Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sourdough Crackers

I shared this recipe several years ago, but it is still a family favorite. Since I've been sharing sourdough recipes recently, I thought I'd post it again.

The flavor of these crackers is wonderful. They remind me of goldfish, even though they contain no cheese! I'm glad these things are good for you because I can't keep from eating them!

The dough is soft and tender and I found it a little hard to roll out.The easiest way I found was to roll them on parchment or a silicone mat and then transfer to the baking sheet. I've also rolled them directly on a baking sheet with no sides. And I've also tried using my pasta roller. All methods work. And the effort is so worth it!

Sourdough Crackers

1 cup sourdough starter
1/4 cup softened butter or lard
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt

In a large bowl, combine the sourdough and butter and mix thoroughly. Mix the salt in with 1/4 cup flour and add to the sourdough mixture. Knead it all together in the bowl, adding as much flour as necessary to make a stiff dough. The amount of flour needed will vary depending on how thick your starter is. I usually use the whole cup.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap or put a lid on the bowl to prevent it from drying out. Leave the dough at room temperature overnight or several hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Divide the dough in four portions. Roll it out on a nonstick baking mat or parchment paper using a rolling pin, until it is very thin.

Garnish if desired. I like a little garlic powder or rosemary.

Transfer to your baking sheet. Cut the dough vertically and horizontally with a pizza cutter.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until just golden brown. If you rolled the dough very thin - such as with a pasta roller, you may only need to bake 10 minutes.

Watch your children devour these before they have a chance to cool.

Variations: You can also add seasonings and spices directly into the dough. Chili powder, rosemary, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder are all options.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Under Foot

Thank you so much for all your expressions of sympathy over Jason's death. When we got home from the funeral and I checked the email, I was astounded at your many reassurances of prayer for Jean and the family. I can't tell you how much that meant to me.

And please keep praying. The adjustments and decision making for Jean has only just begun. As a family, we want to support Jean but it is hard to know just what to do. Her church has been surrounding her with practical help and expressions of love.  How good to see the Body of Christ in action.

Times like this make me evaluate my own life. Am I'm living in such a way that I will have no regrets if this were my last day on earth? I hope I don't lose the urgency of living  life with an eternal perspective.

On the home front, of course, no progress was made on the house addition during the week. But on Saturday, Ed's brother and nephews helped him put in the floor. The wood laminate snapped together easily and they had the whole floor installed in one day!

After a month of living with a plywood and concrete floor that was impossible to clean, it is absolutely wonderful to have a real floor!

After a quick mop job, we couldn't resist bringing in some furniture. The base board isn't in yet and we aren't sure even what furniture will eventually be in this room but what fun to see the room come together. My daughter says "it is like a real house!"

Monday, June 20, 2011


Sometimes you wake up in the morning, never knowing where you will be by evening.

This became very evident this weekend.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, a house addition update.

On Monday, my sister came to help me paint. Because of her help, I finished the trim painting on Wednesday.

One Friday, our construction crew came and installed the trim. I love the finished result.

Sometimes it is the little things, like finally installing the door hardware, that are appreciated the most.

Ed spent his evenings working on the brick in front of the house. I don't have any photos of him working since I took the children to Bible school every evening. Ed was able to work uninterrupted and I was pleased at his progress.

On Saturday, we decided to take some time off to do some fun things with the children. Sometimes it feels like our lives have been consumed by work. We went to watch some radio controlled airplanes for a while in the morning, worked in the garden a little, then packed up our camping gear. Ed was helping with the chores at my parent's dairy farm this weekend. We thought we'd camp out at the little cabin in their woods.

After the evening milking, we joined my parents at a community picnic. Ed had just sat down with his plateful of food when his cell phone rang. It was one of those calls where time sits still and you think you have to be in a nightmare that you will wake up from soon.

