Keeping some Christmas balance with fruit and veggies

Okay, I admit it…if I have lots of Christmas goodies in the house, I do a lot of grazing. That’s why I try to give the goodies away as quickly as I make them. This year we’re also doing something a little different to stave off those dangerous munching impulses. We’re drinking a LOT of fresh juice.

champion juicer Several years ago, I found an old Champion juicer for sale (in a barn!) for only $15. I knew those juicers are built to last forever so I snapped it up. The Champion juicer is a true workhorse and we’ve been working it hard this month. My husband has been doing a ton of reading about the benefits of juicing and has learned some fascinating information. My main focus has just been on the fact that this month it is ALWAYS easier to grab a cookie or a piece of fudge than it is to grab an apple. Drinking freshly made fruit or vegetable juice makes that temptation easier to resist. It’s as simple as that.

I plan to write more about juicing after the New Year, but for now I’ll just mention that we’ve been juicing:

Veggies for juicing

  • kale
  • spinach
  • berries
  • pineapple
  • cilantro
  • apples
  • carrots
  • oranges
  • sweet potatoes (!!!)
  • cucumbers
  • onions
  • tomatoes
  • peppers
  • bananas
  • and a few others that I’m not thinking about right now

It’s really amazing how much a small glass of freshly made fruit and/or vegetable juice will take the edge off of compulsive holiday nibbling. I highly recommend it.

If you live in the NC High Country, I also want to recommend that you visit Allen at Veggies, Fruit, & More on the corner of State Farm and Hwy 105 Bypass (545 Highway 105 Extension, Boone, NC 28607). He has the BEST prices on produce in the  county and his stuff is FRESH. Allen also has beautiful fresh Christmas trees for $20 and a variety of very cool gift baskets. They have a Facebook page too, with updates on what specialty items they’re carrying each week. Check it out!

Most people don’t try to diet during the holidays; January is usually reserved for that! But it really does help to eat a more moderate, healthy diet DURING the holiday season when you’re sipping on homemade juice a couple times a day.


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Homemade Applesauce

This week I’m making applesauce…a LOT of applesauce. This batch, and probably most of the batches I make in the next three or four weeks are NOT going to get canned though. Applesauce is my secret snacking weapon! I’m always looking for healthy snacks  to appease the ravening hordes hungry guys in my house who go searching for calories in between meals.

Right now the apples in the grocery stores are plentiful and priced right. I buy several 5# bags of apples (Romes are my favorite for applesauce) each week and keep our fridge stocked with fresh, homemade sauce. Homemade applesauce is an easy, healthy, inexpensive snack.

Basket of apples

Homemade Applesauce

  • Wash apples
  • Quarter them and cut out the bad bits
  • Boil a whole bunch in a deep stock pot with an inch or two of  water until mushy. Don’t turn the burner on high because it’s possible to burn the apples.
  • To make the apple milling process easier, I usually give the cooked apples a brief whir through my food processor or I use my submersion blender to coarsely break the apples up. The cores and skins are still on the apples, so you’re not really trying to make this smooth. It just helps speed up the milling step.
  • Put the mush through the apple mill
apple mill
  • Add sugar as needed to the sauce
If you don’t have an apple mill, you can peel and core the apples before cooking them. After they’re cooked, you can process them the rest of the way in the blender, the food processor, or with the handheld immersion blender.
I store my homemade applesauce in a big 6-quart tub in the fridge. My guys always gobble it up within about a week, so I don’t worry about preservation beyond refrigeration for the week. In our house, this tub of applesauce is one of those snacks you can eat any time without checking with mom first.
Bowl of homemade applesauce
If you’re going to store the applesauce for longer than about a week, you should probably can it in quart jars.
If you want to can your applesauce sauce
  • Put the sauce back into a large stock pot and bring back up to boil
  • Sterilize lids and rings
  • Wash quart jars (the jars ended up getting sterilized also, but every cookbook I can find says that running them through the dishwasher is enough.)
  • Put sauce in jars
  • Water bath the jars for 23 minutes
Canned applesauce
I usually use Rome apples because right now I get the best price on those and often they turn the sauce a lovely pink. If you have access to other varieties, different apples will give you some delicious variations in flavor. Experiment with different types of apples to find your favorite combination.

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Ginger’s Oven-roasted Ratatouille

About three weeks ago, my friend Ginger started my Ratatouille journey with a gift of three beautiful eggplant and the suggestion that I check out her favorite recipe for EASY, homemade Ratatouille at Because I can never just leave a recipe alone, by the time I was done with my new version of Easy Ratatouille, it really was a whole new recipe: Ginger’s Oven-roasted Ratatouille. The one thing I didn’t change at all was how easy this was.

Ginger’s Oven-roasted Ratatouille

In a VERY large bowl, assemble the following vegetables:

  • 2 Eggplant, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • a total of four squash to include zucchini and/or yellow crookneck squash, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 4 small-medium red onions, cut into quarters
  • 4 bell peppers, to include red, green, and/or yellow, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 8 roma tomatoes, cut into eighths
  • a dozen whole, peeled garlic cloves
Toss to mix well.
In a separate bowl, whisk together:
  • 2/3 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. dijon mustard
  • 1/4 c. Balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 c. red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 c. coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 c. coarsely chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • 1/2 t. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 c. coarsely chopped fresh thyme
Oven Ratatouille before baking
Preheat oven to 400°. Pour marinade over the vegetables and toss thoroughly to coat everything. I divided the vegetables between two roaster pans because this makes a HUGE amount of Ratatouille.
Roast at 400° for 1 hour or until the veggies start turning golden brown. An amazing aroma should start filling your house about halfway through the roasting. Stir the veggies occasionally so that all the flavors get mixed together.
Oven Ratatouille after baking
Take the Ratatouille out of the oven and toss a liberal handful of fresh chopped parsley over the top.
Fresh Parsley garnishes oven-roasted ratatouille
I served this flavorful dish with venison roast and gravy. It was sooooo delicious.
Oven Ratatouille with venison roast and gravy
Best of all, because I made such a huge batch of ratatouille, I had lots of leftovers. I’ll be writing about some leftover ratatouille ideas in the next couple of days so be sure to check back!

