Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Cookies - Springerle

Christmas Cookies - Springerle

This is a German cookie and this recipe was originally from the Frankenmuth Michigan area but I have tweaked it over the years.  I am not a fan of black licorice but these anise cookies are delicious!

This recipe is available in my ebook:

The Springerle Rolling pin on the left and Springerle Boards in the middle and right (I only use the Boards).


Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent Wreath

Advent Wreath

Advent begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas and continues every Sunday until Christmas day.  Since Christmas falls on a Sunday this year - it will actually seem like there are 5 Advent Sundays.

The Advent wreath is simply a Christmas wreath with 4 candles (sometimes 5 candles).  On the first of Advent - 1 candle is lit; on the second of Advent - 2 candles are lit..... and so on.  Until Christmas day when the optional fifth candle would be lit (The fifth candle is a larger candle and is in the middle of the wreath).  As you can see by the picture above, my wreath only has 4 candles.

When I was a child my parents would always set aside family worship time during the Advent season.  Every Advent Sunday evening we would light our advent wreath, sing Christmas carols and read about Jesus' birth from scripture.  These are some of my most precious and warm childhood memories and I truly believe that this family worship time helped shape my Christian walk.  I would encourage every parent to have this wonderful family worship time - especially during the Advent season.

The First of Advent: Joseph
The Second of Advent - Mary
The Third of Advent - Baby Jesus

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The First of Advent - Joseph

"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.  His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.'  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel' - which means, 'God with us.'  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son.  And he gave him the name Jesus."    Matthew 1: 18 - 25

Today is the first of Advent and so begins the Christmas season (light 1 candle on the Advent Wreath).
Just think about the anxieties that Joseph must have had - not only before the angel visited him but also after.  He must have had that little voice going through his head saying "are you sure that was a dream?"  "Am I doing the right thing?" .....and on and on.  What wonderful faith Joseph had to totally trust that his dream was from God and to do exactly what our Lord asked him to.
Let's reflect on what the Lord has done for us through the birth of His son Jesus.

One candle has been lit on the Advent Wreath.

Advent Wreath
The Second of Advent - Mary
The Third of Advent - Baby Jesus
The Fourth of Advent - Shepherds

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Freezing Sweet Potatoes

Baked sweet potatoes

Freezing Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes do not last in the fruit cellar or winter storage as long as squash or regular potatoes last.  I preserve my sweet potatoes for winter usage when the tips start to get mushy or start to rot.

First bake the sweet potatoes, allow them to cool and then peel.  Mash the baked/peeled sweet potatoes.  Now fill your baggies - I never put more than 3 cups of mashed sweet potato in 1 bag.  I use a Vacuum Pack Machine but using ziploc baggies is also an option.  If you are using a "food saver" or vacuum packer then you must freeze the sweet potato mash in the bag before actually sealing with the vacuum packer (otherwise mash will be sucked into the machine and the bag won't seal properly).  I temporarily close the bag with a chip clip.

Once the sweet potato mash is frozen - then seal each bag according to the manufacturer's instructions.  Label and then it will be ready for winter usage.   

Sweet Potato mash sealed and ready for winter use.

IMPORTANT:  I just want to make this clear - Freeze before vacuum packing! - If you seal before freezing then you will have sweet potato mash inside your vacuum packing machine (and the bag will not seal properly).  Place the bag in the freezer for no less than 8 hours before sealing.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving - Grace and Mercy

"But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved." Ephesians 2:4 & 5

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!  Of course Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on our lives and on the many riches that we have been given.  I am thankful for my family and friends, the abundant harvest that we had this year and for health and home.  Most importantly, there are 2 things that stand out that I am most thankful for:  God's grace and God's mercy 

God's Grace - is God giving us wonderful things that we don't deserve - specifically Salvation

"For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." John 1:17

"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men." Titus 2:11

God's Mercy - is God not giving us the punishment that we do deserve - specifically Forgiveness

"His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation." Luke 1:50

"......the Lord is full of compassion and mercy." James 5:11

I hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday and let us remember what God has done for us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mulching Carrots

I moved the mulch aside to harvest 1 carrot

Mulching Carrots

As I'm sure you know by now - there is nothing better than eating fresh vegetables picked from your garden just minutes before eating them.  Fresh does taste best.  By mulching root crops you are able to keep those vegetables in the garden for many months during the winter and still harvest fresh from the garden.  I am talking specifically about carrots.

