GUILT FREE CHOCOLATE PUMPKIN SHAKE

“Autumn that year painted the countryside in vivid shades of scarlet, saffron, and russet, and the days were clear and crisp under the harvest skies.” – Sharon Kay Penman

There’s a reason we named our homestead, “Superior Maple Grove Farm”

As much as I dislike seeing the warm weather fade away, I am determined to welcome autumn into my heart. Owning a farm has helped me appreciate the changing of the seasons in a deeper sense. Since I am a teacher I am also thankful that this fall that we have the opportunity to return to school face-to-face. I craved my work routine and I missed my students. Yet, last week we had to close our building’s doors again. I am not sure how long we will be engaged in distance learning, but right now it’s slated for three weeks.

As I welcomed my students back to school in September, we discussed how 2020 was a challenging year, and depending on how you look at it, Covid-19 may have taken many things from us: The end of the school year, time with family/friends with health problems, and opportunities to travel. However, we discussed how if you are a “glass is ½ full” type of person, maybe Covid-19 presented you with opportunities: More time with immediate family members, an organized house and living space, time to exercise, and home cooked meals. We all agreed that the pandemic taught us to appreciate the moment we are in because things can change suddenly.

When I asked my students what they had gained from the pandemic, every hour several students joked that they had gained weight and how they were making a commitment to eat healthier. We discussed how we all need to make our health a priority and that what we put into our bodies is as important is making sure our hands are washed and that we maintain proper social distance protocol. When we did goal planning I had several athletes who made personal goals to eat more servings of fruit and vegetables.

While I am not one to get all giddy over pumpkin flavored lattes, I do enjoy pumpkin in recipes. Last year I learned by accident that pumpkins are quite easy to grow. I planted a few pumpkin seeds at the bottom of our duck pond and their vines thrived. The pond is rimmed with rocks from our property and I think that the pumpkin plants do well because the rocks collect warmth from the sun. Not only am I able to grow several pumpkins from only a few seeds, but the foliage is lovely and softens the edge of the pond and the flowers provide a pop of ornamental color. This year I made sure to plant pumpkins that are recommended for their culinary flavor and texture.

When I came up with this recipe, I was looking for a healthy alternative to ice cream. I was curious about the combination of pumpkin and chocolate and was pleased with the results. I hope you enjoy the flavor combination while your body enjoys the nutritional benefits. Pumpkin is high in beta carotene (which our body converts to Vitamin A), potassium, and fiber. 

Guilt Free Chocolate & Pumpkin Shake

CHOCOLATE PUMPKIN SHAKE

  1. 3/4-1 cup milk of your choice (use almond or coconut milk for a dairy-free shake)
  2. 1 frozen banana (the banana gives this the shake-like texture and sweetness. I do not add sugar. If you want your shake more sweet add more banana)
  3. 1/4-1/2 cup pumpkin (to taste…sometimes I add more and sometimes less)
  4. 1 Tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder
  5. 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  6. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  7. Few ice-cubes
  8. Blend, pour in glass, and sprinkle with cinnamon

I would recommend experimenting with the amount of cocoa powder and vanilla that you want to add. I have found that the taste and strength varies greatly by brand. The same with the banana and the ice-cubes (depending on how thick you want your shake). You could also freeze the milk and pumpkin to add thickness. Walnuts, or other nuts, are a great compliment to your shake and sometimes I also add a hint of molasses for depth and earthiness. You could also swap out the cocoa powder for chocolate protein powder if you want to amp up the filling power of this shake.

May this recipe during these challenging times help you see your glass is at least ½ full. The cooler weather may force us to dig deep and find our grit and resilience. However, those traits are inherent in us Yoopers (and Americans). That is what we do!

I am making a commitment to myself to keep creating healthy recipes to share with you. They will help us boost our health and immune system, make sure you check out the tab at the top of the page for more recipes that maximize the power of produce. Take care of yourself and take care of each other!

I can’t think of a more beautiful place to call home and shelter in place.

MUSHROOM SWISS BURGER SOUP: A SIMPLE PLEASURE

“The simplest things are overlooked. And yet, it is the simplest things that are the most essential.” 

― Thomas Lloyd Qualls

What strange times we are living in. For many months I have sat poised at my computer attempting to write with a huge question mark looming over my head. I am sure you have had many of the same emotions.

As a teacher, this school year I am taking things day-by-day. Each day at the end of 7th hour I say a little prayer of thankfulness that I was given another day of face-to-face instruction with my students. Before I leave for home, I collect any items I might need in the event we receive notification that we are moving to distance learning. I knew it was inevitable and yesterday morning we received news that we are moved to Distance Learning for the next two weeks. We are slated to return for face-to-face instruction on November 30th. My fingers are crossed that it happens.

