Friday, December 21, 2012

Quick & easy lunch

So, sometimes I have crazy busy days that seem to go at Mach-10 with no breathing time. Ok, so maybe it's a little more than sometimes...say most times! And with my egg allergy and trying to avoid grain for the freaky skin, lunch can be either boring or time consuming.

Today was one of those days where I needed something quick. One of the hubby's favorite snacks is cottage cheese with wheat thins, so I took a different spin on that. Enter the feta avocado tomato lunch. Now, this wouldn't be an everyday lunch since the fat content may be a little high (my mom is probably pulling her hair out and screaming "FAT!!!!"). Never the less, it is delicious and fast, and hopefully you enjoy it!
The Players
Feta Avocado Tomato Salad
1 Avocado, diced
1/2 cup feta cheese
canned diced tomatoes (fresh if you can find them, which in Tok, Alaska...good luck!)
Sprinkle of garlic powder

Put avocado, feta and garlic powder in a bowl. Add tomatoes until desired proportions. I put about two big scoops in.

Eat with wheat thins (though they are freaky skin causing), romaine leaves, or mini peppers. Very quick and easy!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Best Cereal Ever! Grain-free Granola

So, along with birthing a baby, recovery from said birth, homeschooling, ministry, etc., you know, all the normal day stuff, I've crazily developed an allergy to the protein in egg whites. It is incredibly taxing going from being able to eat something for 30+ years to having to watch everything you eat or you'll end up violently ill. Trust me, not fun. And then there is the inevitable craving of a cheesy Denver omelet or the amazing snack if a hard-boiled egg. To top that, I've been trying to limit my grain intake to see if my eczema (a.k.a. Freaky skin disease) will improve. So that greatly limits my breakfast options, which would have been low anyway since I gave up boxed cereal after reading this article by the Weston A. Price Foundation (did you realize your cereal kills rats?)

Anywho, on my search for morning sustenance, I stumbled across the paleo plethora of grain-free granola. Enter my new obsession. This stuff is incredible! Not only does it keep me full all the way to lunch and beyond, but it's chock full of yummy goodness. Now while the less refined palates of my men (little and big) still prefer death-in-a-box, I long for my bowl of perfection. So I thought I'd share the wealth and give a breakdown.
The Players

First, the "cereal" base. This is the foundation to the perfect bowl, but even this is customizable to your taste or experimentation, which I encourage.

In equal parts which will resemble cereal flakes:
Sliced raw almonds
Flaked coconut, unsweetened (not the sugary small stuff)

In equal parts, your coater, melted together:
Coconut oil (which is awesome, but you could use butter or olive oil, just please do your body a favor and avoid franken-oils!!!)
Honey, 100% maple syrup or molasses

For instance, if I had 1 cup of both almonds and coconut, I personally would use an eye-balled 1/4 cup of both oil and sweetener.

Now comes the fun part, the additions. Now it'd be perfectly good as is, but I always like more. Things to add:

Chopped raw pecans, walnuts, macadamia nuts, cashews, etc.

Raw sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseed meal, etc.

Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, etc.

Pumpkin purée, applesauce, mashed bananas, pear sauce, etc.

The possibilities are limitless! Just get it in your bowl and stir it up! You'll want to increase your coaters to cover your ingredients, but not drown.
For instance, my combo in the pictures is almonds, coconut, coconut oil, maple syrup, pecans, walnuts, pumpkin purée, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla extract. After putting everything together, my mixture was soupy with liquid pooling in the bowl, so I continued to add coconut (would've also added almonds, but ran out!!!!) until it wasn't soupy. Not exact science, I know but it'd be hard to mess it up, at this level at least. Spread it into a baking sheet.
Before baking; not too soupy, not too dry

Now comes the step where potential to mess up is great, trust me, I've been there more than I'd like to admit! Preheat your oven to 275. You could go lower, but please, please do not go higher!!! I'm serious! I've had many batches go in the trash and have eaten just as many that were Cajun-style, thinking I'll just watch it closely and get it out of the oven on time. It doesn't work, so please don't try!

