Duff Peach Jam

As I have written over and over, we have been blessed with friends that become family. One such family is the Duff family. Mr. and Mrs. Duff have both passed away in the last several years, and anyone who knew them feels their absence. Their daughter, Sarah, and her husband are one of our best couple friends, and we love their children like our own. Sarah & Co have been a part of us since there was an “us”, they signed our marriage license, and are Little Guy’s second parents. We have made each other family. We also love Sarah’s brother and his incredible wife and their beautiful daughter. Incredible people raised incredible people, and we are so blessed to call all of the Duffs family.

A couple weeks ago Sarah offered me the gift of peaches from her parent’s peach tree. I gladly accepted, and Little Guy and I went to the house in the pouring rain to pick them before the birds feasted. Little Guy was less than thrilled by the downpour, by the way. The peaches took some time to ripen, and when they were finally ready I made peach jam so we could enjoy their sweetness for the next year or so.

Blanched, peeled, and pitted

Jam has never made me cry, until today. As I blanched, iced, peeled, pitted, diced, and boiled, I teared up a few times. Remembering the wonderful couple who left us too soon, and thinking about their kids and grandkids made me miss them an awful lot. Telling Superman about my day making the jam made me cry all over again. Such a great couple! Mrs. Duff loved her some Elvis, Mr. Duff loved the outdoors. Family was their first priority, and they loved their family ferociously. Thankfully for so many people in their lives, they loved us all too. What a loving example of extending your family!

Fresh from the canning water bath

There is a whole bunch of this jam going to the Duff kids to eat or share with those who loved their parents. The jars we keep will be savored, with a couple given to friends of ours who worked with and loved Mr. & Mrs. Duff, and were also brought into their great family. I don’t often have such an emotional reaction to a food I’m making, but this was a pretty special experience.

Duff Peach Jam

Peach Jam (Sure Jell recipe)

  • 4 Cups Peaches, blanched, peeled, and diced (about 3 lbs)
  • 2 T Lemon Juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/2 tsp butter
  • 5 1/2 C Sugar
  • Fruit Fresh (optional to keep peaches from browning) *I did not use*
  • 1 box Sure Jell Pectin

Sterilize jars, lids, and rings in boiling water, keep warm until ready to use. In several batches, blanch peaches in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, then move to an ice water bath to stop them from cooking. Peel off skins and discard pits. Cut each peach half into quarters. Pulse diced fruit in blender 5-7 times to chop fruit into very small pieces, but don’t liquify. Measure exactly 4 Cups of peaches and juice into a large, heavy stockpot. Whisk Sure-Jell into fruit, then add butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil over medium high heat, stirring almost constantly. Whisk in 5 1/2 Cups sugar and return to a full rolling boil for exactly 1 minute. Stir frequently during this back-to-boiling process. Remove pan from the heat and skim off any foam with a metal spoon.

Immediately fill sterilized jars to about 1/4 inch from the top. Wipe rim of jars if necessary and secure with lid and ring, hand tightening. Place jars into boiling water bath on a raised rack. Process in boiling water for 10 minutes, making sure water covers jars by 2 inches. Carefully remove processed jars with jar tool and place upright on doubled-up large towels to cool and listen for that amazing sound- pop! When cooled completely, if you can wait that long, make sure to test the seals. If jar lids spring back, it did not seal and needs to be refrigerated and eaten within 2 weeks.

Thank you, Sarah and M, for sharing your parents and their peaches with us. I truly appreciate your generosity and friendship. Being part of the Duff family is truly an honor.

Triple Berry Jelly

Technically it’s jam, but we just call it jelly. We call jam, jelly, and preserves jelly around here- don’t judge. It’s freaking delicious and that’s all I care about. I’ve had the thought of triple berry in my head for a couple weeks, got a couple bags of frozen berries, and today I had some time to dedicate to it. Fresh berries that are in season would be my first choice, but it’s March, so frozen it is. After last year’s strawberry jelly success, I am no longer nervous to make a batch. I really wish I had made more strawberry jelly- it was so freaking good and we went through it way too fast. We are also getting really low on the applesauce I made in the fall, so some fresh jars of canned goodness make me feel good.

I bought a 3 lb bag of triple berry mix and a 32 oz bag of mixed berries that also contained blackberries. I love blackberries, but I hate their seeds and didn’t want to have to strain them out, so I just picked the blackberries out of the bag and saved them for smoothies. I know raspberries also have seeds, but it’s not the same thing and I can ignore those easier. The Sure-Jell recipe has become my go to since the strawberry jelly I made was so good and easy to make. Sure-Jell gives specific amounts of each fresh fruit, but since I was using frozen I just went for total cups. Throw the frozen fruit into my big cast iron pot over medium-low heat and let it go while I start my canning water boiling and gather all the canning stuff (jars, lids, rings, canning tools) while the fruit cooks down. When the fruit released its juices and softened, I threw it in my blender in 2 batches and blended it until it was smooth. I wanted a smooth jelly without chunks, so after my positive experience using my blended to make applesauce last fall, I used it for this. I have great ideas!

Canning is so fun! It is so rewarding to spend an hour or 2 making something that you can enjoy months later. I just love it. Having had a few months since my last canning run, it was really nice to get back into it and feel the same excitement as I did before. This was not just a fad for me, canning will be part of what I do for a long time. And it’s fun to introduce my friends to it. I get some help, we get to hang out and have fun, and we make incredibly delicious foods to share. Plus, they get to try it out and see if they like it without having to buy all the stuff. Canning is something you can totally do alone, and most of the time I do my canning alone, but it is way more fun to do with a friend, and having an extra set of hands is incredible.

Triple Berry Jelly by Sur-Jell and Lisa

  • 5 lbs Triple Berry Mix, frozen (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries)
  • 7 Cups Sugar
  • 1 box Sure-Jell
  • 1/2 tsp Butter

**You will need 5 cups of fruit puree after fruit is cooked and blended**

Slowly bring fruit to a boil in large, heavy stockpot, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick or scorch. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking and stirring occasionally until fruit is tender and juices have been released. In 2 batches, pulse in your blender until a mostly-smooth texture is reached. Return blended fruit to heavy stockpot and bring back to a boil. Stir Sure-Jell into boiling fruit, stirring constantly, then add butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat and keep stirring constantly. Stir in 7 Cups sugar and return to a full rolling boil for exactly 1 minute. Stir frequently during this back-to-boiling process. Remove pan from the heat and skim off any foam with a metal spoon.

Immediately fill sterilized jars to about 1/4 inch from the top. Wipe rim of jars if necessary and secure with lid and ring, tightening. Put filled and tightened jars into boiling water bath on a raised rack. Process in boiling water for 10 minutes, making sure water covers jars by 2 inches. Carefully remove processed jars with jar tool and place upright on doubled-up large towels to cool and listen for that amazing sound- pop! When cooled completely, if you can wait that long, make sure to test the seal. If jar lids spring back, it did not seal and needs to be refrigerated and eaten within 2 weeks.

Unfortunately, this is the only picture I took of this process. I am absolutely terrible at remembering to take pictures. This one was taken for the sole purpose of tormenting my father because he loves homemade jelly, and he was going to have to wait about 2 weeks to get a jar. According to Sheedy, the jar I gave them only lasted 3 days. Good thing I made a batch of Strawberry a couple weeks later. If you would like more step-by-step pictures of the canning process, refer to my post about canning applesauce, Applesauce with my Twin. Many of the same processes are used, plus it may inspire you to try applesauce this fall after you’ve made a few batches of jelly this spring and summer.

Dips For The Big Game… Because You Have to Bring Your A-Game

I love to watch football as long as it’s a good game. Who is playing is not as important to me as watching a good game. If asked, I would say I’m a Bears fan, but it’s been hard to be a Bear’s fan for many years now. My Aunt Paula, however, was a die-hard Bears fan and I can’t watch a game of theirs without remembering how much she loved them and always had faith in them. A few years before she passed from a brain tumor, she received a team photo and letter from the Bears thanking her for being a loyal fan and wishing her health and encouragement in her fight. She treasured that until her last breath. The Chicago Bears were her team. My grandpa, Emmett, was a die-hard 49ers fan. His blood ran red and gold. He was Aunt Paula’s father-in-law, so you can imagine the trash talking and mud-slinging that took place during football season. They loved their teams, they loved each other, and they really loved harassing each other about the other’s team.

