Friday, February 27, 2015

Baked Sweet Potatoes

We enjoy baked sweet potatoes and they are so healthy for us.  We like to have them with some butter melted on the the hot potato.. and then cinnamon sprinkled on them.... it is a wonderful way to eat sweet potatoes.

To make them, just scrub sweet potatoes, poke with a fork and bake the same as you would bake regular potatoes.
 When done, they can be cut open and served in the skin... or pull the potato out. Sometimes, we also slice them.....

Add some butter and cinnamon and it is a delicious treat. 

My husband had always hated sweet potatoes... the ones he had were always sweetened with sugar or marshmallows and he couldn't stand them.  After he got over the idea of hating sweet potatoes, he found that he really liked them when fixed this way... or the way I fix them in casseroles. Recently, he told me he "loves" sweet potatoes! Wow. :)

Sometimes we share a couple of potatoes among the whole family.... and sometimes we make enough and everyone has their own sweet potato.

Sweet potatoes are also quite easy to grow.... and some of the best sweet potatoes we ever had came from our own garden-they had such wonderful flavor. They can be sprouted for the garden and grown.... the directions for sprouting are here:

Easy Way To Start and Grow Sweet Potatoes
We enjoy having peas and cottage cheese with sweet potatoes... and also some cheesy bread. It makes a colorful and satisfying meal with lots of nutrition.

Sometimes, we have baked sweet potatoes AND regular baked potatoes at the same meal. Mmm good. :)

Sweet potatoes have enough natural sweetness that they really don't need any sugar, but they are wonderful when fixed in a more savory way.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Peppermint Hot Cocoa-Mmmm Good!

We really enjoy a hot cocoa treat once in a while.  I make it homemade... and put peppermint candy in... it is really good... a smooth lightly sweetened treat.

It was cold over the chocolate sounded good... and it was. We all enjoyed it. :)

I start out with whole milk... real milk, not powdered creamer.  

With the milk, cocoa, sugar, salt and vanilla, it was good..... but then I added peppermint... in the form of candy canes... and peppermint candies.  The cocoa simmers slowly and the candies dissolve into the cocoa.

 After Christmas, I buy real peppermint candy canes on sale and save them... they are really cheap at that time.  If there aren't any candy canes, these candies work well also. 

 This is far different from the packaged cocoa mixes... the difference between the two is huge.

It was nice and hot, rich and creamy and the peppermint flavor was so pleasing, but not overpowering. This is a really tasty treat.  We don't have it often... only two or three times a year, but we REALLY enjoy it when we do.  :)

Cocoa tastes wonderful in a pretty china tea cup. The peppermint hot chocolate is really tasty... and such a comfort drink.

Another experiment I tried and we all liked was to add cinnamon red hots instead of peppermint. It was really tasty also... but the peppermint remains our favorite.

It is a special treat and well-worth the trouble. I find that I would rather do without hot cocoa most of the winter... and just drink hot tea... and then I can really enjoy hot cocoa on those special occasions and not feel guilty about it. :) I don't really care for packaged cocoa mixes but I greatly enjoy this drink. 

                                           Peppermint Hot Cocoa

                    8 cups whole milk
                    2 cups water
                    1/2 cup cocoa
                    3/4 cup sugar
                    ................................................whisk all together and simmer over low/med heat
                    1 Tablespoon vanilla
                    Dash of salt
                    4 candy canes.... or 12-15 peppermint candies
                    ................................................ add and stir until candies dissolved. Simmer until hot.
                        Heat should not be very high.... and watch that the hot chocolate doesn't scald or burn.
                        Serves 8
                        Enjoy. :)

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Small Garden-Part 2-Growing UP

Gardening in a small garden can be a challenge...there's not a lot of space to use and in the city where we are, containing things helps with the neighbor's perspective of our gardens. So what to do?  We grow things UP as much as possible.

If you missed part 1, you can see it here:
Small Garden-Part 1- Crop Rotation

Many plants can do very well growing up on a trellis. It doesn't even have to be an "official" trellis... you don't have to spend a lot of money.... and maybe not any at all.

The picture above shows more than one kind of trellis... there is a piece of lattice held in place with stakes, there are 2 chair backs tied together to form a trellis.... and there is an old wooden patio umbrella frame in the corner of the picture.

 This picture shows just some metal in a U shape for the cucumbers.

 I always stake my tomatoes. I know that some people like to let them sprawl and if they have a lot of room, that works, but I think even if we get to the country and have more land, I will still stake mine. :)  I have learned to love the neatness of staked tomatoes... and I think it actually helps them.

Behind the tomatoes, see the pretty trellis? It is a metal bed headboard! :)  When you start looking, there are lots of possibilities.

