The Fragrance of Fall

One of the very best smells in autumn is the first pot of chilli for the season. I love to make it in the crock pot so that the flavors have lots of time to meld together all day. I can’t take credit for it. Mr. M is the resident chilli maker at our house. The kid’s call it “Dad’s chilli” and it is a staple on Christmas Eve.

I have no intention of turning this into a food blog exclusively, but as we sit around My Kitchen Table, folks do ask for recipes and everyone knows, I do love to cook.

Dad’s Chilli

1-1 1/2 pounds of ground beef
4 cans of kidney beans
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1 can of tomato sauce
1 6oz can of tomato paste
1 1/2 diced sweet pepper (I like a variety of colors)
1 medium onion diced
1 jalapeno or anaheim pepper finely diced (leave the seeds and membrane in if you like it hotter)
oregano
sage
rosemary
thyme
chilli powder
all the spices are to taste approximately a tsp of each except chilli powder, start that with 2 tsp.

Brown the beef with the onion and peppers. Salt and pepper this to taste. Add undrained bean and tomato products. Season to taste. Simmer several hours to meld the flavors. If you do this on the stove rather than the crock pot, stir occasionally to keep from sticking. Serve with crackers, shredded cheese, diced onion, Fritoes, whatever you like!

We all love the smells of food cooking; at least I think we do! I also love the more subtle fragrance of autumn. The smell of the apples hanging on the trees, even before they are baked into yummy smelling and tasting treats. The musky smell of fallen leaves as they nourish the soil for nest year’s crops. The smokey smell of fireplaces. In some ways I wish we could still burn the leaves we rake up. One of the warm, cozy memories of my childhood is the smell of leaves burning on a chilly, gray day.

In addition to enjoying the tastes and smells of autumn, I enjoy shifting gears to more indoor activities. I miss my gardens, and I hate putting the patio furniture away for the winter, but I enjoy having time to read, write, and sew. I enjoy preparing for the holidays. Anticipation is half the fun!

In the meantime, it is time to prepare for the local craft fair. Lots of fun stocking stuffers are in the works. I hope it is successful this year.

I hope you are enjoying your autumn activities. Please feel free to share comments, recipes and questions. I love hearing from you.

Until next time,
Helen

A Little Taste of Fall

Dear Friends,

It’s all about the apples! There’s a lot of produce at our house in the fall (even though the gardens have not done well this year. Most of it is in manageable quantities; but this year, the apples are one again threatening to overwhelm us. I thought we had lost them to a late frost, but I am happy to be proven wrong.

So—what do we do with all of these apples? Do you have any suggestions? Be forewarned, I do simple, not complicated. I’ve never tried apple butter; is that one of your specialties?

So far, I have chopped lots in the food processor and I freeze them in 1 cup portions for use in muffins, cookies and breads throughout the winter. I soak them and salt water so they won’t turn brown, then drain them well before they go into the processor. I NEVER peel them if I can possibly avoid it.

We love sharing apples with our friends. We have friends who have used them to make cider and friends who come to pick with their children as a home school project. Some years there aren’t enough apples, and some years there aren’t enough friends!

We love apple crisp, baked apples and apple cake. The smell of apples and cinnamon baking is a little bit of heaven. Here is the best apple cake recipe that I have found so far:

RAW APPLE CAKE

4 C diced raw apples (unpeeled) 2 tsp cinnamon
1 C white sugar 1 C nuts (walnuts or pecans)
1 C brown sugar 1 tsp vanilla
2 C flour 1/2 C oil (a light oil, not olive oil
2 tsp baking soda 2 eggs

Mix together sugars and and raw apples. Combine flour, soda, cinnamon, nuts and vanilla. Bear oil and eggs, then combine with all the above, all at once. Bake in 9X13 or a bundt pan at 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes. I like to drizzle this with a caramel sauce.

Zucchini is another crop that is feast or famine. This year is a famine year for us! We have exactly zero zucchini! Some years we are like all those cartoons you see of people trying to get rid of the darn stuff. If I had zucchini this year, this is what I would do:
Like apples, I chop and freeze it in 1 cup portions for use in breads and muffins in the winter. It also freezes well sliced for soups and stir-fries. But, the very best use I have found yet is—

ZUCCHINI RELISH

Grind and mix (I use the food processor):
10 Cups of zucchini
4 Cups of onion
2 green and 2 red peppers
To this add 1/3 Cup of salt and mix thoroughly. Rinse with cold water and drain.
Add 1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp back pepper
2 1/2 Cups of vinegar
4 1/2 Cups of sugar.
Cook 20 to 30 minutes, fill sterile, hot jars and seal. (No processing needed).

Our big problem this year is no zucchini and only one small jar of relish left!

