TASTY SLOW-COOKER GRANOLA

We’re a granola-eating family. When the tall jar in our pantry reads almost empty, it’s time to stir up and bake a new batch. It’s never a chore, because the fresh homemade taste of heart healthy oats with nuts and dried fruit always satisfies, whether combined with yogurt and berries at breakfast, or sprinkled over a scoop of ice cream for an evening dessert.

No wonder I was curious when a friend suggested I make granola in my slow cooker instead of baking it in the oven. Skeptical, I gave it a try and loved the results. In fact, it’s a game-changer.

I stick with my basic recipe that never disappoints. The hand-crafted, economical blend is open to variations, like substituting cashews for the almonds or pecans. When I buy a jug of fresh local maple syrup, I leave out the brown sugar entirely. For variety, I’ll cut up something unusual, like dried persimmons, to toss in at the end with the raisins.

Tasty Slow-Cooker Granola
Yield: About 6 cups.
Ingredients:
— Cooking spray or olive oil
— 4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick cooking)
— 1/2 cup brown sugar
— 1 teaspoon cinnamon
— 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
— 1/2 teaspoon salt
— 1/2 cup coarsely chopped whole almonds
— 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
— 1/2 cup canola oil
— 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
— 2 egg whites, slightly beaten
— 1/2 cup raisins

Prepare the slow cooker: Spray the cooking spray on the bottom and sides of a 3-quart or larger slow cooker or lightly coat with oil.
Combine the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and nuts in a slow cooker.
Stir together the oil, vanilla and egg whites in a small bowl. Add to dry ingredients and toss well until fully coated.
Turn slow cooker to high. Set a wooden spoon under one side of the lid to hold the lid open, slightly ajar. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until toasted, stirring mixture well every 30 minutes.
Stir in raisins and spread mixture on a baking sheet to cool. Store in jars or in an airtight container.

Note: Substitute brown sugar with 1/2 cup maple syrup, honey or agave syrup, and combine with liquid ingredients before tossing with dry ingredients.
In addition to (or instead of) raisins, use your favorite dried fruit, chopped.

Gift-giving tip: Let kids draw a label to glue to a mason jar. It might say “The Johnsons’ World’s Best Granola.” For a Valentine’s Day gift, tie a pink ribbon around the jar with a paper Valentine card.

KEEP FAMILY RESOLUTIONS IN 2019

Last month’s holiday celebrations have passed, but perhaps one tradition hangs on. How many of us have put into practice the resolutions we shared with others before the stroke of midnight New Year’s Eve? Hmmm, not as easy to accomplish as hoped?

With the flurry of family life, the days slip by, don’t they? But it’s still January, a fresh time to think about those resolutions, maybe reset them and talk with your kids about the possibilities that 2019 holds. Set realistic goals with action plans you can put in motion. Write them down, or encourage your kids to express them creatively in drawings.

I recently was inspired by my cousin’s 6-year-old grandson Gavin’s artwork hanging on her kitchen wall. He didn’t just say what his resolutions for 2019 were, he drew them. The “selfie” sketch depicted him guarding the goal for his youth hockey team with a background crowd cheering him on. He told me his “goalie goals” were to “be on time, skate well and do my best.”

This positive athletic boy motivated me to look at possibilities big and small for 2019. How about you, especially when it comes to family time?

EAT DINNER TOGETHER
Designate evenings for your family to sit down at the table and share a meal. Get the kids involved with age-appropriate tasks, and get cooking. Did you get a gadget or appliance for a holiday gift? Don’t stash it away for another day. Use it together. For example, if you got a spiralizer, look for recipes using fresh vegetables you can transform into fun pasta-like noodles for a healthy start to the year.

EXERCISE TOGETHER
Get ready to hop, skip and jump! Find common interests and commit time to movement — even spontaneously. Did it snow last night? Or is it raining today? Put on your boots and walk or snowshoe to your local store instead of driving when you need a few groceries.

PLAY TOGETHER                                                                                                     Make play a part of every day. Sounds easy and natural, and it is — especially when kids lead the way in finding playful moments. When you return from work and your child has a fun game for you to try, toss your to-do list aside for a bit, turn off your phone and take the opportunity to find silly or lighthearted ways to connect with your child.

 

 

MAKE FRESH RICOTTA CHEESE IN YOUR KITCHEN

When I hear “I made it from scratch!” at a gathering, my first instinct is to assume it must have taken a lot of time to prepare the tasty-looking dish coming my way down the table. But I also think, “Oh, it must be extra good!”
Here’s where I’m going. Do you love ricotta cheese in lasagna, or spread on crostini toasts and topped with a drizzle of olive oil and savory delights for a quick appetizer? Make ricotta yourself! You can prepare it in your kitchen from start to finish in less than an hour “from scratch.” And, it IS extra good!
This isn’t a true Italian-made ricotta, but it’s an easy, delicious version. Just heat milk, cream and salt to boiling, add lemon juice or vinegar, then gather ’round the pot with your kids and watch it curdle. Within a half-hour of draining away the whey in a separate bowl, you’ll have a lovely ricotta with a light consistency and mild, sweet flavor for using in a favorite Italian recipe like lasagna, or for spreading on crackers and toast sliced from a baguette — a sure winner at a Superbowl party.

