Not Your Grandmother’s Egg Salad

I am not sure exactly how it happens. It may come in the form of a manual, a hardcover book – or in modern times – the password to a secret website. However, I am fairly certain that when one becomes a grandma, somehow you receive underground information on the art of sandwich making. In my personal experience the grandmas of the world seem to know exactly how to satisfy even the pickiest grandchild’s appetite.

Trust me, I will never forget the day when my step-children Avalon and Lukas both took a sip of their “pink milk” (Strawberry flavored milk) and declared that it tasted just like Granny Barb’s. Talk about feeling jubilant!

I still remember my mom’s frustration when she could not get my brother Jamie’s sandwich quite right.

There was a bit of tension in her voice as she picked up the phone to call my paternal grandmother Edna Armstrong, “Okay, now what brand of bread do you use? And the peanut butter? Do you spread it on both pieces? ”

“What brand of margarine?” (Don’t judge – it was the 70s).

“Do you put it on before or after the peanut butter? How thick? So there is no jelly or jam on the sandwich? Cut at a slant or lengthwise?”

While my mom may not have “mastered” the perfect peanut butter sandwich at this point in her life, she knew that cutting the sandwich wrong could be detrimental to the entire process.

After she put the phone down on the receiver we both turned to Jamie and studied him intently. He was all of six years old, complete with big blue eyes, rosy cheeks, freckles, and a fringe of sandy brown bangs. He took one bite. Put the sandwich down and shook his head.

“No. It still doesn’t taste like Grandma’s!”

My maternal grandma Hilda Puskala, after rearing seven children, had a large brood of grandchildren. One of my sandwich memories of Grandma’s kitchen was her and my mom making Pickle and Bologna. She would haul out the metal grinder and clamp it to the kitchen table. I can still hear the squeak of the handle as they processed the ring bologna and dill pickles. For the perfect sandwich spread she would mix in mayonnaise (or was it Miracle Whip?).

While Grandma and Mom would mix up pounds of Pickle and Bologna in a large McCoy mixing bowl with pink and blue stripes, my Aunt Christina and I would fight them for space at the table with her Fuzzy Pumper Play-Doh Barber Shop. Anyone who grew up in the 70s knew that the meat grinder and the Play-Doh barber shop were soul mates.

I wasn’t sure if Pickle and Bologna was an Upper Peninsula thing, but my husband John (who hails from Muskegon) said he remembers his grandmother making it too. After a quick Internet search, I found recipes for this sandwich spread (most from the Midwest) that are probably inspired from someone’s frugal grandma.

To be honest, I cannot imagine eating Pickle and Bologna today, but I remember eating it as a child. While I probably enjoyed my mom’s, I guarantee it was not as good as when she made it with Grandma.

So in the spirit of Grandmas everywhere, I am introducing a new sandwich spread to the mix. After all, one day – way into the future I may add — I may be a step-grandma. Therefore, I need to work on my sandwich game (just in case no one delivers me that precious manual).

This is “healthed up” version of a traditional egg salad. I do put in a lot of crunchy additions, so you can make edits based on your personal preference. To cut down on fat and add an extra boost of protein, I substitute cottage cheese for salad dressing or mayonnaise.

I will also add that while I do tend to take an old-fashioned approach to cooking and do not invest in a lot of fancy gadgets, purchasing a pressure cooker (such as the popular Instapot) has been a game changer for hardboiled eggs. Since our eggs are so fresh, I didn’t even bother hardboiling them before because they were impossible to peel. Now I put them in my pressure cooker and use the 6/6/6 method. I cook at high pressure for six minutes, let sit in the pot for six minutes, and immerse in an ice bath for six minutes and the shells pop right off like magic. However, I have found that the number of minutes that I cook them for depends on how many eggs I am cooking, so you may want to experiment. Since I have an 8 quart cooker, I can hard-boil 3 dozen or so eggs at a time.

