It's that time of year again!  

I started homeschooling one of my children just a couple weeks ago (taking a bite of the elephant at one time- this is also the reason I haven't been posting as often), so I'm looking forward to making some adorable things with her for Valentines' Day-  and not having the normal glut of candy (hurray!)  

My mom wasn't much for celebrating many things- but we always woke up Valentine morning to find a giant (to us kids) cookie with a pretty border and our name written in flourishes of pink frosting.  

Below are some of the ideas I love for this year, some are mine and some are from other sites.  There's also this post for more ideas, including how to make heart-shaped muffins with a regular muffin tin, some liners, and several marbles.
 
 
Actually, some of the newer "instant" powdered milks taste pretty good.  However, the non-instant dry powdered milk is generally less expensive.  It's just not so great for drinking straight.  There's more on that in the printable.

The first couple recipes are below and the next blog post will have the others.  You can get all of them without waiting, plus some extra stuff, in a two-page printable format right here.  For even more great powdered milk recipes, download the Bee Prepared Pantry Cookbook or the Wooden Spoon class booklet (see here for corrections & notes for the Wooden Spoon booklet.)
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Lasagne using powdered milk?  You bet!  You can make homemade cottage cheese in 5-10 minutes.  There's even a recipe for a mock mozzarella that melts beautifully, in the Bee Prepared book.

All cost estimates are based on paying $1.89/lb for powdered milk, which is the 2013 price at the LDS Church's 'Family Home Storage Center'.

Homemade Cottage Cheese- makes about 16 oz., $ 1.00/batch

4 c. hot water                                                                          6 Tbsp. white vinegar
1 ½  c. non-instant dry milk powder                                           ½   tsp. salt, to taste

            Stir together water and powdered milk in a saucepan, heat until it starts to steam, stirring.  Drip vinegar around the edge of the pan and gently stir; it will immediately start to separate into curds and whey.  If it doesn’t, heat it up some more.  Let rest one minute.  Pour into a cheesecloth-lined colander over a bowl. Save whey, then rinse with hot water, then with cold water and break apart into the size curds you want.  Rinse for one minute or until all the whey is out. Add salt. To make it creamy, add 4-6 Tbsp. sour cream, yogurt, evaporated milk, or cream.

  The whey may be used in place of liquid (milk or water) in baking.  It has vitamins, minerals, some protein, no fat, and some milk sugar (lactose- very low on the glycemic scale.)  Since it has the acidity of the vinegar in it, you can add a little baking soda to neutralize and get extra leavening power- use 1 tsp. baking soda per 2-3 cups of acid whey; reduce any baking powder by three times the amount:  if using 1 tsp. baking soda, the baking powder is reduced by 3 tsp.

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Yogurt – makes 2 quarts of plain yogurt at $ .57 per quart if using your own starter
1 ¾ c. regular nonfat dry milk, or 3 c. instant                         7 c. hot water (not over 120 degrees)
1/3 c. plain yogurt, with active cultures

Combine dry milk and 4 cups of the water.  Whisk or mix in a blender.  Add yogurt and whisk.  Add remaining water or divide the remaining water evenly between your containers; stir well after adding the milk mixture!  Pour into containers, cover, and incubate in a warm place for 4-8 hours or until set.  Tip a container after 4 hours to see if it has set.  If the yogurt is still liquid, wait 1-2 more hours.  It will set up a little more when chilled.  Store in fridge.  The ideal temperature range for culturing yogurt is 105-120 degrees.  The lower of these temperatures you begin culturing at, the sweeter the yogurt will be.  The higher, the more tart. Above 120 degrees will kill the bacteria you’re trying to grow.  Save 1/3 c. for culturing your next batch.

To flavor your yogurt after it’s made, add fruit, jam, juice concentrate, chocolate milk mix, etc., before eating.

To flavor it before culturing, use 6-8 Tbsp. of sugar per 2-qt batch,  or 4-6 Tbsp. honey (dissolve this in your water first, or it will sink to the bottom), or a 3-oz. box of flavored gelatin, or 1/3-1/2 c. jam, or 1 c. chopped or mashed sweetened fruit. The syrup from canned fruit can be used in place of part of the water.  If it’s not sweet enough, you can always add sugar when it’s done.  1-2 tsp. vanilla added to the batch is also a nice addition.  Make your own combinations- chopped cherries with some vanilla and a little almond extract, blueberries with cream cheese added, toasted coconut with caramel sauce swirled in… let your imagination run wild!

To make firm yogurt that doesn’t become thin after stirring, use 4-6 tsp. unflavored gelatin, or two envelopes, per two-quart batch.  Soften it in part of the recipe’s water, then heat gently on stove, in microwave, or over hot water, until the gelatin melts.  Add along with remaining water.

 
 
A few years ago, I opened up the Foods section of my local newspaper and spotted a recipe called "Just-the-Best Cookies".  The version there was intended to be a healthier one, having reduced the nuts, coconut, and switching to oil instead of butter.  Well, I've reduced the sugar and changed it to use honey, then added back the bigger amount of coconut and nuts, since we know now that healthy fats are, well, healthy!  In moderation. And I love the crunch and flavor of coconut and nuts.

We have two breakfast times at my house- one for my highschoolers and husband, who have to be out the door by 6:45, and one for the rest of us, because some of them leave at 8:00 for the elementary school and Jr-High.  These cookies make a fantastic, no-work breakfast for that earlier group- I make a batch, put them in a big ziplock bag after cooling, and pop them into the freezer. Then my early group can even grab and go, when needed.

