Top 10 Most Popular Recipes of 2020

“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

From our cozy little kitchen to yours: Happy New Year!

I agree with Nietzsche’s quote and come up with some of my best ideas when I am simply putting one foot in front of the other.  I talk to my creative writing students about what we are doing when the best story ideas are born. For me, my creativity peeks when I am walking, snowshoeing, pulling weeds in the garden, chopping vegetables, driving to work, taking a shower, or floating in our pool. I keep a journal that I jot down my ideas and musings in so I do not forget about them. I like to call this place a seedbed for future blog posts, recipes, stories, poems, and lesson plans.

My 11th grade students just finished reading Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” and we discussed the unhealthy hold that technology often has on our lives (ironic, I acknowledge, since I am typing this on a computer on my blog… 😉 ) I shared with my students several articles that discussed cell phone addiction and how our digital devices take away boredom and do not allow us to daydream and come up with “big ideas”. Instead of just allowing our minds to wander, we fill our quiet time with checking our social media accounts and email.

Therefore, as we head into 2021, I need to more mindful of how I am filling my down time. While I will continue to fill my Pinterest boards with decorating ideas for the new addition on our house and share ideas and learn new tips on the Homesteading and Crazy-Chicken-Lady groups that I am member of – I will also remember to walk laps in our pasture, spend more time outside with our dogs and birds, and stare at the star studded sky and draw inspiration from the beauty around me.

In 2020, between this blog, Produce with Amy, and my sister blog, Glitter and Dog Hair, I shared 26 new blog posts. That’s a number that I am proud of since I have been trying to create more content. My goal for 2021 is to surpass that number.

As I reflect on 2020, I decided that I would look back at the traffic on Produce with Amy and share the top 10 most popular recipes from 2020. I thought it was interesting that the top two recipes were not new ones – but ones that I created when I first started blogging. I love that people find my posts helpful and enjoy the recipes that I create.

Here they are (click on the blue links to find the recipes):

#1: Paradise in a Jar Salad with Blueberry Lemon Dressing

We are what we eat, after all. I do not know about you, but I want to be vibrant, unique, and bursting with energy.

#2 Glowing Green Mason Jar Salads with Avocado Vinaigrette Dressing

My Glowing Green Mason Jar salads are stuffed with both sweet and savory ingredients and the dressing is equally delicious and nutritious.

#3 Tuna Fish – a 70’s Kitchen Staple & Beyond

While this tuna salad is great on a bed of lettuce, it also makes a phenomenal sandwich filler. I especially enjoy it in a pita pocket or stuffed into a tomato or hollowed out cucumber rounds.

#4 Old Fashioned Sweet Pickled Beets

While beets are an acquired taste, many people who do not enjoy beets as a side vegetables seem to like them pickled. Many people that I have talked to reminisce fondly about a grandmother who was known for her pickled beets.

#5 Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

Eat the rainbow and your body will thank you!

#6 Spaghetti Squash & Tomato Soup

The spaghetti squash bulks up this soup and makes it filling.

#7 Sunshine Salad in a Jar with Kicky Mango Vinaigrette

When you see a salad this bright and vibrant, you know it has to be healthy!

#8 Cabin Fever Salad – Greek Pasta

Perfect for a potluck, your workday lunch, or as a side to your dinner.

#9 Low Carb Creamy Chicken & Mushroom Soup with Cauliflower Rice

My stepson and husband both thought it smelled amazing and after taking a taste they both agreed that it was soup that they both would eat. The cauliflower adds body and gives it the consistency that rice would.

#10 Mushroom Swiss Burger Soup – A Simple Pleasure

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.

Well, there they are – the Top 10 Most Popular Recipes from 2020! I hope that you have tried them and that you enjoyed them as well. Make sure you check out all of my recipes that are organized in the tabs at the top of this page. Please leave a comment or like this post to let me know that you have been here.

I wish you best wishes for a healthy, happy, and productive 2021! While making homemade meals may take extra time – remember, we are worth it. ❤

*Note – Now that this post is finished, I think I will head outside for a walk. Perhaps it will help me come up with a new recipe to share with you!

