Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Next Level Brownies

       This month's goodie is a multi-layered fudgy brownie bar cookie that takes a bit of work despite a convenience ingredient in the form of a box of brownies. It is completely coincidental that I had planned to share this recipe for something I call Next Level Brownies while also sharing my own personal upward hike.




   The month of March came roaring in like a devil snatching at my heels. I was getting ready to leave for Holmes County, Ohio to support and volunteer at a seminar. I volunteered to work the check-in table for my friend's ministry, A Better Way. The seminar for A Better Way was an opportunity to connect people who aim to recognize, prevent, and heal from sexual abuse. Yes, I wanted to help with this effort but I must admit that could not wait to go someplace grown up, see and talk to other grown-ups, and do grown-up things. The better part of this school year has been spent climbing a mountain with my Little Mister and using every trick in the book to get his unique mind to learn the fundamentals of reading. The mountain has loomed so largely this year, that it feels like my interactions with others are limited to educators, reading specialists, and speech therapists. I needed a break from climbing that mountain. Like I always say, if you want to take the focus off of your own problems, go help someone else. Somewhere in me, buried under laundry and menu planning, there is still a librarian who has a passion for connecting people with accurate information and life-changing resources. 

    As I was packing, I felt a cold bony hand at my heel again. Less than 24 hours before departure, an emergency weather warning was issued for the entire northeast, a charming mixture of snow, rain, and 85 mile per hour winds. Seriously? 


    I consulted a map and saw there was no way to drive around the storm. The only way to beat it was to plow straight through and maybe outrun the worst of it by the time I get to central Pennsylvania. That morning, with prayers around me, I placed Little Mister on the school bus and hit the road. The plan to beat the storm went amazingly well and soon snow flurries and rain gave way to sun glare. The winds, however, were beyond formidable. I'm not dainty by any standard, but for the first time in my life, the fear of becoming airborne was real. Those 85 mph winds fought you at every step as you struggled in slow motion to exit your vehicle and walk at the rest stop. 

This was where the heel-nipping started again.

    It had been so long since I drove this route that I had forgotten the high mountain ranges with spectacular views of an endless drop just outside of your passenger side door. There I was, clinging to the side of a mountain in a slow crawl while the wind would randomly blow a large truck slightly out of the middle lane. You had to be ready to compensate for it on less than a moment's notice and calm enough to not let it scare you. I'm not a fan of heights, and the threat of the wind pushing me off the edge into a deep canyon in the no man's land of western PA was an actual mountain I had not intended to climb. I had left behind a different kind of mountain at home and now found myself climbing a real live actual mountain under less than ideal circumstances. Was I equipped? 

    I prayed that the Lord would guide me to Ohio safely and that the seminar would be a blessing to all who would be able to attend. I prayed that everyone who would be able to make it would be exactly who needed to be there to benefit from the information given by the presenters. I prayed for all the drivers on the road, and for God's will. 

    By the time I reached Wheeling for my next break, the winds had subsided. I was well on my way and in the clear. The Lord had equipped me to come over and through those mountains.

    Now, weeks later I am back to my original mountain of school meetings and reading specialists. My cleats dig into slippery ice at every step and if I glance back, the devil's bony claw takes another swipe at my heel. He makes idle threats about my kid never being able to measure up. I kick at him and stick a cleat in his eye. It might be daunting if I hadn't already gotten over and through a fair bit of the Appalachian mountains. I might be worried if the Lord hadn't shown me that I am ready to be a mountaineer. 


    As in Psalm 121, I will lift my eyes up to the hills and know where my help comes from. 

   Now, here's some trivia: Many times, the dessert recipes I share here are not eaten only by our small family. As a member of the hospitality committee at church, my baked goods often end up on the snack table for after the service. This is how I can justify baking a sheet pan or two or five of something delicious. These brownies were somewhat unique though in that they were so good, they never made it to the snack table. That's right, we ate them all! 




Although the recipe uses a brownie mix for the middle level, don't think this is an easy convenience recipe. It takes a while to put this together. 

Next Level Brownies

Cookie level:
3/4 cup softened butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 and 1 half cups all-purpose flour

Brownie level:
1 package fudge brownie mix (13x9 pan size)

1/3 cup water
1/3 cup canola oil
1 egg

Topping:
1 package (11 and 1/2 ounces) semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips, melted 

3/4 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla. Add the flour a little at a time and mix well. Spread the mixture onto a 15x10x1 inch baking pan lined with parchment paper. Bake until golden brown, 12-24 minutes.

