Living in the Appalachian Mountains

Courtesy of Jonathan Bowling

Elk captured on our son, Jonathan Bowling’s, trail camera behind our house. @copyright Healthier Me Simple and Clean.

Many people believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I have been overheard many times making this statement when referring to the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. I am also a believer that not only is beauty found within the eye of the beholder, but also that success lies within the desire of the believer.

Recently I read an article about life in the Appalachian Mountains that lingered in my thoughts, with a mix of emotions hovering over and within me. Life in Appalachia was portrayed with gloom and despair, thus leaving the reader with a feeling of hopelessness. The article implied that people who were born into poverty didn’t have a choice to live otherwise. The picture that was painted was a stereotypical view of Appalachia that many have and continue to exploit to gain popularity whether it be an audience for their blog, for social media publicity, money, or their name in lights. What the author of this very derogatory article neglected to divulge were the joys of growing up in the Appalachian Mountains.

Over the years authors, filmmakers, and actors in Hollywood have profited through exploitation of Appalachia choosing to focus on what small towns “don’t” have. Films have been made with careful selection of the poorest part of towns carefully and intentionally divulging only dilapidated buildings, rather than new structures, or renovated buildings that houses independent thriving businesses. Many times the focus is often on poor housing in small towns rather than homes that proudly stand boasting beautiful manicured lawns, hardy vegetable gardens, luscious rolling green mountains, blooming flowers, and carefully trimmed hedges and trees. When the media chooses to focus on the negative aspects, or poverty, which by the way exists in all towns whether they’re large or small…the reader is left with a gloomy feeling of sorrow, despair and almost a feeling of doom.

Appalachian people are often-times portrayed as being illiterate, undereducated, and ignorant people who are less fortunate than those living elsewhere. Manchester, located in Clay County, is a small town in Appalachia where I grew up, raised my family, and still reside today has been recently been accused of being one of the hardest places to grow up in the United States, as well as being a community where citizens are expected to have a shorter lifespan than those living elsewhere. I find both of these statements to be misleading, offensive, and also stereotypical. I find myself smiling when I reflect on my childhood. I don’t recall life being a hardship, doom, gloomy, unhappy time in my life. Today, I enjoy sharing my memories of growing up in Kentucky through stories, both oral and written.

My memories are filled with fun escapades of playing outside, working in the garden, helping can fruits and vegetables, listening to countless stories told to me by my grandparents, afternoons sitting in the shade with family just enjoying the serenity of the mountains, playing with cousins, enjoying wonderful cooked meals from the vegetables that we raised, and learning wonderful skills from my mother and grandmother. We didn’t live within city limits, and still do not. We were raised in a rural community that enjoyed farming. My grandparents had a small store that was often referred to as the heart of our little community. Many of my family members still reside in this same neighborhood. I was raised to know that I had choices, and also to believe that I could be anything that I wanted to be. I was encouraged to always try to better myself by reading, learning, working hard, and also by believing in myself.

I was raised in one of the poorest parts of the state of Kentucky. What? We grew up poor! No one told me that! I wasn’t aware that we grew up in a poverty-stricken area. No, again, I was raised to dream and dream big! I could be anything that I wanted to be. I could be a mother, I could be a Christian, I could be a teacher, I could be an author, I could be whatever I chose to be! I was taught good moral values, about Jesus, how to work the land to feed my family, how to always believe in myself, to be proud of my heritage, to have a plan for my future, and if I got knocked down…get back up!  Instead of profiting from negative doom, gloom, and despair…I prefer to divulge the wonders of the Appalachian Mountains, the joys, the beauty, the opportunities, growth, success, and the wonderful mountains that I am proud to call home.

Again, I was never told that we were poor, or that we lived in an impoverished area, and never told that I couldn’t better myself. As a public school teacher, I always passed this same advice to my students. I always encouraged my students year after year that they could be anything that they wanted to be, to reach for the stars, to believe in themselves as I too believed in them. Today, as a college professor, I am still relaying that same positive message.

Many might say that small Appalachian towns have nothing to offer. I disagree. So, what does our small county of Clay have to offer? The beauty of the mountains, rich farm soil, beautiful pastures for livestock to graze, farm fresh eggs, distinguished schools, top-rated teachers, private Christian schools, a multitude of welcoming churches, book clubs, a well stocked public library, quilting clubs, pumpkin patches, ATV rides, elk hunts, successful local authors, artists, parks, employment at the federal prison, kayaking, fishing, local shopping, home cooked meals at locally owned restaurants, farmers’ markets, Main Street markets, grass-fed beef, fresh venison, beautiful walking trails, beautiful homes, friendly people, smiles, and a welcoming environment. One valuable opportunity that goes unmentioned in many articles about our small town of Manchester is the opportunity to complete a college degree at Eastern Kentucky University, which is located within city limits. These are only a few things that residents and visitors have to enjoy. Again, beauty lies within the eye of the beholder, happiness with the heart of the dreamer, and success within the heart and desire of the believer.

