Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ham and Bean Soup

 

Ed loves any kind of bean soup, especially ham and bean soup. I have tried several recipes, but usually have to choke it down. I didn't know if I just disliked ham and bean soup, or I just didn't have a good recipe.

Recently my mom shared this recipe which she got from Shirley. Like me, my mom made ham and bean soup only because her husband (my dad) loved it. But this was a ham and bean soup that my mom enjoyed along with him.

I had to try it. And I agree with my mom, this recipe is a keeper. With canned beans and some precooked ham, it is a super quick meal too.

 Ham and Bean Soup

2 carrots, diced
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 T butter
3 cans (6 cups cooked) great northern beans, rinsed and drained
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups chopped ham
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp pepper
1 bay leaf

Saute carrots and onion in butter. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to boil. Simmer 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Serve to bean soup lovers - and haters.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Prepare - A Christmas Countdown - Week Two

Week Two - List Week - Oct 20-25

After considering your goals and priorities for your Christmas season, this is the week to do some practical planning.

1. On your calendar or planner, mark down every scheduled event from Thanksgiving to the New Year. This could include trips, family gatherings, work parties, and church events.

2. List the activities that are not on a specific date. For example, on my list is cookie baking with my children and singing at the nursing home. Either write these activities in the margin of your calendar so they are not forgotten or go ahead and pencil them in on a date. They could be changed at a later date.

3. Now start lists. Write lists of anything and everything you can think of.
Some list ideas:
Goodies to bake
Card mailing list
Gift recipients
Menus for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years...
Crafts

The back of your planner or a notebook is a good place for your lists. The back of an envelope is not. You want this paper to hold your brain for the next weeks.

Once I have lists - I can more easily see what I need to be doing next and what purchases need made.

Now take your lists and compare them to the thinking you did with last week's questions. How well do you lists reflect your priorities. Is there things you need to scratch out or add?

For example, I am going to ask my children which is their favorite Christmas cookie. These recipes will go to the top of the list. Then without guilt, I'm going to omit a few recipes on the bottom. I love to bake Christmas cookies, but my list can get a little out of hand. If we each pick our very favorite, that will give us enough variety.

Also look for ways to make your lists easier. Last year I finally entered all of our mailing addresses in the computer. Ed has been telling me to do this for years but every year I don't have time (I think) to type out addresses so I continued to hand-address our Christmas cards. Finally I made it priority - and it was SO simple to print off address labels. I don't know why I didn't do it ten years ago.

But don't feel bad if Christmas cards are one item you have eliminated from your to-do list. I know that with social media, mailing out Christmas greetings is becoming obsolete. But I still love receiving family pictures to hang in our kitchen all year - and I actually enjoy writing an end-of-the-year letter to friends - so this is one tradition I'm hanging on to.

Now to look at preparation in Scripture.

 "11 Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all.
 12 Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all.
16 O LORD our God, all this store that we have prepared to build thee an house for thine holy name cometh of thine hand, and is all thine own.
 17 I know also, my God, that thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of mine heart I have willingly offered all these things: and now have I seen with joy thy people, which are present here, to offer willingly unto thee."
(1 Chronicles 29:11-12, 16-17)

In 1 Chronicles 29, David tells of his preparations to build a temple for the Lord. He stockpiled huge quantities of gold and other valuable items. But David remembered that all He possessed came from God. All of it.

My downfall in planning can be that I get smug in my plans. I need to remember Who it is that gives me life, health, and days. I need to open my calendar up before the Lord and like David, offer my days back to the God Who gave them to me in the first place.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

Chocolate syrup is so easy to make that there is no reason to ever buy syrup in a bottle. I like to keep this in the fridge for an impromptu ice cream sundae, frappe, or chocolate milk.

I've tried several recipes but I like this for its simplicity (only three ingredients) and because it stays liquid even in the fridge.

For years I used this cocoa mix recipe for hot cocoa in the winter, but it took so much whisking to blend into the milk. Recently I found that this chocolate syrup works much better to make cocoa.

I'm sure you could replace the sugar with a healthier sweetener alternative. Personally I figure that the small amount I use - I'm just going to enjoy the sugar.


