Cranberry-Orange Bread and Christmas Decorations

December 5, 2020. Christmas is in just 20 days!

I’m sitting here in my cozy living room. The fireplace is warming up our otherwise chilly home; the Christmas tree is lit with a thousand tiny, warm, white lights. Peaceful music plays in the background. Husband is working this weekend, so I’m left to my thoughts on this beautiful, Saturday morning.

As I sit here, my gaze roams the room, taking in our very eclectic bunch of decorations—some from Cameroon, Congo, South Africa, and Ethiopia, some from Sweden, India, South Korea, and American, some homemade, and some that are just precious childhood keepsakes. They are all such sweet reminders of where we’ve been, what we’ve experienced, and people whom we love.

I love this time of year. The coziness, the warmth, the lights, the candles, the smells, the memories, the traditions, and the food. Ah yes, the food. I’ve been having a grand time over the past few weeks playing around with cranberry bread ideas. I’ve come up with this recipe and we love it! It’s the perfect balance of sweet orange with delicious bursts of tart cranberry. It’s a great gift for a friend or neighbor, or it can provide that delightful pop of red color for you Christmas smorgasbord.

Happy baking, my sweet Friends!


Cranberry-Orange Bread

**This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. **

Ingredients:

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease and lightly flour either 2 standard loaf pans, or a bundt pan.

***A note about the cranberries:  I baked several different batches experimenting with the cranberry size.  A couple friends were my testing buddies, and as it turns out, we all had different preferences:

  • My favorite, though it’s more time consuming, is to cut them all in half (it takes me 7 minutes…yes…I timed myself, lol). That way, they are well distributed, but large enough that they provide those delicious bursts of flavor. 
  • I also tried cutting them up small with a manual food chopper (I used this Zyliss food chopper).  It only takes a couple minutes.  This method spreads the cranberries throughout the bread, gives it a slight pinkish tint, and it does change the consistency some (it’s a little bit more crumbly).  My friend, Molly, is partial to this method because she prefers a more subtle flavor.
  • The 3rd approach is to just place the whole cranberries in, unchopped.  This is a great way to save time, and you get magnificent pops of flavor.  This is Husband’s and my other friend, Nathaniel’s, preference. The only downside I found is that there aren’t as many cranberries per bite.  

You pick what you think you’d enjoy the most, or try all 3 methods ?!

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, and oil.  Beat it until it’s smooth.

Zest one of the oranges (you should have about 1 TBSP or a little more).  Add it to the mixture above.  Juice both oranges, also adding it to the above mixture.  Stir it until it’s well combined. (Side note: you can also just use store-bought orange juice if you choose to).

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.

Add your dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.  Beat it slightly until it’s lump-free. 

Finally, gently fold the cranberries in so they are well distributed.  It will be a pretty thick batter, but the cranberries have a fair amount of moisture in them, so it offsets the thicker batter while it bakes.

Pour the mixture into either 2 greased and lightly floured loaf pans or a bundt pan (the bundt is great for the holidays because it creates a wreath-like appearance), and bake it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 1 hour, or until you can insert a knife into the middle, and it comes out clean.

Carefully remove the bread from their respective pans, and let it cool on a cooling rack.  Serve warm or cold with butter.

Aunt Mary Louise’s Soft and Delectable Crescent Rolls

Nothing tastes better than fresh, homemade, dinner rolls for Thanksgiving or Christmas, amiright???  My Grandma Laura was always the one in charge of bringing dinner rolls to our family feasts because they were just.so.yummy!!!

These rolls were originally her sister’s, my great-aunt Mary Louise, but we always dubbed them “Grandma’s Rolls”.  I think every time we had family feasts, one of us always asked “Is Grandma bringing her rolls?” Followed by a chorus of “yessssss” when Mamma would answer in the affirmative, lol. They sure made an impression.

These rolls are fairly simple to make, and oh so worth it!  Canned/store-bought rolls are convenient, but nothin’ beats homemade. And, I’ve put a tip at the end of the recipe so you can make them ahead of time so your day-of preparations aren’t as hectic. 

Happy baking and Happy Thanksgiving, my Friends!!!


