On a Tale of Two Great Pyrenees

On our little farmer-ish homestead, we have two Great Pyrenees that we love to the moon and back. These dogs are just beyond amazing, so intelligent, so stubborn, so loyal, such good friends. We have a female and a male.

Boudica, named for the Celtic warrior queen, is truly a warrior–and also a nana. Yes, that’s her. She is a warrior nana. She is fierce in a way I can’t explain but so sweet and loving at the same time. She protects everyone inside and outside of the house, from chickens to children. She even helped teach Gus how to behave with the chickens and ducks. She is a remarkable being.

Gus, short for Prosatagus, named for Queen Boudica’s husband, really enjoys life. I don’t know how else to put it. He really enjoys life. He smells the flowers, looks at the clouds, and loves to snuggle.

An incident happened last week that that just crystallized for me the beauty of these two dogs and the way they approach their lives.

Our ducks had a hawk visitor last week, and it was scary. The ducks live right near our house, but this hawk still swooped in. I was sitting at the breakfast table when I saw something swoop in right in front of our window. I ran to the back door just in time to see a hawk land in a low branch, not 15 feet from our house.

My Beautiful Antonio
This is our male duck, Antonio. He is a fantastic duck, and I really had no idea just how awesome ducks are. I love these ducks way too much!

The ducks were terrified, and I turned to them, quickly counting to make sure we had six still. We did, thankfully. When I turned back toward the hawk, it was gone. I was relieved but so worried about its possible return.

As I stepped back into the house, I was met at the door by Boudica. She was upset and anxious to get outside. She ran out barking, doing her perimeter check immediately. Then, she came around to where the ducks were and sat herself right in front of the duck house. She sat there forever. I finished breakfast, graded some papers; she was still there.

Boudica Guards
This is Boudica guarding. She’s very focused, always so alert.

She sat there for close to many hours, until well into the afternoon, protecting the ducks.

At some point, I had to go upstairs for something, and that’s where I found Gus. He was snuggled up in our quilt, settled into to a lovely nap, with not a care in world, just a squinty smile that he always gives, the one that says, “mama, come snuggle me.”

Gus's Nap
And this is Gus how I found him that morning. Life is good.

I sat down with him and snuggled. I could relax with Gus. I have Boudica.

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On Helping Homesteaders: How You Can Help People and Animals Impacted by the California Fires This Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, my husband and I decided to do something a little different. We are homesteaders, and we had a really good year in our harvest overall. So we decided our Thanksgiving dinner this year would be a celebration of our harvest.

We haven’t raised turkeys, so we’re having one of the chickens we raised instead. And instead of the traditional Thanksgiving fare, we’re having potatoes, corn, beans, homemade bread, and berry pies frozen during summer’s harvest. It’s a celebration of what we grew and raised.

I am amazingly blessed our family is able to raise chickens, ducks, and a bountiful organic garden that helps to feed our family for much of the year. We eat well above our station thanks to the amazing work of my husband and a lot of work from myself as well. We eat healthy, delicious food, and our little homestead helps support our family all year.

I have been feeling especially blessed because I have been reading in online homesteading groups about the people who have lost their chickens, ducks, goats, pigs, horses, dogs, and more in the wildfires that have destroyed so many people’s homes in California. Their stories are powerful and devastating. I’ve seen posts of women who are distraught and in tears because she had to leave her chickens. She is thankful to be alive but devastated by her loss. I read another story about a woman who was trying shove as many animals as she could in her car as she quickly worked to escape the fire. I read the story of a woman mourning her horse so deeply. I read about a woman who was mourning her land. If your land sustains you, it is especially devastating to lose it, I would think. You can read an overview of some of the impact this fire is having on people and their animals in this news article from CNN.

Screen Shot 2018-11-22 at 10.34.07 AM
Photo Credit: Vadim Fomenok, Unsplash

These stories are heart wrenching, and reading them made me think I would like to try to help my fellow homesteaders in California in addition to donating to a general help fund.

I’ve been reading in the news about places we can go to make general donations to help those affected by the fires in California, and I have some links I can share below. I have done my best to make sure these are reliable sources, but please do your due diligence as well and only donate to organizations you feel you can trust.

But, if you can donate some, it’s a good thing to do. I have read stories of a lot of people asking for help to support local rescues operations.

I have sometimes worried that maybe I just can’t donate enough to help, but I think we all have to remember that every little bit counts. It’s what my husband and I say to each every day.

Every little bit counts.

Even if we all just did a little bit, you know it would add up fast.

Here are some links to places you can help those with animals or people working to rescue and support animals in the wild fire area:

Hold Your Horses Livestock Emergency Evacuation *This is a link to a Facebook page, so you would need a Facebook account to see this organization and their fundraisers. If you have trouble following this link, you can just search for the organization by name on Facebook.