SAUTEED SWISS CHARD WITH SMOKED SALMON, POMEGRANATE, & ROSEMARY INFUSED GOAT CHEESE

“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning… Make some light.”
Kate DiCamillo

As I have gotten older, the excitement of New Year’s Eve has lost a bit of its luster. In fact, I do not think I have witnessed the striking of the new year in real time (or in sequins) for many years (I am normally fast asleep). However,  I still love the sparkling potential of a brand new year. I am a goal girl and there is something refreshing about being able to start my healthy intentions anew. For me the new year is an important time of reflection and renewal. 2021 is a special year for me as I welcome my 50th year. My gift to myself is to allow my reflection in the mirror and my challenges and setbacks a little more grace. I will extend that gift to others as well. May 2021 be a year of grace, reflection, and boundless gifts. 

The past few years I have witnessed a lot of New Year posts on social media. One activity that I enjoy engaging my high school students in is the “One Word for the New Year” or a “One Word Resolution”. Focusing on just one word helps us create an intention and gives us a little latitude. It allows us to ruminate over one small word – and that action can impact many aspects of our life. However, it is not a resolution that we can break. Afterall, it is a word. We can start the next day with our word fresh on our lips.

For 2021, my word is Light. Light encompasses the life I want to embrace. I want my footsteps to tread light on the earth when it comes to my responsibility to nature and my community. I want the small things to roll off of me – for my countenance and inner peace to be as light as a feather. I do not want to be held down by the things that I cannot change. 

As I type this post, I think of the purchases my husband and I made this month. We bought windows for the addition on our old Finnish homestead. Six years ago when we met we were in the dreaming stages of what could be. We planned and we worked hard. My husband bought a sawmill and started milling beams.  Today the structure is up and we are installing windows and yesterday we bought insulation. 

The  windows will be the eyes to the new wing of our home. They will protect us from the elements and help us marvel in the beauty around us – birds, trees, rain clouds, snow squalls, sunrises, and sunsets. These windows are more than panes of glass. They are portals for sunshine. The light that seeps into our lives and takes us out of the darkness. A reminder to never lose hope. 

When it comes to making future plans for ourselves, it is imperative to think about our health. I know that I am much more successful when I have the right mindset. I feel much better when I am getting enough sleep, wearing an activity monitor as a daily reminder to keep moving, and doing weekly meal planning.

Today’s recipe embodies my goals for the new year. I am going to remember to make time for myself and treat myself well. I often cater our meals to fit the tastes and preferences of my family members. This is a recipe that I created for myself. I was mindful of the entire process – from creation, presentation, to consumption. It feels good to slow down and enjoy the things that bring us pleasure. I have always loved cooking, but the repetitive act of cooking can sometimes feel like a chore. Therefore, I am reminding myself to be light. To enjoy the vibrant colors, the fragrance, and the flavors of the ingredients.

Swiss chard is one of those greens that people see at the farmer’s market and are not sure what to do with. While it is lovely to look at, it is also a health powerhouse. It is packed with fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and antioxidants. I love the leaves raw in salads, tossed into soups, or lightly sauteed for breakfast or as a dinner side. My friend Anita recently told me she sauteed some Swiss Chard up with bacon and her family devoured it and asked for seconds. 

I also chose pomegranate for it is antioxidant boasting qualities and because I love the taste. Pomegranate always reminds me of the holiday season since Santa always put a giant one in our Christmas stocking when I was a kid.

The smoked salmon in this recipe is wonderfully flavorful and packed with healthy oil. The protein from the fish gives it a bit of heartiness, and you could also serve with tuna steak or a salmon filet that is prepared to your liking. 

The goat cheese and fresh rosemary is such a suitable combination. I recently made roasted root vegetables with fresh rosemary and my step son Lukas was enamoured with the taste, smell, and texture of the rosemary. He thought they were like pine needles – and it reminded me why I love the aroma of rosemary so much. I always have a rosemary plant in our summer herb garden, but I do not often cook with it. I need to change that! 

SAUTEED SWISS CHARD WITH SMOKED SALMON, POMEGRANATE, & ROSEMARY INFUSED GOAT CHEESE

*1 bunch of Swiss chard (spinach or beet greens would also work well)
*1 teaspoon minced garlic
*1 teaspoon finely sliced onion
*1 teaspoon fruit preserves (I used raspberry jam because I had it on hand)
*2 Tablespoons olive oil
*3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
*Goat cheese
*Fresh rosemary (a couple of sprigs)
*4 ounces of smoked salmon (I bought a piece in the fish section of our local Meijer supermarket that was individually packaged and cajun flavored.)
*Handful of pomegranate seeds 
*Few slices of pickled beets 

Add 1 Tablespoon olive oil to a pan and saute the garlic and onion for a couple of minutes. Add the fruit preserves and the balsamic vinegar and stir well. Add the Swiss chard and saute for a few minutes until wilted.

