PICKLES: ONE OF MY FAVORITE FOOD GROUPS

“In a world where news of inhumanity bombards our sensibilities, where grasping for things goes so far beyond our needs, where time is squandered in busyness, it is a pleasure and a privilege to pause for a look at handiwork, to see beauty amidst utility, and to know that craft traditions begun so long ago serve us today.”

–John Wilson

A handful of years ago, when my niece Kristine was in high school, she gave a demonstration speech on how to can dill pickles. After her presentation, when she told me that there were students in her class that did not know that pickles were once cucumbers, I was shocked. Really? How could this happen in a rural community in Upper Michigan where vegetable gardens commonly sprout in backyards? I guess that I took it for granted that others grew up in a household similar to the one in which I was raised. Pre-bread machines my mom always made homemade bread, cake and frosting were whipped up from scratch, macaroni-and-cheese did not come out of a box, and on a weekly basis stock pots of aromatic soup simmered on the stove.

Did we eat junk food and drink soda? Yes. Yet, my mom always made sure our diet was balanced out by home cooked meals and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Even when we spent long, summer days at the beach the slow-cooker was preparing some sort of wholesome, savory dish. Fast food did not exist in our hometown (aside from the seasonal drive-in restaurant) and take-out and dinners at restaurants were rare and special indulgences.

Granted, times have changed, but I think that in we need to go back to the way some things were in the past. My mom grew up in a large Finnish-American family with six other siblings, and because finances were lean, they had to learn how to be resourceful. I am thankful that Mom passed this resourcefulness on to me. I am equally thankful to have married a man who wants his children to be raised with these same values.

The next time you are in line at the supermarket, reflect on the choices in your cart (and even other shoppers around you). It is common to hear (and participate) in conversations about how expensive groceries are these days. Yet, when you take a look at what is tossed into grocery carts there often are cheaper alternatives. Think of how many raw potatoes can be purchased for the price of a bag of potato chips. How many bags of dried beans can be purchased for the cost of canned? Compare the cost of individually packaged instant oatmeal versus a tub of old-fashioned oats. While they may be expensive, how many cherries or grapes could a twelve pack of soda purchase?

While I try to keep my grocery cart limited to whole foods, I do confess to convenience food purchases. Though, I try to be more mindful of making our favorite meals by scratch, because not only is it more economical, but more nutritional as well. Plus, I like to believe that when I stretch my grocery dollar I can afford to put more organic offerings on our table – or an extra evening out at a local restaurant.

Not only are some convenience foods easy to make, but cooking from scratch helps us avoid putting chemicals into our bodies. The next time you pick up a can of soup carefully scan the ingredients. How about salad dressing? Can you pronounce the long list of additives and preservatives? If not, you might want to think about making your own.

In addition to dressings, I find that a great way to perk up salads and other meals are pickles. Growing up, pickles were an important food group in our house – as were straight up cucumbers. My grandpa Puskala often served us sliced cucumbers from his garden and vinegar for breakfast (probably because that is all that we wanted to eat). My Grandma Hilda’s canned dill pickles and crock pickles were a family favorite and my mom followed her canning tradition. In fact, my mom is known to can over one hundred quarts of pickles in the fall because she gifts them to people throughout the year. The smell of pickle brine is one of my fondest memories from childhood.

Today I am going to share with you my Grandma’s dill pickle recipe. By August most gardeners are up to their ears in cucumbers and if you do not garden yourself you can find them readily available from a neighbor or the farmer’s market. Pickles are one of the easiest items to can because you only need to use a hot water bath (use a large stock pot that will allow water over the lids) and you do not have to pressure can the jars. My canner/stock pot will prepare 7 quarts at a time.

I like to use one quart wide mouth jars and you will also need lids with bands. Sanitize the jars in the sanitize cycle of your dishwasher or in a pot of boiling water. If you are boiling the jars, boil them for 30-45 minutes and make sure you boil the lids and bands and well (I boil the lids for 5-10 minutes). 

BRINE (bring to a boil when you are ready to can)
2 Quarts of Water
1 Quart of Apple Cider Vinegar
½ Cup of Canning Salt (Make sure that you buy canning salt and not regular table salt)

You will also need:

Dill (fresh and/or dill seed. I recommend fresh dill – but seed will work in a pinch).
Alum Powder (Can be found in the spice and pickling sections and it helps make pickles crunchy)

*Optional for spicy peppers
Garlic cloves
Crushed red peppers (could also use jalapenos or other fresh peppers)

Choose the shape of the pickles that you desire (chips, spears, whole, or thin sandwich slices). I like to can a variety of shapes.

