Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Best Ever Moist Zucchini Bread Recipe

You may have had zucchini bread, but you've never had this zucchini bread!  This recipe was passed down to me from my grandmother.  Everyone asked her to bring it to a pot luck, and now everyone asks me to take it to parties and picnics.

If you've never had zucchini bread, I must command you to drop everything, pick a zucchini from your garden, and make this right now.  Don't have a garden?  Here in about 2 weeks, your neighbors will have so many zucchini that they will leave zucchini on your door step and run.  Don't worry, you can't taste the zucchini at all.  It melts and becomes rich deliciousness.

Summer time wasn't enough for this awesome recipe, so I figured out how to freeze zucchini.  Just shred zucchini, skin and all, and freeze it.  I freeze it in 2 cup portions because of this recipe, but you can freeze it how you want.  When it thaws, it will get watery.  Be sure to add that water to the recipe, and you'll never know that it was frozen.

This bread is very cinnamon-y.  I use my Kitchen Aid mixer, so it comes out almost like a cake for me.  I used my silicon bread loaves, and it did push the sides out.

I also like this recipe because it's very easy to make it healthier.  I've substituted up to one-third of the flour for whole wheat flour without any change in the taste.  I also use applesauce in place of the oil, which makes it very moist.

Without further ado...

The Best Moist Zucchini Bread Recipe

Start by beating 3 eggs in your mixer or by hand.  There are eggs from my girls.  See those big, dark yolks?  You won't find those in any store!
Oops.  I broke a yolk.  Or  three.

Then add 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of oil or applesauce.  You can use both applesauce and oil, just as long as they add up to 1 cup.  I used all applesauce because I have it leftover from last year when I canned it.  Mix until combined.



Now you'll add the star of the show, 2 cups of shredded zucchini.  Also add 3 cups of flour and mix until combined.

Once that is mixed in, you'll add 1 tablespoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 2 tablespoons vanilla, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons cinnamon.  Then beat for 2 minutes on medium.



Grease and flour two loaf pans.  Pour half of the mixture in to each pan.


Bake for an hour at 350 degrees, but check it after 45 minutes.

I always put the loaf pans on a cookie sheet.  If I don't, the bottom can get a teensy bit hard.  This also contains any spillover and prevents a huge mess.  These really do rise if you use a mixer, so I really do suggest using the cookie sheet.

This tastes amazing on its own, but sometimes I spread some butter on top.  Not margarine.  A bread this good needs the real thing!

Zucchini Bread Recipe

Printable Version

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup oil or applesauce
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
Directions
  1. Beat eggs.
  2. Add sugar and oil and mix until combined.
  3. Add zucchini and flour and mix.
  4. Add baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon.  Mix on medium for 2 minutes.
  5. Pour batter in to two greased and floured loaf pans.
Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.



 
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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Canned Bread and Butter Pickle Recipe

Bread and butter pickles are my favorite kind of pickles.  Specifically, my grandmother's bread and butter pickles.  This recipe, like her canned dill pickle recipe, was lost for many, many years.  My mom gave it to me last year, and I was able to make one batch.  I've already made a batch this year, and I hope to make several more.

I will assume that you know how to can.  If you have any questions at all, just leave a comment, and I will try my best to answer or point you in the right direction.

Canning is becoming a lost art, and that's really sad.  I love being able to make my own food because I know exactly what's in it.  Many of the vegetables I use to can are grown on our farm, so I know they are non-GMO and organic.  I buy my spices in bulk from an Amish bulk food store.  If you don't have one locally, your grocery store should have the spices.

The cukes need to soak in the salt for 3 hours, so plan accordingly.  Don't start this at, say, 2 p.m. and have to take an hour break to show a rabbit to a prospective buyer.  Did I mention that onions make me cry?  Yeah.  I bawl like a baby.  Try explaining that to a stranger.

Canned Bread and Butter Pickles


Start by cutting cucumbers in to paper thin slices.  You'll need 16 cups for this recipe, but if you have a few cups leftover, by all means add them.  I always have extra brine left over.  Add 8 small white onions cut in thin strips or diced, depending on your preferences.  I like strips.  Then add 2 green peppers and 2 red or yellow peppers.  You can skip the red or yellow peppers, but it does make the jar look pretty.  I skipped it this year because I only planted green peppers.

