Thursday, September 29, 2011

Honey Apple Cake

We attended the Missouri River Outdoor Expo in Ponca State Park a few weeks ago.  My family looks forward to this excursion every year, because it's a weekend full of free activities and demonstrations.  We arrived early on Saturday morning and spent the whole day exploring the park and river.  In the past we have camped over, but the weather was uncooperative this year. 

In the historical recreation village a family of beekeepers were selling honey combs full of the sweet golden treat.  I was ecstatic!  I have been missing the honey man at our local farmer's market and I took advantage of the opportunity to get local honey.  I snagged a few blocks of beeswax, honey, and a chunk of honeycomb to cart home. 

The boys and I have been nibbling the honey comb, but I was aching to make a treat with my newly acquired honey.  I settled for this fall delicacy using local ingredients, except for the pecans.  Nebraska doesn't seem to have an abundance of these, but I could easily substitute walnuts.  (We need to visit my husband's grandmother in Texas soon and I hope to unload her yard of the precious nuts.)

Here's what you will need to make Honey Apple Cake:
  • 1 cup pecans, finely chopped and divided
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups peeled and diced apples (about 3 large apples)
  • Honey sauce (recipe down below)
  • ice cream-  this is optional, but really good!

Here's what you do:

  • Grease and flour a 10 cup Bundt pan.  Sprinkle half the pecans around the bottom.  Make sure the pan is the right size.  I had a small mishap with mine and the fire alarms were ringing!
  • Beat sugar, oil, and honey until well blended.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating until well blended.
  • Combine flour, soda, salt, and spices. 
  • Stir in the vanilla, pecans, and apple chunks.
  • Pour into the prepared pan.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for about 70 minutes. 
  • Cool in pan for 15 minutes and turn over.
  • While warm, prepare the honey sauce and glaze with about 1/3 of the sauce.
  • Serve the cool cake with ice cream and warm honey sauce drizzled on top.

Here's the recipe for Honey Sauce :

  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup honey
Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Over medium heat, stir constantly and boil for 2 minutes.  Serve this sauce warm.  It tastes wonderful over ice cream and is a delight even without the cake!

How To Cure A Birdhouse Gourd?

I have come to the conclusion that I can grow anything NOT edible. 

I struggle with widening watermelons, plumping pumpkins, and cultivating cantaloupes.  I have a gift to grow weeds and inedible gourds in abundance-  but, can I manage to harvest a spaghetti squash? 


Last year I pillaged over 200 (yes 200!) 4-6 foot long snake gourds.  Do you know how hard it is to give away 200 decorative gourds?  I supplied 5 towns and three counties with the slinky slitherin.

This year I banished the snakes and tried my hand at birdhouse gourds.  I did manage to bring in a small return for my efforts, but now I am left trying to "cure" the gourds before I can turn them into bird abodes.

To "cure" my gourds here is what I am attempting:
  • I let the fruit rest on the vines until the frost killed the foliage.
  • I cut the stems long and allow them to harden and remain.
  • I put the gourds in a dry and sunny place with a lot of air circulation.
  • Now I am waiting.  I don't want to work with the gourds until they are completely hardened.  Hopefully, they will dry and I can transform them into art.
Do you have any tricks for drying gourds?  I would love to know them...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Encouraging Children to Save Your Money! Electrifying Results

I have seen several articles on teaching children to be financially fit from Dave Ramsey followers to industrious mothers instilling life lessons.  This post will not be a guide to create little Suze Ormans.  Today's post will be a simple idea to encourage your children to be conscious of the electric bill.

This new series will be a compilation of some ideas to help your children get aboard your money saving program.  As parents, we budget and sacrifice our wants and desires for the family.  It's only fair that children realize that everyone in a family needs to work together for a common purpose. 

First things first. 

My children aren't always willing participants when it comes to sticking to a budget.  They balk and sometimes try to sell me a sob story so I buy their argument.  However, most of the time they understand and help curb their gimmes and wastefulness. 