North Valley Animal Disaster Group *As of last week, they had taken in over 1,400 animals, including alpacas, turkeys, ducks, and more.

Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control *As of last week, they had taken in 815 animals, and 550 of them were horses.

Butte County Humane Society *This organization is working to reunite people with the animals and has started a pet food and supply pantry.

And if you want to make donations to general help, this link takes you to a donation page for Public Good where you can choose from several reputable and important organizations to donate to.

 

O Christmas Tree: On the Christmas Tree That Saved My Christmas Spirit

I’ve been having a tough Christmas season. I’m generally this perpetually hopeful person, and I’m also generally happy. I have a good life in so many ways, and I’m thankful. But I’ve had the Christmas blues of sorts this year. You could say I’ve been downright Grinchy.

We’ve had some tough months financially, and due to the instability in the health insurance market, our health insurance just went up so much that it’s going to cost us more than our mortgage. We’ll be able to swing it, but just barely. And, as frugal as we’ve learned to be, we’re going to have to learn to be even more frugal.

And that frugality is starting with Christmas, only I didn’t realize how much a “good” Christmas meant to me. I’m the first person to get on board and say that most of us need to simplify Christmas more. It’s way too commercial, and we have to be reasonable.

Last year, our family took a big step toward simplifying Christmas by following the “something you want, something you need, something to share, and something to read” guideline. Each person gets one present for each category. I loved it. It made Christmas so special to me last year. It was smaller and just right for us.

But, this Christmas, due to some unexpected vet bills and having to pay our first health insurance payment, we ran out of funds before we could finish our “something you want, something you need” plans for everyone, and this left me feeling grim.

I felt so grim that I was feeling like a failure as a mom. I was worried that I couldn’t make Christmas “good” for my family. I cried a lot and just felt so defeated. Then, one night I realized: who in the hell is deciding what a “good” Christmas looks like?

I realized I have these incredibly romantic notions about Christmas that revolve around my capitalistic outlook (As much as I try to fight it, it lurks in me down deep.) about what Christmas is “supposed” to be like.

But this realization didn’t help my mood much. I think realizing how deeply brainwashed by capitalism I truly am just made things a little more grim.

When my husband asked me about hanging the homemade Christmas light decorations I made last year, I told him that I didn’t want to hang them. They would make our electric bill go up, and I could maybe sell them instead.

Yes, that’s how Grinchy I was.

I realized that I didn’t like myself like this. I like my hopeful self better. I also realized we really needed a Christmas tree. I used to be the kind of person who put the Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving if I could. I figured it wasn’t “legal” before that. I loved Christmas trees a lot.

Now, it was December 16, and we still didn’t have our tree up. I realized I couldn’t let my Grinchy self ruin Christmas for our youngest, so my husband and I started talking about getting a Christmas tree. I hoped a tree could lift my own spirits, and it would certainly be good for our son.

Normally, we try to support local tree farmers here in Maine and buy a fresh tree. But this year, money was so tight that we couldn’t quite swing the $40 plus tip that we usually spend on a tree. We live in the Maine woods, so my husband said he could just chop one down.

We went back and forth on this. Both of us just read The Hidden Life of Trees and have fallen even more in love with trees than we were before. But my husband said he thought he saw a tree that was in a bad spot under a bigger tree and probably didn’t have a good chance long term.

“It’s a Charlie Brown tree, though,” he said.

“I don’t care. We need a tree, and we can totally make a Charlie Brown tree great,” I said.

I was being really positive, and, somehow, I didn’t mind having a Charlie Brown tree. I thought it would be cool to just have a tree from our woods. It may be a humble tree, but it would be free, and that was good.

So, when we could procrastinate this decision no more, my husband went out to cut down the tree. He went out in the early afternoon and was gone quite a while, much longer than I thought he would be. When he came back inside the house, I learned why.

When he went to cut the tree he had considered before, he realized it maybe had a chance to make it, so he couldn’t cut it down. As he searched our little property, he said he couldn’t find a single tree that he thought didn’t have a chance, and he didn’t have the heart to cut down a tree that had a chance. He kept going from tree to tree, unable to cut and with a nag to keep looking for something.

And then he saw it–a big fir tree that had come down last month in a bad wind storm. The top would be perfect, he thought, but he was worried it had been down too long. Would it take the water? Could it make it until Christmas?

Gus and Christmas Tree
The tree was so beautiful it almost didn’t need to be decorated!

The tree my husband brought to our house is absolutely the most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen. It’s perfect in every way possible.

It’s tall and thin but so full. It’s magnificent and humble at the same time. And it still has tiny pine cones and the beginning of pine cones and lots of sap. It drank the water, seemingly just because we wanted it too so badly, and I felt my whole outlook change.

