Thursday, September 25, 2008

Back from Vacation!

We've been on vacation! We went up north for a holiday, and I'm just now catching up on my blogging. Before I did that, though, I spent quite a bit of time in the kitchen.

Pictured here is a batch of my favorite Chocolate Zucchini Bread. I froze one loaf, gave away another, and we've been enjoying the third loaf this week.

How Many Cans Can a Canner Can?

The last few days of our vacation, we played catch-up on work around the home, and I had fun getting back into canning.

First, I started a big pot of water bowling with apples that I picked from the trees in my father's backyard--dwarf apple trees my mother and I bought and planted together several years ago.

I didn't have to peel and core them. I just followed my sister's advice and the instructions inside a package of Sure-Jell, and only washed the apples, quatered them, and cut off the blossom end and the stem. Then I bowled them until they were soft enough to mash with an antique potato masher that I inherited from one of my two grandmothers.

After boiling the mashed apples, I put them through a sieve lined with a jelly bag my mother had made from cheesecloth. That netted enough apple juice to make two batches of apple jelly, and then I went to work with the sieve again to make apple butter.

The first photo with this post shows my sieve with its wooden tool for pressing the fruit against the sides. I had to do a lot of pressing for the juice for the jelly, but I got even more of an upper-body workout pressing without the jelly bag to make the apple butter. But after enjoying a baking powder biscuit last night with a generous smear of homemade apple butter, I would gladly do it all again.

After pressing the apple mush through the sieve, leaving just the hard cores and seeds in the sieve, plus the remaining mush that I decided to compost, I sweetened it using a formula I found in 1950s-era cookbook--measure the apple mush to find the volume and add 1/3 of that volume of sugar to the apple mush. Then, heat in a big pot on the stove until its bubbly.

While the sweetened apple mush was cooking, I added a couple of teaspoons of almond extract (just until it tasted right to me). And then I canned the apple butter.

My last canning effort of the day was another batch of those luscious Italian-Style Banana Peppers I made before our vacation. One taste of what I had made then, and I knew that I had to buy more banana peppers from the farmers market. I canned two jars and put the rest into the refrigerator to use right away...What a treat it will be this winter to enjoy home-canned produce from the summer and fall! And I'm thinking that I might use a few of the jars of apple jelly for gifts this Christmas.

He's a Happy Boy!

While I was in our yard taking photos of our fall flowers, Charlie was following me around, as usual. I stooped to shoot the black-eyed susans that you see in this picture, and guess who sat right next to them to be part of the photo?

Doesn't he look like he's having a good time? This is why we call little Charlie our Happy Boy! :-)

Easter Lilies in September

What a thrill to see Easter lilies blooming in my garden in the fall!

My dear mother-in-law has been giving me the Easter lily she buys in honor of her husband every year for the past two or three years. Each year I've enjoyed them while the blossoms lasted after Easter and then planted them into my garden, but I've never had them blossom again...until this summer and fall!

These are the second set of liles to blossom this year. The first came in August, and the second came right before we left from our vacation up north (a couple of weeks ago), and I was thrilled to return home and find that they were still blooming.

Another thing that was thrilling and amazing to me was that I didn't expect more than one lily plant to sprout from the ground where I planted just one plant. I knew that I might have more than one blossom per plant, but I didn't know that after planting the lily from the pot and watching it shrivel back a bit and look like it would be focusing on putting down roots this year, when the plants came up again (either the next year or, this year, it happened later the same season), I would have multiple plants from that one planting. What you see in this photo here is what I planted this year from one plant, and you might be able to pick out in this photo that there are three distinct plants coming up in this area.

I'm no botanist, so I don't know why this happened, or whether this means that these particular plants that bloomed this month will die over the winter since they didn't spend the summer this year just putting down roots. But I'm just going to enjoy what came up when it's here. It reminds of that verse in the Bible...

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fast and Easy Huevos Rancheros

I found this recipe on another cooking blog called Smitten Kitchen. It was more of a tutorial there than it was a recipe, but it really made a great dinner for us this past week. I'll try to add a photo of it here as soon as we make it again.

The only change that I made from the original is that I couldn't find Goya Black Bean Soup in our local grocery, so I improvised with a can of black beans, chopped onion, minced garlic, and seasonings. I liked that combination so well that I probably won't worry about continuing to look for the commercial soup.

1 can black beans
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Garlic salt, ground black pepper, cumin, and cayenne pepper to taste

4 small flour tortillas
Sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 large eggs
Light sour cream

Saute onions in a small amount of olive oil or another cooking oil until translucent. Add minced garlic, black beans (undrained), and seasonings to taste. Simmer until well combined.

In a frying pan, lightly brown one side of a tortilla, then flip to the other side and sprinkle a little shredded cheese on top. Crack and egg over it, season, and flip the whole thing when egg is halfway set. When egg is cooked to your taste, slide it onto a plate and serve with black beans, salsa, and sour cream. Repeat with three other tortillas, eggs, etc.

Chocolate Loaf Cake (made with yogurt)

I can't take any credit for this recipe. It came from a great blog I only recent discovered. This was super easy to make, and really good...but only after it sits for a few hours on the counter in a plastic bag...I know that sounds strange, but it's true.