I am thankful that recycling is now considered cool and reusing an item is acceptable.  I rely on that argument several times a day.  In a weird way, I owe Al Gore a big thank you hug.

There are wonderful resources available that have even more great ideas.  Please feel free to suggest your ideas or sites in the comment section.  I know I am always looking for feasible ideas that will help the boys bypass a few of our mistakes.

Here is one idea we incorporated in our family life to promote savings and budgeting: 

Electrifying Results! 

Our electric bill last winter was a nightmare.  I literally dreaded opening up that envelope and the 15th of the month was filled with anxiety.  We devised a plan to help the boys get excited about reducing the amount of electricity our family consumed.  Basically, we bribed them with cold hard cash. 

IF the boys keep the electric bill under $150, the children split the cash difference among the three of them.

It was a simple idea and I am not sure where I encountered this concept.  My husband and I decided that $150 was an acceptable electric bill amount to budget for.  The children were then given the task of keeping their lights, game systems, chargers, and computers off when they weren't using them.   We might not meet our goal every month, but the boys LOVE when we receive a bill for $114.  They get to split the surplus $36 between them.  I LOVE it because I am not always harping on them to turn off the lights or unplug their chargers.

It sounds funny to pay the boys to save, but when they are on board with our budget we don't get blindsided by surprise $500 electricity bills.  Paying my boys a few dollars a month motivates them to save and helps my bottom line.  I would rather keep our money in the family than give it to the fat cat's at the electric company.  This method pays them for their efforts.

Do you have any great ideas for encouraging your children to help the family's electricity budget?

For more money saving ideas I have a few posts in the Saving Money and Living Simple sections above.  Feel free to look around.  I have more ideas for saving the green on your next electric bill posted here:  Peak and Off Peak Hours.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Steadfast Steps

Lately, I have been highlighting a few of my favorite blogs.  My friend Sarah publishes a blog about her homesteading, homeschooling, and Nebraska life at Steadfast Steps.  She has posts ranging from recipes to healing chaffed udders.  I hope you stop by and check out her ideas on living a self-sustaining lifestyle.

Here is an excerpt from her bio at Steadfast Steps:

I am a homeschooling, homemaking mom who loves the Lord. I enjoy gardening, baking, caring for my animals, crafting, sewing, reading, and being involved in church activities. My most important job at this season of my life is teaching my children to follow Christ Jesus and setting a good example for them on how to do that. I am also striving to learn to live more off the land and what I can grow or make on my own instead of buying it.
Here are a few of her featured posts:

Do you have any fun blogs you like to follow?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Popcorn Cake

I am the proud mother of a Boy Scout and Cub Scout.  That means every fall we hit the pavement peddling popcorn to our neighbors and friends.  I buy my fair share of the kernels from the Pack and Troop.  Simply put-   that leaves us with a surplus of popcorn.

AND this year we grew our own.

What to do?  What to do?

I remember reading about a family that survived the Great Depression by eating only popcorn one winter.  I am not about to embark that route, but I will admit buttery popcorn on a blustery night is a wonderful treat.  Sometimes, it's nice to liven things up and try something new.

I do know a few fun ways to dress up plain old popcorn.

One of our favorites is this popcorn cake.  It's really an easy and fancy way to serve marshmallow popcorn balls.  The cake is great for large crowds and fall parties, because you only need to slice and serve.  You don't burn your fingers forming ball after ball!

You can get creative with your additions.  I typically incorporate peanuts, candy corn, and m&m's.  I have added craisins, pecans, raisins, almonds, and other dried fruits.  I usually serve the younger crowd and haven't heard any rumblings from them yet.  Although, it's hard to complain when your chewing marshmallowy popcorn...

