How Our Days Actually Start, Plus Easy Morning Muffins

Every morning at 6:30 AM on the dot our youngest son wakes the whole house up crying for milk. Then it begins. Our older twin boys wake up. They too begin crying for milk. While I’m warming the milk of the first crying boy, the second boy says that he has to go potty. I tell him to go potty. He whines that he can’t unzip his jammies, so while holding the first crying boy, I kneel down and attempt to unzip the jammies without dropping the first boy that’s yelling “Mewk! Mewk!” that he can plainly see is ready from his vantage on my hip. Finally the jammies are off and the milk is handed off to the first boy. The third boy comes out of the bedroom half asleep and asks for his sippy cup of milk. I attempt to put the first boy down on the floor, he is having none of it and insists on laying in our bed. I pour one milk with one hand and I’m screwing the lid back on when the second boy yells “Mommy I need heeeeeeewp” from the bathroom. I hand the milk to the third boy, yell “hang on!” to the second boy, plop the first boy down on the couch and throw a blanket on him and go find out what could possibly be going wrong in the bathroom. The second boy is stuck on the toilet because the stool wasn’t pushed up correctly, I rescue him and while I’m helping him put on his undies the third boy comes in asking to watch a “show show show”. I put in The Land Before Time, while I’m skipping through all of the previews the second boy comes up to me and say that he needs milk, I push play. I’m pouring the milk when the third boy runs up to me shouting “potty!”. I hand the milk off to the second boy and tell him to watch the show, I help the third boy go potty. I’m helping him put his undies on when the second boy comes to me and says “mom….I can’t watch this” to which I reply “tough”. Crying ensues. I point out that the show has a t-Rex in it and all is well. I go back to the bedroom shake my husband to wake up, he gets up and gets around for the day (we take turns doing morning) and I get dressed, I shut both bedroom doors. I manage to have my bra on just in time before the first boy busts in the room and shouts “MOM! BOOBS!” I realize I forgot to lock the door. He climbs up on the bed and the stench of a morning diaper deuce hits my nostrils. I finish getting dressed and take care of the first boys dirty butt.

Blueberry Muffin

With mornings like this, I like really simple breakfasts with even simpler clean up. If the breakfast is hand-held and I don’t have to pick up and wash plates even better! For a while now I have been taking our families favorite recipes dissecting them and storing them for quick assembly. One of my favorites in the morning is muffins of any flavor or size. They’re sweet so the kids love them and I can sneak all kinds of fruits and veggies into them to make myself feel like a mom that’s got it together. I mix the dry ingredients in a wide mouth quart jar, write “muffin mix” on the top along with the cook temperature and time. On the underside of the lid I write the dry ingredients, so I can re-fill the mix without having to dig through my recipe cards. I realize coming from the “Jiffy Mix” state, this isn’t really earth-shattering new information here, everyone can make a muffin mix. It’s what I do with the muffin mix that makes it amazing. If I think about it the night before I will get out a 2 cup package of the pumpkin puree I have in the freezer and get it thawing. In the morning I can whip up a pan of spectacular pumpkin muffins. Want blueberry? Add 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, or whatever fruit you’ve got that’s muffinable.

The Mix:

2 Cups All purpose flour

2 tsp. Baking powder

½ tsp. Salt

¾ Cup sugar

Store in an air tight container (a quart jar works nicely)

When you’re ready to muffin preheat your oven to 375 and add:

½ cup melted butter

2 eggs

½ cup milk

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups fruit/berries of choice

Bake for 20-25 min

Makes 12 + regular sized muffins

Some of our favorite variations:

Pumpkin Spice Muffins– Omit milk and add ¼ cup maple syrup, 2 cups pumpkin puree, 1 tsp pumpkin spice.

Cranberry Orange Muffins– Add ¼ cup orange juice, 2 Tbs orange zest, 1 Tbs honey, 2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries. Sprinkle with raw sugar before putting batter in the oven.

Honey Oat– 1 cup rolled oats pulsed in food processor about 5 times, 1 cup chopped nuts if desired, ¼ cup honey, 2 Tbs ground flax, 1 tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp nutmeg. Sprinkle with oats, nuts, & brown sugar before putting batter in the oven.

