Archives for June 2013


Google reader is going away

If you, like me, have been using google reader to read all your blogs, you are probably aware that it is going to be gone on Monday. What you may not know is that you can switch all your blogs seamlessly to another reader if you act this weekend. The reader that I think I’ll be using is Feedly. Feedly is easy to use, and even has a tutorial to walk you quickly through the transition.  Another feed reader option is Bloglovin.  I’ve imported the blogs I read there as well, now while it’s easy, just in case I don’t like feedly for some reason.  Whatever reader you choose, once google reader is gone, you’ll have to enter your blogs manually, so do it before Sunday evening if you want to be able to do it quickly and easily.

Just out of curiosity, how many blogs do you read regularly?  At the moment I have 48 on my list.

4th of July party planning

I’m looking forward to our annual 4th of July family party, and have been bookmarking some ideas that I’m thinking about trying.  Click on each photo to go to each tutorial.

These pinwheels look like fun to make, and they’d delight the little grandsons!  We might use heavy drinking straws instead of skewers though.

4th of July pinwheels

Aren’t these tin can windsocks just adorable?  I think they’d be fun in the tree over the swimming pool all summer long.  For the streamers, I’d probably cut strips off some cheapo plastic tablecloths you can get from a party store.  That way they will be able to withstand rain.


This salad looks so pretty and yummy.  Also, I’ve never bought jimaca before in my life, so it’s about time I do!



I’ve used this idea in previous years but in individual glasses, which has always felt a little too fussy with the numbers of people I serve.  I love the idea of setting it up in a big dispenser and letting people serve themselves. It might mix up a bit while being dispensed, but it would still taste as good.

party punch



Here’s one last decor idea.  Even if you decided not to do the lettering, the stars suspended on ribbon are a lot of fun. This idea would be fun birthday decor too.

Great 4th of July Garland

Finally, if you’re looking for games for a large crew, be sure to check out the post I wrote awhile back detailing some of the games we’ve played over the years with varying ages of people.

Do you have plans for the 4th?

Pin It

How to organize cooking at camp (or any large cooking project)

Gathered around the evening campfireDo you have a church camp, family reunion, or a wedding coming up where you’re in charge of the food?  Are you wondering how to pull it together without pulling out your hair?

Years ago I was in a similar situation.  Our church camp food had been organized for many years by four wonderful ladies who I knew were wishing for help and wanting to hand off the job.  They were so ready that when I offered to help, I ended up spearheading the whole thing.  Yikes.  I knew that I wanted to think of a way to organize it so that more people were in the kitchen, but for shorter lengths of time.  For folks to feel comfortable enough to volunteer to help, I was going to have to break down the big task into smaller ones.   After all, not too many people feel comfortable in commercial kitchens  — not even me that first year.  And even fewer have experience cooking for 50 or 60 people at a time.


One thing I changed very little was the menu.  Our experienced cooks had found that familiar foods like pancakes, tacos, hot dogs, and pizza went over well with the campers.  I liked that the prep of these meals would feel doable to most at-home cooks.  Familiar in this case was a good thing.


I made a simple sign-up chart, and arranged a team leader for each meal from among the most experienced cooks in the church.  Then I put up my sign-up sheet at church asking for 2 or 3 more assistant cooks at each meal.  I was banking on the fact that signing up as an assistant would feel less intimidating to most folks than being the lead cook.  I specified what was going to be cooked at each meal, so that people could sign up for meals that they felt confident doing.


Next I spent some time thinking through each meal logistically.  Working backward from the time at which I wanted to serve each meal, I figured out when things needed to go into and come out of the oven.  I estimated how long preparing each item would take before cooking. (Hint: allow 20- not 5–minutes for 2 people to crack 10 dozen eggs.)  I allowed time to make salads, cut fruit, and pour drinks.  Then  I wrote up a  flow chart for each individual meal, starting with the time that the cooks would need to come into the kitchen and working step by step through the whole  meal preparation.  These flow charts are posted prominently in the kitchen for each meal, guiding cooks through the process.

Food for a Crowd


For the last few years, I’ve also created a sign-up sheet to do specific tasks that can be done hours or days before various meals. (Have you noticed by now that one of my main camp secrets is delegating?? 🙂  ) Some folks, like mommas of little ones, can’t commit to cook a whole meal, but they can find half an hour, maybe during a baby’s nap, to assist with a smaller project. For example, I like to cook a fair bit of the meat before camp, and freeze it until it is needed.  This makes it easier to transport, and ensures that the meat is properly cooked.  Things we usually do before camp:  brown ground beef for tacos, slow-cook pork for pulled pork sandwiches, cut cabbage for Amish coleslaw, and brown the meat for Chili for a Crowd.  Other things are best done at camp, but need to be done several hours ahead of the meal.  Examples include: jello, brownies, pizza dough, ham sauce, and cinnamon rolls.  Anything that can be done ahead of time will ease the job of the busy mealtime cooks.  I bring laminated copies of favorite recipes to camp to be used year after year.