Not only is it a beautiful tree, my husband didn’t have to cut down a tree, and it didn’t cost us $40, which means $40 for groceries. And the tree had already passed, so we were making the most good use of Nature we could. (This is always our goal, though we don’t always succeed as much as we would like.)

And, then, there was this point, and this point made this tree the most beautiful tree in the world to me:

This magnificent tree’s time had passed. But we could honor it in our home and put beautiful lights and the ornaments we treasure on it. We get to celebrate a beautiful gift from Nature.

Christmas Tree with Lights
This humble tree with lights and ornaments was just what I needed to lift my spirits and remind me of the beauty and magic of Christmas.

And thinking about this brings back my Christmas spirit.

I’ve been so worried about what’s going on in the world. But I have to admit to myself that, right now, even though some of these things are really impacting me and my family, I can’t do anymore about them than I’m already doing.

My husband and I will continue to work hard, grow more of our own food, and keep working on our frugality. And I just have this warm, safe, good sense that, if we do that, Nature will provide.

That’s a good feeling to have this Christmas.

 

On Indian Pudding: A Recipe for Adding History to Your Thanksgiving Tradition

Thanksgiving is such a joy to me. It’s a lot of work, and we have no family here in Maine to celebrate with; still, our little family has developed some lovely Thanksgiving traditions that are fun and important to us.

Since I love food history so much, I like to use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to teach my son a little food history behind Thanksgiving. One of my favorite traditions is teaching my son about what was on the menu at the first Thanksgiving.

While turkey may not have been on the menu, some kind of wild bird was, so it seems like the turkey is certainly close enough to accurate, right? But it’s fun to teach about the other foods that were served. According to historians, berries, onions, beans, and carrots were likely on the menu. Also (and this is probably the greatest departure for most of us), they probably served a lot of seafood.

Since I’m kind of a fan to sticking to the turkey and not having to prepare some fish as well at Thanksgiving, I focus on the corn as Thanksgiving tradition and history.

 

aaron-burden-40486
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

 

According to historians, corn was likely served–just not in the way we think. It was likely ground up into meal and made into a porridge like substance, which was then sweetened with molasses. We call this (or something close to it) today “Indian Pudding” or “Hasty Pudding.”

And it’s yummy! It’s a delicious way to add some fun history to your Thanksgiving traditions.

Please find my favorite version of the recipe below complete with my own recipe for the homemade whipped cream to go on top. This recipe is simple enough to make with your kiddos and can lead to a great conversation about Thanksgiving and history.

Indian Pudding (adapted from foodandwine.com)

Ingredients:

2 cups milk

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup molasses

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/3 cup cornmeal

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pudding directions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, mix together the cornmeal, ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In a sauce pan, mix the milk, cream, molasses, and brown sugar. Bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat and stir it occasionally.

Add your dry mixture to your wet mixture and mix. Pour into an 8 X 8 baking dish and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, stir, and then cook about 20 minutes more. The pudding will look wobbly, but it will set up more as it cools. It should cool at least 20 minutes.

Whipped Cream

Ingredients:

2 cups heavy cream

4 Tablespoons sugar

Whipped cream directions:

Pour your heavy cream and sugar into a mixing bowl and use a mixer to mix until your whipped cream is fluffy. If you don’t have a mixer, you can use a whisk, but you’ll have to whisk until your arm falls off and then some. I’ve done it this way before. It’s still good, and you do burn a lot of calories, which is very important to me at Thanksgiving.

Serve the Indian Pudding warm with the cool cream on top, and if you have a sweet tooth like me, add a double scoop of that cream!

I hope you enjoy adding a little history to your Thanksgiving tradition.

Happy Thanksgiving!

On Christmas Traditions and Cinnamon Rolls

While I really do try to eat healthy most of the time, I’m one of those people willing to just dig into the comfort food during the holidays.  Throughout centuries and cultures, we use food to bind us together, to feel connected, and to show people we love them. I feel that food traditions during the holidays are among the most important, and I’m willing to go for an extra walk in order to eat a few extra calories. roll-and-candles

With this in mind, I was after the perfect cinnamon roll recipe for years. My husband has these wonderful memories of his mom’s cooking when he was growing up. Specifically, he remembers how lovely and warm and wonderful it was when his mom made homemade cinnamon rolls for him and his siblings on Christmas mornings.

Since I love food, especially comfort food, I was determined to make cinnamon rolls for my husband and sons on Christmas morning. This was my plan. I wanted to carry on the tradition. Every year I tried. And every year I failed.

My husband’s mom was a great cook and was even a cook at the local school where my husband grew up in Montana, but, unfortunately, she passed away long before I even met my husband. This means no recipes for me, and while that may seem like a petty thing, “no recipes,” I’m a firm believer in food connections to memories and family, so even though the greatest tragedy is that my husband lost his mother, it’s no small tragedy that our family has none of her recipes to carry on with her traditions.