I tried a sliced of this loaf cake when it was still warm, and I wasn't terribly impressed. But I cut a few more slices anyway for my husband to try when he got home from work. I put a plastic zipper bag over the whole thing to keep it moist and, low and behold, it tasted really great after that! It seemed more moist, and the flavors seemed to have blended better by then. It also seemed more chocolate-y and rich, even though the only change was a little time on the counter and the bag. My only guess about this is that, since this is a lower-fat recipe than many chocolate recipes, and since the yogurt has such a distinctive flavor, it just needed the time to blend and soften a bit.
I'm definitely going to make this recipe again, but next time, despite how good it smells while it's baking, I'm going to resist the temptation to try a piece until it's had a little time to rest.

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup butter, room temperature
1-1/4 cups sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup plain, low-fat yogurt

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9x5 loaf pan.

Whisk first four ingredients together. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg and egg white. Mix in 1/3 of the flour mixture.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk remaining ingredients until smooth. Add half to the sugar mixture, followed by another 1/3 of the flour mixture. Stir in the remaining yogurt and remaining flour, stirring only until no streaks of flour remain. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let cake cool in pan for about 10 minutes. Then carefully loosen the sides of the cake from the pan with a knife and turn it out into a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

Note: Did you notice that the instructions call for letting it sit until cool? I should not have ignored these instructions the first time. :-)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sewing Fall Clothes Again

It's been feeling like fall already. We had a really warm and humid Labor Day, but overnight everything changed. So it seemed like a really good week to work on new fall clothes.

Also, I've been keeping odd hours this week, due to a temporary job that my husband took during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. He's working 12- to 14-hour days from mid-afternoons through after midnight every night until the convention is over on Friday.

Thankfully, I work with really gracious people, and I was able to shift my hours this week to match my husband's hours. So I'm working midday through late evening, which still leaves me with about four hours after I finish work before my husband is home for the night. And, for the most part, I'm using the time in the sewing room.

The two blouses are both sleeveless, so they'll be mostly worn under a cardigan, and I know that I'm going to get a lot of use out of this long, khaki-colored skirt. I've been wanting a skirt like this for at least a couple of years, and I finally gave up scouring the thrift and consignment stores to find them...I almost never buy new clothes, unless you count clothes that just new to me. I try to buy everything except for lingerie and swimsuits second-hand, other than what I take time to sew.

Though you can't tell this in the photo of the skirt, I still need to hem it before I can really wear it. But that will have to wait until my husband is done with this temp job and our life is back to normal hours again. Hopefully this weekend, he'll have the time and energy to indulge me again as my "hemming assistant"...I really do have a wonderful guy in my husband.

Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole

I've been trying to use what we have on hand lately, just to keep our food bills lower than usual, but we sure didn't feel like we were living on a budget when we enjoyed this Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole for dinner today.

I've always enjoyed wild rice, but I had never tried cooking it at home. Since I had some in the pantry, and we had bone-in chicken breasts in the freezer, this seemed like a good recipe to try...and it was.

1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 can (14.5 oz.) chicken broth (I actually made my own broth from the bones after broiling the chicken breasts)
1 cup half and half cream
4 cups cubed cooked chicken (I brined the chicken first just to make sure that it would be nice and juicy)
4 cups cooked wild rice
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
4 oz. diced pimientos, drained
1 Tbsp. fresh minced parsley
1/3 cup slivered almonds, roasted

In a large saucepan, saute onion in butter until translucent, then add garlic and saute for a couple more minutes. Stir in flour, garlic salt, and pepper until blended. Gradually stir in broth, bring to a boil. Boil and stir until thickened and bubbly. Stir in the cream, chicken, rice, mushrooms, pimientos, and parsley, and heat through. Transfer to a greased 2-1/2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with almonds. Bake, uncovered at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, or until bubbly. (Serves 6-8.)

Note: In case you're new to wild rice, like I was...First wash 1 cup of wild rice thoroughly in hot tap water, then heat it in a pan with three cups of water and 1 tsp. salt. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer until rice is tender, about 30 to 45 minutes, draining any extra water when the rice is tender but not mushy.

Another Note: If you'd like to try brining the chicken before cooking it, like I did, for 4 lbs. of bone-in chicken breasts, mix 2 quarts water, 1/4 cup salt, and 1/4 cup sugar in a large container. I used a clean, empty, 5-quart ice cream bucket. Add the chicken breasts to the brining solution and refrigerate for an hour. Then rinse and cook as intended.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Mother-in-Law's Wonderful Goulash

Among our friends and family in Minnesota and Iowa, it seems like everyone has a memory of goulash from childhood.

My mother has a great goulash recipe, but my husband loves his mother's best. And since he is working very long hours this week, I thought that it might help to have some comfort food at home. This recipe was the first that came to mind.

1 lb. ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1-1/2 cups diced celery, precooked
1 can chicken noodle soup
1 can mushrooms, drained
14.5-oz. stewed tomatoes
8 oz. tomato sauce
4 oz. spaghetti, broken in half and cooked
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Brown ground beef, drain excess fat. Add onion and green pepper and saute. Add remaining ingredients and cook until thoroughly hot and well-blended.

Pick a Peck of Pickled (Banana) Peppers

Last summer, I made beet pickles, sweet pickles, and hot and spicy pickles. Well, this year I didn't have anything to pickle until now. But this afternoon I made a single jar of Pickled Banana Peppers. Now I wish that I had more peppers to make another jar! Maybe there will be more banana peppers next weekend when I have a chance to visit our local farmers market again.

I found this recipe on It's called Canned Italian Peppers. I made 1/6 of this recipe and probably could have made just an 1/8 and had plenty of liquid for the five peppers that I had in our refrigerator.

