Seeds of Hope

green bean seeds 6My 2017 garden has not been one for the record books. The main reason for this is the amazing opportunity my husband and I had to travel this summer, due to a generous gift of time and funds from the church he has led for over 25 years. Thirteen thousand miles and a thousand pictures later, our unforgettable summer has come to an end. But there is always next summer for the “garden of my dreams”.

green bean seeds 2One redeeming quality of my less-than-useful garden this year has been saving seeds for next year. My green beans in particular became overgrown, with bean pods ripening past the point of enjoyable eating. So I allowed the pods to dry on the plant until the beans inside were nearly bursting out of the pod. Then, after removing the dry pods from the plant, I pulled each one open and removed the dried beans, preserving them as seeds for next year’s garden.

The Seed Savers Exchange first opened my eyes to the benefits of saving seeds. The typical seeds you buy in a store are generally hybrid seeds, meaning the seeds it produces in its first harvest may no longer contain both elements of the hybrid, thus making it unable to reproduce itself the following year. Enter the Seed Savers Exchange! They offer fantastic resources on saving seeds, such as this award-winning book, The Seed Garden.  A few years ago I ordered several types of seeds from them. My green bean crop this year was grown entirely from seeds I saved last year, which was grown from seeds I purchased from a Seed Savers source the year before. Free seeds and free green beans every year sounds like a great plan to me!

green bean seeds 1This morning I enjoyed some quiet moments on my screened-in porch, listening to the birds sing while I pulled bean seeds from crunchy pods and dreamed of the 2018 harvest already in my hands.  My favorite thing about gardening? Hope. Hope that is found in something as tiny as a seed. Hope that keeps me going, that calls me to try again. Hope that is still present in something that seems as useless as a dried bean pod, telling me there is another season of harvest yet to come. Sometimes all we have is a tiny seed of hope – but that seed of hope can grow into something beautiful if we don’t give up.

Sweet Potatoes, Round Two

sweet potato plants About a year ago I wrote a post describing (or more accurately, complaining) about my attempt to grow sweet potatoes.  Not realizing the maintenance level of starting sweet potatoes for the garden, I found myself babysitting my sweet potato in a mason jar for several weeks, hoping that the one measly root it produced would somehow turn into something profitable.

Well, I owe my sweet potato an apology.  I did my part, and it did its part. Last summer I planted the sweet potato starts that had come from the original potato, and – to my surprise – I actually harvested some sweet potatoes!  Not many, mind you, but sweet potatoes nonetheless! Though rather small in both in size and quantity, we did get to taste a few home-grown sweet potatoes before the season was done.

In addition, I was able to save about 4 or 5 smaller sweet potatoes to be my seed potatoes for the next growing season. After all, that is what I am ultimately after – producing and saving my own seeds from year to year. Though I had expected those small sweet potatoes to shrivel up over the winter,  I am happy to report that the potatoes did survive and, in fact, have produced a healthy batch of new sweet potato starts for my garden this year! So for those of you, particularly in the northern states, who would like to try growing sweet potatoes, please let me encourage you – it can be done! Here are pictures of my current sweet potato project and our progress so far.

sweet potatoes in bag

My sweet potatoes were stored in a paper lunch bag over winter

sweet potato seeds

Each sweet potato was wrapped in simple white paper inside the lunch bag. Look how small they were!

sweet potato starts

When removed from the paper bag this spring, the sweet potatoes already showed signs of new starts.

sweet potato plants

Just a few weeks after placing the sweet potatoes in jars of water, healthy new starts appear!

spring sweet potato plants

After carefully removing the starts from the mother plant, the starts were placed in shallow water to grow roots. Here are the rooted starts now taking off in recycled yogurt cups filled with my compost dirt.

In a few weeks, when the weather is warmer and my sweet potato plants are bigger, I will be planting them in my garden.  Hopefully we will have a few more to eat this fall, along with some more starters for next year!

