Wednesday, July 25, 2012

July Means Yummy Strawberry Freezer Jam!'s that time of year when I start my canning projects. I love having my little Leona to help out! She's such a good helper. If you're planning on doing dishes or baking...she's always game!

I thought in the process of showing some of our family pictures, I'd also share how we make our freezer jam. As our friend Tony would say, "Nobody makes it like you do!" The secret? I've used the Sure Jell Pectin recipe from the box...hahaha! I have changed it up a little bit. It's not rocket science, but here it is...and of course with visuals :)

Strawberry Freezer Jam

2 to 2 1/4 c. crushed strawberries (I use 2 1/4 c.)
     This is about 2 pints of whole strawberries.
3-4 c. sugar (I use 4c.)
1 pkg. (3 Tbs.) regular Pectin
3/4 c. water
3-4 pint canning jars with lids and rings
     OR 3-4 (16 oz.) Ball plastic freezer jars with lids
     OR 7-8 half pint jars with lids and rings
     OR 7-8 (8 oz.) Ball plastic freezer jars with lids

strawberry huller or knife
canning lid magnetic stick or tongs
small saucepan
large saucepan
large flat dish like a casserole dish
several spatulas
clean dish rag
large strainer
4 c. pourable glass measuring bowl
large mouth canning funnel
other measuring cups/bowls

I started with 4 lbs. of strawberries for this regular sugar recipe. It was enough to make a little over 3 batches (10 pints altogether). If you are doing multiple recipes, unfortunately you can't just double everything. Make 1 recipe at a time.

Eventually I will probably start collecting some of the Ball plastic freezer jars. They are more expensive but you don't have to worry about buying new lids every year and they are so easy to put into the deep freeze :)

Step 1: Prepare your jars. I make sure my dishwasher is empty and clean (sometimes this means running 1 c. of bleach on a quick wash cycle first). I place the jars in there and do a quick wash cycle with just a tad bit of dishwasher detergent. Then, later when I am ready to fill them, the jars are still hot. Many canning directions will say to put them in a hot bath. This is not necessary for this recipe if you use your dishwasher. The goal is to make sure they are disinfected. The freezer will actually seal the jam. Place your lids in a small sauce pan with water. Put them on low-medium low. They will need to sit in a lightly bubbling bath until you are ready to use them.

Step 2: Rinse and soak your strawberries for a few minutes. Drain. Allow to dry.

Step 3: Remove the hull. I use a very simple metal strawberry huller. You can just use a knife too. The goal is to remove the leaf and the base of the stem without wasting the strawberry. (NOTE: You can use slightly over-ripe strawberries, just remove or discard moldy pieces!)

Step 4: Begin to mash the strawberries in a flat casserole type dish. Do one layer at a time. They will not be mashed all the way. Make sure to leave little chunks. Pour the mashed berries into a 4c. pourable glass measuring bowl.

Step 5: Once you have 2 to 2 1/4 c. strawberries, it's time to add in the sugar. I use 4 cups with my 2 1/4 c. mashed strawberries. Feel free to test taste to see how sweet you like it. Allow it to set for about 10 min. while you go on to the next step. (As you can see I used another bowl to mix the sugar and strawberries before pouring them into the glass measuring bowl. This was unnecessary and just made more dishes.)

Step 6: In a large saucepan, add 3/4 cup water to 1 pkg. of regular Pectin. If you can find a jar of pectin powder, this is the cheaper way to go! Mine called for 3 Tbs. to equal 1 box.

Step 7: Bring the pectin to a boil. STIR CONSTANTLY! Allow it to boil for about 1-2 min. The pectin will change to a more clear liquid. It will be a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.

This is almost ready. It will look a more clear than this.
Step 8: Stir the strawberries contantly as you add the pectin to it to prevent any hardening. Stir for about 3 min. so that they are mixed well. (If the pectin leaves junks...go fishing for all of the hard pieces and try adding another batch of pectin.)

Step 9: Place the funnel on top of the jar. Pour the strawberry/pectin mixture into jars. Wipe the rims with a clean, wet dish rag to remove any spilled strawberries.

Step 10: Using the canning magnetic stick, grab a lid from it's warm bath. Apply to the top of the jar. Twist the ring on top of the lid.

