Archive for December, 2011

December 28, 2011

The Everyday Veggie Tray and 3 Dip Recipes

My friend Sandra came over the other day and was telling me about her goal to eat more vegetables in 2012.  She stayed for lunch and happened to see the vegetable tray I use.  She liked it so much she put it on her shopping list.  It makes it super easy to eat a variety of vegetables, it is clear so it reminds you to eat your veggies, and it is quick to pull out for an afternoon snack.  It is called Condiments on Ice.  I bought it at amazon.com, but I think you can find it at various stores. Funny thing is, I have never put ice under it because I always get it back in the fridge before too long, however it is nice that it has many uses other than vegetables.

To help get those vegetables down (the ‘spoonful of sugar’ if you will), here are my three go-to dip recipes:

Nana’s Dill Vegetable Dip (shown in the picture)

1 C sour cream (can use low fat)
1 C mayonnaise (can use low fat, and less if you like)
1 T minced dried onion
1 T dried parsley flakes
1 t dill weed (not seed)
1 t seasoning salt

Mix and chill before serving with vegetables. This is a favorite!

Janelle’s Creamy Cashew Dip (Dairy Free, Raw, and Healthy!)

1 ½ C soaked cashews (cover with water for 2 hrs or so at room temperature, drain)
1 C water
4 t lemon juice
1 t sea salt (less if using table salt)
1 t onion powder
1 t garlic powder
1 t dill weed
(1 t Italian seasoning, but I have not added that before)

Blend in a blender.  Amazing!  I am sure you can really play with the seasonings.  It is “live & raw” and such a healthy dip to have with vegetables or bread.

Ranch Salad Dressing/Dip (From Family Feasts for $75 a Week, Mary Ostyn)

1/3 C mayonnaise (can use low fat)
1/4 C sour cream (can use low fat)
1/4 C milk (add more if you want a thinner consistency)
1 T white vinegar
1/2 t dried parsley
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t onion powder
1/2 t vegetable oil
1/2 t salt (or to taste)
1/4 – 1/2 t dried dill weed

Mix and chill before serving.  I usually make a double recipe.

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December 22, 2011

Dip Just About Anything in Chocolate

My family lives thousands of miles apart, so when we get together we really like to live it up.  Whenever we manage to see each other for Thanksgiving, we carry on through the weekend celebrating Christmas as well.  My sister thought up a fun activity for all the grandkids this year–making their own stocking candy.  They did this by dipping all sorts of things (pretzels, cookies, dried fruit, etc.) in chocolate.  Okay, when I say chocolate, I really mean almond bark (white and milk chocolate) and Wilton Candy Melts (the peppermint flavor).  You use these instead of real chocolate because it melts more easily and at a lower temperature, so there is little chance of burning little fingers. It was fun for the kids, they really can’t mess it up, and they loved adding toppings to their dipped treats.

I made some holiday treats this past week for teachers and friends.  My favorite thing we dipped over Thanksgiving was Oreos in peppermint candy melts so I had to retry that.  You can find the almond bark in the baking aisle of most grocery stores (it looks like small bricks of chocolate).  However, to find the more unique dipping flavors, you go to craft stores.  I found the Wilton Candy Melts at Jo-Anns Fabrics, but you can also look at Michaels in either the cake decorating or wedding aisle.  You melt them in the microwave as stated in the directions.  If you can’t figure out how to put your microwave at 50% power, just melt for less time and stir and continue this until melted and smooth.  I found that my favorite way to dip the Oreo was completely on the bottom and only half way on the top.  I then sprinkled it with crushed peppermint candy cane.  It was heaven!

You will want some parchment or wax paper to place the dipped goods on so they can be easily peeled off after drying.  Oh, and another tip I learned is when you’re finished, wash the bowl immediately or the chocolate will re-harden.  I had to put my bowl back in the microwave to re-melt it so I could wash out the bowl.

This is my first experience with dipping things in chocolate, but I know I’ll continue doing it.   It is economical, fun, you can be creative, and you can include the kids.  Next year, in addition to the Oreos (because let’s be honest, I think I’m already craving them again), I am going to dip long thick pretzels in milk and dark chocolate and also sprinkle them with crushed peppermint candy cane.  I think I see a pattern in what I like, what about you?

