Sep 29, 2014

Eating Groundnuts (Apios americana) - & Why You Might Want to Grow Them

Groundnuts from my garden.
A few years ago, I read about groundnuts (Apios americana, potato bean, hopniss, or "Indian potatoes"...not peanuts, which are also sometimes called ground nuts). I was instantly excited. Here is a vine with pretty flowers that doesn't mind some shade. And it produces food! And not just any food; the tubers contain 15 - 17% protein, much higher than the potato they taste a lot like. 

Groundnuts don't grow wild in my area, so I bought two tubers on eBay and planted them in a pot with well-draining soil. When the vines turned yellow in the fall, I tipped the pot over and discovered many more tubers had grown. They were all pretty small, though, so I replanted them in the pot. (I've since learned it takes two years to get tubers of edible size.)

Last summer, the plant thrived. It grew pretty green vines with pinkish flowers. When the vines turned yellow in the fall, I couldn't wait to tip the pot over and see if I had edible tubers. I did! Plus plenty of small ones to replant.

Groundnut flower.
Harvesting Ground Nuts

Groundnuts are unlike anything else I've ever seen. The tubers grow on "strings" (really roots). They remind me a bit of an old fashioned sausage string; tuber, root, tuber, root, tuber, root, all in one piece (see the photo, above). You'll want to put small tubers back in the soil so you'll have a crop for the future. Tubers that are at least 1/2 inch wide can be eaten. To prepare, just snap the tubers off their string-like root and scrub clean.




Cooking Groundnuts

When I researched recipes for ground nuts I realized three things:

1. Most people wait to harvest groundnuts until the first frost; like a lot of other root crops, the frost sweetens them.

2. Really, you cook groundnuts just like potatoes.

Some people peel their tough skin before cooking them, but most people boil the groundnut whole (skin on); the skin then comes easily before eating. 

Groundnuts are usually either boiled and chopped, fried, or roasted in the oven. Most people compare them to potatoes, but a few compare them to sweet potatoes, especially if roasted. I find they taste like a cross between a potato and a bean.

Please note that groundnuts take longer to cook than potatoes. For example, if you're boiling them for "mashed groundnuts," they'll need to boil about half an hour. Also, do try to avoid very large groundnuts, as they tend to cause gas.

3. You can eat the beans, too! Eat them cooked like green beans. (Oh, and the flowers are edible, too. Just remember, you want flowers and bean pods if you want your groundnuts to spread.)

Favorite Groundnut Recipes:

* Groundnut chips
* Groundnut flour
* Crock pot groundnuts and lamb 
* Glazed groundnuts

Sep 26, 2014

Free Art History Curriculum: Rembrandt

"The Storm on the Sea of Galilee" by Rembrandt van Rijn.
Rembrandt van Rijn: b. July 15, 1606 in Leiden, Netherlands (find it on the globe) d. October 4, 1669 in Amsterdam, Netherlands (find it on the globe) (NOTE: Not sure how to pronounce Rembrandt's name? Click here to listen to his name being spoken.)

Style: Baroque (learn more about the Baroque period here)

See some of Rembrandt's most famous paintings here.

Be sure to give your child plenty of time to study each work of art. Ask: How is Rembrandt's work like the other artists you've studied? How is it different? What stories do Rembrandt's paintings tell? What techniques does he use to tell his stories? Does he use mostly dark or light colors? How does he use shadow and light? See if you can find this answer online or at the library: How large were most of Rembrandt's paintings? Also: Have you ever heard someone being called "a Rembrandt?" What does that mean?

* Biography of Rembrandt
* Longer bio of Rembrandt 
* Coloring page: "Simeon and Anna Recognize the Lord Jesus"
* Coloring page: "Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph"
* Free brochure about Rembrandt
* Powerpoint lesson for kids on Rembrandt 
* Video: Rembrandt's story
* Lesson on one of Rembrandt's most famous works, "Storm on the Sea of Galilee"
* Activity: Use an Impasto technique, similar to Rembrandt's
* Activity: Rembrandt is famous for portraits; here's a simple how-to for kids on how to draw one

Learn more about this free art history curriculum for kids, plus a list of all artists covered so far, by clicking here.

Sep 24, 2014

The Super-Easy Way to Can Grape Juice

Recently, a friend gave me a box of grapes. They weren't the best for eating fresh because they had large seeds. But I knew I could make grape juice with them. And the method - brought to my attention by my mom-in-law - is so, so easy - and not at all messy.

