In support of having a live Christmas tree

Cassel's Tree Farm where Ted IV is patiently waiting for us to come get him

Cassel’s Tree Farm where Ted IV is patiently waiting for us to come get him

Our family is lucky to be friends with a family who owns a Christmas tree farm.  The Cassel’s are super nice people and their daughter Sparky is like a second daughter to me since she was attached at the hip to my own daughter Skeetr for many years. We never were sure where one stopped and the other began.

This year we will be waiting to pick up our tree, TED IV, until Skeetr is home on leave from the Marines in California.  Sparky has been nice enough to tag a tree for us so when December 21st rolls around they will still have one for us to come get.

circa 1977 - Blue Spruce and cookies for Santa

circa 1977 – Blue Spruce and cookies for Santa

Growing up my family had a huge blue spruce tree every year.  Dad was an interior decorator and the blue color went best with our gold and silver balls and white lights.  My Mom was the unfortunate one who had to string those dozens of lights.  I am very thankful that TED is not a blue spruce since those spruce needles are razor sharp and I’m the one who has to put the lights on now.

TED in 2010

TED at home in 2010

So we’ll pick up TED and put him in our downstairs to enjoy over the holiday.  Then TED goes onto our back deck where we string him with popcorn and pinecone birdfeeders for the rest of the winter. After that TED gets to become branches and mulch for our growing spring garden.

I know some folks don’t think having a real tree is environmentally sound.  Well, I don’t really see how a plastic tree is environmentally sound either.  Our TEDs are raised on a local family owned farm which we support with our money.  He isn’t made in China or some other country with poorly paid workers and then shipped thousands of miles to a big box store where they put him on a shelf with all the other trees and wait for someone with a coupon to buy him.

We enjoy TED and take his picture and the cats love on him for a few weeks inside.  Then he becomes a home and feeder for birds for four months or so.  Then he becomes mulch and cover in our garden.  An artificial tree can’t do any of that.

And that space that TED used to take up on the tree farm is replanted with a new tree helping to preserve local business, enhance the environment for people and animals and to help give us oxygen and prevent soil erosion.

So, my sincere thanks to TED, TED II and TED III for being great trees.  And here’s to TED IV waiting patiently at Cassel’s Tree Farm for us to come get him.

Winter Veggies – 3 Bean Salad

In the wintertime we eat a diet that is quite a bit heavier than we do during other times of the year.  To break the routine of meat, potatoes and applesauce, I like to whip up some 3 Bean Salad.  I’m using canned beans, but you can use cooked fresh beans if you’ve got them.  It’s just a nice change of pace.

3 Bean Salad

  • 1 Can Green Beans
  • 1 Can Wax Beans
  • 1 Can Kidney Beans
  • 1 small onion, sliced thin
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 2/3 C white vinegar
  • 1/3 C corn oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp celery seed

Drain and rinse beans and mix with onion.  In another bowl mix the rest of the ingredients together well.  Pour liquid dressing over beans and toss lightly.  Refrigerate at least 8 hours before eating.

Gluten Free Frozen Peanut Butter Pie

Thanksgiving Spice Wall, designed by Alyn

Thanksgiving Spice Wall, designed by Alyn

In honor of Thanksgiving I’m putting up a recipe for one of my family’s pre-celiac diagnosis favorite desserts.  The good part is now that Mi-del is selling gluten free graham cracker crusts we can once again enjoy this fuss free dessert without messing with making a crust by hand.  But if you can’t find the graham cracker crust, just use gluten free graham crackers and follow this recipe. OR just spoon the filling into a dessert dish.  Yum.

Gluten Free Frozen Peanut Butter Pie

  • 1 C smooth peanut butter
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 C sugar
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 4 oz (half a tub) of Cool Whip, thawed
  • Gluten Free Graham Cracker Pie Crust

Blend peanut butter, cream cheese and sugar in a bowl.  Gradually add in milk.  Fold in Cool Whip, blending well.  Spread into pie crust OR into dessert glasses if you are omitting the crust.