Straw is the best thing to use for mulching carrots but this year we used leaves that had been chopped by our riding mower.  Simply spread a thick layer of mulch over each row of carrots making sure that some of the green plant shows through (see picture below).  Obviously the reason for allowing the green carrot plant to pop through the mulch is so that you will know where to dig when you desire a garden fresh carrot.

By mulching I can extend my carrot crop well into the winter.  Here in Michigan I make sure that I have harvested all of my carrots before the night temperatures get below 0 degrees.  I usually have them harvested by mid January but we have had some mild winters where they made it to February.

ENJOY garden fresh carrots in winter!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Streams of Water

"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God."  Psalm 42:1

Have you ever seen a starving wild deer? - Maybe in the dead of winter?  They become very unpredictable and make the most unusual noises - huffing, snorting, wheezing and gasping.  I'm not sure if this is the "panting" that this verse talks about but it certainly has stuck in my mind.  Extreme thirst.  This isn't very pleasant to think about but it is a good comparison and it shows us what a thirsty soul is - It's that extreme yearning to be with God, that necessity that we feel deep down in our soul.

Water is a necessity - not just a desire but a need.  Experts say that humans can go 4 to 6 weeks without food - but water is a whole different story.  You'd be lucky to live 1 week without water - hydration is the key to life.  God is our living water - He is the key to our soul.

Let's satisfy our spiritual thirst by spending time with God through prayer, reading the Bible and fellowship.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cranberry and Sweet Potato Bran Muffins

Cranberry and Sweet Potato Bran Muffins

These muffins are so delicious and the combination of Cranberries and Sweet potatoes is perfect for the Thanksgiving holiday.  There is a good amount of bran without tasting too "brany" (which in my opinion is a problem with many bran muffins out there).

                                                                                                          Printable Recipe
1 cup bran flakes
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup sweet potatoes (already cooked, peeled and mashed)
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup melted butter (cooled to warm)
1/4 teaspoon salt (if you are using salted butter then omit this salt)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup dried cranberries

The dough is mixed and ready to be placed in a muffin tin

1.  In a large bowl - stir the milk, bran flakes and sweet potatoes together and allow the bran flakes to soften for about 10 minutes.
2.  Mix the melted butter, sugar and egg with a whisk.
3.  With a wooden spoon - stir the sweet potato/bran/milk mixture together with the egg/butter/sugar mixture.
3.  Now, with a wooden spoon, mix the remaining ingredients (except for the dried cranberries) - stir just until the flour has been mixed in.
4.  Add the dried cranberries and stir - the dough should look like the picture above.

5.  Spray the muffin tin (or if you prefer - use paper muffin liners).  With 2 large tablespoons - drop the dough in the muffin tin - see picture above (this recipe makes a perfect amount for a 12 count regular sized muffin tin) .
6.  Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean).

Allow to cool and ENJOY!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Creamy Carrot Soup from Belgium

This soup is simple yet sophisticated - the star of this recipe is the herb "tarragon."  Tarragon is one of those herbs that is either loved or hated - nothing in between.  My in-laws discovered this soup when they were in Europe - they were staying in Belgium at an old Inn and the deal was that if you spent the night then you had to dine in the Inn's restaurant.  Wow am I glad my in-laws stayed there! - This recipe has become so popular with my family that it is now tradition to have this soup with our Christmas Eve dinner.  (By the way - this is not the exact recipe from the Inn - my mother-in-law just figured it out and then I have tweaked it over the years - and she says it tastes the same as it did in Belgium) 

Creamy Carrot Soup from Belgium
                                                                                                                Printable Recipe
6 cups chicken broth (You may use store bought or - Chicken stock from scratch)
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion (peeled and chopped)
3 or 4 large carrots (peeled and chopped)
3 medium potatoes (peeled and chopped)
1 1/2 teaspoons (french) dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon (or to taste) ground white pepper (ground black pepper may be substituted)

The soup is fully cooked and is now ready to be blended.