While I try not to let my heart and head grow anxious with a web of uncertainty looming, I find that it is the simple things that keep me grounded. This fall I planted over three-hundred tulip and daffodil bulbs, I decided that my pandemic hairstyle needed a stylish change, and I subscribed to a couple of home delivery meal kits to glean new ideas for our menu. While I love to cook and plan our family dinners, the school year during the time of Covid-19 has had me frazzled. The meal kits have been a refreshing option in our meal rotation and I am gathering some new ideas for our table. Roasted carrots are now a regular feature on our plates, my husband does not despise ginger as much as he thought he did, and my step son is wild about steak topped with goat cheese butter. 

In times of uncertainty, such as during a pandemic, relying on wholesome, home cooked food is both comforting and nourishing. When I plan out our weekly menu, I plan a few quick meals for spontaneous changes in our schedule, work days that turn into work nights, and evenings when I do not have enough energy to prepare entire meals. On these evenings, soup helps fill in the cracks. A bowl of soup can help stretch leftovers (especially with a pre-teen in the house) and it can be partnered with a salad or sandwich for a meal.

I can eat soup year round, but during chilly winter months, a steaming bowl of soup is especially satisfying. My husband and step-son prefer a creamy and hearty soup and they gave two thumbs up to the recipe I am sharing with you. 

My inspiration for the soup is in the name: a mushroom swiss burger. However, I wanted to create a recipe that was not as calorie laden as a greasy burger and the side of obligatory French fries that usually accompanies it. While this soup is more indulgent than a broth based soup, you can slim it down with your choice of ingredients. . It can fit well into lower carb dining and if you do not eat meat you can add extra mushrooms (they are a great substitute for meat) and use a high quality vegetable stock. 

MUSHROOM SWISS BURGER SOUP

*1 pound of ground beef
*4 cups of beef stock/broth
*8 ounces of sliced mushrooms
*½ cup of chopped onion

*3 ribs of chopped celery
*2 Tablespoons of minced garlic
*2 Tablespoons of olive oil
*8 ounces of Swiss cheese (and more to top the finished soup. I used a Swiss gruyere blend)

*4 Tablespoons of butter
*½ cup of flour

*1 cup of milk (I used 2% but you can also use cream)
*Salt and pepper to taste
*Optional – 2-3 Tablespoons of tomato paste (I did not add any to this batch, but it adds a depth to the body of the soup)

*Optional – croutons to top the soup

Saute the onion, celery, and garlic in olive oil for a couple of minutes and add the ground beef to brown. Cook for 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook for 10-15 minutes. Make sure that the mushrooms, ground beef, and onions are brown and caramelized. Add the broth and bring to a simmer.


In a separate saucepan melt the butter and slowly incorporate the flour. Whisk well for 2-3 minutes and be careful not to burn. Add the milk into the butter and flour mixture (roux) and whisk well so there are not any lumps. Add the swiss cheese into the roux until it’s melted. Spoon the roux into the soup pot and mix well.

Simmer for 10 minutes and add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the soup with a sprinkle of cheese, a few croutons on top, or a toasted baguette. Enjoy!

Mushroom Swiss Burger Soup


As chilly weather and snow accumulates outside, this soup will help keep you and your loved ones warm and nourished. Making food for others is a simple act of kindness that reminds us that many of life’s greatest pleasures are simple. I find cooking extremely grounding during these challenging times. Make sure you check out my soup tab for over twenty other healthy soup recipes.

November is close and as we welcome the holiday spirit into your heart, I wish you health and happiness. Take care of yourself and take care of each other. Eat more homemade food, eat your vegetables, and wash your hands!

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan in fall splendor.
Find the beauty in your backyard.
Photography and enjoying nature is one of my simple pleasures. Along with cooking, of course.


CONFETTI SALSA: A CELEBRATION OF FLAVOR

“…And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
stiffens and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its long blue shadows…”

-from Song for Autumn by Mary Oliver

I have always thought of October as nature’s last extravagant party before the mighty Michigan cool down. Upper Peninsula summer nights often grow cold by August. While each year I woefully morn having to shut down our pool, there are many gifts that come with autumn.

No matter how old I get, my heart beats a little faster when I see and smell a bouquet of freshly sharpened Ticonderoga pencils and remember how agonizing it was to wait to wear my new school clothes (especially the year my mom bought me Jordache jeans). This year back to school felt different due to the fact that we have many precautions in place to keep our buildings safe from Covid-19, yet, I am thankful that we have been able to come back face to face.