Freeze at least 4 hours and then let stand at room temperature for 10 min to cut.  Top with cool whip and chopped peanuts.  A drizzle of chocolate syrup is always nice too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

For the love of the Thrift

Thrift Store, Love the Thrift Store, It’s a Modern Stone-Age Lottery….

Woo-hoo!! Thrift Store Score!

Woo-hoo!! Thrift Store Score!

I am absolutely mad about thrift stores – as in I LOVE them!  The Salvation Army stores are my favorites, but any kind of thrift will cause me to pull over my car.

Last Friday our SAs were having a pre-Black Friday sale and everything was 50% off.  I picked up a few things for future craft projects which will be seen on my sister blog but my favorite thing to come home with me was the mail sorter above.  I’ve been wanting one of these for AGES but the price tags on them made them out of my league.

So this one was a whopping $3.99 regularly, but I got it half off so for $2.00 this baby is mine!  I may be persuaded to give it away as a gift at Christmas as is since it is in perfect condition, but more likely I’ll be redoing it in a beach theme for my office.  I’m forever misplacing my bills and blog notes.


Grandpa Larry’s Gluten Free Apple Crisp Recipe

Time to call Larry, we're making crisp!

Time to call Larry, we’re making crisp!

I still had a few deer apples left from my last batch and needed to use them up.  I decided to make a batch of apple crisp instead of more applesauce.  This is a hit at our holiday gatherings, especially with Grandpa Larry who always asks for seconds so I’m naming it after him. It is definitely good with ice cream, but also good with milk.

Grandpa Larry’s Apple Crisp

  • 6-7 apples, peeled, cored and sliced (or enough to fill your baking dish)
  • 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 C oats (we use Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 2 T Gluten Free flour (optional)
  • 1/4 cup cold butter
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Optional:  raisins, dried cranberries, currants plus orange juice, apple juice or brandy
  • Optional: walnuts, pecans

This is a throw together kind of recipe and my measurements are guesses. You can really modify this a lot to suit your needs.

  1. 30 minutes before beginning, soak dried fruit in juice/brandy if using.
  2. Preheat oven to 400F
  3. Put prepared apples into 9×9 non-metallic baking dish (or whatever size you are using)
  4. Add dried fruit and nuts if using.
  5. In separate bowl mix flour, oats, butter, spices, brown sugar and vanilla together with your hands or a pastry cutter until they resemble crumbs.  The flour really doesn’t do much here so if you don’t have any, don’t sweat it. Just don’t substitute corn starch. It doesn’t work here.
  6. Sprinkle crumb mixture over apples.  (This amount will not cover the dish, we don’t like tons of topping but if you do, double it.)
  7. Bake at 400F for 30 min or until apples are soft to a fork and topping is brown.  This time can vary considerably depending on what type of apples you are using so start checking around the 25 min mark.  If it is browning too fast, drop the temperature a bit.
Get the milk!

Get the milk!

Variations to this are unlimited. I like to add plums to the apples or sweet cherries.  Fresh or dried.  Most days I just throw in what I have and it is always tasty.  I don’t put sugar or seasonings in with the apples but you could if you like more spice and sugar.  Dots of butter on the apples give a richer dish as well.

On my bookshelf: Family Circle Great Ideas Entertaining at Home – June 1980

Entertaining 1980s style

Entertaining 1980s style

I absolutely love old magazines – and I hate to say that this one looks like an old magazine ’cause it was published when I was 10!  But, sadly, it does look like an old magazine.  I picked it up for free at our local “library” which is actually just a shelf in our post office where we exchange books and magazines since Dauphin County doesn’t think we are important enough for a library branch.  If they knew how much business our little bookshelf gets they might think again.  Our town is so small there isn’t much to do BUT read and visit the post office.