Anyways, bake 275 for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring every 15 minutes. At 45 minutes, I start checking it every 5 minutes because it can go from golden goodness to crispy blackness quite quickly!

Take out, stir so it doesn't stick to the pan and let cool.
Golden brown perfection

To serve, is another palate adventure. You could eat it as is, but I like to add extras as I eat it (that way I can go with my cravings and not be stuck!):

Dried cherries, cranberries, chopped dates, apricots, dried apples, fresh berries, banana slices, chocolate chips (yep, I eat chocolate for breakfast occasionally)

Eat it by the handful, with milk or in yogurt. The other day I warmed up coconut milk and poured that over it, making an incredibly yummy hot cereal! The great thing about it is it's versatility and the fact that when I'm distracted by munchkins, it's not soggy 30 minutes later! I'm tellin' you, you need to try it! Then let new know your favorite combos!

My favorite breakfast, lunch, dinner & late night snack!!!! saves us in time and money living out here in rural Alaska. I'm not sure what I'd do without free shipping and online ordering! Here are some of the items I use in this recipe.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Homeschool Epiphany

Hello! Yes, I know I've been gone for quite some time, but I have some pretty good excuses (though they are just excuses, and I should've tried a wee bit harder to write this summer...and fall!) So let me take a minute to update everyone on the Blackard family happenings.

On June 21st at 11:47 pm, we welcomed our Sadie Marie into the world. She just turned 5 months old and is so sweet. She loves her brothers, is sleeping through the night and is very,very tall.

Both sets of grandparents came to visit. We shared a garden with our good friends the Abels, bought 3.65 acres of raw land (woohoo, our own Alaskan cabin here we come!), and raised our ducks. So we've been busy.

We also started 1st grade this year, which brings me to this post and the restart of this blog. This year I decided to try Sonlight Core B curriculum with their science. We are continuing with RightStart math, since we enjoyed it last year. When the Sonlight box arrived, I was ecstatic! Tons of books, which are my favorite.

Yet after our first quarter, I was a little frustrated. Tucker is doing amazingly in reading, loves learning about animals and overall does well with school. But, it seems there is a disconnect. I'm trying to get all the facts, do all the assignments in the curriculum and get through the books. Math especially does not seem to be connecting. Now don't get me wrong. Tucker can spout answers and fill in worksheets with the best of them, but it just doesn't seem to be deep rooted knowledge. And the rest of school is the same. Aaaugh! This is not the homeschool I always dreamed of.

Enter the epiphany in the form of a book: The Three R's by Ruth Beechick.
Now I've had this book since July 2011, but like a lot of books that could help, I put it on the shelf and forgot about it. Until this week. In my desperation, I started reading it and couldn't put it down! I read the whole book in 1-1/2 days (which is a difficult task with a baby, two boys and Thanksgiving!!) The amount if wealth on reading, writing and arithmetic was more helpful than all I've read combined. Like with most epiphanies, the ah-ha moment was followed by the man-I-wasted-good-money moment. She explains the different modes of thinking our children go through, manipulative, mental image and abstract, and how most textbooks require children to think abstractly before they are mentally ready to, causing them to have the disease she calls "Arithmetic Anxiety", which I was seeing in Tucker and I know I have. Her solutions are so simple it's ridiculous! And math was just the tip if the education iceberg she exposed.

Now it's not a cure all book. However, if I had read it last year, I could have saved a lot of headache, heartache and budget. I will be using this as a tool throughout the next three years and have put her second book "You Can Teach Your Child Successfully" on my must read soon list. As we implement our changes, I'll keep you updated!

Have you had a homeschool epiphany?

Get The Three R's here:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Homeschool Giveaway

So I was going to to look for some ideas to improve our school day when I stumbled upon a great giveaway being held. Now I'm one for winning free stuff and with the amount of items being raffled off, who could resist trying to win (though I hope my losing streak with raffles lately is done!)

