Do you love whipped cream but wished it would stay fluffy like whipped topping does?  
Cool-Whip, move over; your superior is here!  Airy, melt-in-your-mouth, delicately sweet, no hard-to-pronounce ingredients- what could be better?

Use this for topping pies, gelatin, cakes or cupcakes, or anything else you like!  Stir in a little caramel sauce and it's either an amazing dip for apples or an incredible cake filling.  Fold in some melted and cooled chocolate for a mousse-like topping.  White chocolate is delicious mixed in.

The version below that uses gelatin gives the most firmness.  I've kept it in the fridge for two weeks before, without the faintest hint
Yes, you can use this to decorate cakes!  (Just don't let it get too warm, it will melt if it gets above about 90 degrees F, just like butter does.)  This picture is my niece's wedding cake.

If you can't have dairy, use 8 ounces of chilled coconut cream to replace the dairy cream.  Not cream of coconut, that's different.  Coconut cream is the thick layer you find on top of canned coconut milk; Asian markets sell cans of straight coconut cream.

Stabilized whipped cream
½ pint whipping cream (8 oz)
½ tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. sugar or ¼ c. powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. Ultra Gel OR 1 tsp. unflavored gelatin*

If using Ultra Gel, stir it with the sugar, then add cream and vanilla and whip until stiff.  

If using gelatin, put it with a tablespoon of water, let it sit a minute to soften, then microwave for 12 seconds to dissolve it. You could heat gently on a stove, if needed.   Don't let it boil.  Whip cream, sugar, and vanilla until they start to thicken a little, then slowly pour gelatin in while still beating. Whip until stiff.  Chill it if you need it a little thicker.

Store any extra in the refrigerator.
*Other ways to stabilize whipped cream:
(you can skip the Ultra Gel and gelatin if you use these)

-fold in 4-8 ounces melted and cooled chocolate (the more you use, the more truffle-like the frosting/mousse will be.  Also, the darker the chocolate, the less you need.)

-Beat in 2-4 ounces of cream cheese.

-Before whipping, sprinkle in half a package of instant pudding powder.  (This is really adding  Ultra Gel, which is part of the pudding mix.)

-Substitute 1 1/2 -2 Tbsp honey or corn syrup in place of the sugar, or 3 Tbsp. any flavor jam or jelly.  This will only lightly stabilize it, but works for things you'll eat in the next couple hours.
Some friends and I are in a healthy-living team competition right now... and there are just some times that the 'normal' healthy food doesn't cut it.  This does!  (So does Bavarian Mousse and the Chocolate Truffle Pie...)

Once again, this isn't technically sugar-free.  It is, however, free of table sugar if you don't add the chocolate topping, as the filling is sweetened with a sauce made with pureed fruit. If you choose to include the chocolate on top, it adds only 3 grams of sugar per serving.

Sugarless No-Bake Cheesecake
Makes 6 servings
1 1/2 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
1/2 c. whole wheat bread crumbs (or other crumbs, or fine shred coconut)
Pinch of stevia, or 1/2 tsp. honey, optional

Line a 7” round pan with foil, then spray with nonstick cooking spray.  (A bread pan is the right size too- use an 8x4 pan for a thicker filling, 9x5 pan for a little thinner.)  Stir together oil, crumbs, and stevia.   Press on bottom of pan, set in freezer to chill.

1/2 c. date caramel sauce
8 oz. cream cheese, softened (may use Neufchatel)*
1/3 c. plain yogurt
Pinch salt
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. instant clear jel (Ultra Gel)

Beat together caramel sauce and cream cheese, until smooth.  Add yogurt, salt, vanilla, and clear jel; beat on high speed until light.  Spoon onto crust, smooth top and chill in fridge at least 30 minutes, but more firm after 2-3 hours.

Optional topping:
1/3 c. extra-dark chocolate chips
1/3 c. plain yogurt

Heat gently or microwave to melt; stir until smooth.  Spread on cheesecake after it has set.

*Since Neufchatel is softer, you'll need to increase Ultra Gel to 2 Tbsp.  Or serve the cheesecake frozen.
I've made this using cottage cheese instead of cream cheese, it still works.  Just plan on using a blender or food processor to mix the filling, and it'll take a couple minutes to get smooth.
Somehow I've ended up with more dried fruit than planned, and it's getting a little old and turning dark.  Here's a new way to use it: a sugar-free caramel sauce!  Well, "sugar free" doesn't actually mean really all-sugar-free, BUT... all the sugar in this is naturally occurring in the fruit.  So it's no-sugar-added caramel sauce.  Unless you're a sugar addict, in which case you could add as much more sugar as you like!   This is a sauce to spoon, not to pour.  If you'd like it pourable, add more milk or some liquid honey or maple syrup until it's the consistency you want.

Next post will be for a rich, creamy, healthy no-bake New York style cheesecake, using this caramel sauce in the filling as the sweetener.

Fruit-sweetened Caramel Sauce

15 pitted dates (about 110g or 4 oz.)
1 to 1½ c. milk, any kind (I used coconut milk)
¼ c. melted browned butter or ghee, optional but helps give a caramel-y flavor
1/16 tsp. salt
1Tbsp vanilla

Blend until smooth, starting with the lower amount of milk; add more only if needed.  Makes about 1 1/2 - 2 cups.   If you don’t have a powerful blender, soak the dates overnight in the milk or simmer them together for 10 minutes, then puree.  If you prefer it sweeter, add a little honey, brown sugar, or stevia.

Try other dried fruits.  Peach is good.  Pear has naturally caramel undertones and would be delicious with a dash of cinnamon or coriander.  
Earlier this month there was a news story about a Florida father who found a note composed by his son as a school assignment where the boy wrote that he is willing to give up natural rights in exchange security. The dad is fuming.  On a related note, Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC recently turned heads by declaring that not only do our children belong to the community instead of the parents, but that citizens can vote “to impinge on individual freedoms in order to advance a common good."  Wait, others get to choose what my children are taught, in the name of what’s good for the collective?  That’s what’s happening now, and promising to become worse.