This fall our freezer is full of the bounty of our backyard: kale, spinach, beets, and chicken. Our pork is late this year since we had a difficult time finding a processor since our regular go-to place is backed up with so many orders. Since our area is rural, many people raise their own food and with the 2020 shutdown it appears that more people are realizing how important of a life skill it is to take responsibility for where your food comes from. I filled our pantry with canned green beans, spaghetti sauce, salsa, tomatoes, tomato juice, and pickles. Since childhood, one of my favorite kitchen fragrances is my grandmother’s recipe for dill pickle brine.

Autumn transforms our homestead with magical colors.

To celebrate and say goodbye to another gorgeous UP of Michigan summer, I am sharing a party worthy recipe. However, it’s equally superb (maybe even more so) when enjoyed solo on your favorite lawn chair as you study the activity in your neighborhood. Whether that means a crowd of noisy and giggly pre-teens showing off for each other, or as in my case, a strutting rooster keeping watch over his brood of warbling hens.

Instead of a standard tomato salsa, this salsa imparts a flavor burst with marinated beans. Therefore, it is hearty and the protein rich beans make it a satisfying snack or even lunch. It is a great wrap or sandwich filler and makes a tasty layer in a Mason jar salad. While it is especially fantastic with tortilla chips (my weakness).  I try to incorporate healthier low-carb dippers mini-bell peppers, cucumber wedges, celery or carrot sticks, or even a slice of salami or pepperoni.  

CONFETTI SALSA (this recipe will make a party sized bowl – so you may want to reduce it in ½ for a smaller portion)

  • 1 chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can white beans
  • 1 frozen package edamame
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 cup chopped cucumber
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 4 limes (juice and zest)
  • 2 jalapeno (finely chopped)
  • 2 large cloves of minced garlic
  • ½ cup of chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup of vinegar (I used raw apple cider vinegar)
  • 1/8-1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of vinegar (I used raw apple cider vinegar)
  • 1/8-1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • Homemade Taco Seasoning ( recipe to follow)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

HOMEMADE TACO SEASONING 

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

I use the entire batch for the salsa (2 ¾ Tablespoons), however, you may want to make extra for tacos. It keeps well in an airtight container or jar. 

Make sure you check my other healthy recipes in the tabs at the top of the page. As fall translates to winter, make sure you stay on top of your immune system and fill your plate with a rainbow of fruit and vegetables. Your skin, waistline, and energy levels will also thank you!

I love to sit outside and take in the beauty of our own personal paradise.

 

LOW CARB “POTATOLESS” SALAD: GUILTFREE INDULGENCE

“And all at once, summer collapsed into fall…” – Oscar Wilde

As summer draws to a close, having our health in focus is essential to living the best life possible. While being mindful of what we consume in cold winter months can be a challenge with comfort foods and less body conscious clothing, the cool weather brings countless holiday temptations.



This winter I have to be mindful of my intake of starchy carbs. I have noticed that my low-carb recipes have receive heavy traffic, therefore, I do not think I am the only one attempting to embrace this lifestyle. I have enjoyed the creativity that this method of dining has afforded me, and it’s my goal to convert some of my favorite foods into carb friendly options.

When I think of carbs, one of the first dishes to come to mind is potato salad. My grandma Hilda’s potato salad was scrumptious. The perfect balance of creamy and crunchy with just the right amount of tanginess (vinegar was a major ingredient of my childhood).

One of the nice things about making potato salad is a lot of the prep work can be done ahead of time. Since my family does not warmly welcome the idea of a low-carb way of eating, I can easily prep the ingredients and make two salads. The only extra step is prepping both potatoes and cauliflower. If you are bringing this dish to a gathering, you will win over many hearts by offering a Potato Salad and a Potatoless Salad without putting in extra work. 

While the cauliflower in this salad could be steamed or boiled, I decided to roast it to give the salad an extra layer of flavor. While cauliflower is rather “neutral” tasting (one of the reasons it is such a great replacement for rice, pasta, and potatoes) I roast mine with a sauce that gives a lovely nuance of flavor. I serve the roasted cauliflower as a side often and I use the same sauce to roast broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and root vegetables.

POTATOLESS SALAD

*1 head of roasted cauliflower (recipe for roasted cauliflower below)
*½ chopped green pepper
*¼ cup chopped onion
*3 ribs of chopped celery
*6 chopped hard boiled eggs
*1 cup of mayonnaise (substitute low fat options if you wish – Greek yogurt works as a great substitute)
*Tablespoon yellow mustard (or to taste)
*2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
*Chopped fresh dill (to taste – I added ¼ cup. A couple of tsps of dry will work as well)
*Salt and pepper to taste

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER

*1 head of cauliflower cut into small florets
*2 Tablespoons olive oil
*2 Tablespoons of soy sauce
*I Tablespoon Dijon mustard
*1 Tablespoon minced garlic
Roast the cauliflower for 60 minutes at 425 (Flip the cauliflower at 30 minutes). 

