Beautiful Day

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Crockpot Baked Oatmeal

I'm always in search of ways to simplify meal preparations; especially on Sunday.  I do love creativity in preparing food, but I do like to do other things sometimes than cook!  Our Sundays involve a bit of prior planning.  I think to some degree this is helpful always, just to preserve a restful Sabbath.  But it is also magnified by the fact that we have a bit of a drive to church on Sunday mornings, so it helps if things run a bit like a "well-oiled machine."  Since our church hosts weekly shared meals after worship service, there is the planning for the lunch meal.  We also like our sit-down breakfasts together, so I look for ways to keep breakfast simple and nutritious and still a little bit special (not the same things we might eat every other day of the week).

I've been making baked oatmeal for several years now as part of the rotating breakfast menu.  It is a family favorite here!  Usually I soak the oatmeal with the buttermilk and a few other ingredients the night before, which aids in how well it nourishes the body.  Then I finish the preparations in the morning, pour it into a casserole dish, and bake it in the oven.  We serve it with milk and it makes a hearty breakfast.

I've tried several varieties of ovenight steel cut oatmeal in the crockpot.  The first few times I couldn't stand the fact that it would inevitably be practically burned to the side and bottom of the crockpot (making washing a huge chore!) and it would taste mushy (we rather prefer that little bit of chewy texture in oatmeal).  So I had given up on overnight cereals in the crockpot.

I then discovered the water bath method and I have loved it!  It essentially makes your crockpot act similar to a double boiler.  I found some steel cut oat recipes that were amenable to this method.  It's still true that the textures are generally softer--but they are not burnt at all!

This is how it works:  Find a heat-proof dish (one that you would bake in your oven) that will fit inside your crockpot and will allow you to still close the lid.  Mix all of your ingredients for the baked oatmeal in that dish.  I would, however, leave any dried fruit out until morning. Place it inside the crockpot.  Pour water into the crockpot dish, which is OUTSIDE OF your cereal dish, filling it about to the level of where the cereal is in your dish.  Place the cover on the crockpot and set it to cook about 7 hours.  I usually turn mine on around 11 pm and set it to end around 5:30 am.  It will automatically go to the "Keep Warm" setting, so the cereal will stay warm until breakfast time.  When I get up in the morning, I add the raisins or apples to the top, replace the cover, and let it sit until we are ready to eat.

Take the dish out and straight to your breakfast table.  Spoon into bowls and serve with additional milk.  I was even amazed that the texture of this one came out very close to the oven-baked variety!

*Baked Oatmeal

1/2 cup butter, melted (could use coconut oil for all or part as well)
2/3 to 3/4 cup Rapadura or SUCANAT (sugar)
3 cups rolled oats
1-1/2 cups buttermilk (or yogurt)
1 tsp. cinnamon

2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt (I prefer a little less)
1/2 cup dried raisins, or 1-2 tart apples, chopped

FOR BAKING IN OVEN:  Mix first 5 ingredients in a bowl the night before you want to serve it.  In the morning, add the last 4 ingredients and stir together well.  Bake in a greased 11x7 baking pan at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.  Top with nuts, ground flax, yogurt, warmed milk or any other toppings you wish.

FOR CROCKPOT:  Mix together all ingredients in heat-proof dish.  Follow above instructions for cooking overnight in your crockpot.

*recipe adapted from Marilyn Moll of The Urban Homemaker

I made a bigger batch of this recipe, though I cannot remember if it was 1-1/2 times or 2 times larger.  It worked wonderfully for the dish I have still fits just right in my crockpot.

I am delighted to have a simple and nutritious recipe for our Sunday morning breakfast repertoire!  I would like to try the same concept with egg casseroles.  Has anyone tried this yet?

"Embracing--rather than resisting--the daily necessity of feeding a household can be a way of embracing the privilege of participating with God in this aspect of providential care.  Feeding a household is not an achievement that, once accomplished, can be checked off and set aside to make room for other pursuits.  Feeding a household is an act of faithfulness, one that requires daily energy and attention and whose pleasures and rewards are experienced in the course of that faithfulness rather than only at the end."
 ~ from Keeping House by Margaret Kim Peterson


Friday, March 23, 2012

Beauty Breaks Forth

Feel the sun on your skin
Growing strong and warm again
Watch the ground: there's something moving
Something is breaking through
New life is breaking through
Spring is coming, Spring is coming
And all we've been hoping and longing for soon will appear
Spring is coming, Spring is coming
And it won't be long now, it's just about here
  ~Steven Curtis Chapman, "Spring is Coming"