Aunt Mary Louise’s Crescent Rolls

(Yields 64 Small Dinner Rolls)

**This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. **

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Milk, scalded (474 mls)
  • ½ cup white granulated Sugar (100 grams)
  • 2 tsp Salt (14 grams)
  • ½ cup lukewarm Water (110-115 degrees Fahrenheit) (118 mls)
  • 1 ½ TBSP Yeast (5 grams) or 2 packets
  • 2 Eggs + 1 Egg Yolk, beaten
  • ½ cup Butter, softened (113 grams) + ¼-½ cup for buttering
  • 7-9 cups All Purpose Flour (700-900 grams)

Directions:

In a medium sauce pan, add your milk, sugar, and salt.  Heat up the milk, stirring frequently, until the sugar and salt have dissolved.  Make sure it doesn’t boil!

Let the milk mixture cool down—it should be somewhere in the 110-115 degrees Fahrenheit range so that it doesn’t kill the yeast. If it’s winter time, you can always set the pan outside in the cold to help cool it down faster.

In a small bowl or mug, add your warm water and yeast and whisk it with a fork. Set it aside, and let the yeast activate for 5-10 minutes.

Once the milk has cooled down, pour it into your stand mixer (if you’re using one).  Add the beaten eggs and frothy water/yeast mixture. Whisk it up, and add 3 initial cups of flour (about 450 grams).

Whisk it on high until there are no lumps and is sponge-like.  Next, plop dollops of ½ a cup of soft butter (I do 1-2 TBSP at a time), continuing to mix it on high. 

When the butter is well incorporated, switch to a dough hook, and add your remaining 5-6 cups of flour.  Add the last couple cups slowly to make sure that you don’t add too much (unfortunately, it’s not an exact science because everyone’s measuring cups and scales are different, the size of their eggs are different, and the brands of flour are different). I almost always end up adding closer to 5 cups of additional flour to my mixture, but Aunt Mary’s recipe calls for 6 cups, so just use your best judgement. It should be a little bit of a stickier dough.

Once the flour is fully mixed, knead it for about 2 minutes.  Aunt Mary’s notes say, “don’t knead it long”.  The longer you knead it, the stickier it will get, and the more flour you’ll want to add, so, keep it short.

Place the dough in a well-greased bowl, cover it with plastic wrap or a tea towel, and let it rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until it’s doubled in size. ***See my note below for the freezing option at this point***!

Once the dough has fully risen, punch it down and divide it into 4 equal parts.  This is when I preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Roll each part out into a circle that’s about 12 inches in diameter.  Butter the surface of the rolled-out dough with the remaining softened butter.  

Using a knife or pizza wheel, cut it into wedges.  I like to cut each of my circles into 16 wedges, making 64 rolls total for this recipe.

Starting on the fatter end of the wedge, gently roll up each slice into a crescent shape.

Place them on a greased cookie sheet (these are my favorite!), making sure that the tail of the roll is on the underside so it’s less likely to pop out as it bakes—though it still happens to me sometimes. You’ll want them to be spaced about 1-2 inches apart.

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes, or until they are a beautiful, very light golden-brown color.

Remove them from the oven and let them cool on cooling racks.  They are best if they’re served warm, with more butter, of course. ?


***Freezing Option***

If you are planner-a-header and you have a lot of other sides and dishes to make for your dinner parties and feasts, these rolls are one thing you can mostly make ahead of time. I’ve made them as many as 3-4 weeks ahead of time, and they still turn out just beautifully on the day of baking. 

Follow the recipe above until you get to the part where you let it rise. At this point, skip the rise and jump right to shaping the crescent rolls. So, just divide the unrisen dough into 4, roll each part into a 12” diameter circle, butter, and cut into wedges.  Roll your crescents and place them on a greased cookie sheet. They don’t have to be spaced out.

Stick the cookie sheet into the freezer for a couple of hours.  Once the rolls are hard, pop them off the cookie sheet and put them into a Ziplock freezer bag. Try to get as much air out of the bag as you can, and put them back in the freezer to use later.

