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!

Avalon’s Farm Fresh Crepes with Hazelnut Filling, Caramelized Pecans, and Berry Yogurt Sauce

Crepes with Chocolate Hazelnut Filling, Caramelized Pecans, and Berry Yogurt Sauce by Produce with Amy“Eating habits are learned behaviors; they’re not intuitive. So what your children learn to eat at home early in life sticks with them well into adulthood.”
-Ann Cooper and Lisa M. Holmes
The trees in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have taken on an ethereal glow and the school year has kicked into gear. It was Homecoming last week, at the district in which I teach, and my step kids Avalon and Lukas dressed up each day for Spirit Week. They were excited that their Grandpa Waldo came to visit and we went to the football game. Since I am the co-adviser for the junior class, John and I chaperoned the Homecoming dance. While I thoroughly enjoyed my summer holiday, it feels great to be back to my work routine. I have an incredible group of 9th and 8th grade students this year and I am also working on an Education Specialist degree at Northern Michigan University (the program is a precursor to a Doctorate in Education – EdD). I am fortunate that my life is rich with opportunities and my heart is full of love and thankfulness.

The most precious gold

Some people drive miles to take a color tour and we just have to venture into the many acres that make  up our backyard.

I took Avalon and Lukas to Target for new shirts for Homecoming. The theme for the day was "Represent Your Favorite Sport" and they decided to support the Detroit Lions.

I took Avalon and Lukas to Target for new shirts for Homecoming. The theme for the day was “Represent Your Favorite Sport” and they decided to support the Detroit Lions.

The kids have made a remarkable transition to a new school. They both adore their teachers, are thriving with an early bedtime (8-8:30), have made new friends, and are progressing well in their studies. Avalon was excited about having her first locker – and I confess that I may have gone a little overboard on buying her locker swag – but it was worth it to see how excited she was. I know that my mom would have done this for me when I was a little girl too – if they would have had cool locker accessories back then. 😉

I think Avalon squealed all the way home after I bought her locker decorations!

I think Avalon squealed all the way home after I bought her locker decorations!

Check out the size of Avalon's locker!

Check out the size of Avalon’s locker!

We love to make apple crisp for brunch with apples from our orchard.

We love to make apple crisp for brunch with apples from our orchard.

John and I work hard to create structure and we focus on quality family time. We try to prepare homemade meals (with many ingredients that we raise ourselves on our hobby farm) and we eat around the table as a family. This time is precious in the stories and laughs we share and in the values and manners we are trying to instill in Avalon and Lukas. Avalon often goes grocery shopping with me and enjoys the time we share in the kitchen. As a parent I feel it is my responsibility to teach her how to take care of herself, inside and out, and as Lukas gets older I hope he takes interest in learning his way around the kitchen as well.

John and I have made several batches of homemade apple sauce this fall. We had an abundance of apples this year.

John and I have made several batches of homemade apple sauce this fall. We had an abundance of apples this year.

After attending the elementary school Open House, Avalon decided that she wants to earn a perfect attendance award. Therefore, I have been talking to the kids about staying healthy during the cold and flu season. Since we live in Michigan, winters are fierce and I believe in fortifying one’s immune system with whole foods, plenty of fruit and vegetables, and water. I admit that getting my family on board with healthy food has been a bit of a struggle but we have had many conversations about the difference between a snack (small portion of a healthy food) and a treat (sweets/dessert). I think that the key is balance and moderation – both of which I am working on encouraging in the coming months.

Avalon relaxing on our front porch in the beautiful dress that her Granny Barb made for her.

Avalon relaxing on our front porch in the beautiful dress that her Granny Barb made for her.

It was a victory last week when Avalon requested raw veggies for her school snack. Granted, it may have been short lived – and the vegetables may have found their way into my lunch bag – but I believe firmly that baby steps build up to big things.

Lukas and Avalon finally surrendered to the green smoothie and LOVE them.

Lukas and Avalon finally surrendered to the green smoothie and they LOVE them.

The kids were with us all but three weeks this summer and we tried to take full advantage of the beautiful weather by swimming and playing outside. We dined al fresco as much as possible and I tried to make breakfasts special. Since we have free range hens, farm fresh fresh eggs are never in short supply so we often add them to our plates. (We also pay Avalon’s incredible math tutor LeeLa Heinzel with fresh eggs…how lucky we are to have her brilliant help.)

Our sweet old dog, Ollie decided a dip in the pool would be refreshing.

