Saturday, August 31

Sweet Corn for the Winter

The season for sweet corn is winding down in these parts.  Corn is a major crop across the Midwest, and is always plentiful here.  However, I've missed out on corn on the cob for the past several years.  I started craving it a few weeks ago, and bought a few ears.  I've been addicted to it ever since!  Not only is it just delicious, it seems to be helping with some of my gastrointestinal issues.  Win-win!  There is nothing that screams summer more than a fresh ear of corn with butter and salt. 

Well, maybe ice cream screams summer.  And watermelon.  And grilling...

Anyway, many of the produce stands around here have been offering end-of-season deals on bushels of corn.  I got a bushel for $10 (5 dozen ears--which comes out to between 16 and 17 cents an ear) and decided to ask my mom for her recipe for freezer corn.  I remember her making this when my uncle grew corn waaaaay back, when we were young'uns.  She gave me the instructions, and my husband offered to help with this big job.  Today was freezer corn day!

It was really an easy process, but a lot of work, kinda messy and somewhat time-consuming.  With me and the hubs working together, it still took around three hours, and that didn't include time for the corn to cool to room temp in the bags.  Still, it was very worth it to have delicious sweet corn in the freezer, waiting to cheer up our winter meals in the months to come.

We started shucking the corn at the same time.  Once a dozen had been cleaned, hubs continued with the shucking while I got out a large bowl, a small bowl, a long serrated knife, Dutch oven pots, freezer bags, my 8-cup measuring cup, a strainer, sugar, and salt.

I inverted the small bowl inside of the large bowl, with the flat bottom of the small bowl pointing up.  I set the cob on top of the small bowl, and sliced all of the corn from the cob, letting it fall into the large bowl.  It helped a lot having the ear elevated above the cut corn.  Thanks for the tip, mom!

Once I had 8 cups of corn, I put it into the Dutch oven pot, along with 2 cups of water, 1/2 cup of sugar, and 2 tsp. salt.  I brought it to a boil and let it boil for ten minutes, then I strained the corn in the sink to remove the extra liquid.  Then, we set it aside to cool a bit before we put the corn in freezer bags in 2 cup measurements.  We squeezed as much air out of the bag as we could (hubs was really good at it!) and flattened the bags in preparation for freezing. 

And so the afternoon went: lather, rinse, repeat, and so on.  All told, a bushel of corn gave us 22 2-cup bags of corn.  Before I knew it, it was six o'clock and dinner hadn't been started yet.  I cleaned up and fixed some dinner (complete with a side of buttered corn) while hubs finished bagging the corn. 

There is nothing as sweet as the fruits of your labor!

Except sweet corn.
Thanks again to my beloved husband, who helped me with all of this!!

Wednesday, August 28

Zoo Fun--Wild Walkabout Australian Exhibit

We had a beautiful day to do something fun recently, so we decided to head up to the Toledo Zoo to explore their temporary Australian exhibit, Wild Walkabout.  It was really neat, despite the large crowds.  Here are some photos from our adventure:

Wallaby!  I love his paws.


Tri-colored rose

Butterfly on a butterfly bush

I loved these sunflowers

Many beautiful tropical birds
And of course, my favorite: giraffes!
Have a great Labor Day weekend, everyone!

Saturday, August 24

Cheesy Chicken and Spinach Stuffed Shells

I always thought recipes like this would be hard and time-consuming.  I'm pleased to say that this one was not!  It was easy and delicious.  I wouldn't recommend it as a weeknight meal unless you can make the filling ahead of time and have it ready to go when you get home from work, but definitely an easy weekend meal!


24 jumbo pasta shells
1-15 oz. container of ricotta
2 C shredded mozzarella
1/2 C shredded Parmesan
~1/2 C washed, chopped fresh baby spinach
1 large egg
1 C cooked chicken, finely chopped
Garlic, salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning (to taste)
1-26 oz. jar of favorite spaghetti sauce

Preheat the oven to 375.  Spray a 9x13 baking dish with nonstick spray (I layered my shells in a 2.5 qt. casserole dish, and it worked fine).