NOT YOUR GRANDMA’S EGG SALAD

  • 6 large whole hard-boiled eggs (since our eggs are farm fresh from our happy hens, I often have to vary the amount due to differing size)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1/8 cup chopped onion
  • 1/8 cup chopped bell pepper
  • 1 cup 1% low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1+ Tbsp apple cider vinegar (I add several Tbsp for tanginess)
  • 1+ tsp yellow mustard
  • 1 tsp dried dill weed or fresh to taste (fresh is even better)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • *Optional – sugar (if you are used to a sweeter tasting salad dressing)

I think it’s crucial to the taste of the egg salad to let it sit overnight to marry the flavors. It may get a bit runny, but you just have to stir and it will be perfect.

This egg salad may not be as creamy as you are used to, so you can add a touch of mayo or even a small amount of plain Greek yogurt.

Another great addition for healthy fat and flavor is a mashed avocado.

While the egg salad that I remember from childhood was always on white bread, I like to further break tradition and serve as a dip for crackers or celery, and make an open faced sandwich on rye or dark bread with lettuce and tomato. You can also make a tortilla wrap — or if you are watching your starchy carbs — serve on a bed of lettuce or use it to stuff a tomato.

While my egg salad may not be the version that my grandmother’s made, that is okay. Because as corny as it is, we all know that the secret ingredient that made their food delicious was love. ❤

As I create recipes, I try to enhance flavors with ingredients that reflect this unconditional love. We must nourish our bodies with food that is kind to us and that helps us reach our health goals and our potential.

It is an understatement to say that it has been a long winter. I wish you beautiful days full of the luxury of sunshine, songbirds, and green. In the coming weeks, take advantage of milder weather and plan a picnic. While you are at it, whip up some egg salad sandwiches. What a perfect way to celebrate spring and the Grandma Edna and Hildas in our lives!

Grandma Hilda Puskala with myself, my mom Karen Armstrong, and my niece Kristine circa 1996. How perfect that we are wearing our “Easter bonnets”. We were attending a gorgeous shower that my Aunt Christina planned for me.

Grandma Edna. She displays her spunky nature with her creative bonnet. 🙂

 

My brother Jamie and I in 1976.

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CHICKEN SOUP WITH LEMON, DILL, AND CANNELLINI BEANS

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

We had an ice storm in early February and it turned our apple orchard in a series of crystal chandeliers.

Even though I grew up in the Upper Peninsula, I always was a fair weather Yooper. While I loved to spend every waking hour outside in the summer, in the winter I could often be found hunkered down with a good book and a hot beverage. That all seemed to change when I met my husband John who is an avid outdoorsman. His simple belief is that you can withstand any weather if you have the correct clothing. Needless to say, over the past four years I have acquired quite the collection of boots and attire for all seasons. I have the right gear to pan for gold in an Alaskan glacial stream, the proper boots to hike the mountains in Montana, and even the outerwear to withstand all the frosty weather that Marquette County can dish out.

Yet, I must admit that I still found myself dealing with winter outdoor adventures with a heaping dose of dread. So this year when I told my husband that I was finally serious about snowshoeing, he called my bluff and hauled me to a local sports store and bought me an early Christmas present – boots that were made for snowshoeing. Since we already had the snowshoes and twenty-seven acres of snow-laden property, I had zero excuses. John joined me in blazing the first trail and I have been crushing my goal of snowshoeing at least five times a week one snowy step at a time. An added bonus is that to date I have lost 13 pounds and have toned up my legs and core.

I cannot believe I didn’t start snowshoeing sooner! If you have never been snowshoeing before, give it a try. I find it both relaxing and exhilarating and it gives me time to reflect and ponder. My favorite way to round out my excursion is a pot of soup simmering on the stove followed by a hot sauna before bed.

John and our pup Apollo helped me blaze the first trail on our homestead in December. We have received several FEET of snow since this photo was taken.

The trail that I melt all of my stress away on.

Our Golden Retriever Gracie loves to frolic in snow! Look at that smile.

The recipe that I am going to share with you today is a refreshing twist on a traditional chicken soup. It combines the accompaniment of tangy lemon and dill and, instead of rice or noodles, gives an extra boost of protein with cannellini beans (white kidney beans). If you are a vegetarian, you can easily make this soup vegetarian friendly use a quality vegetable stock and replace the chicken with extra beans.