Chocolate Syrup
Makes 3 cups


1 1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup water
1 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp salt

Mix together. Heat to boiling. Cool. Store in refrigerator.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Homemade Mocha Frappe

I don't like coffee. I like the frangrance. I think it smells good enough to eat, but after several tries I decided I just don't enjoy coffee.

Unless it is masked with lots of sugar, milk, and chocolate

But I never wanted to get in the habit of indulging in the treat of sugar-laden coffee. Far better to not be enticed by the expensive coffee-shop drinks. And I don't need any extra temptations to ingest sugar - I get more than enough already.

But this summer I kept reading about cold-pressed coffee. According to what I read, cold-pressed coffee was not as bitter or acidic as regular brewed coffee. I figured if it was less bitter, I would need less sugar. We already owned a french press which was perfect for cold-pressed coffee, though a jar would have also worked fine.

All I had to do was give the suggestion to Ed. He cold-pressed coffee, poured it into ice cube trays, and the next morning was mixing up a Chocolate Chip Frappe. Mmmm...



And so began our summer indulgence.

I know summer is only a memory, and we are all thinking of hot drinks now, but I'll share the directions so that next summer I can have this memory jogger.



To Cold-pressed Coffee: 
In a french press or quart jar, pour 1/2 to 3/4 cup of ground coffee. Some like it stronger than this and add more coffee. Personally, I liked it a little milder. But remember, I don't like coffee!

Fill jar or press with cold water. Stir coffee and water. Cover. Allow to steep for 8-24 hours.

If using a french press, push down strainer and pour off coffee. If using a jar, pour coffee into a fine strainer or cheese cloth.

Freeze half the coffee in an ice cube tray. Refrigerate remaining coffee.

You could also use regular brewed coffee and cool it. I just like the mild flavor of cold-pressed coffee.



To make Mocha Frappe:
6 ice coffee cubes
1 cup milk
1 cup cold coffee
chocolate syrup
optional garnish: whipped cream, chocolate shavings, chocolate syrup, caramel syrup, etc

Combine coffee cubes, milk, coffee, and syrup in blender. Blend well. Pour into glass. Garnish as desired. May also add chocolate chips to blender if you like chocolate shavings in your frappe.

Makes two servings.

 

Usually we skip the garnishes, but one morning I came out to the kitchen to find that Ed made this lovely concoction. Wow. That is a great way to start a morning!

I do not add any extra sugar- the sugar in the chocolate syrup is enough for me. But if you like your coffee stronger, or your drink sweeter, adjust to your taste.

I don't measure the syrup, just drizzle some in. I'll share my easy chocolate syrup recipe tomorrow.

I use whole raw milk. I love how it makes a foamy layer of cream on top. I'm not sure other milk would have the same affect. You may need to add some cream to get the same creamy affect.

 

After almost forty years of saying that I don't drink coffee, it is rather shocking to be describing a coffee drink that I love.

How do you like your coffee?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Prepare - A Christmas Countdown - Week One

Today I was out shopping and was shocked to find a full displays of Christmas decorations. I wasn't quite thinking it was time for Christmas lights yet.

On the other hand, my husband would tell you that I'm already talking about Christmas. I know some of you don't celebrate Christmas but here in our home we choose to enjoy this celebration of Christ's birth with special times of worship, service, and family gatherings. I've learned from experience that I like to start planning for Christmas early to eliminate (or at least lessen) the holiday stress.

A few years ago I found a holiday timetable that I adjusted for my use. To me, a little planning can maximize the joy of the season. This timetable gave a specific project for each week. Last year we were looking forward to a new baby in early January (who ended up arriving on December 31st.) That gave me motivation to not only prepare for Christmas but also catch up on other household tasks. I loved starting out the new year feeling prepared, not frazzled and behind.

Since both our families live nearby, typically we neither travel over the holidays nor do we host overnight guests. Some of you will add packing to your to-do list. Others will have extra cleaning to prepare for hospitality. Though my lists include neither, feel free to adapt to your needs.

For the next eight weeks I plan to share every Monday on preparing for Christmas. The eight weeks will end in the first week of December giving adequate time to finish any uncompleted tasks and enjoy the season before Christmas Day.

I don't want to add to your guilt and give you more to do. Don't expect photos worthy of Southern Living (because I do almost no holiday decorating). Hopefully this will give you some ideas of how to plan ahead and lessen your holiday stress.