I was fortunate enough to grow up during the time of the ’85 Bears. There was so much excitement surrounding each game. Even as a young kiddo I was super pumped for game time because I knew we would be watching a good game, and I love me a good game. Walter Payton, the Fridge, Jim McMahon, Mike Singletary, Dave Duerson, Willie Gualt, Gary Fencik, Richard Dent, Matt Suhey, and of course, Coach Ditka. The glory days! More recently I really enjoyed watching Brian Urlacher and Peanut Tillman play. There was just something about their talent, as well as their character on and off the field that I loved and appreciated.

Superman teases me because I am a sucker for good sportsmanship. Talent plus sportsmanship makes me a forever fan, talent and no sportsmanship- you’ve lost me. Congratulating your coverage on a good play with a pat on the back, helping an opposing player up, positive comments after a play, I love that stuff! I also love seeing a kid getting his first shot and just killing it as his parents watch from the stands. I find myself beaming with pride and I have no clue who the kid is- I’m just really excited for the whole family because you know this shot means everything to all of them. Guess I’m a sucker, and I’m okay with that. We need more good in this world.

Sometimes we have plans for the Super Bowl and party it up, other times we stay home and have a quiet evening in. Regardless of our plans, there will be food. I tend to have hot and cold snacks to graze on throughout the game, but other times I make a pot of chili and some caramel corn and call it game time. My mom, at least in my memory, always made chili and caramel corn for Bears games when I was growing up, and it was a great choice for game day. Refer to my post on Chili and Corn Bread for that delicious recipe. I have already planned our contributions for this year, since we will be inviting ourselves to our friend’s house for the game. We will be bringing Chili con Queso and Lynn’s Dip.

Chili con queso is a warm Mexican-style dip that is not at all to be confused with jar salsa mixed with cheese. Lynn’s Dip is a cold cream cheese-based savory dip served on crackers. It gets its name from a family friend who introduced it to our family a really really long time ago. Like many recipes in my family’s wheelhouse, it bears the name of the person it comes from. When our youngest daughter was 2 years old this was her favorite dip. I would put some dip on a cracker and hand it to her. She would lick it off and hand me back the cracker for more. Though I don’t recommend you do that at a party, it is a sweet memory and I think about it every time I make it and remember her so stinking little. Sigh…

Chili con Queso

  • 1 large can (1 lb 13 oz) Petite Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 Cup Onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 Cup Oil of your choice (I use EVOO or Grapeseed)
  • 1 1/2 tsp Chili Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Oregano
  • 1 clove Garlic, crushed
  • 4 small cans diced Green Chili Peppers, drained
  • 1/2 Cup Half & Half or Evaporated Milk
  • 1 lb Velveeta Cheese (the brick) cubed
  • Salt to taste
  • Tortilla chips

Drain tomatoes and chilis. Over medium low heat cook finely chopped onion in oil until translucent, do not brown. Add chili powder, oregano, garlic, and tomatoes. Cook over medium low until onions are tender. Add cream and stir. Add diced cheese brick and heat over medium low heat until melted, stirring almost constantly. Taste, then add salt if needed. Can be made ahead of time and reheated. Leftovers freeze well, but there won’t be leftovers. Serve with tortilla chips.

Lynn’s Dip

  • 2 packages Budding Dried Beef or Corned Beef, diced
  • 2- 8oz packages Cream Cheese, softened
  • 1 bunch Green Onions,** diced
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce (thank you spell check)
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • Crackers or pretzel flats

Soften cream cheese util it is easily spreadable. Dice the beef and thinly slice the green onions after removing the octopus tentacles from the bottom. Put diced beef, sliced green onions, Worcestershire and garlic into the cream cheese bowl and stir until well combined. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Serve with crackers or pretzel flats, we prefer Ritz. If you plan to kiss anyone after the game, make sure they have some of this dip too, so all is onion, I mean even.

**Use thin green onions. If your onions are thicker, only use the green tops. Larger onion bulbs (white part) tend to be more potent and may overwhelm the other flavors. When in doubt, only use the greens.**

For another savory, crowd-pleasing dip, see my recipe for Uncle V’s Bagels and Lox Dip. It is one I can eat and eat and eat…and eat. Perfect for brunch, the hors d’oeuvres table, or the Big Game. All the goodness of bagels and lox in 1 bowl- you need to check it out!

Chicken Noodle Soup… Because You Can’t Always Give A Real Hug

So many people are sick right now. We are deep into cold and flu season, plus the ever-nearby apocalypse. Regardless of what the illness is or whether or not you can keep anything down, homemade chicken noodle soup is one of the greatest things in the world when you are ill! I know there are good, nutritious things in it, but chicken noodle soup also heals in non-physical ways. It’s the warmth of the bowl in your hands, the fragrant steam floating into your nostrils, that soothing sensation of your entire body warming as you eat it.

Last week I talked with 2 of our closest friends and their households were sick. I had been thinking about some homemade chicken noodle soup for about a week, and since I was on Christmas break I ran to the store and got to work. I made a big huge batch of soup in the new cast iron pot my parents got me for Christmas. We had it for dinner that night, and the next morning I made a couple french baguettes and Little Man and I delivered soup and bread to our sick friends in time for lunch. Drop and dash was our delivery method that day, and we had a blast doing it! We blared the music and sang along, talked trash about the people who were driving slow, and discussed why we take food to our friends when they are sick. Little Man has a very gentle and caring heart, and he loves to talk about how we show our love to those we love. We made it home in time for a short nap, a rarity for us these days, and Little Man and I snuggled and fell asleep while Quinn joined our nap time from the floor.

As you know, I love to make soup, eat soup, talk about soup. Even with all that love, I very rarely make chicken noodle. I have no idea why that is since we love it, but I just don’t think to make it. After this batch, however, it will be finding its way into our soup rotation. I may even make it this evening and do more deliveries tomorrow after a few baguettes hit the oven. Being on Christmas break allows me to cook and bake leisurely without tomorrow’s schedule looming over my head. I so appreciate the break from an extremely exhausting school year, and am re-charging myself each day so I can make it to the next break. This chicken noodle soup may end up being very good for my soul.

Yesterday there were 2 loaves of bread in the oven to take to my endocrinologist appointment. I love my endo! She is an absolutely wonderful physician, and I always try to take a baked good with me. Her receptionist is also a cheery slice of happy, and she also received a loaf of bread. I realize it may not be normal to take food to your physician, but food is one of my love languages and I show appreciation with baked goods. So there ya go! They also got a jar of cinnamon applesauce, since we talked about it at my last visit and they were both interested.

This morning I talked with my youngest daughter, oldest son, and my parents. Sis had a cold, Bro was not feeling well, and my dad just had oral surgery. So…you guessed it- chicken noodle soup and french baguettes to the rescue! Little Guy and I made the soup and bread in between picking up the house, wrestling practice, and scheduling some appointments. Then we headed out to make deliveries. I love to drop dinner on the doorstep, ring the doorbell, and be back behind the steering wheel before the door is answered. Sometimes getting up to answer the door is a big effort when you are sick. A delicious meal that doesn’t have to be prepare is one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone you love who just so happens to be feeling under the weather. I have sort of made that drop and dash style of meal delivery my signature move over the last month. It’s fun, you should try it sometime.

I made a good 6 quarts of soup so there was enough to share and still have enough for our dinner. My new enameled cast iron pot has been used twice now for chicken noodle soup and I am super obsessed with it. If you don’t have a cast iron pot, you really should get one. They are wonderful for absolutely anything you wanna make on the stovetop or in the oven. Heavy, yes, but they truly are worth their weight in enameled gold. I have a 7 qt Cuisinart and a 6 qt Martha Stewart, and I truly love them both and use them more than any other lightweight pot I own. They just cook better. Cast iron is freaking amazing, even if it’s a pain in the butt to care for. Enter enameled cast iron- all the awesomeness of cast iron and super easy care. Seriously, it’s Heaven- GO GET ONE!