Many of us are upset because of the indoctrination in the schools.  

Want to fix it?  Here's the first problem:  there is no way to avoid "indoctrination"; the word literally means to teach or impress some kind of doctrine or principle.  There's no escaping it when any kind of teaching is the goal.

So, do I indoctrinate my children?   You bet! --if you're looking at the original meaning.  Any time you teach something, you 'indoctrinate'.  One of my parental responsibilities is to teach: to raise my children in light and truth. Because of this, my freedom of religion is also inextricably tied to how and what my children are taught:  I'm accountable to God for what I do or don't teach.  Nowadays most people only think of the negative connotation of ‘indoctrinate’- which has become the politically correct definition- the kind of teaching that stifles critical thinking.  More than one side sees the other as being guilty of this.

What we're actually upset with, then, is WHO is teaching WHAT to our children.  That leads to the main problem- our school system and its curriculum is set up with little to no local input, answerable to officials in varying levels of government.  Even more concerning, Common Core makes this issue increase dramatically.   One solution to the issue is to homeschool, but that is not an attractive or viable option for many people.  In addition, Common Core even stretches its tentacles into homeschooling through its database tracking system for all children, preschool through age 20, and by rewriting pre-college tests like the ACT.  

Here's what would solve the problem:  (1) return to local control of schools- and by this I mean the principal and the teachers of any one particular school, who will now make their own curriculum choices, including -gasp!- whatever religious instruction is wanted, and answer directly to the children's parents instead of government, and (2) allow parents to have their child attend whichever school they wish to attend; since each school will develop its own flavor of 'indoctrination', the parents can choose what is closest to their own beliefs.    Instead, now government arrogantly glosses over parental responsibility and attempts to replace God by making us all accountable to them. 

The family is the basic unit of society, with parental rights and responsibilities, and as such, parents should have the ultimate say in how the children are raised and what they are taught.  Let the schools be directly accountable to parents and recognize that the parents will eventually answer to God for how they teach, train, and treat their children.  As parents and citizens, please stand up for your rights to keep the federal government of our domain.
What happens when a favorite puzzle goes through six children and fifteen years?

I suppose it's impressive that the box even exists anymore, and that the puzzle pieces are still flat and whole.

But it was time for a new way of storing it.

The puzzle pieces fit nicely in a gallon-sized ziptop bag.  I cut out the top of the box so we'd still have the picture of what the puzzle looks like, then inserted it in the bag, too.   
As a bonus, it now takes up less space in the puzzle drawer!
A quick way to have tender, barbecue pulled beef is to start by having a roast a day or two before.  

On Sunday, I cooked a nearly 4-pound roast.  Once it was done, and before my family could dive into it, I cut it in half.  The first half was carved into slices for dinner.  The second half went in the fridge for another day. I used some storebought BBQ sauce this time, but if you'd like to get a recipe for a simple from-scratch sauce, see Mom's Barbecue Sauce.

Today's version was served over fresh rosemary bread made with a little bit of orange marmalade mixed in.  That was a delicious combination- the bread, rosemary, orange, and barbecue!

Weeknight BBQ Beef

1 1/2- 2 lbs. cooked roast (you can use burger if you don't mind a different texture)
1 cup water
1 cup bottled barbecue sauce*

Combine in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid; simmer 30 minutes or until tender.  Shred meat using two forks.  The meat will absorb more of the liquid as it cools some; if it's too thick, add more water; if too thin, simmer a few minutes with the lid off to let water evaporate.

That's it!

*For a less sweet sauce, use 1/2 c. plain tomato sauce and 1/2 c. bottled BBQ sauce 

photo credit: Dario Sabio
You plant a grapevine, keep it watered, and it gives you juicy, crisp, sweet, pop-in-your-mouth grapes... so isn't that all there is to it?

Sort of.  

You can leave it at that, but you'll have more grapes and less disease problems if you prune it right- which can mean removing up to 80% of the plant!

Pruning helps the vine get the light it needs, better airflow (which reduces disease), increases production, and gives you a better-looking plant.  See the video below to watch how to prune properly.

For those of you who like to see the science and details behind it, check out this very good slide show about it.  This one is targeted  at commercial grape growers, but includes a lot of practical information for the average gardener.

Or read this short pruning summary- less than 2 minutes to read-  including categories of grapes.  I discovered from this one that my Niagara grapevine, being less vigorous than many, should have 3 buds left on each spur (stub left on the main vine), rather than the 2 shown in the video below. 

If you'd like to learn about all kinds of pruning for fruiting vines, shrubs, and trees, try the USU Extension Pruning handbook.  I have a hard copy of this same handout from when I took the Master Gardener course in about 1999.  I pull the booklet out almost every year and learn more each time.  The more I've pruned, the more I understand all of it...
OK, OK, I know it's a whole three days after Easter, but this is still fun.  We don't have to totally forget about a holiday after we've passed it, right?  (The real reason this is delayed is that I spent the last week in a beautiful, very green place with no phone connection, no cell phone signal, and no Internet connection.  This was ready to publish, I just couldn't get to the button.)  

How about something fluffy and NOT sugary?  This is a fun craft for kids anytime and has some deeper Easter meaning. It's simple but will keep them occupied for a little while.  How about making a whole flock of sheep?  He shall feed his flock like a  shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 41:11)

You'll need only 
  • 1 sheet of newspaper
  • Tape
  • Cotton balls
  • 4 straws
  • Glue
  • White paper
  • Black marker

You can find the instructions at

What about some other animals?