In a small bowl mix the goat cheese with a couple teaspoons of chopped rosemary and a generous drizzle of olive oil.

Plate the greens with the salmon. Sprinkle plate with pomegranate seeds, add the pickled beets, and a dollop of the goat cheese. Enjoy!

While I enjoyed the salmon cold as a sort of salad, this would be a wonderful way to serve broiled, grilled, or baked salmon for dinner. It would also make a wonderful accompaniment to a charcuterie board with the addition of nuts, avocado, olives, fresh berries, and crackers or toasted baguette. 

A little goat cheese goes a long way, so the extra I keep in the refrigerator and use it to top toast for breakfast or steak. 

Another tip is that swiss chard (and other greens like turnip, kale or beet) will wilt in the refrigerator if you do not use them right away). When this happens, cut off their ends and put them in a glass or bowl of water (like you would a bouquet of flowers) and they will perk right up.

You can find pickled beets in many supermarkets, but if you want to make your own, make sure you check out my mom’s recipe

As we enter 2021, I wish you an abundance of light. Do not forget to take care of yourself and make your health a priority. Stop by my Facebook page at Produce with Amy and let me know what One Word you chose for your 2021 Intention. Cheers to a new year and a fresh start! 



 



 

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 bit more room to indulge in a scoop of decadent ice cream or a piece of your aunt’s should-be-world-famous pie. 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.

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.

SUNSHINE BOWLS WITH KICKY MANGO VINAIGRETTE

“The elimination diet:
Remove anger, regret, resentment, guilt, blame, and worry.
Then watch your health, and life, improve.”
Charles F. Glassman

It is that time of the year where many people make healthy resolutions (and perhaps have already abandoned them). If you are like me you believe, no matter how difficult it is, that it is important to make time for ourselves. For example, since my schedule has been extremely busy it feels sacred to me to enjoy a quiet house. For the new year I wanted to make time to write and be more reflective on my personal and professional life. Of course, it’s the end of January and I have not carved out the writing time that I hoped I would. However, I have written endless poems in my mind’s eye. Every time I step outside I marvel in the beautiful place in which I live. I have not given up hope for that precious writing time. After all, here I am on a snow day off of work – writing!

Truthfully, our winter until the last few weeks has been relatively mild. Mid-January delivered some significant snow storms and freezing temperature. Like every year, in January it is light that I crave. This time of year I covet posts from my friends who live in southern locations and I peek at my photos of sunshine sifting through my summer blooms. Perhaps it is this hope that helps us go on with our days. I believe that metaphorically summer gives us something to look forward to and encourages us to toil and work hard. (Plus, I did notice this week when driving my step children to hockey practice that our days are getting longer. At 5:00 pm it was still considerably light out).

The eternal optimist in my heart believes that we must make our own sunshine. Therefore, the spaces that I try to create in my life (whether it be my home, my classroom, or my blog) are filled with color. I think that is why I am so passionate about eating a variety of fruit and vegetables. I find myself in constant awe at the glorious colors and art in nature and food presentation.

I had winter in mind when coming up with this recipe. I intentionally wanted to create a bright bowl that utilized orange and yellow hued produce specifically for its health benefits. I also wanted to give the dressing a little heat, so I kicked it up with fresh jalapeno.

These bright-colored fruits and vegetables contain zeaxanthin, flavonoids, lycopene, potassium, vitamin C and beta-carotene (Vitamin A).

According to, ahealthiermichigan.org, these nutrients help our bodies in many different ways:

  1. Aids in eye health and reduces the risk of macular degeneration of the eye
  2. Reduces the risk of prostate cancer
  3. Lowers blood pressure
  4. Lowers LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol)
  5. Promotes healthy joints
  6. Promotes collagen formation
  7. Fights harmful free radicals in the body
  8. Encourages pH balance of the body
  9. Boosts immune system
  10. Builds healthier bones by working with calcium and magnesium”

I have heard that nutrients found in yellow and orange produce have complexion promoting benefits. This time of year I find my skin really suffers from the effects of the dry air and lack of sunshine so it gives me another reason to eat my vegetables.

