Family Currents: Late Winter at the Farm

As I write this by the window, the sun flooding my pages, I have hope that the sun will shine warm again. It may very well be that the days of braving the bitter cold and snow are behind us, and I couldn’t be happier! The children have missed their bikes and the creek adventures. Not only are the humans pleased, but the sheep and the llama love every blade of grass they see even if it’s crunchy and yellow. The snow is gone, and they couldn’t be more exuberant about it. Just minutes ago, Larry the llama was trotting like a mini giraffe.

On my last visit to Trader Joe’s a picked up this little rose water. It smells clean and pleasant, so I thought I’d try it as a face toner. The little pink bottle has migrated to the girls’ room. They love spritzing it on their faces – I imagine it feels grown-up : ). And I don’t mind since it’s just water and rose extract. I haven’t noticed a difference on my face, but at least it smells of midsummer around here. Have you tried rose water as a facial product before?

All the maple trees have taps in them, and the clear sap runs constantly. The kids love taking breaks from their running around outside to pull a tube from a bucket and drink the sap straight from the tree! It tastes like slightly sweetened water. Depending on how much gets collected by this weekend, Nathan and the boys will start to boil the sap down to thick amber syrup. Stay tuned because we’ll start selling it soon!

with love. Damaris

A Stroll Down Comfort Lane and Chicken Potpie

Why do mom’s Sunday pot roasts, buttercream cupcakes for birthdays, and home-churned peach ice cream on Independance Day fill us with comfort?

Our favortie foods connect us with people and friends whose presence made these meals so pleasurable. The real magic is in the gift of sharing and generously serving our people. Comfort isn’t merely the food, but the gathering of grateful feelings and lasting memories.

Dinner at our house is an event we look forward to all day, and when a savory pie is in the oven, everyone starts to feel good long before the first bite. The steam and aroma of creamed vegetables and chicken promise warmth through and through.

Can I offer some advice? Don’t shy away from making a pie just because you are intimated by its crust! The one I used this time is store-bought, and it was delicious. If you have time, this recipe is my favorite. I only lay a crust over the top of the creamy chicken and vegetables, but you could have a bottom and top crust for a heartier rendition. I have been making a variation of this potpie recipe for years, mostly of what I have on hand. This time I wrote down the measurements to our favorite version, so I could share the recipe with you!

Comfort food doesn’t need to be a guilty pleasure. This chicken pie is loaded with green vegetables! Simple enough to enjoy as a weeknight meal, it’s outrageously good – warm, tasty, crusty, thyme-kissed, oven-baked goodness. Make it ahead of time, keep it covered in the fridge, and bake it when you get home from errands, or when you have people over. It all cooks in one pan! A generous hot portion of this pie and a salad makes a most perfect dinner.

Chicken Potpie

  • pie crust

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil + 2 tablespoons butter

  • 1/2 yellow onion, peeled and chopped

  • 1 celery bunch, trimmed and chopped

  • 2 cups green peas (frozen)

  • 2 cups cooked chicken (perfect use of leftovers)

  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 2 tablespoons flour

  • 1 cup milk (any kind works well)

  • fresh ground pepper (to taste)

  • egg wash (1 yolk + a little water) (optional)

Turn the oven on to 375F. In a large skillet on medium-low heat, melt butter with the oil and cook the onions and celery until soft. Add the frozen peas, chicken, salt, pepper, thyme and flour. Mix in the milk stirring constantly as it thickens. Taste for salt and add more to your liking. Pour the creamy chicken and vegetable mixture onto a baking pie dish and cover with the pie crust. Cut little vents (make little cuts) on your crust, and brush the egg wash (optional). Bake for 20 minutes. When you see some evidence of it bubbling inside, it’s ready to enjoy!

with love, Damaris

When Kids are Running on Low

February is the shortest month of the year, but it always seems to drag on.

If you’ve been a reader for a little while, you’ll know that we embrace our homeschool days. Our little school room is bursting with books, puzzles, games, toys, Lincoln logs, play dough, craft supplies, paints, etc. This means that the little ones are with us while we do school. This also means we’re all together all day. Literally, we’re all in the same room for most of the day. I like it this way because I can train the littles in sharing and obedience while sitting next to the bigs and grading math lessons. But some days are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days (we love the Alexander books!).