Now that you are inspired to make yourself a steaming pot of soup and maybe even share some with a loved one who isn’t feeling their best, or maybe just because you love them, let’s get cooking! You will need a good pot (see above if you need a recommendation) chicken stock, chicken breasts, celery, onion, carrots, bay leaves, thyme, salt & pepper, soup noodle of choice, and water.

Lisa’s Chicken Noodle Soup

  • 1/2-3/4 finely chopped onion of your choice
  • 1 lb baby carrots, each sliced into 4ths
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped into 1/4 inch slices
  • 2 lbs chicken breast, diced small
  • 4 quarts chicken stock of your choice
  • 2-3 bay leaves based on size and personal taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Cup water
  • 2 Cups dried soup pasta of choice (I like cavatelli)

Pour 1 quart of stock into pot and set to medium high heat. Add bay leaves and thyme to stock. Chop onions into a small dice, baby carrots into 4ths, and celery into 1/4 inch slices. Add to stock, stir, and cover. Cut chicken breasts into a small dice, add to pot, add 3 quarts chicken stock, stir and cover. Lower heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally for 1 hour. Make sure all of your veggies are tender before cooking pasta. Add 1 cup water to the mix and allow to come back to a boil, then add pasta to broth and return to good boil. Boil pasta according to package directions. Serve immediately.

Guess I forgot to take a photo with the pasta!

**If you are not serving immediately, do not add pasta. Pasta will soak up most of your broth, leaving you with a stew consistency instead of soup. To add pasta later, refrigerate broth after fully cooked. When ready to eat, re-heat broth to a boil, add pasta, and cook according to package instructions. You may also add additional chicken stock to fully-prepared soup to re-soup it. Taste and readjust seasonings if needed.**

Taking meals to the people I love makes me so happy. As I mentioned in a previous post, my mom is to blame for this. She is the one who taught me how to show love with a meal. I spent my childhood watching her take meals to people for various reasons, and it stuck. It truly is more than food. This simple gesture feeds my soul and nourishes my heart, and wraps those I love in a hug even when I cannot. Whatever the reason, please consider doing this for someone you love. You may even find yourself on the receiving end of this “hug” one day. What a difference we can make in our little part of the world if we just reach out in love!

Only a few bits of thyme left in the pot

Applesauce with my Twin

I have a twin. Crazy, huh, especially since we only met about 15 years ago. Okay, so we aren’t biological twins, but we don’t care. We are chosen twins, sisters of the heart, and we love it that way. We have been asked many many times when we are out and about if we are sisters or twins, and we always laugh and say, “YES!” Even our men have seen us out of the corner of their eye and thought we were theirs. It makes us all laugh and is a good story to re-tell at a later date. See? Twins!

We have seen each other through toddlers, teenagers, divorce, illness, sadness, love, loss, pregnancy, marriage, weight loss, weight gain, chicks leaving the nest, job changes, role changes, surgery, and navigating the craziness of life. She has seen me in excruciating pain, and celebrated milestones and accomplishments with me. In return, I convinced her that we should wear bikinis all summer because it’s what our men like and dammit we should celebrate the curvy, stretch-marked bodies we have! She gets me, and I get her. We can see each other every day, or go a few weeks without so much as a text and pick up at our next heartbeat- I love that! Life is crazy, family and jobs pull us in a million directions, and that’s okay with us. We know that however and whenever we see each other next will be perfect timing.

Many many years ago when we were starting to realize we might be twins, I told her that I can only have friends that can come over when my house is sparkling clean or should be condemned by the health department, and not care either way (I had 3 teenagers and was pregnant at that point and I was exhausted!) She responded, “YES!!!!!” and we laughed hard and knew we were going to be friends forever. No one needs friends we have to impress, or put on a show for, or not let them see us vulnerable and tired. Friends, REAL friends, will have a cup of coffee on the living room floor surrounded by landmines of toys and talk with you over the roar of little ones. They will come over when you are sick and bring you soup and play with your toddlers so you can shower or nap. This girl will show up at your house the day of an event with a bucket of cleaning supplies and clean with you so you can visit while you prepare. THAT is a twin, that is my twin. And of course, we also have adventures.

Applesauce was one of those adventures. As you all know, I have been on a canning kick for a few months, so applesauce was a clear choice for the next thing to tackle. Fall is my favorite season, favorite color, favorite smell, favorite flavor. I love it all! Apples, of course, are one of my 2 favorite crops of this harvest season. Apple pie, apple crisp, Grandma Rose’s Apple Crisp Pie, Apple-Cinnamon muffins and bread, apple butter, and of course applesauce. I remember my mom making and canning applesauce a time or two when I was growing up, and it was delicious! What a treat to pop open a big ole jar of cinnamon applesauce when it’s totally out of season and have it with dinner! YUM! That is what I wanted to do, so I got online and looked for some recipes. Apples, sugar, and a little liquid of some sort were the basics. You know me, I wasn’t okay with that, so I went rogue and started peeling. I thought about what I wanted out of this experience, what I wanted to taste, and how I wanted it to feel. I wanted to experience apple pie, so that’s what I did. I pulled out my peeler/corer/slicer and realized that the peeler blade was broken- ugh! So I went online and ordered replacement parts and got to work using my apple corer/sectioner. About 6# of apples were sectioned/peeled and cut into chunks. Then I added 1 1/2 cups of apple juice, 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, a metric crap-ton of cinnamon, and threw it all into my 6 quart cast iron dutch oven over medium high heat. After 5-10 minutes, the apples had reduced a bit and I turned down the heat to medium and continued to cook and stir occasionally for another 20-25 minutes. The kitchen smelled like heaven and I couldn’t wait to taste test. I used a potato masher on my first batch like one recipe said to do, but it took forever and I thought it made it have an uneven texture. I love chunky applesauce, but that wasn’t the texture I was getting, so I gave up on that and moved to my blender. That was a good move. I ended up with a smooth texture, which is also delicious, and the process was so easy.

My second round I went a little easier on the cinnamon because not everyone in the world loves it to the extent that I do. Since I want to share what I make, I thought a balance would be good, and I can vary the batches as I go. Superman started eating a pint of applesauce each night for dessert, so I decided that 1/2 pint jars may be a good investment and a delicious addition to his lunch cooler. The following week Little Guy decided that 1/4 pint jars would be perfect for his lunch, so we got 24 of those and went to work. Superman even got Little Guy his own bottle/jar opener to keep in his lunch bag for school. By week 2 I figured out a consistency and recipe I liked, so I stuck with it and varied the cinnamon when the mood struck me. The replacement parts for my peeler/corer/slicer also came in, so the process became much less labor-intensive. That thing is a God-send! Quinn is also a big fan of that machine because it spits out the most perfect slices of apple, and I will give her one every now and then.

Knowing my twin is always up for a fun project, and since she liked the applesauce I gave her to try, I invited her over to make a couple batches. She brought over her youngest daughter and she and Little Guy spent the day hanging out and playing and causing mischief. She and I got to work on a cocktail and started grabbing everything we needed to get creating. I explained the process I use and showed her how to use the apple peeler/corer/slicer, which she couldn’t wait to try. That quickly became her job, and she kept me quartering sliced apples till the pot was about overflowing. Going from my 1st ever batch to this batch with the use of the apple machine was a difference of night and day, but having the apple machine AND 2 people in the 3rd weekend was revolutionary. Holy cow did we make quick work of that 10 lb bag of apples! Because of her, we had apple goodness bubbling on the stove in no time flat. Then it was time to sit down and chat while the apples cooked down and filled the house with the most incredible fragrance. During the 35-40 minute cook time, we stirred several times, mixing the cinnamon and brown sugar and making sure everything was cooking evenly. About halfway through the cook time, we started the canning pot boiling. When it was finally boiling we sterilized all of the jars, lids, and rings and set them upside down on a double layer of dishtowels to drain and stay hot.