These cookies are high in fiber as well, and lower in sugar than most.  Two cookies are about the same nutritionally as one homemade, normal-sized muffin, and much better for you than commercially-made muffins!  Two made without raisins contain 16 grams of sugar, which is less than you'd get in a bowl of cereal with milk. Especially if you count the size bowl my teenagers think is a serving.  (I keep hiding the bigger bowls...)

Enjoy!

Just-the-Best Breakfast Cookies
1/2 c. coconut oil or butter
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. water
2 c. whole wheat flour
2 c. quick-cooking oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. shredded sweetened coconut
1/2 c. chopped pecans or other nuts, optional
1/2 c. chopped raisins, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease or spray two cookie sheets.  In a large bowl, beat together coconut oil and honey, then mix in egg, vanilla, and water.  Add the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt and mix well.  Stir in coconut, nuts, and raisins.
Roll into 1 1/2" balls, a little larger than a ping-pong ball.  Place on cookie sheet, flatten slightly, and bake for about 12 minutes.  Let the cookies cool 2 minutes on the cookie sheet before removing to a cooling rack. Makes about 36.

To make breakfast bars instead, spread all the dough onto one well-greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 for probably 25 minutes.  I don't know for sure because the idea popped into my head just now...    Cool and cut into whatever size bars you like.                                

 


 
 
This year the theme for Primary-- the children's organization-- is "I Am A Child of God".  Our ward typically gives the children and teachers a small gift each year.  We've also recently had a lesson called "Jesus Christ is the Light and the Life of the World" (Dec. 2012, week 3), and I read a talk by Sister Elaine S. Dalton called "Now is the Time to Arise and Shine".   It also fit with our first Sharing Time lesson of the year, "God is my Heavenly Father.  He Knows and Loves Me." Connecting all these things, this is what we did this year:

I bought a number of chandelier crystals, strung a ribbon through, and attached a poem, which I titled  Illumination:

Hang this crystal in your room
Where light is bright and clear.
As light reflects and shines, think of  
The temple’s chandelier.

I am a child of God
His light can shine through me.
If I am clean and pure and serve,
I can help others see.


The poem can be sung to the tune of "I Am A Child of God"; we sang just the second stanza.  

Maybe the poem should have specified to hang it in the window; my children have theirs hanging on the wall, where they are not close enough to a light source to throw rainbows.  Hmm.  Maybe "In your window this will go/ Where light is bright and clear..."

Something like this poem and chandelier crystal could be used as part of a Family Home Evening lesson, especially along with either of the Sharing Time lessons or Sister Dalton's talk.  

I know that I am not the light but I can help share it.  The closer I am to the Source of light, my Savior, Jesus Christ, and the more pure of heart and willing to serve His children I am, the more I am able to share His light with others.  They will see it in me and hopefully want to shine, too.

_______________________________________________

How about the expense?  Each one cost just over $1, I ordered some from Amazon, $8.99 for 10 crystals, plus shipping.  They didn't have enough for me (we needed about 120), so found more at D. Lawless Hardware, $1 apiece with free shipping (and my favorite crystal of the two kinds).   Thin gold ribbon was on sale at Hobby Lobby, a 30-foot roll for $ .79, it took 6 spools to have 14" per crystal.


 
 
You know how they say "great minds think alike"?   Three neighbors gave me cheeseballs as a Christmas gift.  One of them (Juliette's) was so good I made a batch of Juliette's Green Chili Cheese Ball to give out (and eat too).  The result was that I had a tad too much cheeseball in the fridge.  Granted, it will last a couple weeks if wrapped well- 

but I also had some leftover smashed potatoes.

And the two leftovers turned out to make a beautiful couple.  What's a cheeseball?  Cream cheese, shredded cheese, seasonings... all stuff that goes well with potatoes.

Maybe you'll find a cheeseball on clearance at the grocery store, or maybe get handed the leftovers at a party, or maybe you'll make one...

At any rate, here's a new favorite side dish.  I cooked some leftover-from New-Year's-Eve sliced summer sausage to go along with it, and served with a salad and sliced apples.  I'd even eat it as a main dish; we often cook meatless meals.  (It's cheaper.  And probably healthier.)

Leftover Cheese Ball Potatoes
4-6 cups mashed potatoes
1/2 cup (4 oz) leftover cheese ball
2 eggs (these make the casserole puff as it cooks, plus adds protein)

Mash everything together and spread in an 8x8 pan.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
OR, to make it faster, reheat the mashed potatoes in the microwave before adding everything, bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, then move it to the top rack in the oven.  Broil for 2-4 minutes (check at two minutes!!), until browned on top.
 
 
What beauties are around us!  Below are some of the photos I've taken.  

There's always "one that got away"; back when I was in college I looked outside and saw what looked like an upside-down, hanging rainbow.  Turns out it was a circumzenithal arc.   Didn't have the camera.  

Most of these pictures are from the last two years; the sun pillar photos are the most recent: from this New Year's Eve.  We spotted them on our drive home from Grandma's house...     What an amazing way to end the year!  It felt like God's reassurance that he's aware and still in charge.  

(For a music-backed experience, play Desert Symphony while watching the pictures. Yeah, their videography upstages my pictures.  Enjoy them both. )