I want to make pizza. Although it’s not difficult, making sausage–and then pizza sauce, and then crust–makes what’s supposed to be a quick meal not-so-quick.

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24/7 vegetables (aka sprouts)

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Want to eat more veggies?  Me, too, but sometimes I don’t feel like I have time to clean, cut, and cook them for three meals a day. Here’s our family’s answer: Salad-type sprouts have become the favorite vegetable in our house. We all love their flavor, zip, and crunch, and we put them on everything: eggs, sandwiches, salads, even spaghetti. Back in the 80’s, I enjoyed alfalfa sprouts on my veggie sandwiches, but when I began to hear about bacteria and molds in store-bought sprouts, I figured they just weren’t worth the worry. When I first heard the idea of sprouting at home, it took me a while to get started because I was unsure it would be worth the learning curve and the work. Believe me: there is hardly any learning curve, and even less work. I still don’t know much about sprouting all kinds of grains and beans, but if you’re looking for an easy way to have fresh, nutritious, yummy, and always-available veggies (if you keep the batches going), this is for you.

First you need some kind of container that lets you easily rinse the seeds/sproutlings and drain off the water. Apparently you can do this in a jar covered with cheesecloth, but using this sprouter is inexpensive, keeps air-flow going, and makes rinsing and draining a cinch.

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Then you need some seeds. Although there are all kinds of beans and grains and other seeds that are yummy and good for you, I’m only addressing salad-type seeds here (also known as leafy sprouts) – the most commonly known are alfalfa sprouts. These are seeds that you sprout and grow for a few days, so that you’re actually eating very young, tender, tasty plants. If you want to see the vast variety of seeds, check out SproutPeople – a great sprouting resource. My favorite mix of seeds (at my favorite price – from Todd’s Seeds) is called “Broccoli and Friends.” It’s a mixture of alfalfa, clover, broccoli, and radish, which all grow at about the same rate, so they make a great mix. If you like a bit of “zing,” the radish sprout has it – it’s like the bite of the radish without the earthy taste of the bulb. If someone in your family is averse to anything remotely spicy, you might want to stick to plain alfalfa or clover, or a mixture of either of those and broccoli.

Now for the very simple steps from container + seeds to yummy sprouts.

If using the Easy Sprouter and leafy sprouts, you put the tiny-seed insert in the container, and then put in about 3 Tbs. seeds. Rinse them, then soak for 8-12 hours in 1-2 cups of water. After 8-12 hours, lift the inner part of the container out, drain and rinse the (now-swollen) seeds, snap on the lid, and you’re on your way to four or five days of mild entertainment as you observe the changes in your seeds. OK, I’m easily amused, but it thrills me every time. Now that you’ve done the bulk of the work (really!), you’re pretty much just babysitting. The seeds/sprouts need to get rinsed and drained about every 12 hours: once in the morning, and again before you go to bed. Take out the inner container, run lots of water over the ever-changing baby plants, shake out the extra water (tap, spin, tip, shake – just get as much water out as possible), then put the inner container back into the outer one – that’s it: your twice-a-day gardening task. Four or five days of that will yield a packed quart of yummy sprouts.

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Now it’s time to de-hull them. If you want to. It’s not absolutely necessary, but the hulls hold water, so if they’re sitting in the fridge for a few days they’ll have more opportunity to grow mold if they’re overly moist. Ours don’t sit in the fridge long enough to worry about it, but I de-hull them anyway. They’re prettier that way. Dump the packed mass of sprouts into a large bowl, fill it nearly to the brim with water inside your sink, and swish the plantlings around with your clean hands. The hulls will rise to the top, where they can be floated out over the side.

ImageThen just scoop and/or pour the sprouts into a colander to drain for several hours before refrigerating in a lidded container. “Dud” seeds and heavy hulls are at the bottom of the water-filled bowl, so they’re easy to keep out when transferring to a colander. That’s it! Six or more cups of delicious veggies you can quickly add to anything. If your family ends up like mine, you’ll need a second sprouter so you can start another batch every 3-4 days. I don’t mind, because I know my kids (and my husband and I) are voluntarily – and easily! – adding veggies to many more meals than we otherwise might.

Chicken Scampi

garlic head

About twenty-five years ago I was introduced to this recipe by a coworker at a mental health center in New Jersey. Her job was to help chronically mentally ill adults plan, shop, and prepare meals for the clients and staff of the center. Because this meal is so quick to prepare, it became a regular on the menu rotation there. It then became a favorite in the little NJ apartment I shared with my husband (my high school sweetheart), and it traveled well to Indiana, where it has always been a hit with the four children who came along to enlarge and enrich our family table.