I have been asked many times over the years why I haven’t moved…but my answer is and will always remain the same…”I can’t imagine growing up or living anywhere else than in the beautiful Kentucky mountains. As the title of my first book states, Kentucky is…The Mountains I Call Home.”

book 1

Divine Appointments

With clouds hanging low in the sky this morning and the peaceful sounds of the dove cooing, and echoing over awakening mountains…I find myself in a melancholy kind of mood. I’m not sure, but I think several events that occurred in the past two weeks have helped me to arrive at this level of emotions this morning. Yes, it’s been an eventful couple of weeks. Not that it’s been a particularly sad, unhappy, or over zealous events, but nevertheless weeks of events that others might find to be insignificant or may not give any thought to all. I don’t know, maybe I think too deeply, or maybe I react differently than some. It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve been accused of, “reading too much” into things. Maybe, it’s the poet within me that ignites my senses. Maybe…I am an over-thinker, maybe I over react, or maybe…I am becoming more receptive of what the Lord is trying to impress upon me or instill within me. Nevertheless, I think I’ll enjoy the mix of emotions that fill my cup this morning.

chickens

To say the last couple of weeks were busy is an understatement. My daily planner has been overflowing with appointments. Urgent appointments to work on taxes as the deadline swiftly approaches. Scheduled appointments with advisees worrying about their upcoming schedules and anticipated graduation dates, appointments with colleagues to discuss students, curriculum, and more, appointments with students who desire to enter the Education Program, and the most important appointments of all…the ultimate appointed daily time of prayer with our Lord, Jesus Christ. Over time, I have found that keeping this daily appointment helps make all of the other appointments more meaningful, purposeful, and cohesive. And then there’s those divine appointments that often seem to spring up from know where! Or do they? Was it a by chance meeting? Did I just happen to be in the right place at the right time? Was I supposed to be there? What do you think? Were those divine appointments predestined, or were they by chance?

Over the past few years I have come to believe and have arrived at the decision that time is precious. Time is one thing that we cannot get back. With time, there are no do-overs! Thus, we must make the most of every precious moment that we are blessed with. I have arrived at another conclusion through various moments and gentle reminders within my spirit that it’s not about me, or us. It’s about helping others, being a positive beacon in the dark times that others might be enduring, it’s about Him, and about living a happy and appreciative life so there are no regrets. This has led me to the belief that all meetings/appointments whether they are planned or unexpected, in a professional setting, or if it’s in the checkout line at the grocery store can be a positive experience, thus, divine appointments.

So, how do I define divine appointments? Divine appointments do not have a criteria per say. Divine appointments can be the student whom I speak with that is struggling to pass a very important test. A divine appointment can be a friend who needs to be encouraged. A divine appointment can be the lady behind you in the checkout lane who is struggling with finances, or the loss of a loved one. A divine appointment can be simply the stranger that you meet in the frozen food aisle who is in search of a friendly face or a smile. A divine appointment can be that someone you meet who is unsure of the world around them. A divine appointment can be an elderly parent who needs to be reassured that their life was purposeful and that they did a great job raising their children. A divine appointment can be a colleague who needs a simple pat on the back or a hug. A divine appointment can be the young lady who has checked out thousands of dollars of groceries to bitter impatient customers and would like to have a kind word. A divine appointment can even be the person who is trying to pull into traffic, but others have left unnoticed. Divine appointments have been defined with a variety of definitions by many people over the years. However, my definition of divine appointments is simply an opportune meeting with another, whether it is scheduled or by chance, that allows you spread cheer, love, joy, kindness, a positive attitude, while also showing the love of God.

As a professor, I am continually encouraging my students to reflect on their week. So, as I enjoy the taste of my favorite coffee this morning, the sounds of the mountains coming alive, the purposeful crowing of our roosters, the soft snoring of my canine friend, Freckles, who is napping by my feet, and a little “me” time…I find myself following my own advice by reflecting over the past two weeks, while also thinking about the divine appointments that I have had, and whispering a prayer for those whom I have had the pleasure of encountering through those divine appointments, and also counting my blessings. I find myself questioning my self as well. Have I truly enjoyed the time that I have been blessed with and what more can I do for others? With reflections of days gone by and visions of the days ahead of me…I feel excited, inspired, and look forward to the moments and days and opportunities that lay ahead of me, as well as the divine appointments that await me.

From the mountains of Kentucky…be blessed and enjoy the divine appointments that you encounter. Feel free to leave comments as I enjoy hearing from each of you.

