Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Cheesy Hashbrown Casserole (gluten-free : nutrient-dense)

A few of you asked me to blog the recipe for Cheesy Hashbrown Casserole, so here it is! This simple recipe combines hash brown potatoes, cheese, and gravy into a yummy casserole.

Cheesy Hashbrown Casserole is my husband's current favorite lunch to take along to the office. I make a large batch and freeze single-serving portions in 2-cup glass Pyrex storage dishes, which he then re-heats in a toaster oven at work. He eats this as a main course for lunch, but it also makes a delicious side dish at any time of day.

Cheesy Hash Brown Casserole
Serves 8-10
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) of butter, preferably of the rich yellow nutrient-dense dense type
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped small
  • 2 medium cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup chicken broth, preferably homemade 
  • 1&1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tsp fine-ground celtic sea salt
  • 6 Tb white rice flour*
  • 16 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Two-16 ounce bags of organic frozen hashbrowns (regular and southern-style both work fine; I use either Cascadia Farms or Sno-Pac Southern Style Organic has browns) 
  1. Melt the butter in a very large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat.  Add the chopped onion and saute for about 10-15 minutes, until the onion is translucent and soft. I like to use a bamboo spatula to saute the onion. It's okay if the onion takes on a bit of brown, caramelized color while cooking.
  2. In the meantime, mince the garlic. Shred the cheese using the large side of a box grater.
  3. Combine the milk and broth in a large bowl.  Whisk the liquid while pouring in the rice flour. Whisk it well, so there are no lumps.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  5. When the onion is done, add the minced garlic and saute just until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  6. Whisk the broth and milk mixture into the pan with the onion. Bring to a simmer and cook for a few minutes. This mixture will get rather thick because of the rice flour, but that is just what it should do. Turn off the heat.
  7. Fold the frozen hash browns into the onion/gravy mixture. If you did not use a very large skillet, you may need to use a large bowl for this.
  8. In a 9X13 glass baking dish, layer half of the hash brown mixture, then half of the shredded cheese, then the remaining hash brown mixture, and top with the remaining cheese.
  9. Bake the casserole for about 45 minutes, until bubbling and lightly browned. If desired, the broiler can be turned on for the last 3-5 minutes to brown the cheese, but watch it carefully as it can burn easily with the broiler on!
  10. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.
*If you want to know more about why I use white rice instead of brown, check out this article

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Monday, May 9, 2016

My Family's Spring Diet

When I blogged a few months ago about My Family's Winter Diet, I promised to share what our Spring, Summer, and Fall diets look like as well. We are still primarily eating a nutrient-dense diet, but rather than aiming for perfection, I am aiming for an unstressed, maintainable diet that my family can eat for many years to come. We do eat somewhat seasonally, so our diet changes a bit with the seasons to reflect which fruits and vegetables are in season.  

Each Saturday morning, I spend a few hours in the kitchen preparing baked goods for the coming week. Typically, this includes making one custard cake (clafoutis), one or two batches of muffins, and perhaps some cookies or waffles to freeze. By preparing these items on the weekend, our breakfasts throughout the weekdays are very quick-and-easy. Here is a snapshot of our Spring diet.


  • Since I wake up early, I often eat two breakfasts. My first breakfast is generally simple, followed by a more substantial breakfast a couple hours later. 
    • My second breakfast is most often sprouted whole wheat or white sourdough toast with eggs and frozen veggie mix sauteed in butter, usually with a glass of raw milk. I have a dose of extra-virgin cod liver oil with my second breakfast perhaps once a week (as determined by when I feel a craving for it). At this time of year, I spend so much time outside that I don't seem to crave cod liver oil as much as I do during the winter months, so I reduce how often I take it to match my desire. 



  • My husband takes frozen homemade leftovers to work for lunch everyday, which he re-heats in a toaster oven.  This Spring, his favorite leftover lunches are:
  • This Spring, the lunches my children and I are eating most often are:
    • Cheesy scrambled egg sandwiches, with mayonnaise, served on sprouted whole wheat bread or gluten-free waffle
    • Lunchmeat rolls with cheddar cheese, homemade honey mustard, and fermented pickles, with a side of avocado oil chips or crackers (Absolutely gluten-free flatbread is a great, grain-free option that we all enjoy)
    • Leftover soup (from the freezer)
    • Canned sardines, served with buttered crackers or sourdough toast (or waffle for my daughter)


Snacks and Desserts

  • The only snacks my kids are allowed between breakfast and lunch is fruits or veggies, which they have to get for themselves. That makes it where they are certain to be hungry at lunch (whereas previously when they were allowed more-filling snack options, they often didn't eat well at lunch). In the spring, their fruit and veggie snack options are:
  • My husband typically has one of the following snacks while at work:
  • Perhaps 40-50% of the time, the kids will have a small snack after our afternoon Quiet Time, usually consisting of nuts, fruit, or cookies (such as butter shortbread or chocolate macaroons). I am always ravenous when I wake from my daily nap, so I always have an afternoon snack such as plain whole-milk yogurt, butter shortbread, apple and cheese, etc.
  • The kids and my husband have a snack before bed every night; usually fruit, fried fruit, yogurt, or applesauce. About twice per week they will have dessert such as ice cream or cookies. I'm not generally hungry after dinner, so I don't usually eat anything before bed.
  • Perhaps once a week, my husband and I will each have a package of Justin's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups.