If we try to be sensitive to the children’s emotional and physical needs, we’ll recognize when their little brains are tired or their focus is running out. Often times, it’s mom who’s running on low because algebra, diagraming, times tables, Amelia Bedelia, and phonics are just a little too much. I’ve compiled a list (by no means exhaustive) of our favorite activities to break up the drag:

  1. Visit the local Barns and Noble kids’ section

  2. Take a walk after lunch

  3. Load them all up and go to the McDonald’s drive-thru for iced teas

  4. Take a break, pop popcorn and watch a science video (PBS) or National Geographic Kids (youtube)

  5. Visit the free Natural History Museum in town and take the day off

  6. Drive to the nearby indoor botanical gardens instead of school in the morning

  7. Stop for a break and build puzzles.

  8. Take the afternoon off and make cozy reading corners with blankets

  9. Go to Ikea for hot dog lunch and long indoor walk

  10. Play a fun Pandora station (Disney) or Piano Guys (youtube) during lunch

  11. Pause and put the kettle on. Let everyone pick a favorite tea.

  12. Climb on mom’s bed for a cooking show episode (Great British Baking Show)

Winter weeks are running out soon, but while we continue cocooned, what activities do your kids enjoy?

with love, Damaris

Instant Pot Loving + White Bean and Smoked Sausage Stew

Happiest of Fridays, My Friends! Life has been put on hold here in Michigan. We’re in the middle of a snowstorm and what better than a post about hot, steamy stew? We’re having this for dinner tonight, because you can’t beat SEVEN ingredients and a pot that does all the work for you in no-time.

Did I tell you I’m over-the-moon infatuated with my Instant Pot? Meals that would have used a skillet, slow cooker, or a pot come out of the stainless steel pressure cooker prepared to perfection with a fraction of the mess and time. Is your cupboard boasting this treasure yet? I’m sure we’ll share the same love : )

Nothing speaks family like the pleasures of gathering our loved ones, carefully ladleling stew into deep bowls, holding little hands, and saying grace – a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the day. Next, we all load a spoon and blow gently until it is just cool enough to eat.

I am confident that the best dishes emanate from the freshest ingredients prepared in the simplest way, and this stew attests to that. Using dried white beans, quality canned tomatoes, and full-flavored smoked sausage will deliver a rewarding, aromatic, hearty stew. Everything goes into the electric pressure cooker at once, and if prepared days in advance, this stew tastes even better.

When you serve this white bean and smoked sausage stew hot in generous portions with fresh crusty bread, you’ll enjoy the most soul-warming rustic stew! Do tell me you’ll try it?

White Bean and Smoked Sausage Stew

  • 3 cups of dried white beans (navy, canellini, any will do)

  • 2 (12 oz.) smoked sausages, sliced

  • 8 cups chicken stock

  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped

  • 2 (15oz.) diced tomato cans (stewed, crushed, whole-all work well)

  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary (crushing it in the palm of your hand gives it a little more life)

  • handfulls of fresh spinach leaves or kale for throwing in after cooking or directly upon dishing (optional)

Add all the ingredients to the electric pressure cooker. Cover and set on pressure cooking function for 45 minutes. Allow to slow release for a set-it-and-forget-it approach. The Instant Pot takes between 20-40 minutes to reach high pressure and will slow release for another 20-40 minutes. Enjoy the ease and comfort of this satisfying stew any night of the week! Makes fabulous leftovers and freezes great.

with love. Damaris

5 Habits for Productivity

Time is a gift from God. He doesn’t owe it to us, yet he gives us days, hours, and minutes generously. Because time is a gift, it is never acceptable to waste it assuming that God will give us more. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:15-17

Over and over again I wonder why I don’t get as much done during my day or week as I would like. It might be because I have 7 kids. It might be because homeschooling 5 takes all day or because the baby is still nursing. But honestly, I probably waste more time then I would like to admit. I’m often hesitant at the tasks God has called me to do on any given day, and I procrastinate.

Several years ago, I asked advice from a veteran mom of 10 on how to best start the day. I was completely overwhelmed with all the children waiting for me to direct them onto the next task and organize their school day, two toddler age children that were only going to cause destruction, and a nursing infant that would wake up at any time. I asked how she started her day, and she shared with me these tips on maintaining sanity. I think these are tips for productivity that all of us can find helpful. Whether we take the children to school or not, whether we still have children in the home or not, whether it’s a large family or not, whether we live in an apartment or a large 5 bedroom home, these tips will make you feel not only sane, but also more productive:

  1. open all the blinds- even in the bathroom

  2. make all the beds- children can learn to make their own

  3. collect and empty all the trash bins- the bedrooms, bathrooms, office, etc.