On the day you want to bake them, just pull them out of the freezer about 4 hours before your feast.  Spread them out evenly on greased cookie sheets (make sure to give them an inch or 2 of space this time so that they have room to rise properly).  Place the pans in a warm place, and let them thaw (I like to cover them lightly with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out).  They’ll start to rise once they’ve warmed up enough.  When they are almost doubled in size, plop them into a preheated oven, just like above.  Bake them at 350 Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes. And voila!  Fresh, baked dinner rolls!

Pumpkin Swiss Roll

Swiss Rolls-O Heavenly Days!  If you’ve never had a Swiss Roll before, I’m sorry, but you are sadly missing out! You have GOT to try one, and this Pumpkin Swiss Roll is a great place to start—it’s one of Husband’s favorite desserts! 

It’s perfect for any time of the year but really hits home in the fall with its delicious pumpkin spices and rich, velvety cream cheese filling.

Here are a few tips to help your baking go a bit more smoothly:

  • Make sure to whip the eggs and sugar together before adding anything else to them.  I use my stand mixer for this and whip the eggs and sugar on high for 3-5 minutes until it’s nice and foamy
  • The rest of the ingredients should be folded in as gently as possible, but still making sure there are not flour lumps.
  • It’s also super handy if you have baking parchment paper.  It helps to alleviate the urge to throw the whole pan of baked sponge across the room because it won’t come out.  Trust me, I know, lol! 
  • Once you’ve gotten the sponge out of the tin, you’ll want to get it rolled up while it’s still hot. That way, it won’t crack and break when you do the final roll with the filling. 
  • When it’s all done and beautifully rolled, wrap it in aluminum foil, put it in a freezer bag, and store it in the freezer until you’re ready to serve it—you can even store it this way in the freezer for a couple of months if you wish!

Pumpkin Swiss Roll

**This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. **

Ingredients for the Sponge:

Ingredients for the Frosting:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Directions for the Sponge:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.

Whip the 3 eggs with the sugar on high speed for 3-5 minutes, or until they are light, airy, and foamy.  Gently fold in the pumpkin puree.

Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, being careful to gently fold it in.

Grease and line the bottom of a 15×10 cookie sheet with baking parchment paper.  Pour the pumpkin mix into the pan and spread it out evenly. Bake it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes (the sides will start to pull away from the edges, and a toothpick will come out clean when inserted into the center). 

Lift the sponge out of the pan, and place it, upside-down, on a dish towel dusted with powdered sugar. Remove the parchment paper and tightly roll the sponge up in the towel. 

Place the rolled sponge in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours until it’s cool.  Gently unroll the sponge from the towel, and spread the cream cheese filling evenly over surface. Re-roll it as tightly as possible (but not so tightly that the filling spews out…lol). 

Wrap it in aluminum foil that’s been dusted with powdered sugar, and freeze it until you are ready to serve (if it’s going to be more than a day before you serve it, I would recommend placing the foiled roll into a gallon freezer bag). 

Just before serving, remove it from the foil and put it on a nice plate or cutting board. Dust the whole thing with powdered sugar.  Cut it into half-inch slices, and serve with tea or coffee.

Directions for the frosting:

Put all of the ingredients into a bowl.  Using hand beaters, whip it together for a few minutes until it is nice and smooth.  Use this as a filling for the pumpkin roll.

Homemade Cranberry Sauce: Thanksgiving Prep Time

Have you ever had that urge to make everything from scratch for your Thanksgiving smorgasbord?  I sure have!  Cue the eye roll. LOL.

I know making things from scratch is a lot of extra work, but I get so much satisfaction from it, and many things can be made ahead of time so that I’m not scrambling the day of Thanksgiving to get everything done. 

This cranberry sauce is one of those things that’s super easy to make weeks ahead of time, and it tastes delicious!

Just a couple quick notes about this recipe:

  • I have listed 2-3 cups of sugar in the ingredients.  I’ve done it both ways. If you like it more tart, stick with 2 cups of sugar—3 cups will make it pretty sweet for those that like it that way. It’s up to you and your preferences.
  • For the spice, I love to use my Ethiopian finishing spice (Mekelesha Kimem)!  Here’s a link for how to make this amazing spice mix!  If you don’t feel up to making it, you can also do a close substitute with a combination of ¼ tsp cardamom, ¼ tsp cloves, ¼ tsp nutmeg, and ¼ tsp cinnamon. 