Cook the pasta shells according to the box directions.  Drain, and allow to cool (they should be cool enough to handle).

While pasta cooks, mix together in a large bowl the ricotta, 1 C of mozzarella, Parmesan, chopped spinach, egg, and seasonings.

Spread about 3/4 C pasta sauce along the bottom of your baking dish.  Stuff the shells with about 1-2 TBSP of filling and place in dish, open side of the shell pointing up.  Pour your remaining pasta sauce over the shells and top with remaining mozzarella.

Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 35 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the center is bubbling and the cheese is browned on top.

Serves 4-6.

Wednesday, August 21

The Bunny

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?"--Matthew 6:25-27

Just a few fun pictures of the resident bunny.  This bunny seems to have not a care in the world.  Oh, to be a bunny some days...
Just outside the window of my craft room...sorry the pictures are kind of fuzzy.  I was taking this through the window.

Bunny zoom cam!  I got a kick out of his super-relaxed posture.

Just outside the fence of our back yard.

Oh!  He saw me!  He sped away, "quick as a bunny"!

Hard to believe fall is just around the corner!  I love fall...I wish it could be fall all year.  School has just started back up again, which has no effect on me other than when I drive through a school zone, but it's another confirmation that summer is drawing to a close and fall and winter will soon be upon us.  Time keeps going.  I wonder when someone will invent a time machine?

Sunrise shining through the stained glass windows of the church behind our house.

Monday, August 19

Q: What Do I Do With All of These Blueberries?!?

A:  Freeze them!
     Bake something with them!
     Preserve them for the winter!
     And of course, eat them!

When one goes to a blueberry patch and returns with six and a half pounds of blueberries, one has to figure out a way to keep them fresh for a while.   I decided to freeze my blueberries.

You can also can blueberries, but I like the freshness that freezing gives.  I rarely make fruit pies, and when blueberries are canned, it creates more of the blueberry pie filling-type preserves instead of a fresh, whole blueberry.  I did, however, use quart canning jars to keep the berries in during the freeze.  If you are interested in canning blueberries, here is a great website with all sorts of informative instructions: Pick-Your-Own.  I just wanted plain, fresh blueberries that I can pull out of the freezer and use in cobblers, crisps, muffins, etc...or just eat as a lunch side in the middle of winter.

Freezing blueberries is a really easy process. The longest part is waiting for them to freeze!

First, don't wash the berries.  Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet.  I lined my sheets with wax paper, to prevent any sticking to the metal and keep from having to wash the baking sheets.

Then, make some room in the freezer, and pop the baking sheets in!
While waiting for the berries to freeze, wash and dry your canning jars.  You want to make sure there isn't any water left in the jars when the berries go in, or you'll get a lot of ice, which will melt when thawing.

Once the berries are frozen (allow them to sit in the freezer for at least two hours), pour them carefully into the jars.  Leave a bit of room at the top.
Store them in the freezer until you need them!
So, now we have a good supply of blueberries for the winter.  Yay!  My mom was nice enough to send me a recipe that she has tried.  I haven't made it yet, but it looks simple and delicious.  Go ahead and give it a try, and let me know what you think!

4 cups fresh blueberries
4 tablespoons white sugar
1/3 - 1/2 cups orange juice
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cups softened butter
1/2 cups white sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

**Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
**In an 8 inch square baking dish mix blueberries, 4 tablespoons sugar, and orange juice.  Set aside.  In a small bowl thoroughly mix flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
**In a medium bowl cream butter and 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg and vanilla extract.  Gradually add flour mixture, stirring just until ingredients are combined.  Drop batter by rounded tablespoons over blueberry mixture.  Try to cover as much of the filling as possible.
**Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes until topping is golden brown and filling is bubbling.

"This is really good, especially with vanilla ice cream!!"--according to my mom.  :)

Saturday, August 10

Mansfield, Ohio--Fun for a Day

"I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint."--Jeremiah 31:25

I really needed a break from the daily grind.  My extended hours have finally come to an end, at least for the time being, and I was tired.  Tired of being frustrated, tired of trying to keep up, tired of my surroundings.  I decided that I just needed to get out of town for the day.  I had some ideas, so I brought it up with the hubs and he was interested too, and we decided to take a day trip to Mansfield, Ohio, a little over an hour away--and found some great things to do!