Step 11: Place the jars in the freezer. Most recipes say that they only last 6 mos. in the freezer. I have had mine for about 3 years in my deep freezer and they are still fine. All that sugar will preserve the jam. When you want to use the jam, place it in the fridge to thaw. Use unthawed, refrigerated jam within several months. Also, if you can't wait to try it, leave some out in a little need to freeze if you plan to use it right away.

NOTE: I also made a low sugar recipe this time. It is very hard to find a good recipe. It actually is a different process with the pectin and adding a sugar substitute. After I have tasted it, if I like it, I will post it here too. If you have a recipe that you use for low or no sugar added jam, please leave it in a comment! Thanks!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Wacky Cake for Leona

Turning 3
My Mother-in-love just found this recipe for my food allergy sweetie :) We found it here on Kids with Food Allergies. I can't wait to try more recipes on there.

My understanding is that the Wacky Cake originated during the Great Depression when eggs and milk were scarce. Now, if only restaurants and bakeries got on board and started carrying some so I didn't have to always have one with me when we go for a special treat like Flavor Freeze, Pavs or Durbin's ice cream stands.

Mmmm! "Tat's GOOD!"

 Wacky Chocolate Cake (see other variations below)
-1 1/2 c. flour (see Gluten-free variations below)
-3 Tbsp cocoa powder
-1 c. sugar
-1 tsp baking soda
-1/2 tsp salt
-1 Tbsp vinegar
-5 Tbsp oil
-1 tsp vanilla
-1 c. water

Preheat oven to 350'F. Combine dry ingredients. Mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Add wet ingredient mix to dry mix. Mix until you get a smooth batter. Pour into a greased and floured 8-9" pan or 12 cupcakes. Bake 30-35 min. for cake or 20 min. for cupcakes.

1. vanilla cake: omit cocoa; double amount of vanilla.
2. spice cake: omit cocoa; add 1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
3. orange: omit cocoa and vinegar; substitute orange juice for the water.
4. lemon cake: omit cocoa; substitute lemon juice for vinegar; add some lemon extract

Gluten-Free Variations:
1. 1 3/4 c. GF flour mix or wheat flour. Add 1 tsp. xanthan gum.
2. 1 c. sorghum flour, 1/2 c. potato or cornstarch, 1/4 tapioca starch
3. 3/4 c. sorghum blour, 1/4 c. garbanzo bean flour, 1/2 c. potato or cornstarch, 1/4 c. tapioca starch

Milkless & Eggless Pumpkin Cake

My daughter is allergic to milk and eggs. It is very hard to find yummy non-dairy treats, let alone cakes. This is the first recipe I found that Leona could eat.

Milkless and Eggless Pumpkin Cake
-3 c. flour
-2 c. sugar
-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
-2 tsp. baking powder
-2 tsp. baking soda
-2 c. canned pumpkin
-1 c. oil

1. Grease pan and lightly flour. Bundt pan, 2 loaf pans or 24 cupcakes.
2. Preheat oven to 350'.
3. Mix dry ingredients.
4. Add oil and pumpkin. Mix well.
5. Pour into pan(s).
6. For cupcakes, bake 20-25 min. For the loaf pans, bake 30 min. For the budnt pan, bake 1 hour.

Need a milkless, butterless icing?
Just use powdered sugar and water for a thin icing.
Add shortening to thicken it. I am still on the look out for a great tasting icing.
Currently I am using this recipe from Eggless Cooking.
It is a good stiff recipe for cake decorating, but I am trying to find something more yummy for the whole family.
I will update this when I find one :)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Potty Training

17 months and starting potty training
I think I can honestly say that our young 3 year old is officially potty trained. We started at 17 months (November 2010) putting her on her potty chair before her baths because she loved to squat and pee-pee right on my bathroom mat...ICK!! Then, we pursued it for awhile until my back started hurting that January.
20 months and sitting on her potty

We started again in April 2011. She did well but it was still hard at times for me to be able to help her. Next, came my pregnancy, so obviously potty training was not a focus for the first few months. Then, in December 2012 I realized we needed to get her trained before we got her into her big bed and before the baby came in late March.

her first night in her big girl bed :)
So off we went! My Mom came for a little bit and helped get her really going as we switched to panties (It's all or none with this girl!). From then on we made progress. She was pee-pee trained, but the boom-boom (love the wording right!?!?!) training was a PAIN! She was all drama about the boom-boom. It had gone on the floor one time...and I learned never to be upset about an accident from that point on...and it was forever a tramatic event. She'd go to sneak a diaper, put it on and go in it just so she didn't have to go boom-boom on the potty. If we caught her in time, she'd sit on the potty for HOURS!!! She'd just hold it in as long as she could. Oh the whining! It was craziness.