Our sweet old dog, Ollie decided a dip in the pool would be refreshing.

The best of summer: lazy dogs and sheets on the line.

The best of summer: lazy dogs and sheets on the line.

Avalon and I talk about places we would love to travel. While adventures in Italy and Greece are at the top of my list, Avalon often dreams about France. She read a book this spring about a little girl who travels to France and the beautiful, romantic description went straight to her heart. Therefore, I thought that crepes would be the perfect dish for Avalon to create and help her explore her culinary skills – and I was correct. The final product was marvelous and fit for a princess (and prince).

Crepes by Produce with Amy

Avalon wanted to include her pretty tea set into this post. John bought it for her when he was working in Texas for the Air Force. What a precious keepsake for her to cherish.

Here is how we created this marvelous dish:

Our free-range eggs from our sweet little hens.

Our free-range eggs from our sweet little hens.

CREPES:

We used the Basic Crepes Recipe by Martha Stewart. We had 2% milk, so we substituted that for the whole milk and added a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

We processed the batter in our Vitamix blender and made sure to let it rest in the refrigerator (we let ours sit for approximately 1/2 an hour and not the two hours that the recipe suggests).

Nutella is one of Avalon's favorite spreads.

Nutella is one of Avalon’s favorite spreads.

In spite of how thin the crepes are, they are surprisingly easy to handle and we were able to spread them with nutella and roll them up.

Add a couple of teaspoons of the yogurt sauce over the top of the crepes, dollops of whipped cream, and a few caramelized pecans. Serve with sliced fruit on the side.

 

 

 

 

I think that John and the kids can eat their weight in strawberries.

I think that John and the kids can eat their weight in strawberries.

FILLING:
*Nutella hazelnut spread (a teaspoon – or more – per crepe)IMG_3898

TOPPING:
*Fold 1/2 cup fresh sliced strawberries into 1 cup of Honey Vanilla Greek Gods Yogurt (If you eat yogurt you HAVE to try the Greek Gods brands. My family chooses it over ice cream. Lukas and Avalon LOVE the black cherry flavor)
*After adding the yogurt berry sauce garnish with a couple dollops of whipped cream
*Sprinkle on a handful of caramelized pecans 

CARAMELIZED PECANS
*1 Tablespoon of butter

*1 Tablespoon of brown sugar 
–per 1/2 Cup of pecans–
*Cinnamon
*Nutmeg

Melt butter and add sugar along with a sprinkle of nutmeg and cinnamon (depending on how many pecans you are using. I usually make a large batch of pecans (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 pecans and stir to coat.

Spread the pecans 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.

Caramelized pecans are a favorite of Avalon and John. I make huge batches of them and have a difficult time keeping them in the house.

Caramelized pecans are a favorite of Avalon and John. I make huge batches of them and have a difficult time keeping them in the house.

Pin this recipe HERE.

One of the beautiful things about crepes is that they are versatile. They can be a main course or serve as dessert and can be made sweet or savory (it is easy to make both to satisfy different tastes). One morning this summer Avalon and I divided the batter into two portions. We added fresh snipped chives from our garden to one batch and filled with ham and cheese for Lukas. The other batch we added cinnamon and vanilla extract and filled with fruit and drizzled with syrup for her. Lukas tends to be a purist when it comes to food and does not like extravagant flavors or condiments (not even ketchup) and Avalon is a little more experimental with flavors (and I think ketchup is her favorite food). As time progresses I hope that they both continue to try new things and I find that when they help prepare a meal – they are better eaters.

Princess Avalon

Princess Avalon

This recipe is Lukas approved! Look at the smear of Nutella on his face. :D

This recipe is Lukas approved!

I hope that you have access to farm fresh eggs like we do. If you do not raise your own hens, make sure that you support a local farmer. I never thought that I would have chickens, but as my friends and family would tell you, I have grown quite fond of them. They are sweet, gentle, and love to roam all over the farm. They have been feasting on the sweet apples that fall from our orchard and they wildly chase me to the compost pile to see what treats are in store for them.

Our hens love to feast on the fallen apples.

Our hens love to feast on the fallen apples.

Thank you to my friends for following my food journey and for the nuggets of advice and support that you give me. Your congratulations on our marriage and well wishes in my new role of being a mom and owning a hobby farm mean so much. My hope is that future posts will share gardening and canning tips as John and I follow our dream of growing more of our own food. It is exciting to have the opportunity to live in such a gorgeous place with plenty of land to plant, dream, and satisfy my passion for photography. I promise to keep sharing. Make sure you check out my Facebook page and Instagram (links on the upper right side of the page).