We had a very unusual advent of spring this year.  We were greeted by at least six inches of snow!  It's been fun, though it won't last long.  In fact, it's gorgeously sunny today and the snow's a-melting.  I love spring!  I love how it bears such a reminder that God is about making all things new!  The song above was a powerful gift during a difficult time a couple of years ago--our family was separated for several months during Warrior's deployment.  I always considered it a special grace from my Lord that the timing of it and everything we went through traced the same pattern of the seasons.  And since his return was in spring, this song ministered deeply to me in that time as we waited with great hope and anticipation.

These images also speak something of Narnia to me---when winter's long spell is broken and the signs of life are breaking forth everywhere.  Aslan is on the move.  Winter has been conquered.

Lord Jesus, before You I patiently wait
Come now and within me a new heart create
To those who have sought You, You never said "No"
Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow
~"Whiter than Snow," by James Nicholson 

There's something remarkable about the contrasts in a spring snow--plants on the cusp of life following the dormant season.  Colors painted on a canvas of white.  I can always use an infusion of new life to awaken me from a sense of dormancy!

Off to enjoy the beauty of today's sunshine with my little ones!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Patrick's Pancakes and Other Green Fun

Last week I enjoyed finding creative ideas to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.  I do like Irish things like the music and dance and taking the opportunity to remember the work of Saint Patrick in spreading the Gospel to Ireland.  Last year, Warrior and I had a fun date out to a local Ceili dance and it was tons of fun even though I was pregnant and it was a lot of spinning!  It was tremendous and invigorating exercise.  We didn't get to do that this year (I'd love to take the whole family sometime), but I did want to commemorate the occasion.

We timed one of our studies so that we could spend some time in Patrick's Confessions this month.  My favorite children's book for the occasion is the one by Tomie de Paola.

So I found this idea and thought it was perfect since St Patrick's Day fell on a Saturday this year and we usually have pancakes on Saturday mornings (you can view our pancake recipe in this post).  I surprised the children with this fun breakfast.  Warrior made the pancakes and I worked on the embellishments.  Besides pancakes, we had fruit kabobs and this green smoothie.  It was my own concoction of frozen grapes, kiwi, yogurt and ginger ale (and only a couple of drops of green food coloring for good measure--I'm not a fan of food coloring, in general).

I always make a traditional dinner meal as well.  I did this on Friday because it was logistically easier--we usually make pizzas on Saturday nights.  So I made our favorite soup for the occasion--Irish Potato-Leek Soup and a great Irish Soda Bread recipe (sorry, no pictures for this one).  I do also like the American Corned Beef and Cabbage meal, but only if I can corn the beef myself!  Or find one that is not coated in nitrates.  I have a funny story about Corned Beef from my early married days.  Our first St Patrick's Day as a married couple I wanted to make a festive dinner, so I bought the corned beef and cooked it in my crock pot.  I'm not sure what I did, but it was a tough bit of meat and incredibly salty.  Warrior graciously said something to the effect of it not ranking up there as one of his favorite dinners (and if I would please not make that again) and I was agreeable to that.  But I do love a good Reuben Sandwich, so I was sure there would be some way to  do it yourself and I did find one.  I took the time to try it again a couple of years ago and it turned out AMAZING!  I had redeemed myself from the great "Corned Beef Catastrophe!"  Hurray!  I didn't have time to do it this year, but I'm sure I shall in the future.

The children wanted their fun, so we decided to make these lemon-lime cupcakes.  They were just right!

And, again, I like to make my little surprises for my dear ones, so I made this one:

Now it's time to look forward to Resurrection Sunday!  It's all coming so fast this year.  And while we're enjoying our visions of spring--the chickadees looking to make a nest in our home for them, the trees swelling with new buds, the peonies peeking out of the soil, and my rhubarb returning (I simply can't wait to harvest those!) THIS is what we woke up to this morning:

It's oh, so lovely.  More happy dances from little ones.  And as Patrick's Breastplate reminds me, my prayer is to see Christ with us in all things today.   A happy "top o' the mornin'" to you!