Chicken Scampi

2-3 lbs. boneless chicken breasts

about 2 cups liquid: Depending on how much fat you want to use, combine butter and strong broth. Two cups of water with the equivalent of 4 bouillon cubes makes it very low-fat and is really delicious for a low-fat recipe. Replacing some of that with a stick of butter makes it taste fantastic. I think the original recipe called for 2 sticks of butter and no other liquid, but we found that we wanted more than 1 cup of sauce for all that chicken.

4-6+ cloves garlic, minced

2 whole scallions, minced (optional)

1 Tbs. dried parsley

1/2 tsp. dried dill

1/2 Tbs. oregano

1/2 tsp salt (or to taste – may not be necessary if you use all bouillon)

1/2 tsp. pepper

Cut raw boneless chicken breasts into approximately 2-ounce chunks and place in 9×13 baking dish. Heat liquid to simmering in saucepan; add all other ingredients. Cook on low 2 min., then pour mixture over chicken pieces. Bake at 350 for 10 min.; separate chicken pieces and bake for another 10 min. Optional – broil (NOT in a glass baking dish!) for 3-4 min. to brown top of chicken. Serve over angel hair spaghetti or rice, or – for a grain-free version – very thin zucchini strips; something to sop up the garlic. Delicious with a sprinkle (or more) of Parmesan cheese!

Beautiful Winter

I’m enjoying the beauty of an unusually cold (and therefore unusually sunny!) winter from the warmth of my home. Thank you, God!

I know that male cardinals are better-known for their striking red, but aren't these subtler females gorgeous?

I know that male cardinals are better-known for their striking red, but aren’t these subtler females gorgeous?

also a female

another female Cardinal – or maybe the same one??

Chickadees are everyday visitors, all year ’round, but they’re one of my favorites because of their sounds, their lovely coloring, and their bold approaches right to the window for food.

Although we frequently hear Carolina Wrens, they do not often visit our feeders, so this is a rare treat. They’re absolutely beautiful, with a myriad of browns and buffs on such a small creature. And their songs are so lovely to hear.

frost on pinecones (4)

This frost transformed the landscape and its individual objects into something amazing.

heavy frost  (6)

Confessions of a Homeschool Latin Drop-out

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We’re Latin drop-outs. I love languages and I think studying them is very beneficial. My own understanding of English grammar was greatly enhanced by six years of German classes. Early in my homeschool journey I read that Latin was an excellent preparation for other language study and a big boon to building vocabulary, so – wanting to be a good homeschool mom – I planned to learn Latin with my young children. We began with Latina Christiana, got confused, tried – over the course of 3 years or so – two other programs, and eventually came back to Latina Christiana (which ended up being our favorite, but I suppose we’re not the best promoters. 🙂 )

We finished book one and then dropped Latin from our curriculum. Why? It came down to time and priorities. The kids’ studies were very full with other things, and I just didn’t have the conviction to keep pushing Latin. I know it’s valuable, I have some friends who make it much more of a priority, and I’ve often felt that old familiar homeschool mom guilt about not doing something that’s really good. But guess what? Despite my failure, my kids are readers, thinkers, and writers. Two are National Merit scholars at a very competitive college, and one just received an honors scholarship at another private college. I’m really not trying to boast, but rather to reassure any home educator out there who doesn’t feel called to include Latin in the curriculum that it’s not necessary for academic success. Just one drop-out’s story.

Taking off the Training Wheels – part 2

As mentioned in the previous post, when our children are approximately ages 14-16, we parents are trying to help these middle teens learn to live under internal self-control rather than external control. The goal is to have older teens who live nearly rule-free in our homes for a couple of years, practicing for adult life with us as “coaches.” So what does the transition stage look like?

Freedoms and responsibilities go together.

Freedoms and responsibilities go together. This has been drilled into our children from the time they were very young. Their freedoms then were small and few – they lived in a benevolent dictatorship. But they did have a few freedoms: Would you like water or milk? Would you like to look at books or listen to a CD for your quiet time? At the same time, they were gaining some small responsibilities: Put the books or CD’s back on the shelf; Unload the low-cupboard things from the dishwasher. Both freedoms and responsibilities increased gradually, so it was no new concept when this transition picked up steam in the mid-teen years.