What delicious dishes are you preparing in your kitchen? How do you encourage your family to eat healthy? Have you tried any of my recipes? Avalon and I would love to hear from you!

For more kid friendly recipes, check out Avalon’s Kid Friendly Recipes

Our Vitamix really comes in handy.

Crepes are surprisingly simple to make.

Crepes are surprisingly simple to make.

We try to eat outside as much as possible.

We try to eat outside as much as possible.


Tea set

We took to our backyard and picked a bouquet of brown-eyed-Susans.

We took to our backyard and picked a bouquet of brown-eyed-Susans.

We have been working on quite a few projects around the house. My job has been to add some feminine touches to John's masculine cabin. Thankfully he loves the look of bright colors and my Fiestaware collection. He agreed that the cabin needed a feminine touch.

John has been working on quite a few projects around the house. My job has been to add some feminine touches to the cabin since it’s quite masculine. Thankfully, he loves the splash of bright colors that is inspired by my Fiestaware collection. He agreed that the house needed a woman’s touch.

 

Avalon curled her hair for the photo shoot and I told her it looked a little "crazy" but she insisted on wearing it this way. I love that she knows what she likes and has a strong sense of her own style. I think she will grow up to be a determined and creative young woman. I am so proud of her!

Avalon curled her hair for the photo shoot and I told her it looked a little “crazy” but she insisted on wearing it this way. I love that she knows what she likes and has a strong sense of her own style. I think she will grow up to be a determined and creative young woman. I am so proud of her and thankful that I get to be such an important part of her life!

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Rustic Fruit Sauce – Slow Cooked & Sweetener Free

Rustic Slow Cooked Fruit Sauce by Produce with Amy“I believe that food can be a profound means of communication, allowing me to express myself in a way that seems much deeper and more sincere than words.”
~Jenni Ferrari-Adler

Unwinding, relaxing, and resting is how I have spent my past two days. In the midst of a hectic school year, suddenly all activity came to screeching halt. If you have been watching the news, or the weather to be more exact, you know that there has been a massive winter storm pounding northern states. In fact, the town of Negaunee where I live, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, received over three feet of snow. Yes, you read that correctly – THREE feet of snow and I have photos to prove it.

Mike: Baqubah, Iraq - 2003

Mike: Baqubah, Iraq – 2003

My husband, Mike, who is an Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran — spent his Veterans Day removing snow from our yard.

The snow was wet and heavy and I appreciate all of his labor.

Today we woke up to several more inches of snow and he again had to dedicate the afternoon to snow removal. On the news they are reporting that lake effect snow will continue. Thank you, Lake Superior.

Mike - still smiling even though the snow is reaching beyond the snow blower.

Mike – still smiling even though the snow is reaching beyond the snow blower.

Mike carved a path leading to our backyard.

Mike carved a path leading to our backyard.

A couple of weeks ago we decided to leave the bird baths in our yard up since the birds were still frolicking around and using their basins to drink and bathe. Now the same bird baths have been swallowed up by the snow.

Yes the bottom picture is of the same bird baths in the top of the photo.

Yes the bottom picture is of the same bird baths in the top of the photo.

This was our driveway this morning with fresh snow piled up.

This was our driveway this morning with fresh snow piled up.

Today’s snow day gives me the perfect opportunity to share one of the recipes that I have been enjoying for the last couple weeks. When I started Weight Watchers in 2006, I ate a bowl of oatmeal every morning for breakfast. While I know that oatmeal is filling and carries many health benefits, I burnt myself out of oatmeal and for several years have only eaten oatmeal on occasion. As the weather has grown more cool, I decided that I would try to revisit oatmeal for breakfast and I decided that a rustic apple sauce topping would help me look forward to eating oatmeal again. It has done the trick.

Apples & PumpkinThe recipe that I am sharing today is versatile and you can add your favorite fruit – fresh or frozen – or whatever you have on hand. I do not have a strong sweet tooth so this recipe tend to be on the tart side. You could add brown sugar or a drizzle of maple syrup if you prefer it sweeter. It would also make a phenomenal topping for ice cream, or if you are dairy free, a topping for “nice” cream.

