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Geography Studies: Iceland

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Iceland was the last European country that we studied before our school year ended right before Christmas.  It is also a regularly forgotten member of the continent.  Sometimes it isn’t even included on maps of Europe while you’re looking for one to print for school.  Even better is the fact that my mother lived there for a while because my grandfather’s job moved them there.

While we did listen to the national anthem online and read books from the library, this study ended a bit differently than our others.  Grandpa lent us his slide projector and boxes of slides from their road trips through Iceland.  We set up a screen made from a white blanket for our slide show.  It was lots of fun to watch the kids try to guess which family member was which, not to mention the great pictures of the Icelandic countryside.

My aunts and uncle insisted that we must try to find pylsurs, Icelandic hot dogs made of pork, beef, and lamb.  However, I never found a place to buy them in the States, and I imagine they’d be expensive anyway.  Another option mentioned in our books was hamburgers, but though it may be a regular option in Iceland, it didn’t seem to be a memorable option for our schooling.  So with that in mind and other unique options such as puffin, walrus, and whale equally unattainable, we decided to go with lamb.

We seared lamb chops in my cast iron skillet with salt and garlic.  Then I served it with salad, rhubarb compote, and Icelandic potato salad.  Rhubarb apparently grows very well in Iceland.

Rhubarb Compote

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup frozen chopped rhubarb (fresh would work)

Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a small sauce pan.  Add the rhubarb and simmer until reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes.  Serve warm or chilled.  It also makes a good jam for toast, or warmed as a thick syrup on pancakes.


I used the last of out Hungarian Dill Pickles for the potato salad.  Click on the links below for the recipes for the mayonnaise and sour cream that I use.  I simply substitute vinegar for the lemon juice in all the recipes.  Not everyone in the house can have eggs.  Instead of mixing them in, I sliced them to top the potato salad of a select few in the house.

Icelandic potato salad and Lamb chops with rhubarb compote

Kartoflusalat (Potato Salad)

1 3/4 lbs red potatoes
3 eggs, hard-boiled and sliced
2 pears, cored and chopped
1/4 cup chopped pickles
1/4 onion, small diced
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup soy-free, vegan sour cream (scroll to the last recipe in the post)
1/2 teaspoon Ruth’s Special Blend Curry Powder
salt, to taste

Boil the potatoes until tender.  Cool and cube the potatoes.  Chop the rest of the ingredients as noted above.

Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl and chill for at least six hours before serving (At least the original instructions said to chill the dish.  I didn’t plan that far ahead, but our slightly warm potato salad was good!  The leftovers were even better).


The Eighth Day of Christmas: Corn-Free Tamales

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Most tamales are gluten free, while many are dairy free; you can also make them vegan with a seasoned black bean filling.  They are a big project, but well worth your time (if you are a fan).  Making them yourself cuts the cost dramatically, and they freeze successfully for up to a year.  It is a Mexican tradition to make tamales for Christmas.  While they can be made at any time of the year, it makes the most sense to me to make them at Christmas when all of the ingredients go on sale at the ethnic markets.  It’s also the only time of year that you can easily find banana leaves.

I started making tamales when we found out that Buster couldn’t eat peppers.  Trust me when I say that the only way to find a pepper free tamal is to make it yourself.  (Language nitpicking: Tamal is the proper Spanish singular, while tamale is the American misunderstanding of the word.)

We hit a hitch last year after we discovered Little Man’s corn allergy.  Tamales are a staple of our almost-everything-from-scratch diet.  What would I do without this emergency meal?  That’s when I found out that some tamales are steamed in banana leaves instead of corn husks.  With that hurdle passed, all I had to do was tackle the masa.  What other gluten free flour would produce comparable results?  After my experience baking, I knew sorghum reacts similarly to corn in baking.  I decided to try it.  A little tweaking later and now Little Man (and my mom) can eat tamales!

Each year I spend two days making a large batch, and then they serve as a quick meal straight out of the freezer many times throughout the year.  The first day you simply simmer the meat until it’s tender and season it for the next day’s work.  Don’t forget to save the broth too.  The second day you mix the masa, assemble the tamales, and steam them.

