Happy Holidays from Our Homestead. Welcome 2021!

“Dad, that thing wouldn’t fit in our yard.” -Rusty Griswold

“It’s not going in our yard, Russ. It’s going in our living room.” – Clark Griswold

Happy Holidays from our family to yours!

2020 has been a challenging year and I am a reflective woman. If you have been following my posts you know that for the past couple of years, my family has been working on a construction project. We are adding a large addition onto our 130+ year old Finnish homestead. My husband John has worked tirelessly to make this dream of our comes to fruition.

I always tease John that he found the right woman who understands all of his “sweat equity” projects, because growing up, my parents did the same thing. My dad built a sawmill and milled logs from my grandparent’s property on the Paint River in Crystal Falls, Michigan to build our family a house. So when John told me that he wanted a sawmill, it made complete sense to me. I will never forget the excitement we shared when he milled that first board on the Wood-Mizer.

Last year at this time, John was shoveling snow off of the addition and this year it is thankfully all closed in. That is what I call progress!

We just purchased the last of the windows (four had to be custom ordered) and this past weekend we bought all the insulation for a walls (this spring a local company will apply spray foam insulation on the ceiling – we figured this would be a smart decision since it’s over 24 feet high).

We joke that we should probably just have our paychecks deposited to Lowes.

While Covid-19 has created a lot of setbacks, John and I feel fortunate that we have both actively been employed. As a teacher, I have been able to teach both face-to-face and remotely, and as a police officer – John has worked through the entire pandemic.

Last fall John and I made a deal that ended up being both exciting and disappointing. John had never done block-work before, but he decided to save money he would do research and do the foundation and blocks for our addition. With the money we saved we surprised the kids with a spring break trip to Maui. Unfortunately, a few days before our flight, we had to cancel due to travel restrictions. We were heartbroken. However, we were able to flip-our-trip and in July we took an incredible trip to our favorite place on earth, Alaska. John actually got to take a second trip to Alaska in September to go caribou hunting.

We are huge fans of Holiday Travel Vacations in Marquette. Laura Chapman has been our go-to travel agent for many adventures now and we cannot recommend her travel agency and services enough. Laura is down to earth, has a wealth of travel knowledge, and goes the extra mile to make sure your travel plans are perfect. We love to do business local and Laura helps us stay local – and still give ourselves the gift of travel. Find Holiday Travel here on Facebook.

We had the kids fooled that they were getting a toilet for Christmas. I thought it was so sweet that they were fine with a toilet since they knew our construction project was important. I love how surprised they were to find out there was more to their “poopy present”. I don’t think we had a clue how precious that gift of toilet paper would be in 2020. LOL

 

Can you see why this is our favorite place on earth?
My boys at Denali National Park
I took hundreds of photos.


We hope to be living in our addition by this summer, but we still wanted to celebrate the space with something special for the holiday season. John cut a 17+ foot tree down from our property (he trimmed a few feet off) and he put it up in the addition. John and his daughter Avalon trimmed the tree with lights and giant red bow (we also added a few ornaments).

Now that’s a Christmas tree!
I love this photo. Not many people have to put on their Carhartts to decorate their Christmas tree.
The loft came in handy to decorate the tree.
It’s not easy to add lights on such a giant tree.
I couldn’t find a star large enough on short notice. However, I think this bow was perfect.



We may not always do things the easy way, but we do them our way! That is what drives us and makes our hearts and souls happy. I am thankful to have found a partner who works so hard for our family. I think that we make a wonderful team and I am excited to see what 2021 brings. I promise to keep you updated on our construction project.

Best wishes from the Waldos for a healthy and happy holiday season filled with laughter and an abundance of blessings. ❤

Happy Holidays from Avalon, Amy, John, and Lukas. ❤
I finally found a use for my selfie stick! 😉
Say C H E E S E!

French Onion Soup: Stave Away the Winter’s Chill

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
Edith Sitwell

 

Back in 2014 when I was a vegetarian, I shared a recipe for a plant based French Onion Soup. Since then I was diagnosed with thyroid disease (Hashimotos) and I gradually reintroduced meat back into my diet to reduce the amount of soy that I was eating. While we tend to eat mostly chicken and pork (which we raise ourselves) we do buy locally raised beef as well. Therefore, I thought it was time that I shared a traditional recipe for French Onion Soup that did incorporate beef.

I made this soup for dinner last weekend. My 11 year old step son 
Lukas would have normally turned up his nose due to the “onions” but he enjoyed it too (I did ladle most of the onions out of his bowl). He’s growing up!

I started it the day before by sautéing the onions in our breakfast bacon grease. I slow simmered a roast with beef broth (while I do normally make my own – I did purchase a carton of broth from the store). Of course, before serving, I added tons of Swiss cheese on top of toasted French baguette and finished each bowl under the broiler.