This recipe is inspired from a previous post that I have shared: Sweet & Tart Slow Cooker Apples with Cranberries, Pumpkin, and Oatmeal

 

Our cat Pandora is a lovely photo-bomber.

Our cat Pandora is a lovely photo-bomber.

RUSTIC SLOW COOKER FRUIT SAUCE

*2 sliced green apples
*2 sliced red apples
*2 sliced pears
*2 cups of frozen peaches
*1 can of pumpkin
*1 can of water
*1 bag of cranberries
*1 teaspoon of nutmeg
*1 Tablespoon of cinnamon
(you can add more if you like extra cinnamon)

Add all ingredients, except for the pears and peaches, to slow cooker. Set to low for 5 and 1/2 hours. In the last 1/2 hour add the pears and peaches so they retain their shape and are not reduced to sauce. This recipe freezes well.

Printable recipe: RUSTIC SLOW COOKER FRUIT SAUCE by Produce with Amy

Pin recipe HERE.
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Sorry for the blurry photo. I snapped it when it was hot and steaming.

Sorry for the blurry photo. I snapped it when it was hot and steaming.

Rustic Slow Cooker FruitThis fruit sauce is simple to make and I love that it does not require any sweeteners. Not to mention the added benefit of making your house smell incredible. It is the perfect healthy comfort food and does not need to only be consumed for breakfast. At night if you crave something sweet it is the perfect snack on its own. If I have the taste for something a bit sweeter, this sauce is wonderful warmed up and topped with a few raisins or a drizzle of local maple syrup. I imagine it would also be lovely served over pancakes, waffles, or French toast. I might have to whip up a batch of pancakes this weekend for Mike – he did after all earn something special with all his work removing the snow in our yard.

Thank you for stopping by my blog and I encourage you to sign up for email updates and stop by my Facebook page and give it a like. Make sure you check out all my social networking links on the right side of the page. I look forward to sharing more healthy and plant-based recipes with you. Together we can incorporate more fruit and vegetables into our meal plan. Stay warm and safe to my friends in cold climates. For those that life in sunny locations, please send some sunshine our way!

Italian Vegetable Soup

Italian Vegetable Soup by Produce with Amy“Do stuff. be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”
― Susan Sontag

The first month of the new school year depleted my energy. Each evening I found myself returning home exhausted and in a fog. I felt filled up and content, but I had little energy to do anything but rest, eat dinner, and go to sleep.

Last week after arriving home from work I felt guilty sitting on the sofa as sunshine filtered Athenathrough the burnished leaves – autumn was quickly approaching and summer was making one last stand. The weather was warm and I should have been going for a walk.

Midweek I mustered up the energy to go outside and plucked a bouquet of blooms from my garden – late roses and the sunflowers that the birds planted. I placed the flowers in one of my Fiestaware pitchers and marveled at how splendid they looked set up against the setting sun. It was the perfect backdrop to snap a few pictures of a bowl of my latest recipe – a vegetable soup. Our cat Athena let her curiosity get the best of her, which led to a spontaneous photo shoot. Instead of shooing her away, I let the moment bathe me in beauty and I thought to myself how refreshing it felt to pay attention.

This tiny pocket of brilliance in my evening bubbled over into my classroom the next day. I took out a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and read to my creative writing students about how important it is for us to fill the well. I encouraged my young writers to fill their hearts and minds with sounds, scents, and sights. We talked about Cameron’s philosophy of going on an Artist’s Date to nurture our creativity.

I decided to follow my own advice and I took the weekend off. I did not grocery shop, cook, do housework, or grade. Sunday my husband Mike and I traveled a couple of hours north to Ontonagon, Michigan and visited the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and enjoyed the day basking in 80 degree weather. We swooned over the glistening beauty of Lake Superior and were rendered speechless at the sight of the Lake of the Clouds ensconced in waves of scarlet and copper hued leaves.
Lake of the Clouds

Two days into a new week and I feel a bit of my fatigue lifting. I believe it is because I allowed myself to be astonished by my surroundings and I made time to fill the well and nurture my own creativity. I snapped photos, scribbled in my journal, and laughed.

As testament to the lightness that I feel this week, I am able to share my latest recipe for soup. A steaming bowl of soup radiates fall and this combination makes the best of fire roasted tomatoes and the last of summer’s herb garden. Dried herbs will work – but as always – fresh is best.