December 12, 2011

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

When your children are young, say age 2,  you read them books that they won’t be able to read for themselves until they are at least 5 or 6.    Why do we stop doing this?  When your children are older and can read to themselves, we stop reading to them.  Why?

If you are anything like me, when I starting teaching my oldest her letters, sounds, and then words, I began reading her more and more books that were closer to her reading level than to her listening level.  I hadn’t realized what a mistake I was making until I read the advice provided in Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook.  In fact, Trelease goes as far as to say, “You are insulting a 6-year-old’s brain cells if you are still reading them Cat in the Hat or Hop on Pop.”  Notice the logo on these books that says, “I Can Read It All by Myself.”  They should be practicing reading it to you, not vice versa. These books only have 225 words–words that your children have understood since they were 4.  Your 6-year-old has a 6,000 word vocabulary and can listen to stories with more intricate plots.

I’m sure you probably need no encouragement to read to your child; we all can agree that it is important.  What I want to share are concepts I learned from this book when I read it over a year ago that have absolutely bettered my life as a parent and strengthened my bond with my girls.

Take-Away #1: Read 3-4 years ahead of your child’s grade/age.  Their “listening level” is much higher than their “reading level.

I didn’t really believe this concept when I first read it, but I thought it was worth a try.  I first read a great book called Stone Wolf by Robert Gardiner to my then kindergartener.  Not only could she understand it, she never wanted me to stop.  We went on to read the first three Little House on the Prairie books.  This created a lasting change in my oldest.  She is “such a Laura,” as she puts it, and wishes she could live on the prairie.  She also became much more grateful for gifts when she realized how very little Laura, Mary, and Carrie were given for Christmas and how grateful they were to receive it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love picture books and we read them every night.  But after a few, our night has just begun and we move onto something with a bit more depth. If you have a preschooler, I find this quote helpful in figuring out what Trelease is advising: “I’m not suggesting we abandon picture books.  Instead, add a few novel pages and then a daily chapter to the picture books you read to preschoolers.”

Reading books equal to their listening level builds background knowledge so that your child will be better equipped at school.  Simply stated, they will bring more knowledge to the table. Trelease finds that a child’s listening and reading level normally even out around 8th grade.  The one thing to consider is if the subject matter matches their maturity level.  If you start to read a book and realize that is not a good choice (too mature, boring, etc.), he encourages abandoning it and trying a new one.  Reading should be enjoyable for everyone.

Take-Away #2: Read all the time for as long as you can.

Reading doesn’t only have to occur at bedtime.  For example, you can read at the dinner table or while your children are eating their afternoon snack, and you can also provide books all around the house and even in the car.  If you have more than one child, plan to read to each at the appropriate level, and be prepared for this to take more time.  One of my favorite quotes from Trelease is, “Parenting is time-consuming, time-investing–but not time-saving.”  One time we read Old Yeller by Fred Gipson, and my husband really got into it and did most of the reading.  Since it was a classic that he had not read, it was not hard to find the time to read because he wanted to read it as well.

Take-Away #3: Keep reading-aloud to your child through all the grades.

I always figured that you stopped reading to children once they could read by themselves, but this is not so.  The Commission on Reading has said, “Almost as big a mistake as not reading to children at all is stopping too soon.  Reading should continue through the grades.” Reading together is an experience that will only strengthen your bond as you continue this tradition throughout your child’s life. I’m sure the amount of time you give it or the time of day you do it might change, but it should be part of your relationship.  I have little experience with this concept so far since my oldest is 7; however, I am glad to have read this book to help me realize this is something I want to incorporate into my parenting.

My Personal Experience:

I have been practicing these concepts for over a year now, and hands down, this book has proven to be the most important parenting book I have read.  Utilizing Trelease’s suggestions has increased my children’s vocabulary, reading level, and attention span.  Also, it has strengthened our bond and created a comfortable forum where I can talk with my girls about anything.  And even if none of the above were true, it is just plain fun.  I enjoy reading these books as much as they do, and look forward to reading many more with them in the future.