The drinks we consume the vast majority of the time are:



  • I make a from-scratch dinner meal about 2-3 times per week (and I always make a large portion so there will be enough to freeze for my husband's lunches, or for us to have as leftovers). I can't stand eating the same thing two days in a row, so I plan to eat leftovers a few days later, or freeze them for a future use. This Spring, as the temperature is warming up, we move away from soup and onto other foods. The dinners I'm making most-often are:
  • Side dishes I've been making most often this Spring are:
    • Butter smash boiled potatoes (I haven't blogged this recipe, but I will if there is interest)
    • Coleslaw with cabbage, carrots, and celery (I could blog this recipe, too)
  • On days when I don't make a from-scratch dinner, we have leftovers or dinners which include some already-prepared ingredients (which I consider to be compromise dinners). The ingredients in our compromise dinners aren't absolutely perfect, but they are pretty good, and incorporating these items into our diets allows for busy days when I don't have hours to spend in the kitchen. Our most commonly-consumed compromise dinners this  Spring are:
    • Pizza made with Against the Grain crust, quick-and-easy homemade pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, and sauteed mushrooms
    • Nitrate-free sausages such as kielbasa or hot dogs, served with frozen sweet potato fries or chips, and fermented pickles
    • Tuna salad or chicken salad sandwiches, made with canned tuna or chicken, served with kettle chips and fermented pickles
  • We eat out at a restaurant about 2-3 times per month. We also often eat Sunday dinner at my mom's house, and are often blessed with leftovers to often bring home which will make for an easy meal some other day of the week.




Do you find it helpful or interesting to see what we're eating?  What are your favorite Spring meals? 


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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Parmesan Fried Chicken (grain-free : nutrient-dense : gluten-free : primal)

I am very excited to share this recipe for Parmesan Fried Chicken. With a crispy crust and juicy meat, this amazing recipe has quickly become a family favorite in our house. The ingredients are simple and nutritious: the chicken is coated with a grain-free mixture of Parmesan and arrowroot, and fried to perfection in a combination of butter and coconut oil. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as my family does!

Parmesan Fried Chicken
Serves 5

  • 5 skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, lightly packed
  • 1/2 cup arrowroot starch
  • 1/4 tsp finely-ground celtic sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • one egg, preferably from pastured hens
  • 1 Tb whole milk
  • 1 Tb grassfed butter
  • 1 Tb refined coconut oil
  1.  Debone the chicken thighs. There is a simple tutorial here that shows how to remove the bones.
  2. Grate the Parmesan cheese. I like to use the small holes on a box grater to grate the Parmesan.
  3. In a pie plate (or other wide-bottomed dish), combine the Parmesan, arrowroot, salt, pepper, and paprika. Stir to combine with a fork.
  4. Break the egg into a medium bowl. Add 1 Tb milk, and beat with a fork until well-combined.
  5. Set up the work-line with chicken, followed by the bowl of egg, followed by the Parmesan mixture.
  6. Dip each chicken thigh into the egg mixture, and then into the Parmesan mixture. Coat all sides of the chicken with the Parmesan mixture.
  7. Once all of the chicken is coated in the Parmesan mixture, melt 1 Tb each of butter and refined coconut oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. I use a 12-inch stainless steel skillet for this recipe.
  8. Once the butter and coconut oil are shimmery-hot, add the chicken to the skillet.  My skillet is large enough to cook all 5 chicken thighs at once, but if your skillet is smaller, you may need to cook a few at a time. If desired, cover the skillet with a splatter screen to cut down on the mess on the stovetop.
  9. Cook the chicken for about 8-10 minutes, until it has developed a nicely-browned crust. Then flip the chicken and cook the other side for 8-10 minutes. Do NOT move the chicken around much once it is cooking, as that will prevent the crust from cooking properly and make the chicken more likely to stick to the skillet.You may need to reduce the heat to medium if the skillet starts to get overly hot.
  10. Use a probe thermometer to check the temperature in the thickest part of a chicken thigh. The chicken is done when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. This is an important step that ensures the chicken will be cooked perfectly.
  11. Remove the chicken from the skillet and allow it to rest for a few minutes before serving. The rest time allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. 
  12. Serve and enjoy! I love to serve Parmesan Fried Chicken with potatoes and simple buttered veggies or coleslaw.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Taste-Testing Storebought Soups

My family hasn't bought canned soup in about a decade. When we transitioned to a nutrient-dense diet, storebought soups and frozen dinners were removed from our diets and replaced with homemade foods for their superior taste and nutrition. Until recently, I've had no intention of re-introducing canned foods into our diets, but then...

My whole family had the flu. And we all had it bad. And it lasted well over a week. We did manage to make-do with leftovers and lots of simple foods while we were sick; thankfully, I had roasted a bunch of chicken and cooked a large batch of potatoes the day before I came down ill. But this experience did lead me to the realization that there is a place for some easy, off-the-shelf foods in our pantry. While I don't intend for them to become a significant part of our diets, I now plan to keep our pantry stocked with at least a small amount of canned foods for those times when cooking just isn't possible.

Thus, my family has embarked on a taste-testing experiment with organic canned soups. I'm focusing on brands and flavors that are locally available. So far, we've tried 9 different flavors, from 3 different companies. Some of the soups have been unbelievably horrendous; others have been decent and will have a place in our pantry.

