Turning Lavender and Sweet Clover to Honey


Our honey is the first two on the left. Most likely the nectar for each of these honeys, from left to right, are: Sunflower, Canola, Yellow Sweet Clover and Lavender. It is easy to see the bits of honey comb floating in the first one because I did not filter it. The sunflower honey is a vibrant yellow color which does not really show very well in this photo. The second one from the left  is also unfiltered but does have wax that settles to the bottom. This clover honey is a very pale, creamy color that shows more color than it really has. It has a buttery, rich flavor and is very thick, almost resembling a whipped honey.


I just found out that our hill is the perfect place to make honey. Here, a honey bee is finding clover nectar that it will take back to the hives we just set out last week.
This bee is loving the idea of his own sunflower.
We have a sunflower field right next to the house and the bees are loving those too.
Each kind of honey has unique characteristics.  I am experimenting with producing lavender honey. A lavender seedling ready to be planted.


To find out what type of nectar the bees are bringing back to the hive, I have to follow the bees as they leave the hive to see where they are getting the nectar from. These are my Lavender fields in my dreams. All honey is a combination of nectar, but often the specific hives will gravitate to specific flowers.
We try to stay calm when we are around the bees. They don’t seem to mind sharing their honey with us.
Honey doesn’t have to be processed, I just let the honey drip out of the comb into a jar.
Simple elegance! Honey drizzled over blue cheese. This is our first jar of honey. So beautiful in its raw, unfiltered, unheated, unadulterated state.

A Taste of Italy

Andria is headed to Italy so be prepared for lots of great Italian food ideas. She arrived for work just in time for the Italian shut down. That means she has two weeks to travel across Europe. Above are a few photos she sent.

Love those mountains with the clouds hanging low. And that cobblestone street in Fabriano! Look at the Orzo with fresh basil and tomatoes. Andria said the tomatoes have amazing flavor.  And that last photo is Andria and Greg just a short while before they had to say goodbye. Carson is wondering what all the fuss is about? He is probably thinking:  “Greg already has a ticket to visit and I don’t. Why am I left out of this picture?”

I thought we  needed a little Italian pasta recipe to celebrate with her and to appease Carson.  The penne pasta  is flavored with shrimp, lemon and garlic….and don’t forget the Asiago cheese. I often reach for Asiago cheese  because of its tang and nutty flavor even though Andria’s Italian friends made sure to let her know that no self-respecting Italian would allow cheese to be served in a dish with fish.

Penne Pasta and Shrimp

The stores in Italy have so many more types of cheese than we do. Andria was really surprised at how many different varieties of fresh Mozzarella there were even in the small town grocery in Fabriano. She also gave me a mini lesson on Italian food lore: Pasta is never, ever called noodles and chicken does not belong on pizza. Orzo is Italian for barley which is what our orzo was originally made from. The photo with tomatoes and basil is whole grain barley with tuna.  So many new things, so little time!

Meanwhile, here in the states we are trying our best to replicate some of those great Italian favorites. Change up the veggies and seasonings in this recipe for pasta to fit the season and delete the cheese if you want to be authentic.


Shrimp and Pasta

3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound medium shrimp peeled
1 teaspoon shrimp or seafood base
2 cups chopped pea pods
3/4 pound penne pasta, cooked
2 tablespoons butter
1 small bunch chives, chopped
½ cup shredded Asiago cheese

In a bowl, combine the garlic, lemon zest and juice,  red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and the shrimp. Set aside to marinate. Microwave shrimp on high for 3 to 4 minutes or until shrimp is opaque, stirring halfway through. Stir in shrimp or seafood base, pea pods and ½ cup of reserved water from cooking pasta.  Microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes or until kale starts to wilt. Add cooked pasta, butter and chives. Garnish with cheese.