Homemade Ricotta
Makes about 1 1/4 cups
4 cups whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
1 cup heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice or white wine vinegar

To prepare sieve for draining:
Set a fine sieve or colander lined with a double thickness of cheesecloth over a deep bowl.

To prepare ricotta mixture:
Combine milk, cream and salt in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Watch carefully. Just as the mixture reaches a boil, turn off the heat, remove from burner and stir in the lemon juice. The mixture will separate and curdle. Let it set about a minute.
Pour into the cheesecloth-lined sieve and let the watery whey drain into the bowl.
Discard the liquid that drips through. Let the curds continue to drain for about 25 minutes, until cool. The longer it drains, the thicker the ricotta.
Spoon the ricotta out of the cheesecloth and use immediately, or refrigerate in a covered storage container until ready to use within five days.

CREATIVE WAYS TO USE AND DISPLAY HOLIDAY PHOTO CARDS

If you sent holiday photo cards, you probably know from experience that the final image may be stunning, but the production process wasn’t easy.
First comes the search for that photo that tells a story of your year’s highlight. If there wasn’t a wedding, graduation or significant birthday that brought everyone together, the challenge begins, at least for me.

Last fall, when my family was on an outdoor trek, a hiker on our trail took a photo of us poised in front of a breathtaking backdrop. Perfect photo, but … whoops, my eldest son had taken off on a kayak that day. A no-show for the photo.

Combine the group photo challenge with writing that accompanying paragraph that’s funny and informative (not bragging), finding recipients’ current addresses, buying stamps and doing it all in the busiest time of the year! I appreciate how my friends overcame the challenges and their cards arrived in time in my mailbox from all over the world. Tangible gifts of correspondence in an email world. I can’t toss them!

Here are two ways to use and enjoy the cards in the new year:

SNAP A PIC FOR YOUR SMARTPHONE CONTACT LIST
Maybe my circle of contacts and their kids is expanding, or maybe my brain isn’t, but I can always use a little help remembering names and faces. Here’s a trick to help remember, using your smartphone and holiday card photos.
Go to your contact list on your smartphone. Tap the name of the key person in the holiday photo on your contact list and tap “edit.” Tap the photo space and take a smartphone photo of the person/family. Let your school-age child help you out with this fun project. Talk with him about the people in the photos as you go through and photograph them.
Next, go down the contact page to information fields of names of family members. You can even add birthdays. Make the project an exercise in geography, too. Set a country or world map/globe nearby to locate where the individuals live as you type in their addresses.
Click done when complete.

MAKE A “BOOK” OF CARDS
Punch two holes evenly on the left side of each card. “Bind” them together with office style metal clasping rings. Set out on the coffee table and flip them over one by one to enjoy throughout the year.

BEESWAX CANDLES


Rolling sheets of beeswax into beautiful candles is a safe and easy way to make unique, attractive and appreciated holiday gifts with your children.
The steps for making these candles are simple: Cut, press with fingers and roll! Even 4- and 5-year-olds will be thrilled when they touch the honeycomb texture and discover that they can make their own candle in a snap, once the beeswax is cut to size. The steps require no melting other than that provided by your warm breath!

Here’s what you need to make four 4-inch-tall candles:
— One sheet of beeswax (available in natural shades and colors at candle and craft stores or online, typically in 8-inch-by-16-inch sheets)
— Ruler
— Scissors or a pizza cutter
— Candlewicks (available at craft stores)
— Ribbon, gift tags for gift-giving

Here’s the fun:
To make four 4-inch-tall candles, use scissors or a pizza cutter to cut the sheet of beeswax into four rectangles measuring 4 inches by 8 inches. (Assist young children.)
Place one beeswax rectangle on the working table. Lay a 5-inch wick on the short edge of the beeswax with 1 inch hanging over one edge. Using the tips of your fingers, gently but firmly roll the beeswax forward over the wick. Be sure it is tight. Here’s where you might add a little warm breath on the wax. It will soften so that the first roll is snug.
Now, roll the wax over and over down to the end until it forms a candle. Done!
Hold the candle upright, and push the end opposite the wick lightly down on the table to flatten the base. Trim wick. Make several candles for gift-giving. Simply tie them together with ribbon and tuck in a gift bag with a personalized tag.
You may wish to save one or two for your own family, and light at your holiday dinner to make the occasion extra festive. Don’t forget to let your children blow them out when the meal is over; it’s one of those little things they will always remember.
Extra decorative tip: Cut out small shapes from beeswax sheets in contrasting colors and press them onto the outside of the candles.
NOTE: When burning candles, an adult should always be present to supervise.