Chocolate Zucchini: ¼ cup cocoa powder, 2 cups grated zucchini, 1 cup chocolate chips + more for tops.

Banana: 3 smashed ripe bananas, 1 tsp cinnamon.

5 Things You Can Do Right Now To Prepare For Canning Season Next Year

Canning is one of those things that homesteaders look forward to each year with excited anticipation and a slight twinge of dread. Nothing beats the quality and the feeling of accomplishment you get from preserving your harvest each year, and that peach cobbler sure is to die for in the frigid depths of January…but it’s such a lot of work, and most of that time spent is in the preparation. The jars need sterilized ,the lids need boiled, and the magnet fell out of the gosh dang lid grabber again. With all that happens during the canning season there are a few things you can do right now to prepare for next season that will make your life a little easier come harvest time.

Remove the gasket in the lid of your pressure canner and inspect it for cracks or disintegration.
  1. Check and replace the gasket on your pressure canner. Remove the gasket from the lid of your pressure canner and look for cracks in the rubber or signs of disintegration. Bad gaskets will affect your canners ability to reach and maintain proper pressure while in use. Gaskets should be replaced every 2-3 years as part of your canners maintenance regimen. You can pick one up online or at your local hardware store for around $10 or less.
You can get your dial gauges tested at your County Extension Office or a local hardware store.
  1. Get your dial gauge tested (Weighted gauges do not require testing). You can take your dial gauge to your county extension office to have it tested, often free of charge (be sure to call ahead so they have someone on staff to test it for you), . It is recommended to have your gauge tested and adjusted if need be before each canning season to ensure your safety. Gauges that read high can result in under-processed foods that are unsafe to consume. Ones that read low can result in not only over-processed canned food but it increases the risk of dangerous kitchen mishaps. If your gauge tests more that 2 pounds off, high or low it should be replaced. Cracked, broken, or otherwise damaged gauges must be replaced. You can find replacements online for around $15. Other places that test dial gauges include hardware stores and companies like “Presto” that manufacture canning equipment.
An example of rust that has been transferred to the lid of a sealed jar from a rusty ring.
An example of rusty and dented rings that should be discarded.
  1. Sort through your collection of can rings. Discard any rusty, worn, or dented rings. Dents can mean an improper seal.  Rust can transfer to the lids making it hard to remove the ring from the jar causing the lid to loosen when removing the ring before storage. To avoid rust, remember to always remove the ring from your canned goods 24 hours after removal from the canning vessel before long term storage. Then wash them in warm soapy water, drying them thoroughly to ensure they have a long rust free life. Leaving the rings on the jars can also cause a false seal or rust eating through can lids making food unsafe. Don’t want to just throw away your busted rings? GO HERE  AND HERE to see some great ways to re-purpose those rings!
  1. Inspect those jars. As you work your way through your pantry this winter wash your jars with warm soapy water and while they are still wet run your finger around the rim of each jar to check for any nicks or chips in the glass that would cause an improper seal. Discard any jars with defects, or give them a new life as decorations in your home. I like to use mine as vases for all the bouquets my boys carefully pick for me in the summer months.  Store unused jars upright, not upside down.  I like to place a hunk of cardboard on top of them to block dust from entering to make cleaning and sterilizing easier next season.
  1. Watch for off season deals. Keep your peepers peeled at your favorite stores for canning equipment on sale. You can often find great deals on jars, lids, rings, and maybe even that large capacity pressure canner you day dreamed of while you started your 5th load of canned beef this October. Now is also a great time to cruise the ball website for tested canning recipes to try something new and different next season. I’ve found some of my favorite recipes there…even an apple pie filling recipe that earned first place at the county fair this year!

