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Erin SheehanI recently borrowed my mother-in-law’s Household Hand Book: Containing reliable hints and suggestions for the household, by Lily Haxworth Wallace. It was published by the makers of Runford Baking Powder in 1915. As you can imagine, many gems lie inside that worn cover.

I’ve never been more grateful for that clothes washer sitting down in the basement than after reading the section, “Laundry Work.” Removing stains in 1915 was serious business. The book recommends removing paint stains by scrubbing them with turpentine, benzene or chloroform. Blood stains get treated with kerosene. No thanks!

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In another recommendation Ms. Wallace recommends that her readers soak all clothing and linens overnight before washing day. She also offers a recipe for “soap jelly,” to be used on delicate fabrics. The reason for the jelly is that delicate fabrics can’t survive having soap rubbed directly on them. Because doing laundry involved manually rubbing soap directly on clothing that apparently were soaking overnight in large metal tubs! It makes my hands feel dry and cracked just thinking about it.


The book goes on to offer instructions regarding the “Division of Labor” in the household, providing a to-do list for each day of the week. Monday is for needlework. Tuesday is wash day and starts with “boiling the clothes.” Getting up early on Tuesday is also recommended, in preparation for the long, hard day ahead. Wednesday is for ironing (does anyone iron anymore?) and Thursday afternoon “must be left free, being the usual ‘afternoon out.’” I had no idea that people went calling on Thursday afternoon but I guess they must have. Needless to say, Sunday was the only real rest day, and not much of one at that, as the woman would have had to still come up with a big Sunday dinner.

Reading books like this reminds us of how hard our grandparents and great-grandparents worked. Especially the women. So next time you’re feeling particularly nostalgic for the “old days,” throw in a load of laundry! You’ll feel a lot better about living in 2014.


Erin SheehanQuince has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years. Some Biblical historians even suspect that Eve’s fruit of temptation might have been a quince rather than an apple.

In the United States, quince was found in home gardens throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, but apples were more common, probably due to quince’s rather tart flavor. Quince has now faded in popularity to the point that many people probably don’t even know what one looks like anymore.

Quince is high in natural pectin and makes fantastic jelly. It has a delicious, sweet smell, reminiscent of honey. A couple of quinces can also liven up the taste of apple pie.

Look for quinces in ethnic grocery stores or, if you are lucky, in your own yard. Our backyard (ornamental) quince tree produced a few (very small) quinces this year, which I harvested just ahead of the squirrels. I added them to a favorite apple pie recipe to come up with this for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner:





Apple Quince Pie

1 (10-inch) pie shell
6  1/2 cups thinly sliced, peeled, cored apples
1/2 cup sliced, peeled, cored quinces
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons white flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup white flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 400 F.

In large bowl, cover apples and quince with remaining pie ingredients and toss until fruit is evenly coated.

Spoon mixture into prepared pie shell.

In small bowl, mix topping ingredients until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle mixture over apple filling. Cover top loosely with aluminum foil.

Bake for 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool on a rack before trying to cut.


Erin SheehanWith the holidays right around the bend it seems like the drumbeat of commercialism is hard to escape. It’s not even Thanksgiving but the bombardment of messages to buy, buy, buy seem to have already ratcheted up. If you’re like me, it’s hard not to fall into the trap of thinking that happiness lies in acquiring more things and remembering happy moments from Christmas past, opening presents by the tree.

Inevitably, as December approaches, I start thinking about what I think I need or want to buy.

holidayThis week I’ve been eyeing an electric pressure cooker that doubles as a slow cooker and a rice cooker. Of course I already have a perfectly good stainless steel pressure cooker (a long-ago Christmas gift) and a serviceable slow cooker that I inherited from my mother-in-law. So why am I eyeing an electric pressure cooker? I don’t even really know, other than I think I want to have one!

I can’t help but to think of Henry David Thoreau in Walden, “My greatest skill in life has been to want but little.” It deserves emphasis that one of the greatest American philosophers and writers says that his greatest skill is to keep his wants to a minimum.

Thoreau's assertion was backed up recently by researchers at University College London, who determined that our happiness doesn’t depend on how things are going, but rather if things are going better than expected. The study’s authors concluded that lower expectations have a positive impact on happiness. Lower expectations, wanting less ... I think they are related.


Jim and Ali

I went to a marketing seminar for my job today. The presenter informed us that “Everyone has a ‘smartphone’ nowadays. Everyone you want to reach with your marketing, anyway.” Neither my husband nor I have a “smartphone,” so I felt a little put out at the presenter’s assertion. It reminded me that the way we live isn’t considered normal.

Again, I turn to Thoreau in Walden, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.” I guess that’s us. Me, and perhaps you, reader. We have a community of people here whom I believe have chosen a different path. Turning away from consumption for consumption’s sake. Maybe we don’t have a “smartphone.” Or an electric pressure cooker. But good company and a home-cooked meal warms my heart at the holidays a lot more than packages under the Christmas tree. I hope you feel the same way.


We avoid processed cereal at our house, relying on simple, healthy, home-cooked food instead. That makes a quick breakfast difficult. We like oatmeal a lot. I wanted to try something new and came across steel cut oats. I tried cooking steel cut oats on the stove, but it always took too long and they came out too chewy for my taste. I also found it too fussy to have to constantly stir the pot it so the oats wouldn't stick.

oatsWhen I discovered that steel cut oats can be made in the crock pot I realized I'd found my new favorite breakfast food!