Combine 4 cups water and 1/2 cup canning salt.  Pack the ice around the veggies and let them soak for three hours.  I moved my veggies to a large pan with a lid because my plastic bowl started to warp from the cold.  I give the veggies a good stir every half an hour or so to mix them up really well.  The ice will melt, but you don't need to add more.  

After three hours, drain the veggies in a colander and rinse very well.  Then rinse them again.  And again.  Taste one.  If you pucker, rinse more.  The salt taste only intensifies as it sits, so you really, really need to get that salt off.


Now you want to make your brine.  You can start this about 20 minutes before your veggies are done soaking if you want.  To make your brine, bring 5 cups sugar, 1.5 teaspoons turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (optional- I never add it), 2 teaspoon mustard seed, and 5 cups white vinegar to a boil over medium heat and let boil for 5 minutes.  


 While it's heating up, take your jars out of the warm water in the water bath and empty them.  Pack them with veggies really tight.  The cucumbers will shrink more, so you really want to pack them very well.


Pour the brine over the pickles leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Give the pickles a water bath in boiling water for 10 minutes.  

Ta da!  You have bread and butter pickles that taste so much better than what you find at the store or from a mix!  

Let sit for at least a month for best taste.

Canned Bread and Butter Pickles Recipe


Makes 2 quarts

Ingredients

  • 16 cups of thinly sliced cucumbers
  • 8 small white onions, sliced thin
  • 2 green peppers cut in to 1/2" pieces
  • 2 red peppers (optional)
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 4 cups ice
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
  • 2 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 5 cups white vinegar
Directions
  1. Combine cucumbers, onions, and peppers in a metal pan.
  2. Combine salt and ice.  Pack ice mixture around veggies and let sit for 3 hours.
  3. Drain vegetables and rinse very well.
  4. Combine sugar, turmeric, cloves, mustard seed, and vinegar in a large sauce pan.  Bring to boil over medium heat and let boil for 5 minutes.
  5. Pack vegetables in sterilized jars.  
  6. Pour brine over vegetables, leaving 1/2 inch head space.
  7. Process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.  

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Interview with Jennifer DeCuir Author of Drawn to Jonah, Five of Hearts, and Wynter's Journey

I'm so excited to share with you an interview with author Jennifer DeCuir.  Jen has three books published already, and all of them are great reads.  If you're looking for the perfect book to take on vacation or spend a lazy Sunday with, pick up any of her books.  They are all set in the same fictional New England town, but you don't have to read them in order.
  
How did it feel when you found out that you'd sold your first book?  Did you celebrate?

At first I was stunned, and the fact that the editor prefaced her email with an apology for taking so long to respond to my query? Wow! Truth of the matter was, she replied faster than any other publishing house I’d ever sent to. Too funny! I celebrated numerous times… once with the family, once with my closest girlfriends and once by myself (with a well-earned trip to the bookstore for a long browse).

Can you tell me about your writing process?  Do you plan every detail before you start writing?

I am THE most disorganized writer you can imagine! I have index cards and post-it notes scattered all over my desk. I have notes going in at least three notebooks. I also jot myself notes on my Aqua Pad in the shower (BEST invention in the world!)
As far as plan details, I can’t start unless I know my hero and heroine inside and out. I need to know what the basic conflict is. I need to know the climax and how the story is going to end. But as far as detailed chapters… I let my characters sort things out as they go along. Often times I’ll sit back smiling because I did not see that particular scene unfolding the way it did. It’s kind of spooky but a lot of fun.

You have two young children at home.  How do you balance parenting and writing?

I give up trying to earn the Mother-of-the-Year award. When I’m writing, I let them play video games, watch cartoons and trash the living room with pillow forts and Lego booby traps. Sometimes it means cereal or pizza delivery, when I’m on deadline. But when I’m not writing, I cherish every moment with my little monsters that I can. I take tons of pictures and I talk them up on Facebook, because they aren’t going to be little forever and I am going to miss these days like crazy.