After first hearing the story about my husband’s warm memory of Christmas morning and cinnamon rolls, I set out to find a recipe and create a similar holiday memory for our family.

I started with a recipe that took like all day on Christmas Eve. It looked great, but, when you work with yeast, you usually are going to be working with it all day. But, oh my goodness, it was pretty awful. It was Christmas morning “this is pretty good because it has sugar on it” good but that’s about it.

Fail.

I tried again the next year, and I found a cinnamon roll recipe that looked good but didn’t take all day. Those were some hard cinnamon rolls and not comforting at all.

Fail.

But, last year, my husband found a quick dough recipe for dinner rolls, and I loved it. It allowed me to make yeast rolls in about 30 minutes. A miracle, right? And, then, one day we had the thought that maybe that dough could work with cinnamon rolls.

So I just invented a filling and icing plan and gave it a go. The results were quite comforting–and delicious.

This cinnamon roll recipe is now a part of our Christmas morning tradition, and I hope you enjoy them. You can make them in just a little over 30 minutes and maybe add a sweet breakfast treat to your holiday tradition.

Christmas Morning Cinnamon Rolls

Dough Recipe (adapted from Kitchenmeetsgirl.com)

Ingredients

1 cup plus 1 Tablespoon very, very warm water

2 Tablespoons active dry yeast

1/4 cup local honey

1/3 cup melted butter or olive oil (I used olive oil but use extra virgin olive oil)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

3 1/2 cups of white, unbleached flour

Filling

1/3 cup melted butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

(mix together and add after dough is rolled out)

Icing

1 and 1/2 cups of powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 Tablespoons milk

(mix together; icing should be thick)

Directions

In a bowl, mix the warm water, yeast, honey, and butter or oil. Let it sit for 15 minutes. Make sure the water is very warm!

After 15 minutes, the mixture should be fluffy and bubbly. Add your egg, salt, and 2 cups of the flour. Mix. Then, 1/2 cup at a time, add the rest of the flour. Roll it into a ball and let it rest for 10 minutes.

dough-ball

When the dough is ready, roll it out into a large rectangle. It should be thin for rolls and soft. Spread the filling evenly across the rectangle.

Carefully roll the dough from the long side of the rectangle. Go slowly and try to keep it even. When you have the dough into a giant roll, cut it into pieces about 1 inch to 1 and 1/4 inch wide. I usually have to leave off the ends and end up with 12 to 14 rolls.

cinnamon-roll-process

Bake the rolls in a glass baking dish, 9 X 13, at 385 for 10 minutes. Rotate and bake for 3 to 5 more minutes depending upon your own. The rolls will be golden brown in the top when ready.

Let the rolls cool slightly before adding the icing. In addition to being yummy, these rolls are pretty as well, and I struggle with pretty, so that’s saying something.

I serve the sweet rolls with our farm fresh scrambled eggs and some fruit on the side.

cinnamon-roll

I hope you enjoy these, and I hope our Christmas family tradition can warm your heart and tummy as well.

What are some of your holiday food traditions?

On Summertime Sadness: Saying Goodbye to the Maine Summer

It turned chilly outside this week. After a very long and very hot summer, you would think I would be thankful. I am, after all, a Texas girl who moved to Maine, in part, to escape the heat. But, today, I feel the melancholy—the melancholy for summer that I feel in Maine more than anywhere I’ve ever lived.

I love all of the seasons in Maine, maybe even mud season because I know what’s coming next. Well, the season after black fly season. Yes, that one. Summer.

Growing up in Texas, we didn’t have seasons like we have here in Maine. It went from long hot summer to like two weeks of fall right into a messy, icy, windy winter. Fall is the best, right? I hated not having fall growing up. In Maine, fall is heavenly, magical, but thinking about fall leads me to a melancholy for summer.

Summer in Maine is like nowhere else. Even though my husband and I work way too much in the summers, the culture here reminds us to take breaks. Swimming is important. Hikes are important. Enjoy the water. Cook out. Watch the fireflies—and the stars. These things are valued here, and this makes summer extra special to me.

The summer is winding down. My oldest son is going back to college. I will begin longer homeschool days with my youngest son soon. And, pretty soon, the beautiful fall will be here.

But, for now, I feel melancholy that summer is passing. Though I enjoyed it, I always feel as if I never enjoy it enough. I want to do more, to take more of Maine in, to spend more time relaxing in the sun, watching the chicky girls eat watermelon, and listening as the hummingbirds zip by to the feeder.

A couple of years ago, at the end of summer, I heard a hummingbird commotion one evening on our back deck. We had two hummingbirds who had been visiting our feeder and our hearts all summer—a male and female we named Mack and Clara. We could tell them apart from the other hummingbirds because Mack was particularly short and stocky, and Clara had an unusual shape to the back of her head. They hung around a lot and seemed to have a nest in a nearby tree.