  4. gather and run a load of laundry- everyday (remember to walk through the bathrooms and kitchen for washcloths and towels)

  5. wipe down surfaces- as many as you can, as fast as you can (kitchen and eating areas)

I realize that most of these can be delegated, and I leave that up to you. The simplicity and effectiveness of these tasks always energizes me and gets me feeling productive. The secret is in doing these small jobs before any meaningful activity has begun. For me, that is first thing in the morning after getting dressed but before breakfast. I’m a big believer in cleared counters before going to bed, but I still give them a fresh wiping in the morning. I guarantee you’ll feel revitalized! So blinds, beds, trash bins, laundry baskets, and wipe surfaces – now take a breath and say a prayer while looking out the windows and get ready to make some coffee. Here’s to a happy day, dear ones!

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do — do it all for the glory of God!”
1 Corinthians 10:31

with love, Damaris

Did You Order An Instant Pot Recently?

Shortly after we were married, we received a quesadilla maker, and it never came out of the box. Sorry gifter! We don’t have a roaster, rice cooker, donut maker, toaster oven, electric griddle, panini maker, nor a microwave which tells you that it took a long time for me to grow increasingly intrigued by this of-the-moment appliance. I’m late to the party, but I’m in and I’m stayin’. It’s easy! It works! It’s delicious! -were all my expressions after using the Instant Pot for the first couple of weeks. I’m growing confident in the results and soon will join the amazing proficient Instat Pot users society. Some cooks are making close to magic in these, and I hope to at least have a growing collection of Instat Pot simple dinners on here. Fluffy cakes and crème brulee may still required a little more seasoning than I have. Today we’ll start with a quick and easy favorite recipe that you must make tonight, please! Don’t miss it at the end of this post.

It came as a surprise to me that Nathan ordered an Instant Pot before Christmas. The next day, we began with fresh French beans and then cubed potatoes. In the next couple of days, we tried several soups and rice puddings. Lentils and all dry beans are the best in the Instat Pot! I will never, not ever, simmer dry beans on the stove top for 4 hours checking on them every 40 minutes to makes sure they’re still submerged in water. Not to mention the residue of steam and stink- ha! The time saver and hands-off approach to cooking legumes is amazing. By the way, I have the Duo 8 quart.

This post is mainly a compilation of links and resources that I have used and hope both you and I can easily come back to for reference right here. As the Instant Pot recipe collection grows, I will link all the recipes to this post.

Here’s the official Instant Pot site. They have videos and information related to all the different models that they offer. Therecipe databaseit very helpful to gain confidence in using your old recipes and converting them.

Here are some of my favorite links for recipe inspiration: Most popular Instant Pot recipes from 2017 (The Kitchn) and Heidi Swanson’s Instant Pot Recipes (101 Cookbooks). I know there are countless more, but these are the two I have used so far. The soup we keep coming back to is Zuppa Toscana. Even if it isn’t a frigid winter where you live, you must make it. So, so good.

Instant Pot Zuppa Toscana

1lb. ground mild Italian sausage

1/2 lb. bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

6 medium potatoes, thinly sliced

10 cups of chicken broth or stock

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 cup heavy cream or half and half

2 cups kale or spinach, for kale remove the stem and chop

Cook the Italian sausage and the bacon in the Instant Pot using the sauté function until crumbly and browned. Stir in the onions and garlic until translucent. Add the broth, potatoes and red pepper flakes. Select steam and set it to 4 minutes. Close the lid. Steam handle closed too. When the pressure cooking is done, allow 5-10 minutes of cooling and lay a folded towel over the steam handle. Turn the steam handl. When all the steam has been released, open the pot. Add the kale or spinach right away and it will wilt as you stir. Add the heavy cream or half and half. Enjoy again and again!

with love, Damaris

Families Warm The Winter Blues

January so far is anything but dull. Outside my window panes, the meadow and all her barren beauty, offer a frail salute to the new year. The maple trees need a good cold and snowy winter to produce ample sap in the spring. As we inch toward even more snowfall days, I’d say it looks a lot like a good ol’ traditional Michigan winter is underway. Today’s whirling whiteness asserts this winter is wild and woolly.

