Visit the St Marks Wildlife Refuge

By Amy Bair / November 2, 2016

I would like to tell you about an amazing place in Northern Florida you have never heard of! St Marks Wildlife Refuge. Incredible! We just moved to this area at the beginning of September. Because I am trying to catch up on work, nesting in my new home, and hunting for decent, fresh produce I have not had much time to check out the area.

However, the aforementioned refuge has an annual Monarch Butterfly festival so we went. This area of the country is a migratory path for the butterflies. I have never SEEN SO MANY butterflies in one place in my life! In fact, due to this I am going to make a backyard certified wildlife habitat through the National Wildlife Federation!

Did you know the US Fish and Wildlife service has begun a Save the Monarch Butterfly campaign? They want us to buy and plant Milkweed for the Monarchs. These gorgeous animals are in big trouble because they have no place to lay their eggs. Additionally, food for the caterpillar has declined considerably. This is such an issue the FWS is concerned the Monarch could disappear in our lifetime. Milkweed is a favorite plant for them and it grows natively in our part of the state. I am going to do my part and plant milkweed on our property!

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One Pot Vegetarian Maple Baked Beans from Scratch

By Amy Bair / October 9, 2016
Vegetarian Maple Baked Beans

I have been experimenting a lot with making baked beans from scratch because we eat SO much of them. The sugar, sodium and preservative content in each can gives me that little feeling of guilt every time I pull out the can opener. It is also a costly habit! Soooo, I finally decided to put on my big girl pants and learn how to make them myself.

Now, we are a cast iron kind of family. In other words, we almost solely use cast iron for our cooking. I say almost because we do have a few sauce pans that are stainless steel. Even our bread pans are cast iron! My two favorite pots are my 3-quart Dutch oven and my 5-quart Dutch oven.

Lodge Dutch Oven Pans

For this recipe I used the 3-quart pot. Oh, I should also mention I use dried beans when cooking. My Dutch ovens make short work of my beans, the house smells amazing and I am only dirtying ONE pot!

Oh, did I mention the beans turned out fabulous? In fact, it did not occur to me to blog on them until after I had eaten. That is my excuse on why the pictures are mostly non-existent (and fuzzy)! Photographer I am not. I do though promise to update with photos the next time I make this.

Are we ready? Onward cooking soldiers!

Step 1. Baking dried beans

Preheat oven to 340F.


  • 1 c dried Navy Beans (you do not need to soak these overnight if you are using a cast iron Dutch oven)
  • 4 c water
  • 1 vegetarian bouillon cube (or substitute stock for the water)
  • 3-4 bay leaves


Put all ingredients in the Dutch oven and bake for approximately 5-6 hours. Check on the liquid periodically to confirm it has not all been soaked up by the beans. If the liquid is not visible, then add just enough water to barely cover the beans. Give it a stir and put back in the oven. This recipe will actually work for any kind of dried bean (except lentils which will overcook this way). I usually know the beans are finished because they begin to split or look mushy.

Example: If I am aiming for a 5-6pm dinner, I will put the beans in the oven at 10:00am. Around 3:30-4:00, I will pull them out of the oven and put on the stovetop for spicing.

Step 2. Making Maple Baked Beans

After pulling the baked beans out of the oven and putting on the stovetop to simmer, add the following ingredients to taste. In my humble opinion, baked beans are very much a personal preference kind of dish so start slow with adding your ingredients and taste often.


  • Cooked Navy Beans
  • ½ c onions or 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1-2 T molasses
  • 1-2 T pure maple syrup
  • 1-2 t dry mustard
  • 1-2 T apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4-1/2 t smoked paprika
  • 1 t fine grain sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste


If you are using a real onion, chop it up and cook in a little olive oil (1-2 tsp) for 3-5 minutes until it begins to look translucent. Add to the beans. If not, add the onion powder.

Now, add the minimum amount for all of the rest of the ingredients above tasting the sauce regularly as you go. If you feel like you need a little more of anything, then have at it!

Let it simmer on the stove with the lid on for 30-60 minutes (totally based on your time frame) stirring regularly. If you see the beans boiling, turn the heat down.

Do you have too much liquid? This is a constant problem for me. If so, after 30 minutes let your beans continue to simmer on the stove (without the lid and stir frequently) until it cooks down to where you are happy with it.

Vegetarian Maple Baked Beans

Fuzzy picture of amazing Baked Beans!

Additional thoughts

I was pleasantly surprised at how the apple cider vinegar enhanced the taste so don’t leave it out. Additionally, the smoked paprika added a wonderful extra dimension to the flavor. Be careful though as it can be overpowering. Add slowly and taste often.

I hope it turns out for you. Let me know if you have any questions or comments!

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