Do you base your characters on people that you know?

I can neither confirm nor deny that question. Just kidding. I may have based a secondary character or two on a real person. You know what they say about ticking off a writer… ;)

You have three books published now.  Do you have a favorite?  Why is it your favorite?

My favorite book is Five of Hearts. It’s a shout out to my fan fic writing days and was a lot of fun to write. But as far as heroes go, Jonah Goodwin is the man for me. Such a sweet dad and a great big guy who is handy with his…tools. ;)

I heard that you have a fourth novel coming soon. Can you tell me a little bit about it and when it will be released?

Tentatively titled Trapped In Tourist Town, this book was originally the very first in my Scallop Shores series. It was also my first rejection and I hid it away after a Harlequin editor told me Burke was too perfect and Cady was too immature. After Drawn to Jonah sold, and Five of Hearts right after that, my editor at Crimson asked if I had any more Scallop Shores books. I decided to give it another go, using what I’d learned in the years since I’d first written it to make it a better book.

Cady is the manager at Logan’s Bakery that readers have been introduced to in the last three books. She loves to match make, she’s proud of her espresso machine and she doesn’t take any guff from her cranky clientele. But she’s worried that by staying in Scallop Shores, she’s missing out on a more exciting life in New York City. Just when she finally decides to take the leap and skip town, Scallop Shores gets a new resident in Burke Sanders. Now she has to decide if following her dreams to the big city are more important than leaving behind the first man she’s ever truly fallen in love with.

While I would love to say that this book is already under contract, I haven’t submitted it to Crimson yet. So… cross your fingers for me. I’m aiming to submit a proposal for it within the next few weeks.

Good luck with the next book, Jennifer!  And thanks for answering my questions.

You can read more about Jennifer at her website  follow her on social media:

All three of Jennifer's books are available on Amazon.  Check them out!

(Amazon links are affiliate links, which means that I earn a small commission from sales)

Drawn to Jonah (a RONE 2014 Nominee and 2nd place winner in the 2012 ECO contest)

Quinn finds new purpose in life caring for the local handyman's daughter and teaching the sexy single dad how to read.  He knows he owes her a huge debt, but he'll start by giving her his heart.
B&N 


Five of Hearts
Shannon is a single mom to triplets.  Dean is a former boy band member hiding from the latest fake paternity scam.  They couldn't be more wrong for each other.  Sometimes falling in love is more about chance than choice.

B&N 

Wynter’s Journey (A 2nd place winner in the 2013 ECO contest)
A childhood promise brings Wynter and Sam together again after tragedy ripped them apart over ten years earlier.  Fate has given him a second chance to tell her how he feels.  This time he's not going to run.

Amazon  
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Monday, July 21, 2014

10 Things WAHMs Are Sick of Hearing

I became a SAHM when I was pregnant with my oldest son.  I was fortunate enough that our circumstances allowed me to stay at home for 8 years.  By that time, I had three children, and my oldest was diagnosed with autism.  Then circumstances changed.  I had to work.  Daycare is expensive, and I didn't think daycare would work with my oldest.  I had to get an income, and I had to stay home.  I started selling an Etsy shop and sold unneeded items on eBay.  I had always loved writing, and I wanted to use my degree, so I started looking for writing jobs.

Three years later, I still sell on Etsy, I still write for private clients, and I have two blogs.  I love my job, but I don't love the reaction from people.  Here are the things WAHMs are sick of getting asked.

Do you actually make money?

No.  I have so much spare time between running a home, cooking, cleaning, laundry, raising kids, and being a Girl Scout and a Cub Scout leader that I decided to volunteer my time writing.

Yes, of course I make money.  Which brings me to the next question...

How do you make money?

I'll give people the benefit of the doubt here.  Most people have no idea how bloggers or writers make money.  We sell ad space on our blogs.  Some of us write sponsored posts.  We may have affiliate links so we can earn a small commission from sales.  There are many, many ways to make money from a blog.  Unfortunately, none will get you rich quick.

How much money do you make?

