About Sylvia

Sylvia is the owner of the Christian HomeKeeper Network website and ministry. She and her husband Mark live in Tennessee. They are the parents of 5 children and grandparents to two so far. They have homeschooled since 1990. Sylvia is a Christian and enjoys mentoring women, writing articles for several magazines, gardening, Bible study and creating a peaceful holy home. Follow Sylvia on Google+ or check out her 21st Century HomeKeeper podcasts on the Preparedness Radio Network.

Homemade Strawberry Jam

Heaven in a jar.  Strawberry Jam is my favorite. I make it the old fashioned way; no powdered or liquid pectin.  I use fresh lemon juice and lemon peel for the pectin, just like my Grandma did. Its really handy not to have to go to the store for more ingredients to make this jam, I’ve usually got sugar and lemon at home all the time.

Strawberries are coming in here and my sweet sis-in-law and mother-in-law brought me a big tray. We at them til we had enough (is that even possible?) and the rest I will make into jam.

jam

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strawberry Jam

4 cups berries, topped and cut into chunks
(or weigh them and use 2 pounds)

4 cups sugar

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 – 1 inch wide and 2 inch long piece of lemon peel. I don’t usually measure this I just use a couple big slices of peel.

You’ll need 3 or 4 pint jars, lids and rings.

You’ll need a heavy bottomed pot. The heavier the better. Don’t try to make jam using a thin aluminum pan, it will probably burn.

Combine everything in a heavy bottomed stock pot and bring to a rolling boil. Turn the heat down a little, don’t let it boil over.  Allow it to boil for about 15 minutes. Sometimes it takes longer.

Stir constantly. You can test it and see if it is setting up by putting about 1 teaspoon of the jam on a cold plate and blowing on it. If its ready, it won’t come back together when you rake your finger through it.

What I do is put a small plate in the freezer to get cold while the jam is boiling. Then I put a little jam on the cold plate and set it back in the freezer a few minutes, then check to see how thick it is. Once it is as thick as I like my jam, I know the pot has boiled long enough.

When the jam is ready, put it in hot sterilized jars, seal and water bath the jars for 15 minutes.

A Good Day

The sun is shining. Its not warm yet but its getting there.  The birds are singing.  I’ve gotten three loads of laundry done, breakfast smoothies and bacon made, Nana’s needs attended to and dishes done.  Those breakfast smoothies were delicious.  I used frozen strawberries, blueberries, a lime and coconut water.  Its more sugar than my body is used to but a small glass really hit the spot this morning.

So, I’m just resting a moment til time to get back at it.  On the weekends the whole family gathers here and it leaves my house sort of upside down no matter how much they all pick up and straighten up after themselves. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!  I love these days and I know that they can’t be replaced. I treasure every moment with these people because someday, one day, they will go their own ways and have things to do that don’t include me.

When that day comes, I will have these precious times in my memory, these good relationships built and strengthened by the Lord and all the times we spend together now will bless me and my children in the days to come.

tulips_2

Come On Spring

 

Its almost spring.

Things have been like a whirl-wind here. My husband’s mom is living with us and needs a lot of care and help.  I am very happy to do it, I have always loved her and find it very said that some people don’t get along with their in-laws.   dandelion flower

Its been rainy, wet and chilly so far this March. We had a few warm days and now we’re back to cold. No problem for me, I don’t like to really start the garden til May anyway.

Every chance I get I’m downsizing and decluttering.I went ahead and put my winter clothes up and most of the heavy blankets. If it gets down to freezing again, we might freeze along with it! So far so good though.

We’ve had all the children here and grandchildren on the weekends. I like it. Nana likes it. It sure makes for a fast and busy weekend though.

I’ll be glad when the warm returns so we can sit on the deck and enjoy the weather.

What are you doing this spring?

 

Is It Real Or Fake?

Have you ever wondered if a ministry or just a group of Christians who claim to be led by the Holy Spirit really is a work of the Spirit? Ever get that little niggle at the back of your mind regarding a group of people who say one thing but don’t seem to follow through? Or if someone who tells you they are led by the Spirit really is led by Him? Here is a short check list that you can use to quickly measure that group or even your own ministry.

Every one of these characteristics must be met, not just one or two or even all but one. That ministry or person must….