Italian Vegetable Soup by Produce with AmyITALIAN VEGETABLE SOUPFire roasted tomatoes

*4 cups of vegetable stock
*3 chopped carrots
*3 ribs of chopped celery
*3 cloves of minced garlic
*2 cans fire roasted tomatoes (the cans that I used were 15 ounces each)
*1 can of tomato sauce (14.5 ounces)
*1 chopped green bell pepper
*1 small chopped onion
*1 spiralized zucchini (or chopped if you do not have a spiralizer)
*8 ounces of fresh, sliced mushrooms
*13-14 ounces of cannellini beans
*1/4 cup of chopped fresh basil (2 teaspoons of dried)beans
*1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley (2 teaspoons of fresh)
*2 sprigs of chopped fresh rosemary (1 teaspoon of dried)
*2 sprigs of chopped fresh oregano (1 teaspoon of dried)
*5 strands of fresh chives (1 teaspoon of dried)
*1 Tablespoon of cooking oil (I used coconut oil)
*Salt and pepper to taste
(I also added a few baby pea pods and green beans from my garden)

Saute the garlic, onion, celery, bell pepper, and carrots in the cooking oil until soft (3-5 minutes). Add the mushrooms and cook for an additional four minutes. Add the vegetable broth, fire roasted tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Cook on medium heat until the soup boils. Add the beans and fresh herbs. Turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the spiralized zucchini. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Since I like my spiralized zucchini al dente, I add it after the soup has cooked. If you are used chopped or sliced zucchini you may want to add it when you add the mushrooms.
I like to add the herbs close to the end of the cooking progress to maximize their flavor.

Simmering soupFinished soupItalian Vegetable Soup by Produce with AmyPrintable Recipe: ITALIAN VEGETABLE SOUP by Produce with Amy

Pin it HERE.

Find my other soup recipes HERE.

Thank you for your interest in my blog and please share if you enjoy my posts and recipes. I would love to hear from you. Make sure you follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and stop by my Facebook page and give it a like (all the links can be found on the right hand side of the page).

As we move into winter I promise to continue to share my ideas for healthy comfort food. This week I will be experimenting with a plant-based roasted vegetable stew. Have a wonderful week and I challenge you to pay attention and fill the well of your creativity.

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The Antidote for Seasonal Amnesia ~ Soup

Butternut Squash Soup by Produce with Amy

Winter in Upper Michigan Photo by Mike Laitinen

Winter in Upper Michigan Photo by Mike Laitinen

“Take a little backache
Melt some snow from the year of your birth
Add the lump in your throat
And the fear of the dark

Instead of oil a pinch of chill
But let it be northern
Instead of parsley
Swear loudly into it…

…We’ll dive into the soup
With a grain of salt between our teeth
And won’t come up
Until we learn its song…

…We arouse the sun’s curiosity
By whistling for the soup
To be served…”
~Charles Simic (from “Soup”)

I have had amnesia for the past six months. When traveling, and asked to describe Upper Michigan, I tell people that the summers are so breathtaking that they have the capacity to give residents of the Upper Peninsula amnesia. Mike and I (and our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Phoebe) enjoy four fleeting months of gorgeous weather. (Sometimes longer depending on the temperament of May and October)   We love to pass our time hiking the Iron Ore Heritage Trail in Negaunee, spending time on the Paint River in Crystal Falls with my brother Jamie and my dad Jim, and packing up healthy snacks for picnics and photo shoots along the glittering waters of Lake Superior and other local destinations. Our summers are drenched in beauty and by mid-July we forget how fierce of a punch our winters can wield.

Savoring Summer in the U.P.

Savoring Summer in the U.P.

We have been fortunate in the U.P. and have experienced a very mild winter. That was until the past week. One step outside yesterday and my amnesia came to a screeching halt. Before I even went to bed last night I received an automated call from the school district that I teach in that we would be closed today due to inclement weather. Our local television station was reporting -16 with wind chills of -31 and classes at nearly every school in the U.P. was cancelled. I will not deny that not having to warm up my Jeep and brave the numbing cold was celebrated. The prospect of a day off was a glorious treat and I knew I would spend time in my robe with a hot cup of tea and a purring kitty on my lap before I hit the treadmill.