I originally bought those peppers thinking that I would eat them raw, but even though banana peppers are considered mild, they were a bit too hot for me to eat raw. Pickling mellows them, without taking away their nice little kick.

Anyway, this is a great recipe. I made this one jar of peppers earlier today, and I've already enjoyed eating a few of them. I didn't can them. I just put them into a jar in the refrigerator, with plans to use them over the next couple of weeks.


Sliced banana peppers (five peppers filled my little pint-sized jar)
Italian seasoning (I used dried basil and oregano leaves)
Garlic cloves (I didn't have fresh garlic on hand, so I used garlic powder)
White vinegar
Fresh basil leaves
Canning salt (I used table salt)
Olive oil

Fill pint jars with sliced peppers. In each jar put: 3-4 basil leaves, pinch of Italian seasoning, 1 tsp. salt, 2 cloves garlic (I used a pinch of garlic powder), and 1 tsp. olive oil.

Bring to a boil in a saucepan: 2 quarts vinegar, 1 quart water, and a pinch of sugar. Pour over peppers and seal jars. (I just used a clean commercial pickle jar and closed the lid after it had cooled a bit.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dear Charlie!

Our favorite four-legged friend turned 8 years old this past week. Officially, it was August 19, but we ended up celebrating for two days, kind of...

On Monday, my mother-in-law invited us to join her for dinner, so she took time to spoil her "granddog" by giving him extra treats during our visit. And on Tuesday, we grilled pork chops (so that Charlie could have little tastes of meat), and then the three of us did one of Charlie's favorite activities; despite the hot, sticky weather, we all took a walk.

This photo is one that I took after our walk. Charlie had just finished drinking some water, but he was still panting from the heat. He looks like he has a big grin on his face. He's always our happy little guy.

We give thanks to the Lord for the blessing of a good dog. My friends and I prayed before I got Charlie nearly eight years ago. We asked the Lord to give me the right dog and that he would be a blessing to my life. I was single back then, and it meant so much to come home to a happy little dog after work. It still means just as much to me now, even though I have the blessing of marriage now. My husband and I will celebrate our fifth anniversary this year, so including our courtship time, he's known Charlie for nearly six years.

Fresh Tomato Soup

Alongside homemade bread, I love a hot, steamy bowl of homemade soup. And this time of the year, with lovely tomatoes from the farmers market to use, I've made this recipe twice. It's a great way to use tomatoes that are still good, but need to be used in short order. And it's really fun for me to be able to use the fresh basil from the planter on my front deck.

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
5 medium, very ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 tsp. sugar
1 small can tomato paste
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 can chicken broth
1 small pinch baking soda
1 cup whole milk

Saute onions in olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When they are translucent, add tomatoes, garlic, basil, and sugar. Simmer for 10 minutes or so. Stir in tomato paste, garlic salt, and pepper. Add chicken broth and simmer for a few minutes. Add pinch of baking soda (this neutralizes some of the acid from the tomatoes). Add milk and simmer to heat for serving.

A new bread cookbook!

I have a new cookbook, and I've been having fun working through the recipes!

Several weeks ago, maybe even months, I used my library's reserve system request a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzber and Zoe Francios. It took a long time to wait for my turn to have that book for two weeks, but it was well worth the wait. So as soon as I had to take it back to the library, I splurged and got it from the bookstore for my own cookbook collection here...It wasn't that I needed a new cookbook, but I'm really enjoying this book!

First, I made a batch of Oatmeal Bread. It was hearty and somewhat sweet, very much a treat, and so easy to make!

Next, I made a batch of Challah, and it was wonderful, too! And the best thing about that recipe is that you can freeze the dough if you want to save it for another time. I love flexibility of these recipes.

Basically, they have you make a large batch of very wet dough. You mix it up in a five-quart container (I use a five-quart plastic ice cream container and lid), and then you chill it until you're ready to bake.

The Oatmeal Bread was baked in a 9x13 bread pan, but the Challah was done free-form on a baking sheet. And just this week, I baked the basic Boule recipe. It's a round-ish sourdough-type loaf, and you bake it on a heated pizza stone. It comes out of the oven deep golden brown and really crusty on the outside.

I thought about including a recipe here, but it's really more the technique than most recipes. If you're interested in bread that really does take five minutes or less to handle (though it does require some rising and baking time), I'd highly recommend getting this book.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rhubarb Cherry Jam

One more rhubarb post today, and then I'll be caught up with my kitchen adventures for a while...And I should also give credit to the source of these rhubarb recipes. I got them from the "Ritzy Rhubarb Secrets Cookbook: Rhubarb Recipes by the Good Cooks of Litchville, North Dakota and the Surrounding Area."

I bought a copy of this cookbook when the ladies from a Litchville Lutheran church came to speak for my church's women's group. They didn't talk about rhubarb, but the cookbook sale was their way of raising funds for their church when they spoke at other churches. I don't know if this cookbook is even available anymore, but I'm so glad that I bought it years ago.

Anyway, this is a great recipe for freezer jam, sure to please even the most skeptical about eating something made with rhubarb. And it's another great way to use rhubarb without having to bake tons of quick bread, muffins, and pies. We like the baked goods made from rhubarb, too, but it's really nice to have recipes like this that can go into the freezer for future use.

