Thursday, April 20, 2017

Rites of Spring and Dark Chocolate Bean Cake

   I've been busy with spring cleaning, touching up the walls with paint to cover dirty hand, and even footprints, and discovering what was under the bed all this time. It's work for a hearty and patient soul, especially if you don't have any daughters to help with the task. I get through it with humor. 

   At the same time, Little Mister has caught fishing fever. Oh, it is bad, and if Dad isn't available to take him, well maybe Mom can bait the hooks and hold the rod. One morning, I dutifully got the equipment and drove us over to the state park, fully prepared to stand on the dock and have my bait repeatedly stolen. Never has one of our mother-son fishing attempts netted even a single sardine. Wouldn't you know, that was all about to change? I ended up reeling in a decent sized pickerel that flopped all over the dock while I got up the nerve to grab it and get hook out of its mouth. Then I was faced with the added complication that I didn't bother to bring a bucket or any container to put the fish. I walked towards the parking lot grasping a lively and squirming fish in both hands, seeking a plastic bag from the courtesy trash bag station. A bewildered man in his truck looked up and beheld the unusual scene before he quickly looked down again and went back to playing with his phone. I almost didn't blame him. Who would want to get involved with this? Maybe he stopped what he was doing once and got involved with some crazy woman carrying around a live fish and it went badly for all involved. I chose to extend charity.

   The Mister brought home an old metal row boat with wooden oars from his dad's farm. There was a lot of excitement over this humble little boat. I heard about it repeatedly, even when I was in the shower. 
Knock knock knock, at the bathroom door. Oh no, what's wrong! 
"Moooommm!!!! MOM!"
"What IS it?"
"Did you know Dad said we could keep the boat all summer?"
Ah, annoyance mixed with relief. But wait, there's more.
"Mom! I'm hungry!"
"Mom!"
"Mom, it's not actually nice to say 'Go away!'" 

   You know I will be asking for my famous uninterrupted shower Mother's Day gift again.

   I was casually browsing an article that had ideas on how to get children to eat healthier foods. It had a lot of the same popular ideas most of us have already heard, such as having your child help grow vegetables in the garden which, as the theory goes, would make them want to eat what they grew. Now, I'm fortunate that Little Mister isn't a terribly picky eater, but like most children, he does have his limits. He also loves to grow summer squash, eggplant, and spinach, all for the novelty of doing so. He's great at harvesting them so they will feed other people. When I started seeing recipes for chocolate desserts that featured beans instead of flour, I thought it would be fun to see if that would really work. 

It does: "This is good. Very good!" -Little Mister, age 5

The icing is up to you.




Dark Chocolate Bean Cake

1 can white or northern kidney beans, mashed by hand or ground in a food processor
6 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. concentrated stevia powder, OR stevia-based sweetener equivalent to 1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey

Blend all ingredients well in a mixer, then add:

1/4 cup softened butter
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

Blend well and pour into a prepared 9x13 inch pan. The batter will be very thin, and at this point you will wonder, do I need flour? No, no you do not. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes. 



Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Healthy Influences and Healthy Green Things

   Do you ever stop and pause in wonder when your child does or says something, and without them realizing it, you know they learned it from you? 

   It might be something unimportant, like a word you use often, or maybe they speak in a way that mimics your tone. They don't know they are consciously imitating you, although I admit that when a child launches into a fully cognizant impersonation of an adult, it is a lot of fun. "But Mom, you said 'NOOOOO....NOOOO...we can't do that...that can NEVER happen...." retold in grand performance style with facial expressions I never made, thank you. 

   Then there are those interests you know have been influenced by you. The itch to grow things, the pull of a somewhat agrarian life, the desire to fully consume a piece of chocolate cake the size of your head without guilt. Okay, maybe that last one applies too broadly and not just at my house. Let's substitute that with a boy's passionate curiosity to know and explore, maybe like his mom who found information so enchanting that she actually went to school to study it and made it a career. 

   Like all sinners, I can be a champion at failing to consistently present the genuine good I want to instill in my child's heart. The kind and polite words and selflessness that I long to exemplify sometimes gets lost in a broken world. It is during these times I ask myself, who do I imitate? I hope not the imperfect world around me. I need my words and deeds come from an eternal source of greatness. Often, with dishwater up to my elbows, my prayer is, Father, let me be a light that shines for you. 