Make-Ahead Marvels: Bran Muffins

Bran MuffinsCountry living seems to bring with it a certain anticipation of relaxed gatherings that also include tasty food! Outdoor picnics involving BBQ chicken and fresh sweet corn bring out the “country” in all of us.  I love cooking and I love entertaining.  However, my kitchen is small, so I have to be creative when cooking for a crowd. This means taking advantage of all the popular make-ahead recipes that are around today.

One make-ahead recipe I love to use has actually been in my recipe box for several years. I received it from a friend who expertly cooked  large quantities of delicious food for church dinners on many occasions. This is a tried-and-true favorite for me. These Bran Muffins will beat all the others you may have tried in categories of taste, texture, and simplicity. These also freeze well, so you can  take out just a few at a time and the flavor will still be outstanding!

Bran Muffins

  • 5 cups flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 5 tsp baking soda
  • 10-12 oz. Raisin Bran

Mix these dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Then add:

  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1 quart buttermilk

Bran Muffin batterMix thoroughly.  Cover and allow to set overnight in refrigerator (can be stored in fridge for a week).  Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Do not mix the batter! Scoop muffin batter into regular muffin tin cups sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Do not overfill the muffin tin cups. Bake for 15 minutes.  Allow to cool for a few minutes in pans.  Remove to cooling rack.  Makes 4-5 dozen.

Bran Muffins2

 

Perfect for a bridal shower brunch or a Christmas family gathering — or just with your coffee in the morning.  Enjoy!

 

 

Gardening 101: My Sweet Potato Saga

sweet potato in jarOk, people – I have a potato problem.  A sweet potato problem, to be exact. You see, I love sweet potatoes, and I love gardening,  so I assumed growing my own sweet potatoes would be quite rewarding. But nay, on the contrary, it has become  quite distressing.
Who knew a sweet potato could be so high maintenance?  I ordered an adorable little orange gem from an experienced gardener in North Carolina who has been growing sweet potatoes from the same seed family for years. He even took time to send specific instructions to me, which I have carefully followed.  But North Carolina is not Ohio, especially in March and April.  I didn’t know  sweet potatoes like to be warm. Seriously?  I like to be warm, too, but that doesn’t mean I can sit around doing nothing until it hits 70 degrees!

But alas, sweet potatoes require a long growing season yet can’t be planted outside till the soil reaches 70 degrees. This means starting the rooting process indoors.  Remember those 4th grade science experiments with the potato in a jar of water,  being held up by toothpicks? Yep, you got it. For the last month my sweet potato science experiment has graced the front table in my living room, the only sunny spot I have.  And one month later all I have to show for this project is one root- one measly scrawny thread of a root- dangling from the bottom of my sweet potato, so thin it could break off in a weak breeze.

Lucky for me,  the weather has warmed up here the past few days and SW  has been able to sun bathe on my back porch. But this requires my remembering to bring him in each evening, as the nights are still too chilly.  Tonight,  as I retrieved SW from the porch to again tuck him safely inside for the night, I commented to my daughter that maybe I should just crochet him a blanket so he could  stay outside all night!

According to expert gardeners,  if I take care of SW properly, green vines will emerge from the potato’s top, which can then be planted outdoors in warm soil, resulting in an abundant harvest of sweet potatoes in the fall.  Pinterest even has a picture of a large wheelbarrow filled with stunning sweet potatoes grown from just 3 tiny seed potatoes.

So far I see no signs of green vines emerging anywhere on my sweet potato.  I’m just hoping that’s not mold on its pale orange skin. And I think I will be needing a smaller wheelbarrow.

National Doughnut Day, Country Style

donuts 5As I perused Facebook this morning to see what had happened in the world while I slept, I was alerted to the fact that today, June 5th, is National Doughnut Day.  I have no idea who decided to have a national doughnut day, but I am suspicious that somehow the culprit is connected to a national doughnut shop chain.  Nevertheless, this was all the reason I needed to justify indulging in this sweet doughy treat.  But the idea of standing in a long line at a donut shop with dozens of other hungry fans didn’t appeal to me.  Suddenly, I had the perfect idea – today I would dig out Grandma’s recipe and attempt to make her donuts that I  loved so much as a child.

