Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Learning About the Amish

Are you curious about the Amish? The plethora of Christian "Amish" fiction (or, "bonnet" fiction) is indicative that many people are. As a writer, I considered doing a story in this genre myself, which is why:

My husband and I took a trip to Holmes County, Ohio last year, which happens to hold the largest concentration of Amish in the United States. It was a beautiful trip, though still crisp with the last dregs of cold weather. We saw the Amish everywhere, of course; on the roads, on their farms, the children playing in their school yards. We also noticed that a good many of them own businesses, so they are in the stores and eateries, too.

When you visit Holmes County, you can learn about the Amish in two ways: First, through the tourist exhibits and local museums; and secondly, by seeing and interacting with present-day Amish.  I put up a few more  photos from our trip on my website here (scroll down the page),
but to see all of our photos, you'll need to be on my newsletter mailing list. (Sign up at

I enjoyed speaking with the woman (and her teen-aged daughter) who owned the above vehicle. She even let me sit in it for a photo--but of course there's no close-up picture of these ladies as they don't encourage photographs. She happily answered all of my questions, however, and seemed to enjoy our interest as much as we enjoyed learning about her and her life. 

The museums were wonderful, especially the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center, which boasts a 360 degree wall mural that depicts the history of the "plain people" from their European roots to their trek to America and henceforward. There's a tour guide who talks you through the exhibit with lots of anecdotes and interesting facts. There's also tours of working farms, as well as Amish homes and a schoolroom, no longer being used, but good examples of how things were--and ARE.
(Which is key for most Amish. The way things were is the way things are. If you ask why they do things the way they do, you will likely hear, "Because that's the way we've always done them.")
Amish School Room (Part of the tour)

I used to think that the lifestyle choices of the Amish which have to do with rejecting modern technology (like cars and electricity) were based on religious principles. Simplicity, perhaps. Or limiting distractions and temptations, maybe? But, no! Their lives are based primarily on TRADITION.

This is not to say that there are no religious people among the Amish, for there are. But if you study how they run their "churches" (not really a church, but an "order," which really just denotes their local community, as opposed to a local community based elsewhere, geographically) even this is based upon tradition.

The preacher is drawn by lot in some cases, for instance, which certainly precludes individual preference and doesn't mean that those who do not feel either called or gifted in this area will not BE called upon to lead church services. Likewise, they do not follow a systematic theology, which leaves them open to all kinds of error and lack of information. I am not writing this to critique the Amish or their lifestyle, but I couldn't help noticing the pitfalls inherent to such a system, if you can call it a system. They do not use a church building, as their services are held in homes, each household taking a turn to host the huge gathering. (Which is no small task. There is much involved in hosting, from seating arrangements--often in the barn--to food, parking for carriages, etc.)

We could easily tell which home was holding the gathering, as Amish on foot, in carriages, and by horse were all leading inexorably to that one homestead, like little shavings drawn to a magnet. It was quite picturesque, as well as fun to hear the steady clop-clop-clop of the horses. We also discovered that they do not keep necessarily early hours, as we heard their distinctive sound far into the evening, well past nine or ten o'clock.

Every Amish order has their own rules and differ in what they allow regarding modern technology. We saw a young man with a bicycle that had no pedals. (I forget why they weren't allowed.) 

There is really a wealth of information to be learned regarding the Amish, and I wish I'd posted shortly after my visit when I could remember more of the little facts that were so interesting.

In any case, enjoy the pictures!

Most Amish do not display a great deal of artwork, but Scripture verses, samplers, and even quilts are among the exceptions. The above states, "Thou art my Hope."

I'll be putting a great deal more photos from my trip into my next newsletter edition, so if you'd like to receive that, please be sure you're subscribed to the mailing list! (Subscribe HERE.  It's free.)

An interesting book I have on my "to read" list, is: (Click the book cover to see it on Amazon for more info)

What about you? Do you read Amish fiction? Are you curious about their lifestyle, too? Got a favorite read to recommend? Let us know! Leave a comment and you'll be entered in a drawing for  a three-tin set of "ENGLAND'S FAVOURITE TEAS."