Here is what you will need to make a popcorn cake:
  • greased tube, angel food, or loaf pan
  • 8-10 cups of popped popcorn with the old maids sorted out
  • 5 cups of marshmallows
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup of each additional ingredient, we used candy corn, m&m's, and peanuts
  • microwave
Here is how you concoct this conglomeration:
  • Prepare your pan by greasing it generously.
  • Pop your popcorn and remove all the old maids.  It's no fun to bite on a hard kernel.  The children are great at sorting through the popcorn and digging for the offensive nibbles.

  • In a microwave safe bowl, mix your marshmallows, butter, and vanilla.  Cook on high for about 2 minutes and the marshmallows have risen and are soft enough to stir.
  • Add your popcorn and gently mix. 

  • After all the popcorn is coated, add your additional ingredients and stir until they are coated. 
  • Pour into your greased pan.  With buttered hands, gently compact the cake.

  • Let "cure" for a few hours and turn over onto your serving platter.
  • To serve, slice the cake into pieces using a bread knife and sawing motions.

  • Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Homemade Cinnamon Candied Apples

I canned a bunch of cinnamon apples for a neighbor and our family last year when we had a plentiful apple harvest.  Apples prepared this way are a treat by themselves or a perfect accompaniment with roasted meat. 

You don't need to "can" these sweets, but you will need to process them in a water bath if you don't plan on eating them within a few days.  They do stay nice in your refrigerator for a few days and taste marvelous chilled.

You can cut them into rings or eighths (like I did above).  Whatever you enjoy will work.  I prefer slicing them in wedges, because I think they are easier for the children to eat.  It also allows me to squeeze a lot more apple slices into a quart jar. 

I have used two different recipes.  One uses cinnamon perils and the other relies on cinnamon sticks.  I like them both, because I enjoy the vibrant red of the cinnamon candies and the visible sticks in the apples.

I will have a few disappointed guys this fall, because our apples didn't fare very well this Spring and decided not to hang around for the summer.  I am hoping that I can snag a few pecks from the Farmer's Market for a good price.  What would Fall be like with no apples to peel and put up?

To make this fall delicacy, peel and slice your apples. Soak the slices in lemon juice and water until ready for use. This will prevent the wedges from turning brown.

Here are the recipes I use for Cinnamon Candied Apples:

Cinnamon Stick Apples
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • red food coloring (optional)
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • lemon juice
  • fresh apples, peeled and sliced (about 8-10 large apples per recipe)

Bring the syrup to a boil and boil for 5 minutes in a large pot. Add the apples to the syrup and bring to a boil for another 30 minutes. This infuses the flavor in the apples and the aroma in your house.  Pack and seal following the directions below.

Candied Cinnamon Apples
  • 1 3/4 cups of sugar
  • 3/4 cups of water
  • 9 ounces of small red cinnamon candies
  • about 8 large apples
Combine the sugar, water, and cinnamon candies in a pot and heat over a medium flame.  Stir until the candies are dissolved.  Add the apples and bring to a boil.  Cook about 7 minutes or until the apples are tender.  If you want to can them, seal using the following guidelines:

Processing and Sealing

Pack tightly into jars and pour syrup over the apple slices.  Leave a 1/2 inch of headspace and remove air bubbles with a knife.  Seal the jars with lids and rings.

Process apple slices in a boiling water bath.  15 minutes for pints and 20 minutes for quarts.

60th Birthday False Alarm

My father celebrated his 60th birthday over Labor Day weekend.  The hubby and I loaded up the minivan with boys, a set of golf clubs, and a dog for the trek to the Sandhills.  The plan was to celebrate with friends and a barbecue of smoked ribs. 

We did get our smoke, enough to ignite the beeping and screeching fire alarms in the house.  It wasn't the ribs on fire, it was the cake....

Literally, the cake was blazing.  Next time Mom and I will wait to light the candles until everyone is ready.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Corn and Potato Chowder

Fall is hanging in the air and I have been chasing boys over hill and dale to school and church activities in a 30 mile radius from our home.  The tree leaves are starting to change and the fields we pass are taking on a golden hue.  We've begun harvesting pumpkins and gourds from the garden so I felt it was time to bring back easy and warm dinners. 