Hibiscus Tea

My sisters and I only have a chance to see each other about once a year, so it is always special. But, one of my favorite times was when Becky brought her hibiscus tea to share with us. Who would guess that brilliant red hibiscus leaves can be dried to make an amazing tea? IMG_1802Use petals that that are free of pollutants and other chemicals. In dry environments, lay the petals out on a piece of parchment paper or on a screen to dry. Allow several days for petals to fully dry before storing.  To make tea, put 1 tablespoons of dried hibiscus in a strainer or tea ball per cup of water.

SONY DSCThe rich, red liquid is full of flavor and makes a great cup of tea to share with a sister, friend  or even just to drink in a time of solitude.

SONY DSCDebbie had a beautiful china cup ready for serving. She keeps her table set up all the time so it was ready for a tea party. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

SONY DSCLook at that red steam of tea coming from the dried hibiscus leaves.


How to make the best Sushi Ever

Sushi is not so easy to find where I  live (since I am  miles from the nearest town, which has a population of less than 1200,  neither is milk or flour – unless I milk the goats myself or pick the wheat and mill it…which I have been known to do but that is for another post.). But we love living in the country. It is beautiful, peaceful and did I mention the deer who ate my garden….. he was beautiful. And now he is full!!  But back to sushi. As much as I love living in the country, it is not conducive to finding sushi, day old, week old… not even a year old sushi in these parts. So I just set out to figure out how to make the best sushi ever.

sushi chefs

I found wonderful sushi chefs who taught me the unique art of sushi making. Everything from the perfect rice seasoning to how to layer each roll.  They kindly brought a 60 lb sushi-grade ahi tuna to my food science class to show the students the wonderful flavor of the freshest ahi ever. Did I say I learned the perfect way to layer the ingredients?


OK, maybe my layering is not quite as good as his but it worked. The sushi chef carefully placed the vegetables and fish lengthwise on the rice and seaweed. If there is  too much filling, it can make it more difficult to form a perfect  roll.


The mat is wrapped with plastic wrap before spreading with rice. seaweed and fillings.


A sharp knife allows the sushi roll to be cut into perfect individual  slices.

Sushi Rice

1 cup short-grained sticky rice
1  cup water
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3  tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons mirin
1 kelp leaf, about 1-inch long


Sheets of nori
Pickled Ginger

Spicy Sauce:
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon siracha sauce

Rinse rice in a strainer and drain well. Combine vinegar,sugar, salt and mirin together in a bowl and mix well.  Wipe kelp leaf lightly and make slits in it to allow release of flavor.  Add rice, water and kelp to a microwave-safe 2-quart pot.  Place lid on pot. Microwave on high for 12 minutes. Let sit for 15 minutes with lid on.  Place dish on the counter to cool and lightly fan the rice while adding the vinegar mixture. Mix rice gently, careful not to break it. Sushi rice is best used at body temperature.

Spread rice over a plastic wrapped covered mat and top with a sheet of nori. Layer fillings and roll up with fillings in the center. Combine ingredients for Spicy Sauce.

Cut sushi rolls into slices with a sharp knife.   Serve with wasabi, spicy sauce and pickled ginger.

A Cake For Easter

Easter is such a joyful time.  It is a time of birth and renewal….in our hearts and on the farm. Baby lambs and budding flowers remind us of Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of our own. The centerpiece of our Easter celebration was church but the celebration was not complete without a special Easter meal. We always looked forward to Gram’s lamb cake.  Andria and I continue the tradition but each with our unique twist.


My kids always loved having a lamb cake at Easter so I keep pulling out the same mold every year. With coconut for its woolly coat and swirls of frosting all around, it looks heavenly.  I love the soft, innocent little face of little lambs.


SONY DSCStart with a 2-piece lamb mold. The piece with the steam hole is the top.  Generously grease and flour or spray with non-stick cooking spray so the cake comes out with all the features of the lamb in-tact.  Prepare a cake mix or a recipe for a white cake as directed. Pour about 4 cups of cake batter into the prepared mold, depending upon the size of the cake pan.