6 cups rhubarb, chopped finely
4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. almond flavoring
21-oz. can cherry pie filling
3-oz. pkg. cherry gelatin

Mix rhubarb and sugar, and let stand overnight.

The next day, boil rhubarb mixture for 10 minutes. Put pie filling in blender and puree. Add pie filling to rhubarb and bring to boil again. Remove from heat, add gelatin, and stir until dissolved. Add almond flavoring and prepare for freezer storage.

Rhubarb Slush

I don't have a photo of this recipe, but we've made it twice already this summer because it is so refreshing and such a good way to use a lot of rhubarb...Those of us who grow rhubarb know that it is a really good producer. And for us, we just don't need a lot of baked goods all of the time. So a recipe like this, which can wait in the freezer until needed, is perfect. We also served it recently for guests and shared the recipe with them.

8 cups rhubarb, cut up
3 cups sugar
1 (3-oz.) box strawberry gelatin
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 small envelope unsweetened drink mix (like Kool-Aid)
2 quarts 7-up (actually, we buy cans and use only what we need each time we enjoy this slush)

Cook rhubarb in 2 quarts water until tender. Strain and discard the pulp that's left of the rhubarb, but keep the juice from the pot. To the juice, add sugar, gelatin, and lemon juice. Bring mixture to a boil to dissolve crystals. Add strawberry drink mix and water to make 1 gallon of liquid. Freeze until ready to use.

When you're ready to use the slush, take it from the freezer 15 minutes before serving. Then, using a stiff metal spoon, scrape enough slush to fill your glasses three-quarter full. Fill the glasses with slush with 7-Up, and enjoy!

(Note: Next time I make this, I'm going to try another flavor, like orange or grape, or lemon or lime.)

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

I tried a new rhubarb pie recipe this year, and I think we've found our family favorite now. Normally, my husband isn't as much of a rhubarb eater as I am, but he really enjoyed this pie.


Pastry for 2-crust, 9-inch pie
3 cups rhubarb, chopped
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. corn starch
1 cup strawberries, sliced

Mix rhubarb, sugar, and corn starch until rhubarb is well coated. Stir in strawberries. Place in unbaked pie shell; cover with top crust. Sprinkle a little sugar over top.

Bake in 400-degree oven for 1 hour or until crust is brown and rhubarb is tender.

Blueberry Banana Muffins

We had guests stay over recently, and I was really thankful to find a muffin recipe that wouldn't require a trip to the grocery store.

As usual, I made a few changes. I cut the amount of sour cream in half and used "light" instead of regular sour cream. But you'd never know it by the result. They were really good!

1 cup butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
4 eggs
2 cups mashed bananas
1/2 cup light sour cream
2 tsp. soda
4 cups flour
2 cups blueberries
1 cup chopped walnuts

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, sour cream, and bananas alternately with the dry ingredients. Fold in blueberries and nuts.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean. (Makes 2 dozen muffins.)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Almost No-Knead Bread

I've been baking quite of bit of bread lately, and this is one of the loaves we've really enjoyed.

It's so easy, it really does deserve the name "Almost No-Knead Bread" and, as usual, I've altered the recipe just a bit for our personal family taste, and I simplified the method just a bit, too.

The original came from Cooks Illustrated, and I think that recipe was a take-off on another that I read online on the New York Times website some time ago.

While the original recipe calls for just all-purpose white flour, I've been using 1 cup whole wheat flour and 2 cups of bread flour, for a more whole-grainy taste and a chewier crumb. And then I've found that with the time that I allow for raising the bread, I don't need to use the rapid-rise yeast that the original recipe requires. I use ordinary regular-rise yeast with great results. (Note: You don't have to use nearly as much yeast as most bread recipes require because of the long time that you give for the initial rise.)


2 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp. yeast
1-1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. water (room temperature)
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. mild-flavored lager
1 Tbsp. white vinegar

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the wet ingredients and stir until a shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for around 18 hours. (Note: I don't worry about being specific with this time. I just mix it up after work one night and bake it sometime the next day.)

Spray a sheet of parchment paper with nonstick cooking spray and lay it into a covered 2-quart Pyrex casserole dish. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and let sit for another 2 hours until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees, and then turn it down to 425 when you open the oven door to put your Pyrex dish inside. Be sure to remove the plastic wrap and then place the casserole dish cover on top of the dish, forming a little steam oven for your bread as it bakes. After 30 minutes, remove the Pyrex lid and let the bread back for another 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reads 210 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove the finished loaf from the dish by carefully picking up the parchment paper under it, and let the loaf cool on a wire rack. Cool a bit before you cut into it for the nicest looking slices. Your bread should be deep golden brown with a really nice crusty crust and a chewy interior.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Raspberries from our garden

I haven't had the time to grow vegetables in a garden for at least the last four years. I picked that number because that's how long it's been since I took a job with a long commute...But that job is with a ministry, and I really love the work. So, the lack of fresh veggies from my own garden is a sacrifice for a very worthwhile cause.

So, this summer, instead of tending my own garden, I've taken to making regular trips to our local farmers market. But one thing that my farmers market hasn't had is, thankfully, the one edible (beyond herbs) that we can eat from our garden. We didn't have many, but we did have raspberries this year.