These days, we find beauty is in the stillness. We’ve settled snug for winter with a few episodes of speeding swiftly and smoothly down the cold, hard snow. Nothing could warm our hearts more than gathering close with piles of new good picks from the library and a whistling kettle nearby.

Today could appear dismal if we had grand eventful plans, but the simplicity of the smell of rosemary, sweet potatoes and apple cider fills me with gratitude for the chance to hold all my loves and keep them close. And when we do have to spend the day out, we relish the delightful consciousness of home waiting at the end.

Some of our favorite things this January are:

  • woolly socks – I wear these everyday

  • peach tea- reminds us that the sun will shine again

  • making candied nuts- recipe is at the end of this post!

  • felt sewing- hard to mess up and easy for kids

  • making indoor s’mores- first time trying, so fun!

  • new picture books for read alouds- we order online and swing by for pick up

  • game nights- this is our new favorite

  • Nathan reads missionary biographies sometimes in our bed and kids pile up- currently reading this one

  • chicken pie- our absolute favorite recipe coming soon!

  • robust soups and this crusty artisan bread

  • fleecy jogger pants- we live these 🙂

Candied Nuts

3 cups whole almonds, or halved pecans/walnuts

1 cups sugar

4 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Set aside. In a large skillet combine nuts, sugar, and butter. Cook over medium heat, carefully stirring constantly for 10 minutes or until sugar melts and turns to a rich deep brown color. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla. Spread the mixture onto the parchment liked cookie sheet. Allow them to cool and the candy will harden. We often fill a pint jar with these and give them as a hostess gift . They are delicious eaten straight or sprinkled on salads.

with love, Damaris

Time For Tea and Cookies!

These sugar cookies are a delicate salute to Christmas. Nothing speaks tradition more than cut-out cookies! The hint of citrus keeps this recipe from being anything but dull. These favorite cookies are my mother-in-law’s recipe, which I have treasured since my first Christmas as a wife. The cookies are soft and delicately sweet, and I’m sure you’ll find them to be jolly good! The children and I made this recipe twice this week. They’re so good that the first time we made them, we didn’t even wait to frost them!

Over the years, I have learned that aesthetics don’t improve the taste of sugar cookies. So I brought out the frosting for the children to have their creative way with the shaped cookies while I sat on the kitchen bench and read ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.

I’m also sharing with you a delicious spiced tea that is sure to keep you warm and feeling all festive. Not to mention how cozy your house will smell! It makes quite a bit, but it keeps in the fridge for a long time. I make a large stock pot of it, and serve it for two different gatherings warmed up in the crock pot or simmering on the stove.

Sour Cream Sugar Cookies

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1/3 cup butter, softened

  • 1/4 cup shortening

  • 2/3 cup sour cream

  • 1/2 t lemon extract

  • 1 egg

  • 2 2/3 cups flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375F. Cream the butter and shortening with the sugar with a mixer. Add the sour cream, lemon extract, and the egg until incorporated. Roll out the dough on a well dusted surface (powdered sugar or flour both work well) to 1/4 of an inch thick or less. Cut into desired shapes and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake in the middle rack for 7-8 minutes or until the bottoms have just a hint of gold. Allow the cookies to cook on the pan before handling. Frost the cookies and decorate to your liking!

Winter Spiced Tea

  • 5 cups of water

  • 5 tea bags

  • 1/2 cup honey (sugar works fine)

  • 1/2 cup lemon juice

  • 5 cups apple juice

  • 5 cups cranberry juice

  • 2 cinnamon sticks

  • 2 star anise

  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds

  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves

  • 1 teaspoon cardamom pods

Make an aromatics bundle with the coriander, cloves and cardamom: wrap them in a piece of cheese cloth or a coffee filter tied with food safe cord (butcher twine). If you don’t have a way to make a little bundle, just add all the spices right into the pot (we do it this way most often and serve it with a few seeds that settle at the bottom of the cup). You can use other spices that you might have on hand. Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Turn the heat off and add tea bags. Stir in the honey until dissolved and remove tea bags after 5 minutes (when steeped). Add the remaining ingredients including the spice bundle. Garnish with a slice of orange or lemon. Enjoy it both warm or cold!

with love. Damaris