After roasting the cauliflower let cool and add all of the above ingredients. It is recommended to prepare the salad the night before to let all the flavors marry. 

While potato salad tends to be a summer option, I think it makes a great dish year round (especially when you are yearning for summer). Going easy on carbohydrate rich sides and entrees gives us a lit more room to indulge in a scoop of decadent ice cream or a piece of your aunt’s should-be-world-famous pies. I was skeptical about a “potatoless” salad, but the cauliflower seems to do the trick. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did. I would love to hear what you swap out for starchy carbs in your favorite meals.

AUTUMN HARVEST: CREAMY CHICKEN SOUP WITH ROASTED JALAPENO

 

“Use what you have, use what the world gives you. Use the first day of fall: bright flame before winter’s deadness; harvest; orange, gold, amber; cool nights and the smell of fire. Our tree-lined streets are set ablaze, our kitchens filled with the smells of nostalgia: apples bubbling into sauce, roasting squash, cinnamon, nutmeg, cider, warmth itself. The leaves as they spark into wild color just before they die are the world’s oldest performance art, and everything we see is celebrating one last violently hued hurrah before the black and white silence of winter.” — Shauna Niequist

I have heard some bloggers refer to soup as a “hug in a bowl” and I heartily agree. It is one of my favorite ways to nurture and take care of my family. A steaming bowl of soup is a mainstay in our house. I enjoy a leafy green salad as an accompaniment and my step son and husband are fond of a gooey grilled cheese sandwich with theirs. I am also known to partner mine with a grilled cheese sandwich (made with swiss and the addition of crisp lettuce, a couple slices of ripe tomato, and wedges of dill pickle). I learned to love grilled cheese with those toppings in Jamaica (of all places). Of course, everything tastes better when served up at a little beachside grill!

When I make soup, I often make a couple of different kinds because soup freezes well. I freeze in a Mason jar (leaving a couple of inches of headroom). I like using jars because I can see what kind of soup it is and then I can pull it out of the freezer the day before for a quick meal. This is especially handy this time of year when we are often running to hockey practice after school and I do not have a lot of time to prepare dinner.
CREAMY CHICKEN & ROASTED JALAPENO SOUP

*4 cups of chicken broth
*2 cups of cooked chicken (I use a whole chicken in the Instapot. Once the chicken is finished cooking I remove the meat and set aside and then use the bones along with seasoning and vegetables for broth)
*2 Tablespoons of olive oil
*2 Tablespoons of chopped garlic
*½ cup of chopped onion
*½ cup of chopped celery
*½ cup of chopped carrot
*3 chopped roasted jalapeno peppers 
*4 ounce can of chopped jalapenos
*1 cup of heavy cream (you can use low fat or regular milk)
*8 ounces of shredded queso quesadilla cheese (you can use pepper jack, mozzarella, or your favorite variety)
*1 stick of butter
*1 cup of flour
*Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the garlic, onion, celery, and garlic in olive oil. While these ingredients soften, roast the jalapeno. Cut the jalapeno in ½ and deseed, put on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, roast for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Add the chicken broth to the sauteed vegetables.

In a separate saucepan melt the butter and slowly incorporate the flour. Whisk well for 2-3 minutes and be careful not to burn. Add a little bit of the liquid from the soup pot into the butter and flour mixture (roux) and whisk well so there are not any lumps. Pour the roux into the soup pot and mix well.

Add the chicken, canned and roasted jalapeno, cream, and cheese. Simmer for 10-15 minutes and add salt and pepper to taste.
This recipe is versatile and you can make it as spicy or mild as you wish. Roasting the fresh jalapenos gives them a slightly smoky flavor profile. I will often roast extra jalapeno and serve on the side so individuals can give their soup an extra kick if they wish. Roasted tomatoes, squash, and corn also are a great autumn addition to this soup and you can top your bowl with crushed tortilla chips or roasted pumpkin seeds. If you are looking for a brighter taste you can add a squeeze of lime juice and top with fresh cilantro.

The butter and cream in the recipe can be reduced if you want a lower fat version, but the roux in combination with the cheese thickens it to a velvety consistency. Since November is the season of thankfulness, you may want to splurge a little. Trust me, this soup is worth it!

As the weather cools, this soup will help warm you and your loved ones up. Making soup for others is a simple act of kindness that reminds us that many of life’s greatest pleasures are homemade. Make sure you check out my my soup tab for over twenty other healthy soup recipes

Our community has been through a lot of challenges and I hope you are able to reflect and count your blessings. Take care of yourself, take care of each other, and embrace the positive!