None of the soups we've tried have been anywhere near as good as my homemade soups, but I didn't expect that they would anyway. Our goal has been to find some decent canned soups to have around for extra-busy times and extenuating circumstances. So while none of these soups rival our usual homemade fare, there are at least a few soups that I can keep on-the-shelf.

Our Soup Taste-Testing Methodology 

To give each soup a fair taste-test, we've done the following:
  • We try a few different soups side-by-side, so we can compare them.
  • In-between trying different soups, we make sure to clear our palates with a neutral drink or food such as milk, lemon water, crackers, etc.
  • Salt can be added to taste.
  • Soups that contain a large-proportion of ingredients that certain family members (ahem, my husband) dislike are not tried by those family members.  

So far, we have not found any particular type of canned soup that is well-liked by all four members of our family. That is pretty standard, though, as even a fair amount of my home-cooked food is loved by three and tolerated by one (and that one who doesn't love it is not always the same person). So, no big surprise there. Let's start with the worst.

The Worst

The Worst Soups are those that were hated by a majority of our family.

Pacific Organic Chicken Noodle Soup
This soup was the only one hated by all four of us.  It was an unappetizing gray color, it smelled unpleasant, and it tasted awful. Everyone tasted it once, and then the rest was thrown into the chicken-scraps pail. 0 out of 4 liked it. 

Amy's Organic Soups Hearty Minestrone with Vegetables
This soup combines beans, lentils, and vegetables.  Although that sounds like a promising start, there was a flavor that we didn't like, seeming to come from the spices.  Only one of us finished our small portion of this soup, and that one portion was not enjoyed much. 1/2 out of 4 liked it.

Amy's Organic Soups Chunky Vegetable
This soup should have been good. It's ingredients were just vegetables, salt, and pepper, with no spices. Yet, inexplicably, it tasted rather bad. 3 of us hated it, and 1 disliked it. No one finished their portions. 0 out of 4 liked it.

Pacific Organic Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
This soup combined chicken, wild rice, and vegetables. It didn't look or smell very good. Two of us hated it, one of use disliked it, and one of us thought it was tolerable but not good. 1/2 out of 4 liked it.

Simply Balanced Organic Tomato Basil Soup
This soup actually tasted okay for the first couple bites. 3 out of 4 of us thought it started out okay. But then, we all noticed that the flavor seemed to deteriorate and an off-flavor developed. To me, the off-flavor had a sweet-ish metallic flavor (which is surprising since this soup was in a paper carton, not a can).  None of us finished our small portions. 0 out of 4 liked it.

Pretty Good Soups

Pretty Good Soups are those that were liked by greater than half of our family.

Amy's Organic Soups Lentil Vegetable Soup (Light in Sodium)
This thick soup was a nice combination of lentils with vegetables and potatoes. Since my husband doesn't like lentils, he didn't participate in this taste-test. This soup did need extra salt. 2 out of 3 liked this soup quite a lot. And it was even tastier with some freshly-grated Parmesan cheese on top. 

Simply Balanced Organic Chicken Noodle Soup
The flavor of this soup was reminiscent of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup, which my husband and I both loved in childhood. This soup did need added salt. All four of us actually liked the flavor, but one lamented that the chicken was "too dry" (and it was, because the chunks of chicken were somewhat large and overcooked as most canned soup meats are). This soup did have one ingredient I generally try to avoid (canola oil), but only a small amount.  3&1/2 out of 4 liked it.

Amy's Organic Soups Chunky Tomato Bisque (Light in Sodium)
This soup had a beautiful red color and nice aroma. It was the only "Low Sodium" soup that did not need added salt. The chunky tomatoes gave it a better consistency than the usual pureed tomato soups. 3 out of 4 liked it. 

Amy's Organic Soups Minestrone (Light in Sodium)
This soup had a nice combination of beans and vegetables.  Straight from the can, it did need a lot of added salt. But once salt was added, this soup was okay. 3 out of 4 liked it.

The Best

None. A Best Soup would be one that was well-liked by all four members of our family. So far, we haven't found any Best Soups, but I'm still hoping to. We'll keep trying.

Do you stock any canned soups in your pantry? Which ones are your favorites?


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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Real-Life Examples of First-Aid Treatment with Arnica

Arnica Montana is homeopathy's most well-known remedy, and for good reason. It is a most-excellent remedy for first-aid of a variety of different conditions. I've blogged previously about many uses for Arnica, but this time I wanted to share some real-life examples of Arnica being used to treat my family.

Arnica is the first-aid remedy that gets used most often in our household. While we can easily go weeks without needing any at all, there are also weeks like last week when every member of our household benefited from the amazing healing properties of homeopathic Arnica. It was a week that had me feeling grateful for Arnica, for sure!

Hypersensitivities Call For Modified Treatment

From a homeopathic perspective, all four members of my family are hypersensitive. People who are hypersensitive can be identified as those who exhibit any of the following:
  • sensitivities to noises, lights, and/or odors,
  • food sensitivities,
  • sensitivities to environmental influences such as detergents and lotions, and
  • sensitivities to conventional medicines and/or anesthesia.