A lot of people do not add meat to French Onion Soup and stick to the broth. However, I fondly remember the best onion soup I’ve ever had more than twenty years ago at a restaurant in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The soup had huge savory chunks of meat and was hearty and delicious. I like when a bowl soup can serve as a meal and this soup definitely does. 

 
I need to find hearty oven safe soup crocks because I didn’t brown it long enough – I was worried the bowls would crack. I also miss fresh garden sage and thyme. What a perfect dinner for a gray Sunday in December.

FRENCH ONION SOUP

*5 cups of vegetable stock (I bought an extra large container)
*3 cups of water
*Optional – 1 cup of red wine
*1 small beef roast (2-3 pounds)
*8 medium sliced onions
*4 minced garlic cloves
*2 sprigs of rosemary (2 teaspoons dried)
*2 clusters of sage (2 teaspoons dried)
*6 strands of chives (2 teaspoons dried)
*1/2 cup of parsley (2 teaspoons dried
(I do not chop the fresh herbs but tie them in a bunch with string and add them to the soup)
*3 Tablespoons of your favorite cooking oil, butter, or bacon grease
*Salt and pepper to taste
*Loaf of crusty bread
*Swiss cheese (several cups)


For this soup I slow simmered the roast in the beef broth the day before for 3 hours and sautéed up the onions and added all the ingredients into the crockpot and stored in the refrigerator to cook the next day. However, you can make it all in one shot. 

I have read recipes where the onions are placed raw into the soup pot or crockpot, however, I think that caramelizing them well in a pan gives the soup a depth of flavor. Divide up your cooking fat and onions in three batches and cook on low heat. Add a little salt to the onions and cook until brown and caramelized. Saute the minced garlic with the last batch of onions. Add the onions, garlic, herbs, and broth to the crock-pot.


Cook on high for four hours (times may vary according to your slow cooker.  This soup could be also be made on the stove top and I would recommend cooking it on low for a few hours).

Serve the soup hot and top with toasted bread. Slice the bread, top with cheese, and allow to brown under the broiler. Dig in! You will find the leftovers of this soup are even better than the first bowl. 

Enjoy!

This weekend we also took advantage our our sauna. It definitely makes the cold weather bearable.
My husband made sure to honor my Finnish roots by making sure we had a sauna on our homestead.

It was 11 degrees this morning in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and my husband was tinkering with the sprinklers?! Covid may have temporarily cancelled hockey for our Lukas. However, it didn’t cancel a father’s love for his son and love of the game. 🏒 
 
John doesn’t use a liner, but normally there’s lots of snow right now that he packs down underneath the rink with his tractor. It’s been a strange winter. Though, I’m sure the snow will show up in full glory.

Thank you for following my blog and sharing my recipes. Make sure you check out all the other soup recipes I have created. Stay warm and take care of yourselves and each other. 💚
 

 

 

Making Progress: Homestead Sweet Homestead

I call architecture frozen music.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Our family is adding an addition on to our 130 year old Finnish homestead in the UP of Michigan. My hardworking husband gets a little cranky with my photo obsession. He gave me permission to document this series of progress photos.

Oh my, check this out! He installed the windows today for the window seat in our loft. 😍 These windows overlook our orchard, the hoophouse, pasture, and upper pond (which John is going to dig deeper and add a section for koi). The loft will house my library of poetry books, a sleeper sofa, a bathroom, and be a cove of creativity and relaxation.

He is a magician creating a magical space.
I get goosebumps thinking about how far we’ve come.

These windows are a wonderful source of light and joy already. Our house is dark so our addition includes a loft and lots of windows and open space.

We are going to work hard to marry the two sections. The cedar logs have been stained dark and we’re going to bring them back to their natural color (they were all harvested from our property). The new addition is not log (but we did incorporate live edge beams that John milled himself). He also milled boards on his sawmill to use as siding. He’ll add chinking to mimic the logs on the original structure.

Doing our own projects may take longer but it’s worth it in the end.

I can’t wait until this is liveable space. Our goal is by next summer. 💚

Thank you to my husband for his ceaseless energy and hard work. You are appreciated more than I can ever express.

I included this photo to show you the incredible cedar logs our house is built from. We are so fortunate to have a house with so much personality and history!

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

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

Victory Garden: Our family garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

YEAR ROUND SUMMER SIMPLICITY – LATE NIGHT ZESTY BROCCOLI

“It was such a pleasure to sink one’s hands into the warm earth, to feel at one’s fingertips the possibilities of the new season.”
― Kate Morton

My ten-year-old stepson Lukas is the King of Questions. Not simple questions either. If you spend any time with young children you know exactly what I am talking about. Luke’s questions often border on the bizarre with a hint of gruesome thrown in. 