Ed's brother-in-law Jason was also spending some time with his children on Saturday. They were playing in a small river near their house. The river is very shallow but unknown to them, there was a drop off where the water was 12 feet deep with a strong undercurrent. The children got into this current and were struggling. Jason went in to help his teenage daughter. All the children got safely to the bank, but Jason drowned.

Within an hour after the phone call, we had left the children with my parents (at least we had their pajamas, toothbrushes and Sunday clothes since we planned to camp there) and headed to North Carolina to be with Ed's sister Jean. It doesn't seem that long ago since Ed's dad's sudden death when we waited in the hospital for Jean and Jason to join us. We arrived at Jean's home in the wee hours of the morning. Sunday was spent planning the funeral and crying together as a family.

At this point I feel numb and emotionally spent. I know God is good and has all things within His control, but I still can't help but ask the questions. There is such a need for Godly men in our world. Why take a man who was so faithfully serving the Lord? A man loved and needed by his family?

The above photo is Jason, Jean, and their family when we visited them at their home last summer.

The reality is that everything on this earth is temporal. The homes we enjoy will not stand forever. The people we love will some day die. Our time here on earth is brief and fleeting.

I wonder if my heart is set too strongly on earth. I love making a home and enjoying our garden. But if Jason could talk to us today from the glories of heaven and the presence of God, I'm sure he would encourage us to release our grasp on this world.

Today we are frantically trying to finish up our work so we can head back to North Carolina for the viewing and funeral. I plan to take a break from blogging for the rest of the week. If you have emailed me recently, I apologize that it may be a while until I respond.

Go hug your children and husband. Look around at your lovely home. Thank God for it, realize that it will all be burned up, and heaven is more wonderful than you can imagine.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Drying Herbs

I love growing herbs. I love the textures, flavors and fragrances. Weeding my herb bed is one of my favorite gardening tasks. These are plants that are fun to bump into.

I use fresh herbs occasionally in cooking. I often keep a pot of herbs by the door for a quick sprig of parsley or chives.

But mostly I just grow herbs for the fun of it. Several times a friend has walked through my herb garden and asked how I use a particular plant. "I don't use it, I just grow it," if my usual reply. It sounds ridiculous. I have several thriving oregano plants yet I purchase dried oregano at the store. My mint bed is flourishing but winter time finds me buying dried mint for my hot tea.

Part of the problem is that I never think of drying herbs for winter use until fall. By then the leaves are wilted and ragged. This year I was determined to plan ahead.

I borrowed my mom's dehydrator  (still have not purchased my own) and went on an herb drying binge. I picked the herbs in the morning as soon as the dew dried from the plants. I did not wash them as they are not sprayed and I'm not worried about a bug or two.

I stripped the leaves from the  stems, placed them on the dehydrator trays and turned it on.

The aroma in the kitchen was wonderful!

The leaves dried in only a few hours.

A dehydrator is not necessary. In the past I have dried a few herbs in the attic. But I usually would forget about them until they were dusty and I didn't feel that the flavor was best. I am trying the dehydrator method in hopes to keep more flavor.

Once the leaves were very crunchy dry, I placed them in sealed bags and jars. Label everything well as dried leaves all start to look the same after a while.  I plan to keep the leaves whole until winter, then I'll grind just what I need to refill my spice containers. I'm even hoping to experiment with making some seasoning mixes like Italian seasoning.

I know that dried herbs don't cost that much. You can get them at the dollar store for very little. But I'm thrilled to finally be putting my herb garden to use and being able to grow one more item that I normally purchase. Of course, I'll still need to purchase the exotic spices like cinnamon and nutmeg that I'll never be able to grow in PA!

Do you dry your own herbs? Anything I should know?

Friday, June 17, 2011

How to Grow Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are grown from plants, not seeds or bulbs.

You can purchase sweet potato plants at a garden center or online.

You can also grow your own plants.

