Author Archive | Laura Panfilio

Our Family’s Favorite Children’s Books – Read & Loved

We love reading around here. During our homeschool years we were able to read a lot more books than usual. It was wonderful. Here is a list we have come up with of our favorite reads (see the notes about some content you should know about-depending on the sensitivity of your child and family). Also, I will keep this updated as we read and enjoy more books together as a family or individually. Enjoy!


Magic Treehouse

(There are so many stories to ❤️ in this series- they are a great entry into chapter books for little ones)

Mary Poppins

The Hundred Dresses

(sweet story and fun to read around the 100th day of school)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series

(there are several books and Paige loved them all)

The Tale of Despereaux

Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane*

(such a delight- be sure to grab your tissues)

The One and Only Ivan

By the Great Horn Spoon

(one of my favorite read-aloud stories)

The Little House on the Prairie series

Where the Red Fern Grows*

The Indian in the Cupboard

(This is fun read-aloud I read to my big kids & my sister just read to Blake)


The Castle in the Attic

Catty Woodlawn

Mr Poppers Penguins

(different from the book/ both are sweet)

Because of Winn Dixie

Charlottes Web

The Moffatt’s

The Borrowers

Anne of Green Gables

(the first one- and see below about the series)


(+ the Julian Chapter is such a great add-on to this story & is also just a great story by itself)

The Land of Stories

An Elephant in the Garden*

Bridge to Terabithia*

Pippi Longstocking (series)

Sign of the Beaver*

Explorer Academy (series)

The Green Ember (series)

The Trumpet of the Swan

The Fog Diver – 2 books

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Number the stars*

The Wingfeather Saga 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe & the other Narnia books

A Wrinkle in Time

Harry Potter series– books 1-3 (the rest are great for older kids)

Wings of Fire– books 1-10 (third series**)

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

(I’ve happily read this aloud during several Christmas breaks- we love it!)


My Side of the Mountain

I Survived* (series)

(These books are best for upper elementary or younger middle school kids as they are fictional characters who survived factual historical tragedies – they may not be suitable for younger children)

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Explorer Academy

(Grant devours these books- he tells all his friends to read them)

Little Women

(Paige struggled to get going on this- but after watching the movie she read it in a day or two and absolutely loved it)

Harry Potter series– books 4-7

(Paige went through a serious HP phase- she couldn’t get enough. We even threw her a Hogwarts Feast a few years ago- see HERE)

The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings series

(We adore these movies and some of us have read the books too)


(This was a favorite read-aloud with Paige & Grant)

Magicians Nephew & rest of Narnia

Where the Red Fern Grows*

(Bring some tissues for this one.)

Hunger Games*

(Paige and I read these quickly and almost liked the movies as much as the books!)

Percy Jackson (series)

Keepers of the Lost Cities (series)

Anne of Green Gables (series)

(Some of these stories are better than others- like Isle of Windy Poplars is a little boring to me- but the whole cannon is fun to read and most of the books are an absolute delight. I usually have one of the books in my Audible due so I can listen when I need a little Anne inspiration in my heart!)


Percy Jackson- Hero’s of Olympus**

To Kill a Mockingbird*

The Book Thief*

Pride & Prejudice

A Tale of Two Cities 

Hunger Games

Lunar Chronicles

The Hiding Place* 

(This is a favorite of mine- I have read it several times. Bring your tissues!)

The Hobbit & The LOTR series

A Time to Die (Christian dystopia)

For teen girls: 

The Christy Miller series 


*= SENSITIVE TOPICS: these books would make great read-aloud stories as they do have some sensitive topics that may be tough for young readers to process alone

**=SEXUAL TOPICS: parents should know there are some sexual or LGBTQ characters/themes that they may want to talk about with their kids before or after reading the book


For sources of how to find these books I could add a bunch of links- but we shop around, thrift and borrow a lot of books (and I tend to listen more often than read). Here are some sources that we do love for tracking them all down:

The Library

Thrift Books (I always look here before shopping on Amazon)

thrift stores

Local bookshops

Amazon & Kindle

Homeschool families (if you need a book to borrow- they probably have it!)

Hoopla (find out if your library has this service- it’s wonderful)


my FAVORITE special breakfast dishes…

Here are some of our favorite breakfast foods for special holiday gatherings at Christmas time and all year! These first two are great for Christmas morning because you can make them the night before. In the morning just preheat the oven & bake while you are opening presents! You could also throw a New Years Day pajama brunch…we did this last year and it was so fun! These are great to bring to a brunch gathering or a morning mom’s group and perfect if you are feeding a crowd {we often serve these dishes when guests stay with us}!