My mom had mentioned a few weeks back that she went blueberry picking near where they live in Michigan.  That sounded like something I'd enjoy, so I decided to look up local blueberry u-pick patches in our area.  Unfortunately, all of the patches are at least an hour away in any direction, but there was a very popular one called The Blueberry Patch in Mansfield.  Boom!  Destination #1. 

I had done some research a while back (okay, when we first moved here, over five years ago) about area attractions, and was really surprised to find that the backdrop to the movie "The Shawshank Redemption" was in our backyard, so to speak--the Ohio State Reformatory, the location of this and a few other films, was located in Mansfield!  Ever since I found that, I had wanted to visit the building and grounds.  I'm not a big fan of the movie--I mean, I liked it when I saw it, and occasionally catch snippets whenever it's played on TV, but it's not a go-to movie for me.  BUT, I absolutely loved the building (you'd be surprised how often I pay more attention to the sets and backdrops in a movie instead of the plot), and when I found out that tours are offered of this spectacular late-Victorian prison, I was very interested.  Boom!  Destination #2.

We didn't have enough time to do everything that I found, but these were the two that interested us most.  We struck out on our adventure around mid-morning.

We had a great time picking blueberries.  I wanted to pick as many as possible to freeze for the winter.  When we arrived, we were given a bucket for our blueberries, and we filled it with a little over six and a half pounds.  We wish now that we had brought back two buckets full!  It was nice to just be out in the hilly countryside, enjoying an absolutely beautiful day together and listening to nature as we went up and down the rows picking our berries.  It was great!  There weren't that many people there, but there were families enjoying some quality time together.   It took us about an hour and a half to fill our berry bucket.

"Cell Block Cafe" food wagon
We finished up there and headed out for a bite to eat before heading to the prison.  Unfortunately, we couldn't find any convenient in-and-out places before we arrived to our second destination, but there was a little food cart outside of the entrance of the reformatory when we got there, so we enjoyed hot dogs, chips and water in the shade on the front lawn.  Then, we entered the prison.

Hmmm.  That's not a sentence that I ever thought I'd say, or in this case, type.

The building itself is in rough shape.  Certain areas have been updated for parts of the different movies filmed here, but overall, it's rough.  Lead paint is peeling and chipping off of all of the walls.  Water damage is apparent in several areas, along with rotting wood and termite damage.  Many windows are missing, but there are several stained-glass windows that look to be well-preserved.  The structure, however, is well-built and sound, and will be around for years to come.  They are working on preserving many architectural aspects of the buildings, and I'm sure that this will be a long-term, ongoing restoration.

A main staircase in the assistant warden's living quarters.  This staircase is not wood, but steel!  They attempted to make the building as fireproof as possible, using mostly metal, brick, and stone materials that would not burn as easily as a wood-frame structure.  It's worked so far!

The preservation organization is working on restoring parts of the building.  Here you can see a mantle that has been restored, and the trim around the left window is being replaced.  The stained glass transoms have been restored and are in beautiful condition.
A restored staircase at the end of the tour.  The restored staircase is a great late Victorian color scheme.
Guided tours were not offered when we went, so we just took a self-guided tour.  The tour route is marked, and took around two hours to walk through everything.  It was worth every penny of the admission price of $9.00/person!  Just to see the inner workings of how prisons were built and how they operated a hundred years ago was fascinating.  Hubby and I were shocked at how many hard-core Shawshank Redemption fans were there--we felt out of place, because we were more interested in the historic and architectural aspects of the compound, but it was neat seeing different rooms that were used in the movie (our recollection of the scenes was somewhat fuzzy, but they had photos of the scenes to refresh our memory).  I won't go into a lot of detail about the tour, but here are a lot of pictures and captions to give you an idea!
**Spoiler alert**--I believe I remember seeing a sign that this is the room from the Shawshank Redemption where they filmed one of the end scenes, when the warden commits suicide.
Another movie shot.  **Spoiler alert**--This is from the room in the prison where they filmed the apartment that Brooks and later Morgan Freeman's character live after being released from prison.  This is the rafter where Brooks hangs himself.  This is such a cheerful Steven King movie.  Because that's what Steven King is known for.  His uplifting stories.  Riiiiiiight.