How To Grow Sweet Potato Plants

1. Get a firm healthy sweet potato. If the sweet potato is starting to sprout, you have a head start.

Assume that most grocery store sweet potatoes are treated with an anti-sprouting chemical. Look for organic sweet potatoes or get from a gardening friend. My sweet potatoes came from my mom and a friend. I don't know what variety they are but both of them had excellent sweet potato crops last year and they kept very well all winter. Sounds like traits I want to encourage!

2. Place the sweet potato in a jar of water. You want to submerse most of the sweet potato while allowing a couple inches above water. One of my sweet potatoes was so large it couldn't fit well in the jar. Change the water occasionally to keep from molding. Place in sunlight. Soon the sweet potato will send out sprouts, or slips.

3. When the sprouts are four to five inches long, pull them off the sweet potato. The sweet potato will grow more sprouts.

4. Place the sprouts in water. You can place a bunch of sprouts in the same jar. They will quickly grow roots.

5. When the sprout is well rooted, plant in a hill of soil about ten inches high. Wait until the soil is warm. In our area, this is in June.Sometimes we plant them after we pull out the peas to maximize our garden space.

Keep the plants well watered while the roots are being established. We like to mulch the hill to keep back the weeds as the sweet potato grows.

While sweet potatoes can't be planted too early because they hate cold weather, they also can't be planted too late. My aunt, who has grown sweet potatoes to sell for years, says to plant on July 4 at the very latest in our area of PA. Sweet potatoes need several months of growing time before the first frost to form tubers.

Some years I have started my sweet potato plants too late. They need adequate time to root before being planted outside. I have found that the beginning of March is a good time to start my plants.

For more information and recipes for sweet potatoes see the Grow, Eat, Enjoy Sweet Potatoes.

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For general gardening information and our Pennsyvania gardening experiences see the Gardening Page.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Soft Rye Sourdough Bread

I've been having a lot of fun coming up with different variations of the soft sourdough bread. Besides the white/wheat, honey oatmeal, and 100% wheat, here is a rye version. Rye has a flavor all it's own but it is one of  Ed's favorites. Now that I have a simple recipe, maybe I'll make it more often.

Soft Rye Sourdough Bread

2 cup starter
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup oil or melted butter
1/4 cup honey
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour 
1 1/2 cup rye flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 T vital gluten (optional)
3 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients except salt for 2-3 minutes. Allow the dough to rest for about 20 minutes.

After rest, add salt and knead dough for about five minutes. If dough is too sticky, add slightly more flour but dough should be soft and not dry and stiff. Place in oiled bowl and allow dough to rise for 3-4 hours or until nearly doubled in size.

Divide dough into two pieces and shape into loaves and place in two greased bread pans. If a free form loaf is desired, place on greased baking sheet. Spray with oil and cover with plastic wrap to keep from drying out. Allow to rise for 2-3 hours.

When dough has risen, carefully slash the top.

Bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes. For even browning, turn loaves halfway through baking time.

For the version pictured here, I mixed up a batch of whole wheat dough and a batch or rye dough. After separating the dough into two loaf sized portions, I divided each portion into four equal pieces. I rolled each small portion into long thin strands. Using two rye and two whole wheat strands, I braided the dough. Some of the loaves I placed into loaf pans and some I baked free form.

To make a 4-braid loaf, I followed the directions in Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day. The four strands are connected at one end and given a numbered 1 to 4. As the strands are braided the number changes with it's position. Follow this pattern: 4 over 2, 1 over 3, 2 over 3. Repeat until you get to the end and pinch the tip to seal.

Does that make any sense? It really is easier then it sounds. Of course, you can make a all rye loaf, a braided loaf just looks extra special.

For more bread inspiration - see Yeast Spotting.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June in My Garden

Is it June yet?

You say June is halfway over?

I'm not sure where I've been - but I do know I haven't been wondering what to do.

Maybe it would be good to sit down and figure out what I want to do in my garden before the month is completely over.

Our garden is taking the spare moments of time left from working on our house. And there has not been many spare moments to find. As you saw in the garden tour, some weeds are thriving from our neglect. The only good part of our garden is what has been mulched with leaves and grass clippings.

