Friday’s Fare: Ham with Dumplings

Today’s recipe is taken from my upcoming book Plain & Simple Traditions: Amish & Mennonite Holidays. It is available for pre-order and will be released in December! The book contains stories, hymns, decorating tips, and (of course) recipes so that readers can also delight in having a plain and simple holiday, just like the Amish and Mennonites.

Ham with Dumplings


8 cups water

1 (2 ½ pounds) ham, cubed and fully-cooked

2 packages dried apples (12 ounces)

1/4 cup chopped green or regular onions

1/2 cup chopped celery

1 tsp. fresh parsley

1 tsp. fresh chives



3 cups biscuit baking mix

1 cup milk


In a large soup pot, combine the water, ham, dried apples, celery, onions and herbs. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer while preparing the dumplings.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the baking mix and milk just until moistened.

Uncover the soup pot and carefully drop the batter by heaping tablespoonfuls into the soup pot, making dumplings (8-12 depending on the preferred).

Simmer uncovered, for 10 minutes. Cover and simmer until the dumplings are doubled.




Wednesday’s Wanderer: An Interview with Kelly Irvin!

I am excited to have Kelly Irvin stopping by today to chat about her new book A Plain Love Song. Let’s all welcome Kelly to my blog!

About the book:

a plain love songAdah Knepp wants nothing more than to make music. It’s all she’s ever desired–to sing and play the guitar and write her own songs. That’s a dream that will never come true in the confines of her strict Amish community. But then she meets Jackson Hart, and all of a sudden she finds the chance for a different kind of life. A real stage, a real guitar, and a real opportunity to sing her songs to a real audience!

But pursuing her dreams means turning her back on her family and community–and saying goodbye to Matthew, the gentle Amish farmer she can’t get out of her mind. Is it worth giving up the only home she’s ever known to pursue her dreams?

What inspired you to create this character?

I love listening to music. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but I love singing. Adah’s character began as a what if.  What if I loved singing and making music and my faith demanded that I ignore or stifle that passion? What if I longed to play an instrument and perform, but my faith said I shouldn’t call attention to myself in this way? What is God asking me to give up? What am I willing to sacrifice? That conversation in my head began the journey to A Plain Love Song. The other part involves setting. When I decided to pitch a spin-off series for Bliss Creek Amish and move some of my Kansas families to Missouri, I thought a lot about what I could do with this new setting. At the time, Missouri had one of the fastest growing Amish populations in the country. I took a trip to the state and traveled around gathering details and getting color. My husband and I spent two days in Branson and took in a couple of shows. It seemed the antithesis of the Plain lifestyle. How would an Amish girl feel about all the glitz and glitter? How would she feel about performing her music on a stage in front of packed house? Would it deter her from her dream or spur her on? What effect would it have on her faith?

How much fun was Jackson to develop as a character?

I think I’m half in love with Jackson. I know my editor is. When I’m writing my Amish characters I’m very careful about being respectful of Amish beliefs and practices so it’s nice to cut loose with an English character sometimes. Jackson’s young and handsome. He’s a cowboy and a musician. He writes songs. He’s passionate.  He’s flawed, but aren’t we all? What’s not to love? Having two strong men vie for Adah’s love really adds tremendous tension to the story. It can go either way and it’s all up to Adah to choose. I’d love to revisit Jackson in the future. You never know . . . .

How does Adah’s faith help her on this journey in making decisions, the good and the bad? What should readers learn from Adah’s experiences?

It’s important to recognize that Adah has a bedrock of faith to fall back on. She has a family of faith. We must all cultivate those two things. When we have decisions to make, if we make it a habit to pray, if we make it a habit to be in worship, if we have friends who share our faith, we know we’re not alone. If we make bad decisions, our Christian friends will hold us accountable and help us rectify the situation. If we’re accustomed to talking to God, we’ll remember to do it in our time of need as well as in the good times. Without any spoilers, let me just say Adah has to discover the answers for herself. No one can walk in those shoes for her. I’d love to make my children’s mistakes for them, but I know I can’t. God must sometimes feel the same way about his children. He always forgives and takes us back. We’re blessed that way.