It was finally time to make the apple mush into applesauce. The easiest way I found to do that was with my blender. I ladle half of the goodness into the blender, secure the blender lid, and start processing it low, then increase the speed slowly until it’s smooth, probably 30-60 seconds total?? Check the consistency and blend a few seconds longer if you want. Do the same thing with the second half of apple goodness, then it’s time to put applesauce in the jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the jars from boiling water with a canning jar removal tool (they are wonderful!) and place on the double dish towels to seal and cool. If any lids spring back after 24 hours just throw them in the fridge and eat in the next few days. I’m sure you could also get a neighbor to take a jar off your hands when they find out it’s homemade. I have never had a jar not seal, but I hear it happens on occasion. I absolutely love hearing that “POP!”

We twins spent the day making 25 lbs of applesauce, which was 3 very large batches. Before she left my house, we made a plan to do the same thing the next weekend so she would have a supply to share and savor at home. By that time we were a well-oiled machine, and the process was so much faster, more efficient, and was so much more fun than my first applesauce day because we did it together. Together is always better, and work done with a friend is always more fun than work done alone. This time we tackled 38 lbs of apples- 4 large batches of applesauce, which made a TON! We got apples from a different place this time, and they were bigger than the previous batches, which didn’t look like a problem at the time. Unfortunately, the mass and size of the bigger apples was too much for my apple peeler machine, so we had to do some of those huge ones by hand. Still, having 2 people working made the process faster and enjoyable. We never had any issue with “normal” sized apples from previous times, so I added apple size to the list of things I didn’t know about when I started making applesauce, and we kept going. What a great day! Jars lined up on the counter cooling and sealing (POP) and a day full of fun.

You may be thinking, “What kind of apples do I buy?” Different recipes call for different apples, I assume it’s based on your preference. You want an apple that will cook down, so texture wise I would stay away from Jonathan and Granny Smith, but their flavor is delicious, so if texture isn’t a thing to you and you love Granny Smith, then make a small batch and try it. Remember, make what you like rather than what some recipe says you have to use. I view apple choice the same way as I view the amount of cinnamon I add- everyone has different tastebuds and preferences. My preference, so far at least, is Honeycrisp apples. I can eat those bad boys every single day, and I do when they are in season. I absolutely love Honeycrisps! They are so amazing- sweet, crisp, clean, juicy, delicious. They don’t need anything added to them to be amazing, and I love that. If I love to eat them that much, why not make applesauce out of them? So I did!

Lisa’s Applesauce

  • 1 sister/friend/twin
  • 8 lbs Honeycrisp apples- cored, peeled, sliced
  • 2 Cups Apple juice
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Cinnamon depending on personal preference
  • 1 1/2 Cups Dark Brown Sugar

Peel/core/slice apples, then quarter. Place into 6qt or 8 qt cast iron dutch oven or heavy dutch oven. Add cinnamon, apple juice, and dark brown sugar. Trust me on the dark brown sugar, it creates such an incredible flavor. Don’t attempt to stir, just give it 5 minutes of cooking and you’ll have room to stir. Start cooking over medium heat, then lower to medium-low when it gets going. While stirring occasionally, let apples simmer uncovered 30-40 minutes until very tender. Transfer half of the cooked apple mixture into good quality blender (I have a VitaMix Professional Series 300) and pulse or blend at low speed working your way up to medium until you get your desired texture. Blend 2nd half of apple mixture the same way, then combine both blended batches in dutch oven that is over low heat and stir to combine. Quickly pour into sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/4″-1/2″ head space, then put on lid and ring, hand tighten. Place jars into canning pot over a rolling boil and process for 10 minutes. Carefully remove jars from water using a jar lifter and place onto kitchen towels. Re-tighten rings using a dish towel to protect your hands from the heat, then set aside and wait up to 24 hours to cool and seal completely (pop!).

Making applesauce is not as easy as opening a jar from the store, but I promise store-bought applesauce will taste like garbage once you have had homemade. It is not a difficult process, nor will it take you all day, and I guarantee you will love the results. I spent 5 out of the last 6 weekends making applesauce and I know it will not last us until next fall- my boys love it way too much to let that happen. I have allocated a fair amount of jars for sharing and gifting. This is just one more delicious way to show your love and gratitude with food. A gift like this is truly from the heart because it is a gift of time and excellent flavor. It can be stored and saved for months down the road, or as a show-stopping side dish at the next holiday. Sharing this experience with a dear twin, or anyone you love to hang out with, will create sweet, delicious memories.

Have an amazing Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s season, and be sure to spend time with the ones whose friendship feeds your soul and nourishes your heart.

Grandma Rose’s Sauce

I have written about my Great Grandma Rose before- she was a SAINT! I still miss her so very much even though she passed away many many years ago. Last fall I asked my mom when the right time was to make her famous sauce. She said the end of summer when everyone’s gardens are overflowing with tomatoes, peppers, and onions. So I was ready for it this year! I don’t garden, I can’t grow a thing, but I have friends that do- so thanks to them, Grandma’s sauce was made and canned this year. We grew up calling it Grandma Rose’s Chili Sauce, but believe me it is the furthest thing from chili. There aren’t even chili peppers in it. It’s more like a pasta sauce, but the sweet and tangy variety. It’s kind of its own entity and next to impossible to describe. But it’s AMAZING!

I have been on a canning kick lately. Not sure why, but I have been. It started with making strawberry jam/jelly as a birthday gift for a friend, then went to chili sauce, salsa, tomato juice, and now applesauce and apple butter. I love it! I’m no expert and I really have no clue what I am doing, but with the advice of my mom and many websites I am kinda killin’ it. I love seeing all the jars lined up on the counter as they cool, and hearing the sound of the “pop” when the seal is good. There’s just something about it that I am loving, so I’m gonna keep going. My mom canned a bunch when I was growing up, so I know the pleasure of garden-fresh ingredients in the middle of winter. She even canned her famous campfire stew to take when we went camping every year. There’s just nothing like that peak-of-the-season flavor when it’s freezing out, not to mention the convenience of opening up a jar and having something super delicious in no time flat. It’s also memories of working together in the kitchen, sneaking an irresistible strawberry, and time with my mom and Grandma Rose. I remember my dad coming home from work and mom showing him all the canning we (she, let’s be honest) did and him being proud and excited and HUNGRY. That’s what canning is.

So what is Grandma Rose’s Chili Sauce if it isn’t chili? It’s a little sweet, has a hint of cinnamon, and a little tang from vinegar. It’s the bounty of the garden with a twist, served over bowtie pasta, and its DELICIOUS! My mom always browned hamburger, then did a low and slow simmer with the hamburger and sauce together- talk about melt in your mouth! It’s been a good 20 years since I had this amazing sauce, but the mere mention of it made my mouth water that entire time. It’s that good! That is why I wanted to can it, so I could grab a jar whenever the mood struck and I could have one of my most favorite things in the world in a few minutes. So even though my canning frenzy started with strawberry jelly, it was because of Grandma Rose’s sauce. Like all great recipes passed down through generations, this one didn’t have clear measurements. It seems that I come from a long line of eyeballers because many of our family recipes have vague amounts attached to them. It’s frustrating to be the recipient of that kind of recipe because you want it to taste exactly the same, but that almost never happens. I once video taped my Grandma (Grandma Rose’s daughter) making her famous potato salad because she had almost no measurements, and my Aunt Paula shrugged and laughed when I asked for her deviled egg recipe. What is with the women in my family? Guess it’s genetic since I cook and bake by sight and feel a lot.

This is Grandma Rose’s handwritten recipe that is housed in my mom’s recipe box.

During one of many phone calls, texts, and FaceTimes with my mom about this sauce, she was telling me she remembered how Grandma Rose would grab an extremely hot tomato out of the ice water bath and slice it right in her hand. This woman was maybe 4’6″ tall, the gentlest soul on the planet, and there she was handling insanely hot tomatoes and slicing them in the palm of her hand. That saintly woman was made of tougher things than me, that’s for sure. I have spent many days thinking about Grandma Rose, remembering, crying, smiling, and enjoying the memories I have of her. It just so happens that as I write this, it would be her birthday. 126 years ago the most amazing woman was born. Wow, that is incredible! So how do I remember her like I saw her yesterday, and miss her every bit of the 30 years she’s been gone? I guess that is a testament to the absolutely incredible woman she was. Gosh I miss her!