Looking over the prizes, it is hard to pick one that would be totally and completely awesome to win, but if I don't win the big shebang I'm hoping to at least win the Hearts At Home giveaway of Switched-On Schoolhouse curriculum (I'm a sucker for a curriculum I have to do little planning for--judge me if you will, but I know my weakness!)

If you are a homeschooler or are thinking of homeschooling, sign up for the giveaway and the wealth of great information!

Sign up here

God Bless!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fayrene & Chocolate Berry Mint Cake

So three years ago when we lived in Oregon, I was on a recipe contest craze. I spent hours creating recipes and entering them into various contests (and in case you're wondering, I only got second in one-for an iced tea recipe)

One such recipe was for a Raspberry Mint Chocolate Cake which I took to a church function. One of my sisters in Christ, Fayrene, a spunky 4 ft 10 woman who is at least in her 70s, climbs apple trees to the very top for the apples and is always giving to those around her, really liked this cake. However, I couldn't remember where I wrote it down or if I even did write it down, leaving poor Fayrene with a void in cake happiness (seriously, in every single letter I've received in the last three years from her, she's asked for the recipe!)

Then, lo and behold, I pull out a notebook to use yesterday and there scribbled on the page is what appears to be the missing cake components! So I immediately went to work to see if I can indeed send a little sweetness Fayrene's way.

Originally, this recipe used frozen raspberries and raspberry preserves, but since a little bag of berries is almost $6, I went with frozen wild cranberries and homemade cranberry jam. This recipe is not for the faint of heart, it is rich and sweet. So without further ado:

Chocolate Berry Mint Cake
1-3/4 cup flour
1-3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teas. salt
1 teas. cardamom
1 Tables. baking soda
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 cup strong coffee
1 cup frozen cranberries (or raspberries)
2/3 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup cranberry or raspberry preserves
4 peppermint patties

For frosting:
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup evaporated milk
3/4 cup sugar
3.5 oz marshmallow creme (1/2 a jar)
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, cardamom, & soda. In a smaller bowl combine butter, buttermilk & eggs. Add to dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips & raspberries. Very carefully stir in coffee until well combined. Mixture will be thin. Pour into greased 9 x 13, or if you want to get really fancy, 2 round cake pans and bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean (mine took 35 min, but could be my oven).

In the meantime, melt patties & preserves in a small sauce pan, this will be poured over hot cake. In another sauce pan, bring to boil remaining butter, milk, & sugar. Turn off heat and stir in marshmallow creme & white chips. Stir occasionally until both are melted and frosting thickens.

When cake comes out of oven, pour preserve mixture over cake and spread to cover cake (may have to use a pastry brush). Let cool for 15 minutes or so and then spread frosting on top. Enjoy with a nice cold glass of milk or if you're strange like my husband a scoop of ice cream.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Duck a la Blackard

Another post from the past...shhh...don't tell our ducklings! Some of them may end up this recipe!

The other day, Stretch went duck hunting with our friend and came stomping into the living room happily toting five lovely ducks. After telling him to take them outside and not come in until they were cleaned and resembling food, I began to contemplate how in the world I was going to prepare them. Luckily, my good friend Charity, who is a marvel and heroine to me, was here with her family for dinner (her husband took mine on the killing spree...I mean, on the fill-the-freezer spree) and gave me some pointers.

First off, the night before you prepare your little quakers, a soaking in salt and vinegar water in the fridge is recommended. “To tenderize it?” I ask/comment, thinking myself knowledgeable in all things cooking. “No, to help get the fishy taste out,” Charity casually commented. “Fishy taste!?!” I say in utter surprise. “Yes, they feed on fish in the lakes.” Charity replies. Duh, I think to myself and my knowledgeable attitude brought down a notch or two. It makes perfect know, you are what you eat. I just never thought about wild ducks tasting fishy; gamey yes, but fishy, not so much. Charity continued telling me the secrets of cooking great duck, and I was soaking it all in. Crockpots work well...if you use the oven, keep them covered... stuffing with rice is nice...soups are also yummy. All great ideas that sent my mind reeling.

So after letting the little lovelies soak in apple cider vinegar and salt water I set to work, with the result of an absolutely, amazingly, wonderful dinner. So without further ado...

