Friday, April 24, 2015

Fudgey Brownies with Coconut Whipped Cream (Dairy and Soy Free)

Were you aware that you can whip coconut milk and it tastes AMAZING and provides a delightful alternative to real whipped cream when you are dairy-free, like I am right now? My friend recently whipped up some coconut cream for me and I just had to try it on some brownies. Here is the recipe for the resulting deliciousness.

Fudgey Brownies (Dairy-Free, Soy-Free)
Adapted from the Watkins Brownie Recipe found here

2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup melted Earth Balance, Soy-free margarine
1/4 cup canola oil (or oil of your choice)
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
4 tbl dutch cocoa
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix brown sugar, eggs, margarine, oil, and vanilla until combined. Add flour, cocoa and salt and stir until moistened. Pour batter into greased 9 x 13 pan and bake for 20 minutes (until an inserted toothpick comes out pretty clean). Remove from oven and let cool in the pan a for a few minutes before you cut.

Whip up some coconut cream (Whipped Coconut Cream Instructions) and sit down and savor this delicious dairy-free dessert!

Friday, April 17, 2015

72-Hour Emergency Kits

I told my friend Marie that I was going to make 72-hour emergency kits for our family this week. That was about six months ago.

It's not like it should be that hard of a task, right? Especially since I'm not starting from scratch; both Jeffrey and I had wonderful mothers who sent us to college with emergency bags that we dutifully carried with us from place to place to place to place, expired food and all.

And it's an important task, too. FEMA, The Red Cross, and, most notably, prophets of God all urge citizens everywhere to have a three-day supply of food and other essentials readily on hand in case disaster strikes.

Yet making packs for our little family has been surprisingly difficult for me, mostly due to the following constraints:

First, I  needed them to be inexpensive kits. There are several options to buy survival bags ranging from around $40 to $150. In most cases, though, the kits either didn't have quite what I wanted or had appropriate items but were still cheaper to assemble myself. Or both.

Next, if I'm going to take the time to update/reassemble our emergency packs, I want them to be well-organized. These should be good and complete kits, not just a halfhearted effort at obedience to my church leaders and the emergency disaster experts.

Hand in hand with well-organized is my desire that they also make a lot of sense. This is really Jeffrey's doing, to be honest. When I told him (rather excitedly) about my impending project, he asked me what the kits were for. Our exchange went something like this:

"It's 72 hours worth of food, silly, in case disaster strikes!"

"Don't we have food here? Like, 3 months worth?"

"Well we might not be in the apartment when it happens."

"Oh. But don't we keep the kits in that closet over there?"

"Maybe we grab them on the way out the door? Besides, they have other useful things in them too. Like... tooth brushes! And matches! And...etc. etc. etc."

I am pretty sure that I got all huffy in my defense of our emergency kits. Silly, really, because rather than attacking them, my husband was actually thinking about them. Which, I'm afraid to say, stuck with me too. So over several months, many lists, and various amazon purchases, I've finally come up with an emergency plan of sorts for our family. To be honest, I don't feel "done" at all. Yet I finally decided I won't ever be "done"; this is a project I'll revisit and rethink on a yearly basis, adding to and taking away from our supplies as our needs as a family change. Yet now we finally have a starting point, and it's a pretty good one too.

So, without further ado, here it is...

The Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why 

Nice to begin with the easy one, right? The who, of course, is our family. Two adults and one baby. I mean toddler. Hmm. That's the trouble with SourPatch: his needs (and sizes) can't stay the same for two weeks together. That's why it's so important to update these kits each year, especially if there are kids involved.

What do we need in a 72-hour kit? It kind of depends on the disaster, really. So I started thinking of various disaster scenarios, ranging from being stranded with a flat tire to zombie-apocalypse/alien invasion. Since we live in the Bay Area, my median, baseline tragedy in mind is always an earthquake.

First, we need a container for our supplies. Backpacks seem like the most sensible kind of pack, though buckets or duffles could work I'm sure (but who wants to haul around a bucket on foot? So never mind-don't use a bucket. That would be the worst).

Water and food are two obvious things we don't want to run out of (ever). I'm trying to keep a 2 week supply of water on hand in our home. There's also a gallon of drinking water in the trunks of both of our cars, and I'd like to add a box of emergency water pouches that have a longer life and will better withstand the heat. However, at the recommended one gallon of water per person per day, the idea of actually lugging around all that water in a pack is not very supportable.