As with any flavorful soup, I think that the most important ingredient is a superior stock or broth. When you start with a good broth you reduce the cooking time of your soup because the flavor has already been developed. In recent years I have read a lot of information on the health benefits of bone broth. While I was a vegetarian for over eleven years, after being diagnosed with Hashimotos Disease (thyroid disease), I slowly started reintroducing meat (chicken and pork) that my husband and I raise ourselves – as well as small amounts of locally raised beef.

Whenever I roast a chicken I make sure to utilize 100% of the animal and always make broth (I can or freeze what is not going to be consumed within a day). Chicken broth is simple to make and my go-to method is to use my pressure cooker.

LEMON CHICKEN SOUP WITH DILL & CANNELLINI BEANS

  • 8 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 medium chopped onion (1/2 cup)
  • 3 ribs of chopped celery
  • ¼ cup of chopped carrots
  • 2 Tablespoons of minced garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 cups of chopped roasted chicken
  • 1 can cannellini beans
  • 3-4 lemons (juice and zest)
  • ¼ cup of chopped fresh dill
  • ¼ cup of chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • *Optional – flour and butter or cornstarch for a thickening agent

Sauté the onion, celery, garlic, and carrots in olive oil until soft (approximately 5 minutes). Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add chicken meat, beans, and reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the lemon juice, zest, dill, parsley, salt, pepper, and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

If you want to thicken the soup you can use flour and butter. I combine three Tablespoons of flour with two Tablespoons of butter in a pan on low heat. When it forms a paste-like texture I add a ½ cup of hot broth and whisk until smooth (you can add more stock until there aren’t any chunks of flour) and then add the mixture to your soup and stir in well (you can simmer for a few minutes). You can add more the mixture if you want the broth to be thicker, but I prefer this soup to be thinner.

Another healthier option to thicken this soup is to puree the beans and incorporate into the soup. This is a good way to “hide” beans from small children who won’t eat them. I have found that this a healthy alternative for cream-based soups as well. You get the same creamy consistency without having to use heavy cream.

Not only do I hope you try this soup, but if you are craving winter adventure, I hope you log a few miles on a pair of snowshoes soon. If you are not athletically inclined (as I am not), snowshoeing is not a difficult activity and it is said to burn twice the calories as walking. I find that I do not have to over-dress, but rather dress in layers. I usually wear a pair of thicker leggings with knee high socks to protect my calves from any deep snow that finds its way into my boots. I layer a t-shirt with a sweatshirt, a lighter winter shell jacket, a scarf, a knit headband to protect my ears, and a flexible pair of gloves. I also apply a generous layer of moisturizer on my face and balm on my lips. When I snowshoe at night I wear a headlamp to light my way (though sometimes I just let the stars guide me). I recommend bringing a camera to capture nature’s beauty, a bottle of water, and follow the invigorating activity with a hot shower or a sauna.

I promise that you will find yourself craving the outdoors. In fact, I am heading outside now. Our 90+ pound, 10 month old, German Shepherd Apollo enjoys the exercise as much as I do. Nature calls – make sure that you answer – and don’t forget to warm up with a hot bowl of healthy soup!

Hurry up, Mama!

My beautiful snowshoe trail.

Apollo my personal trainer

 

GREEK FRITTATA – CASUAL, YET ELEGANT, ONE PAN BRUNCH

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
― Confucius

As we slide into June, I cannot help thinking of growth. As a high school teacher I reflect on the strides my students have made in their growth mindset, and as a parent I cannot believe how much my own kids have learned and changed over the year. June is a time of development. The landscape becomes blissfully green and I love watching the flowers on homestead open and omit an energy of possibility and wonder.

Bleeding Hearts

It is fair to say that I am enamored with flowers. However, my husband John and I have struck a deal. He is not allowed to buy me bouquets of flowers as a gift during the year. While that may sound like a strange request from a woman who has an affinity for flowers, I make up for it in the spring and summer. It is during this time that we purchase bulbs, bushes, plants, and trees to add to our property. I am not sure if John believes it to be a gift or a curse (since he has to be more creative in his gift giving – though my birthday and our anniversary both fall in June), but I think he would agree it is pure joy to watch the transformation in our backyard each year.