Click these links for our favorite breakfast dishes & see the Baked Oatmeal Recipe below: 

Aunt Val’s Monkey Bread

*The pudding in this recipe can be hard to find- I’ve been ordering it on Amazon and then using it every few months for this recipe! Plan ahead if you want to make this dish (and I hope you do).

Breakfast Casserole

*This can be changed in so many ways with different cheeses/breads/proteins. It is consistently delicious. Also, if you don’t have dijon mustard on hand it’s fine to skip this all together.

Oatmeal Cookie Pancakes

*We haven’t made these in years but I’m inspired to try again since I know we love them.

Cowboy Quiche

*I haven’t made this myself- but I’ve eaten it and boy let me tell you it’s good. Paige and I will try our hand at it this December or January.

And finally…

::Flo’s Baked Oatmeal::


3 c. rolled oats
1/2 c. melted coconut oil or butter or canola oil
1/2 c. honey
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup whey, buttermilk, yogurt, OR kefir w/ live and active cultures
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar
optional: nuts or frozen berries

At least 12 hrs before breakfast mix the oats, coconut oil, honey, salt, cinnamon and whey together and let sit in a warm place till you are ready to make it. (Soaking the oats allows enzymes and other organisms to break down and neutralize phytic acid thus improving their nutritional benefits.)

In the morning mix in: eggs, vanilla, baking soda, cream of tartar and optional nuts or frozen berries. Bake in a buttered 9×13 pan for about 25-30 min at 350º (don’t overbook it). You may have to cook longer or with higher heat if using frozen fruit. Serve with butter, maple syrup, honey, cream, dried fruit, shredded coconut- whatever you like. Enjoy! (recipe from:


This originally posted in December of 2010. It has been edited and reposted for clarity and content.

How do you do CURRY?

This is how we do curry…RED THAI CURRY that is!

Looking for a quick meal that you can grab from your pantry and freezer? Here it is. Basically if you have coconut milk, red curry paste, veggies, garlic and ginger on hand- you can make this quicker than you can get to a fast food restaurant.  Proteins such as shrimp, chicken or beans w/ extra veggies & some peanuts can be added. I keep frozen garlic and ginger (I get mine from Trader Joe’s or Target) in my freezer at all times. Simply serve with rice, couscous or some naan bread and you’re all set for a quick and delicious meal. I add chopped peanuts, mint, basil and or sriracha – if I happen to have them on hand. But again, you don’t even need very many ingredients to make it yummy.


 Thai Shrimp Curry

from Rachael Ray’s Recipe

Ingredients for Curry:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or other light oil, (eyeball it)
  • 1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails removed (optional, chicken can be used also but should be cooked longer than shrimp)
  • 6 ounces, about 1/3 pound, shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced (optional)
  • 3 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
  • 1-inch ginger root, peeled and grated or finely chopped
  • 4 scallions, chopped into 1-inch pieces, whites and greens
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons mild or hot red curry paste
  • 2 roasted red peppers, sliced
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 cup frozen peas

For Couscous & Garnish:

  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced 
  • 1 1/2 cups couscous
  • 1 cup shredded fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup chopped peanuts, for garnish (optional)
  • fresh basil or mint (optional)
  • sriracha (optional)


Heat a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil over high heat. Add shrimp (or chicken) and toss 2 minutes then add the mushrooms, garlic, ginger, scallions, salt and pepper and cook 3-4 minutes more tossing constantly. Stir in curry paste, roasted red pepper and coconut milk and reduce heat to low. Simmer a few minutes then stir in peas to heat through. If making Couscous: In a sauce pot bring chicken stock, butter and the lime zest to a boil. Add couscous and stir. Turn off heat, cover pot and let stand. Add basil and the lime juice to the pot and fluff with a fork.

Serve couscous or rice- then a few ladles of red curry. Garnish with chopped peanuts, sriracha, basil & mint if you want. Enjoy!

This was posted on July 13, 2011 and has been reposted and edited for clarity/updated information.