We loved watching those beautiful birds.

One evening in late August, I heard Mack and Clara making a lot more noise than usual. When I looked out the door, I was mesmerized by the beautiful dance and play Mack and Clara were engaged in. I had never seen them play like that and for so long—and with me so near with the camera.

It turns out that Mack was saying goodbye. It seems the male hummingbird will head south early to find a place for the couple. We never saw Mack again, and, after about another week or so, we never saw Clara again.

I had hoped that Mack and Clara would find us again the next year, but it was not to be. We had more adorable hummingbirds, but they definitely weren’t Mack and Clara.

When I think of those beautiful birds and the summer and how soon both the birds and the summer will be gone, I definitely feel the melancholy. I start to feel regret for the things I have wanted to do all summer but didn’t.

But, in writing this post, I have decided that it’s not too late. We bought a canoe this summer but haven’t taken it out on the water yet. This must be done. I’m also determined to make it to the Blue Hill Fair another year to mark the end of my summer with a James McMurtry concert. But, most of all, I want to take an afternoon nap in the warm air with the wind blowing through the leaves in the trees, making that magical whishy-rustly sound.

And I want to hang out with my husband and boys just a little more, just doing nothing, just visiting. We are always so busy with work, the chickens, the house, the garden, running to activities. For a bit, I want to stop time with my family and just do nothing. Surely, that’s possible in the summer time, right?

These are my goals. I don’t want too many summer regrets this year. What are your goals for the end of summer? How can you avoid summer regrets?

Let’s make a deal to say goodbye to this beautiful Maine summer (or summer wherever you are) with meaningfulness, and share your thoughts on summer in the comments below. I really want to hear them!

On Blueberries, Muffins, and Blueberry Thieves

blueberry muffins

So blueberry season is now upon us in Maine. One of the reasons I love the Maine summer is that we have three berry seasons: We start with strawberry season; then the raspberries come; and we end on blueberries.

We kind of have a fourth season of summer in Maine, but it has nothing to do with berries. I think it’s called the “melancholy that our beautiful summer is almost over” season, but that’s for writing about later. Right now, it’s blueberry time!

I love blueberries. I mean, I don’t have the history with blueberries that I have with strawberries, but I love them so much that, two years ago, for my birthday, my husband bought me six blueberry bushes to plant in our garden.

It was a bit of a rough go at first. There was a bunny who ate both leaves and berries. Then, one of the bushes got sick. Still, last summer, we had a small but delicious crop of blueberries.

But, this year, things were looking great. All six bushes were loaded with berries, and I was so excited!

Until the unthinkable happened…our ducky-ducks ate all the blueberries!

There were like 50 to 70 berries left at the top of the very tallest bush. Our sweet little ducky-ducks (aka blueberry thieves) ate everything else! I am talking about hundreds and hundreds of blueberries. Those stinkers! Still, I can’t be mad at them because they’re cute, and they’re just doing what ducks do.

My husband fenced off most of the garden, but he didn’t fence off the blueberries. We paid for this and learned a hard lesson. Next year, it’s the fence!

But, we still had like 75 to 100 berries left, and I, being the optimist I am, thought this would be just enough to make a good batch of blueberry muffins. I have this amazing blueberry muffin recipe (see below), and I wanted to make a batch with our own blueberries.

Unfortunately, those little ducky-ducks were very persuasive. As I was picking those beautiful blueberries on the tallest bush, a few of our chicky girls came over to “share.” They’re so cute, I couldn’t resist sharing some. But the next thing I know, the ducks are with me.

There they were. Chewing hopefully on the blueberry bush next to me (on one that had already been stripped) and looking at me from the side, as if to say “Oh, mama, we love the blueberries. Please share with us.”

And if you think I’m making up that look, you have to meet our ducks. Believe me, they know what they’re doing.

So what am I supposed to do but share blueberries? So I did.

image of duck
I ask you, is this not the face of a persuasive, blueberry thief?

I think we still have enough for one batch of muffins, but it looks like it’s going to be another year of purchasing and picking blueberries from a local farm. Of course, that’s OK because that’s awesome too.

If you live in Maine, here’s a great blog post from Diane Atwood’s Catching Health offering a list of places you can go to pick blueberries. It’s an awesome resource!

And, once you get your berries, you might want to try them in this delicious bed-and-breakfast-style blueberry muffin recipe.

As an aside, I’ve never been to a bed and breakfast, so I don’t know what kind of muffins you would get at one, but if I had a bed and breakfast, you could get these blueberry muffins there. They’re a hit with my whole family—and our neighbors. Plus, they’re super quick and easy to make.

Blueberry Muffins with Crumb Topping

*Please note that this recipe was adapted and “remixed” from several recipes years ago, so I have no recipe to credit here.

blueberries from garden
This is all we had left after the thievery and the begging!