I take the back off immediately after the cake comes out of the oven. I wait until the cake is completely cool to remove the lamb from the pan. That way it is not as likely to fall apart. Give extra support to the neck area with your hand as you remove the cake because this is the most delicate part.


This is the back of the lamb. The facial features are in the front part of the 2-piece mold.  A simple butter cream frosting spread on the bottom of the cake will help the lamb sit on a cake platter and as it dries, it becomes more stable. Andria just sent me a photo of her rendition of the tradition continued.  Here is a cake that Andria made for an Easter celebration in Tennessee. Woooho, I think she beat her mom on this one.

andrias cakeAndria’s Easter Egg Cake was way more difficult and time consuming than my lamb cake. She made the cake from scratch, using America’s Test Kitchen recipe for coconut cake and real butter cream frosting. Andria, that is beautiful. I also love the graham cracker squares filled with frosting in the background. My mom always did that. What great memories that brings back? Love you lots. Mom



Sour Cream Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cream and Strawberries

Valentine’s Day is a great reason to pull out a recipe for a spectacular dessert. This one has it all: chocolate, whipped cream and strawberries. The bonus is that it goes together in minutes once the cake is baked.

On the farm, cream fresh from the barn was always available to bake with. I can still see my mom using an old-fashioned separator which sat out on our back porch.  The cream was thick and rich and had a wonderful flavor. My mom would turn the cream into scalloped potatoes, creamed peas or on special occasions,  whipped cream for desserts or ice cream. When the cream was not used fast enough, wild yeasts would culture it naturally to make sour cream which made the best sour cream chocolate cakes.





The cream rises to the top of fresh milk from the farm. Skim just the top cream off to make whipped cream. Sour cream can be made from a mixture of the top cream and the lighter cream. For a low-fat sour cream-type product, allow the milk (with cream removed) to culture).

Dairy products will culture naturally from wild yeasts in the air in a day on the counter or in about 1 1/2 weeks in the refrigerator. You can also add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to fresh milk or cream. It only needs to sit for a few minutes before it is ready to add to the batter.  Commercial sour cream is a different type of product than naturally soured cream and can not be substituted.  Commercial buttermilk found in the dairy case at the grocery store would be a good substitution.  It is also cultured and the acid from the cultured products react with the chocolate during baking to create an exceptionally delicious chocolate cake.SONY DSC


Layers of decadent chocolate cake, fresh strawberries and real whipped cream makes this a cake that all the trappings expected of a Valentine Dessert.  It goes together easy because whipped cream makes up both the filling between the layers and the frosting.

SONY DSCStrawberry between the layers (especially when they are sliced) means the cake is best served the same day it is served.  To make the cake ahead, omit the strawberries from the cake layers and just layer a butter cream frosting between the layers. My favorite type of filling and frosting is whipped cream. On the farm, we never had to worry about the cake being highly perishable. With 9 in our family, we rarely knew what leftovers were.


I like the open layers showing the fruit, with an obvious “made with love” look.  The photo below looks beautiful but the I think the cake above says “I love you” in all the luscious layers and imperfections.


Professional cakes often have the sides covered with pipped frosting. Whipped cream spooned into a decorators bag can be piped onto the sides of the cake. For this technique, the whipped cream needs to be slightly stiffer than usual. Just beat the cream about 30 seconds longer (and add a bit of softened, unflavored gelatin) and it will hold its shape when pipped. Take care not to over-beat the cream or it will curdle.

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake With Whipped Cream Filling and Frosting

2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups whole milk or cream soured naturally or with 1 tsp lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups  sugar
2 large eggs


1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sliced strawberries

Sift dry ingredients together and set aside. Beat butter,vanilla and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time.  Alternately, beat in dry ingredients and cream. Beating well after each addition. Pour batter into two 9-inch round baking pans that have been sprayed with non-stick spray with flour (or grease and flour pans). Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes and turn out of cake pans to finish cooling.