I need to save some tears for chopping onions. Let’s make chili sauce, shall we? You need tomatoes- lots of them, bell peppers of whatever color you choose, onions, vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, salt and pepper. That’s it! I will warn you that this recipe makes 5+ quarts of sauce, so we will talk single-meal portions in a minute. I made 11 pints of chili sauce plus 3 1/2 quarts of tomato juice, which I will be using this winter in soups and stews. Quart jars are perfect for a family, but I made pint jars because Little Guy is not a fan (crazy!) and pints are the perfect size for Superman and I. The tomato juice is an extra bonus from this recipe, and I cannot wait to use it this winter. My mom recommended I use a food processor for the onions and peppers, but it’s one of the only kitchen gadgets I don’t own. I grated 2 of the onions, but I didn’t love what I was getting from it so I decided to dice by hand instead. And that’s where my saved-up tears come in. Yikes, chopping onions can be a real tear-jerker. I even ran them under water, but onions are onions, so I cried. Maybe I’m crazy, but I actually enjoy chopping veggies. There is something very methodic and relaxing about chopping vegetables, and I never mind doing it. I chopped veggies, listened to music, and was so grateful to my many friends who made this adventure possible. I made stops at 4 homes to get all my veggies, and the extra bonus was visiting with friends and sharing my excitement for what I was about to do, and thanking them for their part in it. They will all be receiving a jar of sauce and a sweet treat of some sort for their help.

Grandma Rose’s Chili Sauce

  • 1 Gallon Tomatoes, scalded, cored, peeled, diced and juice drained (save juice)
  • 4-5 medium White or Vidalia Onions, diced small
  • 5 Bell Peppers, diced small
  • 2 Cups Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Cinnamon
  • 1 Cup White Vinegar

I started with chopping the peppers and onions, then got to work on the tomatoes. Boil a large stockpot of water, leaving room for adding tomatoes and the water to bubble and boil. Grandma called it scalding the tomatoes, but what you do is throw them in whole and wait for the skin to crack and start peeling. Then you take them out and place in an ice water bath in the kitchen sink or large bowl. Peel off the skins, core out the stem, and dice. She used larger chunks, but I like a good dice, so that’s what I did. Place diced tomatoes in a colander over a large bowl so the extra juice drains out. Save this juice for making/canning great tomato juice for future use. You want a solid gallon of tomatoes, 4 quarts, so that is several batches of scalded tomatoes in the ice water bath.

After I had enough tomatoes and allowed the juice to drain for a few minutes, I threw my vegetables in a large, heave stock pot and added the vinegar, sugar, salt & pepper, and cinnamon. Mix it all together and get some heat on the burner. I let it come to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer away for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once it has melded into absolute Heaven, it’s time to check the flavor, adjust any seasoning, and make sure the veggies are good and tender. I have to admit that when I tried it at this point, I got all teary- it was exactly as I remembered it! It was like Grandma Rose was right there with me, and I could not have been happier with how it turned out. Sometimes you build something up so much in your head that if it’s not right you are disappointed, but not this time. I FaceTimed mom so she could see it, give her nod of approval, and share my excitement. We did it!!!

Next, fill the sterilized jars and cover with sterilized lids and rings. I left about 1/2″ headspace (space between sauce and lid of jar) in each one, put on the lid and hand-tightened the ring. Then into the boiling water they went for 10 minutes. After carefully removing the jars from the water bath, re-tighten the lid rings and set on a couple dish towels (spread apart) to seal and cool overnight. I had to do 3 batches of water baths to do all my jars. Check the next day (if you can wait that long- I can’t ) to make sure the lids don’t spring back when you press on them. If any do, they didn’t seal correctly and it’s off to the fridge with them. They will need to be eaten in a day or 2. Thankfully, all of my jars sealed almost instantly, so that was another victory. Each POP of the jars sealing made me smile.

After the sauce was all made, I went to work on the tomato juice. Again, mom to the rescue for the recipe. She said 1 Tablespoon salt and 1/4 pepper, taste, and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Do the same thing filling sterilized jars, lids, and rings (this time I used quart jars because I know my soup/stew recipes) and give a good water bath. Re-tighten lids when done and place on towels to seal and cool overnight. And that’s it!

Single Dinner Recipe

  • 1 quart Tomatoes, scalded, cored, peeled, diced, and drained
  • 1 large Bell Pepper, diced small
  • 1 medium White or Vidalia Onion, diced small
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1/4 C White Vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon

Follow the same simmering directions, testing for flavor and veggie tenderness after 30 minutes. While sauce is simmering, cook bow tie pasta noodles in large pot, and in a medium sauce pan brown 1/2-1 lb hamburger with 1/4 cup diced onion, salt and pepper to taste. When meat is fully cooked, lower heat and slow simmer to tenderize. When sauce is done simmering, combine with browned hamburger. Serve sauce over pasta. Enjoy!

Sauce and browned hamburger, ready for pasta.

My great grandma may not be here, but memories and her famous recipes live on. Now that I have this first batch under my belt, I will be making and canning her sauce every end of summer when my friends’ gardens are overflowing. Thanks for all of the help, Mom. I sure couldn’t have done it without you! And Sheedy, you’ll be getting a jar of sauce very soon. It may even come alongside some Apple Crisp!

**If you make this recipe, please comment below and let me know what you thought.**

Ya Gotta Have a Plan

Holy crap has it been a long time since I published! I have very much missed writing and sharing with you, but for the past 3 months I just couldn’t do it. No reason to panic, I’m all good. It’s totally okay. I spent the better part of the last 3 months ready to barf at any given moment, which means very little to zero desire to cook/bake anything.

I started a new medication because I have become an insulin-resistant T1D. There’s no fun like being a T1- unless you become an insulin-resistant T1, and then it’s a whole new level of fun-ness. My Endocrinologist warned me that I would probably hate her for up to 2 weeks because this medicine has a high potential to make the patient nauseous while it’s making changes in body processes. I deal with things much better when I know what I’m up against, so, come what may… But YIKES! I was truly blessed by God to never have a minute of morning sickness with any of my pregnancies, so I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. WHOA! I was nauseous nearly every minute of the day for the first month solid. I ate very little, bland things, and not often. I threw up a few times, mostly in the middle of the night, which is great. I have no clue how women who deal with this kind of morning sickness have more than one child- it’s terrible!!!! I literally slept with a barf bucket next to my bed just in case. This was not fun! But I wanted this medicine to work, so I kept taking it. And I lost 5 pounds, so that was a silver lining. After the first month things got a little better. The nausea calmed to only when I smelled food or thought about food. I am the food preparer in the house, so every day I still made Superman breakfast and packed his lunch, made Little Guy breakfast, and attempted to make dinner most nights, but there were a lot of “make a frozen pizza, boys, it’s not happening tonight!” which they were just fine with. That inability to cook was terrible! Thanksgiving was so hard. Dinner was at our house and although it smelled delicious, it was difficult. But I was getting used to feeling like crap, which is not something I ever wanna do again. Cooking and baking give me so much joy that I had to push through when I was able. I stopped taking that medicine last week (after 2 1/2 months) and started on another one, so hopefully I feel better soon. This is not a pity party story, I promise- it’s an explanation of my silence. And I apologize for the barf talk on a food blog. I hope this post is helpful to you and maybe even inspires you to try my plan.

Now that I am not so sick, I am getting back into my actual life. I am starting to cook again, grocery shopped with a plan for the first time in almost 3 months, baking a bit, and I even started exercising again. I bought myself a new stationary bike so I can ride in crappy weather or when no one is here to stay with Little Guy. It’s so crazy to start feeling more like myself after so long. I am so grateful to be able to start picking up a bit of my normal!

