The weird, miscellaneous things we talk about at our house! My daughter and I were enjoying a coconut cookie, and I said to her that coconut would have to be in the top 5 items I’d miss if we could only consume food we grew ourselves or could source locally from farmers, no grocery stores. Then I had to ask myself what else would be on that list? Coffee was the first thing that was obvious to me, but was there anything else? So thinking hard, I came up with my top 5 things I wouldn’t want to live without, without it being shipped from some far off place. These are not things I could not survive without, as much as the things which I would miss the most. Minus salt, salt would be a real issue as preserving food would be a problem.

1. Coffee – I LOVE COFFEE!!! Now technically, I can grow coffee in my house during the winter months, and move outside during the summer, but it takes about 5 years for it to produce fruit, and I couldn’t grow enough to have a steady supply. But for those who want to know, I’m trying it anyway!
2. Coconut – I LOVE COCONUT!!!
3. Chocolate – I LOVE CHOCOLATE!!!
4. Cinnamon – I love all fall desserts – no cinnamon, no bueno. I could include nutmeg, cloves and allspice, but I think if I at least had cinnamon, I’d be okay.
5. Salt – While I’m not a heavy salt user, we need salt to survive and face it, salt-less food would be pretty bland. If I lived near an ocean, or in Utah, this wouldn’t be an issue, but there are no salt mines in Wisconsin, to my knowledge. It’s also necessary for preserving food.

Things I considered, but ruled out:

Baking Soda/Baking Powder/Yeast – There are other ways to add leavening to baked goods, such as fermented dairy, or beaten egg whites. For bread, sourdough starter is delicious and easy to make without anything but flour, water, and the yeast that is naturally occurring in the air, so although convenient, they are not strictly necessary.
Seafood – I have caught and eaten many a crayfish from local lakes that taste like a cross between shrimp and lobster.
Citrus – Unlike coffee, not only can we grow dwarf citrus in our homes, but they produce wonderfully. I had a Meyer lemon that would fruit like crazy. Also, there are herbs, such as lemon balm that can be used for lemon flavor.
Vanilla – It’s on the runner up list, because it’s used so much in baking, but I don’t know if it would make or break all baked goods, so I think I’d adjust to no vanilla.
Curry – I love a good curry, and in researching, realized I can grow all the spices that make up curry powder here! Again, indoors for winter, outdoors during the summer! One stipulation, I would already have to have some ginger root, and tumeric root (which would have to be shipped from somewhere else) in order to grow it, or know someone else who is already growing it locally. But once I have it, I’d never have to purchase it again.
Sugar – I already use honey to sweeten most things, and honey is available locally. In fact, I usually purchase 2 gallons of honey per year from a local bee keeper. Maple syrup is also a great sweetener, and maple trees are also readily available in Wisconsin.
Molasses – It turns out you can grow sorghum in Wisconsin to make your own molasses. Who knew??? I haven’t tried this… yet…

Bananas – I do love bananas, but first of all, it is possible to grow a fruiting banana indoors if you have a large enough space, but in the end, as much as I enjoy them, there are other foods I would miss more.

I’m lucky in that I’ve been an avid gardener my entire life. I already grow most of the produce I use, including a host of herbs, garlic, and peppers that I make spice blends, and tea blends with. Meat and dairy are all readily available locally and we have plenty of fresh fish in our many smaller lakes and rivers, not to mention Lake Michigan. We currently purchase our beef, chicken, turkey and pork from a butcher who gets it from local farmers. We raise our own chickens for eggs.

We also have skills. My daughter and I love history and cooking, and have combined the two. We have learned how to mill grain (we only mill our own flour now), roast coffee beans (I do this weekly for the freshest coffee), cook over an open fire, in a fireplace, and on a wood burning stove. Don’t get me wrong, we generally use modern appliances, but the ability to procure or grow everything you need won’t be helpful if you don’t know what to do with it.

We make our own pasta, bake our own bread, grind pork to make sausage, smoke our own meats, brine meats (we just made our own corned beef, none of that red gel stuff), make homemade ice cream, and make our own broth. We dehydrate, ferment, and preserve a host of produce. Right now my pantry is stocked with chicken broth, beef broth, spaghetti sauce, applesauce, apple butter, jams, sauerkraut, salsa, tomatoes, carrots and beans. I have fermented hot pepper sauce, pickles and pickled garlic scapes in my fridge. My freezer is chock full of zucchini, tomatoes, celery, green peppers, red peppers, and pesto, all from my garden. I also have onions, garlic, shallots, squash and potatoes in storage and shelves of dehydrated herbs, tomatoes, peppers, both regular and smoked (my dried smoked ancho chilis make a vastly more flavorful chili than using store bought chili powder), flowers (for tea), mushrooms, celery leaves, apple slices, and sweet potato slices (for dog treats) and home fermented apple cider vinegar. I’m fortunate that I live in a state that has a wide variety of herbs, grains, vegetables, nuts, and fruits that can be grown, so other than strictly tropical items, there isn’t much I can’t get.

And for the record, we all work outside the home and we don’t live on a farm. We live in the downtown area of a suburb of Milwaukee. We do have a very good sized yard, which is why we can have a few hens, and a large garden. Yes, we do use some store bought convenience items. My desire to make my own vs. just buying came about years ago because as soon as we fell in love with some seasoning mix, or product, it would get discontinued. I hated that my favorite recipes weren’t consistent because I could no longer get the same ingredients or products. More recently, I’ve become acutely aware of all the fillers, sugar, and undecipherable ingredients that can be in convenience products. The solution was to take it all the way back to the basics, and cook completely from scratch. The unplanned upside is that it has provided us a base, where the grocery store is only optional, if need be, or if I have an intense craving for coconut cookies!