In January, as I dream about sunshine, winter ices over precise words that I could use to describe a gold washed sky. So, I will let my Sunshine Bowls articulate.

KICKY MANGO VINAIGRETTE

  • 3/4 cup of rice vinegar (your favorite vinegar will work. Rice vinegar is a great choice because it is less acidic than a lot of vinegar. Some of my other favorites for homemade dressings are raw apple cider vinegar, champagne vinegar, and white balsamic vinegar. I really like tart dressings and if you do not, I suggest adding a little vinegar at a time)
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (often I do not add the oil to the dressing but add it individually to each jar for portion control)
  • 1 peeled and pitted mango (you could substitute a cup of frozen)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • teaspoon of onion
  • 1 lime (both the juice and the zest)
  • Jalapeno (I used 1/2 of a large pepper. I added a little at a time until I was satisfied. If you do not want a big “kick” you could use a banana pepper or green chilies)
  • 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro (parsley also works well if you are not on Team Cilantro)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Blend well. I store the leftover dressing in a jar in the refrigerator and it keeps for over a month.

SUNSHINE BOWLS:

  • Orange Segments
  • Roasted Sweet Potatoes
  • Orange and Yellow Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Orange Peppers

In the past I’ve also used pineapple, butternut squash, and grapefruit. You can also toss in kale or spinach and some of your favorite beans, chicken, or nuts for protein.

In celebration of the new year I cannot help but feel wonder for the opportunity that I have as a blogger to connect with people from all over and share my passion. I love healthy food, writing, photography, and brilliant color. Food should be savored and appreciated as a piece of art. The composition of flavor, color, nutrients, and attention to detail are vital to both pleasure and health.

As always, if you try this recipe, I would love your feedback. Please feel free to share my recipes with others. Make sure that you check out my other healthy salads at the tab at the top of the page.

Have a sunny day, My Friends! Even if in the winter it means having to manufacture your own sunshine. May your 2019 be filled with vibrant meals, health, and plenty of laughter.

SPINACH SALAD WITH PEARS, DRIED CHERRIES, & CHERRY VINIAGRETTE

“Instruction is good for a child; but example is worth more.”
Alexandre Dumas

This winter as we headed into the winter holiday season, I was reminded of a quote I read. It went something like, “Don’t put yourself in debt to tell someone how much you love them.” That makes sense. As a writing teacher, I constantly tell my students to, “Show. Don’t tell.” We need to do this in our lives as well.

My husband shows his kids constantly how much he loves them through his labor. This winter, often after a long day at work, he will be found outside putting another layer of ice on their backyard hockey rink. He shows them through countless other ways: from having them gather their own breakfast in the chicken coop, teaching them how to remove a fish from the hook, and giving them the opportunity to splash in a Montana mountain stream in an off-the-grid camping spot.

John found the most amazing off-the grid camping spots last summer in Montana. Even if I did have to close my eyes getting there via curvy mountain roads.

I guarantee the kids will never forget this family vacation.

We LOVED Glacier NP!

While we want to make sure that our kids have modern comforts and are not completely cut off from technology. It is not on the top of our priority list to make sure that they have the latest video game system or cell phones. We want them to appreciate things that are homemade and have old-fashioned values.

The best gift I ever bought for my stepson Lukas was an “art box” full of paper, markers, and creative supplies. He entertained himself, and us, for hours designing eye-popping scenarios involving dinosaurs and military helicopters. Because I am a teacher and his dad is a police officer, he crafted a “21 Jump Street” purse for me. It came complete with a 3-D laptop, handcuffs, grenades, lipstick, and even coupons for my favorite store. Apparently, he still wanted me to look good and save money while I was catching the “robbers” (which is what he used to call anyone who commits a crime). Now that Lukas is nine, he still loves to be artistic. However, now he prefers a sketchbook and he loves to write stories (last year Zombie Snake received rave reviews from his teacher, peers, and family members).