Counting My Blessings…

There is one thing that is certain…life is uncertain. Every day is filled with surprises, some are welcomed while others are not. But through the years I have learned to take life one day at a time. I have learned not to dwell on the past as we no longer live there. I have learned to not depend on the future as we never know our day of departure from this life. However, I have found that reflecting, not dwelling on the past, is a healthy practice to achieve peace and contentment. I have also found that setting goals, but not solely relying on those goals, but working one day at a time to achieve them has brought me much happiness, and I wasn’t devastated when I had to veer off the path occasionally.

image

Enjoying the morning reflecting on the past…briefly visiting plans for the future.

Saturday mornings are usually a time of rest, relaxation, and reflection for me. These are mornings that I enjoy a cup of coffee, the sounds of our small farm waking up. Roosters crowing their good mornings from their roost, the puppies barking from the puppy pen, and the rain softly tapping on the windows. This particular morning I am enjoying the beginning of Christmas break. Our tree is up and decorated, shopping is finished, packages are wrapped, and the turkey and ham await our dinner in the freezer. Christmas break isn’t just loved and appreciated by the students at UC, but also loved and appreciated by the professors and all of the staff and administration as well. Christmas break allow us time to rest, relax, reflect, plan, prepare, and above all to enjoy time with our families.

With the days of a busy semester behind me and plans for the upcoming semester hovering above me…I find myself this morning counting my blessings. Yes, it’s been a busy semester. Yes, it came with challenges and yes, I learned much from life’s experiences, as well as from colleagues and students. No, life hasn’t been perfect. It’s been anything but perfect. However, as I think about others who are facing so much heartache from the loss of their loved ones, sickness’ that are ravaging their bodies, traumatic stress from  horrible addictions of their loved ones, loss, failure, and much more…I, although not living in a perfect world, am blessed.

Our immediate family hasn’t suffered the loss of an immediate loved one during the year 2016, we have homes to protect us and house our families, we have food to feed and nourish our bodies, we have clothes and shoes to protect us from the elements, jobs that provide for our families, churches where we worship freely, and the saving grace of God that fills our hearts. Our family also gained a new addition this year. We greeted and welcomed our fifth grandchild into our family.

Was life perfect? No, it was anything but perfect. There were stressful days, hurtful days, heartache, loss, sleepless nights, hard work, sadness, anger, and many other realities real emotions that visit everyone. However, I have learned over the years to take each day one day at a time, live each to its fullest as these are days that we will never be able to live again, pray hard, learn from the experience(s), move forward, get up when we get knocked down, be thankful for what we have, and expect better days ahead. So, as I enjoy the warmth of the fire in the fireplace I find myself reflecting on the past and briefly revisiting plans for the future…I find myself being thankful for past days, weeks, months, and years, and the experiences that each provided, whether they were happy, sad, good or bad…each of them has helped to mold me into who I am today.

I hope you’ve enjoyed browsing my memories and sharing one of my special days. Please, feel free to leave your comments and visit again. If you enjoy healthy delicious sweet snacks, feel free to check out Random Acts of Kindness & Clean Almond Joy Bites… for a delicious holiday, or any day treat. Merry Christmas and God bless from our house to yours.  image

Drying Stevia

I love fall, but I’m saddened about not being able to step outside my backdoor and clip fresh herbs. My summer herbs are still green, perky, and plentiful…but their days are numbered! Even though I love fall, and will miss fresh herbs, it’s time to focus on the chore of harvesting herbs. To harvest tasty herbs, the herbs must be green and still full of life. Fresh herbs make any dish taste better. I cut fresh basil this morning for an omelet…delicious to say the least! As tasty as summer herbs are during the hot months…they still kick your dishes up a notch when they are dried. Dried herbs can be used year around, but are especially a treat during the cold winter months. Drying herbs can be a bit of a slow process, depending on the method that you choose. Drying herbs is the process that I thoroughly enjoy the most!

My backdoor herb box

My backdoor herb box

When I made the choice to eat clean, I also made the choice to grow my own herbs. What better way to know that your herbs are truly organically grown! I was also eager to try different types of sweeteners. I found that I love using agave nectar and honey, but sometimes a dry sweetener is necessary. After researching, and speaking with some wise old farmers about stevia, my mind was made up. I would grow and harvest my own sweetener!

Stevia is a beautiful green plant that is very easy to grow. It takes very little maintenance, other than water, regular pruning, and a lots of sunshine! I decided to start small, since it was a new herb in my garden. I planted a very large pot of the beautiful green plant. One pot of the sweet herb has provided through the spring and summer months, and is now ready to be harvested for the fall and winter months ahead.

Sweet Herb/Stevia growing outside my back door!