Happy Thanksgiving prepping, Friends!  Enjoy this zingy, tangy, orangy, sauce!


Homemade Cranberry Sauce

**This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. **

Ingredients:

***You will find most of these spices and ingredients for cheaper prices at your local grocery stores. I’m just including the amazon links for those who like the convenience of online shopping.***

Directions:

Rinse the fresh cranberries to remove any dirt (I find it easiest to just dump them in a colander and rinse them with cold tap water).

Dump the rinsed cranberries into a 4-quart pot.  Add the sugar, water, and cinnamon sticks.  Turn your heat to medium and let it come to a slow simmer.  We want it to simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until most of the cranberries have popped. 

About 5 minutes into the simmer, add your orange zest, orange juice, and remaining spices. 

Stir it well, and continue to cook for 3-5 more minutes.

Once the cranberries have mostly popped, turn off the heat, and let it cool.  Store in glass mason jars in the fridge for up to 4 weeks (I leave the cinnamon sticks in it so that they continue to add delicious flavor). You can also freeze the cranberry sauce for a later date.

Yields a little over 1 quart of sauce.

Golden Sweet Cornbread

Nothing beats the Chili and Cornbread combo on a cold rainy day!  One of the things that I love about baking is that it is just like a science experiment. 

In college, two of my hardest (but also most fun and rewarding) classes were General Chemistry 1 and 2.  The labs, especially, were so cool! Yep, Nerd Alert!  To me, baking can sometimes be very similar to a chemistry lab. 

In my cooking and baking journey, I have learned so much, and some of it relates back to Chemistry! Who knew?!?!?!

Take baking soda, for instance.  Did you know that in order for it to be activated, it needs to mix with an acid?  Baking powder, on the other hand, has an acid already in it, so it only needs moisture to be activated. 

Once I learned that, I started noticing it more and more in recipes.  When a recipe called for baking soda, it was almost always accompanied by sour milk, buttermilk, lemon juice.  On the flip side, when a recipe called for baking powder, there was just plain old milk or water.  It’s fascinating!

That being said, like everything else, there are SOOOOO many cornbread recipes out there! Some call for baking powder, some call for baking soda, and some call for a combination of both. 

I definitely can’t take credit for this recipe, but wanted to share it here for those who haven’t stumbled upon it yet.  I found this Golden Sweet Cornbread recipe on allrecipe.com several years ago.  It’s light, fluffy, crumbly, and delicious.  I’ve tried other cornbread recipes and even tried experimenting with my own ideas, but this one is by far the best that I’ve had!

I did make one small modification to the recipe.  We don’t like it quite so sweet, so I cut the sugar in half, just using 1/3 cup instead of a 2/3 cup.  Let me tell you ladies and gentlemen, when you slather some butter on a warm piece of this cornbread, add a little honey and a bowl of Chili, Oh. My. Goodness!  I hope that you enjoy it as much as we do!


Golden Sweet Cornbread

**This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. **

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup white flour (150 grams)
  • 1 cup yellow corn meal (180 grams)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (75 grams) (allrecipes calls for 2/3 cup)
  • 1 tsp salt (7 grams)
  • 3 ½ tsp baking powder (13 grams)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk (240 mls)
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil (85 mls)

Instructions:

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Mix the dry ingredients together (for those of you living in humid environments, I recommend using a whisk so that it mixes evenly and gets out any lumps). 

In a separate bowl, beat the wet ingredients together.  Add the bowl of dry ingredients to the wet, and mix it until there are no lumps. 

Pour the batter into a greased baking dish (9×9 casserole dish, pie pan, or a well-seasoned 10″ cast iron skillet).  Bake the cornbread until it’s golden brown and a knife comes out clean when inserted in the middle (20-25 min).  

Serve it warm with butter, honey, and a steaming bowl of Chili.

Beef Chili

The last couple of nights, temperatures have fallen into the 40’s down here in South Carolina!  My little heart is just giddy for the cool weather.

When I think of Autumn and Winter, the things that pop into my head are cozy fires, snuggling, warm cloths, hot chocolate, lamps and candles, and all the yummy foods that go hand in hand with cold weather.  Chili most definitely fits right into the mix!