The danger of putting music on a pedestal as a danger to distracting people from worshipping God?

Music is an integral part of the worship service where I attend church. I feel so close to our Heavenly Father when I’m singing, hands lifted, the faith band’s music loud around me. It’s when we lose sight of the goal—to use the gifts and talents He gives us to glorify him and spread his message—that’s when there’s a danger. This can happen with any gift or talent. What if I decided to use my writing talents to spread a message detrimental to the Christian faith? What if becoming a famous writer and making lots of money (not going to happen!) and being recognized everywhere became more important to me than spreading the message of hope and encouragement through Jesus Christ. That’s the danger. It’s not in the music itself or the writing itself, it’s in what we do with our gifts. The world encourages us to stand out, be competitive, be the best, be celebrities. The Amish faith says no, be humble, don’t call attention to yourself, be obedient, to do otherwise is prideful. I respect and understand that, but I believe music is a powerful instrument for bringing us closer to God. It’s his gift to us.

My ah-ha moment?

My agent initially suggested I try writing an Amish romance. I was resistant at first. Then I began to read about the Amish and do research. Forgiveness has been a big issue in my life in the past. I don’t find it easy. I found myself convicted by the way the Amish forgive, as evidenced in the Nickel Mine schoolhouse shootings. I asked myself if I could forgive someone for taking the life of my innocent daughter. I’m not so sure even to this day that I could do it. At the same time I was reading about the clash of modern life with the slower paced Amish lifestyle, including the increased frequency of buggy/motor vehicle accidents in places like Lancaster County. These two issues came together in my mind and I started writing my first Amish romance, To Love and to Cherish. My agent started shopping it around and sold it to Harvest House before I finished writing it.

Updates on your next projects?

I’m currently working on the second book in the Amish of Bee County series with HarperCollins Publishing. The first book, The Beekeeper’s Son, will debut in January 2015. I’m very excited about this series because it is set in a tiny Amish district in south Texas, the only Amish settlement in the state. It’s very different from what you typically see in settlements up north, partly because the climate and weather are so different. The theme of the first book centers around the difference between the worldly view of beauty and what God sees as beautiful. I can’t wait for it to release and see how readers react to it.

KellyIrvinKelly Irvin is the author of the Bliss Creek Amish series and the New Hope Amish series, both from Harvest House Publishing. She is currently working on The Beekeeper’s Son, the first book in The Amish of Bee County series, for Zondervan. She has also penned two inspirational romantic suspense novels, A Deadly Wilderness and No Child of Mine.

The Kansas native is a graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism. She has been writing nonfiction professionally for thirty years, including ten years as a newspaper reporter, mostly in Texas-Mexico border towns. She has worked in public relations for the City of San Antonio for twenty years. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and serves as secretary of the local chapter, Alamo Christian Fiction Writers.

Kelly has been married to photographer Tim Irvin for twenty-six years. They have two young adult children, two cats, and a tank full of fish. In her spare time, she likes to write short stories and read books by her favorite authors.

Monday’s Musing: Deadlines

post it notesI love being a writer and, as many of you know, I have been writing just three years shy of forty years…

Now that I’m home, shuffling between resting, physical therapy, and doctors’ appointments, I have more time to do my two favorite things: read and write. With my new office that my husband built for me, I’m actually looking forward to the upcoming winter months. For the first time, I’m excited to be snowed in!

You see, writers have deadlines. Serious deadlines.

The world, however, doesn’t seem to realize that. When a manuscript is due at the publishers, that date is basically locked in stone.

It’s hard to please the world; I’d love to go out for morning coffee and discuss issues in the world or meet up with friends for lunch at a little cafe. In the evenings, I sometimes watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory with the kids (I love Sheldon), but there are nights when I have to say “Not tonight.”

Unfortunately, recently I have had to say no more often than yes, which always makes me feel awful.

Sacrifice. Success at achieving dreams is about sacrifice. Not a little sacrifice here and there. But A LOT of sacrifice. It includes discussions and commitment from the entire family; their lives are impacted, too. Missed vacations, social events, even family gatherings might suffer because of deadlines or other requirements. Besides, family needs to help each other. It’s never a one way street.