The three teas are: English Breakfast Tea, English Afternoon Tea and London Tea.  They are loose tea leaves, which will steep into a lovely, flavorful pot or cup. (If you don't have an actual tea-leaf strainer, any fine strainer will do.) What is an actual tea strainer?  See this, for example: 
Progressive Stainless Steel Mesh Tea Ball. There are other types, known as "infusers."
Such as,  Brew-in-Mug Extra-Fine Tea Infuser with Lid.

I need a minimum of twelve comments from unique visitors (multiple comments from one person will only count as one comment) to hold the drawing, so please tell your friends!

Warmest Blessings,


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Meal-Planning Success!

I'm all about planning for success as many of you have ascertained by now, so I thought I'd spend a post or two discussing how this planning can help us in the kitchen.

I usually plan a month's worth of meals at a time, using some free time in the last week of each month to start filling out the next month's menus. If you're new to menu planning, you might want to start with just a single week's menus and shopping. As you get better at it, increase the plan to two weeks at a time or monthly, as I do. And I always keep my eyes open for unexpected sales, even if they're not on my menu plan. Company drops in, the boys bring home friends, and, in short, life happens. You never know when you'll need an extra bag of ravioli or a good-size chicken in the freezer! 

My problem in the past was that, despite my best efforts, we ended up going off my menu plans each month and spending more on unhealthy fast-food or eating out than I really wanted to. So before I planned my February menu, I asked myself one simple question, "Why?" 

Why, after painstakingly choosing a month's worth of meals, assembling all the recipes into a folder, and putting the menu on the outside of the folder, as well as a copy on the fridge door (so everyone else knows what to expect for dinner each night), why would I stray from the plan? It wastes my time and in some cases, groceries I may have purchased specifically for a particular meal. It costs more, upping my grocery bill. But I found that I was doing this every month, more than once or twice.

As I pinpointed the answer to that one question *(Why?), I realized this was the key to making the plan work.

I determined that I went off the plan usually for one of two reasons:
            a. The recipe was too difficult or time-consuming for the amount of energy I had left on a given day, or         b. I was missing ingredients for it;
So, when I planned my February menu, I did a few things I don't usually take the time to think about, and now, on February 26th, I can say this month's plan worked beautifully.

Here are my key tips for making a menu plan that works: (I could do a post on each and every step of this method, but here's the short version.) 

1.  When choosing recipes, look at the days that are the most challenging for you, and plan for them first. For me, it's the nights when we have Bible Study and must leave the house quickly after dinner. (This affects how much time I have to cook, and I need to conserve enough energy to go out! I also have had trouble with motivation on Sundays. Sundays are for resting, aren't they? Who wants to slave in the kitchen on a relaxing Sunday afternoon? Haven't you felt like this?)
 The way around this is to make your menu plan work for Sundays and challenging days, too. I do this by 
                a: Using a once-a-month eating out night for one of those days  
                b: I plan ONE night a month where I simply heat up a big frozen lasagna like Stouffer's.  It's not health food, but it's only once a month, and it makes me happy.
               c: Use the crock-pot for something simple like pot roast.  I'm not keen on cooking in the morning, but even I can quickly throw a few ingredients into the pot before church and set it and forget it. The whole family LOVES coming home to the great smells of dinner in the pot.   This one step, if done well, will save you from those spur-of-the-moment, "Let's order out," nights. 
                d. Making a meal ahead and freezing it. (I've done the Once-A-Month Cooking a few times in the past, where you freeze practically a month's worth of meals at a time. This is great, for instance, when I know I need to finish a novel quickly. But the prep work for that is far more time-consuming than good meal planning. You need to weigh the benefits and see if they're worth the really big up-front commitment. You've got to cook all those meals in one weekend!)
 The point is that I want to serve my family a majority of home-cooked healthy food, and I do that best by including a few exceptions a couple times a month. 

So, after picking out at least 5 slow-cooker recipes for a given month, I insert them into the days where I take my daughter to a homeschool co-op, or Bible Study nights, and Sundays. Any time you know you'll have a very full day and will need to have a dinner ready or easy to make, use one of the above contingencies (a PLANNED ordering out meal; or a crock-pot meal, or a meal frozen beforehand specifically for that night).  