   This prayer also reminds me of how I've been enjoying the longer days and the yellow buttercup flowers coming up around us. This time of year is a little boring for us gardeners, well, us gardeners who don't plant peas. There's not much to do yet outside. One way I help incite a love of growing around here is to grow sprouts indoors. A few years ago I purchased this sprouting set and some organic alfalfa sprout seeds. It was an excellent investment. We really like the fresh and inexpensive sprouts on sandwiches and salads. Little Mister eats them by the handful. 

 


My sprouter is very similar to this one, which is actually a little better than mine. (This is an Amazon Affiliate link.) 

   Last weekend I wanted a satisfying salad to go with some leftovers using half a head of cabbage from a pepper cabbage project. I wanted something, crunchy, healthy, and flavorful. This salad was well liked, and I think the homemade dressing gives it a nice balance of sweet and zesty. 



5 cups of cabbage, finely sliced
1 medium carrot, grated sliced thinly (I used a vegetable peeler)
1/3 cup walnuts
1 small apple, chopped
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Spread the cabbage in a 9-inch glass pie plate. spread the carrot, walnuts, and apple evenly, and then sprinkle with cheddar cheese. 

Dressing:

2 T olive oil
2 T apple cider vinegar
3 T honey
1 T sour cream
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. This makes the perfect amount of dressing for the salad, and the recipe is easy to adjust to your taste. 

   I had to try a few times to get just the right ratio of flavors together for this and had to eat two incredibly tasty salads in the process. The things I do for you people. You're welcome. 


Friday, March 3, 2017

Our First Ten Years

   It was ten years ago this month that we purchased and closed the deal on our humble little farmette. We had spent weeks driving around at the peak of the housing bubble, viewing deserted teardown jobs with no certificate of occupancy priced at half a million. Oh, the things we saw! Bedrooms painted black and narrow, vertical staircases better described as ladders. I'll never forget the half-finished house with a set of Bilco outdoor basement doors that had been thoughtlessly installed inside of the house, in the main hall between the kitchen and living room. Even our realtor had to admit that we had seen some "stuff". 

   This house, too, had been a poorly executed renovation job and a woefully overpriced one at that. Our hearts softened by the surrounding view and spacious property, we bought it with all the optimism young love could muster. Our wedding less than two months away. We immediately tore out walls, carpeting that had tunnels suitable for prairie dogs, and some bizarre track lighting in the kitchen. We tore it out and rebuilt it, walls, floors, and all. If we knew then what we know now...I'm not sure what we could have done differently. 

   Back then, we thought our life would look much differently in ten years time. We weren't even certain we would still reside here. We didn't plan to stay all that long. If you had asked me then, I would have told you that we would be long gone by the ten-year mark. We'd be in a bigger castle, in a more interesting kingdom. The castle would have twice the arches and towers than this place. Also, the moat would be wider and deeper, with far more alligators. 

   Ten years later, I say, I can barely keep my one dungeon cleaned and organized and am thankful I do not have to manage two. Our two alligators eat too much already and one has monthly vet bills. If I had five or ten I would just throw myself in the moat. Also, we've planted a lovely forest that I don't have the inclination to dig up and relocate. Did I tell you about the new drawbridge? It's fantastic and I have the perfect color to paint it. 

   A decade ago I could not yet articulate, even as I lived it, the truth that you naturally invest in what you love, and your return on that investment will be a certain degree of satisfaction about how things turn out, a simple blessing of peace. You will invest on the good days when you walk along that horizon of the view that tempted you in the beginning. You will invest on days when the laundry accumulates and your purse is empty. On days when there were medical bills or unforeseen circumstances, we continued to invest because we loved. It turned out it was never about investing in a property but in those we love.

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (1 John 4:8)

   Since our place is jokingly called The Compound, I guess you could say we earned compound interest on that investment. 

   Sometimes, I want something sweet and snacky but not an outright dessert to go with my mid-day coffee. Make that decaf coffee. I had to give up caffeine several months ago to help with a health issue, and while the decaf has done the trick, I sincerely miss my high-test formula. 



   This healthy and moist Honey Applesauce Snack Cake is easy to mix up, and stands on its own as a delicious after school treat or break time morsel for mom. If you want to make it more of a dessert, add the optional glaze for added sweetening. 