Sweet Herb/Stevia growing outside my back door!

The process is fairly simple. There are a variety of methods of drying herbs. You may air dry them by placing in them in shallow pans, dehydrate them, hang them to dry, or oven dry them. If you plan to dehydrate your herbs, or in a flat pan, simply clip the desired amount of shoots of the sweet herb, and then clip off the leaves. If you dry them by hanging them, you will not need to clip the leaves.

I prefer to dry stevia in a pan in a dark room near filtered window light. No matter the method discard leaves that may be bruised, or have brown spots on them. Rinse the leaves to remove any pests, or dust and allow to air dry. Once the leaves are dry place them in a dry shallow pan near filtered window light in a dark room. Be patient, and check the herbs in a couple of days. You may occasionally manipulate the leaves to allow even drying. After about two weeks, your leaves should be dry enough to pass the crunch test. The crunch test, is simply hearing the crisp and crunchy sound when you crumble the leaves. If they pass the test, you are ready. If they do not pass the crunch test, allow a few more days and check them again.

Process:

Dry leaves in a shallow pan in a dark room with filtered light

When leaves pass the crunch test, crumble the leaves by hand onto a clean white paper towel or large pan.

Place crumbled leaves in a coffee grinder.

Pulse until you’ve reached the desired consistency.

Place fresh ground herbs in a clear glass jar with a lid. (I prefer glass jars to preserve the freshness of the plant.)

Label the Lid or Jar to identify the herb.

Growing & drying stevia

Growing & drying stevia

Enjoy your organically grown stevia in teas, desserts, canning, and more. If you have enjoyed learning about growing and drying stevia, be sure to check out Drying Fresh Basil. I look forward to hearing from you! I would love to know how you incorporate fresh stevia in your favorite dishes.

My Grandmother’s Canned Pickled Green Tomatoes

With fall comes the clean up of the final tomatoes lingering on the now drying vines in our garden. Yes, it’s hard to believe that it’s time to harvest the last of the green tomatoes. Pickled green tomatoes is a third generation family favorite. I also love the memories that come with canning pickled tomatoes each year. Fall canning was one of my favorite times of the year when I was a little girl. I’ve stood beside my grandmother and mother countless times washing jars, rinsing tomatoes, and eventually slicing tomatoes. My grandmother passed away more than fifteen years ago, but she left me a treasured keepsake, her hand-written recipe for pickled tomatoes. My mom doesn’t can anymore due to age, and health complications. But that doesn’t keep me from taking her our canned goods to enjoy! I love to share our canned food, or what I like to call our blessings with others.

Okay, enough reminiscing! If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating one of these crisp and spicy slices of deliciousness…you don’t know what you’ve been missing! I know they sound weird, but trust me, they are delicious with pinto beans, aka soup beans, soups, meatloaf, and any other hardy supper. Pickled tomatoes doesn’t have to be limited to a side for heavy country cooking. Remember, clean recipes can include soup beans, soups, tuna patties, meatloaf made with venison, or elk, grilled chicken, and so much more. They also make a great addition to salads as well. I like to use them in place of pickled banana peppers with my salads. The possibilities are endless!

Pickled Green Tomatoes are a fall and winter favorite.

Pickled Green Tomatoes are a fall and winter favorite.

Now for the few ingredients that you will need.

green tomatoes
1 pint of salt
1 quart of vinegar
5 quarts of water
jalapeno peppers (optional)

Process

1.) wash and sterilize quart jars

always wash jars, even if they are new

always wash jars, even if they are new

wash jars

Sterilize all jars before using them

2.) in large stock pot combine salt, vinegar, and water

3.) While these ingredients are coming up to a boil, wash and quarter the tomatoes, or slice them according to your preference.

4.) Slice jalapeno peppers (the removal of seeds is optional)

5.) add sliced tomatoes and jalapeno peppers to sterilized jars

5.) Bring ingredients up to a boil and pour over tomatoes

6.) wipe rims and seal tomatoes

7.) Process in boiling water bath for ten minutes

my canner

8.) Carefully remove jars of tomatoes, place on a towel to cool

9.) Do not disturb the jars over night, check rings to ensure tightness the following morning

10.) Don’t forget to date the lids before putting the jars of tomatoes in the pantry

Tomatoes will change from bright green to a dull green after they are processed.

Tomatoes will change from bright green to a dull green after they are processed.

