Apple butter baby

Apple butter baby


Whenever I think of apple butter, I think of water skiing from my youth.  I remember the first time I was successful and got up on the skies and made a lap around the tiny lake, the wake, browned by the red dirt of western Kansas,  reminded me of apple butter.  I shared my ten-year old insight with my mother and she agreed that the dirty lake water did indeed look like apple butter.  After I took my first spill, I realized that while it looked like sweet apple butter, it didn’t taste like it.

This last week-end, we stayed over after a conference in Chicago to visit C2 and her boyfriend for the week-end.  They recently purchased a house and are settling in as Illinoisans in McHenry.  It is a small town that reminds me of so many small towns in the midwest, surrounded by farm land.  Our daughter suggested we go apple picking on Saturday.  We arrived at the orchard after a short drive, paid $10 each to pick 1/2 peck of apples of different varieties (Gala, Golden, Asian Pear,.Red Delicious, Liberty, and more).  The orchard proprietor and staff drove us out to the orchard on a wooden trailer, dropped us off on the edge of the orchard, provided us with a plastic bag to fill our quota, equipped with an apple picker pole (one per group), and some guidance for which variety to pick on which row.  Off we go!

The first tree loaded with apples, I picked one and immediately could not resist the urge to taste it.  I bit in and it was delicious. There aren’t very many tastes better, than a fresh, crisp apple, plucked directly from the tree with your own hands on a cool autumn day.  Our group of four was chilly on the trailer but once in the orchard, the air turned warmer, sheltered by the apple trees and the scent of fermenting apples.  The dropped fruit was everywhere in different stages of rot.  I speculated that the apples on the ground were what made up the cider mixture heating up in the small stand we passed on our way into the orchard.

Apple picker with his apple picker pole and 1/2 peck of apples

It took us about an hour to pick our peck or two, enjoy the apple wood fire that burned adjacent to the orchard, and head back routed around the kiddie games and back to the parking lot.  We stopped for hot cider, latte and apple cider donuts (did you know they are not fried, but baked?) and a tour through the gift shop.  C2 bought a gallon of cider and we packed our pecks and headed home.

We were inspired to make homemade apple butter with our harvest.  Here is our recipe.  We canned about 12 small jars with this recipe.

  • 4 lbs apples (variety) peeled and chopped — this task is more enjoyable with a daughter by your side, toss with lemon juice (1 lb is about 4-5 small apples)
  • 2.5 cups apple cider
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • 1 tsp salt

Combine all in a crock pot and cook for at least 12 hours.  I opted to put the cooked apples in a food processor and combine so that it was smoother.  Then we filled 12 canning jars with the butter, sealed with the lids, boiled in water for 45 minutes and cooled.  These jars of sweet fruit will provide warmth and comfort during the cold winter months that are sure to come.

Happy apple picking season and to the smell of apples cooking on the stove.  There’s nothing quite as nice
as apple butter cooking slow, the aroma rises through the air and all the neighbors know!

Halloween in a small town

Halloween in a small town

day of the dead

My memories of Halloween growing up in a small town are some of my fondest.  My brothers and I and our friends ran in packs all over our hometown with our used, brown paper grocery bags trick-or-treating with very little adult supervision. Except that all the adults in our little burg were our supervisors if you know what I mean.  My parents believed that Halloween was for kids so we didn’t have adult parties only kid parties at our house.  As my brothers’ got older, my dad did not like them going out on Halloween because he knew they would get into trouble plus he needed them home to protect his property.

My dad was the high school principal and our home a favorite target for Halloween tricking or in my dad’s opinion juvenile vandalism.  Our front door was egged and splattered with tomatoes and rotten pumpkins, our driveway painted with “1972”, his beloved trailer kicked over in the backyard, and more.  My brothers were suppose to be on guard on All Hollows Eve. Instead, they starting designing ways to terrorize children when they came to our door.  One year, I hosted a Halloween party. I think it was fourth grade.  I guess this was the start of me hosting stuff at my house.

The party was large, over 15 girls, and held in the basement of our home on Main Street.  The basement had cement floors and walls that we covered with decorations including creepy spider webs hanging down the stairs that we had to cross under to get to the party.  My mom helped design games for us to play including the traditional bobbing for apples and scary stories in the dark.  The final act was to load us up in the family wagon, stuffing us in without seat belts, and drive us out to the town cemetery.