Honey Applesauce Snack Cake

1 cup whole wheat powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup honey
2 Tablespoons melted butter or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 Tablespoon orange juice

Glaze (optional):
2 Tablespoons orange juice
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

Heat oven to 350

Coat a 9'' round pan with baking spray.

Whisk together the first six ingredients in a medium sized bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, applesauce, honey, melted butter or oil, vanilla, orange zest, and one Tablespoon of orange juice. 

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk gently until the mixture is uniform. Be careful not to over-mix. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake until top is golden, about 25 minutes. 

If you want to add the optional glaze, whisk the sugar and orange juice together and drizzle over the cooled cake. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Prize Winning Soup for the Soul

   As the groundhog cast his wintry shadow and predicted extensive cold and gray, I remembered how wrong he was last year and went about my business of cleaning the pantry shelves. 

   Big buckets of flours and oat were pulled out and placed on the counter alongside quarts of fruit. I dutifully swept the crumbs out from the darkest corners and thought, my, this is the longest winter.

   Sunlight shone for mere seconds and a strong wind howled as I replaced the items and began the next shelf, a hodge-podge of forgotten snacks, dip mixes, and surplus staples. I just wish the cold would be over with already. There is so much I want to do. 

   I wiped down the shelf and tried to clean a hardened stain that won't budge. February is a month of survival, so say the mice and the hearty kale plants still hanging on in the garden. I move on to my next shelf which appears to be a treasure trove of forgotten purchases, ingredients purchased with the best intentions for some recipe that excited me once. Then I hear the sound that always cheers me. The gentle but distinct putt putt putt puff chuff chuff chuff...

   I glance out the window and look for it. Putt putt putt putt...




   I love that sound. It's still gray, but the sun is shining for just a minute. For just a minute it is August and I walk amongst the machines at an antique engine pull, balancing my root beer and a tired little boy. It's getting louder. PUTT PUTT PUTT. Then I see the flash of bright green and yellow paint. Green and yellow, the colors of sun and ripening fields. My neighbor is driving his old tractor down the road between home and work. He doesn't have to ride his restored antique. He could actually drive, or bicycle. Sometimes he does. And then sometimes, he might need a little August in the winter, too. Like a beach umbrella in the snow, his happy tractor provides a bit of hope and whimsy as I close the door on my clean pantry. 

   February has its moments. If you follow me on Instagram you can see a photo collage of a small baked doughnut project that Little Mister and I did together. 

   Also, for the second year in a row, I won our church's friendly and not terribly competitive soup contest. The grand prize is the good feeling of knowing that a lot of people really enjoyed something you made that was exceptional. This year I entered a Corn and Crab Chowder that I hadn't made in many years, if only because crab is not exactly in the budget anymore. Then I discovered I could use a much more economical substitution of imitation crab without compromising the taste one bit. 

I won with minimal lobbying on my part. Except for the time I spent at the soup table loudly declaring I THINK THE HOMEGROWN ORGANIC CORN FROM OUR OWN GARDEN REALLY MAKES IT. 

I was a little hoarse the next day. 

Don't judge me. 

Here's the recipe. 





First Place Corn and Crab Chowder

Yield: About 16 cups. It's great for company!


1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
3 cloves minced garlic
6 Tablespoons butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 cartons (32 oz. each) vegetable stock
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
Salt and pepper
16 oz. jumbo lump crabmeat OR 2 (8 oz.) packages imitation crabmeat
1 sweet red pepper, diced
2 packages (16 oz. each) whole frozen corn OR 1-quart freezer corn
1 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
1 Tbsp. thyme
16 oz. light cream
Tabasco sauce- ½ tsp. And increase amount to your taste


In a stockpot, melt 3 tablespoons of butter and cook celery, onion and garlic until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the rest of the butter and stir until melted. Add flour, stirring until completely blended. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot every 30 seconds, about 3 minutes.

Whisk in vegetable stock. Add corn and whisk. Add peppers, potato, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper and increase heat to MED-HIGH. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes until it comes to a boil.

Reduce heat to MED. Simmer 10-15 minutes until potatoes are tender. Add cream gradually; stir. Return to simmer about 2-3 minutes. Season with Tabasco, Old Bay, and thyme. Add crabmeat. Stir gently until soup is warmed throughout. Serve and enjoy!

Soup being served in real life.



Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Farm Show 101 & No-Bake Energy Bites


   There are two unexpected gifts of making the long drive out to the Pennsylvania Farm Show. One is the scenery. You forget that there is beauty in winter until you are reminded by seeing delicate snowflakes falling on old stone houses against an uncluttered horizon. There is a charming starkness to January in this part of the country. 