So we'll start in with...

Prepare - A Christmas Countdown 

Week One - Goal Week - October 13-18

Sit down with a pen and paper (or keyboard) and jot down the answers to these questions and any ideas they bring to mind. This is best done with your husband - and maybe your children too.

1. What would my ideal Christmas be like?

2. What activities are particularly important to our family this Christmas?

3. Is there any activities that can have a lower priority?

4. How can I use this holiday to point others to Christ?

5. How can I build in times to rest during the holiday to reduce the stress of busyness? 

A note on the last question...I'm thinking of not just a nap (thought that can be good too) but times of spiritual refreshment. I know the first thing I lose when I am busy or when routines get upset is my time with the Lord. What steps can I take to make sure my spiritual health stays priority?

And last...out of curiosity I looked in a Bible Concordance to see what it has to say about preparation - and I was encouraged by what I found, so each week I'll share a Scripture that includes the word "prepare" or similiar.

 "For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him." Isaiah 64:4

What a promise! God says that I can't even imagine what He has prepared for those who wait on Him.

Want to join me in preparing our hearts to wait and listen to Him these next weeks? Sometimes I go from the busy summer harvest season, to busy school season, to busy holiday season, always looking forward to some future day when life will slow down, not realizing that God wants a heart that is waiting on Him. Today. Now.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you keep a quiet God-focused heart in busy seasons.



Friday, October 3, 2014

Visit to Northern PA


Last weekend we were camping in northern Pennsylvania in Tioga County. This is a lovely part of God's world.



We stayed at Hill's Creek State Park. The accommodations in the tiny camping cottage was very simple (only beds and a table) but far better than tenting and we like to cook outdoors.



The park was lovely. A short walk from our cabin found a beaver lodge and signs of beaver like this young cut tree that still had green leaves. In the morning, the lake was shrouded in fog. While Ed cooked breakfast, the children and I sneaked down the trail to the lodge in hopes of catching a glimpse of the beaver. But before we saw them, we heard a huge splash. And all we saw were ripples.



Summer in Pennsylvania's forest is a deep silent green. But fall in the woods has a completely different feel. The golden leaves pulls down the sunlight. There is something vivid and alive in the autumn forest even though I know that the coloring of the leaves is a sign of winter and the leaves demise.

Though we were a week or two before peak leaf color, we don't think we could have picked a better weekend. The weather was perfect, not cold, not hot. The leaves were just beginning to turn with the red, yellow, and orange maples set off by green oaks and pines.

We began our trip with a visit to the Anthracite Museum in Scranton. We learned about mining and immigration. This museum is part of the Pennsylvania Heritage Trails. We had purchased a one year family pass and have enjoyed many of the museums and historical sites this year. We definitely have gotten our money worth and learned more about Pennsylvania's history. If you live in or near PA - this is a good deal! Check it out here.

We drove from Scranton to Tioga County by way of Rt 6, a lovely scenic road in northern Pennsylvania. We spent the remainder of our day enjoying Hill's Creek. Ed thinks it would be fun to stay at every Pennsylvania State Park that offers overnight accommodations. We have never been disappointed in any park we've stayed at. I think this is our fifth park. Only about 65 more parks to go! Maybe we should change our goal to having a picnic at each park instead of staying overnight!



We attempted to find several geo-caches during the weekend - but were not successful at all. We have never had such poor results. Maybe part of our trouble was that we were a little wary of rattlesnakes at this time of year. Digging through leaves and rolling over rocks made me skittish.



The second day found us at another museum on the Pennsylvania Heritage Trail - the PA Lumber Museum. The museum was moving into a lovely new building and we couldn't view the indoor exhibits but were able to tour the outdoor collections.



Then we went to Colton Point State Park to enjoy a picnic and awesome views of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon from the western rim.

 

Then we went down to the canyon floor to bike the Pine Creek Rail Trail.


Anyone with children knows how hard it is to get a photo with the whole family. I didn't even pack the camera along on our bikes since I figured I wouldn't even try to get any pics. But we ran into some friends who happen enjoy photography. So thanks Carolyn, for offering to take our photo and emailing it to us.

The Pine Creek is lovely and many bikers were out enjoying the perfect weather. A highlight was watching a bald eagle ride the thermals.