So here is the list of what I HOPE happens in the garden this month!

1. Plant sweet potatoes.

2. Plant a late crop of potatoes. We find a planting of potatoes around Father's Day is perfect for winter storage. But we have found that the heat makes the seed potatoes rot faster. We do not cut up the seed potatoes but plant them in whole pieces. In the spring, when I planted the early potatoes, I saved the smaller seed potatoes for this late planting.

3. Inventory seeds for fall garden. Seed displays will soon be taken down at garden centers and will be impossible to find in July or August. But if it is as dry as last summer, I'm not going to feel like planting a fall garden.

4.Start broccoli plants for fall. Or just play it lazy and plan to pick up broccoli plants at the garden center.

5. Weed, prune, dead head flowers - a little upkeep will keep the garden looking it's best.

6. Mulch - the busy (or lazy) gardener's best friend. We cover our garden with grass clippings and/or leaves and eliminate most weeding the rest of the summer!

7. Water as needed. Unbelievable, for having a wet spring, we are already dry.

7. Enjoy the strawberries, new potatoes, and peas!

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Monday, June 13, 2011

The Trimmings

It is so good to feel that the end is near in our addition project!

Ed could have done the trimwork himself. He enjoys a little woodworking. But at this point we are all ready to get this project finished. It seemed wiser to call in the professionals. My brothers crew spent two and a half days here this week and completed a ton of work. Ed enjoyed helping someone who knew what they were doing!

 Cutting the trim.

They built the window trim in boxes.

And slid them into the windows.

The other two men worked on siding.

It looks so neat and finished!

I now have miles (at least it  feels like miles) of trim to paint.

My project this week is going to be paint, paint and more paint! Anyone want to come help!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Favorite Children's Nature Books

Summer is the time to spend more time outdoors and enjoying God's creation.

But for a family of book lovers, summer is also a time to read!

Here is just a few books that have inspired us to learn more about the world around us.

The Kids' Nature Book: 365 Indoor/Outdoor Activities and Experiences (Williamson Kids Can! Series)
The Kid's Nature Book by Susan Milord
This book has a project or something to learn for every day of the year. Wherever you live or whatever your interest, you will find something of interest in this book. Each day includes two or three paragraphs or information about some aspect of nature such as weather, birds, or plants. When I feel "stuck" on a nature project, this is the book I turn to.

A Kid's Spring Ecojournal
A Kid's Spring EcoJournal by Toni Albert
This was a find at the library (make that bookmobile!) We loved working through these pages. Each two page spread contains an excerpt from the author's nature journal, blank lines for journal-ling (which we didn't utilize since we were reading a library copy) and  a hands on project. Some of the projects were obvious such as catching fireflies. Others I had never thought of like make a mushroom spore print or attract night moths. We are read the Spring EcoJournal and are now on the  Summer EcoJournal. Since the author lives close to us in PA, the her seasons and observations coordinate closely to ours, though it would be a valuable book in other areas as well.

Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You
Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie
I bought this book just for me. Teachers and mothers need resources too! Keeping a Nature Journal is eye candy and a joy to flip through. The drawings and directions have inspired me to see nature in a new way. One of my goals for our family is to start nature journals this summer and I'm hoping this book leads the way!

As much as I've enjoyed these three books, none of them credit God as the Creator of all of life. I can ignore a little "millions of years" when the rest of the book is excellent but even better is a book that acknowledges God's wonderful design in creation. Pablo Yoder's books have filled this need remarkably.

The Work of Thy Fingers and My Father's World are both beautiful full-color hard cover books that share stories from nature. The author is a missionary in Central America and an avid lover of nature. While the animals and plants are completely different then the ones we will encounter when we take a nature walk, Pablo's curiosity of the world around him is contagious. The books share a good variety of plants, birds, insects, and animals. More then just an informational book, Pablo shares his personal experiences, such as swimming with a sea turtle, camping in the midst of a terrible mountain storm, and sharing a bathroom with a four legged creature. The book is enhanced by photography by Pablo's son. 