We harvested basil for pesto and have frozen lots of jalapeno and anaheim peppers.
Speaking of peppers, I had a request for my stuffed pepper soup recipe, so here you go:

STUFFED PEPPER SOUP

Brown together 1 pound of ground beef and 1/2 of a medium onion. Add at least 1 cup of chopped sweet bell peppers. I like to use a variety of colors. You can add more to your personal taste. Place in a crock pot and add 1 cup of cooked rice. Salt and pepper generously. Add 2 cans of beef broth (more if you like a thinner soup)and one can of tomato sauce or diced tomatoes. I love this because it has all the flavor of stuffed peppers, but I don’t have that big hunk of pepper to eat, which I don’t care for.

I really didn’t mean for this to turn into a food blog, but autumn seems to be all about food! For now, I’d better get cooking.

Until next time,
Helen

Good by Summer

Dear Friends,

It has been quite a summer! Thank you for your patience while I took a little break from writing. Summers are always really busy around our house, and this summer was especially so.

In May Mr M was injured in a fall. In addition to the care he needed at first all of the gardening and watering duties fell to me. Those are tasks we usually share. That’s not a complaint, just a statement of fact.

Our gardening was done in pots, once again this year. As we have gotten older, they are much easier to handle then trying to get up and down off the ground. This year was not a particularly productive one. Any suggestions? This is our third year of gardening in pots, and we have had mixed results. The first year the tomatoes did really well and we harvested hundreds; the second year it was the zucchini that did well, this year it was the peppers. Everything did get hailed on a couple of times so that didn’t help! I have decided to switch to ceramic pots, maybe that will help.

We have two apple trees and I thought, for sure, that a late frost had gotten them, but they recovered nicely. We’ve always had lots of production from the Jonathon apple tree, but the most Red Delicious apples we have ever had (in 26 years) is 14. This year the Red Delicious tree is loaded. There will be plenty for us plus some to give away. I have already frozen 10 cartons, just from the windfalls.

I have moved most of the herbs into the house for the winter—or as long as I can keep them alive. I don’t seem to be very good at helping them winter over. Do any of you have any suggestions? The basil has been quite productive this year so there will be lots of pesto in the freezer for winter.

The summer has not been all work, there has been fun too. What did you do for fun this summer? We had a family gathering to celebrate when one of our sons received his Masters in International Business. I attended the Lavender Festival with a friend and had several coffee chats with various friends that I had not connected with in a long time. Once Mr M was mended enough to be up and about we had several lunch dates. We ended the summer with a three day get away to the San Louis Valley, home of the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Did you read this summer? Any suggestions? I read about a book a month, but the one I enjoyed most, was No Life For a Lady by Agnes Morley Cleaveland. It is the autobiography of one of the early settlers of the San Augustine Plain in New Mexico in the 1880s. I also read another “tea shop” mystery, which is always fun.

I hope you had a great summer, and I’m looking forward to hearing all about it.

Until next time,

Helen

Ironing Day

Dear Friends,
Thank you for your patience. We have been in crisis mode at our house for about a month. I’m glad to be back!

I recently posed a question on Facebook: Do you remember when we had to iron everything? I got many answers from Facebook friends. Most of us who are of an age to have participated in this, started learning to iron at about the age of 6 or 7. We started with hankies (yes, they were still in regular use), then moved up to pillow cases, and so on until we were doing our own ironing by Junior High or High School. Of course these are just girls I’m talking about, our brothers did “manly” things. We had lots of fun sharing funny stories about the task, which is almost unheard of today.

In my mother’s day, however, ironing was no joking matter. My mother washed clothes all day on Monday. That included hanging everything out on the line, even in winter. At the end of the day she would “sprinkle” the clothes with water and roll them up for ironing the next day. We had to sprinkle clothes because there were no steam irons; and, as I recall, the iron itself was very heavy.

Ironing was a one or two day task. When my older brothers and sister were growing up, Mom had two full bushel baskets of ironing every week. My dad did buy her a roller iron so that cut the task down from two days to one. There was a great sense of accomplishment when it was all done—until the next week!

We talk about life being simpler back then. We talk about the good old days. Everyone worked really hard and there were many tasks that we no longer have to do. I don’t know if I am imagining it, but people seemed more content then. Most people wanted to work hard to get ahead, however, I don’t remember so much discontentment with where people were in life. I don’t remember my parents being envious of what others had, even though we lived with pretty modest means.

We talk a lot about simplifying, but I see little evidence that we really are doing that (as a society). I have decided that, even at this late stage in life, I will strive to simplify. Somehow I’ve grown away from my old hippy roots as the years have gone by. I don’t intend to get on my soapbox—I’m just thinking out loud about changes I can make, personally. I’m really eager to hear your ideas and thoughts on this.