Ingredients for Muffins

1 ½ cup of flour

¾ cup of sugar

½ tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking powder

¼ cup canola oil

½ teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

almost ¾ cup of milk

1 ½ cup of blueberries

Ingredients for Topping

½ cup light brown sugar

⅓ cup flour

1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup soft or melted butter

Directions

In a large bowl, mix all of your dry ingredients for the muffins together. Add the wet ingredients and be careful on the milk. It really does need to be a little less than ¾ cup of milk. Too much milk seems to really negatively impact the muffins. After you mix the wet and dry ingredients, fold in your blueberries.

Use fresh blueberries your ducks didn’t steal if possible.

Muffin Batter
Be careful not to squish the blueberries too much, or your batter will turn purple, which is kind of pretty, I guess.

For the topping, mix the sugar, flour, and cinnamon. After you have mixed those well, add ¼ cup of the soft or melted butter. The topping should be crumbling just a bit, so if it’s too moist, you can add a dab more of brown sugar or flour.

blueberry muffins
So yummy!

Put into a 12-muffin pan and bake for 15 to 16 minutes at 375 degrees.

It’s a pretty easy recipe and so delicious. I hope you enjoy!

 

On Strawberry Scones

scone ingredients

It’s strawberry season here in Maine, and strawberries are my favorite fruit. Of course, during blueberry season, I’m convinced blueberries are my favorite fruit, but strawberries and I go way back.

When I was little, I loved strawberries with a passion, but, when I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money for things like fresh fruits, which meant I didn’t get a lot of strawberries. Still, every year, on my birthday in May, I would get a strawberry cake, and I would be in heaven.

I think strawberries became even better in my little child mind, and I’m pretty sure I built up a myth about how delicious they taste, though they’re pretty delicious. Still, I admired their color, texture, and juiciness to an unusual level, I’m sure. When I would see other children eating strawberries, I was undoubtedly too envious.

So, as an adult, when my husband and I started our garden, some of the first things we planted were strawberries. My husband built me two large raised beds, and we filled them up with June-bearing strawberries. Having to wait the first year, because you can’t let the plants make berries the first year they are planted, just about killed me.

But, now, we are all set, and as I fill up my bowl with the strawberries I pick in the mornings, I feel a little bit like my life has come full circle. I have plenty of strawberries, and I love that we grow them ourselves.

fresh strawberries
These strawberries were picked fresh for scones this morning. The harvests are still a little small, but the berries are really just getting going.

I even have enough to share, though I have found myself far less generous with our strawberries than I am with the other foods we grow in our garden. I may need to work on that, but, then, strawberries and I do go way back.

Anyway, since the glorious strawberries are upon us, I wanted to share the best strawberry scone recipe I have found. I have searched for nearly a decade for the best scone recipe, and I finally found one that, with some adaptation, worked very well, I think.

This recipe has been revised quite a bit but adapted from the beautiful cooking blog Pinch of Yum.

Makes 8 Giant Scones

Ingredients:

2 cups flour

½ cup sugar

1 Tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup cold salted butter, cut into tiny cubes

1 egg

¾ cup heavy cream

1 to 1 ½ cups fresh strawberries, cut into small pieces

additional heavy cream for brushing before baking

1 ½ cups powdered sugar

3 Tablespoons milk

parchment paper

Directions:

In a large bowl, mix together your dry ingredients. Then, add the tiny pieces of butter and cut the butter in using a cutting-in tool (I don’t know if those things have a particular name, but I have one pictured here). Then, mix in the egg and the heavy cream with a wooden spoon.

scone ingredients
Here are some of the key ingredients. I have no idea what the cutting in tool is really called, but it is a must-have for baking with butter.

Once things start to get a little bit mixed, you will likely have to use your hands. The dough is dense, and I usually have to work everything in with my hands to get things mixed.

Now, it’s time to add your strawberries. Using your hands, mix in the strawberries as much as you can without squishing them too much, though some squishing seems to be inevitable.

Bring the ball of dough to your counter covered in flour. Using flour on your hands to help keep the dough from sticking to you, spread the dough out into a relatively flat circle, as you can see in the picture.

Cut the dough into 8 triangles and place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Now, brush on some additional heavy cream to make sure the tops of each scone are covered with the cream.

scones pre-baking
These are the scones pre-baking, cut from the flat circle into triangles. They will rise quite a bit, so that’s something to keep in mind.

Bake at 385 degrees for 16 to 18 minutes, depending upon your oven. I highly recommend you start checking at like 15 minutes because you never know.

When the scones are golden brown in the edges and can pass the toothpick test, they are done. Try not to overcook them.

While they are cooling, mix the powdered sugar and 3 Tablespoons of milk to make the glaze. The glaze should be pretty thick. If it’s too thin, it will just be absorbed by the scones, which is not as good, in my opinion. Brush the glaze on each scone after the scones have had a chance to cool just a bit. It’s okay if they are warm, just not hot.