This is the old patio umbrella frame. One of the posts on it is broken, but it is tied together and works great. We used this for cantaloupe and it worked well.  When the cantaloupe get big enough, I create a sling out of pantyhose tied to the wood and the melon rests on that. 

Here are a few other trellis... some of them are "official" trellis... and they are pretty and useful, but I need many more than this.

Below you can see the chair backs trellis... those were for squash this time. Over to the right is another metal bed headboard... I tied the two together... one is tall, one is short... worked well for the first crop of cucumbers.... and of course, there are all of the tomatoes with their pole stakes.

By the way... no need to buy pole stakes if you have something that will work... old pvc pipe...or metal pipe... or bamboo... etc will work also.  I like sturdy stakes... and have used 2"x 2" wood stakes cut to a point on one end... those were wonderful. In this picture, you see that I have "real" tomato stakes... I acquired a large amount of new ones, so decided to use them for the first time ever. They would be fine for smaller lightweight things... like passionflower or even cucumbers, but I hated them for my tomatoes... they weren't strong enough to hold them when the tomatoes were bigger and heavy... especially with storms.

 This is a metal trellis with the clematis growing on it. It is actually an old metal king size headboard and footboard that I hooked together...  We also had other plants growing up this trellis.

Having things grow UP sure helps to save space in the garden... it also allows room for other foods that cannot grow up.... like carrots, onions, radishes and more.

 Over toward the right in this picture... you can see some metal baby gates that have been secured in the stretched out position.

In the picture below, you can see 3 smaller poles tied together.... that was for one of the melons this year. Next to it there are a couple of single trellis tied together... for the second cucumber crop.

In the far right corner of the picture, toward the top, there are old supports from an outdoor canopy... with a board across between two of them (you can only see one of them here). This is for our blackberry vines and it works well.  You can also see the side entrance to the back garden (I like those arched entrances. :)  It is a couple of old porch posts with a couple of metal trim pieces from something... We have since painted it and it looks nicer.  There is another entrance to this back garden with other metal items....  These work well for morning glories and passionflowers to climb and also add charm to the garden.   :) 

There are many possibilities and it is surprising how much we can fit in our little city lot... and I try hard to keep it looking attractive and still be workable.  Growing UP is a big help to gardens... big or small, but especially small. Thank you for visiting today....  I hope you enjoy a great garden season this year. :)

Small Garden Series:
Small Garden-Part 1-Crop Rotation

Small Garden-Part 2-Growing UP

Small Garden-Part 3-More Beds

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Cherry Muffins Are So Tasty!

Cherry muffins really are so good... my family loves cherries and they love muffins, so it just made sense to combine the two. Every year we pick lots of sour cherries and my husband and children have done the pitting... for which I am VERY thankful! I put the pitted cherries into quart sized zipper bags and freeze them, leaving some of the juice in the bag.

After the muffin dough is pretty well mixed, I added the thawed cherries to the mixture and as you can see, there is some juice in it.
 It was very colorful all mixed in like this.

I grew up with a sour cherry tree in the back yard... This wasn't a drwarf tree, but was a full sized tree... we picked many many large dishpans full of cherries... and I got so tired of pitting them. My Dad love cherries and so did my siblings... then I married a man who loves cherries... and we have children who love cherries.

We really need to plant a cherry tree, but that will have to wait until we find a place with more land. We did plant one here years ago... but there was a sledding accident... and the cherry tree didn't survive.

All ready to go into the oven...

Mmmm, these look wonderful... and the house smelled so nice. :)  I made 6 batches of these muffins, so there were a lot of muffins to give that special scent to the house. Of course, the kids had to try them as soon as the muffins came out of the oven... and we had them for supper after my husband got home. 

When I was a teen babysitting for a family of lots of teenaged boys and younger children while the mom was in the hospital having a baby, I made all of the meals.  I was excited to see the home canned jars of cherries and knew I could make some wonderful muffins for the family, so I made an extra large batch... .and they smelled and looked so good. The husband was home for the meal also and as he and all of the kids began eating their muffins, I was so pleased and excited....... until someone found a pit... then someone else did... then everyone did. I was mortified... especially as a teen... it was so embarrassing. I found out that the mom, who had so many kids and did lots of canning, had started canning the cherries WITH the pits in, to save time... but the jars weren't marked that way. Well, everyone ate those muffins... by picking them apart, removing the pit and eating the rest of the cherry and muffin.. my special surprise was ruined, but the pieces did taste good with melted butter on them anyway.  :)

There were no pits in these muffins... the family had done a great job of pitting them. :) 
The muffins tasted really wonderful with the butter melted into them! I made 6 dozen and the family ate them for breakfast and snacks... my husband loved them.  What a blessing to have those cherries.