There are a bagillion recipes out there for Chili, but this rendition is our family favorite.  It’s consistent, delicious, has a little kick to it, and is perfectly accompanied by Golden Sweet Cornbread.  Oh, Heavenly Days!

For this recipe, I like to use my own home-made chili seasoning over store-bought seasonings.  Here’s a link for my Chili Seasoning Mix.  Check it out and give it a whirl! The flavors are stunningly delicious.

One great thing about chili (and most recipes out there), is that it is very versatile.  If you don’t like your food spicy, then don’t add as much chili powder.  If you prefer it to be so hot that you burn your taste buds off, then by all means, load it up with as much chili powder as your little heart desires.


Beef Chili

**This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. **

Ingredients:

  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 1 TBSP Vegetable Oil
  • 1 lb ground Beef
  • 1 large Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 TBSP garlic, minced
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed (or 1 cup dried beans, pressure cooked until soft) **See my note about the beans below**
  • 1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
  • 1-2 cups water + 2 bouillon cubes (or beef broth)
  • 2 heaped TBSP of homemade Chili Seasoning Mix
  • 1-2 TBSP Chili Powder
  • 1 TBSP Cocoa Powder

Instructions:

Heat up a frying pan. Add the oil and butter. Once the butter has melted, add the onions and garlic, and fry them for 2-3 minutes (or until the onions have softened).  Remove the onions and garlic from the frying pan, and put them in a crock pot.

Brown the ground beef in the frying pan, and add it to the crock pot with the onions and garlic.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir well.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  We love this scrumptious meal served with sour cream, grated cheddar cheese, fresh-out-of-the-oven Golden Sweet Cornbread, and honey.

**A tip about the beans: Every once in a while, I’ll pressure cook several cups of black beans until they’re tender. Once they’ve cooled, I’ll measure out 2 cups of cooked beans into small containers or sandwich bags and freeze them. That way, I can just pull out the pre-packaged frozen beans and toss them into the crock pot when it’s time to make chili. It’s a great way to avoid using canned beans!

Chili Seasoning Mix

You guys!!!! Guess what? October is National Chili Month!!!! Guess what that means? Chili for dayyyysssss!!!!! There are so many chili spice mixes out there.  If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ve probably picked up on my dislike for store-bought mixes of any kind. The chemically aftertaste is just too much. So, what do we do? We make our own, of course!

I’ve mixed and matched lots of different ingredients, and this combination has become the family favorite. I’m not a big fan of making a single batch of spice mix every time I want to make chili (who has time for that, seriously?), so I make this large batch, making it ready in a jiff if we have a hankering for chili. This amount of dry spice mix (about 2 cups) usually gets our family through the winter season.  Enjoy!!!


Chili Seasoning Mix

**This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. **

Ingredients:

(*all ingredients are dry*)

Instructions:

Mix all of these dry ingredients in a bowl.  I like to use a whisk so that it gets really well mixed. You can also put them in a larger container with a sealed lid and do a little dance while you shake, shake, shake it. ?  Keep the mix in a cool dry place.  I like to use the nice IKEA spice jars to store my spices.

Pull Apart Garlic & Herb Bread

Friday nights in our home consist of homemade pizza pies, pizza rolls, garlic knots with pizza sauce…really, all things pizza (and a little Redd’s Peach Cider to top it off, of course ?). It’s a wonderful way to celebrate the end of a long, busy week.

Early on in our marriage, when we lived in Reno, we would often order pizza from Pizza Hut.  My work schedule made it really hard to make anything homemade, let alone a yeast dough, for us to enjoy on Friday nights (unless we wanted to eat at 9:00 at night…erm, no thank you…).  We’re now in a different stage of life that allows me to stay home, which means homemade pizza and garlic bread on Friday nights!!!

I stumbled upon this pizza dough recipe from the Food Network a few years ago, and I use it as a base for making this garlic bread.  I make the dough a little unconventionally, but it works every time, so I just keep doing it that way.