This photo shows about one half of our 2008 raspberry "harvest". The plants are only two years old, so hopefully we'll have more in years to come. The plants were a gift from my husband's cousin, who is married to a botanist, so everything she gives me from her garden grows really well in this area. We enjoyed raspberries on ice cream one time, and then one time we added them to a fruit salad. They were wonderful! I hope there will be more in 2009! :-)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The gate to our future Asian-stye garden

My husband has been working a lot in our backyard, as of late. Most impressively, he built this beautiful Asian-style garden gate. It serves as the opening in a new fence that he installed between the part of our backyard that our schnauzer, Charlie, considers his domain, and the part that, Lord willing, we will start to develop into a Japanese-style garden next year.

At this point, I'm just starting the research stage of trying to determine what to plant. We're looking at mainly perennials in this garden, so they have to be hardy to Zone 3. And because of all of the lovely tall trees in our yard and in the neighboring yards, they must also be shade tolerant.

On the sunnier side of this fence, we planted eight Miss Kim lilacs, which should only grow to between 4 and 6 feet. That will be enough to eventually cover the fence, and we probably plant lilacs or other bushes on the Asian side of the fence as well...Again, that's a project for another year.

We're doing this on our own time with our own labor, and we're working hard to keep it all within our limited budget. The wood chips that you see in the background of this photo were all free for the hauling during our city's annual clean-up day in June. We hauled seven trailer loads of wood chips to our yard and spent all morning and most of an afternoon one Saturday spreading them around. We'll move them around a bit more when we get ready to start planting in 2009.

The little lantern and dry pond that you see in this other photo was my husband's first effort toward our Asian-style backyard getaway. We live in a low-lying area and had to install a waterproofing system in our basement, which includes a pump that drains into the south side of our backyard. So, rather than have a swampy place to deal with, my Sweetie dug a little bone-shaped "pond" and lined it with river rock. Then he added the little stone lantern and the ferns that you see here. We named this little "pond" in honor of our dog, calling it "Little Bone Lake."

Pinwheel Coasters and a New "Garden" Blouse

While we're on the theme of gardening, I've been doing some garden-inspired sewing as well.

I saw a post on another blog with a tutorial on making pinwheel coasters, but I knew that I could make them much faster and easier using a strip-piecing method. I cut a few 3-inch wide strips of two different colors of calico and then cut 3-inch squares from the strips. Then I paired together one square of each color and sewed them together on the diagonal. I trimmed at a diagonal leaving a 1/4-inch seam allowance, and then ironed them flat. Then, taking four of these bi-color squares, I sewed them into pinwheel shapes. With a solid square for backing and a square of low-loft poly batting, I had a set of six pinwheel coasters in just a couple of hours. I think they turned out really sweet, and it was fun to tie them together for a gift for my husband's aunt.

Then, I made myself a new blouse with a garden theme. I had purchased this calico quilting fabric several years ago, but I had never figured out what I would be doing with it...I used to buy fabric all the time without a real plan for how to use it. These days I don't do that. Instead, I'm trying to use what I have on hand, only buying new fabric when there is a specific need that my fabric stash can't fulfill. I consider my stash to be a blessing, but it would be better to only buy when there's an actual need.

Anyway, this was an easy pattern, and it's been a fun blouse to wear with shorts and capri pants. Now, I'm working on another blouse, one that is sleeveless that I hope will work in the fall as well as the summer time. It's another calico from my stash, but the pattern is paisley in beige, brown, and off-white. I'm think that it should work well in the fall with my beige cardigan for warmth.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Planter hangers for our front deck

My husband is always doing thoughtful things to make our home even more home-y. This summer, he added shepherd's crooks to our front deck so that I can hang hanging plants.

Even though life has been pretty stressful now for the past four months because of a project at work, every time I see the front of our house, it makes me smile. I am so grateful to the Lord for His gift of a thoughtful, creative, and talented spouse. I really don't know what I would do without him.

Salty the Sea Dog

We finally made time last night after work to take our canoe out to the lake across the road from our house. It took less than five minutes to drive the trailer with the canoe to the boat launch, and less then 10 minutes to unload the boat, drive the car and trailer back to the parking area, and then walk back down to the boat. So we were in the lake in less than 15 minutes...Why haven't we done this before? Probably because we had to make time in our busy schedules to do it.

Anyway, it was so worth the time. We canoed for about an hour and a half. We probably paddled two or three miles round trip around "our" little lake. We didn't see all of it, but we did see enough to know that we want to go back.

I didn't bring the digital camera because I was nervous about it ending up in the lake. But my husband made a good suggestion for bringing it more safely next time. I'm going to pack it up in two layers of ziplock bags and keep it in a tummy pack when I'm not using it.

So, instead of posting photos of the beautiful blue herons that we saw, or any of the lovely patched of water lilies in various stages of bloom, I have a photo that I took before we left the house. This is Charlie, our schnauzer, also known as "Salty the Sea Dog" when we take him out in a boat. And he has his own little life preserver to wear now, thanks to a sale at Drs. Fosters and Smith. Sure, most dogs can swim, but this makes my husband and I feel better about taking Charlie with us in the canoe. He isn't thrilled to be wearing it, but he does look really cute. And after he's had it on for a few minutes, he seems to forget about it and just enjoy being able to come along with us.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Late-summer flowers in our garden

I can't believe it's been so long again since I last posted on this blog site. Where is the summer going? And why is it going so quickly?

Actually, I know the reason it's going so quickly. It's become I've been so consumed with my work for the past four months. But I was finally able to upload our latest publishing project to the printer last Friday night, and today I'm really thankful to have a comp day to use for rest.