  1. Exalt the true Chriswolft (Jesus!)
  2. Oppose Satan’s interests
  3. Point people to the Scriptures
  4. Elevate truth
  5. Result in love for God and others

These ideas come from a sermon by Jonathan Edwards’ The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God.

Be sure that any ministry you endorse in any way fulfills all of these. Its not enough to be a good person and love people. We must teach truth. Don’t be taken in by someone who speaks pretty words or appeals to your self esteem.

Homeschool Lunches

If you are a homeschooling Mom, you already know how hard it can be to prepare a good lunch every day of the school week for a group of hungry children and still be able to get your housework done and assist the children in their own work….and get supper ready!

This is our 23rd year of homeschooling and just as with curriculum choices, what to prepare and serve for lunch can sometimes be a matter of trial and error. My goal is to help you along with some of the poor choices and good choices I have made over the years and give you ideas for lunches.

noodle_soup

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Lunch vs. Cold Lunch

While some people always insist on a hot lunch, I think we can find a balance here. There are some days when a cold lunch is just as nice and just as filling. The weather has a lot to do with what we eat. Cold days call for soups and stews, warm breads and muffins. Days when we are rushed for time and have errands to run may be good days for a quick, cold lunch or a lunch that can be packed and taken along.

You can also introduce Tea Time into your afternoon. As a homeschooler, you have that luxury of teaching your children how to slow down and read aloud while enjoying good food, tea and the company of others. Tea Time is a good time to offer snacks.

Here are some quick ideas for making lunch time more manageable for your homeschool:

Plan Ahead – Make up your menu at least a week ahead of time. Factor in leftovers and meals for which you can cook once, eat twice. Plan on cooking for lunch and supper at the same time, often.

Set aside Lunch Food – Don’t let your family or yourself pilfer the lunch food during the week. That way you will have what you need come lunch time.

Choose Food that Helps Children Concentrate – Avoid foods that are high in artificial/hydrogenated fats and processed sugars. Choose whole grains, lean meats, fish and vegetables, fruits and beans. Even a pizza can be a healthy choice if you make it with a whole grain crust and lean meat.

Schedule lunch for the same time every day. This helps children get into some good habits. Washing hands, cleaning up their work area and helping prepare lunch are all great ways to teach your children how to do things for themselves. Having lunch at the same time every day also teaches your children to wait and to have patience.

I usually plan on three hot meals per school week and two cold meals. Here are some lunch ideas for you to start with:
Hot Meal Ideas:

Whole wheat tortillas with cheese and/or refried beans – Check out my recipe for soft flat bread.  Its very easy to make and great with refried beans.

Chicken and Corn chowder with crackers – This is easier than it sounds. Use pre-cooked chicken, (or use sausage), chicken broth to cover, bring to a simmer, add 1 can of creamed corn and 1 can of drained kernel corn. Once its hot add some cream or milk to the thickness you like. Taste and season with black pepper and salt. Check out my homemade cracker recipe, its delicious.

Potato soup – Boil some cut up potatoes til they are tender, add milk, salt to taste and then shredded or cubed cheese to taste.

Canned chili beans and brown rice, shredded cheese – Cook your rice and season it with salt and butter., Then to the cooked rice add 1 can of chili beans. Top each serving with shredded cheese, green onion, tomato, cilantro.

Crusty bread with vegetable soup

Whole wheat toast with peanut butter

Cinnamon Apple Toast - My children like this with a scrambled egg on the side. 

Whole wheat toast with baked beans spread on top

Homemade chicken nuggets with honey mustard or ranch dressing – Cut up chicken breasts into small, bite sized pieces. Put them in a bowl and cover with buttermilk. Let the chicken sit while you get everything else ready.  Heat some oil in a big, heavy pan. I use a cast iron dutch oven. Drain the chicken then dredge the pieces in flour. After they are all dredged with flour you can sprinkle them with salt. Fry the pieces in hot oil til they are dark golden brown. Drain on paper towels and while they are draining, if you want that Chick-filet taste, drizzle the fried pieces with a tiny amount of honey.