So what is this earth-shaking thing that I am doing? It’s meal planning. I know, I probably should have told you to sit down before I dropped that on you. But seriously, I LOVE to meal plan so I can grocery shop effectively (and cheaper) and not have to ask myself or anyone else “What should I make for dinner tonight?” Don’t laugh at me or roll your eyes- this will seriously change your life!! You may be asking yourself where I got this earth-shaking idea call meal planning. Well, I got it from my mom. I remember her planning out our weekly meals, making a grocery list, and heading to the grocery store in the next town over once a week. She never did the I’ll just grab something for dinner thing, and only ran to the grocery store in town in an emergency. With 7 people to feed, she had to have a plan. At least that’s how I remember it. She may tell a slightly different story, but this is my blog…

So why in the world do I meal plan? The same reason you have a calendar or do any planning at all. Because it makes life SOOOOOOO much easier. I love to grocery shop (I admit to being very odd with this one) but I don’t want to be there every day wandering the aisle looking for inspiration, or rushing through the store on my way home from work and praying that the spaghetti noodles I am fairly certain are in the cabinet are actually there. And I absolutely loathe the question, “What do you want for dinner?” You may be saying to yourself, “Sister-friend, meal planning is not gonna change my life. Don’t be so dramatic,” Well, I disagree. It’s a little thing that makes a HUGE difference in my week, and one less thing to worry about after a long day at work means I have less stress, more enjoyment, and more time in the evening. Give it a week or 2 and try it, I promise you’ll feel awesome about it. And you’ll save money with less trips to the store when you are hungry.

Yesterday I was busy all day. I meal planned and made my list, grocery shopped, grabbed a few yummy bottles of wine, picked up the house, made a delicious dinner and pie, had a fantastic bike ride, wrote a bit, snuggled and played a video game I suck at with Little Guy, and had friends over for dinner. And I felt amazing! It’s so crazy how finally feeling like yourself and doing things you love can make you feel incredible. That and blaring music while you cook and clean, duh!

This is what we will be eating in the Johnson house for the next 3 weeks, and I will be sharing some of these recipes in upcoming posts. Week 1 is the first entry on every day, week 2 is the middle one, week 3 is the third entry. You may notice that I am making a soup/stew on Sunday night. I can eat soup or stew every day for lunch until it’s gone, and that’s exactly what I do. I make a huge batch for dinner, then eat it for lunch every day until it’s gone. I love good leftovers, and talk about simple lunch prep. You may notice a few FFY days. That means Fend For Yourself where I grew up. When Superman works nights, Little Guy and I tend to eat whatever needs little to no prep. Or we eat popcorn for dinner and feel amazing about our choices. Sometimes I make things Superman doesn’t like since he’s not there to eat it anyway. But since he’s working nights, I still plan what I will be sending with him to work because making sure he doesn’t have to eat popcorn for dinner while working midnights is important to me. He doesn’t care, I do. The other thing to know about this plan is that you don’t have to stick with the plan. Wednesday’s dinner doesn’t sound good on Wednesday? No problem. Make another night’s plan. Tacos are set for Tuesday, but Monday finds you with a craving you can’t wait a day for? Go for it! You have all the supplies you need to make each week’s meals, so do it in any order you want. And if anyone asks what’s for dinner you can just point to the list. Freedom in your choices without a trip to the store. I’m telling you- life changing! Last night I made deep dish pizza. It just so happened to be next Saturday’s meal according to the meal plan, but I made it cause it sounded really good and I was in the mood to cook. So I did it. And tonight the plan says chili, but it felt more like a chicken stew kind of evening, so I went for it. No guilt, no trip to the store, just options and good food. Winner winner, Chicken Stew dinner!

Perhaps this post will not actually change your life, but if you want to simplify your life a little, have a cheaper grocery bill, and enjoy more peaceful evenings, please give this a try. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to see your meal plans. You can post a pic in the comments section and let me know what you love about it, or what it does to help your evenings. My meal plans also change with the seasons. They are heavy on soups and warm comfort in the winter, lots of grilling and fresh fruits/veggies in the summer. Feel free to create a meal plan with your favorite meals- budget savers, 30 minute meals, special diets, and freezer meals just to name a few. Just make sure to share it in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Here’s to one less thing to think about…!

Heartbreak Called

When the phone rang yesterday morning I never expected to hear those words coming from the quivering voice of my friend on the other end of the line. I am not really sure I heard anything else she said after the word. It’s scary and confusing, overwhelming and sad. The unknowns, that is the scariest part of any diagnosis. Our minds race and think of a million things in 2 seconds, all polar opposites of each other. All the “what ifs” and the plans you can’t even imagine making. Your life just took a whiplash-speed turn and now your course is just questions and fear.

I tried to pay attention and hear what she was saying, but my mind raced. I prayed, I teared up, and I tried to comprehend what those words meant. When we got off the phone I told Superman and cried. He suggested we pop in for a quick visit that night to show our support and maybe shed some tears together. I instantly loved him more for suggesting that. I do love that man’s heart so much. We didn’t end up going over. She was exhausted from crying, and was done talking about it for the day. Completely understandable. I did, however send her husband a message of encouragement and support. Most husbands have a protective, fixing part of them that an illness like this completely upsets. He is supposed to be able to protect her. He is supposed to be able to fix the problem. He is supposed to. But this time he can’t, and that goes against every cell in his body. So he supports and encourages, prays and cries, all the while needing those things himself. So that is where we are right now. Praying, crying, supporting and encouraging. It doesn’t feel like enough.

When it was in the plan to do a pop-in visit, I started making a caramel apple cake to take over. I had made it as an experiment last week, and it needed some adjustments. Superman loved the original and had asked me to make it again, so I though 2 birds… As you know, baking is my go-to for just about everything. It’s a therapy of sorts, and it allows me to share my heart with those I love. I know an apple cake will fix absolutely nothing. I know it won’t calm fears or ease pain, but food is my love language, and it is what I do. I am almost certain my friends will not be able to eat even a morsel right now, but it is what I can bring to let them both know we care and we love them. It’s not about the making or the eating, it’s about love and support, and that is what we need to do.

Making this cake was hard. Each ingredient I added was a reminder of why I was making it. A reminder of fear, of sadness, of the unknowns that lie ahead. No, I am not the one with the diagnosis, but our friends are our family, so it is personal. Each time I make food for someone who is hurting I feel this way. It’s the constant reminder that the dish I am preparing is because of something we wish they weren’t going through. I wish I could take away their pain. The closer I am to the people I cook for, the harder it is, and these two are something special to us. I would love to tell tales of our times together, but now is not the time. When there are positives and celebrations I will tell many tales, and shout gratitude to the Lord for His mercy from the rooftops. But right now we hunker down and try to remember to pray more than worry.

We all know someone who has received a scary diagnosis. Certain words in our language send chills down our spines and cause our stomachs to flip. There is a personal kind of ache when it is someone you love. I hate hearing anyone has a dangerous disease, but when it hits close to home, that is something different altogether. God calls upon us to bear each other’s burdens. (Galatians. 6:2) So this is what we will do. Burdens are not light- they are heavy on the mind and heavy on the body. They are tiring, exhausting, and consume energy. This is why we have each other. This is why we have friends and family. We cannot do it alone, nor should we. As the friend, it is my privilege to help bear my friend’s burdens. It is my honor to sit quietly, to laugh, to provide meals, to comfort and encourage, and to cry. When we share our burdens, they become lighter. Words like tribe, girlfriends, or as we call it, core, describe those girls you want by your side on a weekend away, or in the middle of the storm. They are the ones you laugh with until you pee your pants, and the ones you call when disaster strikes. These people must be what God had in mind when He said to bear each other’s burdens. It’s about being there in the good times and the bad. The middle of the night phone calls, and the doctor visits. The test results and the miracles of favor. This is what friendship is about, and our core will walk with her every step of the way, praying without ceasing for God to heal her body and renew her strength. Isaiah 40:31 says “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not be weary. They will walk and not be faint.” Ah, the waiting. That will be my most difficult part. In my heart I know that God’s timing is perfect, and that He was not caught off guard by this news, but that doesn’t make my heart desire waiting. I want her healed NOW! These 2 verses are what I have started praying. They encourage me and remind me that God, not Lisa, is in charge. So with this recipe and each ingredient in it, I am both sad and prayerful…

Caramel Apple Cake (adapted from Paula Deen)

  • 1 1/2 C Unsweetened Applesauce (can also use unsweetened cinnamon applesauce)
  • 3 Large Eggs
  • 2 1/2 C Sugar
  • 1 T Apple Pie Spice
  • 1 T Vanilla
  • 3 C Flour
  • 2 1/2 C Jonathan or Honeycrisp Apples- peeled, cored, sliced, and cubed

In a large mixer combine applesauce, eggs, and sugar. Beat on medium 2 minutes. Add apple pie spice and vanilla, mix again and scrape down sides of the bowl. Add flour and mix until combined. Add diced apples and mix until just combined. Pour into greased 9×13 pan and bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes until toothpick comes out clean. Remove pan from oven and transfer to cooling rack.