                                                    Cherry Muffins

                 1/3 cup butter, softened... or melted
                 1/2 cup sugar if using sour cherries, 1/4 if sweet                
                 ...............................................................................................Cream together
                 1 egg
                 3/4 cup milk                                          
                  ...............................................................Add to above mixture... and mix together
                  1 3/4 cups flour
                  2 teaspoons baking powder
                  1/2 teaspoon salt                                    
                  .................................................................Stir gently into the batter
                  1/2-1 cup sour cherries (sweet can also be used, but reduce sugar as indicated above)
                  .................................................................Stir in gently, then spoon mixed batter into greased muffin pan - each muffin cup will be about 2/3 full. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.
Cool on wire racks... and enjoy! :) Makes about 12 muffins.

   The recipe can be doubled, tripled or muliplied as you wish... I usually mix up 6 batches all at once in my large stainless steel mixing bowl.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Yes, I'm Sleep-Deprived... Now What? Part 4

This is part 4 in The Sleep Deprivation Series.

Sleep Deprivation.... a serious subject.... and lots of people suffer from it. Sometimes it is mild and sometimes it is severe, sometimes it is temporary and sometimes it is long-term. If we know we are sleep-deprived, WHAT can we do about it???

If you haven't yet read the first 3 parts of the series and would like to, you can find them here:

Are You Sleep Deprived? Part 1

Yes, I'm Sleep Deprived - So What? Part 2

Sleep Deprivation Affects Children Also-Part 3

We have learned that sleep deprivation can become quite serious as the sleep debt grows and recovering from sleep deprivation is not as easy as just taking a nap unless only a very little sleep has been lost.

For more severe sleep deprivation- that is more than missing just a few hours of sleep once in a while... it can take days, weeks, months.. or even years to stabilize the body and repair the damage.

We have reviewed some of the dangers of losing sleep... of a building sleep-debt. Some of those are health problems, accidents, clumsiness, irritabilitiy, depression, weight gain, fatigue, memory problems.... and more. So maybe you have concluded that you DO have at least some sleep deprivation.... maybe a little or maybe a lot. What can you do about it? Is there hope? What if you try... and still can't sleep?  So many issues.... 

There is no magic cure... no pill to make it all "better"... and no shortcuts for making up the sleep.... but there are some things that can help. I do want to state that I am not a doctor... nor am I a health professional of any kind.... I am just a woman who has suffered from sleep deprivation and I have studied and experimented and I am sharing some those things. You will have to decide if you will do anything about this... and what it will be.

Here are some things that may possibly help:

~ limit caffeine and don't take any caffeine after 3pm or even 2 pm

~use only lower lights for 1-2 hours before bed.... not the overheads, if possible

~stop using the computer, cell phone, and other electronics devices 1-2 hours before bed

~keep the room you sleep in... a bit cool

~establish a bed time and try to keep to it as much as possible

~develop a routine for before bed and try to stick with it

~do lighter reading before bed and not high exciting adventure

~exercise, but earlier in the day-not right before bed

~make it a practice to breathe deeply several times a day

~a warm bath with epsom salts and/or a few drops of essential oils can be soothing

~don't watch TV in bed... or in the bedroom at all, if possible

~a cup of tea may be calming... chamomile is good... or peppermint...licorice, hops, etc
~sleep in a dark room, if possible                                                         
~wear ear plugs or a sleep mask, if necessary

~melatonin may help

~have a quiet spirit before bed... this isn't the time to "brain storm" or debate a subject

~be thankful, recite scripture, pray

~ a snack of bananas, turkey, yogurt or milk

 There are also many sleep aid medicines on the market, but some of them can be dangerous, have unpleasant side effects or quit working after a while and I don't choose to use the mainstream remedies, although you are free to do so, if you choose. It is a good idea to do your research on them first.

There are natural ways to investigate for dealing with the problem also...   Good nutrition is important for a healthy body, so eating a healthy diet is helpful. As was already stated, exercise is important... and working hard can lead to better sleep as the body, including the muscles, gets tired and relaxes.  Also, sometimes certain vitamins or minerals could help.... like magnesium, calcium, brewer's yeast, and more.

 Some possible nutritional helps include: hops, valerian, melatonin, lemon balm, passionflower,skullcap, california poppy.

Essential oils can be helpful and used as a bath additive or topically.... some good ones are: lavender, chamomile and marjoram.  I suffer from allergies and feeling "stuffed up", so I LOVE using eucalyptus and peppermint in my bathwater. I put a few drops on the top of the water, then sprinkle epsom salts over the drops to absorb them... they stay fragrant, but they don't burn my skin when I get in.
Hormonal changes can lead to insomnia, so if you are at an age where this can be an issue, it might help to address that.

Obviously, this isn't a comprehensive article... much more could be said. You wouldn't want to do all of the things listed here... some of them I have never done, but I might someday... others I do every day and they help. It is important to do your own research before you use herbs, essential oils and more. They are VERY helpful... but be wise in using them. For example, some things are safe in pregnancy and others aren't, some are safe for children and some aren't and some may not mix well with medicines you are taking, etc.  If you choose to try something, choose one item and research it and add it to what you do... if it helps keep it... if not, discard it.