   The other gift is getting to stop briefly at one of our denominational thrift stores and donate three boxes of gently used clothes, books, and household goods. Some people feel better when they acquire things. I feel better when I get things out of my house. 

   "Enjoy ladies! It's all for you!" I chortled as I waved at two Amish bargain hunters. From the safety of the car, with the windows up, of course. Then, we're back on the turnpike. 

   We finally hit Harrisburg around noon. This year we brought along my mother-in-law. It made the day extra special for Little Mister, especially. "This is going to be the best going to the farm show, ever!" he declared when we told him about our special guest. 

  In photos, here were some of the highlights:


You wouldn't judge a man for napping with his cows, would you? 

Alpaca kiss.
He broke something on it so we had to buy it. Just kidding. 



The butter sculpture theme this year was stewardship. 





Potatoes. They do so much for us!

Sometimes you see a 13-pound sweet potato and feel a strong sense of justice when you see the blue ribbon.






The Mister's mother kept me good company while we sat through the very long whoopie pie judging contest. I thought maybe the Whoopie Pie contest must not have been very important because it was held in a dark corner where the overhead light runs out. You must have good vision to judge on appearance. The woman with the microphone who announces it deserves her own one-woman show. Well over an hour is spent with judges quietly tasting baked goods at a long table behind her, and the host entertains the crowd with interesting trivia about the Farm Show. She might have had the hardest job that day. Even harder than actually baking anything. The wait pays off in the end when they slice up the whoopie pies and set them out for anyone and everyone to sample. 



  
I recently bought a copy of Dutch Treats: Heirloom Recipes from Farmhouse KitchensThis isn't your mother's baking book, more like your Great-Grandmother's. Mostly containing forgotten recipes from over a hundred years ago, it calls for a fair amount of specialty ingredients. Even the sugar we bake with today isn't the same consistency as it was in years past. Anyway, I shopped the spice market at the show where I could cheaply pick up small quantities of spices I rarely use and try my hand at baking some of these interesting cakes and cookies from long ago. 

 The Farm Show this year was sponsored by the state's apiaries, so honey and bee exhibits were very present. To celebrate that, and to provide something extra for the snack stockpile, we made these simple no-bake Energy Bites containing honey. It was a fun kid's cooking project, although it turned out Little Mister mainly wanted to sit on the counter and ask important questions like "When are we moving to the jungle?" and "When are we going to hunt a real live dinosaur?"




I don't know if these delicious treats really provide much energy, but they were very tasty.



:
One note: Keep these refrigerated until you plan to eat them, and keep them away from heat. 

Ingredients:

1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup peanut or almond butter
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips 
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup ground flaxseed

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Scoop out with a small spoon and roll into 20-24 small bowls onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Freeze for about an hour, and then keep refrigerated in an airtight bag. 


This post contains an Amazon affiliate link. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Chewy Cranberry Orange Oatmeal Cookies with White Chocolate

Crunch. 

Crunch.

   The frost on the ground crunches beneath my rubber boots. I'm walking our two dogs, and my eyes still scan for the third we lost in November. My heart is still tender. It took a few days to realize that my eyes were constantly scanning to see her, seeking her distinctive red coat. It was as if she had gone missing, and I missed her so badly that I was still looking for one more glimpse. I find solace in the relief of knowing that our old Cattle Dog with the wonky ear and arthritic legs is at rest. 

   Cattle dogs have a distinctive bark that I describe as the sound of a polar bear attacking a seal. High pitched, unusually annoying, and unbearably shrill. It's not nails on a chalkboard. It's a 747 crashing into the RMS Titanic. Oh, I long to hear it just one more time! 

   I hustle my dogs inside and hear the Carol of the Cough that has hounded us since the day after Christmas. The sniffles and the blowing, the quest to uncover yet another pack of cold relief tablets and a ready stock of tissues. 

   The one-year diary I purchased some years ago with such faithful intentions now serves as a multi-year diary because I seldom update it. When I think of it, I simply write the current year next to the correct date and write my brief note. Christmas and New Years always gets an entry. Every new year I think, this will be the year when I remember to write down when things happen. I can start right now. I'll probably forget, but it's better to live in hope. 