Now all that’s left to do is to try to contain the excitement ,and desire to crack open a jar of these delicious green tomatoes! You can experiment with various seasonings for spicier pickles. We have added red pepper flakes to the ingredients, which resulted in a much spicier pickle. They were delicious, but I prefer to use the recipe above. I confess, I’m somewhat a creature of habit! This recipe is time-tested and has always turned out a crispy delicious pickle. I’ll never forget my youthful summers spent helping my grandmother and my mother can tomatoes. I’ve been canning pickled tomatoes with this same recipe for nearly thirty years, and still enjoy the process almost as much as I did when I was a little girl! I am super excited to share this recipe with you, and for you to try my grandmother’s green tomato pickles. If you have enjoyed this fall favorite, be sure to check out my clean and spicy salsa recipe Clean and Spicy Salsa. I look forward to hearing from you. Feel free to follow my blog for many more upcoming fall favorites.

Clean Apple Ginger Bread

Driving to work this morning was such an awesome experience! It was the same stretch of road that I have traveled for years! But, this morning God’s beauty and grace seemed so very evident, as was the beginning days of fall. I always dread saying good-bye to summer, but eager to welcome fall. I think I enjoy events, colors, activities, food, and the wardrobe that comes with fall more than other seasons. Okay, secret’s out…I love wearing sweaters and turtle necks! I also love baking in the fall!

God's beauty abounds in the mountains of Kentucky.

God’s beauty abounds in the mountains of Kentucky.

Even though it’s not technically fall I baked one of my favorite breads Saturday Morning. I baked it for our ladies meeting at church, and it quickly became a favorite among many of the ladies as well. Most of them were surprised when I told them it was clean. Several didn’t know what I was referring to when I said clean, so it started a nice conversation about clean eating while we enjoyed a variety of dishes.

Clean Apple Ginger Bread

Clean Apple Ginger Bread

For this recipe you’ll need the following ingredients;

1 tablespoon of fresh ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon of fresh ground ginger
1 pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 and 1/2 cups 100% Whole grain/flour

Fresh ground cinnamon is delicious

Fresh ground cinnamon is delicious

1/3 cup raw honey (the honey and molasses replace brown sugar)
1 and 1/3 cup molasses
2/3 cup agave nectar (the agave nectar replaces white sugar. I have also used stevia as well.)
1/2 cup almond milk
2 fresh organic eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (the yogurt and applesauce replace the butter)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 large apple of your choice diced (I like larger chunks, but that’s a personal preference)
1/2 cup of walnuts roughly chopped

Agave nectar is a great way to sweeten any drink or dish!

Agave nectar is a great way to sweeten any drink or dish!

Almond milk is a great source of calcium

Almond milk is a great source of calcium

I love having fresh farm eggs that I know are truly organic.

I love having fresh farm eggs that I know are truly organic.

1.) Whip eggs with a wire whisk and through a strainer into mixing bowl.

2.) Add and mix wet ingredients one at a time.

3.) Sift flour through a sifter, or a wire strainer to promote a smooth texture.

4.) Incorporate dry ingredients, spices, and lastly add the diced apples. I like to add the apples last to prevent bruising while mixing the ingredients.

I like larger chunks of apples in my bread.

I like larger chunks of apples in my bread.

5.) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

6.) Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray. (I like to use organic coconut spray)

7.) Pour batter into the sprayed loaf pan, sprinkle rough chopped walnuts, and bake for 30 – 40 minutes. (You can increase the amount of nuts and incorporate them in the batter as well.) Oven temperatures may vary, so baking time may vary.

8.) You will know your bread is done when the sides pull away from the pan, and the bread is brown. You may also use a toothpick to test. Insert a toothpick in the center of the loaf, if it comes out clean your bread is ready!

Clean Apple Ginger Bread

Clean Apple Ginger Bread

This is a recipe that my family enjoys for breakfast, lunch, warm, cold, for dessert, or just as a snack! It will make you feel like you’re cheating, but you’re not! I truly love eating a slice of this delicious bread warm with frozen vanilla yogurt, and a cup of hot coffee. I’m excited to hear how you enjoy eating this deliciously clean treat! If you enjoyed this recipe, be sure to check out my post for Almond Fruit Dip! I’m excited to bring you more fall favorites including; My Pumpkin Passion Smoothie, Pumpkin Apple Bread, zucchini Bread, all of which are clean and delicious! Thank you for taking time to read about my journey through clean eating! Feel free to leave comments. I love to hear from you!

Almond Butter Fruit Dip

Living on a farm, no matter the size, means there’s always work to be done. So, what better time to find a little relaxation than in the early morning hours? I’ll admit it, I’ve always been a morning person. I can recall as a child waking up early on Saturday mornings just to get outside and enjoy the day. I still enjoy waking early, sitting on the front porch, drinking morning coffee, and allowing nature to inspire my day.

Through my journey to lose weight, achieve better health, and maintain a healthier lifestyle, I’ve discovered that relaxation is a must. For me, a brisk morning walk right after, or just before breakfast while the dew is still on the ground is one a greatest methods of relaxation. It’s also quiet time that allows me to meditate, pray, and enjoy the beatify around me. I can always find beauty in some form of nature on my early morning walk.

