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.

Curing Bacon At Home

For hundreds of years people have been salting, curing, and smoking bacon to preserve it. In the days before the refrigerator nearly all meats were cured in some way shape or form and it was common for households to have their own smokehouse. These days with the convenience of grocery stores, the art of home charcuterie has gone by the wayside in favor of paper thin, limp, boring bacon. The good news is it’s making a comeback with folks who want to take control of their food, and it is way easier than you think! With a few basic ingredients and a pork belly you have the chance to experiment with flavors and bite into some of the most delicious bacon that has ever graced your plate.

Bacon fresh from the smoker.

If you don’t raise your own pork, call or stop by your favorite butcher shop and ask for a pork belly. You may find that you need to place an order, but a few days wait is a small price to pay. I recommend a 5 pound belly for your first try. While you are at your butcher, ask them if they sell Pink Curing Salt (Cure no. 1 is what you will need for this bacon) This is what cures the bacon and it is necessary to ensure the safety of your final product. Some butchers will sell it to you in a 4 oz package, which is more than enough to cure a 5 pound pork belly. If you cannot find Pink Curing Salt in a store, you can easily find it online in any quantity you desire.

Belly, spices & cure
Rub and press the spices & cure into every crack and crevice in the pork belly.

Pink Curing Salt is tinted pink to avoid confusion with table salt (Do not confuse with Pink Himalayan salt!) It contains sodium nitrite and sodium chloride which staves off food-borne illnesses like botulism & listeria. -You’re probably thinking ”aren’t nitrates supposed to be bad for you?”. According to the FDA so long as they are used in the correct amounts these nitrates are proven to be safe. You also may be thinking: “Why can’t I do this without nitrates?”. The recipes that say they are nitrate free utilize celery juice in the curing process. (Those gray nitrate free hotdogs at the store look really yummy don’t they?!) Celery contains naturally occurring amounts of nitrates, so they aren’t really “nitrate free”. Secondly, the amount of nitrates in celery isn’t standard. The nitrate levels in one bunch of celery can be different from the next due a number of factors: where it was grown, the nutrient level of the soil etc. all effect the quantity of nitrates it contains. This variance in nitrate levels is why I value the consistency of commercially produced Curing Salts when curing meats safely for my family. Unfortunately botulism is a horrible thing that really does happen, and I take it seriously.

I’m really excited to share my recipe for homemade meat candy…um…I mean bacon with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do. I also hope you will discover a new hobby!

Maple Bacon Recipe:

The amounts of Salt, Sugar, and Curing Salt are absent since the amount of these ingredients varies depending on the actual weight of your pork belly. BEFORE BEGINNING to ensure accuracy I recommend weighing all ingredients. I got a digital scale from Amazon for a very reasonable price. Head on over to this fantastic cure calculator to convert your pork belly’s weight from pounds to grams then simply enter the new number in the cure calculator to get accurate weights for salt, sugar, and cure, then continue.

  • One pork belly (about 5 pounds)
  • In a small bowl combine the following:
  • Maple Sugar
  •  Kosher Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 ½ teaspoons paprika
  • Cure no. 1
  1. Rinse the pork belly with cold water, pat dry. Rub the curing mixture over the entire surface of the pork belly.
  2. Place the rubbed pork belly in a 2 gallon zip-lock bag, rest it on a rimmed cookie sheet and pop it in the refrigerator.
  3. Once every day flip the bag of pork belly to rest on its other side and give it a good massage. Repeat this process for 7 days.
  4. On day 8 remove the pork belly from the bag and rinse it off in cold water and pat dry. Place it on a rack on top of a cookie sheet to catch any possible drips and return it to the fridge, uncovered for another 24 hours.
  5. Smoke the now cured pork belly (I like to use maple or apple wood) until an internal thermometer reading reaches 150 degrees (it takes about 2 -3 hours, check it frequently)
  6. While the bacon is still warm from the smoker, sprinkle it with a very light dusting of maple sugar.
  7. Allow the bacon to cool completely in the refrigerator before cutting. It makes it a lot easier to cut. Cut to preferred thickness by hand or with a meat slicer. Package in desired amounts, store in freezer for future use.