CABIN FEVER SALAD: GREEK PASTA

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” 
― Philip Pullman

*Note – While it may be October, pretend it’s July. I wrote this in July for my monthly food column in a local magazine (Marquette Neighbors). Yesterday there were snowflakes in the air, so this afternoon I enjoyed time traveling back to July.

July, the sweet spot of summer. Vegetable gardens are planted and are showing promise, Lake Superior is dazzling us with apricot colored sunrises, and we are adjusting to a new way of living. We are a little more cautious, watching things closely from a distance, and hopefully are a lot more appreciative. 

The pond that my husband built for me (and our ducks) is my happy place.

I have heard many people humorously say that 2020 will go down in their memory bank as the year they made dinner 5,000 nights in a row. While I love to cook, it’s the dirty dishes that plague my heart and kitchen. Therefore, 2020 for me is the year that I am extremely thankful for a dishwasher (that runs daily). It is the year that I have had more time to experiment with my Recipes to Try board on Pinterest. It is also the year that I am even more thankful that we have chickens (we have the time to sit down multiple times a week for a formal family breakfast) and the year that my husband decided that maybe cabbage rolls are not as horrible as he thought they were when he was kid. 

The other day my step-son Lukas and I were surveying our yard and I was teaching him the names of the flowers that were in bloom. Of course, I seemed to have a story to go with each flower from my childhood. How my grandfather curated a frothy hedge of pink peonies and how their luscious, fragrant blooms riddled with ants turn me back into an eleven year old too.

Lukas and I get along well and I think it is because we both like to tell stories. Even more important, we listen to each other’s stories. This summer Lukas is obsessed with egg sandwiches and he loves to make different variations of them. However, he’s not too keen on vegetables, but he gives them an honest try. Everything except for beets. He refuses to accept beets and gives his head a fervent shake when I offer him a pickled one from the jar or a roasted one at dinner time.

Lukas always wants to know what recipe I am planning for my recipe column. For this month’s feature he decided no matter what the ingredients were, that it should have Cabin Fever in the title. He thought it was a title that would draw people in and would be relatable. I had to laugh and agree with him. While my husband and I are a little smitten with our log cabin tucked away in the wilds of Skandia, sometimes we too have to venture out and be social. That said, the recipe that I am sharing with you today is one that I often make for potluck and social gatherings. It is a crowd pleaser and one that I make often for my workday lunches or to have as a side with dinner.


CABIN FEVER SALAD – (Greek Pasta Salad)

*Pasta – 16 ounce box (I prefer a small pasta – like orzo, ditalini, or stelline. For this salad I was able to find a petite star-shaped pasta)
*Quart cherry/grape tomatoes halved
*Cup feta cheese (crumbled or cubed – I prefer buying a block and cubing it) –
*½ cup chopped onion (red, white, or yellow)
*Cup of kalamata olives halved
*2 cucumbers chopped (If garden fresh, I leave the peels on)
*1/2 green bell pepper chopped
*½ yellow or orange bell pepper chopped
*4 cups of greens (spinach, kale, or spring mix)
*Juice and zest of 2 lemons (If you make my homemade dressing, you can use the lemon in the dressing)
*Optional – handful of fresh chopped dill. A couple Tablespoons of fresh oregano and a little freshly chopped mint is also wonderful mixed in
*Dressing – I will share my Greek Vinaigrette recipe below. Though, when in a time pinch, I use store bought. I am partial to Newman’s Own Italian varieties or the Zesty Italian that you mix up from the dry packets)
*Salt and pepper to taste

GREEK VINAIGRETTE DRESSING

*1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of red wine vinegar (since homemade dressings can be made to suit individual tastes, I always recommend that you add vinegar to meet the level of tartness that you enjoy. If you prefer your dressings less tart you can add more olive oil)
*Juice and zest of one lemon
*1 Tablespoon of Dijon mustard
(I have also used spicy brown mustard
*1 clove of garlic
*1 Teaspoon red onion
(you can substitute with green, white, or yellow onion)
*1 sprig offresh oregano (Approximately 2 Tablespoons. If you are using dried use 1-2 teaspoons. Taste as you go and add more if desired)
*1/4 cup of olive oil (You can add more depending on taste. You could also skip the oil and add the oil directly to each salad, or to the jar, to maintain portion control)
*Salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the pasta, drain, and let cool before adding the rest of the ingredients and mix. If you are preparing for an event, make several hours (if not a day) in advance to let the flavors marry.