While walking Freckles this morning beauty seemed to erupt everywhere!  As we walked out the front door the sweet aroma of roses filled the air! I couldn’t resist…so, I took a few minutes to smell the roses before our walk began!  As Freckles, and I started down the lane for our two-mile walk, I noticed our usual early morning visitor, Mr. Crane had returned for a few minnows from the creek. He’s a handsome sight! Here are a few pictures that I snapped on our walk this morning.

Our summer roses are in full bloom.

Our summer roses are in full bloom.

crane

I spotted Mr. Crane a regular morning visitor enjoying a few minnows from the creek.

Enough about our morning…let’s get started with this delicious almond butter fruit dip. Honestly, this will make you feel like you’re cheating…when you’re not! It’s clean, easy, and delicious…all the qualifications of a great recipe! This sweet treat will also help stop that craving for something sweet that we all have. It’s a great snack for any time of the day, and a great snack for the kids lunch. Trust me, they will love it as much as you do.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon of organic almond butter
2 tablespoons of Plain, or vanilla Greek yogurt
dash of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger root
2 tablespoons of raw honey
apples, or preferred fruit for dipping

almond butter

A delicious alternative to peanut butter that my family loves!

Greek Yogurt

I prefer vanilla yogurt for this dip!

Process

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl until smooth.

Mix all ingredients in one bowl.

Mix all ingredients in one bowl.

Believe it, or not, that’s all there is to it!

 A simple, delicious, and clean treat!

A simple, delicious, and clean treat!

Now, for the best part! Eating this sweet and delicious treat. You can experiment and try a variety of fruits, but my favorite is apples. You can also increase the ingredients to make a larger amount of dip to serve at a party, family reunion, or any social gathering. This is a dip that is sure to be a hit, and among your guests favorites!

Delicious with apples

Delicious with apples

A delicious dip for any kind of fruit!

A delicious dip for any kind of fruit!

I would love to hear from you! Feel free to leave a comment telling me about your experience with this easy and delicious fruit dip. If you enjoyed this quick and easy clean recipe, be sure to check out my post, Quick Easy, & Clean Coffee Mug Blueberry Muffins. Also, watch for my upcoming post, How to Make an Apple Pie Smoothie!

Drying Fresh Basil

Clean eating has changed my life in many different ways. I feel better physically, I have more energy and stamina than I’ve had in twenty years, and I’ve lost sixty-eight pounds during this three-year journey. Clean eating has changed the way I see food, and how I see my life. I am enjoying my life, my career, my Christianity, and my family more than I have in a number of years, simply because I feel better! I have learned that clean eating is not a diet, but a lifestyle. So, what does drying herbs have to do with clean eating? Everything! Herbs can enhance the flavor of an ordinary meal…turning it into an extraordinary meal! Herbs grown at home are also organic, and free of pesticides. Growing herbs can also be therapeutic and a source of relaxation.

I have always dabbled a little with small pots of herbs in my kitchen. I enjoyed the convenience of having fresh parsley and chives at my fingertips. But, I wanted more. I wanted a wider variety of fresh unprocessed herbs that were organically grown and free of pesticides. During the winter I planned a herb garden that included fresh basil, dill, a variety of mint, sweet herb, chives, thyme, oregano, and more. A few months later, my herb garden was a reality, and a success! Believe it or not, I raised enough dill to can and process several dozen quart jars of kosher dill pickles, fill my pantry with dried herbs for the winter, and also give an abundance of herbs to family and friends. We’ve enjoyed fresh, oregano, and chives all summer and still reaping the rewards from my small herb garden. I will probably harvest herbs at least two more times before fall at which time I will transplant most of the herbs inside. Transplanting the herbs will allow my family to enjoy fresh-cut herbs all winter, and start a fresh garden outdoors in early spring.

nanny's herbs

My herb box in early spring

basil

One of my pots of basil, oregano, and sweet herb

There are several easy methods for dying basil. I often cut basil, tie it in small bundles, and hang it to dry, I also clip the leaves and dry in flat containers, and occasionally I like to use the dehydrator. My favorite method is hanging basil in bundles in my kitchen. The aroma of the fresh-cut basil fills the kitchen for days. I also prefer the intensified flavor of air-dried basil. Today, I’m going to share step by step instructions of how to air-dry basil in flat containers.

You will need:

Fresh basil
cookie sheets or paper plates
coffee grinder
small glass jar

1.) Cut fresh leaves from basil just before it flowers as the flavor will be at its peak. Discard leaves that have blemishes or bruises.

fresh basil two

Fresh basil mid-summer

2.) Rinse with clear water. Spin dry, or pat dry with a clean paper towel

3.) Lay basil leaves on a flat container such as a lined cookie sheet, or paper plate. I prefer using paper plates.