After school, Lukas’ bus drops him off at my building and he loves seeing the projects that my high school students are working on. In October he became obsessed with the fact that my 11th graders were reading Ray Bradbury’s, Fahrenheit 451. I gave him a quick rundown of Bradbury’s plot and he was intrigued by Bradbury’s dystopian view of a society where owning books was illegal and firefighters started fires rather than putting them out. Luke’s eyes grew big when I mentioned the mechanical hound that instead of conducting search and rescue missions was programmed to search and destroy!  Needless to say, Lukas begged to PLEASE let him read the novel. He didn’t relent and for three days didn’t put the book down the whole time discussing the character Montag, how F 451 is the temperature at which paper burns, and marveling in how sixty-five years ago Bradbury imagined a world destroyed by TV/technology where people no longer communicate or think critically. We discussed the Nazi book burnings that fueled Bradbury’s imagination and what Clarisse represented in the novel.

Lukas was captivated by this book.

Some of Lukas’ “take aways” from the book was that he could never go to a school where he could not ask questions, he thought that the main character and his wife should talk more to each other and they would be happier, and he loved stumbling across vocabulary words that he had learned in school. I had to giggle one day, about a month after he read the book, when Lukas stood outside before getting in our vehicle with his mouth opening catching snowflakes on his tongue. For those who have read Fahrenheit 451, he was channeling Clarisse. What an intelligent and remarkable little boy! I am in awe and thankful I get to be his step mom. Lukas reminds me to stop and appreciate the priceless wonders of the world that cannot be purchased in a store.

Ray Bradbury wrote this masterpiece by renting a typewriter in the basement of a library for 10 cents an hour. He was watching the arrival of television and feared it had the potential of wiping out human interaction. He imagined a world where large, looming, interactive video screens occupied the four walls of a house and it was illegal to drive slow or even walk outside. This book gives me goose bumps every time I read it. To me, it is a cautionary tale about using technology in moderation and making sure we do not forget our humanity.

Lukas’ new best friend, a Bearded Dragon named Harper. While we have a cat, many dogs, chickens, and ducks – Harper is special because he is LUKE’S. We hope caring for him teaches him responsibility.

Avalon and Lukas supporting their dad’s role as a K9 Officer – and of course, K9 Nitro.

This holiday season seemed like a great place to focus on the human things that are important. A handmade card, a gift purchased from a local artist, and a meal made and shared with loved ones.

The salad recipe that I am sharing is healthy, festive, and celebrates local wonders with Michigan cherries. Not to mention it is topped with crown jewels – caramelized cashews (which could be artfully packaged to make a delicious homemade gift for guests).

This salad can be plated, arranged on a large platter or in a bowl, or layered in a Mason jar (for a healthy work week).

SPINACH SALAD

Spinach
Sliced Pears (There are several varieties found in stores)
Avocado
Feta cheese (gorgonzola or goat cheese work well with the flavors in the salad)
Dried cherries
Caramelized cashews (recipe to follow)
Cherry Vinaigrette (recipe to follow)

CARAMELIZED CASHEWS
*1 Tablespoon of butter

*1 Tablespoon of brown sugar 
–per 1/2 Cup of cashes–
*Cinnamon
*Nutmeg
*Pinch of Salt

Melt butter and add sugar along with a sprinkle of nutmeg and cinnamon (depending on how many cashews you are using. I usually make a large batch of cashews (4-5 cups) so I add a couple teaspoons of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg). Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the cashews and stir to coat.

Spread the cashews out on a tinfoil lined cookie sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Remove and cool. The nuts are indulgent and delicious and a few go a long way.

CHERRY VINAIGRETTE

*1 cup tart cherry juice (I found the juice in the refrigerated juice section. While tart cherry juice is expensive – it has a lot of healthy benefits. You can find less expensive varieties that combine cherry and pomegranate juices)
*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

May your New Year be full of health, laughter, and a community of family and friends. Make time to read a good book, share in wholesome and nurturing food, and remember that love comes wrapped in presence – no matter the season.

 

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?

 

 

ASIAN INFUSED SALAD WITH CHILI LIME DRESSING

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
— May Sarton

Did someone say spring fever? Yes, I am feeling anxious for summer. Even though I try to be the kind of person who views the glass as half full, believe me when I say that I gave winter the evil eye this year. Yes, I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Yes, I have lived here for most of my forty-six years. Yes, I know that I should savor each moment and wish life to move fast forward. Still, I find myself wistful for long hikes and vases full of fresh-cut flowers from my back yard. I watch the chickens preen in the sunshine and I eagerly anticipate long daylight hours filled with warmth and all of the possibility that we can gather in a few short months.