So along with a couple of filled water bottles, I bought a Seychelle water filtration bottle (found here at the LDS store or here on amazon) and iodine water purification tablets. It seemed like a good idea to have two different methods of purification. However, I was chagrined to read that the Red Cross does not recommend using the iodine or any chemicals to purify water other than regular household bleach with 5.25 to 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite. A cursory search didn't uncover exactly why they are opposed to the iodine tablets (which are commonly used by campers). The bleach method appears to be more effective and safer (pregnant women shouldn't consume iodine). Still, the filtered water bottle and iodine tablets are what I have in our packs just in case boiling or chlorinating with bleach isn't feasible.
  • Seychelle water filtration bottle 
  • Water Purification Tablets
  • 2 week water supply at home
  • Water supply in car

Now the food part stressed me out. First, I never realized how few foods won't expire within the year. Do crackers and granola bars really only last for another 6 months or so? To avoid quick expiration dates, I know many people go the can route. We have a stash of canned goods at home, but surely we don't want to haul heavy cans on our backs. I know the cans could be reused to heat up food or perform other useful tasks in a dire emergency, but for me, their possibly utility was over-shadowed by their weight. Then, there are several dried food items such as oatmeal or soup that are light and compact but require water and, ideally, a heat source to prepare. Other foods such as trail mix or crackers are salty and therefore thirst-inducing.

Though I did fill a giant ziplock bag with fruit leather, oatmeal, hot chocolate, canned tuna salad/crackers, and peanut butter, my principle food plan for our kits is to use energy bars specifically made for emergencies. These Millennium Bars are my bars of choice. They have a 5-year shelf life, several flavors, and 400 calories a piece. The 24 bar multipack would sustain two adults for 3 days.
  • 24 count Millennium Bar multipack
  • Other food items as desired, such as:
    • Instant oatmeal
    • Mini peanut butter 
    • Tuna salad "to-go" packs
    • Hot chocolate mix
    • Fruit leather
    • Hard Candy
    • 3 bowls and utensils

Shelter, Warmth, and Protection
Now, it's hard for me to limit myself and what I purchase. The more I research, the more excited I get about packing us tarps, tents, and all sorts of protective gear. Still, keeping in mind my goal to be inexpensive and compact while still hitting the essentials, here's my list of protective gear.
  • Working Gloves These are a biggie should an earthquake strike.
  • Poncho
  • Mylar Emergency Blankets We actually have about six of these. A bit excessive for 2.5 people, I know, but we could potentially share them with others, and they take up so little space. 
  • N95 filter masks These could be essential in an earthquake to protect our lungs from all the particles in the air. They also could be used in a health epidemic for droplet precautions.
  • Emergency Whistle
  • Trash bags
  • Multipurpose knife
  • Duct tape
  • Sunscreen
  • Extra pair of clothes for each of us In my case, I used scrub bottoms and a light long-sleeved shirt. I also added my water shoes. A real pair of shoes just seemed so very big; these are light, small, and if they protect my feet from sharp coral, they could presumably do the same for earthquake rubble. 

 Fuel and Light
  • Mini Stove. This came with my original 72-hour kit (thanks, mom!) It could be used for cooking, boiling/sterilizing water, and as a heat source.
  • Waterproof Matches x2
  • Flashlight + extra batteries

Personal Supplies/Hygiene
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Sunscreen
  • Diapers
  • Wipes
  • 2 Washcloths
  • Toilet paper roll
  • Tissue packs
  • Moist towelettes
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Travel size shampoo
  • Travel size body wash
 Medical/First Aid
  • Pain Relievers
  • Large and Small First Aid kits
  • CPR Masks I've only ever had to perform CPR once, and I really pray I never have to do it again, especially outside of a hospital setting. Nonetheless, it seems prudent to be prepared, and if I end up needing to do rescue breathing, I'd really like to have a mask on hand. Masks are more effective and more sanitary. I ordered this one from amazon; I liked that it has both an adult/child size along with an infant size for SourPatch.
  • Vinyl Gloves The CPR mask comes with one pair, but if there are many injured individuals to help, I'm sure I would want multiple pairs.

Documents & Cash
This one is tricky. I love the idea of having copies of our birth certificates or other important documents with us should our apartment become rubble. I don't love the idea of having them potentially stolen, though.

So unlike others, I left such documents out of our packs. Instead, I included:
Honestly, that's a lot to fit into a typical backpack already. I added a pack of playing cards to help the adults pass time. It seemed unnecessary to add toys for SourPatch quite yet; he quite enjoys playing with the whistles, ponchos and knickknacks in the bag. I also put in a pad of paper and pen so we can jot down notes (or doodle, if we're bored. M.A.S.H., anyone?) I also added a pocket-sized Book of Mormon. 
  • Deck of cards
  • Pen and paper
  • Pocket-sized scriptures
  • Emergency contact numbers This could include family, friends, and local church leaders.