Just recently we came home from a week vacation in Ohio and something changed. Suddenly she came and said she had to go, got on and pushed it out (sorry...a little grusome for some of you! hahahaha!). Now, she goes multiple times! Naps are normally accident free, but the final step was GOING TO CHURCH WITH PANTIES ON!!! She went twice at church this past Sunday! So...I feel free to say that my little baby girl is growing up...she's potty trained :) YAY! will be a little bit of time to tackle the night-night time pull-up...but hey...we conquered the hard part :)

Potty Training? 

Here are some things that helped our family:
  -Potty Training Your Child in Just ONE Day by Teri Crane (this is especially great if you are starting when they are older!)
  -From the suggestion of the above book, we showed her baby doll going pee-pee in the potty (by holding a water bottle squirter behind her) and praised her for going potty! I never did the accident thing with the doll because she was still pretty young then and didn't understand much.
  -We read the kid's book Big Girls Use the Potty. It was a great visual for her of what a potty was and what we do on it.
  -We taught Leona the signs for poop, diaper, and potty/toilet. (We never got to use it, but plan to with our little guy: Potty Time by Signing Time.) Signing really helped with starting at an early age so they could understand.
  -I taught her all of her letters from the potty. We hung an alphabet strip and we went over them every time we went.
  -We sang a lot of songs and signed to some of them.
  -We also practiced our signing on the potty. Great way to keep a toddler entertained and learning!
  -There is also a book by the Baby Wise author called Potty Wise. I bet that is a great book too! We didn't use it, but will probably read it before James is at that stage.

Vaccine Research for My Family

A friend of mine, who is a nurse practioner, lent me a book called

"What Your Doctor May NOT Tell You About Children's Vaccinations"

by Stephanie Cave, MD, FAAFP with Deborah Mitchell.

You can read the first chapter here.

You can also read the U.S. vaccine schedule here.

Now...before I go any farther, let me just set you straight on my intentions. I sought out to read this book out of a desire to learn more about the risks associated with vaccines so my husband and I could make a wise choice about vaccines for our children. With several family members having auto-immune diseases (MS, Parkinson's Disease, diabetes, etc.), I wondered if that put my children more at risk for complications from vaccinations. I also wondered if there was any proof of some people's opinion that autism could be a result of vaccinations. Obviously not all children have auto-immune diseases, including autism, so I wanted to find out if there was truly a correlation, if any. This post is just my opinion based on my findings and our family's personal choices about vaccinations. I am not a doctor or nurse, just a teacher at heart.

First of all, I find it odd that our society accepts and even pushes organic products for the health of our families, yet we pop pills for everything and anything, and inject so many different things into our bodies without much question. I believe many parents wonder at the hepititis b vaccine within the first several hours of birth and the alarming 6 vaccinations our little 2 month old children get at their second check-up. I mean just to a normal person it seems WAY excessive. BUT...we trust our doctors and their opinions and just do it anyways. That's what we did with our first child. Honestly, looking back we were so overwhelmed by her health problems (failure to thrive) that we never really looked into it.

Luckily, I don't believe my daughter's vaccinations have had any affect on her health... except for one thing. After she received the chicken pox vaccine (around age 15 months) she got a small case of them. You can read the experience in the post "An Uninvited Guest" and "She's on the Chart!"  I soon found that MANY parents had experienced the same thing. This was serious for us though as every ounce of weight mattered to her health until age 2. This vaccine set us back 2 weeks in eating. My pediatrician basically said that the vaccine didn't cause her getting the flu-shot, am I right? Ummm hello! Seriously I can't even count the parents that said that their child had the same thing happen to them! In my mind it just goes to show that there seems to be a gap in logic out there about vaccinations. I'm not saying that doctors are dufuses or anything...just that vaccinations seem to be trusted a little too much. I will also stop to say that I LOVE my pediatrician. She was in the armed services for a while. She is a vaccine-aholic :) but I do trust her opinions in many areas.