The Best Apple Pie Ever

Updated 1/23/2020

At Sunburst we have 5 apple trees and a pear. When we first got here I was super excited but because the trees were neglected the fruit this fall was not the greatest not to mention at near neck breaking heights. I’ll be tackling pruning next month which will hopefully (eventually) make the trees healthier – the Crispin especially produced extremely malformed fruit- so here’s to hoping some improved air flow will help. So because of this and the move, and crap weather, the chickens got to enjoy most of the apples. Oh well. Next year will be better.  I was able to snag a few decent apples to bring to fair last fall though so that’s a positive point and I’m gonna hang on to that.

Since first writing this post my apple pie recipe has gotten even better.  For one thing I now use only lard in the crust.  I used to do a mix of butter and lard but I find all lard gives the texture I’m looking for.  I’ve also been sneaking in boiled cider into ALL of my apple recipes (breads, cakes, muffins, pies, everything) since making it two seasons ago.  It gives a huge burst of apple flavor to every bake it touches and I can’t say enough about it.  It’s super easy to make too, simply boil cider until it cooks down to a thick syrup.  Simply add 7 quarts of apple cider (my fave is from Votaw’s in Pioneer, OH) to a large pot and cook it down to 1 quart.  Then you can can it in jelly jars in a hot water bath canner and process for 10 minutes. (be sure to follow the proper usage directions that came with your canner)

These days each one of my boys is big enough to help and is eager to do so. Baking especially.  Sometimes including kids in the cooking process is hard because they are each clamoring to “do the thing” and it gets a little loud. It is also really hard for me to work past my “just get it done” attitude to slow down and let them help, and even though it may take 3 times as long to get the task done I’ve gotta remember they’re excited and we’re building important life skills.

If I can manage getting all of the necessary equipment and ingredients out and ready before they notice somethings going down in the kitchen it makes it a bit less difficult.  If the nosey 3 year old comes out and asks ‘whatcha doin?” and I let the word “cookie” or “pie” slip the whole operation is up in smoke because what 3 year old do you know can keep a secret?  None of them.

I also use a bar height bench for our work surface rather than having them stand on a stool by the counter.  Unfortunately our children inherited my grace which means they trip and fall over flat ground regularly…we don’t need to add any sort of height to the equation. This way everyone has fair access to the process at all times.

And yes.  We use knives. I know…crazyness. Someone is probably freaking out right now.  Look, they’re either going to learn it the right way or they’re gonna wing it, I’d rather it be the right way.  We also use the least sharp knives in the kitchen. With proper supervision and instruction they do just fine…I’m not saying let your kid julienne carrots unsupervised with a super sharp knife. I am saying calm down they’re more capable than you realize.

I’d like to share my apple pie recipe with you, its got to be my favorite apple pie I have ever eaten…maybe it simply tastes so good because we made it together, or maybe it really is The Best Apple Pie Ever. I do know this: So long as you bake it, it will always be the best.

The Best Apple Pie Ever

For the crust:

  •  1-1/2 cup flour
  •  2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup cold Lard
  • 1/4 cup cold water

1. Add all ingredients to a large bowl, using a pastry blender or fingertips work the lard into the flour, then slowly add water continuing to blend until dough begins to stick together.

2. Roll into a ball and turn out onto plastic wrap and chill up to 3 hours.

3. Before baking, remove from plastic wrap, roll dough out, and place in pie pan.

For the Filling:

  • 6 Apples (a variety of tart and sweet)
  • 2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup White Sugar + More for top
  • 1/4 Brown Sugar
  • Sprinkle of Fresh Grated Nutmeg
  • 3 Tbs Boiled Cider
  • 1 Tbs Lemon Juice
  • 3 Tbs Minute Tapioca
  • 1 whole egg beaten for top
  1. Fold all ingredients together.
  2. Pour into prepared crust, apply top crust in your preferred method.
  3. Brush top with beaten egg & sprinkle with sugar.
  4. Place pie on a cookie sheet, cover top in foil. Bake at 425 for 20 minutes, remove foil. Reduce temperature to 375 and bake for 25 minutes.