Recipes | Pumpkin Chip Muffins

Fall is officially here. There is that unmistakeable something in the air, especially in the cool of the evening, that spicy sweetness unlike at any other time of the year. The shadows get longer as the days get shorter and shorter, which actually gets me excited for long, cozy fall and winter evenings, working on projects, reading, doing those sorts of things that are just about done away with during the long days of summer.

Baking isn’t what I generally gravitate towards in the kitchen, but with fall in air and fresh pumpkins being harvested out of the garden, what better thing to bake than these delicious pumpkin chip muffins! I don’t go for pumpkin spice, but this just tastes like fall to me.

Ingredients

2 c. pumpkin, mashed or pureed (or a 15 oz. can of solid pack pumpkin)

4 eggs

2 c. sugar

1 stick salted butter, softened

1 c. coconut oil, melted

3 c. flour

1 t. baking powder

2 t. soda

2 T. cinnamon

1/2 t. salt

2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

2 T. vanilla

1 c. finely chopped walnuts (optional)

Instructions

Beat together the first five ingredients, until smooth. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl and gradually add to the pumpkin mixture – Mix well. Add vanilla. Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts.

Scoop roughly a quarter cup of batter to each cup in your muffin tin, either greased or lined with muffin papers.

Bake at 400 degrees F. for 15-18 minutes.

Cool for 10 minutes and then place individually on cooling racks. Recipe yields roughly 2 dozen muffins.

Notes

This recipe can be made with or without muffin papers, obviously. I much prefer using the papers, since these are pretty crumbly and moist when they’re warm, so it is a lot easier to handle them in a muffin paper. You can use just about as many chocolate chips as you want…I’ve done anywhere from 2 to 3 cups. It just depends on how chocolately you want them! I have also put a few tablespoons of cocoa powder in the batter, if I’m feeling the need for something extra chocolately. They no longer look like pumpkin if you do that, but they’re delicious all the same. If you want an extra kick of pumpkiny goodness, add a little more pureed pumpkin. Play with the amount of cinnamon and vanilla. I think my original recipe called for something silly like 2 teaspoons of cinnamon. I like to actually taste the cinnamon, thank you very much! You can also use white whole wheat flour for this, and I’m sure you could use regular whole wheat, although I imagine the texture and density would change.

These keep pretty well in the fridge and are delicious warmed up in the microwave for 10 seconds, with a little dab of butter.

Enjoy this taste of fall!

Today’s Trouble, Today’s Joy

Since getting married and leaving my fulltime job as a paramedic and becoming a fulltime wife, I have found my days to be fuller than they ever used to be, busier, richer, and amazingly productive. It is a largely unplanned sort of busyness. Oftentimes it is a busyness brought about by what to other people might be considered inconveniences. It isn’t the kind of productive that puts dollars in the bank, but rather the kind of productive that leads to a happy marriage, healthy relationships, a clean and welcoming and beautified home, a vibrant church and community life, a productive little homestead, and plenty to share with family and friends. It is the kind of productive that leads to life, truly living and experiencing and feeling and tasting and cultivating and nurturing and creating and being.

One of the most beautiful passages of the New Testament is from Matthew 6:25-34, in which Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount spells out the cure for worry. He admonishes His listeners against the futility of worrying. What does worry accomplish for you? You work yourself to death trying to secure your future, but can you really change tomorrow? Do you trust God to provide? Can you make your life longer by worrying? Can you even add an hour to your existence? He reminds His hearers of God’s provision. God clothes the lilies and God feeds the birds. They don’t toil, and yet He provides. It really is a beautiful passage. Jesus concludes this admonition with this well-known statement: “Sufficient for the day is its own troubles.”

How true that is! But I would also say that sufficient for the day are its own joys. In fact, I would actually say that those troubles are often its joy. Trouble and joy are twins.

I think people miss out on a lot of joy because they are trying to stave off trouble (think inconvenience, nuisance, discomfort, changes in plans, something unwanted happening, etc.), or they are trying to manipulate their way into joy without any associated “trouble”. It strikes me that those “troubles” which to a self-occupied or career-centric person would be a nuisance or would be impossible demands to meet (such as one’s day getting turned topsy-turvy by someone else’s needs), those “troubles,” to a person whose life is shaped by spouse, family, and community, are also that person’s joys.

