Seasonal Simplicity – Squash

We do not have to look at the calendar to be reminded that the winter holiday season is upon us. Christmas displays started popping up in stores right along with jack-o- lanterns, while television commercials repeat a dizzying array of gift ideas. Not to mention that we all have that one friend on social media who has their Christmas shopping finished at the end of September. Unfortunately, I am not that friend. Though every year I want to be.

Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” As my husband and I try to become more self-sufficient in our food production, I have embraced the idea of rustic elegance when it comes to meals. Not only does it suit the farm-to-table lifestyle, but it can be an efficient way to cook.

I welcome food prep that can carry over into a variety of meals. Cooking in bulk can
serve a busy schedule well – especially during the hustle and the bustle of the holidays. For example, a large pan of roasted Brussels sprouts can be a healthy holiday side dish and the leftovers can hearty up a breakfast quiche, add flavor to a spinach salad, or be an unexpected addition to a pasta dish (and with the time you save you can wrap up those last minute gifts).

One of the foods that has come a long way from the bad rap that many of us gave it as kids, is squash. Not only does it grow easily in a garden, but it will keep a long time (several months) when stored in a cool place. If you do not have a green thumb, you can find a wide array of squash in the supermarket.

While I am known to use spaghetti squash as a healthy alternative to pasta, I enjoy preparing butternut and acorn squash. Both can be served whole (or more accurately halved) and they can be stuffed with a variety of ingredients (think rice, quinoa, or farro. Nuts, dried fruit, and even sausage). The squash can also be cubed and roasted, or even mashed. Since it can be prepared ahead of time, you can warm it up or serve cold as a salad. As long as you have the oven turned on, you might as well prepare a few extra squash and puree the leftovers with broth (and cream if you’re feeling indulgent) for soup (I also like to add apples to butternut squash soup).

Since both butternut and acorn squash are quite hard and difficult to cut, I prepare them whole: Pierce Butternut Squash and place in a baking dish (add a couple of cups of water to bottom of the dish)

Roast squash for 30-45 minutes at 400 degrees.

Peel squash and remove seeds. If you want to cube the squash and roast it, you could prepare using the above technique for a shorter amount of time until it is soft enough to cut easily. Once you have the squash cut, drizzle with olive oil and spices and roast until slightly caramelized and soft.

I recommend serving squash on a large serving platter. For a real rustic feel, do not peel but “scoop” the squash to serve.

A great accompaniment to squash is roasted cranberries, walnuts, and a homemade
Pumpkin Vinaigrette. The vinaigrette also makes a fantastic dressing for a green salad and it will keep over a month in the refrigerator.

Roasted Cranberries:


If you have never roasted cranberries before, you are missing out. Not only will your house smell amazing, but the sweet-tart flavor is astounding. Plus, you control how much sugar you want to use. You might want to make a triple batch (or more). Roasted cranberries are delightful as a topping for oatmeal (hot or refrigerator oats) and they make great appetizers (serve on toasted French bread or crackers with brie or goat cheese).

The sweet tart flavor of cranberries is incredible in refrigerator oatmeal.

*Bag(s) of cranberries (fresh or frozen)
*Juice and zest of one orange
*1 teaspoon of rosemary (more to taste)
* 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (more to taste)
* ¼ cup of honey (to taste. You can also use maple syrup or brown sugar)

 Roast for 20-25 minutes at 375-400 degrees
 Serve warm or cold (as they cool they will thicken)

Pumpkin Vinaigrette:
(make sure you check out the recipe Apple-a- Day Mason Jar Salad that
incorporates this dressing)

* 1/2 cup of vinegar (I use raw apple cider vinegar. You may want to vary the amount of
vinegar based on how tart you like your dressing. I recommend adding a little bit at a time
and tasting the dressing as you go)
* 3/4 cup of pumpkin
* 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
* 1/4 cup of water (the dressing tends to be thick so I thin it out with water. You could add
extra vinegar.)
* 1 large clove of garlic
* 1 lemon ~ juice and zest
* 3 green onions (you can use a Tablespoon of regular onion)
* 1 inch of fresh ginger root
* 1 Tablespoon of pure maple syrup (you could also use honey)
* 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
* Salt and pepper to taste

Blend dressing until smooth. The combination of sweet, savory, tart, and spicy ingredients make it a pleasing combination.

This holiday season I hope you find many moments to make memories with your friends and family. If you are responsible for preparing a feast, remember that many foods can be made in bulk to serve many recipes and save precious time. Keeping our menus simple and rustic, does not mean that we have to sacrifice taste. Nature provides us with complex flavors and textures. One of the best gifts that you can give loved ones this year is a meal cooked with fresh and wholesome ingredients. From The Waldo family to yours – may your table be filled with holiday blessings!