The recipe comes from the 1984 Ball Blue Book. Yes, certain canning guidelines have changed since then. And it's true I could not find this method mentioned by any trusted source (like any of Ball's current publications or over at NCHFP). So, I have to say "can at your own risk," even though my mom-in-law has used this recipe many times.

What You'll Need:

Washed, firm, ripe, de-stemmed grapes, any type (for every quart of juice, you'll need 1 cup)
Granulated sugar (for every quart of juice, you'll need 1/2 cup)
Water

Quart canning jars, lids, and rings
Boiling water bath canner
Ladle
Funnel (optional, but helpful)
Large pot

How to Can Grape Juice the Super-Easy Way:

1. Review the guidelines for water bath canning.

2. Fill the pot with water and bring it to a boil.

3. Work one jar at a time, and make sure each jar is hot: Pour 1 cup of grapes into the jar, followed by 1/2 cup of sugar. (The sugar is not optional.) Fill the jar with boiling water, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe the rim of the jar, add the lid, and secure the screw band. Place jar in the canner, which must be filled with hot water.
 
Left: Grapes and sugar added. Right: Boiling water added.
4. Repeat until the canner is filled with jars, or until you run out of grapes.

5. Process jars for 10 minutes.*
Wait at least a month before opening a jar. To use, shake the jar, then strain the contents through some cheese cloth (or a sieve lined with coffee filters). It's okay if the sugar settles to the bottom of the jar; just shake before using. It's also okay if the grapes float - or if they do not. (Whether or not the grapes float depends upon the stage of ripeness of the fruit.)

* NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.

Sep 22, 2014

How to EASILY Clean Ceilings & Walls - Even in a Greasy Kitchen!

Few things make the whole house look grungy than dirty ceilings and walls. Yet many of us put off cleaning ceilings and walls because the traditional way to do it (with a sponge and chemical cleaner) is a real pain. But it doesn't have to be that way!
Last weekend, I decided it was time to tackle my really grimy, greasy kitchen ceiling and walls. (Yep, that's my kitchen ceiling in the photos here.) It wasn't hard, and it took me only about 15 minutes. (And so you can truly appreciate just how very dirty those ceilings and walls were, I hadn't cleaned them in about eight years. Yes, eight! Suffice it to say I just haven't been well enough to keep my house as spic and span as I'd like; recently, I gave up on conventional doctors and am seeing a naturopath who is really healing me up. But I digress...)

So...no matter how dirty your walls are, you really can clean them in a short amount of time - and without a bunch of chemicals.

NOTE: Popcorn ceilings require a different cleaning method; click here for more information.

How to Easily Clean Even Grossly Greasy Ceilings and Walls - Without Chemicals:

1. Grab yourself a new mop head. I highly recommend you use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser mop head because I think they are one of the greatest inventions in recent history. They make cleaning so much easier - and may make it possible for you to clean your ceilings and walls without any cleaners whatsoever. (More on that in a moment.)

If you prefer, you can use a regular sponge mop head. (Don't use the string-style, cut end mop head.)

2. Thoroughly wet the mop head, then wring it out very well.

3. Test clean an inconspicuous spot. Any type of mop head has the potential to do weird things to paint, so this is an important step. Read step 4 for advice about using cleaners - or not.

4. Start with the ceiling, so that any dirty drips that might roll down the walls get cleaned up later. Now mop the ceiling, begining at one end of the room and working your way across.

If you're using a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser mop head, try moping without any cleaner first. I know this sounds crazy, but even my really greasy kitchen ceiling came out perfectly clean just by using water and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser mop head. If you're using a sponge mop, I recommend using a little Dawn dish soap in warm water, and using that as your cleaner. If a damp Mr. Clean mop head or a mop head with a little sudsy water doesn't so the trick, I recommend using Windex. But that is almost never necessary.

5. Once the ceiling is clean, mop the walls.

6. If there are areas where the mop couldn't reach - say around light fixtures or in corners - use a clean sponge to wipe down those areas. For a cleaner, use warm, sudsy water or a little Windex sprayed onto the sponge (not onto the walls or ceilings).

Ta da! All done!

Sep 19, 2014

Free Art History Curriculum: Pablo Picasso

"The Dream" is one of Picasso's most famous paintings.
NOTE: People either seem to love or loathe Picasso's paintings. But even if you hate Picasso's work, your child should be exposed to his paintings - in part because Picasso is important to art history; in part because he's part of the common vernacular ("I'm no Picasso..."); and in part because your child should have an opportunity to form an opinion about the artists' work. As a bonus, if you help your child study Picasso's work, you may find an actual appreciation for his work that you wouldn't otherwise have.