Duane and wife 1a copy

My grandma and grandpa (several years before we made doughnuts)

On every spring break from school, my mom, sister and I would take a drive through the country to Grandma’s farm and spend the day making donuts.  The farmhouse kitchen was everything you would dream it to be -a large farmhouse table, lots of cupboards and counter space, wide windows overlooking both the front yard and cow barn as well as the backyard with an iconic outhouse from years gone by and Grandma’s flower beds.  When we arrived for donut making, Grandma would have already started the dough and most likely it was rising globe-like above the rim of her large kettle.  After punching the dough down, my sister and I began to cut out donuts with Grandma’s donut cutters. Grandma and Mom would manage the frying with great skill.  Then, when the donuts had just cooled, they were dipped in a sugar glaze and stacked on large trays all around the kitchen.  Eating those donuts while they were still warm and gooey was amazing!  After filling our stomachs, we would pack the remaining donuts into containers that would be delivered to family members so all could enjoy.

Some years later, the farmhouse burned to the ground.  Grandma never did make donuts again, though we still went out and spent time with her every spring break.  However, I did get the recipe from her, and several years ago I attempted to make them, without much success.  Thinking of Grandma today,  I determined to give it another try.  Some of the recipe’s measurements are unfamiliar to me. What is 1.75 lbs of flour?  How much is 1/2 ounce of salt?  This time I had the Internet to help and I was able to get the precise measurements I needed.  Also, I believe Grandma fried her donuts in lard.  I decided on the next best thing – a can of shortening.

After making the dough, letting it rise twice, and rolling it out,  my daughter and I began to cut out ddonuts 2onuts. Soon we were frying these delicacies and dipping them in the sugary glaze, impatiently waiting for them to cool enough to eat.  It was worth the wait! The crispy donut shell with the soft interior was perfectly highlighted with the glistening glaze of sugar, causing the donut to melt in your mouth.  Not only did I enjoy the taste of these treats,  I found myself laughing out loud at the sheer amazement that I had managed to make Grandma’s donuts almost as good as she did.  I was a little girl again, sitting on a stool in Grandma’s farmhouse kitchen, with sticky fingers and a happy heart.

donuts 4

Thank you, Grandma!  I think you are smiling down on me as I eat this treat in my suburban kitchen, sharing with my daughter the story of your farmhouse kitchen donuts.  I think we may have started a new tradition for National Doughnut Day.  And that’s a good thing!

Simple Pleasures: Porch Happiness

screened in porch 1 Life can be hectic, as we all know.  Even family life at home can be hectic.  Sometimes finding a place to be alone or to be quiet when everyone is home can be a challenge.  One of my favorite things about this time of year is being able to set up my screened-in porch for the season. Once the weather is even remotely warm, I sweep away the layer of dust and wood chips from a winter of stacked logs and get the porch ready for spring.  Today, after a busy day of teaching and yard work, I am relaxing on my porch, soaking in the sounds of birds chirping and leaves rustling softly in the breeze.

screened in porch 3Our screened-in porch has a whole lot of country built into it. When we put an addition on our house in 2003, this porch was included in the plans. But I wanted to give it a distinct look and feel. So we drove about an hour away to a place in the country that repurposes barnwood and barnstone. Upon arriving and inspecting the supply, we found the perfect match: stacks of tongue-in-groove barn siding from an old Ohio barn, still in tact and displaying remains of its traditional red paint. Soon we were on our way home with this treasure. My dad came over and helped us cut and install the siding on our porch.  It is still beautiful today.

screened in porch 2

Oops – the dog isn’t supposed to be there…shhh, don’t tell!

Since that year, I have been looking for just the right piece of furniture for my porch. I  had some wicker chairs for a time. I tried a few other pieces. But nothing quite fit my dream, which was to be able to take a nap on my porch. Nothing, that is, until this spring. Just a few weeks ago I was looking online and came across the perfect piece of furniture for my porch – this indoor/outdoor settee from Walmart.  I ordered it online, got free shipping, assembled it in about 30 minutes, and have been enjoying it ever since.