It can be a tough balance: Too much freedom too early, especially without responsibilities,  can result in self-centeredness; Too little freedom too late, especially with lots of responsibility expected, can result in rebellion. It was in these years that we initiated several conversations with the question, “Are there any freedoms you believe you’re ready to have that we haven’t yet given, or any responsibilities you feel ready to take on that we haven’t yet entrusted to you?”  Sometimes they had suggestions, but usually it turned out that they were content with the changes that had gradually taken place over the previous months, and we could talk about how far they’ve since younger childhood.

Learning Self-Management

Many of the changes in these years have to do with time management. For example, in our home school, the children are told what they have to accomplish in a week. Younger kids are given lots of help filling in planner pages, and given directions about how and when to get the work done, while older children have learned to schedule things themselves. Some work better in blocks (two or three subjects a day, with several hours spent on each), and some work better doing every subject for a short time every day. They have the freedom to experiment and decide what works better for them, and they have the responsibility to meet all deadlines with well-executed work.

When our kids were very young, they had a specific time of day to do their daily chores. Around mid-teen, they had the freedom to schedule the non-time-sensitive chores around their other activities, and the responsibility to make sure they got done. This sometimes ended up in Mom and Dad having a little extra date money, since missed chores cost $1. each (and still have to be done, even if it’s late).

Middle teens can keep track of their own bank accounts, make phone calls for hair cuts and dental appointments, make their own meals, clean up their own messes, do their own laundry. They can have the freedom to decide when they need a snack and the responsibility to know about and meet their bodies’ nutritional needs (not to mention to clean up). I’m not laying down the law about what they should be doing in your home; for example, I often make appointments if I’ll be the one driving. But while I’m scheduling an appointment for them, I give my children the respect of asking if such and such a time is good for them, and they take responsibility for it by writing it in their planner so that they can plan their other activities around it.

COMMUNICATION AND RELATIONSHIP

Communication and Relationship: These key ideas are foundational in our parenting of teens. People this age are designed by God to grow in independence. More than ever they need to grasp the WHY’s behind decisions, so being in on those decisions – discussing guiding principles with them rather than laying down the law – helps them take ownership for their actions. It is definitely more time-consuming to engage a teen in a conversation about whether seeing a particular movie is a good idea than to just declare “yes” or “no,” but the extra time is the kind of communication that pays enormous dividends in their ability to self-govern.

Because they were created for eventual independence, their drive for it is God-given and our understanding and respect of that drive is critical to a positive relationship with them. Parenting is now geared more toward what will best further the kind of relationship we want with our kids as they move toward adulthood than just about training good behaviors.  We know that their desire for our respect and trust has become a strong motivator to them, so we try to address them in ways that will tap into that desire. For example, we remind them that we want the same things they want: for them to be following Christ wholeheartedly, submitting themselves to the internal controls of the Holy Spirit and no longer in need of our external controls. We’re still transitioning in these years – so there are times when some training is still necessary. But we’re looking for opportunities to fan into flame the little spark of adult-to-adult relationship that we’re seeing develop.

The Pay-off

The fact that we’re pushing toward that relationship along with them, rather than trying to drag them back under external control, has been incredibly important to our children (so they tell us). Now – in young adulthood – our older children are calling us for advice and input, man to man (or woman). I’m sure we’re not perfect at holding our tongues or not putting our foot in too forcefully once the door is cracked, but the atmosphere is, overall, one of mutual respect and trust. The payoff of this kind of relationship with my adult children – a relationship in which I still have opportunities to disciple and speak to their hearts because they willingly ask me in – is unquestionably worth the sometimes awkward and often tiring work of transitioning from training wheels to free-wheeling in the mid-teen years.

Taking Off the Training Wheels (or “Parenting Mid-Teens”) – part 1

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Remember that exciting day? There’s a little period in which you do a lot of running alongside, steadying, sweating, gasping, and cheering on until – whew! – off they go!! At first your hand is on the seat and you’re stopping a lot of tip-overs; then you’re just running alongside making an occasional catch. Soon you’re watching and cheering on a wobbly, ecstatic little person who’s pedaling and grinning furiously.