Inside it are a bunch of entertaining tips – 1980s style (which is still pretty much 1970s style, things didn’t get 80-fied in my mind until 1982 and the day we got MTV.)  There are a boatload of good recipes in this issue that are gluten free, especially frosting and drink recipes.  I’ll be sharing some of those with you just in case you need a recipe for Orange Frosting or Mimosa Baked Ham.  :-) Oh, come on, you know you do!

Kindergarten Grammar – bring in Schoolhouse Rock!

Welcome to Kindergarten!

Welcome to Kindergarten!

Our middle child is in Kindergarten this year and one of the things she brings home is a word ring that contains cards with sight words on them for her to learn to read.  This week we had a new word – AND.

For some reason my brain immediately thought, hmmm… I know a way she can see that word in action.  So out came the Nook (I never use it for books, only video and Candy Crush – please don’t tell anyone about the Candy Crush) and I went to YouTube and pulled up my old favorite Conjunction Junction from Schoolhouse Rock.

This is what I showed to my 4 and 5 year old (forgive the ad at the beginning):

I was a kid in the 70s and Schoolhouse Rock taught me and a bunch of my friends the basics of history, grammar and science.  They were tremendously effective and painless education.  I managed to snag them on VHS when my oldest was young and she got the benefit of them too.  Now my youngest two have them on DVD and the internet.

I distinctly remember a bunch of us singing quietly to ourselves in 6th grade American History a certain song when we had a quiz on the Preamble of the Constitution.  Yep, we knew it… no question.  Rats, now I’ve got in my head, “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union….”

Why I wonder if we have all this amazing technology at our hands can we not come up with something equally effective and entertaining these days as Schoolhouse Rock was for us in the 1970s?

Take a trip back and sing along with the Preamble:

Making Gluten Free Easier Tip: Shred your own cheese

Cheese and nothing but the cheese

Cheese and nothing but the cheese

If your family uses a lot of shredded cheese then you want to make sure you always read the label on the shredded cheese package.  I know, you are thinking, well, it’s gonna say cheese, right?

Yep. It is gonna say cheese, but then it also going to say other things – some of which may need further investigation.  Here are two packages of shredded cheese, one is Target Brand, the other is Kraft. Both are cheddar cheese.

Target brand - mmm, cellulose powder.  Great on nachos!

Target brand – mmm, cellulose powder. Great on nachos!

Kraft shredded cheddar - you get calcium sulfate with your cheese in this package

Kraft shredded cheddar – you get calcium sulfate with your cheese in this package

Fortunately these packages clearly state the food starch is potato based, but many brands will only list the useless phrase ‘food starch’ which means you gotta call the company to find out if it is wheat based.

Incidentally are you curious about that Natamycin?  I was.  Check out what Wikipedia has to say about this anti-fungal here.

Blocks of cheese (real cheese that is) do not contain anything but milk, enzymes, sometimes salt and possibly annatto which is a natural colorant.  No fungicides, no anti-caking agents, nothing unpronouncable.

So if you aren’t into all that extra stuff in your cheese AND you don’t want to have to worry about a gluten risk from unspecified food starch, take it easy on yourself and shred your cheese at home.  I do a whole block at a time and keep it in a container in the fridge for ease of use.  It takes less than 5 min to shred an 8oz block of cheese and you can freeze it too if you won’t use it all up before it goes bad.

Vermicomposting Time! Adding an addition on to the worm bin

Our Worm Farm

Our Worm Farm

Our family has kept a worm bin to decompose food waste for several years now.  (The official term is vermicomposting but that sounds dirty… and it really isn’t.  It isn’t smelly either IF you don’t let them get too wet.)

High Tech Worm Bin - I just moved my sweaters to the closet

High Tech Worm Bin – I just moved my sweaters to the closet

We are very low key worm composters.  We use an under-the-bed bin for our worms’ home, we use paper from our shredder for bedding and we feed them table scraps a few times a month.