Duck a la Blackard

4 wild harvested ducks (or store bought would work)
1 medium onion, wedged
3 celery stalks, cut into 3 in. lengths
5 carrots, cut into 3 in. lengths
4 mini yellow bell peppers, stem cut off
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 cup roasted red peppers
3 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 tsp. seasoned pepper
1 tsp. oregano
2 tbsp. bacon grease, optional
3 tbsp. whole wheat flour, optional

In the cavities of the ducks, stuff into each, one yellow pepper, onion wedge, celery piece, and carrot piece. In the bottom of a crockpot, place the remaining onion, celery, and carrots. Placed the stuffed ducks on top of the vegetable bed with the breasts up. In a bowl, mix the tomatoes, roasted red peppers and seasoning together. Pour over ducks and turn on low. Cook 6 hours or until the duck breasts pull from the bone. Carefully take the ducks from the crockpot (they will or should fall apart) and separate the meat from the bone. Fish the vegetables out and place in a serving dish.

The next step is optional but very tasty. I had a little bacon grease that I warmed up on the stove. I then added 3 tablespoons of flour to the grease and cooked until the grease was absorbed. Strain the juice in the crockpot, then pour into the pan with the flour mixture and cook, whisking continually until it thickens into a gravy.

To serve, plate up duck and vegetables and cover with gravy and a side of spaghetti squash.

Spaghetti Squash Side

1 spaghetti squash
3 tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Pre-heat oven to 400. Place squash whole in oven on a baking dish (trust me...I had a mess in the oven to clean!). Cook for 30 minutes. Pull rack out and puncture squash with fork to release steam. Return to bake an additional 20-30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds. With a fork, remove the flesh from the skin and place in a serving bowl. It will resemble spaghetti. Add butter, chili powder and nutmeg and stir. Serve warm.

This meal was amazing. The nutmeg of the squash matched perfectly with the robust flavor of the duck and vegetables. I was a little worried I’d be eating fishy poultry, but was very pleased with the flavor of autumn playing in my mouth. So if you’re wanting a culinary adventure, try the duck.

Have you ever cooked duck before?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rubies of the North

Another post that should've been posted in the fall....hope you enjoy!

Fall has always been my favorite season. The crispness that returns to the air. The richness that suddenly explodes from the treetops. The musky, deep smell that penetrates the earth. And while fall has always filled me with a feeling of comfort and expectation, it seems to be even stronger in the great north of Alaska.

Autumn in the north is sudden and quick, which makes me even more anxious to capture the preciousness of it in my memory and experiences. And perhaps the most amazing discovery of autumn is little hidden surprises that God has tucked away beneath the moss and fallen leaves. Taking a walk in the woods edging the yard not only awakens the mind from the chill in the air, but sends joy to the spirit as you bend down to discover that the beautiful dark ruby red low bush cranberry is ready to be picked.

I could spend hours scouring the moss and bushes for this little treasure that hides tucked beneath. Kneeling on the cool, damp ground, my fingers combing through the small leaves while my boys tease me by pretending to place the tiny rubies in my bucket only to smile and pop it in their mouth, laughing at my look of mock dismay. Over and over again. The sound of laughter growing with each plunk of berries in the pail.

So now, more than ever, fall captures my heart and soul. God fills me with comfort in the warm colors above me and joy of the precious bounty below me. He awakens my mind with the crisp air and prepares me for the winter to come. I am so thankful for fall and all the treasures God gives in it.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Let's Get Real

My Sweet Tucker

Yesterday morning I was getting ready for church when I asked Stretch if I looked alright (with the increasing belly, outfit choices are becoming a bit limited). Like the good husband he is, he replied “It looks good. You just look pregnant.” No arguments there! The way this belly is growing, you’d think I’d swallowed a watermelon. Then my sweet little Tucker pipes up and adds, “You’re butt is fat!”

