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?"

"The next day?"
"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. 

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. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Finding Rest and Rhubarb

   Did you have a relaxing weekend? I'm glad if somebody was able to accomplish it. I'm fond of saying no Sunday was ever a day of rest for anyone called Mom or Minister. I was trying to keep up with the housework while simultaneously getting our vegetable garden up and running, and spent Saturday evening joyfully making two dishes to bring to the potluck. Since the Little Mister and I also squeezed in an afternoon visit to Grandma, the house remained cluttered and the dirty floor grated on my gentle senses like a duck trying to peck me to death. 

   It was annoying, but I refused to worry about the state of domestic decline. Increasingly, I am seeking rest as I go about my day. One scripture I've been meditating on is Matthew 6:34. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
   Did you read THAT? Each day has enough trouble in it. Don't we know that to be true? God doesn't want me to worry about tomorrow. I'm so thankful. In truth, I don't even know what tomorrow's troubles will be yet. They don't fully exist. They are merely fragments of what might happen, or what could be, or some other maybes mixed in with things that haven't happened yet. I'm so glad I can choose to rest in the moment.

   It's funny how my child gets this in a way that most adults cannot. Recently, The Mister took him on a special Dad-Son day trip while I took my mother on an outing far afield. Later that night, I told him I had missed him and asked if he had missed me. 
"No, I was fishing and when I'm fishing I worry about fishing. I don't think about missing anybody," he calmly explained. 
Yeah, I guess if I was an excited little boy hanging out at the Bass Pro shop, I'd be fully immersed in the moment, too. What a gift, to be able to live intentionally in the moment, in an almost effortless way. 

   Like everyone, I've had some periods in my life of great uncertainty, times when the future was wide open before me and some frightening possibilities existed. Now that I'm a mother, I could really torture myself with a million possible scenarios for my child's future in exciting new ways. As a daughter, I could do the same if I try to imagine what care our parents may some day require. My natural inclination to be more of a Martha than a Mary doesn't help things, but I'm ready to sit at Jesus' feet. 

I am slowly learning to embrace rest.

   But you know me, I find rest in the kitchen. Last week I made a very seasonably appropriate dessert using stevia baking blends for both the white and brown sugar. I'm cautious using stevia baking blends for some things because I find they make cookies crumble very easy, but these bar cookies came out perfect. 

   Also, while the month of May is well represented by rhubarb, I think you could use almost any combination of fruit in these sweet and satisfying bars. It's a good time to get that fruit out of your freezer so you have space for this year's harvest. 

Strawberry Rhubarb Cheesecake Squares

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar 
1/2 cup cold butter
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups finely chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb and strawberries (NOTE: If you are using frozen fruit, allow it to defrost first but do not press the liquid out.)

You will also need a 9x9 baking pan, either greased or lined with parchment paper. Personally, I need parchment paper for decent looking bark cookies. 

In a small bowl, combine the flour, oats, and brown sugar. Cut in the butter until crumbly. Set aside one cup of the mixture. Press the rest of the mixture into the bottom of the baking pan and set aside. 

In a mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugars until smooth. Beat in the salt, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir in the egg until just combined. Stir in rhubarb and strawberries. Pour this mixture over the crust and sprinkle with the reserved cup of crumbs. 

Bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Cool on w wire rack, and then refrigerate for at least one hour before cutting into squares. 

My son is not usually a big fan of rhubarb, but he definitely enjoyed these "root beer bars", as he pronounces it. It's way cute. 

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, 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. 


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.


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