Our bees love the lupine

 

In addition to finding joy in the simplicity of learning lessons from nature, we love to grow our own food. Since late April we have been harvesting greens from our hoop house for salads and smoothies. In fact, one of my favorite phrases is, “Would you like me to go gather fresh spinach for breakfast/lunch/dinner?”

In June I love the luxury of being able to make time for breakfast. On weekends we make quite an event of breaking our fast and are known to have a hearty feast in the morning. We find that a meal with staying power is important to fuel all of our farm projects. Then a light afternoon snack carries us to an early dinner.

Since we have our own hens, I have become quite creative with egg dishes. This frittata that I am sharing with you makes a fine breakfast, brunch, or lunch. Add a lovely green salad, a loaf of crusty bread, and it can even make its way onto the dinner table. Part of the beauty of it is that it can be prepared in one pan and is full of vegetables. Since the ingredients are ones that we always have in the house, it is a staple in our household.


GREEK FRITTATA FOR TWO

*5 eggs
*1/4 cup of cream or milk
*2 Medium Yukon Gold Potatoes (I like to use Yukon Gold because they are mild tasting and have softer flesh so they do not take long to cook)
*1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
*1/4 cup chopped onion
*1-2 cloves chopped garlic
*2 Tablespoons lemon juice
*3 Tablespoons olive oil
*1 teaspoon oregano
*¼ cup grape or cherry tomatoes cut in ½ (could use sundried tomatoes)
*¼ cup kalamata olives
*¼ cup feta cheese
*½ cup of spinach
*Salt and pepper to taste

Scrub the potatoes well (I leave the peelings on) and cut into small cubes. Place in a glass bowl and microwave for a few minutes to speed up the cooking time. Using an oven safe pan (a well seasoned cast iron pan works great) add the potatoes, 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, garlic, onion, and mushrooms. Sautee over medium heat for 3-5 minutes (add the lemon juice, oregano, and a pinch of salt and pepper in the last minute of sautéing). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the eggs with the milk or cream and add another pinch of salt and pepper. Add the other 2 Tablespoons of oil to pan with potatoes and make sure the bottom is coated (so the frittata does not stick). Pour over the eggs. While cooking on low heat for a couple of minutes (to cook the bottom of the frittata) add the spinach, kalamata olives, tomatoes, and feta.

Put the pan in the stove and bake for 7-10 minutes. If the eggs are still runny on the top you can finish in the broiler (You can add parmesan shavings before broiling to add a golden brown color).

Remove from the oven and allow to set for a few minutes. Serve with bacon, sausage, toast or an English muffin. Fresh summer berries and Greek yogurt makes a great side to this dish.

This frittata is versatile and is also wonderful with fresh asparagus, peppery arugala, goat cheese, snips of chive from the garden, and even grated or thin slices of zucchini.

I hope that June finds you healthy, happy, and ready to tackle summer with zeal. Our family has plenty of exciting plans to help us grow as a family and individuals – including youth theatre, hockey camp(s), a home addition, and epic camping trip across the county. While you are enjoying your summer, make sure you check out my recipes on the tabs at the top of the page for plenty of healthy recipes to help fuel your activities!

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! ❤

Unconditional: A Father’s Love

“The heart of a father is the masterpiece of nature.” 
― Antoine François Prévost d’Exiles  

John and Lukas at the Lakeview Arena in Marquette, Michigan.

I call this series of photos from Christmas day 2017, “Unconditional Love.”

We have had subzero temperatures in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but that has not stopped my husband John from building an ice rink in our backyard for Lukas. While Lukas has ice time twice a week at the Lakeview Arena in Marquette, Michigan – what little boy doesn’t dream of having his own backyard rink?

The ice rink is on the side of the apple orchard. Next year we will find a more permanent location. We have plenty of room on our farm.


I watched him, like countless time before, from the warmth of our home. He didn’t know I was watching. The light this early evening was brilliant and the air was crystal cold. Most people would be inside, but not him. The chickens needed water and the ice rink needed another layer from the garden hose. 

A labor of love. Love of his children, nature, and animals. An artist, not taming the wildness of Michigan, but helping to transform it into something even more beautiful.

Our life is not perfect. We have moments – we have trials and tribulations. Sometimes our present is dictated by past mistakes we have made. Yet, the future is ours to weave out of the wilderness of our hearts. Fresh open spaces. Raw and real.