While the cookie layer is baking, combine the brownie mix, water, oil, and egg until fully blended. 

Spread the brownie batter over the hot cookie crust and bake for another 14-16 minutes until the brownies are set. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Melt the chocolate chips. I used a saucepan over low heat. If the chocolate starts to harden up on you, add a little milk and that will get it back to the perfect consistency. Spread the melted chocolate over the brownies and sprinkle with nuts while the chocolate is still warm. I used roasted pistachios, but any nuts would taste great. Let the brownies stand until the chocolate has set and cut into bars. 

Yield: 3 dozen (That's right, we ate 3 dozen. Guilt and shame serve no one.)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Farmette to Table: Black Walnut Cake

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     Do you ever wish that you were not called to do certain things? For months I have been working on a church project helping to move relief supplies to Puerto Rico. If that sounds at all satisfying, let me assure you it is a lot of unreturned phone calls, declining enthusiasm, and days spent wondering who else might be able to use bottled water and hygiene supplies. Yet, I add it fresh and new to my to-do list every week.

     Then there is my dog rescue


mission. Even fewer people will thank you for that. We just took in Peanut, an adorable five-year-old Dachshund who, in all his untrained glory, is here to slay us with his cuteness. 

     It had been years since we had done anything with the black walnuts that seem to take over every bit of our ground in the late fall. The large green orbs are a nuisance when it is warm enough that the grass still requires mowing and litter our playground area. Frankly, they are somewhat inconvenient when it comes to just plain walking unless you think that walking on grass with oversized golf balls would be your thing. Yet, I sometimes feel guilty letting them go to waste because black walnuts are somewhat of a luxury. You can't find them in most stores and they are prohibitively expensive by the pound. We don't take advantage of our free bounty nearly enough. The rich, sweetly unique taste of a black walnut is unlike any other flavors. In their own way, they call to me. 

     When Little Mister heard the call and took an interest in doing a black walnut harvest, I thought now would be as good a year as any to teach him. I had a few reservations about how much time and attention he would want to devote to such an arduous task. It is grueling work to break off the tough green husks and clean the walnut shells. If you make it that far, your reward is waiting a few months for the nuts to cure. If all goes well, they won't mold and you can start cracking in the dead of winter. Separating the nut from the meat requires precision and brawn. We have a special nutcracker for these nuts, but it requires the strength of a man to operate. However, this makes it a nice family activity. Everyone can get involved in some process of harvesting black walnuts.

     I've read how generations ago, farm families would use corn shellers to take off the husk, so I've been walking around with "corn sheller" written on my shopping list for a year or so now. Who else has that on their list? 



Also shown: Gorgeous crystal cake stand I got as a wedding gift and never use. 
     Personally, my favorite part of the process is baking them for a rare treat. This time I created a layer cake with cream cheese icing. The cake itself was based on a recipe from the Simply In Season Cookbook.(Amazon affiliate link) I made a cream cheese icing and added a generous sprinkle of nuts to the very top. That last sprinkle was a nice garnish but not really necessary. You could easily make this cake using black walnut flavoring instead of the actual nuts. That's right, you don't even need real black walnuts to enjoy the flavor of a black walnut cake. Though, if you can find some at a reasonable price, it's worth the purchase.

    We came this far and still had no idea if Little Mister would even like the flavor of black walnuts. It occurred to me that after all of the work leading up to this cake, it would be a bit like jumping through hoops of fire to take a child to Disney only to find out he's scared of people dressed in character costumes. Unlikely, I know, but there's always that risk with something new.

     Alas, the disappearance of this cake is a testament to how well it was received by all who tasted it. 



Black Walnut Cake
Serves 12

2 and 1/4 cups flour

1 and 1/2 cups sugar
3 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Blend together in a large bowl.

1 cup milk
1/2 cup softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add and beat with an electric mixer for two minutes.

4 egg whites

Add and beat with a mixer for two more minutes. 

1 cup black walnuts, chopped

Fold in black walnuts. Pour into two greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 for 35-40 minutes. Allow cake to cool completely before frosting.

Frosting:

2 packages of cream cheese (One 8 ounces and the other 3 ounces, for a total of 11 ounces)

3/4 cup butter, softened
5 cups confectioner's sugar
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Optional: 1/4 cup black walnuts, chopped, for sprinkling

Beat cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl. Add sugar. Mix well. Add vanilla. Beat until smooth. Spread between layers of cake and over sides and top. Sprinkle with additional black walnuts. Store in the refrigerator. 




Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Maple Cream Whoopie Cookies

     I was knocking myself out to get us to the Pennsylvania Farm Show this year. It's one of the few things we try to do as a family every year and we truly enjoy it. It snuck up on us in early January as it always does, and this year, the timing was as uncooperative as a surly child. I felt like a champ when we zeroed in on the one day we could manage to do this, lined up pet care, packed the snacks and headed off under the threat of sleet. Our driveway was still suffering the effects of the blizzard and was a lane of frozen snow and patches of thick ice. Our ritual of pulling out on to the road, in which one person stands at the edge of it and gives the all clear signal was the last obstacle to getting our trip underway.

Or so I thought. 


     We enjoyed a fairly uneventful ride until the sleet set in, the ice congealed on the windshield, but the road remained drivable. We were on the PA turnpike coming up on the Harrisburg interchange when I lost control of our modest sedan. It spun and twisted like a hockey puck across four lanes of the highway. I watched a hubcap roll off as I desperately tried to regain control of our car which was threatening to hit a concrete divider. Sigh. Didn't we just replace that hubcap? The car unpredictably spun off in another direction and we careened toward a guardrail. I remember thinking, if that guardrail gives way, we will sail down a steep wooded embankment and all die. This could be the end. 

Maybe I worked a little too hard to make this day happen. So goes that which goes very well.

     My heart gave thanks as we bounced off the guardrail and landed back in the middle of the wide road where we finally stopped. Traffic was light, so no other vehicles were around to be involved in our "spectacular on ice". I restarted the car, and we hobbled off the exit into a nearby parking lot to examine the damage. At this point, with all of us being uninjured and no other cars being involved in the collision, my cup of miracles runneth over.

     In the parking lot, we discovered the passenger door wouldn't open. The Mister used an old blanket to get down on the ground and check under the vehicle. We were thankful that the car was sound, drivable, but with significant damage. Even with a crushed front fender and grill, both headlights worked, and so we decided to travel on to the fair. In what would be the true final obstacle in our travels, we discovered we had been locked in the parking lot. It was a gated lot and the gate had been open when we entered and then shut behind us. Someone must have exited through the gate just moments before we pulled in. We tried in vain to summon someone from the government building to whom the lot belonged who could help get us out but could not find anyone who had access to open the gate. We found a back road and were soon on our way.


     We arrived safely and had a really memorable day at the show. We were alive, unhurt, and our vehicle was completely drivable with mostly cosmetic issues. It was a sweeter day than usual. I will never forget the day we spent together in which I continuously praised the Lord for His protection. I'll never forget caring so little about a car and so much about our family. 

     I'll need to keep remembering those things as we consider the significant cost of fixing the car. 

     Maple syrup always has a prominent exhibit at the farm show. The Mister who is also a part-time tree farmer loves maple syrup. He often buys a half gallon at the show. I think January's deep winter is a good time of year for the rich sweetness of real maple syrup, especially combined with a cold weather comfort like oatmeal.



Maple Cream Whoopie Cookies

6 Tbs. butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup quick oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 Tbs. boiling water. 

Cream butter, sugar, and egg in a mixing bowl. Sift flour, salt, and baking powder into a separate bowl. Add to the creamed mixture. Stir in oats. Mix well. In a separate dish, combine baking soda and boiling water, then add to the dough mixture. Mix well. Chill the dough for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 375. 


Drop the cookies by the teaspoon two inches apart on to a baking sheet. Bake for 7 minutes and cool completely on a wire rack.

Maple Cream filling:

4 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened

2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbs. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. maple flavor
1 Tbs. milk (optional: see note.)

Mix all the filling ingredients together. I mixed it by hand with a bowl and spoon, but a mixer would work fine too. Use the milk only if needed to blend the ingredients into a spreadable consistency.


Spread filling between two cookies. 


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Heritage Recipe: German Nut Print Cookies

   It was a grumpy afternoon when we threw the couch out the front door and hauled it down to the dump, its final resting place. Having survived the dogs and Little Mister's preschool years, it was a beaten down affair with rips, tears, and even a broken frame. Truly, no one had used it for its intended purpose for ages, but it had become a toy repository and collection area for miscellaneous periodicals. In the end, we surrendered it to the more feral aspects of domestic life, but we needed people seating.