Advertisements

Why We Should Listen To Our Bodies (My Thyroid Journey)

”It’s also helpful to realize that this very body that we have, that’s sitting right here right now…with its aches and its pleasures…is exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, fully alive.”
-Pema Chodron

It is important for us to appreciate the little things in life, like these lilies from my garden.

Last week I made a confession on my personal Facebook page. I always try to keep Facebook lighthearted and focus on the positive. It doesn’t feel the proper place to whine and complain (that’s what my husband John is for 😉 ).  However, I had to admit that I have been struggling for a while.

John has been trying to get me to go for a medical appointment for a couple of years. Truthfully, it’s been a point of contention with us. I kept promising I would make that appointment and I never did. Even my dad jumped in and told me to go to the doctor. I kept telling them I was fine. After all, I’m a healthy person. I never get sick (not even a cold or the flu).

My issue has been extreme fatigue, weight gain (as you may be aware I have posted about this MANY times) that I cannot lose (believe me I have been trying), anxiety, and depression. While my vanity HATES the weight gain (I am a miserable overweight person) – the most difficult has been the anxiety and depression – because I’ve never suffered from either before. It has been frightening. I know that it’s been difficult for my family too. I’ve been IMPOSSIBLE to deal with.

I have been writing it off as aging and all those lovely female hormones that women must deal with. Maybe at forty-six my metabolism is REALLY slowing down. Of course I should be tired, I get up early and work hard. I am a relatively new step mom. I am busy! I kept telling myself that the anxiety and depression was a symptom of past trauma and stress. After all, I had gone through a lot in the past decade. I still was healing.

However, this summer I have been dragging. No motivation and I have to push myself to do things (even the things that I enjoy doing).

I finally made that appointment. The turning point was my step son and step daughter’s reaction to a LARGE bruise I had on my leg (incidentally the same leg I suffered a blog clot that led to a pulmonary embolism in 2007). John was beside himself and pushed harder for me to go. I felt horrible – the look on their faces – terrified and concerned about me. I knew that I had to go.

My doctor listened to me. I explained to her how I DO eat healthy (It’s honestly very common for me to eat salad even for breakfast). I was a Weight Watchers coach for eight years. I have been advocating a healthy lifestyle for years and have a food blog with over 100 healthy plant-based recipes. I wear a fit bit and over the past year it does not matter if I get in 2,000 steps or 20,000. My scale has been stuck on the same number for over a year (after gaining 30 pounds). I no longer follow the WW plan, but I am a healthy eater. I eat primarily a vegetarian diet (with some seafood), fill my plate with vegetables, and I am not a big sweets eater. I have been journaling my food and calories. I’ve tried reducing calories, increasing calories, watching starchy carbs, paying attention to protein, and minimizing processed food. This spring/summer I dramatically increased my activity and I have only lost a few pounds. My husband John has commented many times that I should not struggle with my weight the way I do because of my healthy food choices. For example: while he indulges on calorie rich desserts at night, I opt for fresh fruit, berries, or even raw vegetables.

To add insult to injury, my anxiety is getting worse. I feel like crying all the time (and sometimes I do). Often my anxiety masks itself as anger. I told John that when I was a little girl and woke up from a nap I would be extremely crabby. So much that my parents called me Obstinate Amy. Let’s just say that nickname has resurfaced (even though I’m sure John would like to use other words).

As I said before, my doctor listened to me and after my physical she ordered a series of blood tests and then an ultra sound of my thyroid. Yesterday I was diagnosed with Hashimotos Disease. Basically, my antibodies are elevated and my body is attacking my thyroid. Thus, nearly all the symptoms of Hashimotos or Hypothryoid, I have been having. Yesterday I started my prescription for WP Thyroid and hopefully I will find my balance again.

No, it’s not great news, but it’s treatable. Plus, I have some relief because now I have answers. I have not felt like myself for some time and it was extremely disconcerting. I have never felt like this before – it is really horrible. (Incidentally, the bruising was not a concern and went away in a week. It was caused by all the work I was pushing myself to do – weeding the hoop house and planting 120 gladiola bulbs and other flowers around our farm).

When I posted my recent diagnosis, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from family and friends. However, what was the most surprising, was how many people I know suffer from thyroid conditions. While some people came straight out and sympathized and gave tips and support — I was shocked by how many private messages I received. The messages were all from women who either did not feel comfortable discussing the issue publicly, or wanted to offer additional resources that I could consult. The more alarming part was how many women said that they felt that they were suffering from thyroid issues, but how they have been unable to receive answers. Either their doctors did not listen, or the testing did not turn up any results that would point to their thyroid. Yet, deep down they knew! I gave out my doctor’s information and we discussed never giving up – to continue to seek out answers.

Through all of this, John has been incredibly supportive. I know that I have been a deplorable person to deal with. I am thankful that he was persistent in making me go in for an appointment. I know that if I kept refusing he would have had to really use his “police voice” and some of his training to drag me to the medical center. We were at that point.