In a bowl with an electric mixer beat cream until light and fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla and beat just a second longer to combine.

Assemble cake:
Arrange 1 cake layer on a large cake plate and carefully slice it in half. Set the top half aside. Spread the first cake layer with about 3/4 cup whipped cream. Top cream with strawberry slices and then repeat with remaining cake layers and whipped cream, garnishing the top with additional strawberries.


Superbowl Food Everyone Can Get Into

This focaccia bread is so good, Carson had to make sure he got every last crumb from the counter.  No, he was not food deprived and yes, his mom does feed him…it’s just that good and he didn’t want to miss a bit. It a recipe Superbowl fans will get into also. A superbowl party is a fun excuse to pull out my family’s all-time favorite recipes.  Many  are from Dave’s mom who would serve a wonderful appetizer buffet every January.  Her recipe box is full of great ones like artichoke dip and spinach-cheese squares.  She was the inspiration for our tradition of appetizers for Superbowl Sunday. My spread has evolved to include focaccia bread.

This focaccia recipe is really one I designed long before I knew what focaccia bread was. I would make huge pans of it for the football team, wresting team, track team and any other occasion when my kids friends would magically appear whenever they heard there would be food at the Nyenhuis house. The first I remember serving it for a group was when my daughter Ashley had her 8th grade volleyball team over for a post-season celebration of pasta and bread.  I used my favorite bread dough and spread it out in pans. Rubbed it with garlic, butter and a hard cheese like Asiago, slipped the trays in the oven for 15 minutes and cut it into squares. The team loved it and it became a signature bread in our family.


Ashley is stretching the dough with a gentle hand.  The dough has great aeration from the first rising period. A rolling pin used to flatten out the dough removes too much air. For a light, airy bread we use the Italian method of handling the dough with our bare hands.  Gently turning the dough over on itself after it comes out of the  food processor helps aerate the dough, replacing the air that the yeast consumes during fermentation and it stretches and redistributes the air bubbles.


Gently stretching the dough to fit a baking pan after the first rising makes shaping the Focaccia Bread easy.


A special cheese I got at the Gibbsville Cheese Store is Sap Sago. It is a delicious hard cheese that comes in a container that is designed to turn upside down and grate. Other cheeses like Asiago or Parmigiana-Romano  can be used also.

SONY DSCAshley is using parchment paper to line the baking pan.  It makes clean-up a snap but a preheated baking stone or an greased cookie sheet would work too. Insulated baking pans prevent the bottom of the bread dough from browning and crisping so choose a plain baking pan instead.

Focaccia Bread

2 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon dry yeast
3 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, optional
1/4 cup grated hard cheese
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 sprigs fresh rosemary leaves

Combine yeast in 2 tablespoons warm water to proof yeast.  Combine flour, salt, sugar, water and proofed yeast  in a food processor. Add yeast and salt. Process for 90 seconds or until well mixed. Remove dough and fold over on itself several times. Place in a greased bowl, turning greased side up. Cover with a wet towel or plastic wrap and allow to stand until double, about 1 1/2 hours.  Spread half of olive oil over a 11 x 14 baking pan.  With hands stretch dough to fit a greased baking pan.  Spread with remaining olive oil and minced garlic. Top with cheese, salt and rosemary leaves. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Gibbsville Cheese Crostini

It was late. We were all tired. But as we walked through the cheese show room, Mallory could not help but adjust the cheeses as she went by, making sure they were all faced just so.  It came from habit, she said.  After all, making cheese has been a part of the Van Tatenhove family way before she was born. When her Great Grandparents started making cheese, they would preserve their own special cheese culture in  mason jars that they had to keep at the perfect temperature.  It was an arduous process, but one that allowed them to build their cheese business  to one of the best known cheeses around.

Photos of the cheese factory in 1933 through today. I think in those early years the cheese culture was “wild” meaning it was not prepackaged. It was probably handed down from one cheese maker to another.  If I remember the story right, Mallory’s Grandmother said they would have several mason jars of the cheese culture sitting on the counter. Every time they used some they would make more of the culture so they would have enough for the next batch of cheese.