1.  Prepare the vegetables as described above.
2.  Melt the butter in a stock pot and saute the chopped onion for a few minutes.
3.  Add the chicken stock, the chopped carrots and potatoes (another option is to add 1 stalk of chopped celery - but I find that it makes the soup a little runny) and also add the tarragon and pepper.
4.  Cook until the carrots and potatoes are cooked/tender.
5.  Now blend to a creamy texture using an immersible blender (or a regular blender) or a food processor (obviously I prefer the immersible blender because you don't have to ladle the soup in and out of the blender/processor - but if you don't own an immersible one - the other 2 tools will work just fine).

The soup is nice and creamy and ready to eat - ENJOY!!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cover Crop and Gardening Fashion Tips

Cover Crop

I think of the soil as the immune system of the garden - if the soil is balanced then the plants will grow with the proper nutrients needed to fight off most pests.

You might be asking yourself - "What is the purpose of a cover crop?"
If you garden organically then there are 4 main reasons for planting a cover crop every fall:
1.  It brings the nutrients to the top soil for next years crop
2.  There will be less weeds next year
3.  Maintains good soil moisture
4.  The cover crop helps stop soil erosion

How to plant a cover crop

We use rye as our cover crop.  Clean up your garden by pulling all old plants and clearing all fences and garden stakes.  Rough up the soil surface with a rake or cultivator and then spread the seed by hand (as seen above).

After a few weeks you will notice the rye sprouting - it will look like grass.  In the spring simply "till" (rototill) the rye into the ground and then you will be ready to plant in your enriched garden.

Yes - this is me - in my garden best.

Gardening Fashion Tips

Worn bellbottom workout floods,  short sleeve/ long sleeve layered look, disheveled graying hair, haggered hiking boots and holey garden gloves - it's called: 
Hillbilly Chic

Look for it in stores this spring!      ;-)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Seek His Righteousness

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of it's own."  Matthew 6:33 & 34

This is the last of a 4 part "Worry Wart" series.

God is not saying that food and clothing aren't important - but He is telling us where our priorities should be.  Our first motive must be the will of God.  Our focus must be on "His kingdom and His righteousness" - God will take care of the rest.

The last part is ironic: "don't worry" BUT "each day will worry about itself".  And - to be perfectly honest, the statement "each day has enough trouble of it's own" is very worrisome to me.  As I previously stated, I struggle with worry - it is one of my weaknesses.  However, let's go back to our focus - if we hone in on the trouble of the day, then we won't be able to trust God.  Focus on our heavenly Father, on Jesus His Son and on the Holy Spirit - then we will be able to feel God's prompting and we will be able to hear what He wants us to do.

Let's take one day at a time and focus on God.

Part 1:  Stored Away In Barns
Part 2:  Lilies of the Field
Part 3:  Fields of Grass

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chicken Corn Chowder

Chicken Corn Chowder

This is such a wonderful soup - the salsa does the spicing for you - no extra herbs or spices needed.  This recipe has 3 "made-from-scratch" or "previously-preserved" garden items:

The recipe:                                                                             Printable Recipe            

8 cups chicken stock (homemade or store bought)
1 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken
2 1/2 cups salsa (homemade or store bought) (you may choose the degree of hot spiced soup by using either mild, medium or hot salsa)
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion (peeled and chopped)
2 stalks celery (washed and chopped)
3 large carrots (peeled and chopped)
2 cups frozen corn (home frozen or store bought)
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup flour