I slept late this morning, baked oatmeal bread and made fresh tomato soup for a simple lunch for the two of us, and I've been uploading digital photos and managing files on our home computer for the last couple of hours. I'm also doing laundry, and I plan to reconcile our checking account (which hasn't been done in ages), and back up all of our computer files on the external hard drive before leaving this desk in our kitchen.

Later today, we're planning to take our canoe out to the lake across the road from our house, and I also promised my husband that I would help him with some yardwork before the day's end...I love my work for the ministry, but it is so nice to have a little time off. So I'm not going to write much today, but I thought it would be good to add a few new photos since I have all these lovely images of our late-summer flowers to share with you. Despite my lack of time to give them much attention this summer, this has been the most colorful year I can remember in terms of flowers in our backyard garden.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

My Uncle's Chicken Enchilada Recipe

This recipe always makes me think of my dear Uncle Bruce, who passed away last year. He was such a blessing to our family. He was a true warrior and example of a life lived for Christ.

This recipe was one that he made for us at least a couple of times when we were in South Dakota and stopped by his house in Brookings to visit him and my Aunt Marian. It's definitely comfort food.

1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup skim milk
1 cup light sour cream
1 small can chopped green chilis
4 chicken breasts, cooked and finely chopped
4 green onions
2 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
8 oz. shredded pepper jack cheese
10-20 medium flour tortillas

Heat soup, milk, sour cream, and chili peppers in a small saucepan. Mix chicken, green onions, and one-half of each cheese in a large bowl, and then distribute this mixture among the tortillas, rolling each tortilla and placing it into a prepared 9x13 baking pan. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and pour heated sauce mixture over all. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, or until bubbly. Serve with chopped lettuce and salsa.

Another New Dress

This photo is another one that has been waiting in line for posting. I finished this dress in time for our niece's high school graduation over Memorial Day weekend, and I've been enjoying wearing it since then to church.

It was a pattern I made years ago in a solid blue linen-type fabric. The fabric I used this time was a calico print. It was so much fun to make, and I'm anxious to have more time in the sewing room again soon.

I cut out two new summer blouses over Father's Day weekend during an hour or two while my husband was helping my father put his dock into the lake. I had hoped to have them sewn and ready to wear by now, but work at the ministry and outdoor projects at home have cut into my sewing room time for the last few weeks. Maybe over Independence Day weekend I can steal away for an hour or two in the sewing room...

Friday, June 27, 2008

My childhood home

Another wonderful experience we've had this year and I haven't blogged about yet was a visit back to Ames, Iowa, where I lived from age 2-1/2 up to 24. Though I was born in another part of Iowa, this was my hometown. And other than a couple of short visits years ago, I hadn't been there in a long time.

We were coming home from our niece's graduation, and we ended up close enough to Ames to justify a short trip through town to see our old house. All I had hoped to be able to do was to stop long enough to see the outside from the street, and then maybe take a photo of the front of the house. But the Lord had a treat in store for me that day when the current lady of the house stepped out the front door.

We talked for a while, and I explained who I was, and then she graciously invited me in to look around. Even though she had family visiting for the holiday (Memorial Day), she patiently showed me every room, and I was so delighted to see the cherry tree we planted still doing well in the back yard and the basement bedroom still being used for a sewing room...just like my mother had done with it years ago.

Mom would have been so happy if she had been alive to tour our old house with me. My Dad was in the car that day, along with my husband, but neither of them wanted to go in the house with me. I just about cried when the lady of the house told me that she cans cherries from that tree every summer. Mom didn't have enough cherries back when we were there to can them, but she did have enough to make a few cherry pies every year.

I know that my true home isn't in Iowa, any more than it is in Minnesota. My true home is in Heaven with the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, but I'm so thankful that He gave me a little glimpse back into my childhood this year. I sent the family there a thank you note afterward telling them how much it meant to me. But I also thank God for this unexpected gift.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Last, but not least...the robins

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we had the great blessing of seeing a lot of wildlife this month, including this adult robin feeding a nest of baby robins. My husband found the nest on a ledge under my father's back deck, and the robins obviously knew somehow that we weren't a great threat to them. They continued to feed their babies as we watched and took photographs. I just wish my camera battery hadn't died when it did, or I could have gotten a video of the feeding process.

Continuing with my animal theme...

One of our nieces has a growing colony of dwarf hamsters as pets, and our dog Charlie found them particularly fascinating to watch when we were visiting recently. The little hamster in the front was jumping up and down against the glass for a while. And when I put the rnning wheel back into their cage, he ran on it for several hours, pretty much nonstop.

When I asked my niece why she didn't leave the wheel in the cage all the time for them, she told me that they would be running on it all night if they could. And the sound of the wheel would keep her awake...Oh, to have such energy!

Not so wild animals...

Another thing that has kept me busy this month is knitting. I've been working on my first lace knitting project, a large mohair shawl for myself, and I made three sweet little hedgehogs to give away for gifts. I gave one as a baby gift to my old college friends' new little baby girl, and I've promised the other two to my sister and her family. They were really fun to make, using three kinds of yarn, some embroidery floss for the face, and leather for the feet. If you'd like to make your own hedgehodge, it's a pattern call William the Hedgehog offered free on the Lion Brand website. It was very easy and very fun, and it sort of fits into the amigarumi knitting trend, though this pattern makes a hedgehog that is up to 10 inches long.

What we've been doing all month...

Working...a lot. Hiking, gardening, home improvement, baking, sewing, and visiting family and friends.