As I sit on my porch now and write, I am looking at a peony bush with pink blossoms  soon to burst open. I am enjoying the lilac bush now gracing the outside corner, and I admire a growing clematis vine that will soon reach the top of the screen panel and cover it with purple blossoms. Though my porch is only 12 years old, it feels like it has been here for a lifetime. Even the screened door squeaks like it hangs on an old farmhouse. No place else in my house gives me such a sense of peace and joy. That’s porch life. And I think we all need a little porch life once in a while.

screened in porch 4On this Memorial Day weekend, I hope you can find time to do some porch-sitting. It does a body good. As I celebrate this holiday with my family, I am thankful for a free country where I can enjoy these simple pleasures, and I am grateful for all who have sacrificed so much to make this freedom possible.  God bless America!

Beans and The Beast: Pressure Canning 101

About 8 weeks ago, as spring was first beginning to open her eyes to 2015,  my newest gadget arrived on my doorstep – my All American Pressure Canner, now affectionately named by the family as The Beast. Excited to learn something new, I began perusing Pinterest for pressure canning tips and recipes, all while keeping this large canning monster in my dining room. As fate would have it, I ended up having several rounds of both dinner guests and overnight guests during this time and, having not yet found a permanent home for The Beast, I continued to transfer it from living room to dining room, depending on what space was needed for company. At one desperate point I even tossed a placemat on top of The Beast’s box and topped it with a few books, hoping it would look like an end table. Fail.

But with the passing of time my curiosity increased and my bravery settled in. It was time to conquer The Beast. I decided my first attempt needed to be a relatively inexpensive experiment so that, if not successful, at least I did not break the bank. Thus, canning dried beans became my first pressure canning project.

I had acquired some beautiful organic pinto beans from Fresh Fork Market, directly sourced from the Shagbark Seed & Mill in Athens, Ohio.  Being assured by several Pinterest authors that canning dried beans was fool-proof, I spent a cool-weather May day canning pints of pinto beans that will later become the refried beans my family enjoys often. Yes, this was not as hard as I thought it would be…and no, the pressure canner did not explode (insert sigh of relief here!)

Here are a few pictures of the pinto bean canning process:

The Beast and the beans!

The Beast and the beans!

Don't these organic pinto beans look gorgeous?

Don’t these organic pinto beans look gorgeous?

After sorting and rinsing the beans, I placed 1/2 cup beans in each pint jar, followed by 1/2 tsp. salt.  Then I added hot water to the jars, filling up to the neck of the jar.  Once I added the prepared lids (following the typical canning instructions), the jars were ready to be placed in The Beast.

 

The beans in jars before canning

The beans in jars before canning

After placing the jars in the pressure canner (following the canner instructions carefully), I secured the lid, heated it up, allowed the steam to vent for 10 minutes as instructed, and then maintained an 11 lb pressure for 75 minutes.  Once this time had been completed and the canner was completely cooled down, I lifted the canned pints of pinto beans out of The Beast.

Looking delicious already!

After canning – looking delicious already!

Several recipes I looked at said the beans will continue to puff up as they settle.  These have a shelf life of one year without losing nutritional value.  Organic refried beans are now ready and waiting in my cupboard for our next Mexican Night!

With Round One finished,  I am even more excited to attempt pressure canning some additional recipes.  Stay tuned for updates on future projects with The Beast – I am hoping to can fresh peas soon!

 

 

 

 

Simple Pleasures: Mashed Potatoes

The sun is shining here in Northeast Ohio on this spring holiday weekend as many of us prepare to spend time with family and friends. Our family is headed out in just a short time to enjoy a delicious meal with both my immediate family and extended family.  My job is to bring the mashed potatoes.  In fact, now I offer to bring the mashed potatoes to most family meals.  This began after I found and tried this amazing Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes recipe.