“So, Amy,” he inquires, “Would you rather swim with a shark or with an alligator?” “Would you rather be hunted by an invisible alien queen or a carnivorous dinosaur?” “Would you rather be trapped in a car without gas during a blizzard or in the path of tornado?” 

Therefore, I am always relieved when he asks me an easy question such as, “What vegetable would you choose if you could only eat one for the rest of your life?” Of course, when my response to him was that I would have a difficult time deciding between tomatoes and broccoli — he remembered our discussion last year that tomatoes were technically a fruit. So my answer had to undeniably be broccoli. 

For years broccoli has been a favorite. One of my college memories is of a Chinese take-out restaurant near the campus of Marquette University that my roommate Kat and I were known to frequent. Being frugal college students, and since the portions were large, we would share an entree. She would choose either Beef and Broccoli or Chicken and Broccoli. She would eat the meat and I would eat the broccoli. It was a perfect system and part of the reason that we lived together during all four years of our undergraduate studies. 

When I met my husband John, I was happy to discover that he shared my affinity for broccoli. Frozen broccoli became a staple in our grocery cart and it was one of the first vegetables that we planned for our garden. Since we have a hoop house, we are lucky enough to grow enough broccoli in the summer to last the entire year. We start our seeds in March, plant them mid-April, and for the past couple of years are able to start harvesting by the 4th of July. 

I can usually cut several heads of broccoli off of a plant before it starts going to seed. At that point I pull the plant and another takes it place. Therefore, once the seedlings go in the ground, I make sure to start another tray of seeds for backup. Most summers we are able to grow at least three individual crops of broccoli. 

I love when the seeds start to sprout!

To preserve I blanch the broccoli for three to four minutes (until bright green) in boiling water and immerse instantly into ice water. I then squeeze out any excess moisture and lay the broccoli out on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer for approximately 10 minutes. I then vacuum seal the broccoli in plastic bags which keeps it fresh all year long in the freezer. I find that freezing the broccoli, as well as squeezing out the moisture, makes sure that the vacuum bags seal properly without pulling the moisture into the sealing machine. 

I eagerly await the 2020 growing season.

Once we started growing our own broccoli, it would be hard to go back to store bought. The flavor of fresh out of the garden, or even garden fresh out of the freezer, is dramatically different. We use broccoli in pressure cooked meals, in green salads, as a simple side dressed with real butter and a splash of lemon and a sprinkle of sea salt, or even as a late night snack (our favorite especially in the summer). Truth be told, I am known to sneak out to the hoop house in my nightclothes to cut fresh broccoli, a few beans, and peas (if they are still growing) and whip up a batch with the seasoning mix I am sharing with you today. 

I think that meals and snacks should be fresh and simple, especially in the summer when our chore list is a mile long and we do not want to heat up the kitchen. Though this winter we’ve been turning to vegetables often as snacks to balance out winter’s comfort foods. After all, spring break is around the corner and we have a special bucket list trip planned.

LATE NIGHT ZESTY BROCCOLI

*1 head of fresh broccoli or one large frozen package (cut fresh into florets)

*Juice and zest of a lemon (you can use concentrate if in a pinch, fresh is always best)

*1 Tablespoon of soy sauce

*2 teaspoons of chili paste or to taste (found in the Asian food section. It can be spicy, so use an amount to suit your taste)

*teaspoon of olive oil or butter

*Optional – teaspoon of minced garlic. (Some chili paste already comes with garlic. However, you can always add some for good measure.)

Prepare the broccoli with your favorite method. When I use fresh I use the blanching method and with frozen I cook in the microwave for 3-5 minutes (depending on the amount I use). In a bowl add the lemon juice and zest, soy sauce, chili paste, garlic, and butter (the hot broccoli will melt the butter) or olive oil. Toss and serve warm. 

This sauce perks up other vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, green beans, or cauliflower. It makes a nice dressing for a cold salad and works well drizzle on vegetables before roasting. While most people may imagine a late night snack in the summer to be a creamy bowl of ice cream. Trust me on the broccoli. It if you also want something sweet then finish it up with a cool piece of watermelon, or in the winter, a juicy tangerine. It is a summer treat that you can enjoy year round. It is pleasing for the taste buds and the waist-line alike.

February is the perfect time to start planning your garden. I know that the seed catalogs have started to arrive at our house and the stores are starting to get the garden centers ready. Homegrown broccoli is a life-changing taste – you will be thankful all year long that you took the extra effort to grow your own.

Broccoli = Summer Year Round

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.

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.