We wake up in the morning and make a plan, and give our attention to what is required of us today. Not tomorrow, not next week, but today. Obviously we have things on our schedule, weeks in advance, but the real question isn’t how best to use my time tomorrow, but how best to use my time today. Who or what needs my attention today? What joy there is in being able to live with an emphasis on those daily tasks that give life shape and meaning, allowing for the flexibility to meet spontaneous demands on my time, building those ties with my spouse, my family, and my community. Maybe it is going with my husband to find those cows that crawled into a neighbor’s pasture. Maybe it is helping with errands or being available to help with babysitting. It might be a spur of the moment picking fruit with my father-in-law, or canning tomatoes. Or jumping into our little fire rig and going to a grassfire across the highway with my husband. Or helping a neighbor work cows. Or a walk with my mom. Or helping shuttle my husband from the stack yards out in the hayfield up to the house after a load of hay was delivered. Or spontaneous coffee with my mother-in-law when taking her a couple dozen eggs on my way into town. Or doctoring an injured or sick animal, a process that always takes longer than anticipated.

We run into trouble when we spend so much time focusing on tomorrow’s troubles and trying to manipulate tomorrow’s joys that we don’t or can’t even experience what is right in front of us.

So I thank God for today’s troubles, and all of its joys.

Ranch Wife Musings: Evening

As I tidy up the kitchen as my last home task of the evening, I get a good view of my little flock of chickens down by their coop, chasing a few last bugs. Clearly they aren’t ready to be tucked in just yet. The horses are visible just on the other side of the barn, having been given their freedom for the night, and sometimes Charlie the Calf comes wandering into the barn yard for a drink of water or maybe thinking I’ll give her one more little scoop of calf creep.

The sky turns orange then pink then lavender as the shadow of our little ridge is cast further and further east, until the last little bit of sunlit prairie has been covered in the comfort of evening shadow.

What a peaceful sight.

I love my little jaunt down to the chicken coop to do the very last of my chores for the day. Pearl comes with me, since she takes her chicken chores very seriously, and usually one or more of the cats run down to the coop with me as well. With an actual pounding of little feet, Yellow Cat (who probably slept all day until five minutes ago) races by, then Grey Cat (who probably worked all day), tearing around, then stopping suddenly and staring at absolutely nothing in the uncanny way cats do.

The chickens chatter contentedly amongst themselves and maybe greet me quietly when I come in to make sure everyone is accounted for. Yep, there’s Amelia, and Alice, and Audrey, and Goldie, and Little Red, Little Red, Little Red, and Little Red. And seven black chickens, including Henrietta, the only one who gets a name because she looks like a vulture. I close the coop windows or open them a crack, depending on the evening temps, and scratch one or two of the friendly birds on their backs before collecting my egg basket and closing the girls in for the night.

Pearl reluctantly joins me on the little walk back up to the house. The cats run and pounce on each other, occasionally scrapping and working out a few feminine feline differences. Rocket the Horse says something sarcastic to Jargon the Horse, or maybe that was Chip putting Rocket in his place.

And everything is still. I love an evening on the rim of the prairie. A distant coyote yelps. A nighthawk calls out high up and out of sight. Maybe there’s the soft roar of the nighthawk’s wings as he swoops and dives. The warmth of the last days of summer melts away and cool night breezes shift around gently, resiny, fresh, and sweet.

This is home.

11 Tips for Successful Canning

I absolutely love to can. Love it. I enjoy the simplicity and heritage nature of the task, I love the fragrances that fill the house, and the satisfaction of rows upon rows of glistening, beautiful jars of jams, jellies, butters, salsas, and sauces. And I love tasting the fruit of that work months (and sometimes years) later.

But canning can be a daunting task. Here are some tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over the years for helping my work day to go smoothly and enjoyably. Like with most things, I’m guessing everyone who has canned for any length of time has developed their own methods and tricks, so I am not claiming any expertise, only sharing what works for me!

1. First and foremost, have a plan! This may seem like an obvious one, or perhaps not, but unlike a lot of kitchen-related projects, until you’ve been canning for awhile there are a lot of things you might not readily have on hand, or things that don’t get replaced often and maybe expired since the last time they were used. Make sure you have what you need. The last thing you want is to get neck deep into a canning recipe and realize your lemon juice is a year out of date or not have your jam set up because the pectin was three years old! Canning is laborious enough without those added inconveniences.