I love mashed potatoes, but I always hated the prep process – peeling, chopping, boiling, draining, beating, scooping – all at the last minute.  This process always resulted in me as the hostess sitting down to enjoy the meal all  while the potato kettle is cooling in the kitchen with mashed potatoes drying on the sides and the potato peels are turning brown in my Tupperware bowl. (I know, some of you are clean cooks and have this all taken care of before you eat.  However, I fall into the Messy Cook category.)

Then I found a make-ahead recipe for mashed potatoes. Today there are dozens of these recipes online, using either the oven or a crock pot/slow cooker. I actually do not remember where I originally found this recipe.  But they all are essentially the same, except for your choice of seasonings and method of reheating them.

So for those of you who have been assigned the mashed potato job for your holiday meal, here is a 1-2-3 recipe to make your job a whole lot easier.  Just beware – you might become the perpetual potato person for all future family meals!

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes:

mashed potatoes 1 Step 1:  Peel, chop and cook cubed potatoes (5 lb. bag) in salted boiling water until cooked and soft, but not mushy.  (I am assuming you have done this part before.) Drain the cooked potatoes. Place 1 stick butter or margarine, 1-8 oz. cream cheese and 1-8 oz sour cream on top of the potatoes.  Allow these to sit and soften a few minutes.

 

 

mashed potatoes 2Step 2:  Beat the potatoes and extra ingredients with a hand mixer until smooth and fluffy. Do not overbeat or they can turn to thick paste.  A few tiny potato chunks will let everyone know these are the real deal!

 

 

mashed potatoes 3Step 3: Spread these fluffy potatoes in a greased 13×9 pan.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.  To reheat:  Remove cover and place mashed potatoes in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  (If using a glass pan, do not take pan directly from fridge to oven.)  Top with a dollop of butter and serve!  You can make these potatoes the day before your event or even just a few hours before your event, with excellent results.

There you go, folks – my answer to avoid the dread of making mashed potatoes!  I hope you and your family enjoy this holiday weekend as we remember the events of that Holy Week so many years ago when Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of humanity, was buried in a borrowed tomb, and rose again the third day – and is still alive for us.  What good news, what hope that brings in these days full of difficult news.  He is risen!

 

 

 

 

A New Season of Canning

The icicles are dripping, the birds are chirping, and Daylight Savings Time has begun.  Is it safe to say that spring is on the way?  When the crocus buds peek out of the snow-laden flower bed, another thought begins to poke its way into my mind – gardening!  I know some of you have already begun your seeds indoors. One of these years I hope to accomplish that. For now, I am content to drool over the gardening catalogs that seem to arrive in my mailbox daily.

Something else arrived yesterday – on my doorstep. It looks like something an alien might have dropped off. And be careful picking it up, because you could sprain a back muscle! But I am so excited to take on this new challenge for my gardening/preserving season this year.

Men have their tools, women have their gadgets…and mine is currently in the form of an All-American Pressure Canner. During the long harsh months of January and February here in Ohio I have been researching information about pressure canning.  My freezer is filled to capacity, for which I am grateful. However, some items in my freezer could be safely canned.  In theory, I believe canning more foods to make them shelf-stable will allow me to stock my freezer with more items from my garden and from seasonal sales that can only be frozen.  In this way I believe I can continue to save money and provide a healthy diet for my family.

So, here it is! Pretty impressive, I might say. Honestly, I am scared to use it for the first time. But hpressure canneraving read multiple reviews on this product and its safety, as well as a myriad of online posts and comments on proper handling of this equipment, I am ready to tackle this new challenge. I hope to try my first hand at it by canning some spring peas. We will see how it goes.

The online reviews I read on this product were incredible. One man spoke of using his grandmother’s All-American Pressure Canner which is now 100 years old.  He needed to replace the weight or the dial (I can’t remember which) and had it checked for safety – it still works fine. Others commented on how this canner is so well made they will be able to pass it down to the next generation. So as my son was lifting this giant out of the box for me yesterday, I told him to be careful with it because this might be his inheritance. He didn’t seem too impressed – I wonder why?