The plunging thermometer did not let our January Green Smoothie Challenge slip away. Our Day #22 Green Smoothie combination was red leaf lettuce, wheat grass juice powder, parsley, cucumber, avocado, mango, strawberry, chia seeds, lemon juice, and water. Not only are the green smoothies packed with nutrients but Mike and I both notice that they give us a burst of energy to fuel our mornings. It has now become part of my routine to make extra to pack with my lunch and drink on my commute home from work. Last week I picked up some Powdered Wheat Grass JuiceWheat Grass from our local food co-op to add to our smoothies. So far for the new year I am down 2.8 pounds and next week will be starting a 12 Week Challenge with my Weight Watchers members. One of my goals is to invest more time in planning my lunches and trying one new recipe a week. Often I am guilty of buying the ingredients for recipes that I spot in Vegetarian Times or on Pinterest, but rarely do I go through with actually making them. Last year when I made the commitment to follow plant-based eating I fell into a food rut and I am determined to not allow that to happen again.

Last weekend I was submerged in grading semester essay exams but still made time to cook for the week. Since Mike is still eating meat in moderation, I made a vegetable marina that we both could enjoy and meatballs on the side for him to add to his plate. I started Weight Watchers six years ago and ever since have been in the habit of making a pot of soup on Sundays to eat during the week. There is something poetic about the process of making soup. Chopping vegetables has a therapeutic magic to it and the house fills with magnificent aromas. A cup of broth based soup is satisfying and filling and allows Mike and I to eat a smaller amount of our main entrée.

I also love the freedom that cooking soup offers. It is one of those dishes where a recipe is optional and I enjoy flinging whatever vegetables I have on hand into the pot. Though, of course, as a veteran Weight Watchers member, when adding ingredients that are not 0 Points Plus vegetables, I am careful to keep track and run the recipe through eTools.

When I buy organic vegetables I made sure to save the scraps in a bag in the freezer to make my own vegetable stock. This works especially well with onion and garlic skins and cuttings, celery, carrots, parsley and other herbs. A friend also taught me the trick of adding extra water when I cook dried garbanzo beans for hummus. Once the beans are finished cooking you can drain the water and use for soup stock. I cook garbanzo beans in bulk and freeze both the beans and the stock.

Last week I knew that the end of the semester would find me in a time pinch so I tried an alternative route for my weekly soup ritual. The Marquette Food Co-op carries soup mixes in the bulk section and I decided to try the Spicy Southwestern which consists of a medley of beans, corn, peppers, and spices. Since I did not have any stock in the freezer I picked up a carton of that as well and used it along with water. The co-op prefers that owners bring their bags or jars but it had been an impromptu trip. I like to save my bread bags for bulk items and made sure that I tucked some into my shopping totes for next time.
Spicy Southwestern Soup

I think the first "mix" is a typo and should read "water"

I think the first “mix” is a typo and should read “water”

I ladled us each a cup and added diced raw onions and campari tomatoes, fresh cilantro, cubed avocado, a squeeze of lime juice, 1 tsp of olive oil, and Himalayan pink salt. Mike opted to leave off the toppings and he had leftover shredded chicken. The soup was spicy and warm addition to the blowing snow outside.  The next time I make the Spicy Southwestern Soup I think that I will add a jar of my mom’s canned garden tomatoes to the pot. My friend Lisa said that the Curry Lentil mix is very good and I will be trying it next weekend.

Spicy Southwestern Soup

Spicy Southwestern Soup

Today after my smoothie I was in the soup mood but wanted to try something different. I wanted to come up with a single serving recipe that would have all of the convenience of opening up a can of soup but without the sodium and additives.

Spontaneous Soup

I started off by sautéing minced garlic, chopped onions and celery, and chunks of red bell pepper in 2 teaspoon of coconut oil for a couple of minutes (I wanted them to retain their crunch). I turned off the burner and folded in a handful of spinach and transferred to a bowl and added a dash of rice vinegar.

Vegetables Sauteed in Coconut Oil

Vegetables sautéed in Coconut Oil

To the same pot I added one cup of vegetable stock and added rice noodles and brought to a boil. Once the noodles were done (only takes a few minutes) I added the broth and noodles to the vegetables. The soup was finished with a dash of soy sauce and fresh cilantro. Simple and satisfying.

Final Project SoupClose up of finished product

Rice noodles are great  for Stir Fry, curry, Vegan Pad Thai. They have great texture and visual appeal.

Rice noodles are great for Stir Fry, curry, Vegan Pad Thai. They have great texture and visual appeal.