Maybe as I move forward I can encourage others to listen to their bodies (as I failed to do) and pay attention to those around them who know and love them. My doctor said that thyroid conditions often go undiagnosed and untreated in women because they easily appear to be symptoms of pre-menopause and aging. Because of the anxiety and depression thyroid conditions can also be misdiagnosed as a mental health issue. Please do not assume, like I did, that your symptoms are not treatable. Do not write off changes in mood, energy, and weight as pre menopause, menstrual cycles, or aging. If you are not happy with the answers you get, seek a second opinion, a third, or a fourth — and do not be afraid to reach out to your community for support and advice.

I will use this diagnosis as an opportunity to educate myself. From the past I know that nutrition plays a huge role in how our body heals and I will continue to advocate for healthy eating. It may take some time, but I will figure out what my body needs to thrive again.

In the next few months I will be educating myself and making sure that I am reaching for whole and non-processed foods. I am going to regain my energy levels and get back to my productive self.

As I heal, I am continuing to enjoy our beautiful farm. This week I have been on a pickling spree – and canning my ultimate favorite DILL PICKLES! I am trying to focus on the blessings in my life and taking in the beauty around me. It is amazing how much better I feel when I reframe my attitude and breathe in positivity.

Pickles from my mama’s should-be-world-famous dill pickle recipe.

I am thankful that John chose me to be his life companion, for making my health his priority, and for taking care of me (in spite of my obstinance) 😉 Oh how much I love him. ❤ I also appreciate my family and friends who have offered words of wisdom, love, and support. It means more to me than I can express.

My man building me a bench out of cedar he cut himself so I have a place to sit an enjoy our new pond.

Do you suffer from Hashimotos or other thyroid conditions or love someone who does? I would love to hear what has helped you/them heal. I welcome any nutritional advice and would enjoy hearing from others who have embraced a thyroid healthy lifestyle.

Make sure you too are listening to your body. While I am ashamed that I waited so long to make that appointment. I am supremely grateful that I did. We are worth putting ourselves first. When we are healthy and full of energy, we can take care of the others in lives so much better. I am ready to tackle this next adventure. No more excuses. I need to be a priority in my own life. ❤

My step daughter Avalon is one of the reasons that I am going to focus on regaining my health. ❤

I need my energy to keep up with Lukas the frog whisperer. I love this little boy! ❤

The tiger lilies transplanted from my dad’s house never fail to make me smile.

Our hoop house fills my soul with endless joy. My husband brought home the bush with purple flowers to plant “just because.” ❤

We planted 20 blueberry bushes this spring and they did well. Next year we will be adding more.

More berries…

and more…

My kitchen is my happy place.

Pickles are one of my favorite food groups. My mom has been known to can over 100 quarts in the fall. I was raised with pickle brine in my blood. 😉

Our hoop house is producing an abundant supply of cucumbers this summer.

Peach Salad with Roasted Beets, Goat Cheese, Pistachios, & Raspberry Orange Dill Dressing

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” 
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Autumn, tinged in bittersweet emotion, is arriving on the familiar formation of goose wings. As a teacher and stepparent, next month I welcome the school routine and falling back into regular working, sleeping, and eating patterns. While I will miss late morning coffee sessions pond side with our three noisy and entertaining ducks — Lucky, Dante, and Beatrice — I am ready to embrace the next chapter. Living on a farm I find that I trust my senses more to announce the transition of seasons in the landscape. I analyze the birds circling the sky, measure the way the morning light radiates with a golden filter through the pasture, and I capture various spicy scents in the air. With a renewed concentration I anticipate watching our honeybees visit the gladiolas and sunflowers in our yard (they will be blooming soon) and imagine their amber honey in our mugs of tea this winter. I take nothing for granted. Every moment of beauty I witness becomes a fleeting reminder of nature’s last dash for vibrancy before everything is covered in white fleece.

Lucky, Dante, and Beatrice

The new pond that John is building. It has a “rushing river” (inspired from our honeymoon in Alaska) and a waterfall.

Weather wise, it has been a challenging Upper Peninsula summer. While the lake levels took full advantage of rain, I heard friends and family mourn lackluster gardens. On the contrary, my husband John and I grew the best garden we both have ever had. We were fortunate to acquire a hoop house last year with a grant from the USDA. John, always the industrious workaholic, braved icy fall and spring weather constructing its massive structure and we were able to start planting in April. We were thrilled to harvest broccoli, peas, and beans the first week of July (greens much earlier), and in addition to eating fresh produce, I have been canning, blanching, and freezing at a steady rate. Our goal is to put up enough vegetables to get us through until next summer. It has been a lot of work, but it is worth it knowing where our food comes from – our own backyard.

It’s been a dream come true to have this incredible hoop house.

It has been a dream come true to pick fresh greens daily for salads and have a variety of fresh kitchen herbs at my fingertips. While I always have felt that my happy place was my classroom, I also enjoy letting my creativity bloom in the kitchen. As I always say, there is a close relationship to cooking and writing poetry.