   The empty void by the picture window inspired me and I spent an entire afternoon tracking down an affordable replacement and I found one that was NEW. We have never had new furniture before, but always pre-owned. It doesn't make sense at this phase of life to put new furniture at risk in a house where if anything can happen, it will happen here first. This couch was new, and there was a store almost an hour away that had only two left if we could get there. It took legwork and phone calls and even being placed on hold and forgotten about to uncover this precious new affordable couch.


Then, the phone rang.


   As it does, so many times when I think life is predictable. When your husband works in a hospital, there is no predictable. When your phone rings at three in the morning it is not fear for the safety of a loved one that wakes you, but the firm assurance that a hospital floor is short staffed. You get used to celebrating holidays a day late or a day early, or sometimes simply without your husband present for days in a row. You rejoice when the overtime money comes rolling in and makes life more comfortable for a while. Then, as you are sitting down to supper, the phone rings and a friendly voice asks "Do you know whether your husband would be available to work tonight?" You grit your teeth and want to spat "NO! Why can't you leave us alone?" as if it were an investigative reporter calling and not some nice lady you send Christmas cookies to every December. 


   Besides, I love my husband's job. I'm proud that he is a Registered Nurse with a staunch work ethic. Even though it often steals our routine, our nights, and now my chance at a new couch. It's this thing you are immensely thankful for and despise all at once, like candy or Walmart.

   Here's something else I love. My Little Mister's honesty when I try something new in the kitchen and it doesn't quite cut it. Honestly, when I post his reviews, they are genuine and true.

   Last month for October I experimented with a recipe for a big pan of pumpkin cinnamon rolls. Everything went well, they smelled delicious, and then the taste test. They were...bland. Hardly any flavor. I knew it and tried to pass them off but Little Mister wouldn't even call them cinnamon rolls. He called them "dessert bread" and he was tired of them after two servings. I'm not even sure we finished them.



   I rarely post unless I have a recipe to share, but this month I'm sharing a very old recipe. German Nuss Printen (or Nuß Printen) is a traditional hard cookie made out of a gingerbread type dough, topped with hazelnut halves, and dipped in chocolate. This was risky as no one has made these Christmas cookies since my maternal grandmother, and even she didn't make them in her later years. The original recipe was translated by my mother on to some recipe cards, and still wasn't perfect, so this is an adaptation of my Grandmother's recipe.

   It is basically a spicy gingerbread dough with an old-fashioned German taste. The topping combination of chocolate and toasted hazelnuts is really something different. If you want a Christmas cookie that no one else is bringing to the exchange this year, this is your cookie.





German Nut Print Cookies 


1/2 stick of butter
4 ounces of molasses measured in a liquid measuring cup
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoon milk

In a saucepan, heat these slowly just to combine, and then allow to cool. When this mixture has cooled, add:
1/8 tsp. lemon extract

1/2 tsp. anise extract
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Stir to combine.

In a separate bowl sift:
1 and 1/2 cups flour

3 tsp. baking powder

Slowly add 2/3 of the flour mixture to the saucepan while stirring with a spatula. This will make a very sticky dough. Slowly add the remaining 1/3 of the flour mixture and with your spatula, shape the dough into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least three hours. 

Preheat the oven to 375.

Place the dough on a floured surface and, shape dough into balls approximately 1/2 inch in size. If the dough is still sticky, flour your hands so that you can work with it. Flatten the balls slightly with the palm of your hand and place on a greased cookie sheet. You can also make a few into rectangular shapes, which is the more traditional form.
Decorate with hazelnut halves. The hazelnuts will toast on the cookie as it is baking. Bake for 12 minutes. Allow cookies to cool completely before adding the chocolate coating.

For the chocolate coating, I placed half of a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips with 1/4 cup of water in a microwave-safe bowl and melted it in the microwave with frequent stirring until it was completely melted. My mother is sure that my Grandmother always used dark chocolate, which sounds preferable to me and more authentic. 


Traditionally, the entire top of the cookie is coated in chocolate, but I drizzled a few. Allow the chocolate to cool completely on the cookie.

Oh, and what did Little Mister say?


"They're good. Too crunchy. You might want to make them a little softer. Dad might like them."

This IS a crunchy cookie, so if you are like me and enjoy a softer cookie, you have been warned. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Indian Summer Corn Fritters

     Early leaves from the surrounding black walnut trees are now falling, but the temperatures remain the same. In fact, we're thinking of taking a day trip to the beach this weekend. September is always my favorite month to go, with fewer crowds and no traffic. I tore most of my garden out except the peppers and flowers. We were blessed with plenty of food resulting in canned goodness for another year. 
     It has been three months since I updated my blog, but I'm always on Instagram now. 