Since my family is fortunate to have a hoop house, April will be planting season for us and we are investing a lot of sweat equity into our garden this year. For a couple of months now we have been starting seeds in our house. My husband John started broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pumpkin, watermelon, and an assortment of flowers. Last weekend I started tomatoes and cucumbers. Check out the “mini-greenhouses” I used to plant cucumbers and recycle the large clamshell containers that greens come in from the supermarket.

In the fall it was difficult to go back to buying greens for salads and smoothies after being able to grow our own all spring and summer.
However, I found a neat way to recycle the large clamshell packages. They make great mini-greenhouses to start seeds. Fill with soil, plant seeds, water, close the top, and place in a sunny windowsill until your seeds germinate. 🌱🌱

Pumpkin plant windowsill garden.

We have a tiny house but we maximize our space and take advantage of the wonderful sunlight.

This weekend I am picking up squash seeds (zucchini, yellow summer squash, spaghetti squash, and butternut squash) to also start indoors. While we still have several feet of snow on the ground, on sunny days the temperature is reaching the low 70s in the hoop house. I can already taste the green beans, broccoli, and peas and I cannot wait to be able to pick fresh greens daily for salads.

When I make salads as an entrée for work or dinner, I like to bulk them up with ingredients that are going to have staying power. I love to add beans or nuts for protein and whole wheat pasta, other grains, or quinoa. For the salad that I am sharing with you this month, I decided to use rice noodles – because I thought they would work well with the spicy chili lime dressing. I usually have them on hand because my husband and I love them in my hot and sour mushroom soup. Rice noodles come in a variety of textures (for this salad I used a thin noodle) but the thicker strands would work well too. Both the rice noodles and the garlic chili sauce (that I use in the dressing) can be purchased in the Asian section of the supermarket.

This salad can be plated or made in a jar. While I used clementine oranges or “Cuties”, pineapple or whatever fruit or berries that are in season would work great. The sweetness of fruit partners well with the spiciness of the dressing.
I love to create vibrant salads, since we eat with our eyes first, and I think that taking time to artfully arrange food helps deepen our enjoyment and brings eating to a new level. That is why I enjoy making jar salads. Not only do the jars keep the salads fresh for up to a week, but they help make the salads visually appealing and ready to grab-and-go for work or when you are pressed for time at home. I love being able to prep my salads once for a healthy meal all week-long.

Normally, when I make dressing, I use my Vitamix blender. However, for this dressing, I wanted a chunkier consistency so I added all the ingredients into a pint-sized mason jar, put the lid on and gave it a good shake.

CHILI LIME DRESSING

  • 1 cup of rice vinegar
  • 1 lime (juice and zest. If you are using bottled lime juice, one lime renders approximately 1/4 cup)
  • 1 clove of minced garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons of sesame oil (sesame oil has a very distinct taste and I love to use it to stir fry vegetables as well)
  • 2 Tablespoons of tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic chili sauce (Warning — chili sauce is SPICY so you may want to add a little at a time. I like heat so I even added more after mixing)
  • 1 Tablespoon of finely chopped onion (I used red onion but green onions would be great for this dressing)
  • 1 Tablespoon of finely chopped fresh ginger root (ginger has a very strong taste and if you are not used to it, I suggest adding a little at a time)
  • Fresh cilantro, finely chopped (1 used 1/4 cup. If you do not like cilantro, parsley would work well)

In the summer I also add a sprig of fresh mint and freshly chopped chives to the dressing.

 

I added 4 Tablespoons of dressing to the bottom of each jar and layered the following ingredients:

Orange bell pepper (chopped)
1 cup of snow peas
Edamame (I make sure to buy organic and purchase in the freezer section and thaw and use in the salads)
Rice noodles (cooked and cooled)
Sunflower seeds
Clementines
Cabbage (chopped)

I made four salads using quart Mason jars. You can decide how much of each ingredient to add. I used ¼ cup each of sunflower seeds, noodles, and edamame. I divided up one small bell pepper, used one clementine per jar, and filled the rest with crunchy cabbage (packing it well to ensure the salad had enough cabbage). Red cabbage works well with this salad as do carrots, tomatoes, broccoli – and if you eat meat you can add chicken or shrimp.