And we've had the great blessing of seeing and even being able to photograph some Minnesota wildlife, like this loon family we spotted when we were up north over Father's Day weekend visiting my father. We've since learned that it's very rare to see two baby loons in one family. Thanks to my zoom lens, you can actually see the baby loons in this photo.

And, closer to home, we often see wildlife, too, like this deer we spotted on the trail near our home. one the walks near where were live. It stayed so still, almost like it wanted to photographed. But I know that's not true. It probably thought we wouldn't see it if it didn't move.

We often see deer near our home, as well as song and waterbirds, muskrats, and even an occasional opossum...I have a long commute to the ministry where I work because of where we live, but I wouldn't trade it for a shorter commute any day. I love to be close to wildlife like this. We thank the Lord for these blessings!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Spring is finally here!

I took this photo two weeks ago, and I haven't had time since then to post it to the web. My tulips are now past, but my irises are starting to develop blossoms, and I've been thrilled to see that spring is finally here. In fact, we had the whole month of May to enjoy spring-like weather. We just turned the air conditioning on today for the first time since 2007, because the temps are in the 80s today.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Making our own pizza

We love thin-crust pizza. There's a great little place down the road from our house that makes the best (in our opinion) thin-crust pizza. Because of that, I've steered clear of trying to compete at home. But recently, I found a recipe for thin-crust pizza dough that I really wanted to try. It wasn't as thin as the great pizza crust they make down the road, but it was really good just the same.

I also did a search online for homemade pizza sauce and found a really good sauce recipe as well.

As usual, I made a few adjustments from the original recipes. Here is what I did in the kitchen for both the pizza crust and the sauce.

Pizza Crust Ingredients:
1 cup warm water (110 degrees)
2-1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
3-1/2 cups bread flour (divided)
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large egg yolk

Lightly coat a large bowl with olive oil and set aside. Combine the water, yeast, and sugar in a measuring cup and set aside. Combine 3-1/4 cups of the flour with salt in a large bowl, stir in the yeast mixture, olive oil, and egg yolk, and mix until a soft dough forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead in the remaining 1/4 cup flour.Continue to knead until the dough is smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to the prepared bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until the dough doubles in volume (about 90 minutes). Punch the dough down and remove from the bowl. Use dough immediately or wrap in plastic and store refrigerated for up to 24 hours. To use immediately, divide the dough into desired number of pieces and roll out to desired shape. Pre-bake the crust for 10 minutes. Then top, and bake for another 10 minutes until golden brown and the cheese is bubbly.

Pizza Sauce Ingredients:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup celery, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz. tomato sauce
6 oz. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. garlic salt
½ tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 small bay leaf

In a large skillet, melt butter with the oil. Add the onion, celery, and garlic and sauté until soft and transparent. Add tomato sauce and tomato paste and stir until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and bring to slow simmer for 30-60 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and spread the sauce on your prepared pizza dough.

Homemade Granola

I recently made a big batch of granola with walnuts, coconut, wheat germ, and dried cranberries. This is one of my favorite things to have on a weekday for breakfast, with soy milk and sometimes fresh strawberries or bananas sliced on top...Yum!


8 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2-3 cups seeds, nuts, or other add-ins (coconut, flax seeds, wheat germ, oat bran, walnuts, almonds, pecans, sunflower and sesame seeds, etc.)
1 cup honey
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt

In a large bowl, mix the oats with your other add-ins. In a small saucepan, heat oil and honey until blended and then add vanilla and salt. (Note: You could add a big spoonful of peanut butter, too, at this point, if you like.) Stir honey mixture into oats until everything is well coated. Spread into shallow roasting pan with sides. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes (until nicely browned), stirring every 5-10 minutes to ensure even cooking. After it's all baked and sitting on the counter to cool, you can mix in dried fruit.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fresh Strawberry Pie

Spring is here! And we enjoyed having dinner guests on Tuesday night this week!

We have two nieces and two nephews, but only one nephew lives in the area. So we had him and his wife over for steaks on the grill, corn on the cob, fresh green beans, and homemade whole wheat rolls. And I made our favorite fresh strawberry pie for dessert.

There's really nothing like the taste of strawberries this time of the year. They're not local yet, but the ones from California are really sweet right now. And this pie is the best way that I know how to enjoy them, other than just eating them straight from the carton.

2 cups sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
2 cups hot water
2 (3-oz.) pkgs. strawberry gelatin
1 9-inch baked pie crust
2 lbs. fresh strawberries, sliced

Combine sugar and corn starch in a medium-sized saucepan so that no lumps of corn starch remain. Add hot water and stir to combine. Then cook over medium heat until thickened. Turn off the heat and add the two packages of gelatin, stirring to combine until smooth. Set aside to cool to lukewarm temperature.

Meanwhile, arrange the sliced berries in the pie crust. Then, when the gelatin mixture is lukewarm, pour it evenly over the berries, making sure that each has a nice covering of filling and that you can start to see the filling on the sides of the pie crust. Refrigerate for a few hours to set. Serve chilled with whipped cream.

(Note: This recipe for the filling makes enough for 1-1/2 pies, I've found. Put the remainder into a covered container in the refrigerator. It keeps well for a quite some time, and when you're ready to have this pie again, make just half the filling recipe to fill another pie crust with berries. When that new recipe of filling is done but still hot, add the reserved leftover filling from the first batch to the new filling and stir over low heat to combine.)