This is the joyous (and sometimes frightening) stage of middle teen. Gradually, from about age 14 to 16, we’re helping our children make the transition from exterior control to self-control. Our parenting is transitioning from rules-based to principles-based. We’re doing a lot less giving orders and a lot more conversing. Whew! All that thinking and talking! It’s definitely as exhausting as running alongside a wobbling bike with the training wheels freshly removed. The goal is to have an older teen living in our home – for possibly their last couple of years there – with very few rules, and with lots of opportunity to self-correct under our coaching and with our love and help.

The transition from parent-control to self-control is when we begin biting holes in our tongues if we are doing it well, as we chomp down on that order we were about to give and instead see how things pan out if we refrain. After all, we ask ourselves, would we rather release into the world an 18-year-old who has never had the opportunity to fail? or one who has experienced multiple small failures in our in-home training ground and had help evaluating the failure and learning to pick up the pieces?

The goal of having my children be nearly rule-free by about age 16 helps establish the pace of the transition. Although the metaphorical training wheels are coming off, they’re still on a small bike on our cul de sac for a while. They’re not ready for the Tour de France. But our goal is to help get them ready for adult life, not to keep them obeying our rules. We want to eventually work ourselves out of one job in parenting: the rule-giver and trainer;  into the next-stage job of older brother/sister, coach, and mentor.   Not only does it produce strong, independent young people, able to apply principles to new situations.  This transitioning also takes away a lot of the anxiety and fighting for independence of youth, and allows us to focus on our relationship with them as they – and we – come to depend less and less on the rules, and more and more on God, and on the Biblical principles we are teaching them, which we are called to obey along with them under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

What does all that look like in practice? That will be the subject of my next post.

Child-training vs. Discipleship of Young Adults

Should I spank a fourteen-year-old who’s being disobedient and disrespectful?

A frustrated friend recently asked me this. The cry for help included something along the lines of, “Can I please go back to spanking? it worked so well!”

Spanking is no longer an appropriate consequence at this age (and for several years prior), but a 14-year-old’s disrespect seems so much more serious than a two-year-old’s disobedient, deliberate fiddling with the plant leaves.

What are some principles that apply?

People this age are no longer little children under our training, but younger brothers and sisters in Christ under our authority, care, and discipleship.  While we are still governed by Scripture’s commands to parents and offspring (e.g., I am still to honor my mother and father; and fathers of any age shouldn’t provoke unnecessary anger in their offspring), we are no longer in the young child-training phase (as in “Train up a child…”).

It’s less complicated (though not easy!) to train a child than to deal with a young person whose training has not yet produced certain aspects of the fruit of righteousness.  Sometimes I’d find it a welcome break to be back in the training stage, rather than working to help disciple a divided heart through a difficult issue.   For help with how to disciple a young person under your care, I HIGHLY recommend reading Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp. I find hope, sound counsel, and challenge to my thinking.

My friend responded, “Why are they not children?? they’re obviously not independent.”

Right – they’re NOT ready to be independent. Their total dependence on us and our God-given authority over them while they’re under our care give us certain tools to use as we disciple them (loss of privileges, extra stuff, social opportunities, etc.).  One Biblical principle is “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thes. 3:10). When a 15-year-old son is lazy and doesn’t follow through on clearly laid-out responsibilities, a fitting consequence might be that he is not allowed to eat the dinner I’m making for the family. He is welcome to walk the mile and a half to the nearest grocery store and buy himself something. Hmmm – that requires work! The need for food motivates us to work. In the future he might decide he’d rather clean the bathroom when he’s supposed to than have to walk and cook to get his meal.  In the culture into which the Bible was written, people of this age category would be considered adults.  Preparing our young people for adulthood means trying to make the consequences reflect the consequences of adult life as much as possible.

Each of us, as parents, must decide before God when to make the switch from child to young adult in our particular culture with our particular children. In my experience and understanding there are two major transitions. The first is from little child to older child, around 10-ish. That’s when a kid might RATHER go back to being spanked, but probably needs more real-world consequences. The second is from about 14 to 16, a gradual transition from parent-government to self-government under our coaching.

Really – I do sympathize with the parents of this 14-year-old. I’ve been there. I have many memories of times when a switching (administered privately, intentionally, carefully; with love and grace and conversation) changed the countenance and attitude so quickly!  I wish it were that simple now.  Observations of God’s dealings with His people in Scripture, our own hearts, and our experiences with our children tell us it’s no longer that simple after a certain age. It’s not simple, but it is incredibly rewarding to be walking side-by-side with believing young people as we follow Christ together. The fruit of the labor is so very sweet.