This recipe will make a LARGE batch, so you can halve or quarter the ingredients if you only want a few servings. It keeps well in the refrigerator for several days (it tastes better after sitting for a day or two) and it makes a great Mason Jar salad either layering the ingredients or mixing right up. Sometimes I whip up a batch after we make Shish Kebobs. I make sure to grill up extra skewers of vegetables (tomato, onion, peppers) to make a salad the next day.

I also tend to add less pasta, and add more greens, when I am making it for myself at home. However, I enjoy the texture pasta brings to the salad and it soaks up the dressing and makes it extra flavorful. You may find yourself having to add more dressing (depending on how much pasta you add). Sometimes if it seems “dry” I may add some olive oil, more lemon juice, or even raw apple cider vinegar.

In the summer, when growing my own greens, I am partial to kale over spinach. While we grow both in our garden, kale is much easier to grow. It does not go to seed like spinach and lettuce and I harvest the same patch from spring until fall.

I hope you enjoy this salad and that it helps cure any cabin fever that you may be experiencing. May you savor all the sweetness that July offers and take advantage of a slower pace to listen to the stories around you. Trust me, the Lukases in your life will thank you.

Lukas loves to help out in the kitchen.

Goal Setting: Making Human Connections in the Classroom — Glitter and Dog Hair

If you would have told me back in the middle of March when we closed up our school buildings due to a rising pandemic that our lives would still not be back to normal by October, I would not have believed you. Though, what does that mean anymore? While I admit that I am growing tired of the phrase, “The new normal” – doing things differently than we did before may be a reality that we are facing. Also, because I try to be a glass half full sort of person, maybe adapting and changing some aspects of our lives is not necessarily a bad thing.

Goal Setting: Making Human Connections in the Classroom — Glitter and Dog Hair

TUNA FISH – A 70s KITCHEN STAPLE & BEYOND

“I think we should become sandwich people!” I loudly proclaimed one evening.

My proclamation came with strange looks from the men in our house. Both my husband John and my 11-year-old step-son gave me the side-eye that is usually reserved for our backyard chickens. You know the look. When someone is measuring you up, not sure what is coming next.

Our pretty hens know that I love and adore them, but they are always cautious. That is probably sound advice for any farm animal (or husband).

“Sometimes I am just tired of cooking!” I continued.

I knew what they were thinking. I could see it in their eyes. It is not a bad thing either. After all, that is what Vango’s and The Vierling is for. We enjoy dining out (and I enjoy not having to do the dishes).

However, I am the resident cook. It is what I do. My husband John builds and creates endless projects for our homestead and I keep his energy up with delicious meals. We raise most of the food ourselves and this is our point of pride.

Yet, sandwiches are not typically on our meal rotation plan. Lukas is known to love a PB&J (especially when his step mom creates it with Nutella and raspberry jam) and I do not believe that grilled cheese technically counts (because there is cooking involved).

Though, tuna sandwiches sometimes make it into our meal plan. Yes, tuna is a pantry staple in our house. It is simple and has a lot of potential.

Growing up in the 70s I think cans of tuna fish were on my mom’s weekly shopping list. I bet if you are a child of the 70s your mom ate copious amounts of tuna, cottage cheese, and grapefruit. (Though, that’s also probably why my mom had such a beautiful figure). We ate lots of fruit, vegetables, and wholesome home-cooked meals. 

While our family consumed plenty of casseroles (in perfect 70s fashion) we did not eat tuna casserole (with potato chips – was that really a thing) like I have heard other people discuss?

The beach cooler that we hauled to Fortune Lake held many tuna fish sandwiches – on homemade bread with Miracle Whip and my mom’s dill pickles (Grandma Hilda’s recipe that you can find on my blog). Honestly, every time I bite into a tuna sandwich I can feel the sun on my face and smell pina colada suntan oil.

My mom also taught me to love a tuna fish salad. Not on bread, but on a bed of lettuce. She would add chopped bell pepper, onion, celery, a side of tomatoes, cucumbers, and a drizzle of Italian dressing. It was the perfect low-carb meal before we were even taught to fear carbs.

Just like my mom, I add tuna to my regular shopping list. However, the tuna I buy is a little different than the tinned tuna that my mom purchased. I buy the flavored packets of tuna (we are especially fond of the lemon – with or without dill – or the ranch). While John will eat a tuna sandwich (with dill or sweet pickles), Lukas prefers to eat it straight out of the packet. It makes a handy and protein rich addition to his cold lunch (some of the packets even come with a convenient little spoon) and we never go camping without several packs and a box of crackers. This was our go-to lunch this July when we adventured in the wilds of Alaska.

However, I do like to recreate my mom’s tuna salad. I have been thinking that this will be a go-to lunch as we begin the new school year. It will be a low-carb and high protein offering to help push me through the “new normal” of being a high school teacher. Plus, it will help me take advantage of the fresh produce that we still have growing in our summer garden.