To celebrate the promise of fall and a late afternoon football game, I made a batch of corn and potato chowder for dinner.  I had made the soup earlier in the day and reheated it when we returned home after football.  All I needed to do was warm up some garlic bread and serve.

It was easy and hearty.  A win for the Bears and a win for me!

Here's what you will need:

  • 1 pound bacon
  • 4 ears of sweet corn or 1 pint of frozen corn
  • 1 red onion
  • 4 large potatoes diced
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 bunch of green onions or a small onion
  • 1 cup heavy cream or whole milk (we use milk)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon pepper or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 6-8 slices American cheese
Optional additions:  cumin, mushrooms, thyme, turmeric, cheese

Here's what you do:
  • In a heavy stock pot, crisp the bacon until it's golden brown.
  • Drain the grease and chop up the bacon into small pieces, about 1 inch size. 
  • Add onions and cook until tender.

  • In the same pan-  add chicken broth, potatoes, and corn.  Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan while stirring to loosen the small bacon pieces from the pan. 
  • Simmer until the potatoes are tender.

  • Stir in the milk, cheese, and butter and heat through.  You do not want it to boil and curdle the milk.
  • Remove from the heat and serve.
  • We like to garnish with a sprinkle of cheese and croutons, but I was out of them for the day.  We opted to have a crusty piece of warm garlic bread to round out the meal.
Note: I typically double this recipe to make enough for our family of 5 and the occasional extra...

Friday, September 9, 2011

Three Signs Your Mother Needs To Update Her Cupboards

I love to tease my mother.  So this post is in honor of her.

We prepared a barbecue for my father's 60th birthday over Labor Day weekend.  I had a good laugh while I dug around Mom's spice cupboard.  I didn't find cobwebs or mice or anything of that ilk.  The cupboards were clean and organized. 

However, I was amazed at the old relics hidden in the corners.

Here are a few antiquities I unearthed:

  • 39 Cent Canning Lids! 

  • $2.29 Barbecue Seasoning-  The camera wouldn't focus on the price tag, but this was purchased before bar codes! 

  • An Allspice Box With A Wonderful Patina-  Do they make spices in boxes anymore?

What's the oldest thing lurking in your cupboards?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Homemade Grape Juice

My Great Aunt Joan introduced me to this wonderful and easy recipe a few years ago when she found out I grew grapes.  It's simple, fast, and economical.  Technically, I believe it's more of a juice cocktail-  BUT it's got to be better than Kool-aid or soda.  

This is one of the easiest canning items I put up and the children LOVE it!  We get the whole family involved with picking, stemming, and measuring sugar.  It's wonderful to spend an afternoon making a real treat!

Here are the items you will need:
  • 1 cup washed and stemmed fresh ripe grapes per quart jar-  I have used green and purple grapes from the garden before
  • 1/2 to 1 cup sugar per quart jar
  • boiling water
  • sterilized quart jars and lids
  • water bath canner

Here is what you do:
  • Wash and stem the grapes.  Put 1 cup in each sterilized hot quart jar.
  • Add sugar you can use 1/2 cup to 1 cup per each quart.
  • Fill the jars with boiling water, leaving 1/4 inch head space.  Cap with canning lids.  I like to carefully shake them to help mix the sugar and grapes. 
  • Process the quarts for 10-15 minutes in a boiling water bath.
  • To serve, strain the grapes into a pitcher.

Any ideas on what I have planned for this evening?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hoppy Frog Friends Craft

This morning we crafted ourselves some frog friends.  My mother had used this craft idea during her summer reading program a few years ago and I thought we would try our hand at it this morning.  We had leftover party blowers from my father's 60th birthday party and I hate to throw out perfectly good craft materials.

These little amphibians kept the children occupied for a long time.  We learned about frogs and tadpoles.  As an extra bonus (as my mother pointed out) these are great for developing muscles in the mouth and will help children with speech.  They are cute too!