The chapel on the top floor of the prison building.  All prisoners (up to 1900 of them) would attend church here on Sunday as part of their rehabilitation.  This room used to have a balcony.
The rehabilitation didn't take with some prisoners--here is an attempted escape from the chapel.  There were confession booths along this wall that were not bolted down, and when the prisoners would do their mandated janitorial work in the chapel, they discovered that the booths could be moved.  They started to scrape away the plaster and brick to try to get to the outside to escape, but this is as far as they got before being found out.  Not sure what they were going to do once they got through the wall--they were six stories from the ground in the chapel!

A cell that looked as it did in 1950.  It was probably a 5' x 10' cell, so hopefully the prisoners learned to get along.  Either that, or get shivved, I suppose.

This is the longest open cell block in the U.S.  I wish I could remember how long they said it was!  Just trust me, it was long.

A dizzying look up to the ceiling from the bottom floor of the cell block wing. 

These cell blocks were built around 1910.  Interesting that they bricked them in and only left a barred window and the barred door for light.

We weren't sure why the door and window lintels were painted gold here.  Possibly a movie cell?  We didn't see any displays or explanation plaques.  It'll remain a mystery for the time being.

We really had an enjoyable day, and were worn out when we finally got home, but it was also refreshing.  It was great to see something new, and do something together with my best friend.  A much-needed day away!

The entrance of the building.  The warden and assistant warden quarters are what you see on the left and right, and are actually attached to the prison.  This part of the building is exactly symmetrical.  And absolutely gorgeous, if you ask me!

Monday, August 5

Pork Chops with Italian Gravy

I am not a huge fan of pork products.  Oh yes, I do like bacon, and I like pulled pork, but pork is not my meat of choice for many dinners, just because I don't have a lot of recipes for pork.  I had a few recipes from Pinterest that I thought I might try someday, and those recipes called for packets of Italian dressing mix.  I picked up a box of the store brand dressing mix a while back with the intention of making something pork-related someday using the dressing mix somehow, and yesterday was that day.  I had picked up a package of boneless pork chops on sale (you know, where they need to sell the package soon because the date on it is about to pass, so they mark it down with giant orange stickers--I have no shame, I'll get any marked-down package of meat and throw it in the freezer.  If you can find them, it's usually a good deal!), and decided to accept the pork challenge.

My recipe was based off of a Pinterest pin that's been floating around the boards for as long as I can remember.  It was originally a Crock Pot recipe, but I didn't see a reason that it couldn't be adapted to use in a pan.  Hence my creation, Pork Chops with Italian Gravy!


1 package of pork chops (can be boneless or bone-in)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 can cream of chicken soup (~10 oz.)
1 packet of Italian dressing mix
1 can water OR milk (using the can from the soup mix)
Salt, pepper, seasonings to taste

Heat the oil in a deep skillet, and add the pork chops.  Season the pork chops with salt and pepper (and other spices, if you want).  Brown them on each side.  In a separate bowl, while the pork chops are browning, mix the soup, Italian dressing mix, and water OR milk together.  Once the chops are brown, remove them and add the soup mixture to the pan.  Stir around and scrape up any bits on the bottom of the pan.  Place the pork chops back in the skillet, and bring the mixture to a simmer.  Allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the pork chops are completely cooked through.
We had these with some mashed potatoes and buttered peas.  It was really easy, too--dinner was ready in around 45 minutes from start to finish (and that included peeling and cutting up the potatoes!), and if you chose simple side dishes, you can have this ready in 30 minutes.  Hubs kept saying how much he loved the gravy.  If he raves, then I'm happy!