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!

Recipes | Easy Trail Mix

Okay, so this barely qualifies as a recipe. It really doesn’t. But there isn’t another comparable word for a “handful of this, handful of that, shake it up” sort of concoction. But it has become one of our favorite quick snacks! Not to mention, this old coffee cannister is pretty nostalgic for me – It recalls years of memories of my grandparents and their delicious chocolate chip cookies, since this served as their cookie jar as far back as I can remember.

Anyway, Brad and I eat a lot of nut mixes and trail mixes. We come in from chores or cow work and just need a quick snack mid-morning, and a handful of something, oftentimes peanuts or cashews, generally does the trick. We had found a couple of really good trail mixes at Sam’s Club, but we ate enough of them that I finally decided I wanted to start just mixing our own trail mix. As silly or simple as this might sound, we enjoy the homemade version better than the store bought versions.

Pick from a variety of nuts, M&Ms or chocolate pieces, and dried fruit, add desired quantities and shake it all up! You can go sweet or savory, with seasoned or unseasoned nuts, roasted or raw, salted or not, and the list goes on. If you want to get a little fancier, you could toss your mix with a little olive oil and a seasoning of your choice, and bake briefly in the oven. The possibilities are endless.

This one is peanuts, almonds, M&Ms, and raisins. There were supposed to be cashews, but I think I accidentally ate them all before I got around to mixing this up. I made a second jar for myself without raisins. Brad pointed out that there were twice as many M&Ms in my jar as in his jar, but I pointed out that he got all the raisins. Fair’s fair.

Tough Love

This is Amelia.

She really does have as much personality as it looks like in this picture. As a chick, even just a week old, she was feisty and would frequently attack my hand when I reached into the brooder. A chick can’t really do any damage, but fast forward a couple of months and I had started wondering if Amelia was actually a rooster. Once she flew at me and to my surprise made it about to eye level, which was a little startling.

Well, Amelia has since started laying eggs – the most beautiful blue eggs, as a matter of fact – so clearly she isn’t a rooster, but prior to that she was really just a pain. Literally a pain. She’d run up and peck at my hands and fingers or anywhere else she could find to peck, and I got sick of it pretty quick. And by “peck,” I really mean that she’d run over and grab me by the finger and just hang on. It was annoying. Finally one day she ran up and bit me pretty hard, so I grabbed her by the legs and held her upside down and spoke sternly to the little wretch. She didn’t like that. But she tried the same stunt again and received another round of being held upside down by the legs.

It took one or two more of these little confrontations and she eventually got the picture. She settled down. One might think she’d behave herself sullenly and sort of keep to herself and away from the mean lady who grabs her and hangs her upside down, but that would be incorrect. Amelia is now the first one to greet me whenever I come into the chicken coop, and basically begs for attention. She loves to be scratched on the head. And hugged. Yes, hugged.

A little tough love goes a long way.

Trees

I read in an L.M. Montgomery book about a family that planted a tree for every member of the family, memorializing marriages and births, so that after a few decades there was a beautiful family orchard with a tree for every person. That seemed like such a nice idea when I read it and apparently it stuck with me. Sometime after Brad and I got engaged, when we were starting to build some dreams together, I mentioned that to him, and asked if we could plant a few trees when we got married.

And we did.

So many people were very generous to us for our wedding, and we decided to use some of what we were gifted to plant two plum trees, a dolgo crabapple (the kind with crabapples big enough to eat), and a beautiful little spruce tree. The start to our family orchard. It made for a fun date on Saturday to go to the greenhouse and pick out our trees, and I’ve loved our afternoon projects of getting them planted.

I can’t wait to see them grow over the next few years, or next ten or twenty years, and be reminded of that so-important day and God’s faithfulness to us. And that first plum cobbler or jar of crabapple jelly is going to be delightful.

Favorite Perennials

A well-tended perennial garden has a beauty all its own, and thejoy of it is amplified in that it keeps coming back, and keeps coming back, and keeps coming back! Perennials tend to get ignored in the springtime fury of planting, since most people fall for the immediate gratification of copiously-blooming annuals displayed at the greenhouse. Perennials tend to bloom later and don’t get the showcasing that annuals do….Not until the middle or end of the summer when the annuals have all had their hayday and perennials are still shining or just starting to!

The ease and flexibility of planting annuals in a container is pretty appealing to a lot of folks, especially if they don’t already have a garden bed ready for plants but, if at all possible, perennials are the way to go and, tended well, will come back for years to come. It is really amazing to me that sometimes all that is left of a homestead from the late 1800s or early 1900s is a hedge of roses or a few lilac shrubs, still blooming joyfully 100 years later. In fact, the lilacs Brad and I have outside our house are transplants of some lilacs blooming about a mile and a half away on top of a hill. The lilacs and some irises are all that remain of someone’s life on that little piece of hill country.

I was able to get my perennials in the ground early this summer, shortly after Brad and I got married, and planted a few from seed later in the summer, but fall is actually a great time to plant perennials. So I thought I’d share a little bouquet of my favorites.

Catmint. Not to be confused with catnip, which is a completely different plant, this perennial is one of my favorites in the garden. It is hardy, basically grows without any effort, and is a wonderful filler! Unlike some perennials which bloom and then are done, catmint seems never to stop. It can also be sheared in the middle of the summer after its first bloom if it is starting to look scraggly, and will grow back fuller for a second round of blooming. I bought a few catmints in tiny 2 inch pots back in June and these plants are now generous 18 inch bushes. They tend to get wider than they do tall, so they kind of work just about anywhere in the garden, and as I said above they make a great filler. Absolutely beautiful. A bonus is that the pollinators love these flowers. Another bonus is that, due to their fragrance, deer generally don’t mess with them. (Deer proof plants are a myth. They don’t exist. But there is such a thing as generally deer resistant, and plants with a pungeant aroma are generally less likely to be munched on by deer.)

Salvia. This is another one I just love. The typical shade is kind of a violet blue, but lately growers have developed some really wonderful shades of pink. In general, I’m not a pink person at all, but some of the salvias are just delicious rich berry colors. This plant does best with regular deadheading. Each blossom spike can be snipped back when spent, down to the first pair of new leaves, and this will encourage reblooming. This is another drought-resistant and deer-resistant plant, but is less forgiving than catmint. Salvia doesn’t get hugely tall, so it works well somewhat offset from the edge of the garden, but not too far back.

Yarrow. This is an easily-recognizable flower, if you pay any attention to native wildflowers, and the domestic varities have been bred for some gorgeous colors. Wild yarrow is white with occasional pink, but I was excited to plant one variety that blooms red and fades to yellow, and another variety of more subtle shades of pink and white. This is yet another drought-resistant and hardy perennial, and it blooms forever in the later summer! It has some height to it, so it makes a great middle of the garden flower.

As much as I love the change of seasons, I’m bracing a little bit for that first killing frost we have, since I’m enjoying my garden so much this summer! But it will be just delightful to see how everything comes back in the spring. Gardening is possibly the epitome of hope and optimism!

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.