I began with Lent. Instead of giving up one thing for the entire six weeks of Lent (such as the disastrous year I gave up coffee), I was challenged to give up something each day. Every day I put a piece of clothing or a household item in a bag to be donated. Each day I had to make a decision to get rid something I no longer needed or wanted. At first it was easy, but 40 days is a very long time. and I found that it didn’t take long to get past the obvious. In the end I found I really had to search for items and some things I found I was not so eager to part with. In the end it feels so good.

In later posts I’ll share how this has affected other areas of my life. I’m sure you have stories to. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Until next time,
Helen

A Spoon full of sugar

Dear Friends,

One of the benefits of my dietary restrictions, that I protest against all the time, is that I am back to making many food items from scratch. I feel like I’ve gone back to my “Granola Mama” roots! And actually I’m enjoying it. Of course, I realize it is much easier in my later years with no career-family juggling act going on.

Some of you have asked for recipes, so here goes. Today I’ll share the latest baked goods. I have to eat gluten-free, so I use Bob’s Red Mill Grain One to One gluten-free flour. One of my best finds ever! I never did like having to mix flours and add xanthum (is that spelled right?) gum myself.So here we go:

Easy Pizza Crust
1 package (0.25 oz) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110 degrees)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 cups bread flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
Mix sugar with yeast and warm water. Let is sit for 10 minutes. It should look creamy. Stir in the flour, olive oil, and sat. Stir until smooth. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Pat into a pizza pan that has been prepared with cooking spray and a sprinkling of corn meal. Bake in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes. Place the toppings of your choice on the pizza and bake 15 to 20 minutes more.

Basic Muffins
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil (use a mild flavored one such as Canola)
2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
3 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease to bottom of muffin cups (I use cupcake papers and spray them with cooking spray). Blend dry ingredients together then stir in wet ingredients until just blended. Do not overmix. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Muffins should have gently rounded tops. Makes 12 muffins.
For variety:
For sweeter muffins decrease milk to 1/2 cup, decrease flour to 1 1/2 cups and increase sugar to 1/2 cup.

Surprise muffin! Fill muffin cups 1/2 full then add the surprise of your choice. We like blackberries! You can also use a spoonful of jelly or jam or a spoonful of peanut butter. Fill the cups to 2/3 full and bake as usual.

Ginger pear muffins: add 1/2 teaspoon EACH of cinnamon, allspice, and ginger. You may want to substitute brown sugar for white sugar in the recipe. Add two jars of baby food pears or 1/2 cup of canned pears that you have puree’d in a food processor.

Sweet potato muffins: Substitute brown sugar for white sugar. Add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and two jars of baby food sweet potatoes or mashed sweet potato that has been thin to pourable consistency with milk, to equal 1/2 cup.

Apple muffins: add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 cup of grated tart apple.

Blueberry muffins: add 1 cup of well drained fresh or canned blueberries.

You decide what varieties you might like, and share them here.

Dumplings
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons shortening
3/4 cup of milk
Blend dry ingredients. Cut in shortening. Blend in milk. Drop by spoonfuls into boiling meat stock (not water or broth). Cook at a pretty good boil for 10 minutes uncovered then place a domed lid on the pan and cook for 10 more minutes. I cook the meat in the slow cooker and then pour in to a pot and bring to a boil when I’m ready to add the dumplings.

Pancakes (the best I’ve ever made!)
1 egg
1 cup butter milk (if you don’t have butter milk add a teaspoon of lemon juice to regular milk)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Blend the dry ingredients then add the wet ingredients. Mix together and make sure the batter is not too thick. Sometimes, I have to add a little milk. Pour in 4 inch pools on a very hot greased griddle or skillet. When the tops are covered with bubbles turn the pancakes over to cook on the second side. This recipe makes 10 to 12 pancakes. It works well for dollar size pancakes too.

Well that seems to be about enough for today. I hope you enjoy my new found cooking gems. Let me know if you have questions, and please share your faves with us here.

Until next time,
Helen

Day of Rest

Dear Friends,
I’m in my usual spot to write; with a cup of coffee close at hand. Won’t you join me? It’s cold and windy outside, but I’m happy to say I was able to work out in the gardens earlier in the week. Delightful!

Some of you already know that I have a day of rest each week; a “Sabbath” if you will. It has changed my life! Mine happens to be on Saturday, but I recently heard of another writer who has hers on Wednesday—the kids are in school. People have asked me what I do on this day. It’s more about what I don’t do.

1. I don’t do housework. Anything that is undone will have to stay that way. That being said, I do try to get as much done as I possibly can by Friday night. It makes things much easier to ignore.

2. I do not cook until the evening meal. There are usually leftovers from the week in the refrigerator. Mr M eats those, and I usually semi-fast. I don’t order take out or eat out, because I prefer not to make others work so that I can have rest.