Cold Meal Ideas:

Apple slices and nut butter for dipping

Fruit and cheese, crackers

Raw vegetables and dip

Hummus and dippers

Homemade vegetable chips and sandwiches

 

A Few Mixes To Have On Hand

These mixes are easy to make and store.  I prefer to buy ingredients and make things like mixes myself instead of paying someone else to make them.

spicesTaco Seasoning
2 Tsp dried minced onion – more on this later
1 Tsp Sea Salt
½ Tsp arrowroot powder
½ Tsp Garlic powder – see below
½ Tsp ground cumin
1 Tsp Chili powder
½ Tsp ground red pepper
1/4 Tsp oregano dried

Store in dry place.
To make Taco Meat: Brown 1 # ground beef or turkey. Drain. Add ½ cup water, seasoning pkt. Simmer 10 minutes. Fills 8 – 10 tacos

Garam Masala
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Combine, store in an air-tight container

 

Pizza Sauce Seasoning

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 to 2 teaspoons fennel seed, crushed
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

 Homemade Sloppy Joe Seasoning

Combine all of the ingredients in a small glass or plastic jar with a tight fitting lid. Label and store in your pantry shelf until needed.

2 tablespoons dried onion OR use 2 T Onion powder
2 T Paprika
1 tsp Garlic powder
1 tsp Chili powder (chipotle chili powder is good in this)
1 tsp dried Marjoram
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Black pepper
1/4 tsp celery seed

This makes one recipe of sloppy joes using 1 pound of ground meat, so increase the amount you make, double, triple or even more, to store and use. If you make a ton of it, you’ll need to use 1/3 cup of mix per pound of ground meat.

 

 

Deep Cleaning The Kitchen

My little kitchen

My little kitchen

 

The kitchen is usually the hardest room deep clean because we use it so much and its hard to have it out of commission for a day in some families. So I suggest that you utilize your crock pot or other means of having supper tonight so that you can concentrate on cleaning instead of breaking to cook.

Take a good look at your kitchen….. does it need:

…to be majorly decluttered?

…to be degreased?

…to have structural work done?

…to be emptied out and started over? laugh.gif

You must choose what you need to do in your kitchen today. Do you have time to devote to this project? maybe you should not get in to a really deep, deep cleaning of the kitchen today. Perhaps you should do a medium clean. That’s what I am going to do. You just find your happy place and get in the groove, OK?

First Things First:

Take out trash.

Pick up countertops

Take everything out of the kitchen that doesn’t go in the kitchen… use your 4 bags/boxes/baskets!

Take down curtains – wash

Take up rugs – wash

The kitchen can become a catch-all if you’re not careful. If your family has a habit of depositing things in the kitchen, and you’re OK with that, try to have a receptacle for all their stuff. Baskets are great for keys, change, pocket contents.

Mail really clutters up kitchen counter tops! Try using a box or basket to hold mail, both outgoing and incoming.

Move out furniture and take everything off your countertops that you possibly can. I will use my living room to store these things while I am cleaning because I have just cleaned my dining room and I don’t want to mess it up!

I will use laundry baskets to hold everything.

I don’t recommend that you attempt to clean the frig and the oven today unless your kitchen just doesn’t need all that much concentrated cleaning elsewhere…that’s a lot of work that might not get finished if you’re not careful!

But if your frig needs it, feel free to tackle it!

Next

Sweep down cobwebs

Make a sink of hot soapy water or use your chemical cleaner. Get out your rags and start washing down

the ceiling if needed, door frames, window frames, baseboards and walls. Wash windows.

Take up your rugs and put them in to wash. Take down curtains and wash.

Put a load of dishes in to wash while you work, or go ahead and wash all the dishes by hand.

Clean the top of the refrigerator, the stove exhaust hood, all large appliances. Go ahead and spray cleaner in the oven if you’re adventurous. Take out the drip pans and put them in a pan of hot soapy water to soak.

Clean of shelves and inside cabinets. Wash them down. Order and organize your pantry food and your pots and pans.

Wash inside your cabinets while they are empty.

Re-line cabinets if needed. Did you know that in the “old days” we used to use newspaper for this??

Replace everything that goes in the cabinets, washing and dusting off as you go.

Wash down the outside of the cabinets, use de-greaser if needed or a wood soap. Dry them and then polish them with lemon oil if they are finished wood. This is going to be the really hard, arm-breaking scrubby part for me today. My cabinets just need a really good deep scrub. But when its done, it will make the whole kitchen look better!

Don’t forget the areas over the stove!

Change your wash water if needed.

Wash down all the bottles, canisters, containers, etc. that sit on your counter tops.