My father led us all through the cemetery trails telling us a scary story about a missing, bloody, finger in his booming male teacher voice.  My mother herded us from behind making sure we all stayed together, like a pack of jumpy heifers.  Always the protector. My brothers were staged in advance in the cemetery behind grave stones and around dark corners dressed in white sheets with the relish role to jump out at us at strategic moments in the story and scare the sh– out of us.  Have you ever heard 15 or more silly, little girls scream in unison.  That collective sound can break an adult’s ear drum or shatter glass. The hike and the anxiety seemed to go on for hours.  Finally, my dad mentioned that we probably should go home because it wasn’t legal to be traipsing around in a cemetery at night and it was getting late.  Speaking with the authority of a high school principal.  Just after he mentioned this fact, the old, local police car drive slowly into the cemetery with blue lights and screaming sirens going off and headed directly toward our gaggle of girls.

This was a bit much of a fright for some of us as we envisioned black and white striped prison suits, hand cuffs and cold porridge for breakfast. The town cop slowly got out of his car with a big smile on his face and shouted Happy Halloween Girls!  All my brothers came out of shadows and out of costume and Mom and Dad soothed the most scared of us. The police officer was laughing so hard that he had tears running down his wrinkled face.   I remember a couple of girls had tears too on their sweet cheeks but not from laughter but from terror of the night and I expect my parents had some “splaining to do” to their wary parents.

Whenever, I remember this story, I wonder who was watching the all important homestead when we were all at the cemetery leaving dad’s front door unprotected and our door bell unanswered to expectant and opportunistic pupils disguised as innocent trick-or-treaters?

Halloween in my small town was a experience that I know I will never forget.  Are you searching to find your own small town to enjoy Halloween this year?  Check out Travel and Leisure’s article featuring 20 towns in America filled with pumpkin heads, skeletons and scary graveyards to celebrate the season.

This year, I will be visiting Fort Worth Sister City, Toluca, Mexico, learning about Day of the Dead or Dia de Muertos; celebrating the national Mexican holiday and paying respect to family and friends.  The tradition is explained as:

On October 31, All Hallows Eve, the children make a children’s altar to invite the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to come back for a visit. November 1 is All Saints Day, and the adult spirits will come to visit. November 2 is All Souls Day, when families go to the cemetery to decorate the graves and tombs of their relatives. The three-day fiesta filled with marigolds, the flowers of the dead; muertos(the bread of the dead); sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations.
— Frances Ann Day, Latina and Latino Voices in Literature
Vermonner Waffle Texas-Style

Vermonner Waffle Texas-Style

When I travel, I usually seek out a cookbook from the country or state we are visiting to add to my mounting cookbook collection. In Vermont, I found the Vermont Farm Table Cookbook with 150 home-grown recipes from the Green Mountain State. Vermont is known for farmers’ markets and community-supported farms and is considered a leader in the farm to table culinary movement.  RM and I are eating healthy so the whole-grain waffle recipe that I found in the cookbook intrigued me along with a recipe for dutch babies that I will try some other time, when we are being less virtuous.

cookbook Vermont

On our recent trip to Poetry, TX, we had our first experience stopping by a Buc-cee’s for gas.  This store has everything Texan you could imagine.  While there, I succumbed to the want of a waffle maker Texas-style.  Yes, it makes waffles in the shape of the Lone Star State.   After the big UT/OU Red River Classic victory and TCU’s last minute defeat of KSU (sorry my Wildcat friends and fans, that was a tough one to watch go down) , it seemed necessary to bring out the waffle maker this lazy Sunday morning and test out the whole-grain waffle recipe in the shape of our proud state.  While in Vermont, we bought (at Wal-Mart, much cheaper than the tourist stops) a large vat of Vermont maple syrup that was also calling my name from the pantry.

waffle cooking
Waffle Texas-Style

The recipe calls for some grains that I had not cooked with before.  I ordered my supply through Amazon Prime.  You will need sorghum flour, buckwheat flour and millet flour.  This waffle stands up to lots of butter, maple syrup and fruit (raspberries or blueberries).  I ate one and was stuffed.

  • 1 1/4 cups sorghum flour
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/4 cup millet flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 11/2 cups milk (I used almond milk – my new preference)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 T Vermont maple syrup or honey
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 1/2 t vanilla
  • Blueberries or raspberries and more syrup and a little butter (everything is better with butter)

Mix the dry ingredients together, mix the wet ingredient separately and then combine together.  It will seem a little runny.  Let it set for at least 10 minutes for the soda to activate.

