There Will Be Growth In The Spring!!

Overgrown Garden
This Saturday I stuck my head out the back door into what has become a unchecked cacophony of free growth. Imagine that, Free Growth in my back yard. It is like the hippies are back  . . .  and they are growing things . . . I am not sure if I should call my Democrat or Republican representative.  I mean there must be a law against free growth!! We just can not have things growing willy-nilly anywhere they decide to put down roots.  Why, that is just un-natural!!

What? You say it is natural?  Well I do not like it!  I do not like it because . . . well . . .  it is just messy, that is why! All the mess and silliness aside, it was good to be back in my garden.  It always makes me feel like I have control over something (Ha!).  The best part of it all is that I got to see one of my favorite actors again, in a fantastic movie, all in preparation for this year’s planting season. (So I tell myself.)

Now mark my words, I have it from a very reliable source that there will be Growth in the Spring. This clip is one of my all time favorite scenes with Peter Sellers in the film Being There. Heck I believe him every time I watch it. It is the one thing that gets me off of my duff each winter. This time especially, he has given me real inspiration with his refreshing and optimistic statements.  So much inspiration that I attacked my back yard madness with brute force and began beating back the madness.

CrabgrassThe back half of my yard has always been covered with grass.  For the first few years of living here I diligently watered, fertilized, weeded and mowed my little portion suburbia.  It was lush, it was green and it soon became the place where the dogs went first thing in the morning.  After learning that lawn fertilizer might cause cancer in dog paws and watching my water bill skyrocket every summer I took a hands off approach to lawn maintenance.  In the ensuing years the pretty little Kentucky Bluegrass blades gave way to the hearty survivor species . . . Crabgrass.  In truth, after a good rain and a trim, it looked pretty back there.  Nice enough to sit by an open fire, enjoy a bottle of Malbec with some pan-fried brussel sprouts garnished with proscuitto and figs and pan deglazed with balsamic vinegar and maple syrup.

Lawn RemovedSo out it came, but not without a fight. I used a cool tool called a sod cutter to cut the grass right off of the soil. With the help of some handy men we removed all of the grass in a 50′ x 25′ section of the yard and set the cuttings aside to compost. Composting old lawn is not easy. It requires time and plastic.  I am not optimistic but in for a penny . . .
After the easy job of cutting and removing the sod I tucked into soil preparation with a vengeance and a roto-tiller.  As you can see by the accompanying  video I was a little unprepared for just how hard the clay soil is here where I live.  Now, I did wait a month after the last rain so the soil would not be soggy reasoning that it would be soft enough but not sticky.  I guess I underestimated the drainage potential of my crabgrass stricken acreage.  None-the-less I persevered, learned how to properly operate the roto-tiller and was able to sufficiently chew up the remaining square feet needed to place my new planting beds.

Boxes and dirtTen yards of Clodbuster soil, 24 – 2″ x 10″ x 8′ boards and a box of galvanized 16 penny nails later my new planting beds were taking shape. With the addition of six 8′ x 8′ beds I have increased my planting are by 75%.  I am not sure if I am crazy, excited or a little bit of both but I am looking forward to planting rows and rows of onions, carrots and celery.  Mire poix vegetables for those of you in the know. As well as garlic, strawberries (not in the same planter), and four different types of potatoes.

BackyardThere will be growth in the spring I can promise you that . . . and a little more work but I am so looking forward to the fruits of my labor.   Tomatoes are my favorite of all vegetables (technically a fruit but go with me here) with at least one bed will be dedicated to those magnificent Romas, and a sprinkling of heirlooms mixed in just for fun.

Now is a fantastic time to get out in your yard or on to your porch and get your garden started. Even if all you have is a 3′ x 3′ spot just outside your door that gets great sunlight I encourage you to start a tomato plant or two.  Pair that with another pot sprouting basil and you will have some amazing eats in just a few months. Go ahead I say, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.

Eat Well and Smile Often,


p.s. Ah basil,  how I just love basil! and tomatoes, how I just love tomatoes! and mozzarella, how I just love mozzarella!

T’is the Season to Be Baking!!

Our CakeFa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

Time to turn up the ovens and pull down the Betty Crocker; cook book that is.  I suggest flipping to the dirtiest, stuck together pages you can find and start mixing together those copious quantities of sugar, butter and flour that make all our holidays ‘Oh So Yum!!’

I can smell it now, cuz t’is also the season to be smelling. I see it now. It all starts with a lone cinnamon or vanilla scented candle.  Then the cider on the stove kicks in with its whole cloves and slices of orange peel spinning and dancing in the heated swirls.

Cookies!! Oh the cookies, fresh from the oven. Chocolate chip, oatmeal and my all-time-favorite: Snickerdoodles!! “Why is it we only make snickerdoodles at the holidays?”  you ask. “Siiliness,” I reply “Pure silliness.”  Banana breads and fruit cakes begin showing up in the mail while food writers around the nation share their bestest recipes for turkeys and hams, potatoes and green beans, and sweet potatoes oh my!!  (Tune in next week for my tips on how to roast a perfect Thanksgiving turkey.)

And homemade candies like fudge and peanut brittle and those crispy little peanut butter balls my former mother-in-law used to make.   (I should have gotten that recipe.)  All dressed up on those pretty little plates that grandma keeps wrapped up and locked away all year because, “They are not for every day use Tommy, only special occasions ”   And hard candies and Nuts!! Lots and lots of nuts.  Bowls, chock full of nuts and chocolates and, and, and (breathless) . . . bliss.