This perhaps is one of the hardest tasks of the whole project.  Estimating food quantities can be very difficult. When in doubt, I tend to buy a little more, especially of affordable options.  Our camp is a 40 minute drive from the nearest grocery store, so it is inconvenient to run out for items I’ve forgotten.  Ellen’s Kitchen is a resource I found helpful in guesstimating quantities, especially at first.  Here’s another website that shares some general rules of thumb.  Here are some examples of some things that I’ve figured out over the years:

  • Scrambled eggs– figure 2 per person  (with sausage, bread and fruit to fill out the meal)
  • Ham Dinner for 100– 45 pounds spiral-cut ham is about right for a meal for 100 people (along with Scalloped Potatoes for a Crowd and a huge fruit salad consisting of 1 watermelon, 3 cantaloupe, 2 honeydew and 5 pounds of grapes.)
  • Taco Lunch for 100– 30 pounds is about right for 100 people  (along with 120 flour tortillas, 80 corn tortillas, three huge cans of refried beans, 10# grated cheese, 3# sour cream, plus salsa, lettuce and tomatoes as toppings.  And 2 watermelon as fruit.)
  • Pancake Breakfast for 100 people–  plan on needing about 225 medium sized pancakes (plus about 6 cantaloupe, 3 honeydew, 20 pounds of bacon, 3 gallons of apple juice,  2 gallons of orange juice, and a gallon of milk.

When you’re putting together your initial list, go through every single ingredient for every single meal, making sure to add together quantities of items you use at multiple meals.  Then double-check the list, making sure to add all condiments, spices, etc.  (Last year we forgot yeast, and for many long moments I was afraid our pizza would be unleavened bread.  Yikes!  Thankfully there was just a little stashed in a cupboard at the camp.)

When it comes time to shop, take along a buddy who is energetic and familiar with the menu.  Wear comfy shoes and bring water.  I expect a camp shopping trip to take a full 8 hour day one day, and usually shop for a few last things (a couple more hours of shopping) the following day.  The first time you plana big cooking project, you may feel intimidated.  But with a little practice and a lot of thought, each successive year gets easier.  These days, thanks to the many kind folks who’ve willingly volunteered in my camp kitchen since 2007, we have MANY experienced camp cooks instead of just four.  I may just be working myself out of a job!

Have you survived a big cooking project?  I’d love to hear your tips for making such an endeavor go more smoothly.  Please pin this post on Pinterest if you think it might be useful to you or a friend in the future.  I hope to add links to more of our camp’s recipes soon.


Pin It

Electricity experiments for kids

On the way home from camp this year, our teenage boys had a great time dismantling a disposable camera they’d found, and figuring out how to shock themselves with it.   Over and over from the back of the van we’d hear a pop and then a yelp and then riotous laughter.  In the front of the van, we’d laugh too, shake our heads over the things boys do for fun, and then be glad they were only working with AA batteries.

Photocredit: Tommie's ToolsOnce home, one of the boys did an internet search and figured out how to make a taser with a disposable camera.  Since I was still working under the assumption that AA batteries couldn’t be that dangerous, I didn’t worry as he worked diligently for an hour or so.  When he finished, he proudly pulled me into his room to demonstrate the taser by zapping a tin can.  The HUGE pop and resulting sparks made me scream involuntarily.  I quickly decided that he’d better only use it outside, and not on people. Possibly not the best experiment to try at home.

However, his obvious interest in the project got me thinking that he and our other kids might enjoy learning more about electricity.  I went looking for some safe science experiments that they could do related to electricity.  Here are some interesting ones that I found.  Please read through the experiments ahead of time and supervise your children to make sure everyone stays safe.

Make a Model of a Fuse

Build an Electromagnet

Make Electric Circuits

Make a Doorbell for Your Room

Make a Lemon-Powered Lightbulb

Build an Intruder Detector

Build Your Own Foxhole Radio


Pin It

World’s Greatest Beans winner

Today we are recovering from a lovely week at church camp –translation:  we’re doing load after load of laundry and weeding our jungle-corn patch— but I wanted to pop in and announce the winner of the coffee contest.  It is commenter #23, Erin.   And everyone, if you’ve got coffee lovers in your life, I hope you’ll consider gifting them with coffee from World’s Greatest Beans.  In doing so, you will make coffee-lovers very happy AND improve the lives of widows and orphans in Ethiopia.  That’s a win if I ever heard one!  And please continue to tell folks about these organizations.  They’re doing good stuff.