1. Choose recipes you know you'll make. Don't use the menu planning phase to get excited about a whole bunch of new recipes you've been wanting to try. At most, use only one or two new recipes a week. If life is already stressing you out, skip the new ones, and use old family favorites. Keep cost in mind, and balance: don't put five beef meals on one week of your month's menus. 

2. After choosing mostly tried-and-true recipes (or ones you've read ahead of time and KNOW you can handle), make out an exhaustive shopping list. Use the tally method: if you need carrots for one recipe, but then find 6 carrots are needed in another, don't just write "carrots" on your list. Tally as you go, adding exactly how many are needed, so that, say, if you end up with five recipes calling for six carrots, you know to buy 3-5 pounds of carrots for the month.  Do this with ALL your ingredients. (The book, Dinner's in the Freezer has a confusing template for this, but it nevertheless taught me the method.) 

3. Go out and conquer that list! Don't get some of the ingredients, but not others. I use three main stores so that, in a matter of a week, I have everything I need, getting each ingredient where I can get the best price or quality, or both.  Don't let a lack of preparedness prevent you from sticking to your menu plan. 

(My favorites are: Aldi's, Kroger, and Sam's Club. Occasionally, I need to get to Trader Joe's or Earth Fare, too. And there are some staples I order on a subscription basis from Did you know they sell almost all the groceries you might need? And where else can you get them delivered right to your door? I am a "prime" member, meaning I pay one flat shipping fee per year, so all my subscription groceries are delivered with "free" shipping. It's well worth the fee for my family, and definitely cost-effective.)

After my initial expenditures for the main ingredients, I only need to shop afterwards for items we consume quickly, like milk, butter, 1/2 and 1/2, and fresh produce and fruit.  The best way to determine where to go for what, is to go over your comprehensive grocery list with a couple colored highlighters. I mark items I can get from Aldis in one color, Kroger in another, etc. When in each store, use your color code to know what to get as quickly as possible. At the same time, having your list with you means you can always buy an item you might have gotten elsewhere but see for a great price or with better quality at the other store.  

Tip: I print out a lot of recipes so I have a folder with the ones I need on hand each night. If I take a recipe from one of my cookbooks, I note the page number and the initials of the cookbook it came from next to the meal title on the calendar page. (For crock-pot recipes, I only use the page number, since these always come from my single crock-pot cookbook.) Be sure to consult the books when making your comprehensive shopping list!

PS: The words "Left-Overs" sometimes appear on my menu plans, too. If you know you'll have enough extra after a few nights for a good meal of left-overs, plan for it!  

If you are involved in menu planning, you already know that flexibility is important.  I build flexibility into my plan by having all the ingredients for the month on hand ahead of time. This way, if I don't feel up to making one meal, I can switch it out for another. Unless you've defrosted meat and it's been sitting in the fridge already for a few days, I find I can always put off that meat meal for a day or two without losing the cut. (I have a cold refrigerator, and I put raw meat in the back, where it's coldest. If you're going to put off using defrosted meat, make sure you keep it cold and don’t' keep it longer than a few days. Four is about the max.)

That should help you get off to a good start if you're new to this. And why do it? It saves me time, money and effort in the long run. It prevents that, "What's for dinner?" whining that children excel at, and it keeps me from having to stress over how to answer that question. 

Got any tips for menu planning or cooking that might help other women? Have you found that planning ahead with regard to dinner helps you save money? Or time? I'd love to hear about it! 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Wholesome and Healthy Breakfast

Note: Blogger refuses to behave! My headings and type sizes are all mixed up no matter what I do in the "editing" mode. I'm switching to WordPress, but please bear with the zany look of this blog until I finish the transition. THANKS!

"I was talking to Carol, Steph and Rachael--a few ladies from my church--the other night and found real interest in my method of preparing oatmeal for my family. Steph was way ahead of me as far as eating organic locally grown food is concerned, and it was fun to compare notes and learn about new resources.   But I promised to share my oatmeal recipe. (I like to post about health, books, writing, and Christian living, so this fits nicely into the "Health" category.)  

 Wholesome (Fermented) Oatmeal

Why Fermented?  Grains have anti-nutrients and phytic acid in them, which means they aggravate the digestive tract. Fermentation removes the phytates, making it much more friendly to your system, and healthier overall.