We ended the day with a trip to the Leonard Harrison State Park on the eastern rim of the canyon. We hiked the overlook trail which was quite a bit steeper than I had expected. We were all ready to head back to our cabin for a late supper.


Saturday we headed up to the Tioga/Hammond Lakes Recreational Area. Once again we biked, picnicked, and hiked. (And failed to find geo-caches.) The four-mile hike, much of it over rough trail or steep climbing, was a challenge but sure made us all feel good when we made it to the overlook.

I think that it can be good to push our children a little bit past what they think they can do. The next time will be a bit easier and they will hopefully be willing to tackle other hard tasks.


Hmmm...Maybe that is what the Lord is saying when He gives tasks that look too large? The challenge will be good for my child. So thankful that He walks alongside with encouragement.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

September Garden

We were camping for a few days - and when we got back we found that an accident in front of our house had snapped off the pole. Thankfully the power was back on by the time we arrived home. But our phone and internet wasn't restored until yesterday.

But I still wanted to share these photos of our September garden. Even if it is now October.

And maybe I should thank you.

Often my energy disappears by September and the garden is abandoned. In the spring I am pulling out the old tomato cages and discarding old broccoli plants and wondering why I had not taken care of them months earlier.

But knowing that I was going to take a photo of my garden and share it with friends and strangers was motivation to get out to the garden and do some housekeeping. Besides the weather has been so lovely the last weeks that I hated to be indoors.

Maybe the reason that the garden often doesn't get cleaned up in the fall is because I'm waiting for the first frost to kill the peppers and tomatoes. Until then, I want to enjoy every last bit of harvest.

But not this year. My tomatoes were nearly dead with blight anyway. The few remaining tomatoes were just hanging there inducing guilt that I was not preserving them. So in a rash act (which I have not regretted) I picked all the ripe tomatoes and peppers and pulled the plants out of the ground. I chopped up the peppers for the freezer, dehydrated the tomatoes, and could call that part of the garden finished.

I'm not done, but I'm farther along in garden clean up if it had not been for you.

So thank you. And here is the garden tour.


In the lower garden I had taken out the old strawberry patch and planted late corn. I didn't expect to get much harvest but the corn did well. It was fun to have fresh corn in September - long after our corn is usually finished. It inspired me to do better at multiple vegetable plantings next year. But I know that the generous rainfall this summer is what made this corn planting so successful.

 

My next job is to cut down this corn and clean out this area. Next to the corn is broccoli, cabbage, and kale - almost ready to pick. To the right is the worn-out green beans and zucchini plants. Another area that has not yet been cleaned up.



This is a shot of our larger garden. It is looking rather barren. In front is more broccoli hiding under row cover. We just finished harvesting the carrots in this area.



In the middle of the garden was the pumpkins which were planted to closely to the  potatoes. They grew all over the potato patch, but actually I think it worked out okay. As the potato plants died back, the pumpkins took their place and we had fewer weeds than usual. But it was rather difficult to dig the potatoes. I thought the pumpkin vines would eventually die back but the vines continued to root along the stem and send out new blossoms and baby pumpkins. Finally I started digging through the vines and found that we had a huge number of pumpkins that were already mature enough to pick. There was no need to continue to wait for more pumpkins.

 

I started picking pumpkins while the children hauled them to the porch. We ended up with over 50 long-neck pumpkins! With them out of the way we could start digging the potatoes. We only have about half dug so far but already got three bushels of potatoes. It looks like we will be eating potatoes and pumpkins this winter! If you live locally and want a pumpkin that makes wonderful pumpkin pie - please come visit us and take some off our porch!



This photo is from the far end of the same garden. I'm battling thistles in the strawberry patch, determined to get ahead of them but so far I'm failing and considering changing the location of our strawberry patch next year. It is so hard to eradicate thistles once they are established in a strawberry patch.



The red raspberries out did themselves this year. I picked a gallon of berries - several times a week. And some of them went to waste because I couldn't get to them. I froze them loose on baking sheets and stored them in bags. I feel so rich when I think of the many bags of berries in the freezer. I hope to make jam sometime - but it didn't get done this month. The berries are nearly over so another job will be cutting down these plants and giving them a good layer of mulch for winter.

So that is our garden this past month. How does your garden grow?

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