TUNA SALAD 

-Two cans of tuna or two packets

-1/4 cup of chopped celery

-1/4 cup of chopped onion

-1/4 cup of chopped bell pepper

-1/4 cup of chopped dill pickles

-4 Tablespoon of mayonnaise

-1 mashed avocado

-¼ cup of fresh chopped dill (a couple teaspoons of dried). You can also use fresh dill or basil

-Juice and zest of one lemon (a couple Tablespoons of concentrated lemon juice if you do not have fresh)

-Salt and pepper to taste

-Drizzle of Italian dressing (or a simple vinegar and oil)

While this tuna salad makes a phenomenal sandwich filler (if you are a sandwich person). I especially enjoy it in a pita pocket, on a bed of greens or stuffed into a tomato or hollowed out cucumber rounds. I also like to use it as a “dip” for cucumber slices. I have even been known to mix in some wafer thin slices of zucchini.

Since I still have beans in my garden, I blanched up some beans for the bed and added baby spinach and kale, tomatoes, and cucumber slices.

I hope you add this salad to your meal rotation. September can be known to be warm and humid. This recipe will help fill you up without having to turn on the stove or oven.

I hope your September is happy, healthy, and productive. The approaching cold and flu season will definitely have us all on our toes, so make sure you are one step ahead of the curve and eat your vegetables!

It wouldn’t be a blog post without a furbaby photo bomb. This is our King Louie streaking past.

VICTORY GARDENS AND QUARANTINE KITCHENS: Seeing the positive and feeling in control

“Victory Gardens showcase patriotism in its truest sense, with each of us taking personal responsibility for doing our individual part to create a healthy, fair and affordable food system.”
-Rose Hayden-Smith

Victory Garden: Our family garden

As I sit at my computer to type this for a column I write for a local magazine, I am sure that I join many of you with thoughts whirling with wonderment at the challenging times we are facing. While it is early April, by the time you read my words it will be May. That brings me a huge sense of relief – perhaps our lives will be somewhat back to normal by May? Though, what does that mean anymore? While I admit that I am growing tired of the phrase, “The new normal” – doing things differently than we did before may be a reality that we are facing. Also, because I try to be a glass half full sort of person, maybe adapting and changing some aspects of our lives is not necessarily a bad thing.

When I think back to a few months ago I never imagined that “Zoom Meetings” and “Google Meet-Ups” would become the way I learn how to communicate with my high school students, fellow educators, and administrators. I could not fathom  “Shelter in Place Orders” or the bickering I would witness on social media over Essential vs. Non-essential workers. Yet, here we are. 

As a teacher, a writer, and a blogger I repeat constantly how one of my guiding philosophies is that our writing is a time capsule. As uncomfortable as it is at times, we are experiencing history and whatever medium we choose to document the Covid-19 pandemic will become a primary source for future generations.

My husband, as a police officer, is one of those Essential Workers and I have to give him credit for being full of grace under pressure. Whenever he detects that I may be feeling anxiety over a situation, or feeling stressed out he reminds me to put things into focus. He is known to ask me, “Is the house on fire? Is it an arterial bleed? Then things are going to be okay.” When I hear his voice of reason it always makes me giggle a little and realize that I need to calm down and not panic. Needless to say, I relied on him often in the past couple of months.

One of the things that has helped me stay centered during a time of confusion and uncertainty is to rely on the things that bring me joy. This means nourishing my family with healthy foods and leaning on nature (even when it dumps two feet of snow on us like it did yesterday). However, there is a sense of satisfaction knowing that the weather is temporary. Our days are already much longer and soon they will bring warmer weather.

Over the past couple of months I have read several blog posts and comments from friends on social media stating that they have enjoyed a slower paced life and being able to sit down as a family to enjoy a home cooked meal together. Perhaps that will be something positive that many families will take away from these trying times and continue to practice?

My step-son Lukas and Apollo making peanut butter cookies.

Home cooked meals are one of the cornerstones of my husband and my marriage. Not only do we delight in making dinner in our own kitchen, but we pride ourselves in raising much of the food ourselves. Having a little extra time at home has brought even more cooking into the mix. Not only did my husband and step son make banana bread and homemade peanut butter cookies, but they also tapped and boiled down maple syrup from our own trees.

In addition to cooking, we started our Victory Garden. Those familiar with history know that during WWII families were encouraged to grow their own fruit and vegetables to help supplement the food rations to aid the war effort, but also to boost the morale of the citizens. Now as you may know from reading my columns, gardening is not something new to the Waldos. However, I dare say that I approached it this year with renewed gusto and vigor. With our family trying to take fewer trips to the grocers, having a backyard full of fresh greens, herbs, and vegetables is even more appealing. So I thought I would share some tips that I have for how to start your own seeds in your own home.

