Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Apples, apples everywhere! Lately my family has been canning a myriad of apple products and it has finally come to a close, so now I can share the fruits of our labor with you.

We went to a couple local apple orchards as well as to the supermarket and acquired a large amount of apples in a variety of varieties. Of course at the orchards we also had to sample some freshly made apple cider doughnuts!

We made apple butter, apple sauce, and apple pie in a jar (apple pie filling). We made a lot of apple butter because not only to my husband and I love it, we thought it would be great for Christmas presents. There are many reasons that Fall is my favorite season, and food made with fresh local apples is one of them! For canning new comers, some canning basics can be found here.

The apple sauce and apple butter are my own concoctions, we did some experimenting to see what we liked best. The apple pie in a jar comes from my aunt in the trusty family cookbook. We used a 6 quart slow cooker to make both the apple butter and the apple sauce. To make all the peeling and coring for the butter and sauce easier we used an apple peeling machine which looks something like this:
Apple Sauce
Apples - We used a variety called 20 oz. The guy at the orchard said the best apple sauce he ever had was made from these, so we thought we'd give it a try!
Lemon Juice

1. Peel, core, and cut up enough apples to fill a 6 qt. slow cooker. (with the apple peeling machine you can just break them up with your hands.) To keep the apples from browning, every so often toss the cut up apples with some lemon juice.

2. Put the apples in the slow cooker along with 2 cups of water. Turn the slow cooker on low and leave for 10 -12 hours, or overnight.

3. Take half the apples and puree until smooth in a blender. Mash the other half with a potato masher. Mix the two halves back together.

4. Ladle into hot, sterilized canning jars, put on the lid and secure with a ring, and process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes. When the lid pops you know your jar is sealed. Store in the pantry until ready to eat!

This recipe gave us about 2 quarts plus 1 pint of applesauce

Apple Butter
Apples - Our first batch used McIntosh, or final batch used a combination of Wolf's Bane and Wagners.
Apple cider
Brown sugar

1. Peel, core and cut up enough apples to fill a 6 qt. slow cooker. It doesn't matter if the apples brown because you will add brown sugar and spices.

2. Put the apples in the slow cooker and add 2 cups of brown sugar, 1 cup of apple cider, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon of cloves.

3. Turn the slow cooker on low and let cook for 10-12 hours or over night.

4. Blend the apple butter until smooth

5. Ladle the apple butter into hot sterilized canning jars, put on the lids and secure with rings, and process for 15 - 20 minutes. When the lid pops the jar is sealed. Store in the pantry until you're ready to eat!

This recipe gave us about ten 8 oz. jars.

Apple Pie in a Jar

*Apples (tart, crisp apples work best for pie. The recipe suggests Spys or Jonathans, we used Granny Smiths, my husbands favorite.)

-Peel and slice enough apples to fill seven quart jars. We did not use the apple peeling machine for this, we wanted the slices to be more hearty.

5 cups sugar
1 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
10 cups water

- cook until think and bubbly, clear. Add 3 tablespoons of lemon juice (we ran out of lemon juice so I skipped this part, it turned out fine.) 
-Pour the hot syrup over the apples in the jars. Put on the lids and secure with rings. Process 20 minutes in a water bath. Listen for lid pops. Store jars in the pantry until ready to eat. 
- When you are ready to eat  pour the apple pie filling into a crust, top with another crust and then follow the pie baking instructions. You could also pour it into a baking dish and top with crisp or cobbler topping!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Ideas for All Saints Day

Can you believe it? All Saints Day is only a week away! Whether you're having a big party or will just be home with your family here are a few ideas for celebrating:

 All Saints Cupcakes: These happen to be pumpkin spice cupcakes (spice cake mix with pumpkin puree added) topped with homemade cream cheese frosting. My recipe for the frosting can be found here. I used the adorable images from Happy Saints laminated and hot glued onto small craft sticks as toppers. Of course you don't have to laminate and hot glue, I just wanted people to be able to take them home and keep them if they wanted to. Unlaminated and taped will work just fine. The college students I was cooking for last year loved the cupcakes and the toppers; some of the toppers are still displayed around the church lobby door!
 Saints Matching Game: I also used Happy Saints for this. You can find the instructions for making this game here.
Saints, Saints, Who Do You See? - A riff on the classic children's book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? by Bill Martin and Eric Carle, this saintly version is a great way to introduce young children to your  family's favorite saints and to the concept of how the saints pray for us. If you make your own you  can customize it for you family, but Jennifer over at Catholic Inspired has made a free printable version of this project as well. For the printable version click here. To see how I made mine, click here.