So what are your top 5 food items you wouldn’t want to live without if you could not procure it locally?

Living in a Fairy Tale


Although this blog is intended to be related to my writing, in the end, everything that happens in my life is related to my writing.  That couldn’t be more true than this weekend. It was a fabulous weekend, almost like a fairy tale.

Summer is waning and there is the nip of autumn in the air. I love this time of year. Autumn is especially nice in the country. It draws up images of pumpkins and scare crows, hay bales and country barns framed in russet leaves.

I grew up in the city, and although my husband and I have spent all our child raising years in the suburbs, pretty far out in the suburbs, I wouldn’t say we lived in the country. This weekend, we got a real taste of country life.

On Friday, we went to an estate sale at a 171 year old house, which is unquestionably out in the country.  Where as I’ve had a variety of stores within a short distance of anywhere I’ve lived, this township has no store. The nearest one is in a neighboring town almost ten miles away along a winding country road.

Despite the previous chilly night, the sun came out and the day was warm. The estate sale was incredible. There were tents covering tables of smaller items, and a barn full of furniture. There were people everywhere. It almost seemed like a competition, people racing to tag something before anyone else did. The items for sale were of high quality, and priced to sell. We had to take two trips to bring home all our purchases, even though we drive an SUV.


Among our treasures is an 1800’s Chippendale highboy dresser, a wicker chair, a fireplace screen, an antique folk art table, a huge oriental rug, an antique handwoven wool rug and a 3 quart Le Crueset Gratin that was priced at only $5.00.  For those who don’t cook, or don’t know Le Crueset – trust me, that was the deal of a lifetime. For those of you who do understand –  take some slow, deep breaths –  and please don’t hate me.

Saturday morning, the sun returned, chasing away the morning chill. I started my day by hitting the local farmer’s market. There was everything from brightly colored vegetables, to fresh baked bread, to golden honey from local bees, and buckets overflowing with sunflowers. From there I went to a house just out of town from where I live. The woman who lives there raises chickens, and I was hoping for some fresh eggs for breakfast. Luckily she had just collected a dozen. You can’t get any fresher than that.

My husband and I were going to be having dinner at another couple’s home that night, and I still needed to make a dessert.  My “egg” lady also happens to have several apple trees. I asked her if she ever sells her apples. She said she just didn’t have the time to bag them and sell them. Then she said, if I  wanted some, I could pick as many as I’d like, no charge. She also pointed out which tree had the best apples and assured me that she didn’t use any pesticides, but I wouldn’t find any worms in her apples – she  sprays them with mineral oil. She also said that the apple tree I was picking from was called a Wolf River apple, and that the semi-dwarf variety isn’t available anymore, so if I wanted to, I could save some seeds and plant trees of my own. I took a grocery bag, and picked enough apples to fill it.

I made it home just as my family was waking up. I whipped together a breakfast of fluffy ham and cheese omelettes, bacon, toast with jam, coffee and orange juice. Then I went to work on my dessert. My egg (and now apple) lady was right, the apples were huge –  almost a pound each, and not a bug or worm in sight.




I threw together an apple crisp – nothing is easier than apple crisp. I didn’t even follow a recipe, but I can share my non-recipe with you.


Apple Crisp

4-5 lbs. of apples,peeled, cored, and  cut into chunks (this is a guess, I just filed the pan – the $5.00 Le Crueset one.)

juice of half a lemon

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla

Toss together and place in ungreased 9 x 13 pan or 3 quart casserole .

In another bowl mix together:

2 cups old fashioned oats

1 1/2  cup flour

1 1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

2 sticks butter, melted

Spread over the top of the apples.

Bake at 400 degrees (Fahrenheit) for one hour.

Serve warm with ice cream.




While my crisp was baking, my husband and I went back to the estate sale, this time joined by our best friends. By this time the family running the sale knew us. They shared the stories behind each item we picked out. They told us how the antique chamber pot I purchased was used by their grandmother, when she was a little girl, and how their mother hand painted the folk design in  a wooden bowl that will be displayed with honor in my home. To those items we added an antique candle stand, a lamp, two ladder back chairs, a federal style mirror, a Victorian boot jack, and a shabby chic metal menu board.

Before we left, our attention was drawn to the water’s edge where a man in a pumpkin boat was making his way down the river. I don’t mean a boat that looked like a pumpkin. He was sitting in a ginormous carved out pumpkin, with a trolling motor mounted on the back. He was also paddling. I can’t imagine a pumpkin is very easy to steer.  The bridge over the river was crowded with people, cheering the pumpkin captain along. Then, like something out of a movie,we heard the clip clop of horses hooves. Along came a carriage full of people, lead by two beautiful black horses.



It seemed like the tiny township was putting on a show, just for us.

We finally said goodbye to our friends, both old and new, and tore ourselves away. We had to get ready to go to dinner with our other friends.



Drinks on the patio, a delicious dinner of prime rib, and relaxed conversation made for a very enjoyable evening and a great end to the day. The dessert was a hit, and the crisp looked so pretty in my $5.00 Le Crueset pan. Yes, I’m gloating!




Sunday morning  was cold and rainy, but we didn’t let that dampen our weekend. I made a large batch of Tex Mex chili topped with sour cream, cheddar cheese, and onions. We drank apple cider, and made a second batch of that yummy apple crisp – and yes, I did save the seeds. I just might plant myself an apple tree or two. Maybe this “country” weekend is the start of something. I kind of like this country girl thing. I do believe that this fairy tale  isn’t over yet. It’s very much a case of –

to be continued…