John and Avalon picking peas.

Lukas and John picking cabbage for sauerkraut.

The salad recipe that I am sharing with you today was created in celebration of a visit from my Muskegon in laws. While my husband John fired up the grill to prepare barbequed pork ribs (raised on our farm) I prepared sweet potatoes, cheese bread, broccoli, and assembled a salad with fresh greens that I hoped to be beautiful on both the eyes and the taste buds. I combined fragrant and rosy peaches with earthy and sweet roasted beets, plump and tart raspberries, crunchy and buttery pistachios, and creamy goat cheese and gorgonzola. The dressing honors my Scandinavian roots with the addition of tangy dill (beets and dill are a wonderful flavor combination). I think that I achieved my goal, but you will have to try it and see for yourself.

I made one large family style salad and it served five adults. This salad would also make a fantastic Mason jar salad (remember to layer the dressing first and the greens last so the salad does not get soggy).

Ingredients for salad:

  • Large bag or clamshell of greens (I used leaf lettuce, spinach, and baby kale)
  • 2 fresh sliced peaches
  • 1 pint of raspberries
  • 1 bunch of beets (3 or 4…salt and pepper and a couple Tablespoons of cooking oil)
  • ½ log of goat cheese
  • ½ of a small brick gorgonzola cheese
  • 1/2 cup of pistachios

Ingredients for dressing:

  • 1 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup of olive oil
  • 1 pint of raspberries
  • ¼ cup of dill
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon onion
  • Zest and juice of one orange
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparing beets can be a bit messy but their sweet flavor and silky texture makes them worth the mess.

Cut the beets into several pieces. Scrub well and leave the peelings on. If you have smaller beets you can cut in 1/2 or thirds. Once they are done roasting the peels will slide right off. Roast the beets for 40 minutes at 450 degrees (time may vary depending on your oven). After 20 minutes give them a toss. Let the beets cool before making the salad. The beets can be prepared the night before.                                                                                                                                                       

To make the dressing you can chop the berries, onion, and dill, finely mince the garlic and whisk all of the ingredients together. However, the best method that I have found is to put all the ingredients into the blender and give it a good pulse. If you want to make the dressing more visually pleasing you can add some chopped dill to the final product.

Store in the refrigerator in a cruet or Mason jar and give it a good shake before serving. Leftover dressing will last for a few weeks in the refrigerator.

Arrange the greens, beets, raspberries, peaches, and cheese in a large bowl or on a platter. Pour on the dressing and sprinkle with pistachios (the dressing could also be served on the side). I did not toss the salad since I wanted the lovely beets, peaches, and berries to be on the top. Serve and enjoy!

Printable recipe: Peach Salad with Roasted Beets, Goat Cheese, Pistachios, and Raspberry Orange Dill Dressing

I hope that your transition from summer to fall is a peaceful one. The Waldos will be celebrating a Marquette county autumn with apples from our orchard. Since our family time and being self-sufficient is important to us, we will be making apple crisp for weekend breakfasts to go along with John’s homemade waffles. I will be busy canning apple pie filling and applesauce for our winter table. I hope to squeeze out a few more front porch sessions watching our roosters Shakespeare and Hamlet strut around the yard as the sweet hens and Harriet the turkey warble and free range. Maybe you will join me for some virtual hot apple cider? Make sure that you stop by my Facebook page or leave a comment here for how you are celebrating the autumn and not forget to tell me what you think about this salad.

John bought me a pressure canner to preserve our harvest.

Green beans!

Our shelves are filling up fast.

Shakespeare and Harriet.

Our honey bees stopping to take a drink from the pond.

Refrigerator Oats: What Does Summer Taste Like?

“Morning is an important time of day, because how you spend your morning can often tell you what kind of day you are going to have.” 
―Lemony Snicket 

WHAT DOES SUMMER TASTE LIKE?

As a writing teacher, I ask my students to think concretely about the abstract. In the first week of June, as the promise of vacation slides into our backpacks, I ask my students to describe summer. Their foreheads crinkle, review-packet- glazed-eyes squint, and the consensus becomes one simple word: F R E E D O M.

By the end of the school year I feel it too. Yet, “What does freedom taste like?” I press.“What does it sound like?” “What does it smell like?” “What does it look and feel like?” How can we make summer tangible in our minds and in our writing?

Ask my family what the freedom of summer feels like and my step kids will say a sticky river of watermelon juice flooding down their face. Or a cup of strawberry lemonade abandoned on the pool deck, now warm and syrupy, complete with a hovering dragon fly.

Avalon will say that freedom tastes like peanut butter cup S’mores – the marshmallow roasted to a golden brown on the fire pit in our backyard. Lukas will lick his lips and say it tastes like tuna steak, grilled to medium rare perfection by Dad, and a lemon sauce made with the dill he planted.