Perhaps you're having a party with different activities and snacks themed after specific saints. I have some fun ideas that could work for that too! Click on the name of the recipe/project to get the instructions.

 Edible St. Agnes Lambs
 St. John the Baptist's Locusts and Honey on a Log
 Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Caramel Corn (would also work for any saint who was a  Carmelite)

 Also good to represent Carmelite saints are these Salted Cashew Caramels (these are easily made into plain caramels by leaving out the nuts and salt)

Angel Food Cupcakes with Blackberries represent St. Micheal the Archangel and/or the other archangels St. Raphael and St. Gabriel

St. Francis of Assisi Pine Cone Birdfeeders
St. Anthony's Lost and Found Fish Cupcakes have a lost gummy fish on the inside that needs to be found! Give everybody a surprise inside, or only put a gummy fish inside one and whoever finds it gets a special prize!

 This post is linked up at the Catholic Bloggers Network monthly link up blitz

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Salted Cashew Caramels

Last night we went over to my dad's house to make caramel apples. The recipe we used was Kittencal's Caramel Apples from over at, and it is so good! We had some caramel leftover and decided to make some individual caramel candies with it. They are really cute and would be perfect in a holiday candy dish. We added cashews and a sprinkling of coarse kosher salt to bump things up a notch. We were just kind of winging it, so for the parts not already in the caramel apple recipe, I don't have specific measurements. Of course you don't have to use cashews, you could peanuts, pecans, or any other flavorings or add ins you like. You could even keep them pure and simple. Any way you chew it, these caramels are oh so good and a great reminder of a night filled with family fun.

Salted Cashew Caramels
1 cup butter (no substitutes)
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons vanilla 
chopped cashews
kosher or other coarse salt. 
parchment paper cut into squares
1.In a heavy saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and milk; bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

2. Cook and stir until a candy thermometer reads 248 degrees (firm ball stage) about 30-40 minutes and for a softer caramel cook just to a few less degrees.

3. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla.

4. Pour the caramel onto a baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper and sprinkle on the cashews and some salt. Allow to cool until its cool enough to work with your hands.

5.  Pull off a piece of the caramel and roll it into a ball. Place it into a square of parchment paper. Fold it over the caramel, and then twist the ends to create an individually wrapped candy. Repeat until all the caramel has been wrapped. A bit time consuming, but not difficult. (especially if you have helpers) Enjoy!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Girly Ballet Cake III

Time for another birthday party at the dance studio, and that means another ballerina cake! This birthday girl mixed it up a little asking for blue, rather than pink to be the main color of her party. I do wonder if I'll ever get to make a hip hop or Irish dance cake though.

I decided that this time I wanted to do a whole ballerina instead of just the shoes. I didn't like how it was turning out when I tried drawing freehand, (thank goodness I use a toothpick to mark things out first!), so I tried a new method I'd never done before.

First, I printed some clip art of a ballerina and put it on top of a piece of poster board, the same one I cut my cake board from. Then I taped waxed paper over top of my picture. I did black first and did the outline and little details like her face and lines on her tutu. Then I filled it in over top of that with the colors for her tutu, hair, and skin. Next I put it all in the freezer to let the frosting harden. After it was hard, I took it out, removed the poster board and flipped the waxed paper over onto the cake. I gently pressed it down a little and proceeded to carefully peel away the waxed paper. It didn't work perfectly, some parts pulled away. I don't know if I didn't freeze it long enough, or my frosting wasn't thick enough, or if my design was too delicate, but I was able to fix it pretty easily. I used my smallest round tip to clean up the borders and details with black, and since the other mistakes were so small, I used a toothpick and leftover frosting to fix those parts. I do want to try this method again and see if I can get it to work even better. The original instructions say to put it on glass rather than poster board so maybe I'll try that next time. For a step by step tutorial of this method with pictures click here.

Girly Ballet Cake 1
Girly Ballet Cake 2 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

An Answered Prayer

As some of you may know from my previous post Dating Your Spouse for Free, my family and I have been going through a tough time lately. This included job loss, living with parents, and some health issues. Well, myself, my family, my friends, and even people I've never met who've stopped by the blog have been praying for things to get better, and the prayers have been answered! So thank you to all those who have been praying for my and family; it is greatly appreciated.