There is a river strong enough to take ya
There is a mountain high enough to break ya
But when the saints they sing into the heavens
There is a God who’s big enough to save us

And with love we’ll carry on
‘Cause grace was strong enough
And we will join our hands
And sing of all these battles won
And with love we’ll carry on
‘Cause grace was strong enough
He is big enough to save us

Scalloped Potatoes for a Crowd (GF)

Hearty Meatloaf with Scalloped Potatoes on the side

I’ve been in charge of our church camp’s food since 2007, so I’m always looking for ways to feed a big group something that is yummy, affordable, and not too hard to make.  This recipe succeeds on all counts, is gluten free, and doesn’t require any canned soup.  (Here’s a link to my Hearty Meatloaf if you’d like to make it too!)


  • Scalloped Potatoes for a Crowd (GF)

    Prep Time: 1 hour

    Cook Time: 45 minutes

    Yield: Serves 80-100

    Scalloped Potatoes for a Crowd (GF)


    • 20 pounds frozen shredded hash brown potatoes
    • 4 onions, diced
    • 6 sticks of butter
    • ½ cup chicken bouillon powder
    • 2 cups hot water
    • 1-1/2 cups cornstarch
    • 10 cups milk
    • One 5-lb tub of sour cream
    • 3 tablespoons garlic salt
    • 7# shredded Cheddar cheese
    • 6 cups corn flakes, crushed
    • 1 teaspoon black pepper


    1. 1. Spray four 12x18 inch pans with cooking spray. Spread frozen hash browns out evenly in pans so that potatoes are layered about 1-1/2 or 2 inches deep. If you have two people working together, the first person can spread potatoes in pans while the second person does step 2.
    2. 2. Dice onion. Melt butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until onion is soft, 3-5 minutes, stirring a few times.
    3. 3. In a small bowl combine hot water and chicken bouillon, stirring until dissolved. Add to cooked onion mixture in pot, and let heat.
    4. 4. In a large bowl, whisk together milk, garlic salt and cornstarch until cornstarch is dissolved. Add to onion mixture in pot, and continue to heat, stirring frequently, until mixture is bubbly and beginning to thicken. Watch carefully and stir often as mixtures gets near the boiling point.
    5. 5. Once bubbly, immediately remove from heat. Add sour cream, and about 1/3 of the cheese, stirring until cheese is melted and everything is well combined. (Save remaining cheese for top of casseroles.)
    6. 6. Pour cheese sauce over all pans of potatoes, dividing sauce as evenly as possible. Sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over the top of all the casseroles. Finish by finely crushing corn flakes and sprinkling those atop all casseroles.
    7. 7. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40-50 minutes, or until cheese is hot and bubbly and is getting some browned bits. Enjoy!


Encouraging (and fun) links

Baby sleeping amid the noise

… for new parents

… for parents wondering if they can carry on

...if you’re wondering how you could simplify your life

World’s Greatest Beans giveaway Ethiopian CoffeeAs many of you know, my ‘baby’ sister is currently living in Ethiopia doing medical mission work.  Each time she comes to America on furlough, knowing what a coffee nut I am, she brings me some of THE best coffee in the world.  It’s an Ethiopian brand called, and it is sooooo delicious.

I’ve posted before about the work that Bring Love In does in Ethiopia.  The founders, Levi and Jessie Benkert, had the idea to bring widows and orphans together into family units,  to provide the orphans with mothers and the widows with support to live and raise these children.  It is a fabulous idea, one I am so excited about.  I hope that if you haven’t already, you’ll go to their website and read about their work.  Adoption is a solution for some kids.  But we need to be thinking of more ways to help orphans that don’t involve them having to leave their country of birth, and this is a wonderful example of how this can look.

So– what do and Bring Love In have to do with each other?  Well, some people who are fans of both have brought them together.  A website called World’s Greatest Beans sells the coffee and donates part of each sale to Bring Love In.

To bring some attention to this new business, I’ve been authorized to give away three pounds of this yummy coffee!  Here are three ways you can enter the drawing.

1. Go follow World’s Greatest Beans on twitter and come back here and tell me you did so.

2. Like World’s Greatest Beans on Facebook and come comment again.

3.  Pin this post on Pinterest or like this post on Facebook (use the buttons below)and comment AGAIN to tell me you did so.

Yes, if you want three entries, you’ll need to comment three times!  But the winner of this giveaway gets THREE pounds of coffee, so you can see, it is totally worth it.  🙂  I’m going to give you a full week to enter this fun drawing.  Even if you’re not a coffee fan –, yes, I GUESS we can still be friends…  😉  –I hope you’ll consider using social media to tell folks about this great way to bless widows and orphans in Ethiopia.  It is very worthy work!





Pin It