Because of our hypersensitivities, we all have a propensity to having aggravations (overreactions) from homeopathic remedies. So, whereas a person with normal sensitivity could take multiple dry pellets of homeopathic Arnica in a first-aid situation, my family does better with smaller doses, lower potencies, and more-conservative dosing. Thus, the incidents described below are describing how we dose with Arnica given our hypersensitivities. I've also included some guidance for dosing without hypersensitivities in each of these examples. 

Disclaimer: The uses of homeopathic remedies described in this article are provided for educational use only. 

Scooter Injury

I was in the house one late afternoon when I heard a loud wailing outside. I ran out to find my daughter, who had been riding her new scooter in our driveway, crying hard and holding her leg. A quick examination showed a horizontal bruise forming across her shin, where her leg had landed hard against her scooter. Arnica is renowned for its ability to prompt healing of bumps and bruises, so it was the remedy of choice to use. Because I know that my daughter is prone to overreacting to even minor injuries, I started her first-aid treatment with only an application of homemade Arnica lotion.

Then I watched how my daughter progressed for the next 30 minutes. She was limping badly, and wincing when she put weight on the injured leg, so I could tell this injury could benefit from more than just Arnica lotion. Upon examining the injury again, a definite lump was forming over the horizontal bruise, and it was very tender. This prompted me to take her first-aid to the next step by giving my daughter an olfactory dose of Arnica 30x from a wet solution, which I keep on-hand in the kitchen cupboard for just such instances. (I make my wet solution of Arnica by dissolving one Arnica pellet in half a cup of water and then adding several Tablespoons of vodka to act as a preservative. The vodka makes this wet solution shelf-stable for months.) My daughter's olfactory dose of Arnica was administered by having her inhale one large sniff of the liquid solution through her nose.

(If my daughter was not hypersensitive, I would have given her one dry pellet of Arnica 30x or 30c by mouth upon my first examination, instead of using only Arnica lotion at that time.)

My daughter continued to limp on her leg that evening, but was in noticeably less pain. Before bed, I applied Arnica ointment, preferring it over lotion because it is thick and would be able to work overnight on the injury. When my daughter woke the next morning, there was no longer any pain, swelling, or bruising! As the day wore on, a small amount of bruising started to return to the injury, so some more Arnica lotion was applied. Nothing else was needed because the injury was no longer causing any pain. This injury healed rapidly and with much less pain because of the use homeopathic Arnica.


Landing Hard on the Head

My children, my mother, and I visited White Sands National Monument last week. While my son was sliding down a very steep sand dune, he lost control of his sled saucer and flipped over, landing hard on his head. He was crying and holding his head, saying it hurt on both sides. My son had already crash-landed on the dunes several times with no tears or crying, so I knew this was more serious since he was very upset.

Arnica excels at treating head injuries and is a great remedy for use when there could be a concussion, so I quickly got my first-aid kit from the car (where it had been kept cool with an ice pack). I administered one pellet of Arnica 6c by mouth to my son, and allowed him to suck on it for about 30 seconds before asking him to spit it out. (If my son was not hypersensitive, I would have used a higher potency, such as Arnica 30x or 30c, and I would have allowed him to finish the pellet rather than having him spit it out.)

After his dose of Arnica, my son quickly settled down and stopped crying. Within a few minutes, he was feeling well enough to climb another sand dune and continue playing. I checked in with him a few more times that afternoon and evening, and he reported that his head felt fine and there was no pain, so no more Arnica was needed after that first dose.

Smacked in the Face With a Bike Pump

I needed to pump up a wheelbarrow tire, and my daughter was helping by getting the bike pump. As I was about to pump up the tire, my daughter let go of the bike pump and it fell, with the handle hitting me squarely on the bridge of the nose. It hurt so bad I thought surely there must be blood (but there wasn't). After I made an (overly loud) exclamation of pain, I asked my daughter to get the Arnica lotion. I applied the lotion right away. By the next day, while there was still a small amount of pain if I pressed on the area, there was absolutely no bruising. Arnica really feels like a magical elixir sometimes, as I had feared I would have a large bruise on my face, and instead there was no visible trace of the injury.

(If I was not hypersensitive, I would have taken a pellet of Arnica 30x or 30c by mouth instead of just applying Arnica lotion.)


Overworking in the Garage

My husband was working hard at installing some new ceiling shelves in our garage. He was feeling rather fatigued near the end of his work, and we know from past experience that he tends to get very sore after such weekend exertions. I administered one Arnica 6c pellet by mouth when he was almost done working, and asked him to spit it out after about 30 seconds. (If my husband was not hypersensitive, I would have used a higher potency, such as Arnica 30x or 30c, and I would have allowed him to finish the pellet rather than having him spit it out.) Additionally, once my husband was done showering, he applied Arnica lotion to the areas that were feeling fatigued.

By the next day, my husband was feeling only mild-to-moderate soreness, instead of the strong soreness he tends to experience without using Arnica.

An Indispensable Remedy

Homeopathic Arnica is a wonderful first-aid remedy that soothed our injuries and overworked muscles. Certainly, we could have gotten by without using Arnica, but the healing process would have been longer and more painful. With Arnica, healing was quick and nearly painless. I hope these examples have helped you in understanding better how to use Arnica in your own family.

Do you use homeopathic Arnica? Do you have any success stories to share? 


Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or licensed healthcare professional. I am a homeopathic practitioner whose services are considered complementary and alternative by the state of New Mexico. The uses of homeopathic remedies described herein are provided for educational use only.  