2. Have the right equipment. Although you don’t technically need a specific water bath canner and jar rack, and although you can use a regular old stockpot and either a trivet or towel in the bottom for the jars to sit on (options I resort to if I have a multi-batch of something, especially since two water batch canners would hardly fit on my stove…), it really does help if you have some very basic equipment. Aside from the canner and canner rack and the jar picker-upper, my can’t-do-without tools of the trade are a headspace tool and a jar funnel. These are most definitely optional, but it is amazingly difficult to estimate 1/4 inch headspace correctly and having a funnel sure makes it easier to keep the jar rims and threads clean!

3. Be redundant. Although there are many situations where more is NOT better, I find that in canning, it is always best to have extra. Of just about everything. If you’re just getting started in canning and you don’t have a large stash of jars, splurge the extra $12 for an extra package of jars, just in case (they’ll get used!), and get an extra package of lids as well. You never know when your plan you so carefully laid above goes a little off kilter. A batch of whatever you thought would make six half pints turns into ten, but you only planned for six jars! Keep extra of important ingredients like pectin, sugar, and lemon juice. You bought that 1lb bag of sugar instead of the 5lb bag, but you made a huge batch of cookies for church potluck and now you are short, or you spilled your coffee all over your pectin and spoiled it. It creates unnecessary hassle to run out of ingredients midway through (goes along with having a plan). Have a few extra large bowls on hand, an extra stockpot ideally, spatulas, ladles, etc. I always surprise myself how many different spatulas or bowls or measuring cups I end up using (usually because I end up tasting something and throwing the utensil in the sink).

4. Do as much prep as possible ahead of time. It’s annoying to be on a roll getting things going, only to come to a stand still because I forgot to round up my jar rings. Or for the project to take two hours extra because I didn’t realize how difficult the fruit would be to prep. Wash your jars the night before so you don’t have to do that while you’re trying to get going on your food prep. Prep the fruit and veggies the night before as well. Not having to spend 3 hours pitting plums or grating zucchini sure speeds everything up.

5. Get an early start! For one, you beat the heat. There’s nothing like standing over a steaming canner or stirring a jar of hot sauce when the temps in the house are creeping up. I love to work with the windows open when it is cool outside. For second, I am really, really good at estimating my time multiple hours short of what it actually ends up taking. I’d rather start early and think I’ll be done at noon but really be done at 2:00, rather than starting at noon…you get the picture.

6. Before you do anything else, start heating water in your canner! This is a huge time saver. While it can be tempting to try to be efficient in the stove usage and wait to start heating the water until you think it’ll boil right when you need it, don’t do this to yourself. Go ahead, let it boil or at least get close, and then just keep it at a simmer until you’re ready for it. It is annoying to be ready to process filled jars and the waterbath canner isn’t hot yet. And a watched canner NEVER boils. It might have been ten minutes away from ready but if you need it now, it will take an extra hour to heat up, just for you.

7. Let your jars heat with the water. This relates to hot prepared foods. And no, this isn’t to sterilize them. Sterilizing is no longer recommended for food products that will be processed for at least 20 minutes, but this more an immediate safety issue, and saves you from ruining a batch of something by having a jar break. Keeping the jars hot gets them ready to fill with the hot jam or sauce or whatever it is, and then they’re also less likely to break when you return them to the waterbath.

8. Put a splash of white vinegar in the water bath. This is one of my favorite little things to do because it really does pay off in the end! We are on a well and have delicious water, but with that comes a high level of minerals that leaves an unattractive white filmy sediment on all my beautiful jars. A splash of vinegar makes for clean jars. Save yourself the headache of having to wipe everything down later!

9. Clean those rims! Really! Don’t shortcut this task. It is very frustrating to be three minutes away from being done with a project that has taken half or all of the day, only to not have jars seal because I failed to clean the rims well! Save yourself the headache.

10. Keep a tidy workspace. I dislike working in chaos, so keeping things tidy helps me work more efficiently. I like to have all my clean jars in one spot, my jar lids and rings ready to go nearby, and towels covering all my counter space to make cleanup easier. I keep track of my dirty dishes and bowls and utensils and try to keep them from scattering, and get things soaking as soon as they’re emptied. Cooked sauces and jams or butters can really cook on to whatever they were in, so don’t wait until the very end to start thinking about cleanup on them. There can be quite a bit of downtime while canning, so putter away at those dishes so you can wrap up when that last jar pings!

11. Last but not least, taste and enjoy. There’s nothing like slathering a slice of toast with my own fresh jam or dipping a tortilla chip in fresh salsa. You won’t be regret having some good bread or a bag of tortilla chips on hand, for just such an occasion, and your family will thank you as well.

I hope this little list can help streamline your projects, and maybe make canning feel a little less daunting!

