January and Harvesting Black Walnuts

I have really enjoyed January this year.  I love the church celebration of Christmas with its music and programs, but all of those things take significant preparation and time in the months leading up through December.  So now January’s schedule has been relatively open, especially with snow canceling some of our regular activities.  I have been able to do a few projects for which I normally would not have time.  One of those is cracking and picking out black walnuts. When I was growing up in Pennsylvania, in the fall, my family would pick up hickory nuts, or shellbarks as we called them, from my grandparents’ meadow.  Because the shells are so hard, my dad would crack them with a vise.  Then in the winter months, it was mostly my mother who worked at picking out the nut meats.  She would fill container after container with the nuts and freeze the containers for later use.  My mom and dad still harvest hickory nuts this way.  It is tedious work, but the rewards are worth it to have nuts to use in cookies, muffins, cakes, or just to munch.We live in a small “city”, but I have been amazed at the amount of fruit and nut trees scattered in the yards of the residents.  This past fall, I noticed two black walnut trees on the hill by the creek behind our house.  Nut trees apparently only give a good harvest every other year, and this was the year!  There were many, many nuts falling to the ground.  If you have ever had a black walnut tree in your yard, you know you have to pick up the nuts before mowing the grass.  I threw a lot of them over the hill, but then I decided I would try to harvest some.  Our children and I picked up many five-gallon buckets of them.  Our daughter and I wore rubber gloves and removed the green outside shell.  The dark brown slimy inside of the shell will stain badly.  For a week or so, we left them on the driveway to dry.  Then I laid cardboard on a picnic table on our covered porch and moved the walnuts there for them to dry out further.  After a few weeks, I put them in cardboard boxes and brought them inside.  All during the busy fall and Christmas time, the boxes of walnuts sat on my kitchen floor; and I wondered when I would get around to cracking and picking out the nut meats.  Then January arrived with its clear schedule and some free minutes.  We borrowed my dad’s vise and began cracking the walnuts.  The children have enjoyed helping here and there, but I ask my husband to crack a pan-ful at a time for me.  Then when there is a few minutes here or there, I pick out the meat of the black walnuts.

The vise we use to crack hickory or black walnuts.

The vise we use to crack hickory or black walnuts.

I have enjoyed the process on several levels.  First, the activity connects our family with past generations.  Secondly, we are able to provide wholesome, natural food for our family without spending cash.  Third, we are redeeming a food that would otherwise go unused.  Lastly, I feel a connection to our Heavenly Father who has created and provided such fine nourishment for our bodies.  There is something satisfying about harvesting your own food that you just cannot buy at the grocery store.

Cracked black walnuts and the harvested nut meat.

Cracked black walnuts and the harvested nut meat.

I see lots of black walnut trees here and there throughout the country.  In the fall, they drop their fruit and people do not use them.  If you have the time and energy, harvesting can be very rewarding.


Spiritual Disciplines

Have you noticed relationships take effort to maintain?  I am sure you can think of people who were once close friends but with whom you no longer have contact. 

Just as friendships require maintenance, so our relationship with God our Creator and Heavenly Father requires….well, discipline.  I have found that spiritual disciplines are essential for maintaining a strong faith in the Lord.  Regular Bible reading, prayer, and church attendance are a privilege, but also necessary, for a healthy relationship with God.  (I do realize there are seasons of life where not all of these disciplines may be possible due to health or other circumstances beyond our control.  When our children were babies and toddlers, I found it difficult to maintain a regular time of Bible reading and prayer.)

Reading God’s Word is how we learn to know God’s heart and will for us and the world.  Prayer is how we communicate our heart to God.  Church is where we give and receive encouragement and support from fellow believers, worship together, and hear God’s word discussed and explained.

I have found it is valuable to have a plan for Bible reading and prayer.  In the past, I have read through the Bible in a year by using The Message and The New Living Translation One Year Bible.  I have found it valuable to have a prayer list for praying for others.  You may assign various needs to different days of the week.  For example, Sunday- pastor, church needs and leaders, Monday- missionaries, Tuesday- unsaved friends, Wednesday- shut-ins or elderly friends, Thursday- extended family members, etc.  The Power of a Praying Wife and The Power of a Praying Parent have guided me in areas to pray for my husband and children.

I also believe that God has given us all unique personalities.  We feel God’s presence more in various settings and through different mediums.  For me, when I sing and play the piano or direct a choir, I feel like I have truely worshipped.  I also feel close to my Heavenly Father when I work in the soil or walk outside early in the morning.  For you it may be serving someone, teaching, studying, dance, painting, or some other activity.

When I neglect spiritual disciplines and the activities I have mentioned, I begin to notice subtle changes in my attitude towards God and others.  When I am faithful in maintaining my relationship with God the Father, I reap the benefit of spiritual growth, peace, and His guiding presence in my life.