Caramel Topping (adapted from Nourish My Heart’s Crack recipe)

  • 1 C Brown Sugar, packed
  • 1 Stick Butter, Melted
  • 1/4 C Corn Syrup
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Melt butter in medium saucepan. Add brown sugar, salt, and corn syrup, stir well. Bring to low rolling boil. Boil 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add vanilla, stir. Poke holes all over cake with knife or thin round wooden utensil handle. Pour hot caramel syrup over cake, spread evenly. Can be eaten while warm. I actually like it better the day after it’s made.

I forgot to take a picture of the cake right out of the oven. This is cake plus caramel. See how the caramel seeps into all the crevices
All the sweet apple goodness piled high and topped with caramel

Just a minute after I left the cake on the front steps and rang the doorbell, I got a message. Turns out a piece of caramel apple cake was just what the doctor ordered on a cold, rainy morning. It is so much more than food, and today it was love.

Grandma Rose

If ever there was a woman worthy of sainthood, it was my Great Grandma Rose. At least she deserved this title in my mind. Grandma Rose was my dad’s mom’s mother. She was born in 1895 and passed away in 1991 at the age of 96! I can only pray God blesses me with health like hers- she lived independently until she broke her hip at age 94 or 95, then moved to this sweet, women-only assisted living facility until she passed. Had she not broken her hip, we all agree she would have lived to be 100+.

Grandma lived in a little apartment close to a park and just down the street from the best rootbeer on the planet-Oogie’s Drive-in. I remember olive green carpet and a very 70’s art deco room divider. She had a toy ironing board and iron that we would play with. And the smell of her perfume. I found out many years later that her perfume of choice was Chantilly, and on the rare occasion I smell it today, it takes me right back to my childhood and I would swear Grandma Rose was standing next to me. I cannot describe the comfort that smell brings. Almost 30 years after losing her, I sit with hands on keyboard, wiping away tears. Every time we went to visit, she made us all tea. I can still see the mugs. She used to dip her teabag into the mug for a whopping 10 seconds before removing it. She basically drank hot water with a drop of tea. And there was always pie. That woman made a pie like no other, but she never ate a bite. We always went home with a fresh pie. I remember one time there were 2 pies for us. When asked why 2 pies, Grandma confessed that one pie was just for my brother- the last time we were there he had apparently asked if next time she would make him his very own pie. Mom was embarrassed and apologetic, but Grandma was quick to say how sweet his request was and that she didn’t want him to get in trouble.

My dad and his brothers grew up staying part of the summer and many many weekends at Grandma’s house. My aunt and uncle bought her old house when she moved into her little apartment, so Grandma Rose’s house stayed in the family for most of my life. The boys have very fond memories of being there with her while growing up, eating everything she would make, and spending time with her. Grandma was a widow for 36 years, which is a terribly long time. Grandpa died at age 57 when my dad was about 7 years old, so his childhood memories are mostly of Grandma. The stories those boys could tell of her spoiling them rotten! Her house was nearer to a busy train tracks than she liked, so the reality of death by train was something she always preached when the boys went out to play. I remember getting the same talking-to years later when visiting my cousins at that same house.

I remember Grandma Rose being at my dad’s parent’s house every holiday. She would spend the night before the holiday, help Grandma get everything ready, stay overnight on the holiday, and go home the next day. She was quiet and sweet, patient and loving. Every year for Christmas Grandma Rose crocheted each of her 3 grandson’s families a new blanket. They were beautiful! The handiwork was exquisite, and there was love in every single stitch. We always used them to snuggle on the couch at home. She taught any of us who wanted to learn how to crochet, but a scarf was about the limit of skill we all peaked at. It is something I remember doing when I was growing up, and knowing Grandma taught me how is something I treasure. I still have the baby blanket she made for me when I was born, there is no way I could part with it.

Sometimes we would go pick her up and bring her back to our house. I remember making strawberry freezer jam and her famous chili sauce. I guarantee it’s not correct, but in my 7 year old mind, there was a fruit stand right next to her apartment building where we would buy flats of strawberries for jam. She used to let us kids pick out the biggest strawberry we could find every hour and eat it. It was a great way to get us to help and not eat all the strawberries as we cored them. One time she came over to help mom make and can her famous chili sauce. Of course we all wanted to “help” because Grandma was helping, so she gave us a job. Chopping onions! Let’s suffice it to say Mom and Grandma cooked in peace while us kids steered clear of the kitchen. But there was no way she was going to tell us no. That was her way- kind, gentle, and oh so smart.

And she was tiny! One of our very favorite things to do while growing up was measure ourselves against her and see how close we were getting to passing her up. There’s no way she was more than 4’6″ so it wasn’t long before we outgrew her. When you finally reached your goal, she was so happy and excited about your “accomplishment.” I can still see her so vividly in my mind- her tiny petite frame, salon-fresh white hair, her pearl earrings, wrinkles on her cheeks, and the smile on her face. I don’t believe I ever saw her in anything but a dress, and she always wore an apron when she cooked. All of us kids had aprons that she made us, mine is in my apron drawer with Little Guy’s. It was visited by a mouse about 25 years ago and has the battle scars to prove it. But there’s no way I would ever get rid of it-too many tasty memories made in that apron. Maybe that’s why Little Guy and I almost always bake together wearing our aprons. I could go on for quite some time about the magic that was Grandma Rose, but I have had more tears roll silently down my cheeks in the past couple days than I was prepared for.

So, why take an incredible recipe that is flawless and try to make it into something else? Why not! My dad says he only likes 2 kinds of pie- hot and cold. Pie is always a winner. Apple crisp is not something you can exactly cut into perfect portions, nor can you stop yourself from eating more than 1 serving. That is where the idea for this pie came from. Every end of September when the apples are in season and it is around Grandma Rose’s birthday, I make apple crisp and apple pie. It’s something I have done for years, and is just how I remember her birthday and this recipe. This year I figured I would try to combine these 2 delicious recipes. I can tell you it is harder than it sounds to combine 2 desserts while maintaining the best parts of each. So 3 tries later, I got it. Thank the Lord people are very willing to try my guinea pig recipes. I am so grateful for their sweet teeth. Superman was a very happy taste-tester, and was sad when the pies were gone. It starts with a pie dough recipe I have been using for over 20 years. I got it from a lady I knew, but have no idea where she got it. So it is simply known as Wanda’s pie crust.

Wanda’s Pie Crust– makes a 2-crust pie

  • 1 1/2 C Flour
  • 1/2 Cup + 2 T butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 Egg, beaten
  • 1/2 T Vinegar (7 mL)
  • 40 mL Water (1/2 of 1/3 Cup)

Combine flour, salt, and butter in medium bowl. Cut butter with a pastry blender until it is small to medium crumbs. Combine liquids in a small bowl, add to dry ingredients and mix until incorporated. Let rest 10 minutes before rolling out.