“Gasp” I hear coming from your lips. Stretch and I looked at each other and couldn’t help but laugh. The truth always seems to come from the mouths of our little ones, doesn’t it? We diligently pointed out to Tucker that it is not polite to tell others their back side is large and filed the conversation in the funny file to be told to others.

Yet later that night I was thinking about it and wondering how often we keep the truth from others out of politeness? Sure, I’m probably not going to point out that someone’s rear end is getting a little big, but what about the important stuff like whether someone is trusting in Jesus, the only Way to heaven, as their Savior or talking to someone about a lifestyle choice that isn’t according to God’s purpose or a belief, while popular in society, is contrary to the Word of God? How many times have I kept my mouth shut or glossed over the Truth, just so I wouldn’t hurt someone’s feelings or make someone uncomfortable, including myself.

God has a very strong opinion of telling the truth. In Psalm 34:12-13 He tells us “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.” In Colossians 3:9 He tells us “Do not lie to each other.” But even more convicting is when we are told in Acts 5:4b that “you have not lied to men but to God.” Now there’s the kicker…when we sugar coat reality, when we keep the life-giving Truth of the Gospel from others, we aren’t just lying to them or ourselves, we are lying to God. We are telling Him that our comfort and our desire to keep others comfortable is more important than His command in John 15 to bear fruit and love one another.

Now I’m not saying we should preach fire and brimstone to everyone we come into contact with. We should instead pray for God’s guidance in the words that we speak. Speak the truth, but speak it in love to build each other up and make us stronger. (Ephesians 4:15) And if it’s a matter of eternity, wouldn’t a few moments of discomfort be worth it if someone hears about God’s path to forgiveness and chooses to walk it?

Tucker made me giggle about my growing posterior, yet I’m even more thankful that God has used a child’s truthfulness to make me realize the lack of my own. While I’ll be showing Tucker the importance of politeness, I’ll be looking to God for guidance in when I’m being polite and when I’m downright lying. Isn’t God amazing and wonderful how He finds the most interesting ways to teach?

Has God showed you the importance of being truthful, despite how hard it is?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Back in the Saddle

I know, I know. You're probably thinking, "I thought that Sara said she was going to do this blog thing or something." While I started with a splendid idea of a fantastically written blog, the move to Tok, delay in internet connection, then just general forgetfulness, has my blog in a state of rest. But no longer! Thanks to my good friend Jeannie Gerhardt, writer of the great blog A Family, A Cabin, an Adventure in Alaska, who visited this last week and strongly encouraged me to start up the blog engine again.

Since my intentions were good when we moved up to Tok, I have a few posts that I pre-wrote when our internet connection was nonexistent (not a good feeling). Hating to waste a good read, plus the time I took ignoring my children and other housework to write the posts, I will be posting those over the next week. So without further ado, here is a completely outdated, but still rather fun post for your enjoyment.

Caribou Cabbage Concoction

So earlier this month (i.e. last September) the dear husband went with his friend Mark on a caribou & moose hunt. After a four day long venture and several manly moments, they ventured home halfway successful...Mark got his first ever caribou. So Stretch, wanting me to learn how to process game, had me come and help him and Mark butcher. After a long day of processing (we were all it took a while) Mark was generous enough to give us several packages of steaks, roasts, ground meat, and meat to can.

I attempted to make something yummy with the ground meat, and what was created was a delicious concoction full of the earth’s bounty: caribou and fresh vegetables from the neighbors garden.

Caribou Cabbage Concoction

3 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 red onion, minced
1 lb. ground caribou
2 cups cabbage, finely shredded
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 Tbls. minced garlic
1 Tbls. Fines Herbes
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1-2 tsp. tomato paste
2-3 squirts of Worchester sauce
1 tsp. salt
2 cups water
1 cup barley

In a large skillet with a lid, brown bacon. Add onion to bacon and sauté until translucent. Add caribou and brown. After caribou is completely cooked, drain any fat and return to skillet. Add cabbage and tomatoes and cook until cabbage wilts. Add the remaining ingredients, cover and cook for 30 minutes or until barley is tender. Serve warm with a nice slice of homemade bread.

What’s your favorite caribou recipe?