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Of Candlelight and Cream of Tomato Soup

Yesterday we had a power outage for a couple of hours as a result of a windstorm.  Moments like these are always reminders of how dependent we can be.  I was putting myself in preparation mode, not knowing how long our power would be out.  Plus, the children had choir practice, which takes us out of the house for the better part of the afternoon.  This means dinner is to be ready before I depart.  Needless to say, my plans were thrown awry for awhile.  It was kind of a little adventure.  And times like these I appreciate the opportunity to be reminded of how much I need to brush up on emergency preparedness.

I had one of these little moments in a hotel a couple of weeks ago.  Warrior and my oldest children were away for half of the day.  I was at breakfast with my littlest children.  I did one of those things I NEVER do.  I decided to minimize what I was carrying down to breakfast and leave my purse (with my keys!) in the hotel room.  After all, I already had a stroller and a diaper bag.  Then it the middle of breakfast (on a cold and windy morning) the alarms went off ordering everyone to evacuate the hotel due to a small electrical "incident" (or fire) somewhere. Oh now I was really kicking myself for not having my keys!  We did not have coats and my poor little Princesses were distraught and COLD.  At least I had a hat for baby and a wrap and blankets.  If I had my keys, we could have at least sat in the truck to warm up while waiting it out.  Or do like our friends did, and head to Starbucks for a warm drink!  But I was stuck outside with many others (and there were many children who came down to breakfast in their pajamas and bare feet--or shorts!).  Fortunately, it passed within about 30 minutes.  And thankfully, a gracious woman had brought a bed comforter down with her when we were evacuated and gave it to my little girls before they headed to their car.  But ever since, when I get out of my vehicle I think about scenarios like this and if I'll have what I need in an emergency.

I've also become quite aware that one cannot ultimately prepare for EVERY emergency.We must trust the sovereign LORD.  Even if I have all of my ducks in a row, there can always be a circumstance that makes it all for naught.  That said, it IS wise to prepare what we can, as Joseph did, especially when little ones are depending on us to care for them.  This post isn't going to be all about how to do that.  It is simply a reminder to me of things I want to comsider.  And to share my recipe that came of it all.

So, with the power outage I found myself thinking of all the things I hadn't done yet....diapers that needed washing and dinner that needed making among others.  Since our phone is connected to our computer, our landline was cut off too.  I got out my cell phone and discovered it was running a little low on charge.  At this point I was rather wishing to be more "off-grid" than we are!  (And thinking of my sweet friend who is!)  I remembered that I do have a functioning range, however.  Since it is a gas range, all I needed was my handy lighter wand.  So I could indeed fix soup!  I just had to rearrange my plan as to what kind.  It needed to be quick and easy.  I thumbed through my favorite recipe notebook and ruled out a few until I came upon my Tomato Soup recipes.  I have two favorites that are slightly different from one another.  One is my favorite and one is my children's favorite.  I usually reserve this recipe for the peak tomato season in summer when tomatoes are in abundance in our garden.  But, if you can have tomato soup in a can all year round, I figure you can make your own year-round too!  So I adapted to canned ingredients and mixed the two recipes together and it came out delicious!!

I started to savor the occasion and since my kitchen is prone to being a bit dark, I lit one of our beeswax candles to cook by.  It was quite romantic.

Cream of Tomato Soup with Basil

28 oz. cut tomatoes, fresh or canned, pureed in blender (unless you prefer chunky)
1 large can tomato juice (40 oz.)
3 cups water or chicken stock
1 tsp. garlic powder
1-1/2 tsp. dried sweet basil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
2-3 tsp. sugar

White Sauce:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp salt
Fresh ground pepper
4 cups milk (can use up to 1 cup of cream for some of the milk)

Combine pureed tomatoes, tomato juice, and water or chicken stock in large pot. Add dried basil.  Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer 30 minutes.  In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Saute onion and celery in butter until softened.   Add flour and salt and whisk together until thick and blended.  Slowly whisk in the milk.  Heat until thickened, stirring so the milk does not scorch.  Add a bit of fresh ground pepper to your taste.  When the white sauce is thickened, stir into the large pot of tomato mixture.  If desired, use an immersion blender to have a smooth texture to your soup.  Top each soup bowl with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, chopped fresh basil and oyster crackers, if desired.

It went marvelously with my homemade artisan sourdough cheese bread that I pulled out of the freezer to defrost and then heated in the oven before serving!  (Yes, the power returned before dinner).  Don't forget the salad!