This website is the one I used to learn how to prepare tamales.  I simply leave out the spices that contain peppers and follow the rest exactly.  Well almost exactly…  I now skim the lard off the top of the chilled broth from the first day’s meat preparation.   Then, I use that as the fat in the masa.  I only use cooking oil after the lard runs out.  Waste not, want not.

The only special piece of equipment you need is a steamer pot.  You can buy big fancy pots just for tamales, but I just use my pasta pot with it’s large insert.

Before I get to the recipe, I must point out that tamal making is a big job.  Be sure to have at least one helper, but many hands make light work.  This year we invited friends for cooking and eating on New Year’s Day, and afterwards we sent them home with leftovers.  Thanks for coming, Patrick and Heather, we had a great time!

When I make vegan tamales, I soak and cook 3 lbs. of black beans, drain, and season them with the same spices as described in the aforementioned linked recipe.  You can also add fresh corn off 4-6 cobs to the blend for added texture–unless you are making corn-free tamales.

Also take a look at the flavor options on this site.  They even have dessert tamales.  I see experimentation in my future!

Corn-Free Tamales

1 package fresh banana leaves
prepared meat or bean filling (1.5-2 cups for this amount of banana leaves)
Warm broth

Masa (start small, you can always make more if necessary)
2 cups sorghum flour
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp salt
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/3 cup lard, canola, or safflower oil
Warm broth (quantities vary by day and humidity)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Wash and dry the banana leaves.  Cut them into strips about 8″ X 10-12″ and remove the tough spine if necessary.  Kitchen shears make this job go quickly.

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.  Cut in oil until well distributed.   Add warm broth about 2-4 tbsp at a time until the masa is a thick peanut butter consistency.  The masa should spread well without cracking too much.  It is very forgiving at this stage, so you can add more flour if you get it a little too thin.

On a cookie sheet warm 3-4 cut banana leaves in the oven for 2-3 minutes.  Be careful not to over warm them or they will dry up at the edges.  This process keeps them from splitting when you fold the tamales.

Spread about 1/4- 1/3 cup masa (to taste) in the middle of the leaf.  Spread in a circular motion or press down with your fingers.  Fill with about 2 Tbsp of meat or beans (to taste).

Gently fold the banana leaf around the fillings to make a long tube, then fold the ends towards the seam to make a small rectangular envelope.  Now many recipes will tell you to tie the package with cooking string, but I simply let gravity help the process and lie them on their flaps to keep them closed.

Place the tamales in your steamer and steam for one hour over medium heat.  Check the water level periodically to make sure that you don’t scorch your pot.  Don’t ask me how I know this little tip.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

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Today I was busy preparing food for John and Buster to take on their road trip.  I’m sending hummus, vegetables, fruit, and sandwiches. I can’t share the bread recipe, because the changes I made weren’t good enough to share.

I bought John peanut butter.   Buster can’t have peanuts, so I made almond butter in my Vitamix.  You can make it with raw almonds, but it is faster and easier on your blender if you roast them first.

Since I had the oven on to roast the almonds, I decided to go ahead and toast the pumpkin seeds that had been drying on the counter since Monday.   Many recipes tell you to roast pumpkin seeds at 350-400 degrees for a short amount of time.  I always get distracted and burn them that way.  My coping strategy is to toast them at 250 degrees for 45-60 minutes instead.  Even if you get a little distracted, they take a lot longer to burn at the lower temperature.

Up until today I’d always just tossed the seeds with a little oil and salt and called it a day.  Today, I was taking inventory in the spice cabinet and remembered some pins that have been floating past me on Pinterest lately.  I got inspired by a few of them.  I would love to try this Ginger-Soy flavor (but with coconut aminos) one day.  Sadly, I used the last of my coconut aminos in dinner the other night.  Instead, these are the flavors I chose.

Pumpkin Seeds

2 cups pumpkin seeds
2 Tbsp mild oil of your choice
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp rosemary powder
1/2 to 1 tsp salt, to taste

2 cups pumpkin seeds
4 tsp coconut oil
4 tsp Ruth’s Special Blend Curry Powder
1/2 to 1 tsp salt, to taste

2 cups pumpkin seeds
3 Tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch of ginger
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.  Pick your flavor.  Mix the seeds with the other ingredients.  Spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  Bake for 45-60 minutes, until golden brown and crisp when you bite into one.