Summer looks like imagination as eight-year- old Lukas and I crouch down behind a stand of maple trees and slink around our pasture trying to out-sneak the alien queen. “Shhhhhhhhh,” Luke whispers,” she cannot see us with our cloaking devices, but she can hear us and she can smell us…”

Summer looks like an air mattress thrown next to the pond, so Avalon and I can memorize a swath of black velvet sky and wish on shooting stars until the grass grows damp and we fall asleep, John later rousing us to go inside.

It is a thick stack of books from the Peter White Library and a tent pitched by two industrious kids in our apple orchard to serve as a reading nook. It is flipping through each book at the end of the day to make sure a snake does not find its way into the house again as a stowaway. It is our lazy Golden Retrievers Ollie and Gracie lounging in a puddle of yellow sun, a whippoorwill’s mysterious call on the Whitefish River, and early mornings at McCarty’s Cove as we comb the icy, lace edged waves for beach glass.

July sounds like Shakespeare our rooster crowing under our bedroom window at 5:00 am as the decision arrives to either sleep in, or rise early (and indulge in an afternoon nap). It is a brown egg, still warm, in the palm of your hand as it plinks into the galvanized bucket to the soothing warble of a plump red hen. It’s the earthy smell of pine shavings in a freshly shoveled coop, the spicy aroma of star gazer lilies, and a humid thicket of sky that aches chartreuse and then bruised plum after an urgent rain storm.

It is a tear escaping your eye when you see veterans marching in the parade, goose bumps when you hear sirens of those who protect and serve, and it is gathering up camping chairs and beach blankets (sometimes for warmth) to watch fireworks sparkle and pulsate across the backdrop of the Ore Dock at the Lower Harbor, over Teal Lake, or in Trenary.

Can you tell that I am a summer girl? Summer takes my breath away and makes me feel that we are part of something magical. Yet, we all know how fleeting our summers are in Upper Michigan. Even when I find myself watering the garden, or packing for a family road trip to Muskegon to visit my in laws, I find that I am always pondering the upcoming school year and planning ahead. What worked last year and what will I repeat? What new resources do I have to gather? How can I more efficiently balance my schedule of work and family? How can I stay healthy and keep up with my classroom full of challenging teenagers?

Last year one of my secret weapons for keeping my energy levels up and being prepared for work was making sure that I had my breakfast planned the night before. We have been told forever that breakfast is the most important meal, yet many people will confess to grabbing heavily processed convenience foods or skipping the meal all together. That is why overnight oats was a game changer for both my husband and I. Since I can prepare the oatmeal days in advance, our mornings are reserved for coffee, taking care of farm chores, getting the kids up, a quick kiss, and hustling out the door to work.

The basic recipe that I am going to share is consumed cold (think yogurt and fruit parfait). I know it sounds strange to not cook the oatmeal, but it softens and takes on a pleasing texture in the refrigerator. If you would rather have a hot breakfast, you can find recipes for warm versions online, or you can omit the yogurt and heat in the microwave. I use wide-mouthed one pint mason jars and prepare them up four or five days in advance. The glass jars keep the ingredients fresh, are easy to wash, I always have them on hand, and make the oatmeal visually appealing. I like to make a couple extra because my step daughter Avalon likes to take the oatmeal to school as a filling and healthy breakfast, lunch, or snack option. They are so easy to prepare that if I did not prep on Sunday, I can throw them together each night when I take care of the dinner dishes.

BASIC OVERNIGHT OATS

*1/3 cup of old fashioned oats (quick cooking oats don’t hold up as well)
*1/3 cup of milk (you can substitute almond, coconut, or any non-dairy milk)
*1/3 cup of Greek yogurt (Greek yogurt often has more protein)
*1 teaspoon of chia seeds (or more)

Add the above ingredients into the jar and stir well. Top with sliced fruit and/or berries (fresh or frozen), nuts, or any other toppings that you want to add.

The oatmeal provides you with filling fiber and packs a punch in helping your body fight cholesterol. The chia seeds and nuts give you Omeg-3 and fatty acids, the yogurt gives you a protein boost, and the fruit provides essential vitamins and minerals. How perfect is that?

When I prepare our refrigerator oatmeal, I often choose ingredients from what we have in the house. My family enjoys the Greek Gods flavored yogurts and I often buy fat free versions for myself. While I normally buy flavored yogurt, sometimes I will buy plain and stir in flavorings.

They are so easy to throw together that you customize them to fit each family member. You can make them healthy, or indulgent, and they are easy to grab and go for work, school, gym, or the beach.