Scrub the counter tops. Wash and replace the drip pans.

Sweep the floor. Make up your mop water and get to scrubbing. I will use a scrub brush this morning and scrub under the stove and all around the cabinets. Then I’ll mop the rest of the floor.

Can you move the stove and clean under it? That would probably be a good idea.

Consider setting up a Baking Center if you cook and bake a lot. I sat mine up in one of my cabinets. I put these items in the Baking Center:

Mixer

Food processor

Flours

Yeast

Baking powder and soda

Salt

Cornmeal

Shortening

Oil

Spices

You could put more in it, like measuring spoons and mixing bowls. It really is a time saver for me!

Finally...

Put all your curtains and dry rugs back down when the floor is dry. Give the appliances one more look and a polish.

Rearrange all your counter top things.

Light yourself some candles, make some tea and enjoy your kitchen!

Cooking Over A Fire

I have cooked over an open fire and in a fireplace for years and have learned a few things along the way.  Here are a few things that I think are very important.  Oh … you wonder why someone would want to cook over a fire instead of over an electric or gas oven? I do it because the food tastes better, it slows me down, its peaceful out side and because I just like it. You may not choose to cook over a fire on a daily basis, but if you go camping the know-how might come in handy.

First and foremost, you need the right equipment. Cast iron is the best choice for cooking over a fire. I have used other metals in a pinch but for durability and better cooking you need cast iron. There are several brands out there and you will get what you pay for. I recommend that you comb antique stores and flea markets to find heavy, old cast iron that has already been cured. These older, heavy pans are ideal for cooking over a fire. The heavier a pan, the more the heat will be distributed throughout the pan evenly. This is necessary for any kind of cooking but especially for open fire cooking where you are cooking over a few coals

Three things to remember when cooking on a fire:

1. If you place a pan directly on the hot coals, your food will likely burn.
2. If you hang your pan too far above the coals, it will not cook.
3. If you try to cook over a fire instead of a bed of coals, you will be frustrated. So what you need to work toward is a bed of hot coals, and a pan that is not too close nor too far away from the coals.

HOW close? Well, that depends on what you are cooking, and most of that knowledge will come with experience, however you can logically expect the coals to be hotter when you are closer to them.

How to Make a Fire For Cooking

A fire for warmth and a fire for cooking are two different things. For warmth you want that roaring crackling fire that fills up the fire box and continues to burn with medium sized flames.
For a cooking fire though you want to start with that roaring fire and really feed the fuel to the fire. This is going to make it roar and make the flames really big for a while. But the idea is to feed the fire as much wood as you think you will need coals to cook over. The flames will die down as the wood burns and the wood will become hot coals or embers. These coals are what you will cook over, not really the fire itself.

Remember that coals die out and have to be replaced with new coals. It’s better to have too many coals than not enough. So fuel up your fire to make it big at first and allow it to die down. I make my fire big and then move the coals over to the side of the burning fire. This way I can have coals being made constantly in the big fire while I am cooking on the cook fire.  If I know I will be cooking very large amounts of food I will build two separate fires and transfer coals to my cook fire in a small bucket as they are needed.

You can always fuel your fire while you are cooking but you need to be careful of two things. First, don’t refuel in such a way that the fire burns violently near your pans of food. It may burn your food or throw ashes and embers into it. Second, you must time yourself when you fuel the fire. It takes some time to make a coal, about 20-30 minutes. So start early making more coals when you are cooking.

Always, always use wood to cook over. Other fuels may cause fumes that are harmful. Use dry wood that has been aged if possible so that it will be completely dry.

After the fire has died down you will need to gather the coals up to cook over. This is where you need some of your cast iron tools like a shovel or spatula. Rake the coals together in a spot that you can reach. This is your cooking spot. You may have one to 4 cooking spots in most fireplaces. You can have as many as you like in a fire that is outside. Leave yourself plenty of room to move around and for the coals to reach all the pans.

Obviously you will have to replenish your hot coals from time to time as you are cooking. So, for example, if you are using a fireplace to cook in, choose another place to the side or rear of the fireplace to keep a fire going. I cook all along the front and one side of a fireplace, and allow the fire to burn in the left rear portion of the box. Whenever the coals burn out or loose some of their heat, scoop hot coals from the fire area to the cooking area. Some of the spent coals can be removed during cooking, but I usually wait until the cooking is over to do that because it stirs up ashes that can get in the food.