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We love hummus so much that we turn it into a complete meal.  I make several flavors, but today it was simply the plain chickpea variety.  We are allergic to citrus, so I use vinegar in the place of the traditional lemon juice.

I also adjust the recipe since I freeze my cooked beans into three cup portions, which might fill between two or three cans.  (It’s been too long since I’ve bought beans that way.)  I made a double batch tonight, so that I could send some on the road with John and Buster while they travel for a few days.

I serve the hummus with a variety of dipping vegetables and some sort of whole grain.  Sometimes that grain is simply cooked brown rice.  Other times it is these tortillas with brown rice flour, palm oil shortening, and guar gum.  I always use brown rice flour instead of white rice flour.

Today, I needed something that would travel well as leftovers, so I got tortilla chips.  Little Man can’t have corn, so I splurged on a bag of Beanitos for him.  See that dark brown chip in the picture?  That is a Beanito.

I’ve never served fruit with this meal before today.  However, our garden offered up this cantaloupe of it’s own free will.  I didn’t plant cantaloupes on purpose, but this one grew out of the compost I sprinkled in the garden.  This little one is the only one that the vine produced and it ripened just in time for the cold weather to arrive.

3 cups cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas) with cooking liquid
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted or raw (or tahini in a lower powered blender)
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 tsp to 1 tsp salt, to taste
3 Tbsp vinegar of your choice (try white, rice, or wine; see which you like best)
extra water, optional

Place all ingredients in a high powered blender (I use a Vitamix).  Turn the blender slowly to high.  Use the tamper as needed to incorporate all the ingredients.  Add water, as desired, to get the hummus to your preferred texture.  If the hummus is too runny for your taste without water, just drain some of the cooking liquid next time.

My Kind of California Rolls

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I break a lot of rules in this recipe.  I don’t make my California Rolls inside out.  I don’t use sesame seeds.  I saute the carrots with garlic, ginger, and sesame oil instead of using them raw.  I don’t cool the rice before rolling the California Rolls.  I use shrimp instead of imitation crab for allergy reasons.  I use short grain brown rice instead of white sushi rice.  We eat them like a burrito instead of sliced in to cute little circles.  Nevertheless, we like them this way.  I guess that’s all that matters.

I learned to make California Rolls from Alton Brown.  He really is my favorite TV Chef.  He’s the perfect mix of Science Guy meets foodie for my inner geek.  If you’ve never watched, give an episode a try.  Here is Alton Brown’s recipe for California Rolls and the corresponding video (here is the entire episode) for those who want to see a recipe that uses mainline instructions.

Pickled radish is hard to come by.  Much of the time the ones you find have corn syrup and food dyes in the ingredient list.  Either one of those would strike it from our preferred ingredient list, so most of the time I just use cucumber.  I’m having an inclination to pickle my own daikon radish to try sometime.  Should I?

Sushi rolls are traditionally served with a variety of condiments.  Pickled ginger, wasabi paste, and soy sauce are the three most common condiments.

For our family, soy sauce is out, and we may not have an alternative when this meal is prepared, so it is normally omitted.

Pickled ginger isn’t popular here either, so I just add powdered ginger to the carrots.

Wasabi paste is an acquired taste too.  You likely won’t find pure wasabi in the United States.  Wasabi is expensive and it isn’t easy to grow.  Most of the ones you find commercially do not even have wasabi in them.  They just contain horseradish, mustard, and green food dye, so no dyes for us.   Then I found a wasabi powder that has horseradish, mustard, and wasabi.  Yes, wasabi is last, but it has no dyes, so I got some.   I used this simple recipe for wasabi paste.  Then I let everyone try it for the first time today.  I only gave the kids a tiny dot each, but the results were pretty comical.  Buster wouldn’t wait for instructions before licking it straight off the plate, and he refuses to try it again.  Snuggle Bunny followed his lead, but was willing to try it again with a generous bite of sushi.  Little Man forgot about his until the end when he was polishing off his plate; that was an unwelcome surprise!  John and I thought it was a nice change, but I don’t know if I’ll order more in the future.  One little jar is going to be enough for six meals easily, so it should last a while.

What is your favorite sushi condiment?