When the electricity returned, my children did the happy dance.  I had taken more notes on how to prepare ourselves in the future.  I enjoyed my little thoughts about Ma, Laura, Mary, and Carrie and my wishes for a wood cookstove.  I was a bit sad that there wouldn't be a candlelit evening of reading aloud.  But I kept that candle by my stove and refused to turn the lights on while I finished my soup--and savored how both the softly flickering flame and stirring the tomato soup were feeding a quiet place in my soul that day.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Homestead Blessings Cookbook Review

                                 Product image

When Franklin Springs introduced their "Homestead Blessings" video series, we were intrigued.  And from the beginning we liked the West Ladies.  This mother and daughter foursome are ladies after our own hearts---only they have the land and experiences that far surpass ours!  Country Girls and I were quite enthusiastic to explore more of the homestead arts with them and enjoyed our own cozy mother-daughter evenings gleaning ideas from them.  This is just one of our delights--learning about old-fashioned ways of living and experimenting with just about anything when it comes to home crafts and food.  We rather grew fond of  Vicki and her adult daughters Jasmine, CeCe, and Hannah with their sweet southern charm.  We admired their farm kitchen, their ways of re-purposing materials, and how they made everything look lovely--true ladies of dominion.  We were fond of their clothing, which gave us some inspiration.  My Country Girls love everything from their amazing gardens to their wood cookstove and their old treadle sewing machine.

We've had fun trying out some of their ideas and recipes.  One of my favorite experiments was making my own mozzarella cheese!  My girls often speak of wishing we could have our own miniature dairy cow to supply our family's whole dairy needs.


So we were thrilled to find that the West Ladies compiled a cookbook!   And we think It's a Blessing (as Vicki is so fond of saying in her videos)!  We've been eagerly cooking up these recipes.  It's so fun to have my daughters get equally excited to try some new ones.  As they are the breakfast chefs around here, they have enjoyed rejuvenating the breakfast menu.  Sourdough Pancakes, Breakfast Sandwich, Sunflower-Maple Porridge, and Overnight Rye Porridge have all been served and deemed a success by the whole family--now that is certainly a blessing!

When the weather warms up I think we shall be most eager to try out "Stonewall Jackson's Lemonade."  (You have to know a certain fact about the man to appreciate this one).  Country Girl 1 has also made "Cecilia's Country Cornbread" just so she could make Johnny Cakes--another thing from the Civil War era, though I am sure these taste far beyond anything they could have served up to Civil War soldiers!!

We have yet to make up the soup and salad recipes and many of the dinner entrees.  But we have made the tasty "Oven Beef Stroganoff" and tomorrow I plan to try out the "Sloppy Joe Lentils."  I've made such a lentil recipe before with my own favorite Sloppy Joe recipe, but I made a mistake in how I prepared the lentils, so I'm looking forward to a reason to try again!

There are plenty of delicious "Sweet Things" to try out as well, with an abundance of recipes that would come fresh from the berry patch or orchard (can't wait for that summer fruit!), or at least from the canning of such.  We shall also have to try "Hannah's No-fry Doughnuts" since we like to prepare doughnuts that don't ask us to deep fry them in oil.  And of course, one cannot have a true southern homestead cookbook without a recipe for "Old Fashioned Banana Pudding."

There's even a chapter on things you might prepare for your pantry shelf--this includes a variety of things from raw ketchup (which we've made) and sweetened condensed milk to bug sprays and bubbles.

I like the anecdotal stories told by each of the West Ladies and I particularly like the sections on using a Wood Cookstove and Cast Iron.   In my Tasha-Tudor, quiet-life, homestead- imaginings, I would cook exclusively that way!  But the side of me that appreciates time-saving (and work-saving) would opt to have a modern cookstove as well.  But I really do love cast-iron---especially since my Tender Warrior has taken to seasoning them up oh, so nicely for me!  My girls and I would LOVE to have an outdoor kitchen if we had the space and ability.  It sounds perfect to be able to can and cook outdoors in the summer without heating up the house!

The West Ladies are very whole food and nutrition conscious as well, so you will find a bit of dietary information as well.  And scattered throughout the cookbook are plenty of Vicki's "What a Blessing" homestead kitchen tips.

I think this will be one of those rare cookbooks, for us, that we could actually see ourselves trying just about every recipe in it.  That's a fun challenge to consider.
These ladies are talented in so many areas--we certainly find it a blessing to learn from them!

If you'd like to take a peek at Homestead Blessings and the life of the West Ladies, visit here.  Be sure to listen to their wonderful "Green Beans in the Garden" Song!



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