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Raspberry Chocolate Muffins (grain-free : gluten-free : nutrient-dense)

Sweet-tart raspberries and dark chocolate are a fantastic flavor combination. This grain-free muffin recipe relies on a combination of coconut flour and arrowroot starch, which creates a lighter muffin than using coconut flour alone.  These muffins are moist, yummy, and bursting with flavor!

This recipe is rich in healthy protein and fat. I like to make these muffins using a combination of sucanat and sugar for the sweetener; the lighter taste of sugar allows the bright flavor of raspberries to really "pop" in this recipe. However, sucanat can be used exclusively if you prefer to use only unrefined sweeteners.

Raspberry Chocolate Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
  1. Line a muffin tin with paper cups.  (I prefer If You Care Unbleached Baking Cups because the muffins do not stick to the sides of the cups.) 
  2. Combine the coconut flour, arrowroot starch, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Whisk it all together to break up any lumps.  
  3. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  4. Combine the butter, sucanat and sugar in a large bowl (a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer works great for this recipe). Cream together for a couple minutes until the mixture turns slightly lighter in color.
  5. In the meantime, combine the eggs, vanilla, and almond extract in a small bowl. (I find that a Pyrex glass measuring cup works great for this because the pour spout makes it easy to add these ingredients to the mixer while it is running.) Do NOT mix up the eggs at this point.
  6. Once the butter and sucanat/sugar have become well-mixed, mix in the eggs one-at-a-time.  With my stand-mixer, I can just pour in each egg while the mixer is still running.  Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice to get everything incorporated well. (It is okay if the mixture looks a bit curdled during this step.)
  7. Add the sour cream to the wet mixture and mix it all well.
  8. Add the dry ingredients and mix well to combine. Because there is no gluten in coconut flour or arrowroot, there is no worry about overmixing this recipe.
  9. Stir or mix in the raspberries and chocolate chunks.
  10. Use a 3-Tb scoop or large spoon to scoop the batter into the muffin cups.
  11. Bake the muffins at 325 degrees F for 45-50 minutes, until a they are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out dry. (The baking time will be less if fresh berries are used instead of frozen berries.)
  12. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit before serving. I like to freeze half of the muffins, to be re-warmed in a toaster oven as an easy breakfast for my daughter in the coming weeks.
*Except during our local berry season, I find that frozen berries have far superior flavor to the fresh ones sold in grocery stores.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Why I Don't Try to Meet Math Grade Standards

A couple weeks ago, I blogged about Teaching Elementary Math Without a Formal Curriculum, and now I'd like to share why I don't try to meet math grade standards.

I think math is important, actually very important. Math is foundational to so many other areas of study, such as science, engineering, and research. My own mechanical engineering degree and 10-year-career as an aerospace engineer relied highly on math.  But here is where the other shoe drops: I think that trying to homeschool math to elementary grade standards is pointless and can even be detrimental. 

I didn't always think this way, and trying to make sure that my daughter was at-standard (or above-standard) is part of what led us down the road to homeschool burnout, with a frustrated momma and a stressed child.  I noticed early on that, while reading came very easily to my daughter and she was reading far above grade-level at an early age, math was different. Working math problems was repetitive and boring for her, and math facts did not stick in her head easily. I tried several different math curriculums, but they all fell flat.  It wasn't until I changed my whole outlook on math that things changed for the better and I was able to start fostering a love of math in my now-nearly-9-year-old daughter.

Meanwhile, my 6-year-old son has more of a natural bent towards math. He does not read anywhere near the same level as his sister did at his age, but he does seem to understand and remember math concepts and facts much easier than she did at the same age.  Trying to make them both meet specific grade-standards across the board for all subjects would be to ignore their own unique developmental timelines. Each child is different, and they don't have linear progress in all subjects all the time.

Is one "behind" in math and the other "behind" in reading? Absolutely not. Rather, they are each developing in the way they were meant to, right on time and right as they should.  Trying to make them each fit the mold of specific grade standards would result in their having low-confidence in their abilities in certain areas and, even more important, would give them the idea that their intrinsic worth is related to how well they can perform some specific skills, rather than related to who they are as people.

Research on Math During the Elementary Years

There is research that backs up my position that there is no point in trying to follow grade-standards for math in elementary school. There is one study, in particular, that I'd like to share. "The Teaching of Arithmetic: The Story of an Experiment" was a three-part article published in the November 1935 through January 1936 editions of the Journal of the National Education Association. The author of this article, L. P. Benezet, was the superintendent of schools in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Benezet's articles detailed experiments that he performed over a period of several years at multiple schools with hundreds of children. He wrote that the experiments "[abandoned] all formal instruction in arithmetic below the seventh grade and [concentrated] on teaching the children to read, to reason, and to recite... And by reciting I did not mean giving back, verbatim, the words of the teacher or of the textbook. I meant speaking the English language." Instead of focusing on math facts, the children were given "much practice in estimating heights, lengths, areas, distances, and the like."

And there was more focus placed on being able to speak clearly, because Benizet "was distressed at the inability of the average child in our grades to use the English language. If the children had original ideas, they were very helpless about translating them into English which could be understood." So, instead of focusing so highly on teaching arithmetic, the teachers instead focused on giving the children experience in speaking well. 