3. The only TV I watch is the occasional movie. I absolutely fast from the news from Friday night until Sunday morning. It helps that Mr. M does too. That is probably the single thing that has helped me most in maintaining rest.

4.I do not go on the internet (except for the occasional Google search connected to something I’m reading). I don’t usually even go on Facebook. It is impossible to avoid the news unless you are willing to do this. I’ve never felt like I missed anything by taking that time off.

Now for what I do:

1. I have a prolonged quiet time in the morning. I read more scripture than I usually am able to make time for. I read, pray, and listen to uplifting podcasts, such as sermons, poetry, and personal stories. I also keep a classic book on my phone for times such as this.

2. I spend some time on personal care. Not just soul care, but physical care. I do my nails, do a pedicure, trim my hair, do a facial; whatever most needs to be done and makes me feel good about myself.

3. I reach out to others. Not to get embroiled in problem solving, but just to let someone know I care. Because I am basically an introvert,it is easy for me to shut people out. On my sabbath, I try to spend a little time making a call, texting, or writing a note to someone that I want to encourage. As I said, this can be a balancing act. I don’t want my sabbath to be a day I get bogged down in being needed. There is plenty of week for that.

4. I rest! Rest is a spiritual discipline. If I need to, that might be the thing I do most with my sabbath day. I have been known to sleep late and still take a couple of naps.

I realize that I am older and retired, so I have a lot of freedom to do this. I do, however, know what it is like to be home with preschoolers, lots of preschoolers! My best advice is to use nap time, or the time after they go to bed for some “you” time. Don’t try to get just one more thing done. If you take care of you, the family will be better for it. If you ask my kids, they will be happy to tell you, I was a tyrant about bed time! Try to have a mini sabbath every day if you can’t take a whole day.

If you work full-time, I understand. I haven’t forgotten what it is like to try to cram a week’s worth of work into two days on the weekend. I have some ideas that might lighten the burden, but I will save those for another time. I do recommend that you stop everything at least an hour before bed time. We used to stop about 9 o’clock, have a glass of wine, listen to music, and talk for about an hour. It was good for our marriage, and good for us as individuals. Sleep came much more easily. We both had busy, high pressure jobs, and it was a good way to decompress and reconnect.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you. What are your ideas on this subject? We are all in this journey together.

Until next time,
Helen

Spring!!!

Dear Friends,

The first of the seed catalogs has arrived;reminding me that despite my fatigue with winter spring will arrive. It’s a little hard to believe, at 31 degrees with snow on the ground. I can hardly wait to dig in the soil.

In the meantime, there are still plenty of indoor projects to be completed. This includes (but is not limited to) a project room. There are always a lot of projects going on at our house, and this will, hopefully, keep them contained. I’ll tell you more about it as I get it up and running.

It’s time to be looking at spring cleaning. Do people still do that? I find that spring, while I’m waiting to be able to garden, and fall, after it is too cool to be outside, are the perfect times to get those every once in a while tasks done.

I’m always on the look out for better, easier, and greener ways to keep things clean. I try lots of new things; I’ve had some hits, and some terrible misses. Here’s the best of what I have found lately:
I keep a spray bottle with 1/2 strength vinegar; it’s great for cleaning chrome in the bathroom and kitchen, as well as mirrors. Every once in a while I put vinegar in a plastic bag and put it over the shower head and secure it with a rubber band. Let it soak over night and it will get rid of all the lime build up from hard water.
My shower tends to get mildew on the ceiling. After years of trial and error, I discovered that my Swiffer wet mop was perfect for the job. I can reach the ceiling; nothing drips; and it cleans it away beautifully and it will stay gone for some time.
Keeping the microwave clean if a never ending job and can be a real challenge. The best hint I’ve had in a long time, is to place a small dish of lemon juice in the microwave and run it on high for a minute. The microwave will fill with lemon vapor and the food (even baked on) will wipe right off. An added bonus is, no chemical smell.
You have probably figured out by now that vinegar is my new best friend. I use it in the dishwasher in a last rinse instead of costlier products that don’t really do the job. A 1/2 cup or so and then the rinse only cycle will do it. No more spots!
In the winter I have dark brown rugs in my bathroom. It goes without saying, they show everything! A sticky lint brush is the perfect way to keep them looking fresh between washings. The same lint brush works well for getting cat hair off the furniture. It’s much easier than trying to keep the cat off the furniture!

I was raised with the idea that doing things the hard way, was the only way to do them right. That included cleaning the house. Ugh! That is not for me. If I can find an easier way to do things, I am all for it. Do you have any hints to share? If so, please do. My dilemmas include windows, floors, blinds, and woodwork. Any ideas? I hope so and I look forward to hearing from you.

Until next time,
Helen