Heat your waffle maker and put about 1/2 cup of batter in maker, careful to not overfill.  Because I have a tendency to overfill, I warn you in advance of this challenge.  Cook each one until golden brown.  This recipe made six Texas-shaped waffles.  Serve with warm maple syrup, berries and some butter, just a bit!  While eating ours, RM and I joked about the 70’s Grape-Nuts ad campaign catchphrase, made famous by Euell Gibbons, the spokesperson for the brand, promoting Grape-Nuts as the “Back to Nature Cereal”. Remember his line “Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible”?  This waffle was more than edible and very memorable with the variety of multi-grains it contains just like our multi-faceted memories made while visiting the Green Mountain State.

cooked waffle
Makes for a happy Sunday morning back in Texas. Come visit!
American Precision Museum

American Precision Museum

covered bridge
Cornish- Windsor Bridge

RM and I stumbled onto several jewels of Americana on our recent visit to Vermont.  We took a road trip to Windsor, Vt., from our hotel-base in Stowe, searching for covered bridges.  Vermont is home to over 100 of these beautiful structures (we nearly found them all!) and Vermont and New Hampshire share the Cornish-Windsor Bridge, the longest wooden covered bridge in the United States, which we wanted to see. We wondered out loud … why did they cover bridges back in the day?  After a bit of research, we found that the answer is complicated and not clear.  To speculate, the biggest reason was to protect the wooden structure from the weather. Rain, snow, ice and the sun all make wooden bridges fail much faster. Covered bridges are also covered to help get cattle over the bridge, the sight of the rushing water scared the cattle and made them hesitate going over the bridge. Some towns used to fine people if their horses or other cattle went over the bridge too fast, claiming it was damaging to the bridge. Covered bridges were also covered to keep the rain and snow off the wooden deck of the bridge which would make it very slippery.

covered bridge 2
Longest covered bridge, from the New Hampshire side. Had to get off our horse to cross.

We found the stunning Cornish-Windsor Bridge rather quickly, drove over it and back a couple of times (in and out of New Hampshire three times), took these pics, admired the construction and its beauty, and then checked out our guidebook to see if there were other “must sees” in the area.  The American Precision Museum was less than a mile from the bridge.The museum, housed in the original Robbins & Lawrence Armory, holds the largest collection of historically significant machine tools in the nation. Right up RM’s alley of interests.  Tools and lots of them.

But, as I learned, precision manufacturing touches us all. Without it, we would not have the mass communication, rapid transportation, modern standards of sanitation and medical care, abundant food and clothing, or the leisure for universal education. To my surprise, many of the tools and the methods which make mass production possible were pioneered at the Robbins & Lawrence Armory in Windsor, Vermont. Using precision metal and wood cutting machines and high standards of accuracy, Robbins & Lawrence proved the effectiveness of a new type of manufacturing that was known as the American System. Across America, a powerful machine tool industry grew up, flourishing especially in New England and the northern Midwest.

Included in this collection, which spans a time of over two hundred years, are:

  • single and multiple spindle lathes
  • shapers
  • planers
  • milling machines
  • single and multi spindle drills
  • grinding machines.

We spent several hours in the museum, visiting with a retired, bearded machinist as he demonstrated how the old machines worked.  We were his only customers, and we listened and asked a ton of questions.  He gave us a grand tour, tons of old stories were shared and finished up our lengthy visit by making for us two tiny gifts with his own seasoned hands and the antique tools.  I received a tiny goblet and RM got a gear, stamped with the museum name.  One of those days and places we won’t soon forget.

goblet and gear




RM and I, on our recent vacation to Vermont  to “see the leaves”, decided to waylay the tradition of ordering a pairing wine with our leisurely gourmet dinners “out and about” and instead opted to carefully select savory, more autumnal-leaning, cocktail combos, beyond the summer pale of our familiar gin and tonic and craft beer selections from back home in Texas.  At the venerable Harrison’s Restaurant, serving visitors to Stowe for over 35 years, we sampled a drink named aptly, the Haystack. Who could resist when all day we had viewed fall fields of ripening corn and apple trees loaded with fruit as we toured the winding roads through Smuggler’s Notch and Mansfield Mountain? We had worked up a powerful thirst that only a Haystack could quench.  The Haystack was sweet and smokey and the perfect brew to accompany our dinner on such a chilly evening that I delightfully broke in my new winter boots.  Pretty too!  Here is my replication of the adult beverage:

1-ounce amaretto (you can add more just keep the ratios the same)
1-ounce bourbon
Juice from 1 lemon, 1 lime and sugar
2 cups ice (we like the bigger cubes of ice)
1 orange wedge


  1. Prepare two glasses by filling with ice.
  1. Using a jigger, shot glass, or count, measure and pour one “healthy” ounce of each liquid into a glass with ice.
  1. Create a sweet and sour mix by combining 1/2 ounce of lemon juice, 1/2 ounce of lime juice and 1 teaspoon of sugar (I think you could skip the sugar) and add to the drink.
  1. Pour the drink and ice from one cup, to another. This will sufficiently mix all the ingredients together.
  1. Garnish with an orange wedge and enjoy.