MAKE POMANDER BALLS FOR HOLIDAY DECOR AND GIFT-GIVING


Inserting whole cloves into a firm apple or citrus fruit to create what is known as a pomander is a lovely traditional craft you might remember doing when you were young. Tis the season to pass this artful fun on to your own kids or grandkids. Easy to make, pomander balls’ rustic beauty and holiday scent make them unique gifts for friends and neighbors that will last long into the new year.
For this version using apples, you’ll need to do some shopping for just two ingredients, whole cloves and apples. I economize by buying cloves in bulk at our neighborhood co-op grocery story. You may also find them in jars in the spice section of most markets. Use any size apple you prefer. This year, I chose cute small snack-size apples rather than larger ones, which makes creating a lovely clove-studded apple easier for kids to complete in one sitting.

Here’s the stuff for one pomander ball covered with cloves:
— Fresh, firm apple
— Whole cloves
— Narrow festive ribbon
— Toothpick or bamboo skewer
— Gift box to fit finished pomander ball and one sheet of tissue paper (for gift-giving)

Here’s the fun:
To cover the entire apple with cloves, use the toothpick or bamboo skewer and poke several evenly spaced small holes making a circular pattern through the apple skin, beginning near the top stem. Insert cloves one by one into these holes, like a “dot to dot” activity. (Leave space between the cloves, as the apple will shrink in size.) Continue making holes around and around the apple and filling them with cloves until you reach the base.
For a gift, decorate the clove-studded apple by criss-crossing colorful ribbon around it vertically once or twice and topping it with a loop to hang in a windowsill or on a wreath. For a nice presentation, set in small gift box with tissue paper. When the recipient lifts the lid, the delicious, spicy scent will permeate the air.
Extra idea using citrus:
Using a similar technique, poke holes into the rind of citrus fruit, such as oranges, lemons and limes. Instead of covering fruit entirely with cloves, use as many as you would like to create swirls, shapes or alphabet letters. If you have visitors coming to your holiday dinner, make a place card by forming the initial of their name, add a bow on top and place the fruit on the center of each plate.

ROSEMARY CASHEWS-GREAT FOR GIFTS AND FOR SNACKING


I’m nuts about nuts. All year round. I try to keep a bowl of fresh, shelled California almonds replenished and within easy reach on the kitchen counter for a grab and go snack. And thanks to my Georgia-raised friend, I have a stash of tasty pecans for tossing on salads and desserts.

For special occasions, our tastes shift to cashews, and this easy recipe that makes them, well, more festive. The addition of fresh rosemary and cayenne pepper is unexpected and always gets raves.

Here’s our family version, which calls for your kids’ assistance. Let them take charge of pulling the fresh rosemary leaves off the stems before you mince the fragrant herb with a sharp knife. Heat up the nuts in the oven and the remaining steps come together in minutes.

Double the recipe for gift-giving. Instead of filling cellophane food bags, use recycled clear-glass jars. Your kids might want to make it whimsical and reminiscent of a snow globe scene by layering the seasoned cashews in the bottom third and adding a cute foil covered chocolate snowman or ornament on top of the cashews. Anchor sprigs of rosemary upright to mimic pine trees, screw on the lid and add a tag. For an extra gift, tie a spoon to the jar for scooping up the flavorful treat.

Let’s get cooking…
ROSEMARY CASHEWS
3 cups roasted, unsalted cashews
1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spread the cashews in one layer on a cookie sheet and bake for about 6 minutes, or until warm and lightly toasted.
Combine the rosemary, brown sugar, salt, melted butter and cayenne pepper (if you wish an extra kick) in a large bowl. When the cashews are heated, immediately pour them into the bowl with the spice butter mixture. Toss thoroughly.
Cool and serve. Store in an airtight container up to two weeks.
Note: If you prefer, substitute 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup for 1 tablespoon brown sugar.

MAKE “WORLDS BEST GRANOLA”


Homemade granola is tasty to eat any time of day, but in our family it’s a staple for  breakfasts with nonfat plain yogurt and fresh fruit. Not only is granola a nutritious start to the day, with its wholesome blend of heart-healthy oats and chopped nuts, but a handful makes a satisfying after-school treat with a glass of milk, and a few spoonfuls add crunch to a scoop of ice cream for an evening dessert.
Granola is so easy to prepare that you and your kids can make this recipe in a jiffy — just under an hour. While one child measures and stirs together the dry ingredients in a big bowl, another can measure, pour and stir the liquids in another. Combine all of the ingredients in the big bowl, and voila! The just-sweet-enough mixture is ready for you to spread on a baking sheet and place in the oven.
Give it a try and see why the fresh taste of this homemade granola rivals any packaged mixture.