The fun thing about this recipe (like most recipes out there), is you get to be creative! Make what you love! If you’re a garlic gal or guy, then load up that garlic—that’s what we do (no smooching for us, lol #garlicbreath)!  If you don’t enjoy the herbs I’ve added, then pick and choose which ones you do like.  Ultimately, you want to make something you’re going to really enjoy. 

This is a fan favorite in our home.  Husband and I polish off the entire batch in one fell swoop (and we wonder why we can’t lose weight…lol).  Happy baking and eating, friends!


Pull Apart Garlic & Herb Bread

**This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. **

Bread Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup warm Water (182 grams)
  • 1 TBSP Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp Salt (6 grams)
  • ½ tsp Sugar (3 grams)
  • ½ TBSP Yeast (5 grams)
  • 1 ¾ – 2 cups Bread Flour (~300 grams)
  • 2-3 large Garlic Cloves, coarsely chopped (5-8 grams)

Butter Sauce Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup Butter (4 TBSP)
  • ¼ tsp Salt
  • 2-3 large Garlic Cloves, finely minced (5-8 grams)
  • 1 tsp fresh, chopped Parsley
  • ¼ tsp fresh, chopped Thyme
  • ¼ tsp fresh, chopped Rosemary

Directions:

Grease a regular-sized loaf pan.

Peel your garlic cloves.  Coarsely chop half of the garlic and finely mince the other half (this garlic press from Pampered Chef is the bomb! I highly recommend it if you’re ever in search of a new, heavy-duty one!).

In a large bowl (or KitchenAid mixing bowl), whisk up your water and oil.  Add the salt, sugar, yeast, and coarsely chopped garlic.  Add half the flour and whisk it on high until it is smooth and lump-free.

Switch to a dough hook and add the remaining flour (NOTE: add the last bit of flour slowly, and pay attention to the stickiness of the dough. You don’t want to add too much flour or it will turn out to be too dry, but you also don’t want it so sticky that you can’t work with it).

Plop the dough on the counter.  Using kitchen scissors, cut off chunks of dough about the size of a grape tomato (½-1” in diameter—doesn’t have to be exact). 

In a microwave-safe small bowl or coffee cup, place all of your butter sauce ingredients.  Microwave it until the butter is melted. 

Quickly, dip the dough balls into the butter mixture (be careful not to burn yourself!).  Tap them on the edge of the cup/bowl to knock off excess butter.  Place the coated dough balls into the loaf pan.

The dough should fill about half of the loaf pan when you’re done.

Place some plastic wrap over the top, and let it rise in a warm place for about 1 hour (or until doubled in size).

After about 45 minutes of rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit so that it is nice and hot when the bread is ready to bake.

When your dough is finished rising, remove the plastic wrap, and place the pan in the preheated oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the dough turns a beautiful, golden brown color (mine is usually closer to 40 minutes).

Remove the hot pan from the oven and let it cool for a couple minutes.  Turn it out onto a cooling rack (I LOVE these cooling racks from Pampered Chef).  Let it cool until you can touch it without burning yourself.

Gather your friends and loved ones and enjoy this bread by pulling off chunks and dipping it in your favorite marinara or pizza sauce. 

***Side note:  Stay tuned!  In a few weeks, I’ll share my pizza sauce with you guys too—nothin’ like dipping this soft, fresh, flavorful bread into a bowl of warm, homemade pizza sauce.  It’s de.li.cious!

A Year in Review: Beauty in it All

Beautiful, lush pine seedlings

Last week, we celebrated the end of year one in our new home here in South Carolina.  What a year it’s been—filled with laughter, love, tears, joy, and heartache, along with a whole lotta hard work, sweat, fire ant bites, minor injuries, and awesome befores and afters (check out the photos below!). 

Ever since we moved, Husband has graciously let me stay home.  I used to work as a Veterinary Technician, and although I miss that job and the wonderful people I used to work with, I am also thankful for this new stage of life.

Though I don’t have a “real job”, I find myself extremely busy every day.  There’re always tasks to be done.  I guess that’s what happens when you buy 16+ acres of raw, ravaged, neglected land.  