If you have a small home, with limited space, as long as you have a sunny windowsill – you can get seeds to sprout. I find that our windows with eastern exposure and morning sunlight do the best.

While you can purchase fancy seed trays and pots, I make sure to save all of our large yogurt/cottage cheese containers for tomato seeds. Since I like those seedlings to get quite large before transplanting them into the ground, the larger containers allow the roots to grow. A tip from my mom for tomato seedlings is to allow a fan to circulate a couple weeks before getting them into the ground and plant them deeply. The fan allows them to strengthen and become more resilient to the elements outside.

Another great tip if you love to recycle is to keep the large clamshells that you purchase greens in. You can fill them with garden soil and they make the best mini-greenhouses.

Once you are ready to move the seedlings outside, you can move them to a bed outside, or utilize a container garden. For years before I had the land that I do now, I grew gorgeous tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets. Herbs grow great in containers, as well as peppers, and you can even buy or make trellises and grow peas, beans, and cucumbers in large pots or buckets. 

As far as seeds go, we like to purchase our seeds in bulk because they are more cost effective. As long as they are stored in a cool, dry place (a jar works great) they will keep for up to five years (or more). 

In addition to planting our Victory Garden, one of the things that I have been trying to do to stretch our grocery trips is to make multiple meals out of one main ingredient. Therefore, I have been sharing on my social media accounts tips to help others do the same thing. Since we raise our own pork and chicken, I made the recommendation for others to purchase a whole ham or whole chicken. For example, a ham can be made into sandwiches, ham and scalloped potatoes, and you can toss the bone into your pressure cooker (or on the stovetop) and make bone broth that can then become a pot of Ham and Cheesy Potato and Broccoli Soup. A pork loin can be slow cooked in the crockpot with potatoes and carrots for a delicious roast. The extra meat can be seasoned for tacos and the juices from the roast can be thickened with flour and butter with sausage added for breakfast biscuits and gravy.

The same can be done for a chicken. Our Easter dinner was a chicken roasted in our pressure cooker. I reserved the drippings and thickened for gravy and then reserved the carcass for homemade bone broth. The bone broth can be put in jars and frozen(with about an inch of head room so the jars do not crack) or can be used right away as the liquid to cook flavorful rice or make a pot of chicken soup.

Do you make your own Bone Broth? If not, here is my basic recipe that I believe is a staple in any kitchen, but especially a Victory Garden or Quarantine Kitchen.


*One chicken carcass (I take all, or most of the meat off. You can also use chicken thighs or legs if you have them. Of course this method works with turkey as well).
*4-5 cups of water
*One onion halved (I leave the peels on)
*Few carrots (leave the tops on if you are using whole carrots)
*A few celery ribs (I use the tops that often get discarded)
*A few cloves of garlic or minced garlic (if you use whole – no need to peel)
*3 Tablespoons of vinegar (it helps draw out the healthy minerals the bones)
*Salt and Pepper 

Pressure cook for 45 minutes. If using a stove top or crockpot method you can simmer for several hours (the longer the better).

This is just a basic recipe, and you can change the flavor profile by adding other herbs and seasonings. You can add rosemary, thyme, ginger, parsely, cilantro, lemon, and even hot peppers. 

As I write this I am not certain what is in store for the future. However, I want to wish you the best and hope you are safe and healthy. Please feel free to reach out to my Facebook page or comment here if you have any gardening, canning, or cooking questions. I am not an absolute expert, but I have learned a lot of tips and tricks over the last several years.

The most important thing to remember in a time of uncertainty is that we are in this together. Check in on each other and let us continue to make our communities a safe place to live. Make sure to do something that brings you joy.

If you have never gardened before, I guarantee you will not regret picking up this healthy hobby. Whether you try to put up enough vegetables for the entire winter like my family does, or simply grow a little kitchen herb garden, there is something incredibly satisfying about growing your own food. If you ask me, nothing tastes as fine as a fresh, juicy garden tomato still warm from the sun. May is the perfect time to start your Victory Garden. Get growing!

BEYOND THE WINDOW by Abigail McCabe (A Student’s Pandemic Journal) — Glitter and Dog Hair

The 2019-2020 school year marks my 19th year in the classroom as a secondary English teacher. I suppose this year due to the Covid-19 Coronavirus, like teachers across the country, I can now add Distance Learning Teacher to my resume. Though, I would prefer the title Distance Learning Encourager. I have always felt that the word […]

BEYOND THE WINDOW by Abigail McCabe (A Student’s Pandemic Journal) — Glitter and Dog Hair