“World’s Best Granola”
Yield: About 5 cups
Ingredients:
–3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
–1/2 cup brown sugar
–1 teaspoon cinnamon
–1/2 teaspoon baking powder
–1/2 teaspoon salt
–1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds
–1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
–1/4 cup canola oil
–1/2 teaspoon vanilla
–2 egg whites, slightly beaten
–1/2 cup raisins

Here’s the fun:
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
Step 1: Combine the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and nuts in a large mixing bowl.
Step 2: Stir together the oil, vanilla and egg whites in a small bowl. Add to dry ingredients and toss well.
Step 3: Spread the mixture evenly on the baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. Cool completely; stir in raisins and store in an airtight container.
Note: If you wish, substitute 1/4 cup pure maple syrup and 1/4 cup honey for the brown sugar, and combine with liquid ingredients before tossing with dry ingredients.
Creative tip: Let kids draw a label to tape or glue to the outside of a plastic storage container or glass jar. It might say “The Johnsons’ World’s Best Granola.”

MAKE BROWNIE MIX IN A JAR



It’s a handmade and homemade kind of holiday season this year.
If there are still some people on your gift list you wish to remember with a little something, or you need some grab-and-go hostess gifts on hand for parties and get-togethers, create this “from your kitchen” gift idea in an afternoon this week.
Be sure to get your kids involved in making this creative go-to stash of gift jars filled with the dried ingredients for making super chocolaty, chewy and moist brownies. A throwback kitchen craft, this updated version is fun to assemble with even your preschooler. What 4-year-old doesn’t like to scoop and pour? That’s what building the layers of brownie ingredients in a jar is all about as they work to create an artful gift of yummy ingredients.


Here’s how to make a “Brownie Mix in a Jar”:
1. Assembly-line fashion, set out the ingredients, including clean, wide-mouth quart-size jars and lids, on the kitchen counter or a large table. Place a measuring spoon or measuring cup by each ingredient, along with a card stating the name of the ingredient and the correct quantity to scoop into each jar.
2. Layer the following ingredients, in the following order, for one recipe. Pack firmly before adding the next layer. (Use a narrow drinking glass to tamp down ingredients.)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 Teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup baking cocoa powder
2/3 cup white granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white or dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup small, unwrapped candy, such as M&M’s (optional)
3. Secure lid, add a gift tag and a card with these baking instructions:

CHOCOLATE BROWNIES
Makes 6 large brownies
Heat oven to 350 F.
Grease or line the bottom of an 8-inch pan with parchment paper.
Pour contents of the jar into a large mixing bowl, and add:
3 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Stir lightly until blended, then pour into pan and bake for 25 minutes.
Cool in pan, cut into squares and serve.

CRAFT-FELTED AUTUMN ACORNS


Felting “acorns” using fluffy natural wool is a relaxing and enjoyable fall activity for all ages. It’s especially suited for young children who like to get their hands in soapy water to shape and change the structure of the soft wool into dense felted wool balls.

The material used for making the soft balls is called wool roving, available at some craft stores, yarn shops or online (resources below). It is wool that has been cleaned, combed and sometimes dyed. You’ll discover that the lovely colors are so inspiring; it’s hard to choose favorites.

Use real caps from fallen acorns you’ve foraged from your yard or on nature walks for these stunning, artful creations. You’ll be gluing the felted acorn balls to the caps. For a variation, drill two tiny holes through the acorn cap and thread a string for a felted acorn necklace, make an ornament to hang on a tree branch, or hang several in a windowsill. So many possibilities!

Here’s the stuff you need for a 1-inch felted acorn:
— a piece of 2-inch-by-6-inch slightly stretched out wool roving
— small bowl of hot water with a drop or two of liquid soap
— hot glue gun or glue suitable for fabrics
— a large acorn cap

Here’s the fun, using a hands-on “wet felting” technique:
1. Roll up the first inch or so of the wool, then twist slightly and continue rolling it into a tight ball. Smooth the loose end over the ball. It will be about the size of a large cotton ball, but will become half the size as fibers eventually mesh.

2. Wet the ball with the soapy water. Toss it back and forth from hand to hand over the bowl while occasionally dipping it in the soapy water. (The soap changes the pH of the wool, and helps the fibers to open. The hotter the water, the faster it felts.) Be gentle, and continue rolling it around in your hand. You might want to elongate the ball shape to match the original acorn size as you move it around.

3. Rinse the ball in cold clear water. Gently squeeze out water. Let dry overnight.

4. Glue acorn cap to the felted ball.

Note: If you wish to paint the acorn cap, do so before attaching to the felt ball.
Online resources: livingfelt.com and joann.com.