"The children in these rooms were encouraged to do a great deal of oral composition. They reported on books that they had read, on incidents which they had seen, on visits that they had made. They told the stories of movies that they had attended and they made up romances on the spur of the moment. It was refreshing to go into one of these rooms. A happy and joyous spirit pervaded them. The children were no longer under the restraint of learning multiplication tables or struggling with long division. They were thoroughly enjoying their hours in school."

These experiments yielded profound results:  "In tests given to both the traditionally and experimentally taught groups, it was found that the latter had been able in one year to attain the level of accomplishment which the traditionally taught children had reached after three and one−half years of arithmetic drill. In addition, because the teachers in the experimental group had had time to concentrate on teaching the children to 'read, reason, and recite,' these children developed more interest in reading, a better vocabulary, and greater fluency in expression." Benizet went on to say that, "development of the ability to reason is one of the big results of the new course of study in arithmetic." Because the children in the experimental groups had learned better reasoning skills, they actually performed much better than their peers in answering math word problems. 

Without the Pressure and Drill, Children Can Explore and Enjoy Math

By letting go of math grade standards and moving away from math drill and repetition, our math studies have been transformed from a stressful experience into a joyful exploration. Math has become a subject that is highly interesting to my children, because they see how it applies to their everyday lives. They are free to probe into math and apply it, without being forced to regurgitate math facts or complete mind-numbing worksheets. Through our use of math read-alouds, math games, and everyday math, my children's understanding of math concepts is steadily growing because they are interested and want to learn. And when children have the desire to learn, their knowledge will know no bounds.
Want to read more about teaching math? Here are some relevant articles:
Teaching Elementary Math Without a Formal Curriculum
How Early Academic Training Retards Intellectual Development
7 Easy Steps to Successful Math
Kids Learn Math Easily When They Control Their Own Learning
The Teaching of Arithmetic: The Story of an Experiment

Do you have any experiences to share about teaching math in unconventional ways?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Fried Rice (nutrient-dense : gluten-free)

Looking for a side dish to complement teriyaki chicken last week, I created this recipe for fried rice. The celery and cabbage are seasonal vegetables that provide a nice bite in contrast to the soft rice. The combination of garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and fish sauce gives this recipe a great Asian taste.

I use white rice in this recipe, which is considered a safe starch by quite a few diet and health authors such as Dr. Mercola, Chris Kresser (author of Paleo Cure), and Paul Jaminet (author of The Perfect Health Diet). My favorite way to prepare white rice is to cook it with butter and homemade chicken bone broth, as that makes the rice more nutritious and gives it an excellent flavor.

Fried Rice
Serves 4-6
  1. The rice in this recipe needs to be cooked ahead of time and allowed to cool (or even refrigerated). If hot, freshly cooked rice is used, it will become rather mushy in this recipe.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, fish sauce, and sucanat. Stir occasionally while the rest of the ingredients are prepared until the sucanat is dissolved.
  3. Chop the onion. I use my favorite knife to prepare the veggies for this recipe.
  4. Melt 1 Tb refined coconut oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. I use a deep 12-inch stainless steel skillet for this recipe, but cast iron should work well, too.
  5. Saute the onion in the oil for about 10 minutes over medium heat. A bamboo spatula works perfectly for this. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Don't stir it too often, so that the onion can undergo some delicious caramelization (as evidenced by it browning).
  6. While the onion cooks, chop the celery and cabbage.
  7. Add the celery to the skillet and saute 5 minutes.
  8. Add the cabbage to the skillet and saute for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with a little more salt.
  9. Meanwhile, break the eggs into a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt. Use a fork to beat the eggs lightly.
  10. Use a garlic press to press the garlic and ginger. With my Pampered Chef garlic press, it is not necessary to peel either the garlic or ginger; it presses them just fine and leaves the skin behind.
  11. Add the garlic and ginger to the skillet and saute for about 30 seconds, until fragrant.
  12. Add the cooled rice, drizzle with the soy sauce mixture, and fold it all together to combine. Cook for a few minutes to warm the rice.
  13. Push the rice and veggies to one side of the skillet. On the other side of the skillet, melt 1/2 Tb refined coconut oil. Once the oil is hot and shimmery, pour the eggs into the oil. Let the eggs cook until they start to set, then lightly chop and fold them while they continue to cook. Cook the eggs until they are almost done and still look a little wet. Turn off the heat.
  14. Stir the eggs into the rice/veggie mixture.
  15. Serve and enjoy! This fried rice makes an excellent side dish for teriyaki chicken. Egg drop soup would be another good addition to the meal.
  16. Store leftovers in the fridge. Re-warmed and topped with a couple fried eggs, they make a great breakfast.  

What is your favorite homemade Asian-inspired meal?


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    Sunday, February 14, 2016

    Teaching Elementary Math Without a Formal Curriculum

    We've Come a Long Way

    We started homeschool kindergarten nearly 5 years ago using the typical math education methods such as textbooks, workbooks, and flash cards. By halfway through 1st grade, my daughter was dreading math. When I had my epiphany a few years ago about how my schooling methods were actually detrimental to teaching my daughter to love learning, math was one of the subjects that was forefront in my mind. How could my only-6-year-old daughter be starting to hate math?