Pablo Picasso: b.October 25, 1881 in Málaga, Spain (find it on the globe) d.April 8, 1973 in Mougins, France (find it on the globe)

Style: Cubism (learn more about cubism here)

See some of  Picasso's most famous paintings here.

Be sure to give your child plenty of time to study each work of art. Ask: How is Picasso's work like other artists you've studied? How is it different? How do you feel looking at Picasso's work? What shapes and colors do you often see in his work? Do brushstrokes play a significant role in his paintings? Why do you think Picasso painted this way? Be sure to check out some of Picasso's early work, which was painted in a realistic style.

* Biography of Picasso
* Longer biography of Picasso
* "Fun Facts about Pablo Picasso"
* Illustrated, brief bio of Picasso
* Coloring page: "Three Musicians"
* Coloring page: "Child with Dove"
* Coloring page: "Girl in Front of Mirror"
* Coloring page: "Girl on a Pillow"
* Coloring page: "Portrait of Jacqueline Roque"
* Coloring page: "The Dream"
* Activity: Understanding cubism and making a cubist portrait
* Activity: Picasso-inspired portraits
* Activity: Picassohead, an online activity
* Activity: 3-D Picasso-inspired toy
* Activity: Picasso-inspired collage
* Video: Grow and Know: Picasso
* Video: Miss Patty's Art Smart: Picasso 


Learn more about this free art history curriculum for kids, plus a list of all artists covered so far, by clicking here.



Sep 15, 2014

Making Peach Jam Without Added Pectin

I've been wanting to try my hand at making jam without added, store bought pectin. Not because there is anything wrong with pectin (it's extracted from apples; you can even make your own), but because some people seem to prefer the flavor of no-pectin-added jam.

Of course, in order to jell up, all jam needs some pectin. But certain fruits (apricots, berries, peaches and apples) are naturally higher in pectin, so you don't need to add store bought or homemade pectin to them.

In the end, although this peach jam is delish, I can't say I think no-pectin-added jam is any better than the pectin-added variety. And it took a considerably longer to cook down and jell than any jams I've made with added pectin. Nonetheless, it's nice to know I can make pectin-free jam, if I want to.

How to Make Peach Jam without Added Pectin
(recipe from The Ball Blue Book, 1984)

8 cups of peeled, pitted, crushed peaches (I used about 8 large peaches)*
1/2 cup water
6 cups granulated sugar**
Crushed peaches.
First, you may wish to review the guidelines for canning using a boiling water bath canner.

1. Pour the prepared peaches and the water into a large, non-reactive pot. Gently heat for 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the sugar. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring often.

3. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring often to prevent scorching, until the jam jells. To test for jelling, place a saucer in the refrigerator. Once it's cold, spoon a small amount of the jam onto the saucer and place in the freezer. If the jam jells after a couple of minutes in the freezer, it's done.
Simmer down the jam.

The jam once it "jells."
4. Pour the jam into clean, hot jelly jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.***


NOTES:

* To learn how to peel peaches the old fashioned way, click here. Or get yourself a soft fruit peeler; to my mind, that is the only way to go!

In addition, your job will be much easier if you buy freestone peaches. (Cling peaches are difficult to pit.)

** Sugar both helps the jam "jell" (or set), and helps preserve the finished product. You may adjust  the amount of sugar in this recipe, but it may not jell well, and it won't last as long in the cupboard.

*** If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.




Sep 12, 2014

Free Art History Curriculum: Claude Monet

Monet painted the bridge in his garden many times, over many seasons.
Claude Monet: b.November 14, 1840 in Paris, France (find it on the globe) d. December 5, 1926 in Giverny, France (find it on the globe)

Style: Impressionist (Learn more about impressionism here.)

See some of Claude Monet's paintings here.

Be sure to give your child plenty of time to study each work of art. Ask: Do you see any similarities between Monet's paintings and Van Gogh's or Da Vinci's? How is Monet's art different? How does Monet use color and shade to create a certain mood? How does Monet use brush strokes? Whose sunflowers painting came first: Monet's or Van Gogh's? How do Monet's paintings make you feel?

* Short biography of Claude Monet
* Longer biography of Monet
* Coloring page: "Water Lilies" (to print, right click and save to your computer, then print)
* Coloring page: "La Promenade"
* Coloring page: "Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies"
* Coloring page: "Sunflowers"
* Activity: Tape resist Monet-inspired painting
* Activity: Watercolor and oil Monet-inspired painting
* Activity: Create a 3D water lily
* Activity: Crayon resist Monet-inspired painting
* Video: Claude Monet for Kids
* Video: Linnea in Monet's Garden  (Netflix also carries this in DVD form; the movie is based on this book)
* Video: Footage of Monet's real gardens (also here)
* Video: Impressionist painting for kids: chalk pastels
* Video: Paint Like Monet: A Beginner's Guide

Learn more about this free art history curriculum for kids, plus a list of all artists covered so far, by clicking here.