Serve warm if you can, and enjoy!

strawberry scone
These strawberry scones are heavenly! I promise!

These strawberry scones were made with fresh strawberries from our garden, but if you don’t have strawberries growing in your back yard, check out this excellent blog post from Catching Health with Diane Atwood for places in Maine where you can pick fresh strawberries right now.

If you don’t live in Maine, come visit us at least. We have the best berries. I might be willing to share some.

On Making Pie

I spent many years in search of the best pie crust recipe I could find, but it was only a couple of years ago that I realized why it was so hard to find a good pie crust recipe—I was trying to find a low-fat recipe. I know. I know. It was a big mistake.

After many, and I do mean many, failed pie crust attempts (all of which my sweet husband ate and encouraged me by saying “It’s not too bad” or “It’s pretty good”), a couple of years ago, I found a recipe that I could adapt well, and it was not low fat.

The biggest lesson I learned in my quest for good pie is this one: It’s just going to have some calories, and that’s OK with me.

Now, calorie-wise, I can’t afford to eat a lot of pie, and some might argue that I can’t afford to eat any pie. But there are some things in life that are just worth it. To me, a good piece of pie is worth the calories. I’m totally willing to walk a few extra miles or even skip lunch for a good piece of pie. I feel like this says a lot about me as a person. This is where I am in my life. Pie is important.

So, here’s the recipe for the crust, and I have some tips below. This recipe was adapted from a couple of pie crust recipes but most closely with one from Allrecipes.com.

Makes One Pie

A Top and Bottom Crust

Ingredients:

2 cups flour

1 cup butter-flavored shortening (or 1 cup butter)

*As a note on this ingredient, I actually use a little more than ¾ of a cup of the butter-flavored shortening. It’s like somewhere between the ¾ of a cup and a full cup that is the perfect amount, at least we think so.

1 Tablespoon white sugar

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup ice water

½ egg

*This gets tricky, but you can do it.

½ Tablespoon white vinegar

Directions:

Mix all of your dry ingredients together, and let your water sit with some ice in it to get really cold. Add in the ¾ cup to 1 cup of butter-flavored shortening or butter. Cut it in, so everything looks crumbly.

Now, add your wet ingredients. Add your ½ egg. I have added just about a whole egg before. It still works. Add your vinegar and water (just take out your ice).

Mix everything together with a wooden spoon—but not too much. You just want to mix it enough to work with it. The original recipe says to let the dough sit in the freezer for some hours before you work with it, but I never do. I can never plan that far ahead.

Cut your dough into two pieces, one for the top and one for the bottom. Roll it out pretty thin-like. When the dough is thin, it comes out flakier, I think, which is good to me.

Of course, you can put any kind of deliciousness inside your pie crust. I prefer fruit pies from fresh, sweet fruit and just a little sugar and cornstarch. If you’re going this route, just fill up your pie shell with the amount of fruit you like. *Please note that you will need an official recipe for the filling if you go with apple pie, but I just stick things like strawberries, raspberries, peaches, etc. right in there with a little bit of sugar and cornstarch.

Cut some kind of hole in your topic crust or you can make the lattice top. When I have more time, I make the lattice top. When I am in a hurry, I cut a heart into the top crust. Pinch your edges together. You can get fancy with this, but I have no skill in this department.

apple pie
This is an apple pie with a lattice top pre baking. I am still searching for the best filling recipe for apple pies, so if you have one, please share!

Cooking time and temps totally depend upon your oven I have found. I have made some big mistakes following recipes on temperature and time, but with a fruit pie, I recommend 400 degrees and that you start checking and turning (if you have a sad, uneven oven like mine) at about 20 minutes. The trick is to cook until the crust is golden brown on the top.

Now, here’s the story of and recipe for the best pie I ever ate in my whole life.

Our neighbor grows raspberries every summer, and they are lovely. The raspberries in the grocery store cannot compare, as the ones from our neighbor’s garden are so flavorful. And, thankfully, every year, she shares said raspberries with us. I am always making raspberry/blackberry pies with those raspberries, and they are delicious. But, this year, I decided to get some super ripe peaches and make a raspberry/peach fruit pie with this delicious pie crust recipe.

I used about 2 cups of raspberries and close to the same amount of peaches. The peaches were bought at the local grocery store, but I put them in brown paper bags and let them sit in the basement until they were so ripe I could hardly hold one. Then, I cut them up and put them in the pie. I added ¼ cup of sugar and a tablespoon of cornstarch. I cooked the pie about 25 minutes, until it was golden brown.

This was my first go at this pie, so I wasn’t sure. Still, I was hopeful. But, after dinner, everyone was full, so no one at a piece of my raspberry/peach pie. But I didn’t forget about it. No, I didn’t.