While you are packing your jars, make sure that you bring the water in your canner (large stock pot) to boiling. The water should be over the jars when you place them in the canner.

In the bottom of the jar place ¾ teaspoon of alum powder, a generous helping of dill (stem and all), crushed garlic cloves (I put three per jar), and peppers if you desire a spicy pickle. Then pack the rest of the jar with cucumbers. I recommend placing them in carefully and packing them thoroughly (or else you will have lots of room in the jar).

Once the cucumbers are firmly packed, fill the jar with the boiling brine, leaving about ¾ inch of head room at the top. Put on the lid and tighten the band (firmly – but you do not have to overly tighten).

Place the jars in the canner and TURN OFF the heat and let sit for 25 minutes. My mom taught me that this is the secret to crunchy pickles. If you continue to heat the water, the pickles may end up mushy.

After 25 minutes remove the jars and let sit until they seal (this may take up to 24 hours). While it is frustrating if you have a jar, or two, that does not seal. You can refrigerate these pickles and give them a couple of weeks to “pickle” and eat them within the month. In the same way, if you do not want to can the pickles you can make crock pickles using this brine and let them sit in the refrigerator in a large jar(s) or a bowl or crock.

If you love pickles as much as I do, you have to try my grandmother’s recipe. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to leave a comment here, send me an email, or stop by my Facebook page.

Imagine this winter, when you pop open a jar of pickles and remember a steamy summer day when your kitchen was filled with the fragrance of dill. These pickles may remind you of your childhood and like me, you may appreciate the old-fashioned. I would wear a dress over jeans any day, I love the word ice-box, and I believe in setting a beautiful table. I believe that food made with love, and attention to detail, tastes better. Give these pickles a try and let me know what you think!

My husband created a canning station for me on our front porch for those sultry summer days when our house doesn’t need the extra warmth.

Here is a video that my stepdaughter Avalon made last summer when I taught her how to make pickles! Isn’t she the cutest?

 

 

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Spring Fever is an Understatement

“Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness.”
― Mary Oliver

April 16, 2017 on the left.
April 16, 2018 on the right. Last year we were planting blueberry bushes and this year the bushes are buried under several feet of snow. There are 10+ foot snowdrifts in our pasture.

Meesha is a bundle of energy!

Snow days in April are not unusual in the UP of Michigan. However, that does not soften the blow. As John and I discussed yesterday, April snow storms usually torment us AFTER the majority of our snow has already melted and it is gone within a couple of days. However, over the past couple of days we received over THIRTY inches of snow ON TOP of the snow lingering from the winter.

While it is depressing and feels like a setback to our growing season, the kids were thrilled to have two snow days off of school (this teacher did not complain 😉 ) and the weather outlook for the next couple of weeks looks hopeful. We should be seeing temperatures close to the 50s by the weekend and into next week. That means that it should be close to 100 in the hoop house.

Speaking of the hoop house: check out these photos of John, Avalon, and Lukas digging it out yesterday after the storm.
The dogs were in their glory and were exhausted last night after a spirited frolic in the snow!

Gentle Ollie taking a break. He LOVES the snow.

Remi our faithful protector is not sure what to think.

Giant April snow banks!

Avalon and I took advantage of our snow days to create a new video for our YouTube channel. As you can tell from the video, this new medium is a little awkward for me, but Avalon is a natural! In this video we share a few of the things that we “cannot live without”. It was a blast to film it together and we hope to be able to create more content about our farm, recipes, and DIY projects.

Please make sure to subscribe to our Channel: Superior Maple Grove Farm and leave us a comment to let us know you were there and what kind of videos you would like us post!

I hope that your spring is going well and that you are excited about gardening. I will post updates as we get our seedlings planted in the hoop house. I also promise to post more healthy recipes to help you put your homegrown, or farmer’s market produce, to great use. Thank you for following our adventures. If you are in the snow belt like we are – stay warm, stay safe, and hold on tight — spring is near! ❤

Launching Our Family YouTube Channel

I have exciting news, the Waldos are making plans for the summer. My family has made a commitment to join me in blogging. In addition, we are going to start vlogging together. After receiving many questions about our farm projects, we thought creating a YouTube channel would be a great way to share and log our progress. It will add a layer Produce with Amy and serve as a time capsule for our projects. Our hope is to help others who want to grow their own food, be resourceful, and learn with us on this journey to maximize our health and productivity. We are enlisting our community to help us move forward with our creativity. Thank you! 