This is what the soup will look like before adding the thickener

1.  Prepare the ingredients as listed above
2.  Place the butter, onion, celery and carrots in a large stock pot and saute for about 5 minutes.
3.  Now add the chicken stock, chopped chicken (already cooked), salsa and corn and cook until the carrots are soft or to your desired "doneness." (I prefer "al dente").
4.  While the soup is cooking, take your milk and flour and whisk together in a bowl until all of the flour is mixed in.
5.  Remove the soup from the heat and slowly stir in the flour/milk mixture. 
6.  Return the soup to the burner and cook (while stirring slowly) until the soup thickens and becomes "chowder." (about 5 to 10 minutes).

If you prefer a smaller amount of soup - then this recipe works well cut in half (simply divide each ingredient measurement in half). 

It is ready to eat - Enjoy!! (be careful - it is hot).

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Basics - Chicken Stock from Scratch

Making Chicken Stock from Scratch

Making Chicken Stock is much easier than most people think - easier, cheaper, healthier and tastier.  I use my crock pot - making it even easier.

1 whole chicken (preferably organic - I wait until there is a sale on the organic whole chickens)
3 large carrots (peeled and cut into large rounds)
3 celery stalks (washed & cut in half)
1 large onion (peeled and quartered)
2 garlic cloves (peeled and smashed)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 + teaspoon ground black pepper (if you like the taste of pepper then add more - I don't measure I just sprinkle and estimate)
1/2 teaspoon salt (NOTE:  I always make my stock light on salt because I will be using this stock for other dishes - salt to taste then.  You can always add more salt later you can never take away salt after it has been added)
Enough water to cover the ingredients (usually about 10 cups of water - depending on the size of the chicken).

1.  Take the chicken out of the package and remove the giblets, heart and neck (if included - you will usually find these in a pouch inside the chicken) (discard the giblets, heart and neck).
2.  Wash the inside cavity of the chicken and the outside of the chicken and place the clean bird in your crock pot.
3.  Prepare all of the vegetables as described above.
4.  Place the prepared vegetables and spices in the crock pot on top of and around the chicken.
5.  Pour enough water into the crock pot to just cover the chicken (you will need a large crock pot)
6.  Turn on the crock pot to "low" for 10 to 12 hours. 
7.  Alow the stock to cool and then strain out the chicken and vegetables.
8.  I compost the vegetables since all of the flavor has been cooked out of them. 
9.  I keep the chicken but it can be argued that most of the flavor has been cooked out also - anyway - this is optional.  If you decide to keep the chicken then you must remove all of the skin and bones from the meat - this is very time consuming (I find the best way is to just use your hands - I'm not "grossed" out by touching meat - so this isn't a problem for me - I'm sorry if this step does "gross" you out)

As you can see the meat and veggies have been removed (on the right) from the broth/stock (on the left)

Refrigerate your stock (or freeze) and use in many recipes

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sweet Potato Cajun Fry

Sweet Potato Cajun Fry

Every year after Harvesting my Sweet Potatoes - I always have these skinny, not-large-enough-to-bake sweet potatoes (see picture below).  These mini sweet potatoes are just as delicious as the large, regular sized  tuberous roots. 

Smaller sweet potatoes - just as delicious as the larger ones.

This recipe is so simple that it's not really even a recipe - there's no measuring and you can't go wrong - it's all to taste.  It has that sweet & savory combination - so delicious.

Take a large handful of these small sweet potatoes (about 10), 1 large onion, 2+ tablespoons of olive oil and any cajun spice mix to taste (I use "Tony Chachere's original Creole"). 