Really?  Is that ever an okay question to ask?  I have a nice house, the power is on, and my kids have full bellies.

So you have the best of both worlds- you are a SAHM and you work.

Well yes and no. It is nice that I never have to line up babysitters or worry about day care costs and issues.  I am very thankful for not having that expense and stress.  But I also have my kids at work with me every single day.  During the summer, all three kids are home.  During the school year, I homeschool one child. Would most people even dream of taking their kids to work?  Try working with a CD of screeching monkeys on crack paying next to your desk.  That's what it is like working with kids around.

Why isn't your house clean all the time since you are at home all the time?

Do you do your dishes while you're at work?  Do you vacuum your living room while you're at work?  I think your boss would frown upon that.  When I'm working, I'm working.  I can't stop to tidy up or clean because then I would never get my work done.  No work = no pay.

What do you do all day?

I drink a cup coffee and check my email and social media accounts for message. Then I write a blog post or two and promote those on social media.  Then I work on client work.  I eat lunch while checking my email again.  I work on social media--finding people to follow, sharing other bloggers work--then I work on my Etsy shop either making new items or packing orders.  The whole time I'm doing this, I'm redirecting children, refereeing fights, and giving them food.

When I think that I am finally done, a client emails or texts with questions.  Most of my evening is spent on my phone with clients.

It must be nice to work from home and stay in your PJs all day.

Notice I never said anything about getting dressed in my daily plan.  Right now, it's 1:30 p.m., and I am still in my PJs.  Nice?  No.  It's not.

But your schedule is pretty open.  You can take off when you want, right?

Yes, I can!  But I don't get paid.  If I take a day off, I have to work extra hours for 3-4 days before my day off.  Then I have to spend two days catching up after that day.  And while I am off, I'm still answering emails.
Yes, I can rearrange my schedule so I never miss a field trip or award ceremony, but I will end up working those hours at some point so I can get paid.

You're so lucky that you can work from home!

Luck had very, very little to do with it.  I came in to this with skills and a degree.  Just because I'm not using my degree in a conventional way doesn't make it any less useful. Many of the jobs I have require a B.A. at a minimum.  I worked very, very hard for two years to get the clients that I have.  I wish someone would have just handed me these jobs. For that matter, I wish the money would just appear in my Paypal, but I digress.

I love social media!  Isn't it fun to be on it all day?

No.  No, it's not.  When I'm on social media, I'm looking for status updates to share, finding people to follow, and reviewing stats to see what and when I should share.  All the reports and data really suck the fun out of using social media.  I wish I could enjoy it, but it's overwhelming at times.

Do you work from home?  What can you add?


photo via David Castillo Dominici / freedigitalphotos.net
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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Canned Dill Pickle Recipe With Grape Leaves

Like most women from her generation, my grandmother was an expert at preserving food. She grew up on a farm and later bought a farm with my grandfather.  She raised four kids while my grandfather farmed.  She was an amazing cook, and I'm so glad to have some of her recipes.

This particular recipe was lost for many years after my grandmother passed away.  None of the kids had the recipe, so we thought it was gone forever.  Then my  mother, who married in to the family, found the recipe in her recipe box almost 10 years after my grandmother passed away.  I got it too late last year to make pickles, so you better believe it was the first thing that I made this year when my cucumbers were ripe.

My grandmother's dill pickle recipe calls for a grape leave on the bottom of each jar.  It's supposed to keep the pickles crisp.  Does it?  I have no idea.  My grandma said to use it, so I use it.

For this recipe, I'll assume that you know the basics of canning.  If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments.  I will try my best to answer.

Links in this post may be affiliate links, which means that I earn a small commissions.

How to Make Canned Dill Pickles From Scratch

Wash and sanitize jars, rings, and lids.  This recipe makes 4 pints or 2 quarts.  I doubled it and got enough brine to make 10 pints.

This recipe is to make quart jars.  If you want to make pints, the brine recipe is the same, but you'll use half of the spices per jar.