Today we made our first video to launch our family YouTube channel, Superior Maple Grove Farm. We hope to post our DIY projects and our farm adventures. From creating an eco-system for bees, building ponds, growing food in a high tunnel/hoop house, and raising chickens – our hope for this channel is to share our challenges, victories, and dreams for the future. Of course I will continue to make recipes and we will make sure to address Avalon and Lukas’ interests as well.

We believe in reciprocal education and hope our viewers learn something from us and we hope to learn from you. Thank you for watching! The Waldos – Amy, John, Avalon and Lukas. ❤

Subscribe to our channel here: Superior Maple Grove Farm

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.

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.

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.

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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. ❤

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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.

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Cilantro & Lime Infused Shrimp Tacos with Crunchy Cabbage

Cilantro & Lime Infused Shrimp Tacos“I remember my childhood names for grasses and secret flowers. I remember where a toad may live and what time the birds awaken in the summer — and what trees and seasons smelled like…”
-John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Our gladiolas are blooming which is a sure sign that fall is peeking around the corner.

Our gladiolas are blooming which is a sure sign that fall is peeking around the corner. I love to sit right here and have coffee in the morning and/or iced tea in the afternoon.

While I do not enjoy saying goodbye to summer, I love the feeling of transition that fall brings. There is elegance in autumn that is not present in other seasons. Now that I live on a farm, I am finding that I trust my senses more to announce the transition from summer to fall in the landscape. I watch the birds circling the sky, measure the way the morning light filters through the pasture, and I capture various scents in the air.

August Sky

August Sky

Our spring chicks are now full grown hens.

Our spring chicks are now full grown hens.

I LOVE our duck! Even if he refuses to go in the beautiful pond that John made for him.

I LOVE our duck! Even if he refuses to go in the beautiful pond that John made for him.

It’s truly been a magical summer and I feel like I have so much blogging to do to catch up. June started with a trip to New York City and ended with our belated honey moon to Alaska.

My husband built a pond/waterfall, installed a pool, created gardening spaces for me, and did various landscaping projects. We got approved for a grant from the USDA for a hoop house/greenhouse (which will be delivered in the next few weeks) and we added a new rototiller and sawmill to our farm equipment.

Our hotel was only a few blocks from Times Square and Central Park

Our hotel was only a few blocks from Times Square and Central Park

One of my students won a national writing award with the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and I was presented with a medal and certificate of achievement.

One of my students won a national writing award with the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and I was presented with a medal and certificate of achievement.

Prospecting for Gold in Chicken Alaska

Prospecting for Gold in Chicken Alaska.

One of our "off the grid" camping spots .

One of our “off the grid” camping spots .

Alaskan Fireweed and Mountains

Alaskan Fireweed and Mountains

Our Golden Retriever Ollie even relaxed in the pool this summer.

Our Golden Retriever Ollie even relaxed in the pool this summer.

The beautiful pond John built and my adorable step kids.

The beautiful pond John built and my adorable step kids.

The weather this summer was gorgeous and I walked laps around the pasture for exercise (sometimes while playing “Alien Hunter” with my step son) and we had evening fires in our backyard (which almost always involved a dance party with my step kids).

Lukas received this cool back pack from Uncle Nick. It holds all the essentials that an alien hunter needs: alien proof goggles, food source (snake), guns, and a radio. The radio also serves as an invisibility cloak ray gun (helpful to hide from the Queen..though she can still smell us). I love his imagination!

Lukas received this cool back pack from Uncle Nick. It holds all the essentials that an alien hunter needs: alien proof goggles, food source (snake), guns, and a radio. The radio also serves as an invisibility cloak ray gun (helpful to hide from the Queen..though she can still smell us). I love his imagination!

Speaking of my step kids, I have to give a shameless plug to my sweet stepdaughter Avalon’s YouTube Channel. She is ten years old and I have featured a few of her recipes here on my blog. Not only does she love to help me in the kitchen but we love to shop together and she shares my passion for writing, social media, and being creative.