I keep the skins on the sweet potatoes (make sure that they are scrubbed and washed really well) (you may also peel if you prefer) - after they have been cleaned, I chop them and then place in a large frying pan.  Chop and peel the onion and place in that same pan.  Drizzle with 2 plus tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with your favorite cajun/creole spice mix (sprinkle to taste).  Then fry for about 15 minutes (stirring occasionally) or until desired color is achieved (as you can see by the picture below - I prefer my sweet potato fry on the dark side because then it has a bit of a caramelized crispness)


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fields of Grass

"If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  So, do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows you need them."  Mat 6:30, 31 & 32

This is the third of a 4 part "Worry Wart" series.

I think about a field of grass blowing in the wind and just how relaxing that can be - it is truely beautiful and it's only grass.  We are really being scolded here in these verses.  For Jesus to say "O you of little faith" really shows that worry is insulting to our heavenly Father.  Anxiety is not proper stewardship.  The Gentiles represent those who do not know a personal and loving God - it's understandable when they ask these worrisome questions 'what am I going to wear? or eat? or what is going to happen to me?.........'  It's not understandable when we as Christians worry.

Trying not to worry always end back at trust.  I looked up trust in the thesaurus - faith, belief, conviction, confidence, expectation, reliance, dependence.  I think my favorite is confidence - I am confident in God.  You can't worry and trust at the same time.

Lord, please forgive me for worrying - I am striving to trust You in everything.

Part 1:  Stored Away In Barns
Part 2:  Lilies of the Field
Part 4:  Seek His Righteousness

Friday, November 4, 2011

Apfelkuchen OR Apple Cake

Apfelkuchen OR Apple Cake

This is a German recipe from my mom's side of the family.  Usually most apple desserts combine cinnamon and apples but there is no cinnamon in this cake - vanilla is the star of this recipe.

The cake:                                                                                        Printable Recipe

1 cup butter (softened)
2 eggs (slightly beat the eggs and vanilla extract together)
2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1.  In a large bowl stir the flour, sugar and baking powder, then - with a pastry cutter (or a fork) - mix the butter into the dry flour/sugar mixture.  The traditional thing to do is called "verribbeln or veruebeln" (I'm not sure of the German spelling - this actually might be a "Schwebish" word).  This technique is where you rub the chunks of butter together and mix the flour in with your hands - anyway - it's very messy - a pastry cutter works just fine.


2.  Pour this butter/flour mixture onto a pastry board (or clean counter) and make a hole in the middle and add the egg mixture (eggs and vanilla already slightly beaten together).  Mix in and knead with your hands.  NOTE:  Again doing this by hand is very messy - mixing all of the dough ingredients together in a food processor will work if you prefer.  If you use the processor you must slowly "pulse" the machine.  The dough should be silky smooth - you might need to add a little extra flour to achieve this silky smoothness.

3.  Now you could either roll out the dough and place in your large Pyrex dish (spray or butter this dish before placing in the dough) OR you could press in the dough  (I prefer rolling out the dough).  Dust the crust/dough with flour - see picture below:


The Apple Filling:

5 or 6 apples (washed, peeled, cored and sliced)
Juice from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4.  Prepare the apples as described above and stir all of the cut-up apples, lemon juice and vanilla together.  Now nicely place these apple slices on top of the rolled out dough (see the picture at the top of this post).

The Topping:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter (softened)
1 small package of vanilla sugar

5.  Stir the dry ingredients together (flour, sugar and vanilla sugar).  "Cut" the butter into the dry mixture using a pastry cutter until crumbly looking (see the picture above) 

6.  Spread the crumb topping onto the apples and then bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes (or until desired golden brown color is achieved).

I included a picture of cut slices to show you the golden brown color of the cake/crust.

Allow the cake to cool and then ENJOY!

Linked to:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Cookies

When I first started growing sweet potatoes about 15 years ago - sweet potatoes were new to me.  One year in particular I had such an abundant crop - that I was forced to discover new ways to use sweet potatoes.  And so,  I created many new recipes.  I think this one is my favorite sweet potato recipe so far.

This recipe is available in my ebook:


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