Steel cut oats are good for you because they won't make your blood sugar rise quickly, it's a slow release. And they taste great! There are many ways to vary the recipe so it stays new to you. You could change the seeds and nuts and experiment with different fruits.

I make this recipe once a week and refrigerate leftovers. I heat up what I want each day. It's possible to make it overnight but I prefer to do it while I'm there to stir and check on the level of dryness.

Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal

1 1/2 cups steel cut oats
4 tablespoons raw pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
8 cups almond milk (or soy or coconut milk)
4 tablespoons roasted, salted sunflower seeds
2 teaspoons vanilla (can be omitted if using vanilla almond or soy milk)
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup wheat bran
Add-ins: 2 finely chopped apples OR 3/4 cup pumpkin OR 1/2 cup orange juice

Add all ingredients to slow cooker. Stir.





oatmealSet slow cooker to high. Cook for 2 hours, stirring every 30 to 45 minutes or so. Reduce heat to low and cook another two hours, continuing to stir occasionally. If it starts to look too dry add in a little water and stir well.

Turn off cooker and allow to cool. Serve hot.

If you make this recipe overnight, just set the cooker on low for 6 hours. I use a timer to turn it off during the night when I cook it overnight. You don't want to go over 6 hours, even on low, because it will dry out.

I hope you enjoy this healthy breakfast recipe!


Erin SheehanWe grow a lot of pumpkin and winter squash. I like to make pumpkin soup, bread, waffles, cookies, you name it. Pumpkin makes everything better, right? This is a Sweet Meat pumpkin from our garden.



Until recently I processed my pumpkins in the oven by cutting them open and baking them. But I find that method dries the flesh too much for my taste. Instead I use my pressure cooker. It takes a bit longer because I can only do half or even less of one at a time, but I fit it in while I’m doing other things in the kitchen.

From November through January, I’ll process one or two pumpkins a week and use them as I go along. Here’s how I do it in the pressure cooker.


Cut up pumpkin or squash into pieces a few inches long and wide. Remove seeds. Put a stainless steel vegetable steamer into your pressure cooker. Put enough water into the pressure cooker to just barely touch the bottom of the steamer. Fill up the pressure cooker with your cut pumpkin.


Bring cooker up to pressure and let cook for 10 minutes. When I’m doing a really thick squash like Sweet Meat, which can be a couple of inches thick, I up it to 11 or 12 minutes. Once cooked, turn off heat and allow pressure to drop.

Carefully remove the steamer and your pumpkin.


Once it has cooled, the flesh will scrape right out easily. Notice how moist and soft it is!


Much better than baking. Enjoy!


Erin SheehanWe grew kale this year for the first time. We didn’t know how much to plant and went a bit too far, I’m afraid. We ended up with a lot of excess kale. We also found out that we don’t really like kale that much! In an attempt to make it palatable, I started experimenting with kale chips. After a bit of trial and error I landed on the recipe below. They taste great and are a reasonable substitute for potato chips or pretzels.

Kale is easy to grow, you pretty much put seeds in the ground, water, and let it go.


If you are tired of spending $4.29 for 2 ounces of kale chips (the actual price at our local Shoprite!), save some room in next year’s garden for kale and give these a try.

Easy Kale Chips

Large bunch of kale (I fill a plastic grocery bag)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Wash kale, remove stems and put in a large bowl. Add cider vinegar and olive oil and massage both into the kale. Wait 15 minutes.

Spread the kale out on cookie sheets. You want it to be more or less in a single layer. I use three cookie sheets for one grocery bag full of kale, to give you some idea. Salt your wet kale to taste.


Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, turning with a spatula at least every 10 or so minutes. Adjust the baking time to your preference, based on if you like the chips crunchier or a little wetter.




Erin SheehanAnyone who tends a garden knows well Ecclesiastes 3:1, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” As gardeners we arrange our lives around the seasons and each season has a different purpose. In the spring we get everything started.



In the summer and fall, we reap the harvest. From March through August we have “firsts.” First seeds planted, first seedling popping up, first plants in the ground, first lettuce, first peas, first zucchini, first tomato ... A time to plant, a time to be born.



Now that November is nearly on us we’re having a series of “lasts.” We had our last tomato on Friday. Yesterday, our last zucchini. This weekend we’ll have our last lettuce. In a few weeks we’ll pull up what remains in the garden: broccoli, kale, Swiss chard. The ground will be barren all winter. A time to uproot, a time to die.

Two weeks ago, we attended the wedding of our nephew and his beautiful bride. A time to embrace, a time to laugh.


On Tuesday we will attend the funeral of a friend who, at 29, died too young. A time to weep, a time to heal.

I struggled to write a blog entry this week, mourning our dear friend. But I found myself remembering hearing Roger McGuinn from The Byrds sing “Turn Turn Turn” at Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday concert. The lyrics mirror Ecclesiastes 3:1 almost verbatim. It was a hopeful celebration as tens of thousands of us sang together, “To everything – turn, turn, turn; there is a season – turn, turn, turn; and a time to every purpose under heaven.” A time to be silent and a time to speak. And a time to write.

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