Avalon and I had a spa day and got our back to school haircuts.

Avalon and I had a spa day and got our back to school haircuts.

Her “House Tour Video” is absolutely adorable and I think that her sparkling personality really shines through. Now that the pool is installed the sunflowers are ready to bloom, I told Avalon that she needs to do an update. Make sure you check out her video, give it a like, and if you leave a comment it will really make her day. This week we hope to record a video together of our new clothes for the school year. Avalon thinks that I need to start adding videos to my blog. What do you think? 😉

Avalon’s YouTube channel.

Autumn marks a time for fresh starts and in our house it means getting back to the basics with a new school year. Since I am a teacher, I join my kids in embracing an early bedtime routine, homework (in my case grading and lesson planning), and setting academic and personal goals.

As busy as our schedules get, I do not want to abandon our family dinners around the table. Last fall Lukas (who is now seven) declared that we should have Taco Tuesdays – and we obliged. Sometimes it may end up being Taco Monday or Thursday – but taco night is a hit in our household. Not only does it suit the meat eaters and the vegetarian in our house, but also the leftovers easily convert into salad, nachos, soup, or pizza. Depending on what we have in the house we prepare guacamole, spicy rice, refried or black beans, seasoned meat, and serve up sour cream, cheese, peppers, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, and a variety of sauces.

Since we have a farm we raise our own pork and chicken (and soon beef), but my husband also loves seafood. For this recipe I came up with a simple marinade for shrimp (that would work well with any protein). Vegetarians could also use it to marinate squash, which is abundant in gardens and the supermarket this time of year.
The shrimp tacos also receive a burst of flavor and satisfying crunch from a cabbage slaw that is dressed with the same marinade as the shrimp.

Lukas helped me plant cilantro this summer and he loves adding it to our homemade guacamole and salsa made from our homegrown tomatoes. Have you noticed how kids are willing to eat healthier and try new foods when they help grow and prepare it themselves?

Lukas helped me plant basil, dill, and cilantro in an old tin tub and it is flourishing!

Lukas helped me plant basil, dill, and cilantro in an old tin tub and it is flourishing!

Ingredients:

I recently fell in love with Penzeys spices. My husband enjoys this Cajun spice in alfredo pasta and on eggs too.

I recently fell in love with Penzeys spices. My husband enjoys this Cajun spice in alfredo pasta and on eggs too.

*1 pound of raw shrimp
*1 bunch of cilantro
*1/4 cup chopped onion
*1/2 small cabbage
*3 juiced limes and zest
*2 Tablespoons of olive oil
*1 Tablespoon of Cajun seasoning
*2 teaspoons of sugar
*Salt and pepper

IMG_4036CILANTRO & LIME MARINADE
Pour the following marinade on the shrimp (remove shell and tails):
*Juice and zest of two limes
*1 Tablespoon olive oil

*2 minced cloves of garlic
*1 Tablespoons of Cajun spice (more if you want extra spice. Since the Cajun seasoning that I added already had salt, I did not add any additional)
*1/2 cup of fresh chopped cilantro

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IMG_4047CABBAGE SLAW:
*Chop ½ of the small cabbage
*Juice and zest of one lime

*1 Tablespoon olive oil
*1/2 cup of chopped cilantro
*1 clove of minced garlic
*2 teaspoons of sugar
*Salt and pepper to taste

Ideally, let the shrimp and slaw sit for several hours in the refrigerator (it works well to make the night before). You can grill the shrimp or cook over the stove top until the shrimp turns pink. Serve the shrimp and cabbage on flour tortillas with spicy ranch dressing. You can buy many versions in the store or add salsa to ranch dressing. For a healthier version you can add salsa or hot sauce to plain, fat-free Greek yogurt.

PRINTABLE RECIPE HERE: CILANTRO & LIME INFUSED SHRIMP TACOS

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I hope your family enjoys the fresh flavors of these tacos as much as mine did. Make sure you check out these other recipes for versatile Taco night: Spicy Brown Rice and Snappy Salsa, Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette Dressing, Homemade Taco Seasoning, Layered Refried Bean and Guacamole Dip, Confetti Salad.

Thank you for following my blog and while I have a lot of my plate in the coming months with a new school year, thesis writing, an internship, and motherhood, but I am going to try my best to keep posting. Until then make sure you follow my page on Facebook, Instagram, and I would love to hear from you! ❤