I have just been hired as full time 6th grade teacher at a virtual charter school! Going through school I never imagined that I would be an online teacher. Heck, I'm not even sure I knew that virtual grade school existed! I'm still learning how it all works, but my classroom is wherever my home is, and my students can live anywhere in the state. I'm excited about the idea of really getting to work one on one with students and about how involved the parents need to be. I'm also excited to see what kind of flexibility this gives me to spend time with my family. It will certainly save me gas money and there is no commute!

I have this feeling that my 3 year old's prayers had something to do with this new position. While everyone else was praying for a job, he was praying that I could stay home with him all day. I guess this job answers both of those prayers. My grandmother has told me how powerful the prayers of children are. Of course I've explained to him that I will be working and there will be times when I need to be left alone, but any breaks that I take I can spend with my family, and I'm sure there are some parts of my job I can do with him playing in the same room. I just had a conference call meeting with baby noises in the background and our group leader was very upbeat and encouraging about it! And while decorating an office may not be the same as decorating a classroom, I'm excited to get things set up. Since its my personal home office I can put up things like images of St. John Bosco and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton that I wouldn't be able to put up in a traditional public school setting.

In addition to this wonderful news, my husbands health has greatly improved. He was having some major back issues, but the doctor's treatment worked beautifully and he is back to his old self. Praise God!

So thanks to everyone's prayers our family is unstuck and off on a new adventure. I hope to able to post pictures of our first house in a few months!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

St. Francis of Assisi: Books and Birdfeeders

Yesterday was the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, my husband's patron saint! This saint is well loved by children because of his love for animals. At many churches you can take your pet for a blessing on the feast of St. Francis. I remember a time when I was subbing at a Catholic school and saw a little St. Francis activity displayed outside one of the classrooms. Each one had a fact about the saint written on it, and nearly every student picked his love for animals as their fact! This is certainly a wonderful way to get kids interested in St. Francis, especially when discussing him with younger children; but don't forget to go deeper. While his love for nature is a beautiful and good thing, it is more than just enjoying it and thinking its pretty; everything he did pointed toward God!

St. Francis grew up very wealthy and was quite wild when he was young. His interests were in earthly things, not in God. One night he had a dream where God spoke to him and that started his conversion. He eventually renounced all his earthly possessions and lived only for God.  He began the Franciscan order, and is often credited with creating the first nativity scene. There are so many amazing stories about St. Francis that I don't have time to talk to about here, which is why I'm going to recommend some books!

Even when there isn't time for a fun recipe or a cool craft, you can always read a book with your children. And while some saint stories may have to be special ordered from Catholic stores, a wide selection of children's books about St. Francis can be found at your local library! (at least at ours anyway.) Most of them are about the legend of St. Francis and the wolf, where St. Francis makes friends with a wolf that has been terrorizing a town, but there are others out there too.

My favorite one for toddlers is the The Song of Francis by Tomie DePaola. You may know him as the author of the classic Strega Nona, but he also has written many stories about saints. Its the story of St. Francis loving God so much that he has to sing, and the angels, and the sun, and the moon, and birds of every color come to join him. Its simple and sweet, and of course DePaola always has beautiful illustrations.

DePaola has another Francis book, Francis, the Poor Man of Assisi that is good for older kids with lots of details about all the different stages and stories of St. Francis' life. 

The version of the wolf legend that we read this year was St. Francis and the Wolf by Richard Egielski.
It is well written for a younger audience, but is not dumbed down or made too simple. Children of all ages will enjoy this book as it has a great classic folktale feel to it.

 In addition to reading our wonderful stories we also did a little craft. St. Francis is often pictured in art with birds, (that whole loving animals thing!), so we made some bird feeders which are pictured at the top of the blog.

Pine Cone Bird Feeders
Pine cones - open ones work best
Peanut Butter
String or Yarn
Paper plates and plastic spoons and/or knives

-Put a blob of peanut butter on one paper plate, and pour birdseed in another.
-Spread peanut butter all over a pine cone using a plastic utensil, or roll it in the peanut butter.
-Next roll the pine cone in the birdseed.
- Tie a string to the pine cone and go outside and hang it on a tree!
 - Opened pine cones work best because it makes it easier to tie on the string. We could only find closed ones in the woods, so we just tied the string around the middle.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite prayers written by St. Francis.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Learn more about St. Francis here.

This post is linked up at the Catholic Bloggers Network monthly link up blitz , the Equipping Catholic Families Saints Cele-linky and the Catholic and Living It Link Up.

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