After this morning I am imagining all sorts of single serving soup combinations.  I think that the onion, garlic, and celery gave the soup a lot of body and a rich stock is also essential for flavor. Instead of spinach one could add kale or other greens or cabbage.
How about tomatoes with fennel, and lemon juice? Or ginger with lemon grass and carrots? Basil and tomatoes would make a terrific combination and if you are so inclined you could even add meat or shrimp. Though, of course, I would recommend a 100% plant-based version.

Since the weather is blustery and I am in the soup mood I thought that I would also share my healthy version of Butternut Squash Soup. I made a couple batches this fall and found it hearty and it froze well for future meals. A friend tried the recipe and said it was so creamy she was shocked that the recipe did not contain cream.

I  used two fairly large butternut squash for this recipe and it rendered 18 cups.

  1.  Pierce Butternut Squash and place in a baking dish (add a couple of cups of water to bottom of the dish)
  2.  Roast squash for 30-45 minutes at 400-450 degrees.
  3.  Peel squash and remove seeds. The two squash that I roasted rendered 4 pounds of squash.
  4. Saute 1 cup of onion 2 Tablespoons of garlic, 2 cups of celery, 1 Tablespoon of fresh ginger, 3 Granny Smith Apples (I kept the peels on).
  5. Add five cups of water and the four pounds of squash and simmer for 30 minutes.  The water could be swapped out for vegetable stock.
  6. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste..
  7. Puree in blender
  8. *Optional. Sage (When I made in the fall I added a large bunch of sage from my garden. I removed the sage before pureeing.)
    I use a Pyrex Glass Baking Dish

    I use a Pyrex Glass Baking Dish

    One cooled the skin and seeds are easily removed

    One cooled the skin and seeds are easily remove

    Peeled Butternut Squash

    Peeled Butternut Squash

    The final product with swirls of cinnamon and nutmeg

    The final product with swirls of cinnamon and nutmeg

    While winter lingers I will make countless pots of soup to help us warm up. Today when I looked out the window I could not help dreaming of being outside tending to my flowers and tomato plants. This time of year I really miss fresh garden produce. Since I eat a lot of salads, I especially miss fragrant tomatoes still warm from the vine. Nothing can compare to a tomato from one’s own backyard, but I have found a fairly decent tomato that can really perk up a winter salad. They are rather expensive but when sprinkled with sea salt they give off an essence and hint of summer that is priceless.
    CompariIt appears as if the cold snap is going to continue in the U.P. and we are under both a wind chill and snow advisory. Tonight I will drink hot tea and nurse my amnesia with fantasies about what I will grow this summer in my garden. Tomorrow is Day #23 of our Green Smoothie Challenge and maybe I will concoct something with a tropical flair.  It may be only January, but so far 2013 has been both nutritious and productive.

    Summer Garden

    Athena and Pandora snuggling to keep warm

    Athena and Pandora snuggling to keep warm

    Amy enjoying sunshine on the Paint River in Crystal Falls.

    Amy enjoying sunshine on the Paint River in Crystal Falls.

     

Lean & Green Smoothie Challenge: Amy’s Sunday Energizer

Amy in Asheville, NC June 2011

Amy in Asheville, NC
June 2011

“Green strongly influences the heart and helps alleviate tension. Positive qualities associated with green are generosity, humility, and cooperation. Foods of the green vibration are all green fruits and green vegetables.” ― Tae Yun Kim

It felt like I was floating all last week with the realization that I had finally accomplished my long awaited goal of starting a health food blog. I no longer felt like an imposter when I snapped a photo of my food purchases in the supermarket. In celebration I sent a photo to my husband Mike. “Don’t people look at you strange when you take photos of your cart?” he texted back. “No, I’m a food blogger!” I triumphantly typed. I sometimes wonder if Mike knows what he truly got into when he married me.Shopping cart

This brought back memories of a momentous occasion when we adventured to a Whole Foods in Asheville, North Carolina for the first time.

Greenlife GroceryAsheville, NC

Greenlife Grocery
Asheville, NC

One of my friends Brenda was anxious to learn more about the store and asked me to snap some photos to show her when I returned. I marched into Whole Foods and as soon as I picked my jaw off the floor, I furtively started to snap photos of the stunning array of produce. An employee looked amused and asked me what I was doing. A wave of embarrassment shot through my body and before I could marvel over the selection of living raw foods in the refrigerated case, I lied to him. “I’m a food blogger.” I explained that we did not have a Whole Foods in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He smiled and for a moment I thought he was going to pose for a photo. He returned to his work and so did I, merrily snapping photos and delighting in all sorts of new food finds that were discovering a home in my cart.