The previous owners had the land “thinned” in the spring of 2019, selling the harvestable pines.  The loggers that came to do the work left mountains of downed trees and branches everywhere.  It seems as though anything that was in the way of the pines just got trampled and left in a heap.  How heartbreaking.  But, what’s done is done.  On the upside, purchasing recently harvested land did make it more affordable for us.

Discouragements:

While Husband is hard at work at his job, I spend a lot of my time cleaning up the aftermath of the loggers.  Sound overwhelming? Trust me, it is!  Here are a couple pictures of what most of the land looked like when we bought it:

There have been many moments of discouragement.  When I spend weeks cleaning up an area and then turn around and realize just how much more I have to do, my heart just sinks. Every. Time.

A big concern of ours in our current situation is erosion.  A lot of our land is on a slope, and with the massive amount of deforestation last year combined with frequent torrential downpours, the soil has been washing away faster than I could have imagined.

We’ve also struggled with weeds this summer.  In the wake of the “thinning”, so much soil was exposed to sunlight and rain that the weeds have popped up everywhere!!!! And they’re not small weeds, my friends! Some of them are 8-10 feet high!  Husband and I have struggled, not knowing what we should do about them.  With erosion issues, we haven’t really wanted to pull them all up, but we also want to make sure that all the new pine seedlings and saplings are getting the light and moisture that they need.  It’s a hard balance that we’re still working through. 

Encouragements:

Though we’ve experienced some discouragement in this whole process, we’ve also seen a lot of progress!  Here are a few fun before and after shots of some of the areas we’ve worked on over the last year:


Another surprising and super encouraging factor is all the new growth!  We have thousands of naturally-sprouted pine trees growing faster than I ever thought possible! (check out the 3 pictures with the dates taken below to see how fast these babies are growing!).  When we first bought the land, we thought it would take 30+ years before we would see a nice forest again.  Seeing this progress in 1 short year makes us think we’ll have our forest back much sooner than 30 years!! Hooray!


It’s been fun to stretch our imaginations and be creative with some of the downed wood.  Here I’ve made a nice little ground blind for hunting!  We’ll be making good use of it this fall, we hope!


We’ve also had some fires here and there to help take care of smaller sticks and debris that’s too little for the chipper.  We’ve made use of those fires by cooking hot dog dinners over the coals and even baking amazing sourdough breads in our dutch oven!  Making the most of every situation! 

Things we’ve Learned:

One thing that we learned early on was the realization that we needed better and more reliable equipment to get the job done.  My dad is a professional arborist, and he was able to help us acquire a couple good chainsaws and an awesome wood chipper that can take up to 12-inch logs!  Boy have these tools sped up our clearing times!

We also purchased a used tractor that has been a HUGE help to me!  She does all the heavy lifting, allowing me to work longer days and get more done each day.  Don’t underestimate the power of the Deere! ?

One thing that I underestimated when we moved here was how little work I’d be able to get done from May until August.  I grew up with humidity and heat, but none of the places that I’ve lived have been as bad as here (at least not to my recollection).  Despite the fact that this year hasn’t been as hot as last year when we moved, it’s still been unbearable to work outside this summer, bringing the land cleanup to a screeching halt. ☹

My work attire

The biggest reason it’s been unbearable is that when I work, I wear jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and heavy-duty boots.  With fire ants, snakes, heavy machinery, and loads of downed trees, it’s just not safe to traipse around in shorts and a tank top. This attire, combined with the heat and humidity made it next to impossible for me to work even for a couple of hours at a time.  Hopefully my body will continue to adjust to the climate here and maybe next year, I’ll be able to get more done in the heat of the summer. 

Summer Projects:

Despite not “working” this summer, I definitely kept myself busy with other fun projects.  Here are just a few that I worked on (Husband helped with a couple of them when he had time off of work too!):

We built a rustic wood shed out of pallets.


I finally had the time to refinish some outdoor furniture that we bought at a garage sale a couple years ago.


I’ve been loving experimenting with pallet wood projects lately! Here is a pallet septic tank cover that I made for our front yard.


We sanded, treated, and stained our front porch.


I made these fun cornhole boards—Sweden vs. USA ?.