You can imagine that it can get really crazy.

This week is one of those weeks. I’ve locked myself in my library, put sticky notes on the door with my intended milestones and achieved milestones. I’m thankful that my husband tends to my children while I’m focusing on my deadline. Once the manuscript is finished and edited, I’ll happily send it to the publisher and want to dance down the driveway to celebrate my joy.

But, in the meantime, here I sit, a glorious sunbeam shining through my windows and a kitten curled up by my side. I have ten milestones to make for today, each one associated with a reward. Ironically, my reward for the second milestone was writing this blog.

I guess a true writer cannot escape from the passion of the written word.

Friday’s Fare: Meatballs

I love making fun announcements. Here is one of my super, secret surprises. Just in time for Christmas, I’m happy to announce my upcoming book, An Amish Christmas: Plain & Simple Traditions. Besides sharing some recipes for food that would grace an Amish family’s table over the holidays, this book will include some photos, traditions, hymns, and even stories from my own Mennonite family. And yes, you can look forward to more contributions from my mother, Eleanor Nice. Everyone seemed to enjoy her introduction to Pink Umbrellas: The 12 Days of Devotions (co-authored by Lisa Bull) that I have asked her to contribute another piece to this book.

This is one of the recipes from that book (and a favorite in my house):


1 lb. ground beef

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1⁄2 cup carrots, shredded

1⁄4 cup onion

2 eggs

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1 tsp. parsley

1/2 tsp. garlic salt

Salt and pepper


Combine all ingredients, mixing well. Shape into meatballs, and either fry in oil or bake in a 350° oven for 20-25 minutes until done. Drain. In some Amish homes, these might be served over mashed potatoes, rice, or pasta, with or without a sauce.

Wednesday’s Wanderer: Olivia Newport

coverIn 1737, the Beyeler family arrived in Philadelphia on the Charming Nancy and homesteaded among Amish families along Irish Creek in the original Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In 2011, I discovered this fact. And I discovered that Jakob Beyeler was my ancestor. My Amish ancestor, apparently.

I had already begun writing historical novels (a series set in Chicago in the 1890s). Now I was suddenly interested in Amish history—at least the history of my ancestors. I dug up everything I could find on Pioneer Jakob, as he is known in genealogy circles, imagined the rest, and wove it into a contemporary story set in southwestern Colorado, where the Amish have been settling in the last few years. That turned out to be the first of three books in the Valley of Choice series.

The more I learned, though, the more I was interested in Amish history. Many people think of the Amish as uniform in their lifestyle, which I discovered is not true. They also think of the Amish as static, stuck 300 years ago, which is also not true. I started wondering about points in Amish history when they faced decisions about what they believed, how to respond to mainstream culture, and what distinctives would define them.

That trail led me to my new series, Amish Turns of Time. The first book, Wonderful Lonesome, explores the breakdown of another Colorado settlement a hundred years ago. The nearest town was Limon, Colorado, with a bustling population of 500, most of whom were connected to the Union Pacific or the Rock Island, two railroads that intersected on the Colorado plain.

These days two highways cross in Limon, which is what takes me through there a time or two each year for the last eighteen years. Now, though, I know what used to be in those open acres. When I pass old decrepit buildings or the scattered remains of obsolete farm equipment, I imagine the Amish farms staking out their ground. I imagine the horses and the buggies and the houses of my characters. I turn my head and look across the plain at Pikes Peak rising in the distance, knowing that Abbie Weaver, in my story, would have seen that same view.

The title Wonderful Lonesome comes from a letter one of the historical settlers wrote home describing the lonely beauty of Colorado far away from a thriving church community. The known events that happened outside Limon, in a settlement struggling to take root, captured my imagination. I hope you will want to meet Abbie and Willem and Rudy and Ruthanna and Elam—and Jake Heatwole, a historical figure who knew the power of spiritual ache.

Olivia Newport
Olivia Newport is the author of Amish novels Accidentally Amish, In Plain View, and Taken for English. Wonderful Lonesome releases September 1, 2014. Find out more at