That night, before bed, I announced that I was having a piece of the pie. My husband said he would have one “maybe later,” so I proceeded on my own. Upon taking the first bite, I was frozen. My taste buds were overwhelmed with deliciousness. I ran to the living room and told my husband he was going to have to try this pie.

I said, “I could be wrong, but I think this is the kind of pie you win awards for.”

So, of course, he had to try it. It turns out I was right. It was amazing; he said he thought so, too. He agreed it was the best pie he had ever eaten.

So, when you make pies like that, you have to eat pie sometimes. I hope you enjoy this recipe. I hope you get some fresh raspberries and ripe peaches this summer and get to make a pie that might literally bring you some joy.

Cherry Pie image
I have used this picture before, but it was kind of critical this week. This is my classic “I’m in a hurry” pie crust top. But I always cut a heart into the top (unless it’s National Pi Day, and I use a Pi symbol) because my pies are made with love.

Pie brings me some joy. Thankfully, in the summer, we are all working so hard and so long in the garden and with the animals that we can afford the extra calories.

Life’s too short not to have some pie, especially pie made with love!

On Making Bread

I love homemade bread, like way too much. I’m pretty sure one of the reasons I originally fell in love with my husband is because he could make homemade bread like no one I had ever known.

You know the kind of bread I am talking about. It’s crisp on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, full of air, and smells so good it moves you. Then, when you put it in your mouth, it tastes so delicious you have to make some kind of noise to let the world know you’re eating this amazing bread.

Yeah, that’s how much I love bread. But it really is the stuff of life. There’s something so powerful about the smell of fresh bread baking in a home. Bread means home to me.

And, as a part of our whole “learning to be self sufficient” movement, my husband and I ordered some wheat in bulk to see if we could grind wheat ourselves. We’re still not sure about growing our own wheat because we don’t have too much land. Plus, you can order wheat in giant buckets that are sealed so the wheat lasts for twenty years. I’m not a “doomsday prepper” or anything, but I do worry about the state of things. So having wheat around seems like a great idea to me.

hands in wheat
Our youngest loved running his hands through the wheat, and I thought it made for a great picture.

But, of course, we needed a way to grind this wheat. We did our research and bought a sturdy but “spendy” wheat grinder. After reading the reviews on these products for many months, it became clear that, as with most things in life, when it comes to wheat grinders, you get what you pay for. So, even though we’re trying so hard to be frugal in every aspect of our lives, we saw the investment in a good wheat grinder as, well, an investment.

What we did not anticipate was that it would be such good exercise.

You have to turn the wheel many, many, many, many, many times to get a decent amount of flour. I made it about fifteen minutes, and I was like “I need a break!” Our youngest gave it a go and lasted about five minutes. Our teenage son walked by and said hi.

My poor husband ended up doing the bulk of the work. I think he must have been grinding wheat for about an hour. It was a total workout, but as much as I love to eat bread, my husband loves to make bread. We’re a great match that way. Anyway, he says you have to sweat a little for your bread to be good, so I don’t think he minded the wheat grinder workout at all.

grinding wheat

Since my husband won’t hand over the official loaves of bread making task to me (He won’t share his techniques with me. He says he has given me his biscuits, his sauces, but he’s keeping the bread.), he set out to make bread from home ground flour for the first time. Apparently, there are some issues with the gluten not being as good when you grind the wheat yourself, so there are tricks to get the bread to rise the way it would with store-bought flour, but I thought the first go at home-homemade bread was a success.

We got four loaves that were denser than usual but still amazingly delicious. Bread is beautiful to me, but these loaves were especially so because they were a part of our process of learning to be self-sufficient. We’re getting there.

My husband says that, next time, he has to adjust the recipe for the difference in the gluten, but, for now, we have four loaves of bread that cost only a couple of dollars total compared to three dollars a loaf. Of course, that’s if you don’t count the cost of the grinder, and since we made it a Christmas present to ourselves, I decided not to. Plus, the nutrition is so much better than most store-bought breads.

Now, the next plan is to keep grinding our own wheat but try making bread without using yeast to raise the bread; we’ll have really nutritious bread. Apparently, using the yeast takes away some of the amazing nutrition of the wheat, and we’ve just pretty much removed all of the excellent nutrition of the wheat in store-bought bread. What a waste, right?

I’ve been reading Michael Pollan again, and I think I’m going to try the bread with no yeast thing myself. It sounds challenging, but if I can get the nutrition to go along with the amazing taste of homemade bread, it seems like it’s worth a try. I’m trusting Michael Pollan that it can be done. After all, he’s an English major like me.

Hopefully, I’ll have recipes to follow. In the meantime, if you get the chance, eat some homemade bread today, and while you’re at it, put a little real butter and local honey on it. The goodness is in the small things. I know this part for sure.