There is hope... and it is possible to recover from sleep deprivation. Thank you for joining me for this series..... I am planning a summary article to the series, so I hope you will return for that if this is a subject which interests you.  I hope you are able to sleep well and wake refreshed.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Small Garden-Part 1-Crop Rotation

It's the time of year where I like to start thinking about the garden plans. It is way too early to plant, unless you are starting some seeds inside and I am not......but every year I have to plan out where things will go. Most of our gardening here in the city, is done in raised beds and since I practice crop rotation, it means I need to keep track and plan it out.

 This was the plan... at least part of it... from the old house where we had 6 main raised beds. I had it all planned out... and even colored some of it with colored pencils. After planning everything, I found that I needed more room for some things and less for others... but we learned.

It helped to number the beds, so we could refer to them... I also marked the direction of north...

 The next year, there was no color to the plan, but I still put the plan on paper.. and I do it every year... although the plans have become less and less orderly. :)   It is nice to look back and see what we planted and where.

 Mostly, it helps so that I don't plant the same thing in the same bed 2 years in a row. Crop rotation helps to minimize insect and disease problems.  By changing what is planted in the bed, the insects and diseases troubling certain types of plants may find they have no host.. .and so they die out. I replant in the same bed 3 years later.

I usually take the notebook out to the garden when I plant... sometimes I follow the plan in the notebook... and sometimes I PUT the plan in the notebook as I plant... :)  Both work. My pages have gotten damp from rain... but it is a working notebook. I have had better and more detailed records some years... and less others. One year, I had quite an elaborate chart of what I planted... price I paid for the seeds, date planted, first harvest, last harvest, pests, yield, etc..... I don't do that anymore. :)  I am just too busy to keep up with all of it... and the main thing is to plant and harvest, so that is what I focus on.

This was the start of the raised beds at the new house... we have lived in the "new" house for 18 years now. :)  
 We only had room to put 4 beds in at the new house... and they didn't go in for many years. Before we had the beds, we made other beds here and there out in the back garden... or used pots... or used a bit of ground. I can't imagine being totally without a garden. :)

 The plans are not detailed... just enough to help me remember where things were planted. 

I try to rotate vegetable families on a 3 year rotation plan. I have done 3 year because that is about all I can handle for the space I have... a 4 year rotation would actually be better for some of the crops.
I tend to rotate these plants:

1. brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, kohlrabi, radishes

2. tomatoes, corn, pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, melons, potatoes

3. carrots, parsnips, parsley, dill, fennel, coriander

4. peas, beans 

5. onions, garlic
 What the groups mean is that I try not to plant anything from a group into the same bed for 2 years after I have planted something from the group in a bed. 

You can see how that can really complicate things... especially when I have such a limited amount of space. I cannot always keep to this, but it does help when I do.

Since I have 5 groups, that doesn't work well with 4 beds and a 3 year rotation.... sometimes I rotate half of a bed instead of the whole thing... it isn't ideal, but it works. We also LOVE tomatoes, so usually 2 of the beds are full of tomatoes... so those only get a 2 year rotation usually, although I also plant some on the side of the house, in the back garden, in a pot... or other places. :)

We continue to add beds here and theres, so I really need to come up with a better map of my beds. I have started doing 2 and 3 crops of certain vegetables, which really complicates the planning....and the rotating.

I also try to practice companion planting which really helps the way my plants grow. 

Keeping track of garden plans from year to year, is a good idea.

I find that my garden, like life, is in a constant transistion... as I learn more, as we change how we do things... or plant more... or less.... as we add beds... or take them away... we adjust how we do things... and God blesses the harvest. Some years the harvest is great and other years it is lighter... but He always provides. Some years, the tomatoes do amazingly well.... other years the cukes do great and the tomatoes don't give as many. For me, crop rotation is one way to protect my soil, and my plants... it helps with pest control... and also to keep from depleting certain nutrients in the soil. 

If you have never had a garden, don't let a plan deter you... and if all you can do is have a pot of plants, I hope you will... those homegrown tomatoes.. or peppers... or cucumbers...or herbs.... etc ... are wonderful. Using a pot, or a little flower bed or a raised bed... can provide some food... It is also surprising how much can be grown in a small space.

I plan to do more in this series about small gardens... and what works in my garden... I hope you will return... and I would love to hear your comments of what works in your garden... whether it is large or small.  Thank you for visiting and I hope you have a wonderful week. 

The Small Garden Series:

Small Garden-Part 1-Crop Rotation

Small Garden-Part 2-Growing UP

Small Garden-Part 3-More Beds

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