According to the dictionary, a phy·tate is a salt or ester of phytic acid, occurring in plants, especially cereal grains, capable of forming insoluble complexes with calcium, zinc, iron, and other nutrients and interfering with their absorption by the body.

Quick Background Note: Two years ago, I was prescribed a medication I had to take nightly, due to increasingly irritating heartburn. Well, I don't like taking medications. At all.

I'd ignored the problem until that prescription. After filling it I started researching what had gone wrong, and why.

Long story short, I changed my diet—cut out most grains, and stopped using that medication so long ago I don’t even remember what it was.   And I no longer suffer from heartburn! (Not to mention, I'm more than 27 pounds lighter!)

Perhaps having heartburn wouldn't be enough of a motivating factor for you to change your diet. If not, there are lots of other really valid reasons for eating the way I do, which is with an emphasis on fresh, real food and AWAY from processed, chemical –laden food. But, in a nutshell:

 It's Not Rocket Science
You don't have to understand the science behind it, to get that eating fresh food is better for you, or that grains have inherent properties (anti-nutrients) that fermentation can remove.
And because there are some awesome blogs out there which do explain the science, I'm not going to re-invent the wheel here. ***

Check out the blogs I list at the end to learn more, but for now I'll just share this wonderful recipe that has transformed breakfast in my home. (Which I owe to my awesome sister, Christine. She stayed with us in January and taught me how to ferment oatmeal. We love you forever, Chris!) 

I make this all the time, now-- Every two days, to be exact. (I'll share more on that in a moment.)  Simply switching your add-ins can change the flavor and texture so much that it's never boring.

 Wholesome (Fermented) Oatmeal

The formula is quite simple: 1 cup warm water and 2 Tablespoons yogurt to each cup of rolled oats.
Here's the way I do it:
2 cups regular rolled oats (not instant)
Organic, whole-milk, cultured yogurt (4 tablespoons)

2 cups warm water

Take a mixing bowl and put in the warm water. Add the yogurt and stir. (I don't even use a real Tablespoon measure. It doesn't have to be exact. Just don't skimp.)
Now add the oats and stir until blended.
Cover loosely with a dish towel or other cloth and set somewhere quiet to ferment over night. I put my bowl on top of my refrigerator. 

This is what it looks like while it's fermenting: 

  In the morning, the oatmeal is ready to be cooked and eaten. It only takes five minutes! 
  Put one cup of water for each cup of oatmeal you prepared, in a stovetop pot.
  Since I made two cups for our recipe, put two cups water in the pot.
 Add salt to taste, stir in the fermented oat mixture and bring to a boil, stirring often, if not constantly.
AS SOON as it boils, turn the heat to low, and cook, stirring for another minute or two. That's it!
It should already be nice and thick, and will thicken even more as it sits. 
  I leave the prepared oatmeal on a "warming" spot on my oven, and the kids helps themselves as they're ready to eat.
Note: Always use butter or some other fat source when you eat this. It makes all the good nutrients in oatmeal bioavailable.  

Toppings: (In addition to butter)

Any fresh fruit
Raisins, or dried cranberries

Stevia and cinnamon
Low-sugar jam
Apple butter
Maple syrup (just go lightly with this) 

Sometimes I pop the fruit in right after the oatmeal is ready but still on the stove.  

I happen to love this stuff with just salt and butter, but the kids like it a bit sweeter.

Now, here's the best thing about this recipe:
Any leftover oatmeal can be used the next day to make oatmeal pancakes. This is why I only make it every other day—I reuse what's left for the second day's breakfast. 

I've made up to four cups of it at a time just to have more leftover for the following day.

After everyone's eaten all they want of the oatmeal, and it's cooled down, cover the pot and stick it just as it in the fridge.

The next morning it will be pretty solid, but don’t let that put you off. Take a few eggs and break them directly into the pot.

Depending on how much oatmeal you have left, you'll use anywhere from two to five eggs.

Here's what one batch of my oatmeal looked like on the 2nd day after I added eggs and strawberries.

  Once you add the eggs, use the end of a whisk to break up the lumps and blend the mixture. You will NOT get out all the lumps and that is fine.

Now, take a frying pan, add a little coconut oil or butter and use the batter for pancakes. 

  Strawberry-Oatmeal Pancakes.