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Catherine’s Ratatouille


I have a confession. I’ve never liked eggplant. Not even a little. Until I tasted this Ratatouille recipe from my dear friend, Catherine Evans. I’m a humble convert now. I LOVE Ratatouille! I even think that, gulp, I actually like eggplant!

Two fat eggplants

Here’s Catherine’s recipe.


  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 8-9 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 medium eggplant, peeled, cubed, and salted
  • 3 – 4 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cubed
  • 2 – 3 red and/or green peppers
  • 3 -4 ripe tomatoes, diced (or 1 large can of diced tomatoes)
  • 1/4 c. chopped parsley
  • 1 c. quartered mushrooms (optional)
  • 2 t. oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • mozzarella, optional

Start by placing the cubed eggplant in a colander and sprinkling it with about 2 t. salt. Set the colander aside while the salt pulls excess water out of the eggplant. After 30 minutes, rinse the eggplant briefly and pat it dry.

cubed eggplant

Heat the olive oil in a large deep skillet. Add the minced garlic and chopped onion. Cook until lightly brown. Add eggplant and cook until the eggplant starts to get soft.

sauteing eggplant

Remove the eggplant mixture to a bowl.

Add a little more oil to the pan if needed. Heat the pan and add zucchini. Stir and cook zucchini until it’s translucent.

The zucchini is sauted for the ratatouille

Add chopped tomatoes, parley, and oregano; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add eggplant mixture. Cook until almost all the juice has thickened.

(Catherine tells me that, when adding oregano, Italian cooks rub the leaves between their hands to release the oils and aroma of the oregano.)

Add tomatoes and parlsey to the sauteed zucchiniEggplant is added to ratatouille

simmering ratatouille with steam rising off it

Add salt and pepper to taste.

For a more substantial dish, mix in 1 ½ c. diced mozarella (1/2″ cubes). lace mixture in an ovenproof dish and heat at 350° until cheese is melted.

flavorful ratatouille

As I’ve been learning about Ratatouille, I’ve learned that there are about as many variations on this recipe as there are French grandmothers. I have a few more ratatouille recipes to try before I can decide which is my favorite…if I MUST decide!

Many thanks to Catherine for this first foray into the brand new world of eggplant!

By the way, last summer Laura had a similar revelation about eggplant and Ratatouille and wrote about it here. And yes, there does seem to be a family theme on the topic of eggplant!


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Fresh Blueberry Season

The first question is always, where can I go to pick blueberries? Then, where is the BEST place to pick blueberries? Later, how many blueberries should I pick?

And those questions lead to a whole slew of other questions, like What do I do with all these blueberries??? How do I use ALL THESE blueberries???? What can I make with all these blueberries? How do I store the blueberries? How do I make jam with the blueberries? And if you’re like me, that’s just the beginning of all the questions.

handful of blueberries

This post will take a stab at STARTING to answer some of these questions.

Where can I pick my own blueberries? Over the years I’ve found that the very best way to find the best u-pick places is to ask around. Word of mouth usually means a lot more in this business than a lot of advertising.

U-Pick Blueberries

Here is a link to a listing of u-pick farms in Appalachia.

Here is a link to a site called Pick Your Own. You can search for your state and your specific area for u-pick farms. This site also has some great recipes on it, so take a few minutes to poke around on it. You’ll be glad you did.

Where is the BEST place to pick blueberries? Like I just said, ask around. The topic of U-pick farms is often a subject that most people have clear opinions on. My personal favorite is in western Michigan off the Shelby Road: Andrews U-pick.

ripening blueberries

How many blueberries should I pick? Well, how many can you afford to pick? Picking blueberries is like picking summer. There is nothing quite like eating blueberries that I picked in August…in the middle of January! It really helps to have an idea what blueberries are selling for in your local grocery store. You don’t want to pay MORE than that to pick your own unless you’re going for the experience. For the last several years, I’ve paid $1.50/lb at Andrew’s U-pick.

bucket of blueberries

What do I do with all these blueberries? Other than eating and eating and eating….

You can freeze blueberries. This year, I should end up with about 100 pounds of blueberries in my freezer. Blueberries are such GOOD food, loaded with anti-oxidents and other good things.

You can make Blueberry Jam. I personally like to make blueberry jam with no added pectin. Here is another no-pectin recipe for berry jam.

Here are a couple of my favorite blueberry treats:

Blueberry Coffee Cake

Blueberry Sausage Breakfast Cake


Blueberry Crumble

Fresh Fruit Pie

and even

Salmon Wellington with White wine-balsamic vinegar-blueberry reduction

There’s really no end to the many ways you can use fresh or frozen blueberries. This is one food you want to stockpile, and because they freeze so well, you CAN stockpile.

Blueberries on the bush


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