I should say that the worms are NOT our primary form of composting, but they do help out and provide us with castings (rich worm poop enhanced “soil” to get our seedlings off to a good start in the garden.) Our primary form of composting is an old kitty litter bucket with tight cover on the counter and several composters and piles outside to put the collected material in.  We also do sheet composting in new gardens beds.

Howdy Red Wiggler! (And thousands of your friends)

Howdy Red Wiggler! (And thousands of your friends)

Hubby often takes our Worm Farm out on educational talks he gives to introduce families to the idea of worm composting so we like for them to be in good shape.  (In fact you can see a video of his presentation here.)  I noticed last month that our worm population was booming and that they probably could use an addition to their habitat.  So today I took our original Worm Farm and split it in two.


Bobby was all ready to help with the harvest - umm, nope.  Sorry kitty, my worms.

Bobby was all ready to help with the harvest – umm, nope. Sorry kitty, my worms.

No, I don’t know why, but they are.  I had to lock Bobby in the bathroom and Ronnie came out of a dead sleep to come help, even jumping up on the table (which he never does) to investigate.  So apparently Worm Farms smell good to cats.

Pine litter in the bottom, you can also use pellet stove pellets

Pine litter in the bottom, you can also use pellet stove pellets

So, I took a bin the same size as our original worm farm and spread a couple cups of pine cat litter in the bottom.  You don’t want to use a lot of this, but it does help keep your worms from swimming if you end up with too much water between paper additions.

Making Worm Salad

Making Worm Salad

Then I took half of the first worm bin – all the layers, including last night’s lettuce addition – and put it in the second bin.  I kinda made a worm salad I guess with the worms, castings, decomposing paper and lettuce.  (And yes, I did use utensils from my kitchen.  It was too darn cold to go looking in my unheated garage for some suitable garden tool.  Anyway they wash and this stuff isn’t really dirty and it definitely doesn’t smell – well, unless you are a cat.)

Oh look, more furry, feline, four-legged help - this time from Ronnie!

Oh look, more furry, feline, four-legged help – this time from Ronnie!

Then I mixed everything up with some new paper from the shredder (health care forms, definitely better in the composter!) and sprinkled a little water on top since I had added a fair amount of dry matter.  I mixed in some apple peels from making my Apple Crisp and then put the roofs back on the farms.  I’ll check them in a few days to see if they are wet enough or too wet just to make sure.

Double the farms, double the fun!

Double the farms, double the fun!

Took all of ten minutes and soon we will have twice as many worms as before.  Don’t let anyone tell you vermicomposting is hard or expensive.  It isn’t.  You need a bin, paper, worms and vegetable matter.  That’s it. No drilling holes, no fancy towers, nada.

Want more info on vermicomposting?  Check out hubby’s post and video on his website here for more details and references.

Can you spot the deer?

Can you spot the white tailed deer?

Can you spot the white tailed deer?

For the last couple of months we’ve had a “deer friend” living in the lot next to us.  Well sleeping there anyway.  He beds down for the night and then comes out to eat my strawberries.  Then he crosses the stream to the corn field on the ridge behind the house.

In the summer he was a good distance away from the house, but hubby warned me yesterday that he has moved closer – they spooked each other when hubby was emptying the compost.

So when I had to make a trip to compost the pine litter this morning I was looking for him.  And I found him.  He saw me and didn’t move.  I didn’t move much either ’cause I didn’t want to spook him into the road at rush hour.  I can empty the litter plan later.

Didn’t find him?  Here is a zoom shot from my phone… not the best but you can probably see him now.  (And you can see an old trash can that was carried away by the last flood. Now that the underbrush is dying we might be able to get it out of there.  Then again it affords the deer some windbreak on that side so maybe we’ll leave it.)

Ah ha!  There he is to the left of darth vader (our compost bin)

Ah ha! There he is to the left of darth vader (our compost bin)