First, you'll want to pick some fresh grape leaves.  For me, this meant walking to the front yard. If you don't have fresh grape leaves, you can omit them.  It won't affect the flavor at all.  You can also use pickle crisp. I have never used it, so I can't offer any advice other than read the directions.  Place one leaf on the bottom of each jar.

Start to boil your brine.  Boil 5 cups water, 1/2 cup white vinegar, and 1/3 cup salt.

Cut your cucumbers and pack each jar.  I cut mine in slices.  You might want spears.  Cut them however you want.  Thick, thin.  It all works.  Pack those babies into the jar.  You want that jar full to the rim because the cucumber will shrink when you water bath the jars.

Next add your spices to each jar.  If your herb garden did better than mine, add 4 dill heads and stems.  If your chickens ate your herbs too or you didn't grow any, use 4 teaspoons of dill weed or dill seeds.  I used half of each one for the best of both worlds.

You can add 1 teaspoon of ground horseradish if you feel spunky.  I'm not spunky, so I didn't add it.

Add 1 teaspoon mustard seed.

Top with a thin onion slice or a garlic clove.  I added both. I'm a rebel like that.

By now, your brine should be boiling.  Pour it over the cukes, leaving 1/2 inch head space.

Give your pickles a bath so those flavors mix together and the germs are killed. Process for 10 minutes  in a boiling water bath.

When the time is up, turn off the stove and take the lid off of your canner.  Let the water cool for a few minutes before removing jars.  Jars can crack if they are cooled too quickly.  Let them sit on a towel or other heat proof surface until completely cool.

You'll be tempted to test the seal on the jars as soon as you can.  Don't!  This can disturb the seal and even cause a sealed jar to unseal.  Yep, it's happened to me.

Let these canned dill pickles sit for a month before eating them.  I have to take mine to the basement so I don't cheat!

I hope you enjoy this recipe!

Canned Dill Pickles from Scratch

Makes 2 quarts

Ingredients
  • 8 cups of cucumber slices or enough spears to fill 2 quart jars
  • 4 heads and stems of dill (or 4 teaspoons of dill weed or dill seed)
  • 1 teaspoon ground horseradish (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 1 large onion slice or garlic clove
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/3 cup salt
Directions
  1. Boil water, vinegar, and salt.
  2. Fill jars with cucumber slices or spears.
  3. Add horseradish, mustard seed, dill, and onion or garlic.
  4. Pour brine over pickle slices, leaving 1/2" head space.
  5. Process jars 10 minutes.
  6. Let sit for a month before opening.
To make pints, make brine as directed and add only 1/2 of each spice to each jar.  I doubled the brine and had enough brine for 10 pints.


Printable version
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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Back to School Outfits For Girls

There are affiliate links in this post.  Purchases help support my blog.  Thanks for your support.

It's barely the end of July, but I'm already thinking about back to school!  I'm not looking forward to my kids going back, but I do like to be prepared.  Each year, my kids get a special outfit for the first day.  My kids are so excited to wear their new outfit, and a new outfit gives them a confidence boost for that first day.

This year, I found the cutest outfits at Zulily!  Right now, they have Freckles + Kitty outfits for girls.  They have adorable patterns, lots of ruffles, and bright colors.  The fabrics are all soft, so my daughter will be comfortable sitting at her desk or playing at recess.  They are all made in the United States, too!  And since they are from Zulily, I can get them up to 65 percent off!

Now I just have to choose an outfit, which might be the hardest part of back to school shopping!


Should I choose the Pink Floral Patchwork Ruffle Tunic and Pants or.....

the Orange Polka Dot Peony?



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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Interview With Robyn Lindsey Author of Breaking Free

I'm so excited to share with you all an interview with an up and coming author, Robyn Lindsey.  Robyn is a grief coach, so she has written several journaling books to help people cope with loss.  She recently had her first fiction novel, Breaking Free, published.  Breaking Free is about a woman who has built walls around here so high that no one can come in.  Finally she realizes that when she dies, no one will be there to mourn her.  Will she learn to let someone in?



The book is well written with a great story line.  Robyn has a talent for bringing her characters to life, so the readers feels strong emotions during the story.  If you're looking for a book that makes you stop and think, pick up a copy of Breaking Free on Amazon.