Sep 10, 2014

Walmart's Savings Catcher: Hit or Miss?

Perhaps a month ago, my local Walmart began touting what they call "Savings Catcher:" a website or app customers can use to automatically check for lower prices at mother grocery stores. If the Savings Catcher finds a lower price, Walmart gives the customer the difference. So, if for example, you purchased a certain brand and size of cheese at Walmart, but store #2 has the exact item on sale for a buck less, Walmart will give you that dollar. Sounds great, right?
Well, the first time I tried Savings Catcher, I had zero savings. The second time, after a large shopping trip that would feed us for at least two weeks, I received a whopping $1.62 in savings. Hmmm...

How Walmart's Savings Catcher Works

After you shop at Walmart, you can either scan a smart phone QR on the bottom of the Walmart receipt (after downloading the Savings Catcher app), or you can use your computer or other online device to go to Savings Catcher online. (I don't have a smart phone, so I can only give details about what it's like to use Saving's Catcher on my computer.)

Once at the Savings Catcher website, you'll need to set up a password, then enter a 21 digit number off your receipt, plus the date of purchase. That's it; the website does the rest. You'll receive an email that your info was received by the site and then, within a handful of days, you'll get another email explaining whether Savings Catcher found any better deals at other grocery stores. If it did, the email tells you how much money is going back into your pocket.

According to the Savings Catcher FAQ, each customer may enter up to seven receipts per week, and there is no minimum number of items that must be on the receipt. However, receipts can be no more than seven days old.

The Good

* Savings Catcher online is very easy to use, taking no longer than two minutes, tops, to enter your password and receipt information. Presumably, using a smart phone scan is even easier.

* Any money that comes back to you can be saved up - or turned into a gift card right away.

* According to a news release, Savings Catcher will soon include produce and general merchandise.

The Not So Good

* Not too surprisingly, there are a number of items Savings Catcher does not consider. It doesn't compare prices on advertised sales that offer a percentage off, that require a separate purchase to get the advertised price, BOGO deals where no price is listed, online purchases, store brand items, deli, bakery, weighed items (like meat), consumables (like toilet paper), health and beauty items, and "select general merchandise items...including, but not limited to, electronics, media and gaming, toys, sporting goods, housewares, small appliances, home décor, bedding, books and magazines, apparel and shoes, jewelry, furniture and seasonal products...tobacco, firearms, gasoline, tires, prescription drugs, optical and photo products and services, or products that require a service agreement such as wireless, automotive or financial products."

* If Savings Catcher finds an item at a lower price, you can only get the savings in the form of a Walmart gift card.

* Each customer can earn a maximum of $599.99 Reward Dollars per year.

The Bad

* The Savings Catcher website says they "compare advertised prices from the top retailers located nearby the Walmart store where you shopped." The list of stores they compared prices with is available once your receipt has been processed and you've received information on what (if anything) you saved. In my case, none of the stores were what I'd consider comparable to Walmart; they were stores that very, very rarely have prices lower than Walmart. Worse, we have at least two grocery stores - closer than some of the stores Walmart used as comparables - that are what might be called "discount" grocery stores, with prices more in line with Walmart, that the Savings Catcher did not include. I hate to say it, but this seems pretty disingenuous; if Walmart really wants to make comparison shopping unnecessary - if they really want to "offer customers yet another reason to trust us when it comes to helping them save" -  then they need to compare prices with ALL the grocery stores in a given area - even those that may have lower prices than Walmart.

* Savings Catcher appears to work best if you buy a lot of processed food. The only items I saved money on were two processed food items my husband likes to eat once in a while. I suppose this shouldn't be a surprise since the Savings Catcher FAQ says they don't compare prices on anything weighed - which is a good portion of what we buy when we cook from scratch. (That said, Walmart is promising to soon include produce in the Savings Catcher; that could make Savings Catcher more worthwhile.)

Conclusion

While I'm not very excited about how Savings Catcher currently works, I do think it has potential. If Walmart will compare prices with all grocery stores in a given area, and if they will include produce and meat, Walmart will really have a competitive edge. In the meantime, I will probably continue adding my receipt information into Savings Catcher - at least for a time - in the hopes that it will improve.