As sure as the geese will return to Upper Michigan skies, this salad will make a great addition to your spring and summer menu. It would be a great dish to bring to a picnic (imagine making small individual salads for everyone in pint jars). The dressing is versatile and while it perks up cabbage or greens in your salad, it is equally delicious drizzled over steamed or roasted vegetables.

If you have spring fever like I do, I hope you find a way to satisfy your yearning for warming days. Now is the perfect time to start some seeds indoors for your own vegetable garden. If you have limited space think about growing tomatoes and fresh herbs in containers. You will thank yourself in a few months when you are making salads from your own fresh produce. Trust me, food always tastes better when it is grown and prepared with a labor of love.

Watermelon sprouts.


 

Top Ten Recipes of All Time (Five Year Blogiversary)

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Soren Kierkegaard

It was a short, three days, back to work after a relaxing winter holiday. Today is day #6 of the January Productivity Challenge and I am staying true to my goals. Our house is slowly getting reorganized and I am dedicated to a weekly blog post. I have missed writing and reaching out and making connections with others over healthy living. It feels good to fulfill my promise to myself (even though this is only the first week). Trust me, I savor every comment left here – and on Facebook and Instagram. It is rewarding to learn that others enjoy my recipes, my photographs, and my musings. I too find the support that receive in return is priceless. To my faithful readers, thank you for being part of my journey for the past five years. To those new to my blog, welcome – I hope you enjoying browsing my posts and find something that is helpful to you. ❤

I shared my intentions for 2018 with my students this week and I had them too create their own SMART goals. I suggested that they start by making a goal for the month of January and that in February we would access and plan accordingly. They were able to create a personal, family, academic, extra-curricular, or “Act of Kindness” goal. I modeled many examples of goals with them and we discussed how setting small, realistic, and measurable goals can help us achieve success and how, ultimately, this taste of success can snowball into larger accomplishments throughout the course of lives.

We discussed how even a simple health goal (like sleeping for 8 hours a night) can help us become better humans. It can lead us to be better academically and can help us have stronger relationships and interactions with others. We talked about how everything is connected and that we become better stewards of our lives when we are taking care of ourselves and planning ahead.

In my own goal setting I spent some time thinking about what I wanted to happen with my weekly blog posts. While I love creating recipes, a new recipe a week does not fit with my lifestyle right now. I am am a busy teacher, wife, and step mother. However, I am determined to share more. More photos, more musings, more aspects of my daily life, and (as a friend requested) maybe poetry and some of my creative writing.

For this blog post I decided to do some research and analyze my site statistics. Today I am going to share with you the top ten recipes from Produce with Amy in the past five years. With the exception of one green smoothie recipe, the most popular posts have been salads. It was not surprising, because I get more questions and feedback on Mason jar salads than any other recipes. I pride myself in taking the “boring” out of salads. Even my husband John has turned into a “salad person” and frequently asks for a salad with dinner, for a snack, or in a jar for work.

Here they are, starting with the most popular first (LINK TO POST UNDER PHOTO):

#1 Glowing Green Mason Jar Salads with Avocado Vinaigrette Dressing

 

The end of the school year is racing at me. I find that prepping my lunches and dinners makes healthy eating a snap. If you find yourself in a pinch at mealtime you cannot go wrong with salads in a jar.

#2 Mason Jar Salads: Fresh, Visually Appealing, and Versatile (Classic Salad Bar in a Jar & Waldorf Inspired Slaw)

#3 Paradise in a Jar Salad with Blueberry Lemon Dressing

#4 Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

#5 Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads with Greek Vinaigrette

Sweet and Savory ingredients make these Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salads with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing a seasonal hit!

#6 Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salad with Pumpkin Vinaigrette
#7 Israeli Feast ~ Mason Jar Salad (with Tabouli, Hummus, and Olives)

#8 Garden Fiesta Mason Jar Salad

Summer on a plate!

#9 Watermelon and Cucumber Splash Green Smoothie (With or Without the Greens)

#10 Confetti Salad in a Jar with Creamy Chipotle Dressing

If you have questions about any of my recipes, please do not hesitate to ask. I love hearing from others that are also on the quest for a healthier lifestyle.

Thank you for helping me celebrate Produce with Amy’s five year milestone.  I am hopeful that 2018 will be full of inspiration that will inspire a plethora of new recipes and posts. Happy New Year and may yours be full of creative and healthy productivity! ❤