It is moments like this that I try to capture. When I tell the kids to come to the window and watch with me. Moments like this that I pray that Avalon and Lukas remember. The things that their dad does out of unconditional love in even bitter conditions. His hope that their life is rich – and honest – and simple – and full of wild, beauty.

A life carved out of ice, sunshine, rocks, green spaces, branches, wagging tails, flocks of birds, and love. 

Sometimes we make mistakes and have to say “I’m Sorry.” Sometimes we have to push past the pain and try again.

Unconditionally. We are proud to call this resourceful, Renaissance man ours. Thank you for the legacy you are crafting.

You can see his breath in this photo. Cold!

Our German Shepherd Meesha is John’s loyal helper.

There’s always time for a game of fetch.

John’s Christmas present from Avalon, Lukas, and I. He loves it!

I ordered the watch from Eli Adams Jewelers. It’s gorgeous and their customer service was excellent.

Lukas ❤

 

Ollie has been keeping close to the house, but he loves to roll around in the snow. He’s an old dude, but is the most loyal buddy!

Remi watching the kids tear into their Christmas gifts.

John modeling his hockey gear with Dad.

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

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

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

Lucky, Dante, and Beatrice

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

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

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

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

John and Avalon picking peas.

Lukas and John picking cabbage for sauerkraut.

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

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

Ingredients for salad:

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

Ingredients for dressing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John bought me a pressure canner to preserve our harvest.

Green beans!

Our shelves are filling up fast.

Shakespeare and Harriet.

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

Refrigerator Oats: What Does Summer Taste Like?

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

WHAT DOES SUMMER TASTE LIKE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BASIC OVERNIGHT OATS

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

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

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

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

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

Some of our favorite flavor combinations are:

RED WHITE & BLUE
*Strawberries
*Blueberries
*Caramelized pecans

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

ISLAND OATMEAL
*Mango
*Pineapple
*Coconut
*Macadamia nuts

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

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

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

Other ingredient options:

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

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

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


 

Our Story

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

 

Shakespeare our rooster and one of his girls.

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

Our apple trees were loaded with blossoms this spring.

It is going to be a great year for apples!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our new hoop house is our pride and joy!

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

Happy kids enjoying the pool!

Our apple orchard. Home Sweet Home. ❤

 

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

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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There Is No Better Time Than Now

Finally the sign of spring that I was looking for in our yard. The bulbs that I planted in the fall are starting to awaken.

Finally the sign of spring that I was looking for in our yard. The bulbs that I planted in the fall are starting to awaken.

“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them…”
― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek 

In June I will be forty-five years old. I have never been one to feel hemmed in by numbers, but I confess that in the past couple of years — I feel my age. While in my 20s and 30s I had boundless energy, now I notice the difference if I am not getting enough sleep. I can put weight on much easier (and take it off much slower) and I need glasses for the first time. Last week I joked on Facebook that it was a sign of aging when a hot date with your husband meant getting your eyes checked. I was not laughing when I got fit for bifocals. Though the doctor said that I would be fine with just reading glasses, I decided to get bifocals to also correct a slight distance vision issue (for night driving). My husband John and I tried to take the sting out of our bifocals by declaring how fortunate we both were to carry insurance from our employers (something I did not have in my early 20s. That’s a benefit of aging, right?). I made John pick out my glasses because it felt strange to wear them and I could not look at myself without being too critical. Maybe I will share a photo when my glasses come in if I can mange to get used to them.

In addition to ordering glasses, I have been doing well with the April goals that I set for myself in my last post, Setting Healthy Goals. While I have been lacking in water a bit, I have been moving more, watching my starchy carbs, and have been incorporating salads and more vegetables with every meal. I have found that bread is something that I cannot go without out so last week I bought one of my old mainstays, Food for Life Ezekiel bread. I love the bread with a smear of avocado, hummus, or natural peanut butter, and I enjoy it when it is made into toasted garlic bread.