You will need a bamboo sushi mat to successfully roll your own California rolls.  They aren’t expensive and can be purchased at Asian grocery stores.

My Kind of California Rolls

3 c. brown sushi rice, cooked
5 Tbsp rice vinegar (to taste)
4 Tbsp sugar (to taste)
2 tsp salt (to taste)

1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ginger powder
1 carrot, peeled and grated

1 avocado, sliced
2-3 green onion, thinly sliced (optional)
1 cucumber or pickled radish sliced into long strips
1/2 – 2/3 cup cooked shrimp, defrosted and chopped (it’s easier to roll that way)

1 package roasted nori sheets

While sushi rice is cooking, mix vinegar, salt, and sugar in a measuring cup.

Wash and prepare vegetables and shrimp while waiting for the rice.

Sauté sesame oil, garlic, ginger, and grated carrot in a small skillet until tender (about 3-5 minutes).

In a large bowl, mix carrots and vinegar solution into the rice.

Place 1 sheet of nori rough side down on your bamboo rolling mat.

Coat a thin layer of rice over the entire surface of nori.

Pile avocado, cucumber, and shrimp in a line about 3/4 of the way down the sheet.

Roll sushi from the edge closest to the shrimp filling. Do not roll mat into sushi. Readjust the mat as needed to roll the sushi tightly. The completed product should not unroll.

Geography Studies: Hungary

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I’m trying to kick the last of this cold so that we can make it to a family reunion this weekend.  I declared today a day to rest and ate leftovers around our house since we’re planning picnic meals for being on the road on Saturday.  Hummus and veggies, fruit salad, chips, and meat to grill when we get there–simple fare.

We have been studying Hungary in our geography the last two weeks.  We read plenty from the library on Hungary and listened to the national anthem and folk music over breakfast.  Maps were marked, flags colored, and notebooks appended.

The art project from Global Art was simple.  Did you know that ball point pens were invented in Hungary?  We followed the instructions to make a large scale ball point pen model from things around the house and drew with our “pen.”  It was no surprise that Buster drew a rendition of “The Titanic.”  Snuggle Bunny drew a princess, while Little Man’s contribution was the selection of green ink in a work that fits his abstract style.

Ball Point Pen Drawings
Hungarian food presented itself as quite a challenge for our diet.  Paprika plays a prominent role in Hungarian food.  Goulash, Chicken Paprikash, and even Hungarian Stuffed Cabbage are all supposed to be dominantly flavored with paprika.  The little peppers decorate houses alongside garlic while they dry for use throughout the year.  I was at a loss.  Take out the paprika and Goulash turns into something very close to the Irish Stew from two weeks ago.  Yes, maybe with noodles or dumplings it would have been different enough.  Stuffed cabbage wouldn’t be too bad, but then I found this:

“‘Kovászos uborka’, home-made pickled cucumber with a hint of dill, is best-served chilled. The secret is in the preparation; natural fermentation is preferred to vinegar, giving it a unique tangy taste. It is so popular that a Hungarian summer would not be the same without the sight of huge pickle jars placed on sunny window sills and balconies. In the winter months when fresh produce is at a premium, pickles fill the void.”

Dill Pickles

Remember all those pickling cucumbers that I have from our CSA?

We learned that true Hungarian pickles are held under the brine with a thick slice of rye bread while they ferment, but rye has gluten.  Instead, we used a small ramekin.  It fit just perfectly in the top of my gallon sized jar.  I used this recipe for a starting point.

Buster chopped the cucumbers into chunks of varying sizes.  It was enough to fill a gallon jar, so it was probably 3-4 lbs of pickling cucumbers.

Snuggle Bunny helped measure these spices into the bottom of the jar:
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and gently smashed
a pinch of black tea, for the tannins described in the aforementioned recipe
1 package of fresh dill from the store
2 Tbsp Mustard seeds
3 bay leaves

Then she warmed 5 Tbsp of salt in 2 quarts of water on the stove, until it was fully dissolved for the brine.

Once the cucumbers were chopped and the brine cooled, we filled the jar to the top of the cucumbers with brine, weighed it down with the ramekin until all the slices were submerged, and the lid was tightened.  It took ours 4 days to turn cloudy which is the sign that the pickles are done.  Be sure to keep the jar on a plate or in a shallow dish to catch any brine overflow that may happen even when you left the proper “1-2 inch head-space.”