4.) Place in indirect sunlight. Herbs retain a better flavor if slowly air-dried, rather than drying quickly by sunlight.

5.) Check the herbs weekly until they are dry and crispy.

dried flat

basil leaves air-dried in indirect sunlight for approximately three weeks

6.) Place dried basil leaves in a coffee grinder and pulse until the desired consistency is achieved.

coffee grinder

A great little inexpensive coffee grinder!

7.) Check basil after a couple of pulses to prevent over grinding. Repeat this step until all of the basil is ground.

fine basil

Fresh ground basil

8.) Place ground basil in a clean glass jar. I prefer using glass jars as it helps maintain the herbs freshness.

9.) Don’t forget to label your herbs to prevent any possible mix ups.

glass jar label your basil

I’m anxious for you to grow and dry your own herbs! But, be warned…once you’ve tried both fresh and dried herbs, you’ll be hooked! There’s a distinct difference in the taste, quality, and cooking results. There’s no turning back to store-bought herbs!

Drying Apples for a Healthy Snack

Life for this college professor has been quite busy this week with blogging, scoring graduate work, attending meetings, book club, canning apples, apple butter, and making a few other delicious treats. I’m not complaining…I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Our recent trip to Haney’s Apple Orchard resulted in more than just apple butter. In my last blog post, I promised that I would share more of the delicious treats that we made from the beautiful sweet apples that our family picked. I’m excited to share with you how I turned one full bag of sweet and juicy fresh picked apples into delicious healthy dried apples.

apple two  dried apples

Ingredients and Tools

apples
lemon juice
water
cinnamon (optional)
oven or dehydrator
knife
parchment paper

1.) When I buy fruit, I prefer to buy organic fruit. I wash all fruit before I begin to ensure that it’s clean and free from garden pests and dust. I like to use Fit organic clean spray. It’s simple to use, inexpensive, and can purchased at Wal-Mart.

organic spray

2.) Next, you will need to peel and slice the apples and soak them in a lemon water bath mixture for eight to ten minutes. This helps prevent discoloring during the dehydration process. Remove the apples from the lemon bath and gently pat them dry with a clean paper towel.

There are several methods to dry fruit. I personally like to use an electric dehydrator. It’s quick, the cleanup is easy, and I can dry more apples at one time.

Dehydration Method

dehydrator

3.) Place the apple slices in the trays of the dehydrator. It’s okay to place them close. They can even touch. The apples will shrink as the they dry. If you are using a dehydrator follow the instructions that came with it for time and temperature. For example, my dehydrator instructions recommend apples to be dried at 135 degrees for 8 and a half to 9 hours. I love this dehydrator! I purchased it at a very reasonable price on Amazon. If you would like to purchase one, click on my Amazon link titled, A Few of My Favorites. Okay, back to dried apples. If you like your apples a little more crispy, you may leave them an additional thirty minutes. Also, for an even tastier treat, you may sprinkle the apple slices with cinnamon. This is one of my favorite sweet treats, and your house will smell wonderful while the apples are drying! Allow the apples to cool in the dehydrator. Remove when they are cool and store in zip lock bags. There is no need to refrigerate dried fruit. If you are planning to cook with the apples, you can vacuum seal them for a longer shelf life.

drying apples

almost dried

dried ready to cool

Oven Method

You can also dry apples in an oven. It’s fairly simple and works well.

1.) Wash, peel and slice apples. Soak them in a lemon juice bath.

2.) Line cookie sheets with parchment paper to prevent sticking. Set your oven temperature to 150-200 and bake the apples for one hour. Take the apples out of the oven and carefully turn the apples over. Bake them for an additional hour. If you like your apples a little crisper, you can bake them an additional thirty minutes. Check your apples frequently, as all ovens bake differently. Once you turn the oven off, leave the apples in the oven for an additional one to two hours. You may crack the door to your oven slightly while the apples are cooling. Allow the apples to cool completely in the oven and remove.

Both methods work really well and produce a wonderful sweet treat to snack on, or use in recipes such as apple stack cakes. That’s a recipe for another blog! I know your family will enjoy your fresh dried apples as much as mine does!

dried apples

Dried apples are a clean, healthy, and delicious treat

Canning Your Very Own Delicious Apple Butter

apple butter

It’s a beautiful morning in the mountains of Kentucky! I love taking early morning walks and listening to the sounds of the mountains waking up! To me, there’s nothing more inviting than hearing our roosters crowing their early morning wake up calls, listening to the doves gently cooing a peaceful call from the tree-tops, and hearing the creek water flowing over the time-worn stones. This type of morning was especially inviting and therapeutic today after a long day of working in fresh picked apples yesterday!