So my smart husband had a bit of a point that keeping our kits in our home might not be the best option. I decided it was more prudent to put one in each car. Granted, I know there are some problems with this idea, the most obvious being that we'll only have one pack with us should the whole family be out together in one car. Yet both kits are equipped with SourPatch in mind. Jeffrey and I would have to make do with the rest of the items. Many of the items can be shared, and those that can't, such as ponchos and mylar blankets, are cheap and compact, making it easy to slip two in each pack. If, instead, Jeffrey and I were both out in our cars, we'd both have a pack. And if we were at home? Then our cars would be too, so we could still use them.

It's also true that the heat in our trunks will probably shorten the lifespan of some of the items in the bags (particularly the food). Again, though, the potential benefit of having our bags with us away from home outweigh the risks.

So along with the emergency bags, each car has a gallon of water. My car, too, always has a stroller in the trunk, which could come in handy if we had to walk rather than drive to safety. My car also has a blanket for warmth and at least a half-tank of gas at all times (or that's what I aim for, anyways!)

As aforementioned, the bags are intended to care for our family through 72 hours of various emergency scenarios, and I intend to update and check on the contents yearly.

I really like my mom's method of grouping similar items in ziplock bags. There's one for our toiletries, one for food, one for diapers, and one for most of the other items. I printed off a list of all the items of each bag and slipped it instead for a quick contents reference.

Since this has taken me months to complete, I bought the contents from various places. The backpacks we already owned. Walmart, Amazon, and Dollar Tree were all excellent resources for the contents. I've thought about, prayed about, and stressed about these emergency kits, but I really great peace of mind now that they are complete.


“When we speak of family preparedness, we should speak of foreseen, anticipated, almost expected needs which can be met through wise preparation. Even true emergencies can be modified by good planning.” (Bishop H. Burke Peterson, Welfare Services Meeting, April 5, 1975, p. 5.)

"My brothers and sisters, I feel our anxieties are justified. It is the opinion of many that more difficult times lie ahead. We are deeply concerned about the welfare of our people and recognize the potential privation and suffering that will exist if each person and family does not accept the word of the Lord when he says, “Prepare every needful thing” (D&C 88:119), and “It must needs be done in mine own way” (D&C 104:16)." –Victor L. Brown, Prepare Every Needful Thing.

To maintain some semblance of stability in our lives, it is essential that we plan for our future. I believe it is time, and perhaps with some urgency, to review the counsel we have received in dealing with our personal and family preparedness. –L. Tom Perry, If Ye Are Prepared  Ye Shall Not Fear

All Americans should have some basic supplies on hand in order to survive for at least three days if an emergency occurs. ... Individuals should also consider having at least two emergency supply kits, one full kit at home and smaller portable kits in their workplace, vehicle or other places they spend time. -FEMA

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Bunny Cake

I realize that Easter is over for this year, but I had to share this anyway. Lucky grandma that I am, I have spent the last several days with two of my grandchildren while they welcomed a new sister into their family. Before I came, I saw a picture of a cute Easter Bunny cake and thought it would be a fun project for the three of us to do together. The wonderful thing about it is that it is simple enough that the children, ages three and five, could really be involved in making it.

What you will need: a white cake mix, a tub of white frosting (unless you are a purist and make these from scratch), flaked coconut, one large marshmallow, two small candies (raisins or chocolate chips would work as well), and construction paper for ears.

Bake the cake according to package directions in two round pans. Cool, remove from pan, wrap in plastic, and freeze. (Frozen cakes are much easier to frost.) You will only need one of the cakes for this project, so wrap the other one well and save it for another occasion.

After your cake is frozen, choose a plate or tray large enough to hold the completed cake--we chose a white cutting board--and, using a knife or spatula, frost a line down the middle of it. This will be the glue to hold your bunny in place:

Cut your cake in half and frost one of the halves on the flat side. The rounded sides will become the plump bunny's head and body:

Put the two halves together--using the frosting as glue--and place it, cut side down, along your line of frosting:

Using a serrated knife, cut a notch out of the top of the cake to create a neckline. I gave each child a butter knife, and they covered the entire cake with frosting. We didn't worry that some crumbs came off the cake and mixed in with the frosting because we knew that the crumbs would be hidden under the coconut:

I wiped extra frosting off our board with a damp paper towel and gave each child a small bowl of coconut. They sprinkled it all over the cake, patting it gently into place. Two green skittles made perfect bunny eyes:

Cut the large marshmallow in half. On the back end of the bunny, clear away some of the coconut and put the cut end of one of the marshmallow halves into place for the bunny's tail:

We cut two bunny ears out of pink construction paper, stuck them into the top of the head, and Peter Cottontail was complete:

Like I said, the fabulous thing about this project is that the children really did most of the work themselves. And since Easter is over, I think we will use the other half of the cake to make a brown (chocolate frosting with brown sprinkles or mini chocolate chips) bunny to share with a friend. He can be "Little Bunny Foo Foo" or the little rabbit hopping by from "There was a little house in the middle of the woods. . . ."