     Little Mister is now in Kindergarten, which is a full school day. He generally finds it boring but likes his teacher, a young energetic woman who called on the first day of school just to tell me that he had a great first day. I have never received a call from the school to tell me something "great" has happened. Probably you haven't either. After I picked myself up off the floor from the fainting spell, I burst out with a reply that was something along the lines of "Really? That's all? You're sure?" 

     Then I liked the teacher too because she laughed. 

     It's been a long while since I updated my followers on my son's speech progress. When he speaks, people tend to fall into one of three categories. They are the following: Those who (mostly) understand him. Those who don't understand him at all and quickly look at me for a translation. Those who say and may even believe that they understand him but their replies show they have no idea.

     Frankly, I really appreciate it when people ask for a translation. It's much better than giving a reply that doesn't make sense. There is still a ways to go on being able to pronounce certain consonant sounds and even I don't understand perfectly all of the time. Whoa to the stranger who is presented with Little Mister's unique versions of the word "turtle" or "umbrella".



     Then, last night, we were working on homework that featured the letter "T" and I asked if he could make that sound. There was a long silence and I thought for a minute that I shouldn't have asked before he let out the first "teh" followed by a machine gun round of perfect "t" sounds. Surprised and pleased, it was a moment in perfect harmony with the words of a song I spent much time meditating on this past season.
This is my Father’s world,

And to my list’ning ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.

     At times of uncertainty and anxiety, I often listen to this song and take rest in knowing I don't have to solve the problems of this world. It was never my world anyway. I listen to the sounds outside the window, the chirping bird or gentle breeze that reminds me of that which is greater. 

This is my Father’s world:

I rest me in the thought

Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas—
His hand the wonders wrought.


     Inside my house, to my listening ears, the Maker's praise was declared by a boy making the hard sound of the letter T. 


     The dried corn stalks may be appearing as decoration now, but there is still plenty of sweet corn out there at the farm stands. This simple but flavorful recipe is one way to feed a lot of people with just a little bit of corn. 



Cilantro Corn Fritters


3-4 ears of corn
2 chopped scallions
1/2 Tbsp. oregano
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup baking mix
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 eggs 
1/4 cup water

Toss together all ingredients in a large bowl until well combined. Heat one Tablespoon of oil on medium heat in a large pan until the oil smokes. Drop half a cup of batter into the pan and use a spoon or spatula to lightly flatten the cake. Fry for 3 minutes on one side, before turning. Fry the other side for two minutes.
Add one Tablespoon of oil before frying the next batch. 


Monday, June 19, 2017

Banana Fudge Cake and Joy

   Horns honked and a man sitting in a nearby idling truck whooped and hollered as Little Mister made his exit from the school bus on the very last day. The cars idling nearby knew it was the last day because the bus driver announced it over the intercom at each stop. With a final high-five and run down the driveway, you could not help but smile and remember that feeling of freedom on the final day of a school year. 

"Do I have to go to school tomorrow?"

"No."
"The next day?"
"No."
"The day after that?"
"Nope, nope, nope."

He knows the answer. He just gets such a charge out of hearing it. 

From this point on, my time will truly not be my own. I plan to post once a month for the summer. Even now, I can barely peck out this post on the keyboard without the "mom alarm" sounding. 

   This year I had planned to sell our excess strawberries. I didn't have a stand or even a sign, I just did it by word of mouth, and it was more than enough. I put the word out: Strawberries picked fresh twice daily, sold at half the price of my competitors. A sweet variety. Contact me for pick up! 

  I quickly found joy in handing out boxes of plump, juicy fruit, meeting friendly new faces, and experiencing my first ever repeat customers. The satisfaction of selling good, clean, nourishing food at a fair price. Your berries are so good. I don't even need to put sugar on them. Will you have more? 

Oh, I really like this, I thought. 

   At the same time, I was meditating on a message the Lord sent me through a friend, and the message she gave me was this: Your joy is your strength. What a foreign idea to me it was that strength could be powered by joy. In a world that values fight, dominance, and intellectual debate it never once occurred to me that joy and strength could be intertwined in a way that produces might, at least not for this woman. I'm still learning more about this and am working to keep my joy filled at maximum capacity this summer. I want to be able to fill my cup with joy and pour the blessings out for others. 