Ultimately, we are so incredibly thankful for all that God has given us! He has blessed us in ways we never could have dreamed of.  This land, mess and all, is one of His many blessings.  We pray that we will continue to be good stewards of what He’s given us and to honor Him in our work. One day, with a lot of work, sweat, time, and patience, it’ll be beautiful again.

Tater Tot Casserole—Fall’s Favorite Food

Fall is in the air!  I can feel it in my bones.  The days are getting shorter, and today’s cooler temperature tickles and excites me for what the next few months will bring.   I just love the Fall.  It brings such relief from the oppressive heat and unrelenting humidity of the Summer months.  What better way to celebrate the changing of the season than with casserole!!! 

Today, I want to share my Tater Tot casserole with y’all!  It’s a magical combination of textures, colors, and flavors that leaves you begging for more.  It has a little bit of a healthier spin on it because I add veggies to the ground beef while I’m frying it (often veggies from my garden which makes it extra special!). 

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again—I don’t love vegetables!  I know! You’re probably like, “um, what? But she has a huge garden!?!”.  Yep, it’s true.  I have a huge garden, and I love to grow things, but eating said things…not so much.  I have to be intentional and creative in my cooking to make sure that I get a healthy share.

I’ve found that “sneaking” them into some of my favorite dishes has been working great!  This is a dish that I’ve found is super easy to add veggies to.  And the fun thing is that you can be pretty creative as to what veggies you want to add.  Some of our favorites are shredded carrots, peas, onions, and bell peppers—it’s delicious with each different veggie!

For this recipe, I used some peppers from the garden, and of course, onions! You can never have too many onions!  Feel free to use whatever veggies you feel in the mood for, or leave them out altogether, if you choose ?. 

Happy Fall Y’all!


Tater Tot Casserole

**This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. **

Ingredients:

  • 2 TBSP Oil
  • 2 medium onions (~400 grams), diced (optional)
  • 2-3 large Bell Peppers/banana peppers/whatever kind of pepper you’d like (~250 grams), diced (optional)
  • 4 medium Garlic Cloves, minced
  • 1 lb Ground Beef
  • 1-2 tsp Salt (to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground Pepper
  • 2 TBSP Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 10.5 oz cans Cream of Mushroom Soup
  • ½ cup Milk
  • 2 15 oz cans cut Green Beans
  • 7-8 square slices of your choice of cheese or 1½ – 2 cups shredded cheese (optional)
  • 2 lbs Tater Tots, frozen

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Heat up a large cast iron casserole dish (or frying pan).  Add the oil. Once the oil has heated up, place your minced garlic in the pan and let it simmer for about a minute.

Add the diced onions and peppers, stirring it well.  Let the onion and peppers cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, or until the onions start to get a slight translucent appearance.

Add the ground beef, mixing it so that it’s well dispersed among the peppers and onions.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce.  Let it simmer until the meat is beautifully cooked all the way through.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, dump the can of Cream of Mushroom soup.  Add about a ½ cup of milk (you can also just fill the soup can about ½ full so that you don’t dirty another dish–doesn’t have to be an exact measurement).  Whisk the milk/soup mixture until it is nice, smooth, and lump-free.

Open the 2 cans of green beans, and drain the liquid off.

Once the meat has finished cooking, turn off the heat.  If you are frying the meat in the dish you will bake the casserole in (like this awesome, old cast iron dish that Hubby found for me!), just smooth the meat/veggie mixture out so it covers the bottom of the dish.  If you are baking it in a separate casserole dish, pour the meat mixture into that dish and spread it out in the same way.

**Whatever dish you choose to bake in needs to be roughly a 9×13 pan.**

Spread the drained green beans evenly over the meat mixture.

Pour the milk/soup mixture over the greens, using a spoon or spatula to get uniform coverage. If you are using cheese, now is the time to add it! I’ve done sliced cheese as well as shredded. Both work great and add a unique creaminess to the dish.

And, last but not least, spread out your taters.  This is the fun part where you get to be creative.  Sometimes, if I’m in a rush, I just dump them on and call it good, but if I have the time, I try to make it look a little nicer.  Just do whatever you’re in the mood for, and have fun with it!

Stick the casserole in the oven, and bake it for 35-45 minutes, or until the tater tots are a nice, golden brown color.

Serve it warm with ketchup.