Some of our favorite flavor combinations are:

RED WHITE & BLUE
*Strawberries
*Blueberries
*Caramelized pecans

CHOCOLATE COVERED BANANA
*Peanut butter
*Banana
*Almonds
*1/2 vanilla yogurt and ½ chocolate yogurt

ISLAND OATMEAL
*Mango
*Pineapple
*Coconut
*Macadamia nuts

ZESTY BLUEBERRY
*Blueberries
*Cinnamon
*Lemon zest and juice added to the yogurt
*Almonds

APPLE ORCHARD
*Diced Granny Smith Apples
*Maple syrup
*Brown Sugar
*Cinnamon
*Raisins
*Walnuts

CHERRY JUBILEE
*Cherries (Fresh in the summer and frozen dark sweet cherries in the winter)
*Couple dashes of almond extract mixed into the oatmeal
*Pistachios and cashews

Other ingredient options:

*apple sauce (put those Michigan apples to great use and make homemade apple sauce this fall.)
*protein powder
*flaxseed
*cocoa powder (great with orange segments and zest)
*pumpkin puree
*dried fruit
*Granola
*crushed graham crackers
*chocolate chips (great way to get the kids to eat healthier. You only have to top the oatmeal with a few chips)
*Granulated coffee or a bit of espresso for a mocha flavored oatmeal

What is your breakfast routine? If you are currently depriving your body of nutrition in the
morning, or simply need to change things up, these overnight oats are for you. Make sure to stop by my Facebook page  to let me know what you think and please share your favorite refrigerator oatmeal flavor combinations.

What does summer look like, taste like, sound like, and feel like for your family? Savor July because before we know it – we will be enjoying glorious Upper Michigan snow! Until then, you can find me weeding the hoop house, chasing aliens, or lounging in the pool and working on my teacher tan (as my husband John affectionately calls it). Memorize the feeling of July and enjoy the freedom we have to live in such a charming, wild, and beautiful place.


 

Our Story

“I don’t know what rituals my kids will carry into adulthood, whether they’ll grow up attached to homemade pizza on Friday nights, or the scent of peppers roasting over a fire, or what. I do know that flavors work their own ways under the skin, into the heart of longing. Where my kids are concerned I find myself hoping for the simplest things: that if someday they crave orchards where their kids can climb into the branches and steal apples, the world will have trees enough with arms to receive them.”
-Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

 

Shakespeare our rooster and one of his girls.

Summer is here and it has been wonderful to the Waldos so far. Year #16 of teaching is in the books and I have been blissfully enjoying mornings of reflection. June translated to a cup of coffee, sleeping kids, snoring dogs, and the fragrance of lilacs and apple blossoms in our tiny, cozy home. I am recharging for the new school year by filling the well with the beauty around me. My focus this summer will be growth – in the garden, in my writing, and in continuing to develop myself as a wife, mother, and teacher.

Our apple trees were loaded with blossoms this spring.

It is going to be a great year for apples!

John and I had have come so far in our time together. Wednesday, June 7, 2017 was a huge financial milestone for us as we closed on our refinance/home mortgage. Yes, the farm is officially ours! Our loan officer at the credit union praised us for what we’ve done with our credit score in our time together. How wonderful it feels for us to finally find a partner who is on the same page with work ethic and commitment to a career and the future. We will continue to work on our financial health together and teach Avalon and Lukas how to be resourceful, penny wise, and independent.

While nothing is perfect, and we have our moments (we are both set In our ways) I am thankful to be building a life with a man who puts providing for his family, and our safety, as his priority. I can’t stress enough how hard John works. Both in his profession and his personal life. Our home is a labor of love – demonstrated by the sweat equity he has put into our land. While the appraisal showed us a dollar amount – the legacy we have to hand down to the kids, because of his steadfastness, is priceless.

Thank you, John for strength in the face of adversity. While many people would have raised the white flag in defeat – you stood your ground to keep
this beautiful farm and give Avalon and Lukas a safe and secure childhood. In doing so you are providing them with the opportunity to learn about the delicate balance of nature, see where their food comes from, and sustainability.

Thank you for allowing me to be part of your world. In a few weeks we celebrate the two year anniversary of our marriage – but in reality – we’ve been searching all our lives for each other. Corny? Yes, but true.

How thankful we are to the family and friends/co-workers who have helped us in countless ways. Through turmoil, heartache, and divorce and onto fresh starts – our network of support has uplifted and kept us going. ♥️

I know we will encounter rough patches, but we are a team. I’m ready for the next chapter of our adventure. After signing the mountain of paper work in June the world looks different. The focus is clearer and the colors are richer. Home has a new definition for me – and I am ready to stretch and fortify our roots together. 🌱🌱🌱

I’ve always believed that dreams combined with hard work pays off – no matter your age. I love John, Avalon, and Lukas. I love our story. 

John is adding a new pond, complete with a rushing river, to our property.

My pensive and talented husband. He truly is a landscape artist.

Check out our GIANT metal rooster. I named him Apollo.

We adopted a duck named Lucky. She was rescued by the daughter of one of my friends. Lucky loves her new pond! Lukas loves her.

Lupine. June was a rainy month and my gardens and flowers are flourishing.

Our new hoop house is our pride and joy!