    Over the last few years I have been implementing Leadership Education principles into our homeschool, and our math work has been transformed. Instead of dreading and hating math, my now nearly-9-year-old daughter thinks math is fun and interesting. And her little brother, who just turned 6, is coming right along with us, enjoying it as much as his sister.

    How I Teach Math Without a Formal Curriculum

    I focus on three specific approaches for teaching math: games, read-alouds, and everyday math. These three approaches form the cornerstone of our homeschool math curriculum. My children love them all, and that means that they love their math studies.

    I don't push my children to engage in any of these resources. Instead, they are always free to decide whether or not they want to participate. But the thing is, our math work has become so fun and un-pressured that they almost always want to participate. I don't do math read-alouds and games with my children every day; that would take some of the fun and excitement out of it. Rather, I aim for about 3 times a week (and of course, everyday math does happen pretty much every day). My children are getting to explore math rather than getting bogged down in repetitive drills, and this exploration fosters a high level of interest in math. 

    Math Read-Alouds

    Math read-alouds provide a great opportunity to introduce new mathematical concepts to my children. Often I will read these books alongside a lap-size dry erase board where I can illustrate things further, or where we can write our answers to questions posed in the books. Instead of forcing my children to answer the questions in the books, I give them the opportunity to do-so; if they don't feel like it, then I will keep it lighthearted and work through the problems myself. We read math read-alouds usually once or twice a week.

    • Bedtime Math - Each page includes some engaging facts and then three math problems (ranging from easy to difficult) that give my children a chance to put math concepts into practice. My children absolutely LOVE Bedtime Math, and they are always begging for one more page.
    • Life of Fred - Life of Fred is a series of books that tells the story of Fred Gauss, a 5-year-old math genius who teaches at a university.  Life of Fred books range from elementary math all the way up through Calculus. Besides mathematical concepts, Life of Fred books also weave other topics into the story such as constellations, carnivores, and languages. At the end of every chapter, there are a few math problems to answer, but they are much more interesting than the problems in most math books. Fred and his doll Kingie are an unlikely duo that my children just adore.
    • Sir Cumference books - These are engaging picture books that cleverly wind mathematical concepts into the stories. For instance, in Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, my children learned about diameter, radius, and circumference in a fun, easy-to-remember way. Sir Cumference and All the King's Tens introduced place value in a way that my daughter, especially, loved.   
    • Anno's math books - Anno's books are beautifully illustrated and they show math concepts such as multiplication very clearly. My children especially love Anno's Magic Seeds, and Anno's Mysterious Multiplying Jar.    
    image from

    Everyday Math 

    With Everyday Math, I look for opportunities to teach math in the context of real life. This allows my children to see that math is relevant to their lives. I don't get preachy about math in our everyday lives; rather, I just use math in meaningful ways as I go about my days, and I encourage my children to do the same. 

    Here are some examples of how Everyday Math can be used to teach math.

    • We have a thermometer outside our kitchen window that allows us to see what the temperature is outside. We use this daily to see if it is more appropriate to wear long-sleeves versus short-sleeves, sandals versus close-toed shoes, etc. Using our thermometer can also be tied into Nature Study since the children can observe that there is frost on the ground when the temperature is below freezing, that the humidity increases before it rains, etc.
    • We bake or cook together. I allow the kids to measure out ingredients using measuring cups and spoons, which teaches fractions as well as awareness of what different amounts look like.
    • When we are reading about something that mentions a size (such as the length of a snake or a distance that has been traveled), I take the time to put the measurement into context by comparing it to some known amount. The tiles in our house are 1-foot-across, so they can easily be used to see how long specific measurements are (and my daughter especially loves walking the tiles to see how large different creatures are). We relate distances to places we regularly visit [such as from the front of our property to the back, or to Grandma's house in Albuquerque (220 miles away), or to El Paso (40 miles away)].
    • The children help in grocery shopping by price-checking different items, counting and weighing produce, comparing prices, etc. I also send them on errands to get items from our grocery list. They thoroughly enjoy grocery shopping because they have real, meaningful work and purpose while we are at the store.
    • Each winter, we participate in Project Feeder Watch, where we observe the species and numbers of birds in our backyard about once or twice a month. Feeder Watch is a great way to integrate math and science into our lives. In addition to reporting the number of birds we see, we are also required to report the weather conditions (low/high temperatures, precipitation, etc). Both kids love participating in this program.
    • We regularly reference a calendar to see what the date is, or when specific dates are coming up. Birthdays and holidays are referenced often on the calendar, and the kids like to count down the days until they arrive.
    • My children can earn money any time by pulling weeds. I generally pay 1-cent per weed. Sometimes, when the weeds are getting especially out-of-control, I will run a special where I pay double or even triple for certain weeds. The children are required to count up their weeds so I know how much to pay them. For instance, this week my daughter pulled 342 weeds (!) and my son pulled 26 weeds.  (I didn't even know they were doing it until they were ready to be paid.) My husband also pays the children for killing flies or ants in the house.
    • We have a number line that wraps around the living room which goes past 400. The kids like to use this to practice counting (on their own initiative) or they can use it to say where something is ("over by 320"). Children who visit our house also seem to love this visual way of seeing how large numbers are.  

    • Each child has their own wallet as well as an envelope for long-term savings and one for charity.  They are required to put at least 10% of their earnings into their long-term savings (otherwise known as the "car-fund" or the "horse-fund"). My daughter also has her earnings from her chicken business to manage, and she sometimes pays her brother to help with her chicken chores. She has become very proficient at making change and using coins.
    • My children save for and buy items from the store. Earning, saving, and spending real money is invaluable in teaching them math concepts such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and money management.