There are many, many items that you could purchase to use for cooking in your fireplace, but here are my favorites:

Spyders – These are three or four legged trivet-like things that hold your pans above the coals. They have a ring for the pan to sit in and an open bottom. They can be purchased in varying heights so that you can cook close to the coals or several inches away from them. Three different heights would be ideal, but two would do. The really tall ones are great for keeping food warm. Often a cast iron pan will have long legs cast onto the pan itself. Either one of these, the trivet-like contraption or the legged pan, can properly be called a spyder.

If you equip your fireplace with a trammel or hanging arm, you can buy all kinds of doo-dads to hang on it and hang your pots from. I like the one that adjusts from short to long so you can adjust how quickly your food is cooking without moving the pot off the fire. This is especially handy if your fireplace is small and you are cramped for room in there.

Utensils – Well, obviously you want long ones….but don’t get them any longer than what is comfortable for you to manage. My very longest ones are 18″. Also consider getting cast iron utensils instead of stainless or wooden ones. They just last longer. You need a spoon, a slotted spoon, a fork or three of various sizes, two spatulas, one short and one long, and that is all that is really essential. As you cook more and more you will find that there are other utensils that you would like to have. Choose very sturdy ones, for you will find that you use them for lifting Dutch Oven lids, pots and pans and other heavy items out of the fire. I finally got a utensil that is nothing more than a big hook to do just that!

You might want a spit to roast meat on, but I bind the meat up with cotton thread, season it and hang over slow coals for about 6-8 hours to roast. Works well, if you can stand the aroma for that long!
Another good way to roast meat like venison steaks, is to skewer the meat onto a large fork and prop the fork up in front of the fire, turning frequently til the meat is done.

There are reflector ovens made for the fireplace and they are really great…..once you learn how to use them properly, and that takes practice.
They can be used to cook meats, breads, cakes, cookies, or casseroles. They are relatively slow cooking, but they do the job very well, as soon as you learn how to keep the coals at an even temperature and how to pull the oven back from the fire when it becomes too hot.

There are also Dutch Ovens. I recommend one with a lid that has a lip on it so that you can put hot coals on top of it without them sliding off. The coals on the top of the lid helps the food to cook from both the top and bottom of the pan, much the way a conventional oven does. This is the best way to bake in the fireplace, besides the reflector oven.
You want Dutch Ovens that have LEGS. You will need at a minimum of three Dutch Ovens to cook a large meal. They can be used to cook cakes, cornbreads, puddings, soups, stews, roasts, on and on.
I find that I like to move my Dutch Oven around and reposition it with new coals every 5-15 minutes. It’s very easy to burn a cake or breads in a Dutch Oven!

Other Pots and Pans – Well, just get cast iron and make sure that they all have LEGS on them! You want the coals to be able to get up under the pans to cook the food, this way you don’t have to sit the pan ON the coals and risk burning. If your pans don’t have legs, just make sure that you have something for them to sit on like a spyder or cast iron tripod. Make sure they have handles, or bales, too. The idea is to cook safely on the fire. With a lid on your pan, you can lift it, move your pan and generally be in control of the pan while it is hot.

You will need a safe place to sit hot pans coming off the fire, lots of dish towels and all of the usual fireplace accoutrements like a shovel, ash bucket, bucket of water for emergencies, poker, large flat rocks for heating and using to keep food warm and towels or cloths to protect your hands while you lift and move around hot pans. You will also need a large pan or tray to place your utensils on while you are using them to keep them clean.

One last thing I have learned about cooking over a fire. When I am pushed for time and I have hungry people to cook for I have to use higher heat and therefore more grease in my cooking. However, if you are not pressed for time and you can relax a bit, you can cook with lower temperature coals and use less grease. This may not seem important now, but as you cook on the fire more and more you will catch yourself adding more grease to whatever you are cooking because the temperature is too high.

You are going to have to grease the pans a lot more than you are probably used to doing anyway with conventional cooking, especially considering our low fat ways these days. But as you become more experienced, you can cut back on the grease considerably.

One last thing about cooking over a fire. Take your time when you cook over a fire. Make sure your hair is out of the way and that your clothing is not going to drag in the coals. And don’t cook with little ones all around you.