July 1st we harvested broccoli and peas. We started harvesting lettuce in June.

Happy kids enjoying the pool!

Our apple orchard. Home Sweet Home. ❤

 

Our family picture taken at the Pigs-N-Heat Charity Hockey Game in 2017.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Sweet Potato with Pomegranate Balsamic Vinaigrette

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
-Margaret Atwood

Though I refuse to wish my days away, I am dreaming of dirt season. Each day I watch the snow banks recede (or loom larger) and imagine the bulbs that I planted last fall begin to tingle with life. I can imagine the glossy blooms like plump scoops of pastel sorbet – hyacinth, tulips, and crocus – gracing our breakfast table in vintage milk glass vessels perched atop my great-grandmother’s lace doilies.

In addition to indulging in visions of frothy blossoms, I am researching new vegetables to grow. While in the past we have had good luck with tomatoes, squash, beans, and peas – this year John and I are taking gardening to a new level with a 32×70 foot hoop house. While it is exciting to be able to extend our growing season, it is a bit intimidating as well. I hope to share some of our trials and tribulations on my blog for others who want to grow more of their own food.

Since John and I have an affinity for Brussels sprouts, they are on the top of our to-grow list. While the health benefits of cruciferous sprouts are plenty (Brussels sprouts contain many phytonutrients that promote our health by protecting against cancer and fighting cholesterol), the writer in me marvels over the names of different varieties of vegetables. Even Brussels sprouts are poetic when lavished with titles like Jade Cross, Oliver, and Valiant.
As with much fresh produce such as kale, cabbage, and broccoli – the health benefits of Brussels sprouts are heightened when they are lightly steamed. However, John is wild about my roasted Brussels sprouts. The roasting process caramelizes the sprout and makes them sweet and savory at the same time. For this recipe I decided to incorporate another one of John’s favorites sweet potatoes minus the globs of butter, brown sugar, and marshmallows (sorry, Sweetheart) and a homemade Pomegranate Vinaigrette dressing.

(Printable recipe below)


To roast the Brussels sprouts (I roasted two bags) cut in half and spread on a baking sheet (cover with foil for easy clean up) and toss in the following mixture:  

*2 Tablespoons coconut oil (or your favorite cooking oil)
*2 Tablespoons of soy sauce
*I Tablespoon Dijon mustard
*1 Tablespoon minced garlic
*1 teaspoon cumin
*Black pepper to taste

To roast the sweet potato (I used two large potatoes), cut into small cubes and toss in a Tablespoon of oil, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a dash of salt and pepper.

I roasted the Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes on separate sheets since the potatoes take slightly longer. Roast Brussels sprout at 400-425 degrees for 30 minutes (depending on oven) and the potatoes for 45 minutes. Turn both at the midway point.

POMEGRANATE VINAIGRETTE
*1 cup pomegranate juice
*1/4 cup of vinegar (my favorite variety of vinegar for this dressing are either red wine or balsamic)
*1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
*1 clove of garlic
*1 teaspoon of red onion
*1 Tablespoon honey (more or less to taste)
*salt and pepper to taste

Blend well (The dressing will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator)

This dish can be made ahead and the sprouts and potatoes can be heated if you want to serve warm.

Arrange the Brussels sprouts and potatoes on a plate and add a few grapefruit segments. Sprinkle with gorgonzola cheese (blue, feta, or goat cheese make great pairings). Drizzle with a couple Tablespoons of dressing and sprinkle with extra crisp bacon or walnuts. Since my husband eats meat, I serve his with bacon, and I like walnuts or almonds with mine.

This dish can be served as a salad or side, and is delicious warm or cold. While fresh Brussels sprouts would be preferred, I used frozen – which makes this a versatile offering year round. Incidentally, frozen vegetables are healthy because they are flash frozen at the peak of ripeness.

For other seasonal twists on this recipe — serve with roasted cranberries, crisp apples, or fresh blackberries in the fall, in the summer toss with juicy cherries; in the spring early strawberries, and citrus segments in the winter for a splash of color, texture, and flavor.

The roasting technique, and the sauce that I use, also turns cauliflower and other vegetables (carrots, green beans, zucchini, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes) into magical creations. The roasting time will be shorter for more tender vegetables such as beans, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Roasted vegetables are versatile ingredients for vegetarians and meat eaters alike and can be served hot or cold and are great tossed into pasta, soups, or as the bed for salads.

Printable RecipeRoasted Brussels Sprouts with Sweet Potato and Pomegranate Balsamic Vinaigrette

As I watch the birds puff up their feathers outside our windows, I know that I am not alone when I say that I am aching for green grass, spring flowers, and the opportunity to poke seeds down into a plot of damp earth. Until then, one of the benefits of cool weather is being to enjoy living inside a cozy house with the fragrant aroma of roasting vegetables. It is my pleasure to share this recipe with you and make sure you check out my other recipes for more ways to incorporate a rainbow of produce to your menu.