While I am acutely aware that I will be forty-five in June, one number that I do not have the slightest inkling about is my weight. After I stepped down from leading Weight Watchers meetings, so I could spend more time with my family, I decided that I would not allow myself to be a slave to the scale. In fact, it has been close to a year since I have monitored my weight on one. While it has been unbelievably liberating, this winter I have managed to put on (in my best guess from the way my clothes are fitting) around fifteen pounds. Last Saturday I was horrified to find out that the summer capris that I bought last year do not fit. 😦 Sadly, it was exactly what I needed to get my rear-in-gear.

Speaking of last Saturday, it is amazing the difference a week can make. While the week before we were getting hit with record setting amounts of snow in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan – last weekend we were greeted with gorgeous 70ish degree weather. It was the perfect time to head out to enjoy a nature hike and get oxygen into our lungs. John took us to Autrain Falls (for local folks it is a lovely spot on M94 between Chatham and Munising) and I was able to capture the beauty with my new camera.

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In addition to some local sightseeing, we also were able to get some work done at home. My step-son Lukas is learning to drive our tractor and he helped John pull rocks from our property to decorate and protect my flower beds. Luke (with help from John) also took an impromptu dip in the creek on our back property. 😉

I love my new camera.

I love my new camera.

John, Lukas, and Avalon. You have to love spring hikes in the U.P. Shorts and Bog Boots! ;)

John, Lukas, and Avalon. You have to love spring hikes in the U.P. Shorts and Bog Boots! 😉

Lukas learning to drive the tractor.

Lukas learning to drive the tractor.

Since the snow is nearly gone I have been taking advantage of the network of trails on our property and have been taking long, spirited walks around our pasture. Incidentally, I tried a pair of my capri pants this morning and I was wildly surprised that they fit much better than they did last weekend.

While I was not going to set a reward for accomplishing my April goals, I decided that I would reward my efforts and help increase my motivation by purchasing a Fitbit activity monitor this week. I will make sure to post my step goals and if there is any interest, maybe I will start a challenge on my Facebook page.

I am pleased that my husband has joined my quest to eat more vegetables and fresh produce. We both have been feeling like we are in a food rut and nothing sounds appetizing. As I said earlier I am trying to cut down on starchy carbs and this does present a bit of a challenge (we love pizza and pasta). John has been very receptive to large dinner salads and I thought that I would share one that he has asked for several times in the last few weeks (trust me, getting this man to ask for a salad is a victory).

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Ingredients: romaine lettuce, spinach, strawberries with caramelized pecans, avocado with chopped cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice, cucumber and feta cheese, Gorgonzola cheese, Newman’s Own garlic balsamic vinegar dressing (though it would be great with one of my dressing recipes), steak with Penzey’s Arizona spices, Parmesan cheese, and sautéed onions and mushrooms (added right before serving). While I try to stick to vegetarian and plant-based meals,  I did have a piece of wild salmon on my salad (as I have done in the past year on occasion). This salad is more proof that salads do not have to be boring and that they are filling when you load them up with fiber rich produce and protein. What is your favorite salad combination?
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In the coming days I will not beat myself up about putting on winter weight, but I am determined to do something about it. As I learned after joining Weight Watchers in 2007 (and losing 50 pounds) that making small changes in our lifestyle can transform our bodies and lead to lasting results. I am worth the effort – and you are too! Please join me in welcoming spring and putting our health first. Forty-five years old in June? No problem! I am ready to take on the challenge with style, finesse, and energy. Age is just a number and I have always been a late bloomer. ❤

A mini falls at Autrain Falls.

A mini falls at Autrain Falls.

Luke and Avalon loved splashing around.

Luke and Avalon loved splashing around.

I took off my Bog Boots and enjoyed the icy water.

I took off my Bog Boots and enjoyed the icy water.

A little "dip" in the creek on our property.

A little “dip” in the creek on our property.

The dogs loved taking a dip too. I love this photo of Ollie. He looks like a lion but he is as gentle as a lamb.

The dogs loved taking a dip too. I love this photo of Ollie. He looks like a lion but he is as gentle as a lamb.

John started cutting and peeling logs for our home addition and covered deck.

John started cutting and peeling logs for our home addition and covered deck.

Our ducks and new chicks are getting big.

Our ducks and new chicks are getting big.

Shakespeare II greets spring with a spirited Cock-a-doodle-do!

Shakespeare II greets spring with a spirited Cock-a-doodle-do!