   The dilemma: You've got exactly two very brown bananas and no, you can't make another banana bread, it's too boring. What you do have is a potluck coming up or a crowd to feed and, now, a way to stretch those two bananas into a delicious sheet of fudgy-cakey banana goodness. We really enjoyed this banana-chocolate combination. I even got a request to make it again before the cake pan was empty. 

1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar 
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (2 large or 3 medium)
1 cup sour cream

Cream butter and sugar in a mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time until fully blended. Add in vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add gradually to creamed mixture, alternating with mashed bananas and sour cream. Beat well after each addition. 

Pour into a 13x9 baking dish and bake at 350 for approximately 35-40 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. 

Frosting:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup*
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix 1 cup of sugar and the cocoa in a saucepan. Stir in milk, butter, and corn syrup. Heat until boiling, while stirring continuously. Boil for 3 minutes and remove from heat. Using a spoon or whisk, stir in the powdered sugar and vanilla until the frosting is completely smooth. Allow the frosting to cool slightly, checking until it is a spreadable consistency. Pour onto the cooled cake and spread evenly.

*If you don't have corn syrup or simply prefer not to use it, substitute honey or 2 Tablespoons of sugar dissolved in 1/2 Tablespoon of warm water. 


Friday, May 26, 2017

Strawberry Jam with Honey & Our Night in the Barn

     



   Earlier this month, we celebrated our tenth anniversary with an overnight trip to a rustic guest house full of charm and quiet, nestled against a scenic field of alfalfa. It was owned by an Amish couple who use it to host their own family and friends, and although we didn't have the opportunity to meet them in person, the Lady of the Place made us feel warmly welcomed with a chatty phone message that informed us about the coffee in the gas refrigerator and where to find the extra flashlight battery. I located a discreet extension cord to plug in my phone that was run from somewhere. It's funny when you stay at an Amish property, there's always an extension cord. They must all get plugged into one central outlet shared by the entire community. Anyway, we ate a delicious late supper at a restaurant without a crayon in sight. We recalled the some of our memories of the past ten years. We talked about the challenges of tearing down and rebuilding our home while living in it. The multiple unexpected health issues that arose over the years, such as the broken ankle debacle when Little Mister was two years old. Our honeymoon did not seamlessly glide into the decade that followed and we climbed many mountains together. 

   When we got back to our guest house, we marveled at how quiet it was despite not being far from a major road. It was the complete opposite of the sounds we are accustomed to hearing at home, situated along the raceway. I slept soundly in the deep, noiseless night, until...

   What on Earth? Where is that coming from? There it goes again! 

   I had no idea that our guest house shared a wall with the home of a loud and lively rooster. One that had a wildly different interpretation of the time that the thing called morning begins. There, in the dark, I listened to the rooster periodically sound off just ten feet from my head. Try as I might, I never did find the snooze button for that rooster. 

The tenants next door. 


   Well, I did say our first ten years was full of challenges. You didn't think I would fall into some blissful unawares full of hearts and magic on our anniversary, did you? 

   Later that day, when we were shopping in a bookstore, we found a suitable scripture verse to put on the wall back home. You can see a picture of it on my Instagram here. 

   Meanwhile, back in reality, it's peak strawberry and I'm picking morning and night, putting them up, giving them away, or selling them out. There is always a bowl of them on the counter now.  This year, I tried a new recipe for strawberry jam which contains no white sugar and is the easiest AND tastiest strawberry jam I have ever cooked. I am so excited to share it with you!

   Even better, it's so versatile that you can freeze or can it. It comes out fine either way. 

   I plan to spoon it into my yogurt, on top of ice cream, in smoothies, and use it in all the ways one can enjoy sweetened strawberries. It's so EASY and GOOD that I admit to eating it still warm in the pot with a spoon.

   You don't have to believe me. Ask my food critic. 


   "It's perfect." - Little Mister, age 5






Strawberry Jam with Honey


yield: 6 half pints

2 quarts strawberries, cleaned and hulled
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 box pectin for recipes with no or low sugar
1 3/4 cup honey

In a large saucepan, gently mash the strawberries with a mashing tool for desired consistency. Add the lemon juice and pectin, then bring to a boil. Add the honey and bring to a rolling boil. Stir for six minutes while the jam is boiling. 
Remove from heat and skim the foam. Place in containers immediately. If canning, process half pints for 8 minutes, and pints for 20 minutes. 

This jam is amazing and the honey really brings out the taste of the strawberries. This is my new go-to recipe for strawberry jam. 

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