Witness to Beauty – It’s All About Perspective

“The conclusion I have reached is that, above all, dogs are witnesses. They are allowed access to our most private moments. They are there when we think we are alone. Think of what they could tell us. They sit on the laps of presidents. They see acts of love and violence, quarrels and feuds, and the secret play of children. If they could tell us everything they have seen, all of the gaps of our lives would stitch themselves together.”
Carolyn Parkhurst, The Dogs of Babel

Meesha is the latest member of our family. <3

Meet Meesha, the latest member of our family. ❤

As a teacher I tend to mark the passing of time in marking periods and school events. This week we are hot-on-the-heels of semester one exams and last weekend finished winter homecoming festivities. The students that I have helped mentor as a class adviser are seniors and I was proud of their efforts decorating their hallway and winning the spirit pep jug for the fourth year in a row. My husband showed his support by offering to help chaperone the homecoming dance Friday night (in spite of a full day of work and an early wake up the next morning). It was entertaining to watch Lukas (seven) try out his slick dance moves and Avalon (ten) was pleased that for the third year in a row that she got to help with hallway decorating. As always, I am thankful that my place of employment is family friendly and I love that our kids get to interact with my high school students and their education stakeholders.

Lukas trying out his slick moves on the dance floor.

Lukas trying out his slick moves on the dance floor.

In my last post, Making Time For Ourselves, I shared my January goals. While I am happy to report that I am knocking my sleep, vitamin, and food journal goals out of the park – the formal exercise and water is still a work in progress. It is always perplexing to me that it is so difficult for me to consume water. I am ashamed to admit that many days the final bell sounds and I have not even touched my water bottle. At home I have been drinking herbal tea (my newest favorite Yogi brand Honey Lavender Stress Relief) so I am thinking that maybe I need to stock my classroom with tea as well.

My food journal has helped me be mindful of what I am eating and I have been keeping a pot of Three Bean Vegetarian Chili in the refrigerator (a filling option for dinner with a veggie burger or salad) and last week I made one of my favorite Mason Jar Salads, Israeli Feast, for my work lunches. Many of the messages that I receive are from people who are tired of eating salads and “rabbit food”. One of the goals of this blog is to help others try a wide-range of ingredients – and that salads do not need to be boring. My best advice is to fill your plate with a rainbow of fresh fruit and vegetables. Not only does eating the same thing over and over get boring, but it also prevents our bodies from getting a wide-range of nutrients. In order to keep myself from repetitive meals, I like to try different combinations. The Israeli Feast is a non-traditional salad recipe that uses hummus and quinoa tabouli in place of salad dressing. For last week’s version I added avocado to the hummus to amp up the nutritional content with healthy fats.

fullsizeoutput_1136

fullsizeoutput_1139fullsizeoutput_113afullsizeoutput_113cWhile I still need to work on moving more, my Fitbit is showing increased activity. On Saturday and Sunday I made a concerted effort to get outside and make the most of the sunshine and blue skies. In fact, the views from our property were so inspiring that I have to share them with you. The recent addition to our family, Meesha a two-year-old German Shepherd, is a bundle of frolicsome energy. She made an incredible subject for an impromptu photo shoot and her and Lukas made the best workout buddies. We did not even both to put on our snowshoes but traipsed around in the snow. Let me tell you, it was a workout and I sure can feel it today in my legs and back end. 😉

I cannot believe how much energy Meesha has!

I cannot believe how much energy Meesha has!

My step son Lukas loves to play outside - he is 100% Yooper and farm boy.

My step son Lukas loves to play outside – he is 100% Yooper farm boy.

On sunny days we open up the chicken coop so our sweet hens can sun themselves.

On sunny days we open up the chicken coop so our sweet hens can sun themselves.

John has put HOURS into setting up our new hoop house. We are eager for spring to start planting vegetables.

John has put HOURS into setting up our new hoop house. We are eager for spring to start planting vegetables.

Run Meesha!

Run Meesha!

I hope you are doing well on meeting your healthy goals. If you are struggling, do not give up – each day (every hour) gives us the opportunity for a fresh start. This week I am going to work on my water intake and will be striving to get in more activity. Join me in making time for yourself. Do something that you enjoy doing and seek out beauty. When I grab my camera and go for hike it is much more enjoyable than the gym. Not only am I doing something good for my body, but I am also nourishing my creativity and filling my senses.  It is all about perspective. While winter is not my favorite season, I cannot afford to miss the beauty around me. Especially when I have a gorgeous, energetic dog and adorable seven-year-old to keep me motivated and inspired. ❤

fullsizeoutput_10dd

fullsizeoutput_10e3

img_4696

Our little guy Lukas is always up for an outside adventure.

Our little guy Lukas is always up for an outside adventure.

It's a winter wonderland in our backyard.

It’s a winter wonderland in our backyard.

fullsizeoutput_10bc

imageimage