Once the pickles are done, open the jar over the sink to remove the ramekin.  Store in the refrigerator and enjoy a slice or two whenever you like.

Homemade Broth

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With people turning up sick this week I realized that I am running short on broth in the freezer.  I save lots of money by making this item from scratch.  One specialty item that many people are not aware of is broth.  Shouldn’t broth be full of simple ingredients?  This is not always so.  Next time you are at the store grab a can or box and read the ingredients.  “Modified food starch” can be full of gluten or corn.   “Soy protein isolates” and “spices” are also deal breakers for me.  Even the organic, certified gluten free broth still contains “spices.”

Besides, have you priced organic broth lately?  I almost caved and bought some last month for simplicity’s sake when family was coming over for a big dinner.  Then I looked at the price.  It was almost five dollars a quart!  I couldn’t do it.  I went home set my alarm for early the next morning, then threw a chicken skeleton from my freezer in a pot to simmer most of the day and went back to bed until the kids got up.  It wasn’t until this week, that I thought about using the slow cooker all day instead.  It worked perfectly.  By evening, I had a pot full of nicely simmered broth and the house.  Next time, I may even try to simmer it all night long.

You can make broth from any kind of bones.  Chicken, turkey, duck, beef, lamb, pork, deer, and more.  If you can eat it, you can make broth from it’s bones.  Save bones in your freezer until you are ready to make broth.  Save them from your pork chops, steaks, ribs, roasted chickens, and even from that leg of lamb from Pascha.  Now, I don’t mix varieties, but I imagine you could if you wanted.   There are millions of recipes for broth on the Internet, but I like to keep it simple with just two ingredients.  You can add salt and spices later based on the meal at hand.

I like to package my broth in old yogurt containers.  I beg these off of family and neighbors because John doesn’t eat enough yogurt to keep me supplied.  I fill these with about three cups of broth, label with scotch tape tags, and chill them in the refrigerator before moving them to the deep freezer.

Bone Broth

Put the bones in your pot or slow cooker and fill the pot with water as full as you are comfortable.  Cover with a lid.  Turn it on to low and simmer for 6-12 hours depending on your day.  Once it has simmered for a while skim the foam and gunk off the surface with a slotted spoon.  Add water to keep the bones covered as needed.  When you declare the broth done, strain out the bones and discard.  Allow the broth to cool 20 minutes or so before packaging for storage.


I don’t just make bone broth, I also make vegetable broth.  I never was comfortable with recipes that told you to boil your veggies into oblivion, then discard them like you do the bones.  That just seems wasteful to me.  I take a different approach.  I make a veggie puree and use it as concentrated vegetable broth.  For this you need a good blender.  I have a Vitamix, but I bet this will work just fine in any blender.  Just be sure not to overload your model.  If you do not have a heavy duty blender, you might chop your vegetables a bit smaller to reduce strain on your motor.

Any vegetables work.  Onions, carrots, celery, leeks, fennel, squash, spinach; the possibilities are endless.  Though, most of the time I keep it simple.  This week I had lots of celery and carrots that needed to be used, so I started with that base.  This is just the combination I used this time.  I don’t think I’ve ever made it exactly the same way twice.  Think about trying this the next time you have vegetables that might go bad otherwise.

Vegetable Broth

1 onion, quartered
5 Carrots, chopped in 2-3 inch sections
5 stalks of celery, chopped in 2-3 inch sections
2 zucchini, cut in chunks
2 yellow squash, cut in chunks
4 cloves garlic

Fill you container comfortably with chopped vegetables, then fill about halfway up the vegetables with water.  Blend until smooth.  Pour into your soup pot.  Repeat until you are out of extra vegetables or your pot is full.  Heat over medium until gently boiling.  Reduce and simmer for another 8-10 minutes.  Cool and package for storage.

Remember I consider this concentrated broth.  It is  supposed to be thick.  You will notice that I use equal parts vegetable broth and water whenever I use it in a recipe.  Keep a lookout for it in tomorrow’s recipe.

Now I have quarts and quarts of valuable gluten free broth that I made with minimal effort for pennies on the dollar.