What other tips and tricks would you share with other canners? Leave a comment below!

This Crazy, Wonderful Life

As of yesterday, Brad and I have been married for three months. Wonderful months. In some ways, it hardly seems possible that we’ve been married for that long, and on the other hand it feels as if we’ve always been married. What a blessing and a gift, and how unexpectedly beautiful it has been!

For three months we have looked forward to “when things slow down.” Things will slow down in July, we said. Things will slow down in August, we said. With one thing and another, they surely didn’t slow down, and we’re now in the midst of the whirlwind of fall cow work. Between being a wife, keeping chickens, cultivating a garden, and working alongside my husband, I can safely say I have never been busier! It has been a joy to start getting involved in this community, helping with the county fair, cultivating church relationships, continuing to volunteer with the fire department.

So I’ve been well-occupied. And I can also honestly say I’ve never been happier. Yet in those busy times, it can be easy to do too much looking ahead, and not take the time to sit back and marvel at God’s blessings and how He sustains and provides. Day to day, minute to minute, this life is a blessing, and is amazingly unguaranteed in an earthly sense, but beautifully guaranteed in a Heavenly one. Don’t ever take a minute of this life for granted.

One week I’m bemoaning grasshopper damage in my garden, the next week I’m reaping bounty. One day I’m celebrating the simple joy of a half a dozen eggs, the next day I’m praying my way to the ER with my husband, after a terrifying shop accident. A rough day for any wife (but especially a new one) ended in the sweetness of relief that the ER outcome was stitches and no more, and listening to the music of rain on our roof. One day ended with tears of exhausted relief and the next day began with the sweetness of waking up next to my favorite person and finding 2 inches of rain in our rain guage. So many prayers answered and so much of God’s faithfulness from one sunrise to the next!

One week we’re praying desperately for rain while watching the dams go dry, the next we’re celebrating water in the dams. One day we’re working cows with neighbors, enjoying the camaraderie of the ranching community, the next we’re gathering up my father-un-law from an ATV wreck in a distant pasture and getting him to a waiting ambulance. That same community we enjoyed the day before dropped their whole evening when they heard about the ATV accident, helping at the wreck and then after, shuttling dogs back home, even rounding up my chickens and putting them away. What a wonderful community we live and work in, and how comforting to see the ways in which God provides the right people at the right time to accomplish His plans.

One week we’re feeling the summer slump with less to keep us busy (yet somehow still with plenty to keep us busy), the next week we’re methodically working our way through the ranch, strategizing accomplishing everything while being down a person, and getting ready for a weekend of cow work.

As I’ve mulled over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been struck by the way in which God will bring a significant trial, or a series of them, but wrap them around with His goodness. The last two weeks have been exhausting, emotional, frustrating, uncertain. Yet they have been brim-full of the simplest of pleasures. The purest of joys. The love of a husband, a family and community. What a crazy, wonderful life this is. What a wonderful God we serve.

And it is a glorious thing, to find where you belong, and to be where God wants you to be.

Thankfulness, Like the Rain

We were sitting down for supper last night after a busy Sunday, listening to the sound of rain on our roof. Our weekend was a blur of county fair busyness, fire department busyness, hot weather, and lots of people we don’t get to see very often.

It was a hard week. Not a bad week, just long, hot, and dry. We could gripe about a lot of things. We could gripe about the hot and dry weather we’ve been having. The pastures that are so sparse they almost look grazed out even though they haven’t been grazed yet. Dry dams. Politics. Sturgis rally traffic. Or any other number of things we humans are great at coming up with to complain about.

Or we could find something to be joyful about and thankful for. Thankfulness breeds thankfulness, and once you start finding things to thank God for, it really just keeps going.

Like the rain.

Like a repreive from the heat.

Like that first full dozen eggs I got from my chickens.

Like all of our crazy, loveable critters.

Like getting the chickens moved into their new coop.

Like a weekend full of those once-a-year county fair festivities that wear a person out, but also fill a person up.

Like the community we are so blessed to live and work and worship with.

Like faithful neighbors.

Like a loving, God-provided spouse.

Like a wonderful Sunday evening supper of homegrown steak, zucchini, and dill cucumber salad, a meal entirely harvested from this ranch.

Like a million other things.

So we sat listening to the music of rain on our roof, watching the downpour so heavy we lost the horizon, thanking the good Lord for a much needed wetting-down of this parched piece of earth, thanking God for friends and neighbors and cows and chickens and thanking God for each other.

What a good end to a hard week.