(Note: If you'd rather use the leftover filling right away, I've also found that it's good just poured over fresh fruit, like strawberries, blueberries, and bananas and served in pretty dessert cups. It's kind of a jello dessert, but more rich tasting than ordinary gelatin.)

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My first hand-knit sweater

Last Sunday, as my husband took his turn reading a book by one of our new favorite authors (Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness), I finished my first hand-knit sweater.

Even though I was listening and enjoying the chapter that he was reading, I had to try it on immediately and stand in front of our bedroom mirror to enjoy this new accomplishment.

Then the next day, being a workday, was a good opportunity to enjoy wearing it again. And for that reason, I didn't even mind that the high temperature that afternoon was only 45 degrees. I am looking forward to spring-like weather, but I really didn't mind the cold on Monday. It was so fun to enjoy wearing something I made that can keep me warm.

And now I'm back to knitting for others. I'm working on another little project for a future gift for my sister. Since she sometimes reads this blog, I won't give her any hints at this point about what it is. But it's quite a bit smaller than a sweater, which makes it perfect for a warmer weather project. I do want to make another sweater again someday. Maybe next fall I'll find another pattern and make one with this same pattern. It was easy for a beginner like me, and it only cost a dollar to download from Lion Brand. If anyone is interested in making this same sweater, it's posted here on the Lion Brand site.

How about Pasta e Fagioli for dinner tonight?

A couple of years ago, I went to Olive Garden with some friends from the ministry where I work, and I remember enjoying a soup called Pasta e Fagioli. We don't eat out very much, so I haven't been back to Olive Garden, and when I saw a recipe for this soup in my copy of The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, I knew that I'd have to make a point of trying it.

I wasn't at all disappointed. It had more vegetables than the Olive Garden version, and this Pasta e Fagioli recipe is one we'll definitely make again. It's hearty and satisfying, with a great tasting base, starting with chicken broth, but then flavored with bacon, red pepper flakes, oregano, and lots of tomato, onion, and garlic. You top it all off with some grated fresh Parmesan.

6 slices bacon, chopped medium
1 large onion, chopped finely
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
28 oz. diced tomatoes
2 (15.5-oz.) cans cannellini beans, rinsed
3-1/2 cups chicken broth
2-1/2 cups water
1 tsp. salt (I used garlic salt)
8 oz. pasta (traditionally something like orzo, but I used small penne)
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley (I used a tablespoon or so of dried)
1 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Fry the bacon in a large heavy pot over medium heat until crisp. Stir in the onion, garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the onion is softened. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice, beans, broth, water, and garlic salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

Stir in the pasta and cook until just slightly underdone. (Note: You want to be sure not to overcook the pasta, especially if you're using orzo or another really small kind of pasta, because you don't want the pasta to become mushy in your soup.) Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle individual bowls with Parmesan.

Note: Traditionally, you also drizzle a little olive oil on each serving of soup as a finishing step, but I always try to cut calories where I can (especially when the extra oil doesn't seem necessary). So I just topped each bowl with the Parmesan.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Karen has a brand-new bag!

Last weekend, I was back to making something for myself again in the sewing room...I made this new bag for myself using, of all things, an old rag rug that I used to use in our kitchen.

My husband didn't like the rag rugs on the floor. He complained that they were too slippery. So they were relegated to the linen closet until...I found a pattern in a book from the library that showed how to transform ordinary household items into purses and tote bags. So I put one of those abandoned rag rugs to use, and I'm thrilled with the result.

The original pattern came from a book called Low-Tech Boutique: 25+ Quick & Clever Projects Using Ready-Mades by Cheryl Weiderspahn. There were several fun ideas in the book, but I settled on the one that wouldn't require a trip to the store. Actually, this pattern called for placemats for the part that you see on the front and in the interior of the bag that forms the exterior and interior pockets. But, not having coordinating placemats that I wanted to sacrifice for this project, I opted to use calico from my stash instead.

Though it's probably hard to see from this photos, I made generous use of pockets in this bag. The interior has pockets lining both sides in a variety of sizes--for my cell phone, glasses case, checkbook, keys, etc., as well as knitting needles, crochet hooks, embroidery scissors, depending on what I'm currently making...I rarely go anywhere without at least a small project in my bag to work on if I have to do any waiting.

Hand-Made Gifts

In addition to clothing, I've been having fun making gifts again. Last Saturday was the birthday of a dear friend of mine from the office. So I surprised her last week at work with this sweet little flower pincushion and card.

I made the card using the same pattern that I used with the buttons on this version, but I made fabric yo-yos this time to use instead of the buttons. You can see that I used the same fabrics for the card that I used for the pincushion.

She was thrilled with the gift and said that she'd actually use this pincushion, whereas the hen pincushion that I made her last year is more of a decorative item for her sewing room. (I'll have to post a photo of that pincushion some time. I thought that I had done that already, but that must have been pre-digital camera.)

This friend loves to do crafts, too, and has recently been busy making simple baby quilts for future babies...We have a number of young women in our ministry who are newlyweds, and we're expecting to eventually receive a few birth announcements.

It's a really joy to work at a place where we can really participate in the major life events of our colleagues. In the past five years, my husband and I have had the pleasure of attending weddings and showers (both bridal and baby showers), and we've share in the sorrow of the grief of funerals as well...That makes me think of my Fighter Verse this week, about rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. God is so good to give us such fellowship in the workplace.