So here’s to a new season and a new gadget and new fun! If any of you are experienced pressure canning people, I would love to know your favorite recipes. I am going to start simple, but I intend to expand my horizons in the future. Thanks in advance for your input!

PS:  I have been watching this product online for a few weeks. On Wednesday a week ago (after midnight) I happened to check, and this product was marked down to $161!  The next morning I decided to order it. Much to my surprise, the price was back to $209. Later that week it went as high as $237. Determined not to pay that much, I continued to watch the price. Last Thursday (after midnight) I checked again – the price was $161, with no tax and free shipping. I ordered it immediately, saving myself $66 from the top price. I have never observed this price change happening before and do not know if it will happen again, but if you are interested in this product, it may be worth it to check the prices for a week to see what you can get.  The link included in the blog article takes you to the item I purchased.

 

A Fresh Fork Market Thanksgiving

Tomorrow we celebrate Thanksgiving, but today feels a little bit like Christmas!  This afternoon I picked up my Fresh Fork Market Thanksgiving package, which I had pre-ordered earlier this fall.  I generally knew what was in the package, but opening each box opened up new excitement and cooking opportunities.  An entire feast now sits in my kitchen and I never stepped foot in a grocery store.  My money has gone directly to a farmer or baker in the local area, and my family will enjoy healthy farm-fresh food on our dinner table for Thanksgiving and a few meals after.

Just to give you a glimpse of what I received in today’s package, I am including a picture of each box, with a few comments of explanation.

??????????????????????????????? Box 1 contains 2 stalks brussel sprouts, several winter squash, a bag of fresh broccoli and fresh spinach, 2 bags of freshly ground whole wheat flour, a 1/2 gallon apple cider and a freshly baked crumb top apple pie.

I have a great recipe for brussel sprouts I will share on the blog soon.  The fresh spinach may end up in an Italian wedding soup recipe we love.  Some steamed broccoli and winter squash will make a great side dish with dinner.

 

???????????????????????????????Box 2 contains a loaf of homemade whole wheat bread and 1 dozen homemade whole wheat rolls.  A bag of beets and a crumb top sweet potato pie join them.

 

 

???????????????????????????????Box 3 is the heavy one!  It contains 2 lbs carrots, 1 Hubbard squash, 2 butternut squash, a bag of Yukon Gold potatoes, a bag of onions, a bag of sweet potatoes, several fresh apples, shallots, garlic,fresh lettuce greens, and a dozen organic eggs.

 

 

???????????????????????????????Box 4 feels like the grand prize!  A 21 lb fresh turkey fills this box.  This turkey was roaming the farm fields until this past Monday, eating healthy greens and enjoying life.  Never frozen and minimally processed, this turkey will soon grace our table as a delicious centerpiece, with lots of leftovers to follow!

 

 

??????????????????????????????? I added a few items to this order that I needed for other meals.  2 lbs of fresh cut, nitrate-free bacon will be used for breakfast and for that brussel sprouts recipe I mentioned earlier.  The sunflower oil has become my new go-to cooking oil, replacing my olive oil and canola oil.  The heirloom tomato sauce will be served over linguine for a quick meal later this weekend.  And the fresh apple cider is so delicious I just had to get another 1/2 gallon!

 

 

I am grateful to those who have grown and prepared the food we will soon enjoy.  Their hard work and excellence allow my family to eat healthy and contribute to the local economy.  I am grateful for the abundance we enjoy, while also realizing there are many that go without such bountiful supply.  This is a reminder of how important it is to get involved with organizations that do help provide resources to families in need.  Our own church has a Family Resource Center which provides food and household items to those in need – we enjoy getting involved with this agency.  I am thankful for the fact that my table will be filled with family and friends over the next few days and I am reminded of those who are alone or who are experiencing distress or grief this year.  My heart goes out to you, especially at this time.  As my family gathers around our Thanksgiving table, we will pause and thank God for His goodness in our lives and remember to pray for others.  Happy Thanksgiving to you all!