Apple Crisp Pie

  • 2 1/2 lbs Granny Smith or Jonathan apples- peeled, cored, sliced thin
  • 3/4 – 1 C sugar (depends on sweetness of apples)
  • 1 1/2 T Cinnamon
  • Generous sprinkle of Nutmeg
  • 1 C Flour
  • 1 C Sugar
  • 6T Butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 T Cinnamon
  • 1/2 T Nutmeg

I use the Pampered Chef apple peeler/corer/slicer. Get one if you don’t have one! Cut the cored/sliced apples into 4 chunks each. Place in large mixing bowl, add sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg, then toss and mix with your hands to ensure it all mixes well. Pour into pie plate. Place in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. You may need a pan under the pie plate- my apples were very juicy and overflowed.

In a medium bowl combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Then cut in butter until small to medium crumbs. After 30 minutes, remove pie from oven and top with crumb topping. Return to oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack. Store leftovers (if there are any) for 2 days in refrigerator.

I think Grandma Rose would be very happy to know I used her recipe to create something new. I have to make this pie for my dad so he can give it the thumbs up or thumbs down. Something tells me he won’t be upset, especially if I also bring vanilla ice cream. Thank you, Grandma Rose, for all of the love and wonderful memories, and the delicious recipes.

Bring on the Fall Weather!

If there is one thing this Midwestern girl loves, it’s fall weather. Fall is my favorite season! The smells, the colors, the tastes, the weather. PSL Opening Day is a big deal for me (that’s Pumpkin Spiced Latte) and serves as permission from our Lord Himself to shift all thing to FALL!!! Our house stops looking all summery and gets cozy in a hurry. The windows are open at night, blankets go on the beds, and the pile of throws moves back into the Living Room. Suddenly flannel and sweatshirts are my favorite things to wear.

I also read more books in the fall. The season lends itself to getting cozy with a blanket and cup of hot tea, and snuggling into my rocking chair to let my latest book transport me to another place. I LOVE that! My collection of teas also blossoms this time of year. I am a coffee girl to my core in the morning, but nothing beats a steaming cup of tea with just a splash of half and half. If you think that sounds good, maybe try spice, orange, or a fruit flavored tea. The half and half gives a hint of creaminess that you are sure to savor.

And then there’s the baking. I’ve made pumpkin pie, cinnamon coffee cake muffins, zucchini muffins, spice bar cookies, pumpkin muffins, apple cider donuts, beef stew, chili, homemade bread, dinner rolls, and chicken stew. That was all made this past week. Needless to say, I’m avoiding the scale. Thankfully, I bake and send it to work with Superman, to work with me, or to friends and neighbors. I am one of those people who cannot eat enough apples in the fall, so there’s been apples on the shopping list for weeks. And I made an apple pie with crumb topping a few weeks ago- it was insanely good. Next week I will be oven-baking butternut squash to eat as a side dish. Add some butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg and prepare to have your life changed.

So here’s the problem- Superman doesn’t do casseroles, and he’s not always a soup guy. I know, it’s a total deal-breaker for me too, but when he answers my phone call his first words are, “Hello, Beautiful,” so I choose to overlook this character flaw of his. At first I really struggled with meal planning, because I felt like most of my fall/winter meals were off limits. Then I realized that I can create a win-win. I make the casseroles and soups I want, and eat them all week for lunch, and I add the soups/stews he likes into our meal rotation. Everyone wins. If only every compromise in life was as easy as that…

Today was the day I chose to make one of my most favorite stews of all time- Campfire Stew. It’s a dish I grew up eating, and it is most likely written in my DNA. My mom made it every fall and winter, and always served it with bread of some kind. Sometimes she even baked up a couple loaves of homemade bread to go with it. Now that was a Heavenly smell to walk into! She even canned it so we could take a couple big jars with us when we went camping in Wisconsin or at the beach club we belonged to. I never realized what a smart lady she was to can it for camping. It was an easy, heat-and-eat meal, a family favorite, and there was no refrigeration necessary which meant we could have it whenever the day called for it. This meal is one of my go-to meals for taking to families after a baby, illness, death, or getting home from a long vacation. There’s no way you can’t enjoy this meal- it’s just too delicious! Campfire Stew is comfort food, and that is why it is a staple in our house during the cozy days of fall.

I texted my mom this morning to tell her I was making it today, and she said dad had already asked her to make it soon. Then I told her I was trying to decide if I was going to bake loaves of bread or make dinner rolls. She voted for dinner rolls. Sissay has been asking me to make bread, so I decided to do that since I just made rolls last week. Because I am a snot, I sent a pic of the bread fresh out of the oven. I was hoping she would show my dad and then he’d be all jealous- that’s the kind of kid I am. Within 2 minutes of the bread coming out of the oven I had buttered the top of the loaf, removed it from the pan, and burned my hands cutting the first slice of bread for myself. That first slice straight out of the oven is the greatest thing on the planet. Spread butter and some homemade strawberry jelly on it and you could probably just die right then and there. Superman was laughing at me burning my hands while he sat eating his breakfast before heading in for his midnight shift. He will be having stew and bread for his lunch tonight.

So where did this recipe come from, and how do you make it? Well, my mom said she learned how to make it at Girl Scout camp. They put the ingredients in a coffee can covered in foil, dug a hole in the ground, and put the coffee can surrounded by hot coals in there, then covered with more dirt. After several hours they came back and it was done. So the original recipe came from the Girl Scouts, but mom’s recipe was an edit to the original, and my recipe is an edit to her recipe, and she absolutely hates when I do that. I have said many times that I always take a recipe and make it my own, but she doesn’t like it when I mess with her recipes. Sorry, Mom. Mom uses hamburger, I use stew meat. I marinate the stew meat for a day, she doesn’t. I add a few more seasonings than she does. Whichever way you choose to go, it will be amazing, trust me. I love this the most when it cooks in the oven, but I don’t always have 4 hours to make it this way. I have made it in a huge soup pot on the stovetop, Crock Potted it, and Instant Potted it. The stew just tastes more “roasted” when it is in the oven, but you have to add more tomato juice because the liquid evaporates in the oven. Stovetop takes 2 hours, InstantPot takes 90 min, Crock Pot takes 8 hours on low, and oven takes 4 hours. Whatever time allows you, go for it!

Campfire Stew- Severely adapted from the Girl Scouts

  • 1.5 lbs Marinated Stew Meat and juice
  • 2 lbs peeled Red Potatoes
  • 1 pkg. Baby Carrots, cut into thirds
  • 1/2 large Onion, diced
  • 3/4 head Celery, 1/8″ slices
  • 1 large can Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1 bottle tomato juice (2 bottles if cooking in the oven)
  • 4 Bay Leaves
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Dried Thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh Rosemary

Stew Meat Marinade

Quarter each stew meat chunk and put in gallon zipper bag. Add about 1C Red wine and 1/4 C Worcestershire, sprinkle a little salt and pepper. Press out all of the air, shake the contents of the bag, and refrigerate overnight.

Cut up all veggies, leaving potatoes larger than you would normally so they don’t turn to mush. Spray your large roaster pan, then add all ingredients. Cover with foil and place in 350 degree oven for 4 hours. After 4 hours, remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes before serving. (IF you can keep the wolves away from it)

This is also one of my most favorite things for leftovers. I will take it for lunch every day this week until it is gone, never growing tired of it. It’s that good! Superman reported that he really enjoyed it and it both filled him and warmed him up. Do not fear if you don’t have time to make a loaf of bread, grab one from the bakery at the grocery store, throw it in the oven for 5 minutes after you take out the stew, and it’ll be almost as good.

Almost an entire loaf of bread was gone after dinner. Little Guy had bread for dinner, just bread. I had way too many pieces, and Superman had a few in his lunch. Though I will eat stew all week for lunch, there’s no way the bread will keep pace. We like to toast it and eat it for a snack or dessert with butter and honey, or butter and Magic (cinnamon sugar), or butter and jelly. I have very fond memories of my mom baking bread, and I am continuing that tradition with my own kids. It is one of their favorite things to eat, and Little Guy even helps me make it sometimes. If you are looking for an easy recipe for delicious jam/jelly/preserves, click on the blue words to check out my blog post Biscuits for my Boys.

Happy Fall, everyone!