True, my facebook posts are often centered around food and I routinely bring in food inspired writing prompts for my high school creative writing students. This fall I created a “sensory writing experience” for my young writers by bringing in fresh rosemary, basil, mint, sage, dill, cilantro, oregano, and thyme from my container garden to smell, taste, and serve as prompts to write about.

Amy's Summer Container Garden

Amy’s Summer Container Garden

Many of them had heard of these herbs but did not realize that you could grow them yourself. I am hoping that this experience made at least a couple of my students gardeners, green lovers, and maybe even future food bloggers. Last week when we shared our intentions and writing goals for 2013 I told my students about my Lean & Green Smoothie Challenge and they expressed interest in having me bring in my Vitamix to mix them up something mysterious and green.My friend and colleague, Heather Hollands and I share a blog called Blended Voices,and in May of  2011 I wrote a blog post, Nourishing the Joy of Writing, about a magical creative writing retreat we enjoyed with our students. In the morning I made green smoothies for our group and the students were wild about them. I kept the green smoothies simple and made them with spinach, bananas, and strawberries.

It may be a psychological reaction, but with nearly one week of starting each morning off with a green smoothie, I feel energized. So much that today I even finished Day #2 of Jillians Michael’s 30 Day Shred. Not only is Mike joining me on this challenge, but so are many of my friends in my Weight Watchers meeting. Each morning I start a “Green Smoothie” thread on our secret facebook group and we all post our smoothie combinations. We are all getting great ideas as we do this. For example, I am so thankful that one of my friends Sue shared her recipe that contained coconut juice. I immediately added coconut juice to my shopping list. After browsing the internet for ideas I also added fresh ginger, cilantro, and blackstrap molasses. Smoothies are so versatile and can be changed every day which helps one avoid a food rut. I want to make sure that I am rotating my greens and meeting a wide range of nutritional needs.

This morning was not a typical Sunday in our house. Before the coffee maker even began to gurgle our Vitamix broke the silence. Two glasses of liquid mirth were poured and with the first sip my taste buds began a spirited dance. The combination that I whirled together was so phenomenal that this evening I blended a second smoothie and captured pictures for this post. One thing that I quickly learned about becoming a food photographer is that I have to be prepared to take many shots. (Please excuse my feeble attempts and I hope to advance my skills as this blog progresses.) Another thing I learned is that my cat Athena really fits the curious reputation that cats hold. The other morning as I was photographing my green smoothie with my iPhone to share with my facebook friends, Athena performed a perfectly orchestrated photo bomb.

Even Athena Wants a Sip

Even Athena Wants a Sip

She was so stealthy that I didn’t even notice until after I posted the picture.

Today was no exception and as I was prepping my table for the smoothie ingredients, Athena was again tempted to check out the area. She must have curled up shortly after because she did Athenanot join me as I tried to hone my photography skills. Though anyone who lives in a cat’s house knows that this is the norm.

If you are familiar with the U.P. you know how cold and long our winters can be. Today the thermometer was lingering in the low 20s. This Green Smoothie Challenge feels like an exotic and colorful change in the normal routine. I wanted to make sure that I shared this morning’s recipe since it made such a delicious impression. The cucumber, cilantro, and ginger made for a refreshing and zingy combination and it took the sting out of a chilly morning.

Amy’s Sunday Energizer Green Smoothie

  1. 3-4 cups of spinach (more or less for one’s personal taste. I recommend less for those new to green smoothies)
  2. 1/2 a cucumber (I peeled mine since it was not organic)
  3. 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
  4. 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  5. 1 small banana (peeled. I buy 2-3 bunches of bananas a week and when they get overly ripe I peel and toss into a bag in the freezer. Frozen bananas are perfect for green smoothies because they lend a desired sweetness and make the smoothie creamy)
  6. 1/2 cup of raspberries (fresh or frozen)
  7. 1/2 cup of mango (fresh or frozen)
  8. 2 Tablespoons Chia Seeds (it is a good idea to soak your chia seeds. I toss mine in the blender with the liquid that I am using and let them soak for 5-10 minutes)
  9. 1 inch piece of fresh ginger (since it is strong tasting you might try to add a little at a time)
  10. 1 cup of coconut juice
    *This recipe rendered 3 cups of Green Smoothie. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It is one that I will be making again soon.
    100_0730VitamixAmy's EnergizerEnjoy