   The first seed catalog has arrived and I am in my glory. Only a New Year's baby is a better symbol of renewal than a seed catalog on January first, so sayeth me. As a chilly rain drips by the window, I'm transported to warm barefoot days of planting and harvest. It speaks of earthly renewal, a timely message as the calendar begins anew. I can't help but wonder what will grow in my heart this year, what seeds will I plant that will bear eternal fruit?  What a way to start the year, to know that there are unseen possibilities at the hand of a God who can make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19) 


I'm sure you have all completed your to-do lists for Christmas, and those with tasks gone incomplete have given up and moved on. Don't be a quitter! Bake one more batch of cookies. Here's a comforting chewy oatmeal cookie that has a wintry combination of sweet and citrus. I make them every year at the holidays, and plenty of other times because they are so good. These go great with a cup of tea and a seed catalog. 




Note: This recipe makes a lot of cookies, I think around 3 dozen. You may want to cut the recipe in half. 
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. orange extract
3 cups oatmeal
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries

In a mixing bowl, cream the sugars with the butter until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in eggs until light. Stir in oatmeal. 
In a separate bowl, sift the measured flour with salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Stir into oatmeal mixture. Mix in vanilla and orange extract. Stir in white chocolate and cranberries thoroughly.

Drop by the teaspoon onto a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 12-14 minutes. 




Friday, December 2, 2016

Pecan Pumpkin Gingerbread Whoopie Pies

     My goal for November was to underwhelm my schedule. The next thing you know, I was swamped with volunteer church commitments, pre-holiday organizing projects, and the death of a beloved family pet which merited a period of mourning. Then the invitations for parent meetings and volunteer opportunities at the school began rolling in and you can see how well my plans to clear my schedule worked out. I just wish schools would tell us in September how much they will need us in December. 

   It all reminded me of the time we had our garden shed delivered, and I asked the owner of Most Excellent Dutch Market Shed Broker about the chicken coop that was also on the trailer. Was it for someone local? 
   "No, we're bringing it in for inventory. It could be yours. I noticed you have some nice grass growing back there," and he gestured toward a thin patch of wilted blades of green that gives the appearance of some nice grass if you are extremely charitable. No thank you, I explained. When you start doing chickens, you end up with too many eggs and have to hang  a sign out front to sell them. You would probably want me to buy the sign from you too. Then if they don't sell you have to stop what you're doing and make noodles. That's on top of caring for the chickens, and you know whose job that would be, right? No, I've already got too much going on. 

   It's a lot like when you clean out that closet or cabinet, and you have so much extra space. I keep hearing that the universe is expanding, but that never shows up in my kitchen cabinets. Within a few months, an empty space is filled again. We fill the space we have and the time we have. As long as our hearts keep growing, I guess it's okay. 

   That reminds me, I was cleaning out an old box of mementos and found this relic from my childhood under some stacks of old greeting cards. Who remembers her name?




I can't wait to bake some new things this month and share them with friends and family. I like baking most of the year, but Christmas baking is extra special. This whoopie pie recipe was adapted from one I found a year ago, and I revised it to make it more busy-mom friendly, with easy ingredients and a brown sugar-cream cheese filling I made up myself. 

I told The Mister that these may be the best whoopie pies I ever made.
"Well, I would have to think about that."

No, these really are the best. 



Makes 20 small or 10 large pies. 

Cakes:

2 and 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
3 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
3 Tablespoons molasses or sorghum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 orange
2 eggs
15 oz. can pumpkin

Filling:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 cup toasted, chopped pecans

Heat the oven to 350. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. 

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using a whisk, stir in the cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and allspice. 

In a mixing bowl, beat together butter, oil, brown sugar, molasses, and vanilla. Add the zest and eggs and combine. beat in the pumpkin puree. Stir in the flour mixture. 

Drop the dough in mounds onto the baking sheets, leaving several inches to allow for spreading. Depending on your desired size, you should have 20-40 cakes. Bake for 15-20 minutes and allow to fully cool before filling.

To make the filling, beat together the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and sugars. Beat on medium-high until filling is fully blended and creamy. Drop a large spoonful onto the flat side of one cake and press the flat side of another cake on top. 

Place the pecans on a small tray or plate, then roll the edge of each whoopie pie in the pecans to coat. 

Refrigerate in an airtight container. If you need to stack them, be sure to separate the layers with wax paper. 

Sorry. Couldn't wait. 


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