Pictured here are some of my favorite Gibbsville cheese products. The culture for these products today are purchased to assure the same quality every time and the equipment is state of the art, but it is still the Van Tatenhove family who devote their time and talents to making a cheese with a smooth, complex flavor that has made Gibbsville Cheese famous.

cheese vatThe whey and curds are starting to separate in this vat. Cheese cultures provide different flavors, textures, and forms by coagulation of the milk protein casein. The cheese from Gibbsville is made from milk delivered by neighboring dairy farmers. I love the idea of the surrounding farmers bringing their fresh milk to the Van Tatenhoves to make incredibly delicious cheese. In other parts of the country that might be called a “Boutique”, or “Artisianal” cheese but for Gibbsville cheese, that’s just the way they have always made it.

Thats a lot a cheese curds.!!

Here come the curds!!! You can get fresh cheese curds every  Tuesday after 2 pm. I will personally guarantee that the cheese curds will squeak. Believe me I tried them last summer when I was there. I even tasted cheese curds before they got the final salt added. Very interesting!!!  I forgot to ask  how long before cheese curds loose their “squeak”. Guess that means I will just have to show up on a Tuesday and test it out myself.

boxed cheese curds

Or if you can’t make it to the shop,  mail order a variety of cheese by calling Gibbsville Cheese at 920-564-3242 and online at gibbsvillecheese.com.


Here is Mallory with Coulter and nephew Carson.  Coulter’s smile says it all. I never see that big of a smile from him except when he is around Mallory. We have an unwritten rule that Coulter has to bring Mallory wherever he goes….OK so the Marines do not listen to our rules but anyway we think he is so much better because of her.

But back to cheese. Mallory’s grandparents told me that when they started in the cheese business the whole family was involved. It is still that way today, their family making cheese for your family.

Gibbsville Cheese Crostini

4 ozs. Gibbsville Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
1/4 cup crumbled bacon
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1 small baguette, thinly sliced and each slice rubbed with fresh garlic

Combine cheese, bacon, mayonnaise, sun dried tomatoes and almonds in a small mixing bowl. Spoon a tablespoon on each slice of bread that has been rubbed with garlic. Place slices on a baking tray and place about 3 inches under the broiler. Broil for 1 to 2 minutes or until lightly browned.

Cracked Pink Peppercorn and Sage Crackers

Peppercorns come in all colors and I just happen to have some pink ones. Their flavor blends perfect with my not so perfect sage that has been waiting to go into some spectacular creation. Pink Peppercorns and sage saved from my garden. Someone asked me yesterday how I come up with recipe ideas. Well the truth is, I just take all my favorite foods and combine them…..OK, maybe a little consideration for flavors and the science of the ingredients but basically I think of what I love or what I think my readers, friends or family will love. When I was at the Gibbsville Cheese showroom, Mallory’s mom gave me a container of an Aged Asiago  cheese spread by Pine River that she said is one of her favorites.  It is one of my favorites now too. So good in fact,  that it is worthy of a homemade cracker to make it shine just a little more. The combination of the pink peppercorns, sage and the aged Asiago is so good. The cheese can be mail ordered from Gibbsville Cheese at 920-564-3242 and online at gibbsvillecheese.com. What does cracker pastry dough and bone china have in common?  They both have a translucent quality and when bone china is held up to the light you can see your hand through it.  Light, crisp crackers start with dough that when held up to the light, shows that same transparency. Below is a photo of the grains and other ingredients ready to be mixed in the food processor. The second photo shows a strip of dough in front of a window to show how thin the dough should be rolled. (Yes that is snow in the background, we have snow about 10 months of the year and the other months just  flakes, not enough to call real ‘snow’.)