With the slower pace of winter, it is a great time to start or recommit to spiritual disciplines and maintaining our relationship with God our Creator.

How about you?  Have you found spiritual disciplines helpful?  If so, what kind?  When do you feel God’s presense most?

Making Yogurt with a Crock-pot

We live in a somewhat remote Southeastern Kentucky “city”, population 750.  I am so grateful to have a grocery store that is only about a five minute drive, but it does not carry everything I would like.  One item that is nonexistent on the shelves is plain yogurt.  So when we moved here a year and a half ago, I decided I would have to learn to make yogurt.  I had looked over yogurt recipes in the past and found them intimidating.  One day on the web, I discovered a Crock-pot (slow-cooker) yogurt recipe and decided to try it.  I have never had it fail.  The yogurt is a little thinner than some might like, but it is great for baking, soaking grains, smoothies, and just plain eating.  It will work with any milk, but I use whole milk.  Lower fat milk will result in more whey which seperates to the top but can still be used.  Just stir before use, or pour off the whey to use in recipes.  Here is the method:

Heat a 1/2 gallon of milk in a Crock-pot on high for 2 1/2 hours.  Turn off Crock-pot.  Let cool for 3 hours.  Remove 1 cup of milk.  Add 1/2 cup of plain yogurt and mix.  Pour into Crock-pot and stir.  Wrap Crockpot with 2 bath towels.  Let sit 8-12 hours.  Stir.  Store in glass quart containers.  Refrigerate 8 hours before using.  Yield is 2 quarts and a bit more.

Since my local grocery store does not carry plain yogurt to use as the starter, when we are out of the area at a larger grocery store, I puchase a quart of plain yogurt.  When I come home, I put 1/2 cup amounts in small containers and freeze for when I need it to start a new batch.

We use plain yogurt in a variety of ways at our house.  The children enjoy a bowl of plain yogurt mixed with a teaspoon of jam.  For smoothies, in a blender, I put a handful of raw spinach, several cups of partly thawed frozen fruit such as strawberries or peaches, a cup or so of yogurt, and a bit of orange or other fruit juice poured over top.  Yogurt can be substituted for part of the oil or butter in baked goods.  To soak whole wheat flour or oatmeal for bread, pancakes, waffles, and baked oatmeal,  yogurt can be used as the souring agent.


Butternut Squash and Eating Well

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One of my passions is gardening and preserving food.  Our family has been on a food journey for a number of years now.  Our aim is to eat as naturally as we can which to us means eating foods as close to the way God made them as possible.  Sometimes in the winter season, it is easy to get in a rut of fixing the same meals over and over.

Yesterday I cooked three butternut squash that I had received from a friend.  The squash had been hanging around on my counter since fall and needed to be used soon.

Here is how to prepare the squash:  Rinse off the squash with water.  Cut open the squash lengthwise.  Remove the seeds and as much of the strings as you can.  I scrape it out with a spoon.  (Save the seeds.)  Cut squash into several large chunks.  Put about a half inch of water in bottom of 6-8 quart pot.  Place squash chuncks in pot.  Bring to boiling on stove top.  Then turn back heat until water is just simmering.  Cook squash until you can easily stick a fork through the pieces.  This takes about an hour, but check it from time to time.  When tender, remove from heat and allow to cool enough to handle the pieces.  When cool enough, scoop out squash meat from the skin.  Discard skin and puree squash in a food processor until smooth.  My yield was 3 pints of pureed squash.  Sometimes I freeze it in pint containers to use in muffins, pie, cookies, or bars.  This time I put the squash in the refrigerator for another day.

What to do with the seeds?  Wash off the pulp and place them on a tea towel to dry.  The next day or so, sprinkle them with salt and add a bit of coconut oil or butter.  Bake them in a 300 degree oven on a cookie sheet.  Stir every fifteen minues until slightly crispy.  Takes about 45 minutes depending on size of seeds.  The children love to snack on these roasted seeds!

Today for lunch, I used a pint of the pureed squash to make a butternut bisque.  The recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks Simply in Season published by Mennonite Central Committee, Inc.  Carrots, onions, chicken broth, butternut squash, and yogurt are the main ingredients.  We used homemade whole wheat bread to dip in it.  Of the six of us, five thought it was delicious.  Not bad considering four of them are children with developing taste buds, and I was springing a new recipe on them!

Another day, I plan to use the remaining squash in Winter Squash Bars, another recipe from Simply in Season.  The bars are very simple to make and not too sweet.  Even our son who does not like sweets devours them!

Hope you have received some inspiration for eating well on a cold winter day!

Why write a blog?

There are a few blogs I have really enjoyed reading most of which center on food, faith, or family.  Several times, I have been told I should teach a class on what I have learned in our family food journey.  In the past, I have considered starting a blog but never felt I had the time.  I have also felt the desire to journal but have not been anything close to regular in that discipline.  Now I am hoping this blog will fill several of those areas.  And so we will begin!