The children loved their frogs and attempted to "rid" my house of flies, spiders, and dragonflies.  I am considering branching out into the exterminating business.  Now, if only they weren't terrified of the real deal...

Here is what you will need:
  • one green paper plate-  We had colored ones, but you could paint or color white ones.
  • one red paper plate
  • one party blower-  The ones that roll up work the best for catching rogue flies.
  • two eyes-  Mom used ping pong balls and I used squiggly eyes that I had on hand.  Get creative!
  • four legs-  This is optional, but I was teaching them about frogs and their life cycle. 
  • stapler, hot glue, or sturdy tape-  I prefer hot glue, but I had to keep little fingers away.  I ended up finishing most of our projects. 
Here's what you will do:

  • In the middle of your plates, cut a small circle or rectangle large enough to fit the blower in.  Align the cuts to match up on the pairs of plates.

  • Take your plates and put them together with the colors facing out.  The green will be on top and the red will be inside for the mouth.  Glue them together.

  • Add your eyes.  I propped them toward the front so you could easily see them. 

  • Glue your legs onto the bottom of the frog.  You could accordion fold the legs to make them bouncy.

  • Insert your party blower.

  • Blow away! 

We love our hoppy frog friends!  What did you make today?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Homemade Furniture Polish

I have a ton of old woodwork in my home and that equals to a lot of dusting each week.  We have opened the windows and already I am noticing more dust squatting on my furniture and it's not even harvest time yet.  I am beginning to feel like I set up a dust bunny preserve in my bookshelves.  Dust congregates there and reproduces faster than I can wipe them away.

Pledge, Swiffer, Old Gold, Murphy's Oil Soap, and more polishes are pricey when you need a bottle or two every month.  I have found an easy way to make my own furniture polish without a scary price tag AND the polish I shake up is void of chemicals. 

You could eat this stuff if you really wanted!  Trust me-  I have had a child or two decide to lick the colonnades or buffet right after I wiped them down.  I would rather use ingredients I can pronounce and know what particles I am releasing into my home's air.  I do have a bottle of polish locked up in the bathroom, but I use it sparingly. 

I rely on my easy furniture polish daily.  With a little buffing, you will have your house shined in no time.

Here are the two ingredients:  lemon juice and olive oil.

Here's what you do:
  • In a bottle or jar, combine the following:
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
I found this recipe in an older book and they recommend throwing away the leftover cleaner. 

I don't. 

I simply store it in the fridge and let it warm to room temperature before using again. 

Friday, September 2, 2011


Encased by a sweet bread, the fruit center of these handheld Czech desserts are a special treat for my "wee beasties".   A little help from my bread machine and a jar of jam make these toothsome delights a snap to make.  Your efforts will not go unnoticed, these are wonderful little treats that grownups and children both enjoy.

You will have time to focus your energy on discussing the correct way to spell kolaches.  Is it "kolaces" or "kolaches"?  That's the hot topic in our kitchen today...

Anyway you spell it, they still taste great!  Here's an easy way to make kolaches:

In a bread machine (or by hand) make the sweet dough.  If you are using a bread machine add the ingredients in the order listed and use your dough cycle.  You may need to add a bit of flour in the mixing to get your dough to the right consistency.  It should be formed in a ball shape and be a little sticky, but not stick to your hands.
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 package yeast
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

After the dough has risen, about an 90 minutes, you will need to grease a couple of cookie sheets and your hands.  Form the dough into 2 inch balls and space them on the cookie sheet.

With your fingers, create an indention in the middle of each ball.

Fill the hole with a tablespoon of jelly, jam, pie filling, or prepared fruits.  Our favorite kolache filling is peach jam, but we have used strawberry and cherry pie filling also.  My neighbor even has a special cottage cheese filling that I plan on trying someday soon.

Let rise for a few minutes, and then bake in a 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes.  Watch them and make sure you don't let them brown too much.  If you desire, brush them with butter right after they come out of the oven.