Nana’s Sugar Cookies

Nana’s Sugar Cookies


1 cup Butter (at room temperature)

1 1/4 cup of Sugar

2 Eggs

1 tsp. Vanilla

1/4 tsp. Almond Extract

3 1/2 cups Flour

1 tsp. Baking Powder

1/4 tsp. Salt


Beat butter until creamy. Beat in sugar, eggs, vanilla & almond extract. Stir together flour, baking powder & salt. Add dry ingredients to the butter mixture and beat well. Cover and chill for 1 hour or just start rolling out cookie dough as it usually is just fine to do so with this recipe. Roll out and cut into your favorite shapes.

Bake in 400 degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes or lightly brown (around the edges of the cookies). Enjoy!

My mother-in-law makes these often with the kids. This is the best sugar cookie recipe that I’ve come across! I’ve made them many times over the years and for different holidays. Even my sweet friend Courtney uses this recipe to make cookies for her friends every December. She is someone who bakes and loves sweets more than me- so she’s a trustworthy source. The recipe can be made right away or chilled and I think the almond extract is what gives these cookies their special twist. 

Also, here is a link to some tips for baking with kids!

This post was originally created on January 4, 2013- it’s been reposted and updated for clarity.

Stove-Top Popcorn

I love, love, love popcorn. Love it. While I love the convenience of popping microwave popcorn, I do not always love the flavor or the chemicals used in those delicious smelling bags. And I don’t really like to share my popcorn {who does really?}! For some reason everyone always wants it when they hear that pop, but unfortunately the microwave bags only make a small batch! A few years ago, in search of a solution, I finally figured out how to make a big batch of it on the stove. It was kind of intimidating for me at first because I had never been taught how to do it. I don’t know why but I was totally freaked out by even trying it! And to be honest I did burn a pan the first time it tried (and I many have felt a few flying kernels singe my arms in the process). BUT IT WAS SO WORTH IT TO JUST LEARN. It tastes great, you can control the ingredients and you don’t have to stand by the microwave waiting for another batch!

Here is a basic recipe for popping popcorn and how I adapt it to any size pan that I have on hand:

::Stove-Top Popcorn::

What you will need:

Popcorn Kernels

Oil {I like to use Coconut Oil- but canola works too}

Deep Sauce Pan or Large-Wide Sauce Pan

{If possible I like one with a glass lid that is easy to shake…this is not the time for cast iron}

Large Bowl

Seasoning of Choice



1. Pour oil into the saucepan and place on medium high heat. Some recipes call for 2 tablespoons of oil to 2/3 cup of popcorn. I like to just pour a thin layer of oil on the bottom of the pan so that I can make the right amount for whatever pan I have on hand {if you learn to do it this way you can make it at anyone’s house or cabin}!

 2. Set out a bowl…a large bowl…right away so you are ready to dump when the popcorn is ready. This step is important once the popcorn gets going.

3. Pour popcorn into pan. Again, you can use the ratio above {2 tbsp oil to 2/3 cup popcorn} but I like to just pour the popcorn in the pan without measuring…I add enough to cover one thin layer on the bottom of the pan. Some recipes will say to put a few kernels in the pan and wait for them to pop…then add the rest. You can do this but I find it is just as effective to start with them all in the oil at once and it saves a step. Again, this is up to you. DON’T WALK AWAY AFTER THIS STEP! Be sure to babysit your pan until the kernels start to pop.

4. Once they start to pop…cover the pan and start gently shaking. Gently shake the kernels so they get covered in the oil or the kernels can burn. This step will not take very long.

5. When the popping finally slows down and stops {or the popped corn has reached the top of your pan} it is ready to pour into a bowl. If using a gas stove be sure to turn the burner off quick before grabbing the pan. After you dump, be sure to put the pan back on a different burner with the lid back on or you may get burnt from hot oil flying out of the pan (I learned this one the hard way)!

6. Add your seasonings of choice. You can drizzle on melted butter, salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese, lemon pepper, nutritional yeast, taco seasoning or garlic salt {or any combo of the above}.

The combinations are endless:

I like to keep it simple with no butter because I find the oil to be enough. I sprinkle it with “popcorn salt” (I get it on Amazon) because it spreads out so well and I’m good to go. Sometimes I sprinkle it nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor.

My mom loves it with butter and garlic salt.

My kids love it with butter and salt.

If we are having movie night I add a few M&M’s to the bottom of the kids bowls before adding the popcorn for a sweet and salty treat {my sweet friend Amber taught us this trick}! ENJOY!

Now stop, breath, read the directions again and go for it. You won’t be sorry!

This post was originally posted on May 31st, 2013- it’s been edited and reposted for clarity.

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