    Math Games

    Math games provide a fun way for my children to practice their math facts without even knowing it. I don't tell my children, "let's play a game so you can practice your math." Instead, I just let them choose a game to play and the math happens during the game without anyone making a big deal about it. If a child gets stuck on the math, then I help them, without making them try to figure it out until they are frustrated. I try to give them the freedom to guess and make mistakes, and keep it light-hearted and fun, instead of making them feel like they are "wrong" or putting them on the spot.

    With all of these games, I often make special rules or modifications (described below) so that both children can play and enjoy the game, irregardless of their age difference. In some games, it works best for my youngest child to be on my "team" when the rules or math-involved are too complicated for his current understanding. We usually play math games once or twice a week. (More games specifically for preschool-age children are described in a comment below the post.)

    The math games we use are:
    • Yahtzee is a dice-rolling game where the players see who can achieve the highest score as they fill in the scores for various dice combinations (such as 3-of-a-kind and Full House).
      • Teaches addition and eventually multiplication, strategy through determining the best ways to use the high rolls versus the low rolls, and writing.
      • Modifications for younger players: my son usually plays on my team by rolling the dice, helping me decide which dice option we are aiming for on the scorecard, and helping me add up the dice.
    • Mille Bornes is a card game where the players are in a car race; the first to reach 1,000 miles wins.
      • Teaches addition, knowledge of numbers up to 1,000, and knowledge of which numbers are greater.
      • We use lap-size dry-erase boards during this game to keep track of how far our cars have traveled.
      • Modifications for younger players: I keep track of my son's score for him.
      • Although this game has cards that can be used to sabotage other players (such as giving them a flat tire or Stop sign), we typically play this as a "sweet" game, where we don't sabotage each other. I don't force the kids to play it this way, but I did demonstrate non-aggressive playing through my own behavior, and my children decided to follow suit. This makes the game a chance practice choosing kindness, as well.
    • Uno is a card game where players try to match colors or numbers to be the first to use up all of their cards.
      • Teaches numbers and colors. Can also teach addition and subtraction using the variant described below.
      • My daughter and I will often play Add and Subtract Uno, where we can combine two cards through addition or subtraction to match a number being shown. For instance, if there is a 4 showing, we could use a 5 and 1 (to make 5-1 = 4). When we play this way, little brother still plays the usual way and is dealt a few less cards to make it fair. 
    • Monopoly is the classic game of buying and selling property.
      • Teaches addition, subtraction, how to make change, knowledge of large numbers, and concepts such as mortgage, bankruptcy, etc.
      • We usually limit the length of this game to 1-hour, and we start the game with 3 properties per player (chosen randomly from the deck and paid for from our individual banks).
      • Modifications for younger players: my son will often play on my team by rolling the dice, moving our player around the board, managing our small bills ($1's, $5's, and $10's) and helping me decide whether or not to buy/sell properties.
    • Poker is a classic card game where players compete to see who has the best 5-card hand.
      • Teaches strategy, analytical thinking, money management (if played with poker chips), and weighing of risk versus reward.
      • Modifications for younger players: my son often plays on my daughter's team. They love being in on the secret of what cards she holds, and giggle delightedly when she has any "wild" cards.
    • Sum Swamp is an Addition and Subtraction board game using multiple dice which are combined to make math problems (such as 1 + 3 or 5 - 1).
      • Teaches addition, subtraction, understanding of math problems and symbols, odd and even.
      • Modifications for younger players: when my son was younger, he played Sum Swamp with just one die instead of using all of the dice to make math problems. 
    • Pretend Store is a game where my children set up stores, usually with stuffed animals being the shopkeepers. Then we go shopping at the Pretend Stores.
      • My children like to create price tags and signs for their stores. 
      • We shop at the stores using paper play money that I printed years ago, or using real coins.
    • Sorry is a card-and-board game where players race to be the first to get all of their pieces to "Home".
      • Teaches numbers, memory for special rules, and sportsmanship.
      • Modifications for younger players: since my son is not yet reading proficiently, his sister and I help him read the cards when necessary.
    • Carcassone is a tile-laying game where players create settlements, farms, abbeys, and roads.
      • Teaches addition, skip-counting, puzzle skills, and strategy. 
      • Modifications for younger players: my daughter and I help my son in adding up his points for completed settlements, roads, etc.
    • Cuisenaire Rod Games are played with math manipulatives.
      • Teaches addition and awareness of what numbers actually mean through hands-on math experience.
      • There is a free printable Cuisenaire Rod game book here. My kids especially love playing Snakey Rods and Chutes and Ladders using the Cuisenaire Rods.

    Love of Math

    Our math curriculum, based around games, everyday math, and read-alouds, is creating a love of math in my children.  It took me awhile to get used to the idea of teaching math without worksheets and repetitive drills, but yet these new methods are much more effective. Instead of math being something my children have to suffer through, they are eager to use these methods. Because these methods emphasize hands-on math, my children understand math concepts much better than they would if they had only been working math problems on paper. Want to read more? Check out my post about Why I Don't Try to Meet Math Grade Standards.

    What are your favorite math games and math read-alouds?


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