I love these talented little bakers!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Best Children's Books: My Top Picks, The Cream of the Crop, The Pick of the Litter

The other day, I thought I should write down a list of all the books my little girl has enjoyed and is now enjoying so that I would have a reference for future kids and for baby shower gifts. I am posting some of our favorites on here in case any of you are expecting your first child, wanting ideas for a baby shower, or are just looking for some new books to get at the library for the kiddoes. I didn't include some of the obvious "greats" like Where the Wild Things Are and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the Seussand Jumanji, and Winnie the Pooh, mostly because my little girl really doesn't like reading any of those right now. I'm not sure why. Do I own them. Yes. Do I think they are grand. Yes. But this is a list of books that my little girl and her friends at play school really enjoy. And most of them are not gender specific. 

So now, in no particular order:

1. Sandra Boynton's Opposites, Moo, Baa, La La La, The Going to Bed Book, Barnyard Dance, Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs

The first book I read to my little girl was a copy of Sandra Boynton's Opposites--and she fell in love with it. Boynton's books are fabulous because she is the master of simple but effective illustrations that are eye-catching and colorful. She combines this with rhythmic text that is fun to say and hear. With the exception of a couple (Blue Hat, Green Hat and Doggies) these books just don't get old. My girl is two and a half now and she still likes to read these books.

2. Will Hillenbrand's Down By the Station & Mother Goose  
Down by the Station and Fiddle-I-F
ee are pure joy. The illustrations are beautiful and my little girl loved that they were songs that we could sing while we looked at the pictures. I also really like Hillenbrand's illustrations for the classic Mother Goose nursery rhymes.

3. Classics: Curious George & Go, Dog. Go!

If you haven't read Go, Dog, Go!, you should do so immediately. It is, in my opinion, one of the best children's books ever. It is sooooooooooo simple--but strangely brilliant. It is longish--but for some reason, kids don't care. I read the whole thing to 5 two and a half year olds the other day, and they sat, entranced, through the entire thing. I'm not sure why. And I got this Curious George treasury at a half-priced bookstore and my little girl requests stories from it almost on a daily basis. Both of these books are books that she has enjoyed from the start and is still enjoying at two and a half.

4. Polly Dunbar: Tilly and Friends books & Penguin
My sister, Delys, introduced me to the Tilly books and I haven't found any books since that are as delightful. Dunbar is probably my favorite children's book author & illustrator right now. She is so good at capturing childhood and putting it in picture and simple story form. After being delighted by the Tilly books, we fortuitously checked out another Dunbar book called Penguin from the library. Get it! It is the bomb shizzle of children's books. Love, love, love it!

5. Mouse's First series

The mouse series was another delightful library find. The first one we read was Mouse's First Day of School. My little girl loved it. Since then, we have read Mouse's First Spring (and Winter and Fall) and Mouse's First Valentine's Day (Christmas & Halloween). Our favorites were the school one and the Halloween one. I love the fat little mouse and it is fun to discover new seasons and holidays and experiences with him. The text is full of rhythmic sensory detail which I really like.

6. Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day

Absolutely beautiful and timeless. I love it. My little girl loves it. There really isn't a way to describe this book. You just have to experience it.

7. Jack Kent's Little Peep 

This book was one of my husband's favorites as a kid. It is unfortunately out of print which makes it harder to come by. But if you can find it at a library or used bookseller, it is worth your time. The story and dialogue really win the day in this book about a rooster who thinks he makes the sun come up by crowing, and the little chick who accidentally disillusions him.

8. Spot's First Picnic

I never thought the Spot books were all that special--but my husband got this one to read to our little girl (because it was one of his favorite's as a child), and now it is one of her favorites. As in, she laughs out loud at parts of it.

9. Pete the Cat

Ahhh, Pete the Cat. What a guy. The illustrations are crazy and the smooth, sing-songy text is engaging. And this particular one teaches basic subtraction. What is not to like?

10. Mercer Mayer's Liza Lou

I have no idea whether Mercer Mayer has won any major book awards--but he should have. This guy's imagination and creativity is endless. He has got a lot of children's books worth reading out there, but my all-time favorite is Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp. Liza Lou is a sassy, smart heroine who very adeptly puts all the swamp monsters in their place. My little girl isn't a huge fan of this one yet, but one day, she will request it. 

Enjoy some new books!