Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How I Taught Myself to Be an Amazing Cook

If you read my previous post, Confessions of a Kitchen-Challenged Mom, you have seen my struggles in the kitchen.  I just couldn't seem to get anything right, no matter how hard I tried.  I'm happy to report that things have changed.  Big time.  
I became a stay-at-home Mom about a year ago, and I decided that I was going to learn how to cook if it killed me.  And I did!  My husband says he now truly looks forward to coming home so he can see what we're having for dinner.  He brags about my cooking to family and friends.  And the kids have proclaimed me to be the best cook in the world!  Of course, I still have the disaster here and there.  I made pot roast a few weeks ago and my husband almost choked on it and said his gums were sore afterward because it was so hard to chew.  But overall, things have improved and here is how I turned things around:
  • I scour over every recipe.  I read it several times before I attempt it so that I don't realize half-way into it that I should have been marinating something hours ago (this used to be a problem)
  • I am always on the lookout for good recipes.  I click on links people post on FB, I search online forums like AllRecipes, I joined a recipe subscription site called The Scramble.
  • I throw out the recipes we didn't like so I don't forget and accidentally try to make them again.
  • I got the dog out of the kitchen while I'm cooking.  I used to trip over her constantly and felt bad locking her up, but now she's not allowed in there and it makes it much more fun to be in the kitchen.
  • I embraced spices.  I used to just leave them out, thinking they didn't matter.  They do!  And I love the spices from Penzey, they can make the entire difference between a blah meal and an amazing one.
  • I finally realized the real key is finding things I want to eat.  This sounds simple, but I truly used to find what looked the easiest, the fastest, or what my husband would like.  Now I look for ingredients that I enjoy, and even if it takes 15 minutes longer, it's worth it.
  • I try not to make anything I find online unless I can see reviews for it.  If the reviews are so/so, it usually comes out that way.  If the reviews are great, it usually is.  I also read the comments after any recipe, for tips and tricks on improving it to suit our tastes.
  • I do preparation before dinner, such as cutting vegetables, putting sauces together, etc., so that my life is easier at mealtimes.  That way, I can still enjoy family time but make a great meal too.
I hope these simple tricks have helped you!  Trust me, if I can improve, you can too!
Want to see all my posts?  Put your email address here to become a subscriber!
Enter your email address:

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

5 Great Books to Motivate Kindergarteners to Love Reading

There are some really good books for kids out there...and there are some really awful ones.  We went through a streak where everything we got from the library was just terrible.  The kids and I were rapidly losing our enthusiasm for reading until one day it occurred to me that I should read them books that I would actually enjoy.  It felt like they weren't quite old enough for chapter books at ages 6 and 4, but I began doing some research and I learned that reading chapter books:

  • Enhances vocabulary in an extraordinary way
  • Models fluency from listening to a proficient reader
  • Develops listening skills
  • Enhances bonding
  • Most of all, chapter books MAKE CHILDREN LOVE READING
I found the last point to be especially true.  My kids are literally begging me to read to them morning, noon and night.  They get sad when we finish a book they love, and we have had some incredibly rich conversations as a result of reading.  We pull out the globe when the book refers to a different country, we talk about what words mean, and why characters do the things they do.  I have tried to read books that also have movies so that we can make a movie night of it after we are finished with the book, which is also fun and motivating to the kids.  

The following is a list of some of our favorite chapter books.  It is important to find books that will be interesting to kids, but keep an eye out for books that aren't too advanced or they will lose interest:

1.  This was our first chapter book.  There are actually dozens of these books, and they are all written for young children.  They often have a bit of a mystery and the kids find them very easy to follow.  

2.  This was a very fun book, with a wild and imaginative story.  It was also very short, so it is a great pick for a beginner chapter book.

3.  This book has a very fun story and the kids were really rooting for the characters.  It gave us lots of rich context to discuss, with the Indian and the Cowboy slant.  In addition, it is a fun movie!

4.  This book captivated my kids.  In addition, there are some great lessons in morality here that can be discussed, and of course, a it is a great movie for kids as well.

5.  Lastly, Harry Potter is and probably always will be the favorite.  We haven't venture to watch the movie yet, as I am afraid of nightmares, but the kids LOVED the book and were so sad when it ended.  There are so many characters that it did take awhile for them to get everyone straight, but it was a great lesson in listening skills.

For more ideas on helping your children love reading, and activities with kids, please check out my book!  Here is one Amazon review:

"This book seriously saved my sanity. I've read a bunch of parenting books but this is literally the only one that actually gave me real and specific advice and ideas for things to do with my daughter. I'm a stay-at-home mom to a 2-year old and I was at my wits end trying to come up with ideas of fun, easy, creative things to do with her that will keep her busy and occupied and help her learn. I wasn't very good at following through on ideas that I heard about from friends or read in other books or online because they seemed too complicated (aka: messy!) but this book broke it down and made it so simple. I highly recommend it!" 

Want to see all my posts?  Put your email address here to become a subscriber!
Enter your email address: