STORY CITY - The Carlson household in the heart of Story City is a hub of activity.
Besides her full-time job as wife and mother, Laura Carlson volunteers with humane cat rescue, co-manages the Ames Victory Office, assists with church activities, homeschools her children, and, in her spare time, makes an array of baked goods that her friends call out-of-this-world delicious.
And this time of year, it's all about apples.
LAURA CARLSON, of Story City, makes quick-and-easy baked apples in a slow cooker. As a working mother, who also homeschools and volunteers, this cuts down on kitchen time and also gives the family a great hot dessert or fall snack.
"I have a recipe from my mother dating back over half a century on Swedish apple deserts," said Carlson.
Among the family and friend favorites are homemade apple butter, Swedish apple pie and baked apples.
"There's a quick and easy recipe for busy moms for baked apples that can be made in a (slow cooker), pressure cooker, or even microwave," she said.
As a homeschool ambassador for the state of Iowa, Carlson attends statewide, regional and community conventions and group meetings as an advocate, mentor and support person for home-based education.
"We came to the conclusion as a family years ago that our son, Ben, was not having his educational needs met through the public school system," said Carlson. "There were large classrooms with 33 students per one teacher. Ben is gifted and talented in math, literature and science, so we decided to homeschool."
As Carlson made baked apples in the kitchen, Ben, 16, was busy in the computer room with his online interactive science class taught by retired Air Force Lt. Col. Gene Doremus. Ben is studying astronomy and this spring, he is scheduled for a class on space science.
When not working at other endeavors, Laura Carlson has an extensive garden of onions, green beans, raspberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, rhubarb and red, white, and blue potatoes.
"Next year I plan to trellis pumpkins," she said.
Adjacent to Carlson's backyard patio is a Koi pond she built herself.
"I installed a small horse trough heater to keep the fountain functional year-round," Carlson said.
The backyard is home to chickadees, robins, blue jays and at least six pairs of cardinals, as well as squirrels and chipmunks.
"In the winter all of the birds can be seen playing in the warm Koi pond," she said.
Carlson dedicates many hours to humane animal rescue. Last year, she rescued 15 cats and kittens. So far, she has rescued nine this year, with most animals requiring extensive attention to get them nursed back to health and up to a suitable weight.
Along with live-trapping or capture, Carlson makes sure each animal is vet-checked, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, given a flea-tick treatment and then placed in an approved home.
She is an advocate for pet owner responsibility with keeping animals disease-free through routine vaccinations and neutered so they do not add to the over population.
Carlson said she is not compensated for any of her volunteer work, taking general expense or operational cost out of her own pocket.
Along with high school academics, Ben takes college-level classes through Des Moines Area Community College. He earned his Eagle Scout badge last spring, is on the Roland-Story High School golf team - with a best score of 42 - shovels snow and mows grass for an elderly neighbor and volunteers with his government class for the Republican campaign.
Working a minimum of 30 hours a week at the Ames Victory Office for Story County Republicans and U.S. Rep. Steve King's (R-Kiron) campaign, Carlson is active in encouraging voters to be educated.
"In Iowa, we have the wonderful opportunity to personally meet our candidates," said Carlson. "All the way from mayor to your future president, candidates come to Iowa to speak, answer questions, attend forums, and meet the people."
He said he's active in politics because being educated is the way to pick good leaders.
"If a person does not know who their leader is, what they stand for, issues concerning our immediate neighborhoods, communities, state, country and world, then how can they make an educated informed choice?" he said. "Iowa is a state that gives excellent opportunities to meet candidates, multiple times."
As for Laura Carlson, she said reading is among her favorite downtime activities.
"My favorite author is Virginia Rich who writes cooking mysteries," she said. "I recommend readers start with the first of the series, 'Cooking School Murders.'"
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/4 cup raisins, dried cranberries, dates or mixture of all three
Stir together in a bowl all of the above dry ingredients.
Cut tops and bottom off apples and core. Cut one apple into sections.
Spoon in the oat mixture into each cored apple.
Set stuffed apples in crock pot with a pat of butter and 1/4 cup water. Fill in empty places in the crock pot with apple slices, and sprinkle any left over dry mixture over top.
Slow cook 3 to 4 hours.
6 to 8 tart apples
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup water (or slightly less if apples are juicy)
1/2 cup butter or margarine, slightly softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup unsifted flour
Peel and core apples. Slice thinly into 9-inch pie plate. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon sugar and pour water over apples.
Cut slightly softened butter into 1 cup sugar and flour which have been mixed together. Shape dough with fingers into small round pieces the size of a quarter about 1/4-inch thick.
Place dough pieces on top of apples overlapping slightly. Continue until apples are entirely covered.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. The top should be golden with a few edges beginning to darken.
The Swedish pie may be served cold or warm with ice cream, whipped cream or plain.
Variation: Sprinkle pie with cinnamon and/or few drops of lemon juice before baking.
16 cups apple pulp (pieces)
8 cups sugar
1 cup vinegar
4 teaspoon cinnamon (or a bit more)
Simmer altogether for up to 2 hours. It will thicken. Pour hot apple butter into hot jars and seal.
Core and peel six apples. Cut into bite size pieces.
Place in baking dish sprayed with all natural virgin olive oil organic cooking spray. Add 1/4 cup of water.
In small mixing bowl, add together 1 cup Grape Nuts cereal (not flakes), a sprinkle of sesame seeds and flax, nutmeg and cinnamon.
Add 1/4 cup water.
Optional: add chopped almonds, pecans, walnuts, raisins, dried cranberries or any combination of these.
Sprinkle on top of the apples.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Note: By using a variety of apples such as Granny Smith, honeycrisp, red delicious, Fuji and others, the natural sweetness of the apples are enhanced. This dessert then does not need added sugar.