They break up easily so you have to be careful when flipping them over, and when removing them from the frying pan. I "slide" them out onto a plate I keep on the "warming" spot of the stove.

Even my husband, who doesn't like the oatmeal, loves the pancakes. By using different fruit and varying thetoppings and even how many eggs I add to the batter, the pancakes are just different enough each time we eat them to never be boring!  

           Pancakes with less fruit, more egg.

Gone are the days of buying over-sweetened, GMO cereals!
Happy Breakfast!

 ***For a quick primer in Paleo eating, see the Wellness Mama. This is a Christian lady who supplies lots of great recipes and ideas for going natural in life. She even has a wonderful post about how bread can be bad for you, even though Jesus described Himself as the bread of life.
Another useful blog is Mark's Daily Apple. He's woeful when it comes to accepting the myth of macro-evolution, but he nevertheless has great recipes and useful information regarding the pitfalls of the common American diet.

  Do you have a favorite healthy breakfast? Share it with us! 

  Warmest Blessings,


Friday, February 15, 2013

For Writers

Something For Writers

Have you seen this?
For my writer friends, my agent, Chip MacGregor, is a featured speaker at an upcoming writing seminar in Nashville, TN. Chip works out of Oregon, so having him in Tennessee is pretty nifty for those of us closer to the midwest and eastern seaboard.  He's a treasure of information (and humorous, to boot). Unfortunately, my husband and I are already booked for a seminar that day, but if you're a writer, pay attention to the special discount you can get on this already reasonably priced venue. (And be warned that as of this writing, there were only EIGHT spots left, not ten, as it says below.)
Follow the link (the headline) to find out the whole scoop. 
Posted: 13 Feb 2013 11:41 AM PST
I just discovered there are ten spots left in the writing seminar we’re doing in Nashville on Saturday, Feb 23. You can find out all the details about it here:
The cost is normally $199, but if you write to me today or tomorrow, the people in charge told me they’ll discount the price to $149. If you’ve been on the fence, I hope that encourages you to join us. Would love to fill the seats. Thanks!

Something Else for Writers 

I've been reading the books of Proverbs and Psalms, one chapter of each a day, and it's great to be back in these rich books of wisdom.  Proverbs 31  is something I turn to often, however. It's a challenging and inspiring reminder of what I'm called to be, do, and embody as a woman of God. 

As I read this chapter recently, I wondered how I might apply its teachings for women into my life as a writer. The following is the result.  Feel free to send this on to other women-writers you know who may find it inspiring.

The Woman-Writer Who Fears the Lord
[A thematic paraphrase of Proverbs 31:10-31]
An excellent writer who can find?
She is far more valuable than a hack.

 The heart of her readers trusts in her,
And will profit from spending time in her books.

 She does readers good, and not harm
With everything she pens.

She seeks knowledge, tools and methods,
And writes with willing hands.

She scours the world-wide web like a researcher of old,
And gathers her facts and data.

She works at all hours if need be,
To provide for the needs of her readers,
As well as for her agent or editor.

She considers a story idea and writes it,
And plants the seeds of her thoughts into rich fields of fiction.

She dresses herself for success,
And keeps herself healthy so she can both work and network.

She sees that her work brings profit,
And stays alert to new ideas, even at night.

She seats herself before a keyboard or paper,
And purposely puts her hand to writing.

She shares her tricks of the trade with students,
And makes herself available for unpublished writers. 

She worries not about the trashy books in the market,
She knows that her own work will satisfy a soul.

She carves out space in which to write,
She designs a comfortable and lovely "office" for her own use.

Her readers are discerning and wise,
They occupy the highest offices and respectable posts.
She crafts fine stories or articles and sells them,
She delivers manuscripts to magazines, agents and publishers.

Capability and dependability are her clothing,
And she laughs at the thought of failure.

She opens her mouth with wisdom to help other writers,
And teaching, with kindness, is on her tongue.

She looks well to the state of her manuscripts and projects,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.

Her readers rise up and call her blessed;
Her publisher also, and he praises her:

"Many writers have done excellently,
but you surpass them all."

Writing to please the market, and banking on worldly success is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord and writes what He inspires, is to be praised.

Let her be the first to enjoy her works,
And let her reputation and book sales skyrocket in the market.

©Linore Burkard 2013