After reading this book, I am overwhelmed by the lack of education that is given to us parents and certainly the lack of research that has gone into some ingredients found in vaccines. I agree with the author that the reason that more education is not given about vaccines is because many parents would opt not to give some, most, if not all vaccines. Some of it is just common sense and now I have a book that gives me statistics and information on these vaccines to help me make an informed decision for my family. I am so thankful.

So my opinion about this book. I am a teacher at a heart, so I love reading statistics and finding my opinion in a topic whether I disagree or agree with something. This book was great at explaining each vaccine: what it is given for, what types of ingredients go into it, risks and positives. HOWEVER, I caution that this book, again in my opinion, is very one way. When I started this book, I basically felt I needed the other side of the coin so to say because I feel like medical professionals make us feel like our children will die if they don't get all of their vaccines. I wanted to know true risks of not getting them and getting them. This book sometimes made me feel like my child could die or be so severly hurt by vaccines. I did not like feeling like that, but I took it all in to make my balanced decision remembering both sides.

ONE KEY FACT that I really hung my decision on was the fact that children do not start producing bile until 6 months of age. For those of you trying to remember what bile is (honestly needed that myself), bile is produced by the liver to break down fats. It also helps to rid your body of toxins in your body. So when we put these vaccines in our little babies, they don't have bile to help rid the toxins from their bodies. It would also seem that our babies have a very weak immune system which is why they get their antibodies from their mother's milk...and as the baby grows up, the milk gradually decreases in it's antibodies. Now, my doctor would say that the vaccines have barely anthing in fact she said that they are significantly lower doses than when my parents were growing up.

ONE LAST KEY FACT came from the significant changes in our children after the altering of the vaccine schedule/reccomendations in 1994. Autism, asthma, diabetes have all been on the rise. Plus those of us in the teaching field would tell you that kids are much different these days. Many are hyper and hard to contain at times. This is concerning! There may not be a correlation, but something is going on in our society. The main difference in the schedule was the Hep-B vaccine. Knowing that France has banned it since 1998 because of it's links to MS and other neurological diseases...makes me stay FAR AWAY FROM THAT ONE! Besides...realizing that Hep-B is an autoimmune disease that is passed by blood, semen, and other bodily fluids and that my family is not a carrier...makes me wonder why so many people get it without thought. I don't plan on my little baby boy at a couple of hours of age getting a tattoo, getting acupuncture, etc. If he was going for a blood tranfusion or had other risks, then certainly it would be a consideration. On top of that, I plan on homeschooling for a this decision may need to be weighed if I decide to send them to school or daycare.

I believe that looking at your family's healthy history is the way to go in this area of immunizations. Honestly, knowing that MS and diabetes are very prevalent in my family, makes me more cautious with immunizations. was our decision. Based on the cases seen in my dr's office with whooping cough and that the Amish community in our area does see cases of whooping cough as well...we did give James the pertusis, tetanus, diptheria (DTaP) vaccine at 3 mos. This was a hard decision for me based on the earlier finding about the bile. I actually cried when he was so unhappy just a few hours later praying that we had made the right decision. I believe it was for my family. At 6 months, I will reevaluate what may be next for my little guy as far as vaccines. At this point I don't plan on getting the boosters for the DTaP. At the advice of my dr. we did eliminate the rotavirus and the hep-b at this time. She did want us to get, I think it was the Pneumococcal, 3 weeks later, but I decided against it. Even though she is all about vaccines, she was accepting that my decision was to take it slower and eliminate some of them altogether so this made me feel I was making a good balanced decision....because again I appreciate her opinions and thoughts very much.

So there you have it...all my opinions and some of my findings. I realize that some of you reading this may be more on the every vaccine on time route, others on the no-vaccine list and then some may be in the middle like me. Whatever your choice for your family, I just pray that you make your decision by educating yourself on your family history and what each vaccine is all about. All we can do is trust the Lord and take in all of the information we have and do our best! Feel free to leave an opinion or other information you have found in your studies in the comments below! It is great when we can learn from each other.