You are a very creative person.  Besides writing, you are a photographer and have an Etsy shop.  Have you always been creative?

When I was a young girl, my interests were many.  My family owned a fireworks stand and I used to make fancy barrettes to sell in the fireworks stand.  I also made many of my own skirts and tops after learning how to sew in home economics.  I can't draw very well, but I used to draw fancy dresses and dream of making them.  I think that yes, I've always been creative, and I've always been searching for ways to grow and express myself.

How did you get the idea for Breaking Free?  Did it just come to you all at once, or did it take a long time to develop?

When I was 12, I was journaling about some pre-teen angst and wrote something about "will there be anyone to mourn me after I'm gone", not in a suicidal way, more like "I wonder if I've made any impact in anyone's life, or I wonder if I will in the future" and Breaking Free was born, the bare bones idea... then it was shelved for almost 30 years, and when I dove in to write it many details of it morphed and the story wrote itself.  So yes, the concept came to me all at once, the details took more time, but details always do.

Can you tell me about your writing process?  Do you dive in and write, or did you plan the book before you started writing?

I outline loosely.  Meaning I write how it begins, then some details guiding the story, the middle, more details, and the ending.  Then I dive in, often not referring to the outline very often.  I refer to it when I feel like I've wandered off track in a bad way, and at those junctions:  beginning, middle, and end.  

In the book, Sam has built walls around herself so no one can get in to her life.  Was it hard to write about her personal struggles?

It was difficult, but also extremely cathartic.  Many of Sam's struggles were my own, but not all of them.  She experiences some losses that I can't even imagine.  In those cases, I researched all the details and dove in.  I think the fact that I used a mixture of my experiences and research made it easier to let it all pour out.

Breaking Free raises MS awareness.  Can you tell me about your experience with MS?

My mom was diagnosed with MS when I was 4.  We moved from our home in Utah to her parent's house in South Texas.  Mom, my two brothers, and myself.  My two older sisters were both out of the house and stayed in Utah.  We moved the summer before I started first grade and it was a whole lot of change for me.  I cried almost daily in first grade because I just wanted to go home.  By the time I was 9, my mom was bedridden.  She had a feeding tube in her nose and a catheter draining her urine into a bag.  I don't say that to be crude, just trying to tell you about my experiences.  We had home health nurses who would come and take care of mom during the day, sponge bath, some of her feedings, catheter replacement, etc.  One though, she didn't seem to want to do her job so she taught me how to change the catheter and I already knew how to do the tube feedings so I did that too.  Being a 9 year old who could change her mom's catheter was one major way that MS affected me.  Mom passed away when I was 14.  Hers was the first funeral I had ever been to (Samantha's story in Breaking Free reflects my childhood) and her illness caused me to grow up much quicker than I would have otherwise.  Mom's MS also made me want to go into caregiving, since all of the aspects of it came naturally to me.  All through school, I wrote research papers on Multiple Sclerosis and have been educating myself about it my entire life.  

Also, there was a time that I was mis-diagnosed with MS for 6 years.  To be fair, I received the diagnosis and for several personal reasons, didn't get a second opinion for six years.  Mis-diagnosis of MS is extremely rare, and given my family history and the slightly increased chances that an offspring has of having multiple sclerosis, I accepted it.  So, in a sense, I lived with MS personally for six years, and came out the other side. 

I've heard that you have a second book coming soon.  Do you know when it will be published?  

The sequel to Breaking Free should be out in the Fall and it will be titled Living Free.  Samantha's story continues, and we get to see if her walls continue to crumble and how that will effect her life.  Also, there is a third book in the works that will be completely different from the first two, but still about Sam.  The third book will be a book of letters between Samantha and her best friend from high school, and it will let you into Sam's mind in a way that a novel won't allow.  

Thank you so much for the questions and I'd love to answer any further ones that come up for you or any of your readers!  Please follow me on social media to be kept abreast of future book releases (also in the works is another poetry anthology and a teen journal).

Follow Robyn on Facebook,Twitter, Google Plus, and Good Reads.  See her Amazon author profile for more information about her other books.
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