Haney's

Entrance to Haney’s Apple Farm in Nancy, Kentucky

A couple of days ago, we decided to visit Haney’s Apple Farm located in Nancy Kentucky. I want to take a few minutes to give a shout out to this exceptional family owned and run business. The grounds were beautiful, clean, had a nice large variety of ready to pick apples, already picked apples, and many more apple related products, and treats. The prices were affordable and they had a friendly and informative staff on hand to answer all of our questions. After we picked three bushels of apples, we enjoyed eating a delicious homemade fried apple pie in a quainte little café located at the entrance of the farm. All in all, it was a memorable day of picking apples in preparation of making and canning apple butter, as well as a few other family favorites. I’ll share those favorite recipes in future posts, but for now…let’s make apple butter!

apple two

Beautiful crisp Molly apples at Haney’s Apple Farm

apple three

My family enjoying a day of picking apples

You will need the following ingredients & tools to make and can your apple butter.

Ingredients

One half bushel Apples of choice (I’ve used a variety of apples. Most work well, but I didn’t like using the Granny Smith apples for apple butter)
3 cups of white sugar
1 cup of brown sugar
3 tablespoons of ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons of ground all spice
2 tablespoons of ground cloves
2 tablespoons of Real Fruit (I use the little or no sugar and pectin type)
the juice of two lemons
3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
Keep in mind that you can season to suit your own taste. After adding these ingredients taste and add additional spice if necessary.
Tools

One dozen pint jars with bands and flats
Large stock pot
Crock pot
Food processor
Water Bath stove top canner

1.) Wash and rinse jars, bands, and flats in warm soapy water. Next you will need to sterilize jars, flats, and bands. This can either be done by using the dishwasher with hot water, placed in the oven for ten minutes on medium-high heat, or boiling for ten minutes.

wash jars II wash jars

2.) While your jars are sterilizing, peel and slice one half bushel of apples. Place apple slices in the stock pot and add water. Cook over medium-high heat until apples are tender, not soggy. The apples will swell up and rise when ready, so allow room for expansion.

cooking apples two

3.) Turn off apples and transfer softened apples to a food processor. This might take several attempts to work through all of the apples. Process the still warm apples in the food processor by pulsing a few times. The apples will look similar to apple sauce.

processing apples one processing apples two

If you don’t have a food processor you can use a blender or any other kitchen gadget that chops, such as a ninja or bullet.

4.) Transfer each container of warm diced apples to a clean crock pot. Turn the crock pot on high.

crock pot one

5.) Now you are ready to add your spices. Remember, you can add additional spices to suit your own taste. Some people prefer more cinnamon, while others like more all spice. That’s totally up to you. Once your spices have been added, stir well and cover with a lid. You will need to stir frequently while cooking for four hours. Your apple butter will get darker each time you stir it. Again, add extra seasoning after taste-testing your apple butter if necessary. I always start with the amount I have listed above and sprinkle or add as the apple mixture cooks until I reach the taste that I prefer.

crockpot two

The apple butter will become darker  as you add spices and cook it.

6.) After the apples have been seasoned to taste and cooked for four hours, turn the crock pot off. Next, you will transfer your apples back to the food processor. I prefer using my Ninja for this stage, simply because the apple butter pours out into the jars easier. Either device will produce the same results. You will pulse the warm seasoned apples a couple of times to achieve the desired smoothness. It will not take very long as the apples are soft and easily processed.

ninja one ninja two

7.) Once the desired consistency is achieved transfer the warm apple butter to jars and wipe the rim. Place flats and bands on the jars. Now your are ready to process your apple butter in a water bath in your canner. (My daughter doesn’t have a canner, so she uses a large stock pot to can in. She places a dish towel on the bottom of the canner and rolled up wash clothes between the jars to prevent the jars from bumping. It works just as well.)

my canner

8.) Process the jars in boiling water for twenty minutes. Remember the water must be over top of the jars. After processing carefully remove jars with a jar lifter and place them on a bath towel to cool. You will immediately begin to hear the beautiful popping sound that we love to hear! Once the jars have cooled add dates to the flats and check bands to ensure tightness.

date two

apple butter

Now you are ready for the job of cleaning up, and a little rest and relax with a good book! You deserve it! I hope you and your family enjoy this delicious apple butter as much as my family does. I can’t wait to share more canning recipes with you soon. I also have a few dried fruit recipes, and much more to share with you. Feel free to share my blog site and recipes with others. I also welcome your comments! Remember you can follow me on twitter, facebook, pinterest, or follow me at http://ahealthiermesimpleandclean.com

I look forward to hearing from each of you! I love feedback!