Five Tips For Simpler Holidays

It is the season of excess, but it doesn’t have to mean excess stress! Here are 5 things I have started doing to make my life (and the lives of those who live with me) easier around the holidays. Plus our recipe for crock pot hot chocolate, which is sure to become a holiday favorite with your family, too!

apple pie_1
Apple pie

1. Make pie dough ahead of time, when you actually have time to do it. I like to make four batches of pie dough, shape them into balls, wrap them in plastic wrap, and freeze them in a freezer bag until I need them. Just get them out to thaw in the fridge the night before you need to bake a pie. They are ready to be rolled, filled, and baked, and you don’t have to worry about cleaning up extra dishes.  Another thing you can do to eliminate pie pressure during the holidays is to can your own pie filling during the season; then all you have to do is dump it in and bake it according to your recipes directions.

pie filling dough
Pie filling and frozen pie dough

2. Homemade gifts. You, sir or ma’am, have worked your tail off this year preserving the finest fruit, vegetables, meats, and herbs from your homestead. Why not share the bounty? In the process, you will showcase all of your hard work. I personally love a homemade gift, especially if I can eat it. Think about it — not everyone gets to have homemade apple sauce, preserves, peaches, spaghetti sauce, or canned green beans just like Granny used to make. I also like to attach recipes to my jars; for instance, if I send someone a can of beef, I like to share my recipe for crock-pot vegetable beef soup. If I give a jar of apple pie filling, it’s nice to give them the recipe for crumble topping for an easy apple crisp. Maple syrup, honey, and even eggs make lovely gifts, too. Your life is already abundant — share it!

cookie dough_1
Frozen cookie dough

3. Make double batches of cookies. You’re already making a mess; why not go the extra mile? If you make cookies occasionally throughout the year, you may want to consider doubling the batch. I like to make double batches when I make any kind of drop cookie or cookie you roll into a ball. I bake one batch, and the second batch I scoop with a medium sized melon baller onto a lined baking sheet and pop into the freezer. Peanut butter or molasses cookies can be rolled into balls and rolled in sugar before placing on the sheet to be frozen. I then put the frozen cookie dough into freezer bags with the type of cookie, bake temp, and time written on it. If you have an unexpected party (or one you forgot), you can bake up a batch of homemade cookies quicker than quick, and you wont have any mess to contend with other than the cookie sheet! They also make great gifts around the holidays when people get lots of goodies. Frozen cookie dough allows folks to enjoy your treats well after the sugar surge of the holidays is over.

4. Chop peel and prepare … check! One thing I have found that eliminates stress at crunch time is to have all of the little things taken care of. The night before, I chop and peel my veggies. While that seems pretty straightforward, it is a time saver. As I go along, I check things off of the list I have created to make sure I don’t forget anything. I also like to measure all my spices and other dry ingredients for each dish and combine in small glass bowls. All I have to do is grab a bowl and dump it in as I go.

5. Simplify. Do we really need to have three meats? Six different kinds of pie? Maybe settle on brunch this year! And don’t let your guests slack off, either; have them bring one of their favorite dishes. Since we will be running around trying to hit every Christmas party like crazy people in the time leading up to Christmas, our plan for Christmas Day consists of waking up, watching our boys open their gifts, sipping some coffee, and enjoying a potluck brunch with our family (and maybe some mimosas!), all from the comfort of our cozy flannel jammies! This means that there will be a crock pot full of our most favorite winter time treat … crock pot hot chocolate!!

Here is the recipe. I hope your family enjoys it as much as we do.

Crock Pot Hot Chocolate

Cook time: 2 hours

Ingredients:

• 1-1/2 quarts whole milk (if you have your own it’s even better!)
• 12 oz. whipping cream
• 14 oz. sweetened condensed milk (see recipe below, or use canned)
• Vanilla to taste (I never ever measure vanilla)
• 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
• 1 cup milk chocolate chips
• Cinnamon to taste (optional)

Instructions:

1. Turn crock pot on low and combine whipping cream and sweetened condensed milk. Add vanilla and chocolate chips, stir in whole milk.

2. Place the lid on and let cook for 2 hours, stir with whisk occasionally, until all chocolate is melted.

3. Ladle into mugs and enjoy with a marshmallow or a shot of whipped cream! This stuff is dessert in and of itself!

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk:

Yield: 2 cups

• 1 cup whole milk
• 2/3 cup sugar
• 3 tablespoons butter, melted
• 1/3 cup boiling water
• pinch of salt

1. Mix all ingredients in a medium pan. Heat until sugar is dissolved. Stir constantly with whisk.

Jake with a mug