The maillard reaction is responsible for the browning that takes place while the crackers bake. The browning reaction between the amino acids  and reducing sugars in the grains give the crackers a deep, earthy flavor. Research has shown that breads with dark brown crusts gain a wonderful flavor even deep in the center of the loaf. Each cracker gains more flavor as they brown. SONY DSCThe crackers on the left were baked just a few minutes longer than the crackers on the right but have a stronger wheat flavor and a strong toasted texture. SONY DSC These crackers are best when served the day they are made or within a few days.

Cracked Pink Peppercorn and Sage Crackers
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup ground flax
2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cracked pink peppercorns
1/4 cup butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup water Sage leaves
2 tablespoons flax seeds
1 teaspoon sea salt

Combine flour, ground flax, sugar, baking powder, salt, pepper and butter in food processor. Mix 10 seconds or until mixture resembles coarse meal. With unit running, add water. Mix until dry ingredients are moistened. Form into a ball.  Roll out on parchment paper and cut into desired shapes. Top with sage, flax seeds and additional salt. Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 6 minutes or until lightly browned. Can be stored up to 1 week in a tightly covered container. Cracked Black Peppercorn and Sage crackers are great served with Asiago Cheese Spread that I got at Gibbsville cheese. Order online at gibbsvillecheese.com

Christmas Gingerbread Country Church

SONY DSCGingerbread houses can be as simple as a few graham crackers propped up with frosting and candy or as elaborate as little church with stained glass windows.  Our family tradition of making a gingerbread house gets bigger and bigger with every new family member.  Many years when the kids were young, they were more mess than beauty.


Start with a gingerbread dough


and a pattern.


Cutting out the pieces from gingerbread dough. We cut out the pieces and left them on the parchment paper to bake. SONY DSC

This year we had 2 mechanical engineers, a civil engineer, a food scientist, a senior actuarial analyst,  and an 18 month old working on this project.


The structural components were designed by the civil engineer,  and one mechanical engineer was the consultant (who did lots of consulting with very little pay…. a gum drop or two).


Andria our mechanical engineer came up with the plan to cover ice cream cones with frosting to make trees.

A little hockey player on the pond.

A gingerbread hockey player on the pond. We made the pond by microwaving sugar and water until it makes a hard candy. At the last minute we added food coloring.


We also used hard candy with food coloring to make stained glass windows for the church.


Some of these details required multiple talents. Royal icing in a plastic bag with the corner cut off or a cake decorating bag is used to add special touches.


In the end, it was our replica of the church Ashley was married in. It was a weathered little church on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Gingerbread House Dough

9 cups flour
2 cups corn syrup
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 1/4 cup margarine

Put flour in mixing bowl. Heat corn syrup, brown sugar and margarine in microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes or until heated through. Add to flour and mix until it forms a ball. Roll out 1/4-inch thick and cut to make walls, roof, sides and other desired pieces.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool and dry before putting house together with frosting or hot glue.

Royal Icing

3 egg whites
1 pound powdered sugar

Beat egg whites until foamy, add powdered sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks, about 5 to 6 minutes.  Keep covered until ready to use. Frosting will firm up quickly.

Hard Candy

1/3 cup water
1/3 cup corn syrup
2 cups sugar
Food coloring

Butter a large piece of foil.

Combine water, corn syrup and sugar in a 2-quart measure. Microwave on high for 5 to 6 minutes or until mixture reaches hard crack stage (300 degrees) stirring several times. Use a candy thermometer or drop a spoonful into ice water. If syrup makes a cracking sound and forms a brittle string, it has reached 300 degrees. The microwave cooking time is approximate, cook syrup to hard crack stage, stirring several times.

Quickly stir in food coloring and pour out onto buttered foil.  Allow to cool just a few minutes and score to desired window size. When completely cool, break candy along scored lines. An alternate method is to make a foil mold of the desired shape and size. Butter foil mold. Make sure mold has secured foil sides so hot syrup can not spill out. Pour hot syrup into the foil mold and allow to cool completely.