Homemade Mayonnaise

I started making this because I had a teen son who ate LOTS of mayo, and I figured if it was easy enough to make, it would be a good way for him and all of us to get healthy oils in our diet. And what do you know? it IS easy! (Note – It turns out this is even easier with an immersion blender. You can make the mayo right in the jar you’re going to store it in. Put everything in the jar, lower the immersion blender to the bottom, turn it on, and slowly raise it to the top while moving it around a bit.)

Put in the blender:

  • 1/4 c. oil, plus reserve another 3/4 c. for the next step (light flavored olive oil, cold-pressed safflower, etc. – there’s so much debate about what’s good for you and what’s not – just use something with very mild flavor that you feel good about using)
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar or honey
  • 2 Tbs. white or cider vinegar, or lemon juice
  • 1 raw egg

Get another 3/4 c. of oil ready to pour (the same kind, or another, or a mixture), and start the blender on medium-high. While it’s on, take off the lid (or, if your blender has the ability, just the center of the lid) and drizzle in the oil. This is only a little bit tricky – Start very slowly, like a stream of oil the size of a thick strand of spaghetti, and increase the stream size slowly as you go. Turn off the blender as soon as you’ve poured in all the oil. That’s it!! (If a little of the oil fails to incorporate, just stir it in.)

I have never successfully doubled the recipe. I often do the whole process twice in a row, emptying but not cleaning the blender in between – that way I get double the mayo for less than double the time. Enjoy! (Note – The immersion blender usually works for doubling, but the regular blender does not.)

Gospel Parenting 101

“My son is so argumentative and negative. When I try to correct him, he invariably gets defensive and angry. How can I help him change?”

This question was asked by a friend about her “tween” son in a parenting discussion among several moms. Making disciples of our young people feels very weighty: we love them so much, and when we see attitudes or behaviors that will make it hard for them to follow Christ and have good relationships with others we desperately want to help them change.  There are many Scriptures about humility, accepting correction, confessing to one another, not viewing oneself more highly than one ought, etc. Memorizing some of these might be helpful to this mom’s son, as it has been to me, my husband, and our children. She could “assign” such memorization, not as a punishment, but as a way to wash himself with truth. As we correct, sometimes it seems like WHAT we say is less important than HOW we say it.

GIVE THE GOSPEL

In words and in deeds. One thing that is important to my children is to make sure I’m offering correction in a “coming-alongside” way, instead of a “coming down on him” way.  When I can sit by him, arm around him, and say, “I KNOW that the ‘new man’ in you wants to do right in this area. I see you making efforts and progress and I appreciate your work on ___ (giving the positive and building him up helps a ton). I don’t want to come down hard on you; I’m not trying to rebuke you harshly, but as your Mom and your sister in Christ, I want to tell you that when you did xyz, you were [sinning in whatever way is true at the time – give it Biblical categories if you can]. The good news is that when we recognize our sin as sin, we have a savior who already paid the price for our forgiveness and has given us His Spirit to help us change. I know you want that as much as I want it for you.”

When I can do it like this, it takes a lot of the defensiveness out of him. He can hear the message when he knows I respect him as a person and am trying to help him deal with a behavior or an attitude that is not helpful to him. I try to explain how that behavior or attitude hurts him or others.

Asking him questions can also be very helpful, unless he’s already defensive.

  • Do you think there was a more Christlike way to handle your brother’s annoying action?
  • How would you do it differently if you could think it
    out first?
  • I understand that you were angry. What do you believe about the appropriateness of blowing up at someone when we’re angry? Would it be OK for me to do so to you?
  • Is it doing your spirit and your attitude any good to slam your math book down and stomp away?
  • What truths can you be telling yourself to help yourself respond in a more godly way?

If he’s a believer, affirm again that the Holy Spirit is at work in him and so you know that part of him WANTS to act like Christ, but the flesh is strong and he’s letting the “old man” win. Each of my children still has his sinful tendencies – maybe always will, if my own struggles with sin are any indication – but I pray that as we preach the gospel to them and to ourselves, the Spirit of Christ will transform them into people who recognize and turn away from those sinful responses. I need to be diligent to recognize and praise when that’s happening, not only notice when it’s not.

I am certainly not yet fully sanctified, and so I can’t expect my child to be by the time he leaves home. He’s a child of God who wants to do right, but evil is right there with him. As his mom, I pray that I can encourage him when he’s fighting the good fight, and gently restore him when he’s giving in.