These are books that my children beg for "just one more chapter". My Father's World  is written for younger children, maybe elementary aged, and was perfect for our family, since even the parents enjoyed it. The Work of Thy Fingers is written at a little more advanced level. We still enjoyed the book but I think our children will get more out of it in years to come. If you are looking for interesting God-honoring nature stories, I recommend both these books.

Okay, your turn. What books inspire your nature study?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Grow, Eat, Enjoy - Strawberries

If I could only pick one thing to grow

...that would be so hard...

But strawberries may top the list. Nothing beats watching your children run from the sandbox for a quick strawberry snack.

Our area has quite few pick-your-own strawberry patches, but I before we had our own patch, we didn't eat many strawberries. By the time I got a babysitter, drove to a PYO patch, picked, paid, and brought home strawberries, I had killed a whole morning. I wasn't going to do that often.

With our own patch, we enjoy fresh strawberries nearly every day, for several weeks. Strawberries do take some land, but even a small patch can give quite a few strawberries. The plants are pretty enough to be grown in a flower bed. We've even planted corn amongst our strawberries to maximize our space.


I've written quite a few posts on growing strawberries and don't plant to repeat myself.

Planting strawberries
Growing strawberries - including pest management
Bird netting for strawberries
Revamping a strawberry bed
Two Hints for strawberries that I didn't follow


There is so many great ways to enjoy strawberries. On waffles with cream, to top a salad, on homemade ice cream, added to lemonade, chocolate dipped and more.  We are known to eat strawberry shortcake for breakfast, lunch or supper.

Strawberry pretzel dessert
Strawberry pie
Strawberry muffins

Strawberry scones 


Strawberry Rhubarb Coffee Cake

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies

Homemade Strawberry Icecream

Old Fashioned Shortcake


Strawberries are easy to freeze. Just wash and place in bags or containers. I freeze lots of berries to eat in smoothies all winter.

I've also frozen strawberries in a glaze and frozen strawberry lemonade concentrate.

If I have lots of berries, I like to dehydrate a few. The children love dried strawberries on their granola.

And, of course, there is always strawberry jam.


Now it is your turn. I know there is many more ways to enjoy berries. Please share with us your favorite recipe in the comments or link to a recipe on your blog!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Dew sparkles on the grass and laundry sways in the breeze as I hang the last towel on the clothesline. The twitter of birds and the balmy air plead me to stay outdoors a few more minutes.

I notice the signs of spring in the garden. Delicate white blossoms peek from beneath glossy strawberry leaves. The asparagus spears have grown several inches since yesterday. The spring green in the row of peas uncurl their tendrils toward the sunshine.

In the berry row, petals unfurl. Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries - each plant cradles small blossoms. Each bud bears the promise of future fruit. The garden waits in anticipation.

“Mom! Mom!”

The stillness is shattered. Startled back to reality, I pick up the laundry basket and hurry indoors to yet another quarrel.

Inside, I negotiate peace between brothers. My daughter whines to wear her favorite dress, buried in the laundry pile. The littlest one sulks over her scrambled eggs.

After correcting their bad attitudes, I find my own attitude faltering. Why can't I enjoy one morning of peace? Though I love my children dearly, I am weary of the immaturity, silliness, grumpiness, and incessant noise. I long to flee back to the garden, where the only sound is winged music, and delight in the springtime growth.

But when I strolled through my garden this morning, I felt no frustration at the lack of fruit. I thrilled at the sight of new growth and anticipate future harvest.

If I find delight in the immature buds in my garden, why am I so impatient with the immaturity I see in my children? Can I see my children as God's work in progress?

Fresh berries are delicious, but nothing compares with God's work in the hearts of His children. I'll tend His garden, pull the weeds, and trust God to bring a harvest of precious souls into His kingdom.


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