And Bells!! Those little holiday bells that jingle outside, everywhere, in the cold crisp air. And that one Farmer’s Market vendor, 5 miles away but worth the trip, selling Chestnuts that were roasted on an open fire.  Ah, the holiday season is here at last.

The last weekend I didn’t need to ask, “For Whom the Bells Tolls” the “Belle’ tolled for me. The Belle being my charming niece Lindsay who got it in to her pretty-little-head to bake a 3 level, tiered cake for a dear friend’s 40th birthday.

cake 2“Want to come bake a cake with your favorite niece?” she asked. When she asks like that, what am I supposed to say?

“No, and don’t forget to leave my respirator plugged in until you are completely certain that I am brain dead. And NO, just because I watch the Simpsons that doesn’t count as brain dead, just brain . . . ”

Of course I said yes and we made quite a day of it.  MY bad it started off slowly. I forgot to set my alarm and not only did I arrive an hour and a half late I forgot a bag of newly purchased decorating supplies.  (What a putz of an uncle I am . . . Don’t answer that.) After I arrived we decided to make the cake larger than I had anticipated so we sent Lindsay’s charming, handsome, patient husband to the store to purchase 5 more boxes of cake mix and 4 more pounds of confectioners sugar. Oh! And 1 more pound of butter.  You can never have enough butter.  Now I do have a ‘Binder Full’ of cake recipes but sometimes it is quicker to use the packages.  The only difference is the pre-measured dry ingredients, everything else we added fresh. 3 cake pans, 8 boxes of cake mix, 2 dozen eggs, 5 pounds of sugar, 3 pounds of butter, 2 pounds of fondant and 1 special ordered, custom cut, cake-stacker later we had our mini masterpiece. (Please stay tuned for the Partridge-in-a-Pear-Tree recipe . . . What?? It could happen.)

Lindsay and her friendAll credit for the decoration goes to my lovely niece. Her friend is an avid Raiders fan so ‘Black and Silver’ was the theme. Beyond honorable mention, super hubby Mark gets my vote for MVP.

The holidays are a fabulous time of year.  There is nothing like the cacophony of football and cooking, laughter and loving, too many cooks in the kitchen and lots and lots of leftovers!!  Many thanks to Lindsay and Mark for kick starting this season’s baking frenzy for me. Note: I won’t be posting any current pictures of myself until March of next year.  (You know why.)

Eat Well and Smile Often!!




p.s. T’is the season to add poundage.Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

p.p.s. Count ’em, they’re all there.

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Pumpkin Pie?? NO . . . Pumpkin Thai!!

Thai Pumpkin  SoupThai Pumpkin Soup that is.  Yep and you only thought Old Jack was good for pies, lattes and the ever seasonal decorative carving. No way Jose, the soup pot is wear my pumpkin landed, no stones required. With the reaction I received from serving this dish I am sure that fewer of my garden gourds will find their way to the porch.

Now my dear departed mother, a charming, intelligent, loving and talented woman could burn water . . . no really . . . I saw her do it once. That being said she did have a bit of baking streak in her and each holiday season she would bake pies for our larger family dinners: cousins, grandparents and hangers on.  From an early age I remember shopping for groceries and helping out in the kitchen and quickly learned how to cook pasta, brown ground meat and boil blocks of frozen vegetables.  Hey, it was a balanced diet!

One holiday season we were set on baking a pumpkin pie so I asked my mother, “How do I cut up the pumpkin for the pie?”


“No honey,” she replied, “We use a can.”  (Sound of a vinyl record screeching to a stop in my head.)

“Oh”   So I took the can from the cupboard and opened it.  (I’m Helping!!)

We mixed milk and eggs and sugar and spices and about 2/3rds of the can of pumpkin into a bowl. Now here is where I get annoyed. It’s the same thing every year.  We make a pumpkin pie, use 2/3rds of a can, and the rest stays in the refrigerator until enough time has passed for the ‘guilt of wasting’ to waste away.  Then it gets thrown out ultimately to make room for the next remaining 1/3rd of a can of . . . whatever.  The real pisser is that the recipe on the side of the can, for pumpkin pie, calls for 2/3rds of a can!  Maybe we should have had pumpkin subsidies instead of corn??  I have no doubt we could make ethanol from left over Jack O’Lanterns and sell it at the Headless Horseman Gas Station . . . wait for it.

Cut PumpkinRoasted Pumpkin

Enough of my childhood, let me Thai this up for you.

I’m not big on measurements but here is the gist of what I did.

1          Pumpkin; small, cut, seeded and roasted until tender and slightly browned
Olive oil to saute
1/2       Onion; small, diced fine
2          cups of stocks (+ or -); vegetable or chicken as you prefer
1          Basil; small bunch, chopped
4          Red chilis; dried, seeded, chopped (reserve 1 for garnish)
1/2       cup – Cream of coconut (the thick stuff in the top of the cream of coconut milk can)
(stick the rest in the refrigerator until the guilt passes.)
1/2       cup (+ or -) heavy cream
Apple cider vinegar to taste
Salt to taste
Maple syrup and creme fraiche to garnish

In a large soup pot, sweat the onions in olive oil until clear, scoop the roasted pumpkin from the rind and place it with the onions. (You may not wish to use all of the pumpkin at this time. Reserve it for pie, lattes, muffins or to adjust soup consistency.) Add 1 cup of stock and bring to a boil.  Take the pot off of the heat and let cool a minute while you set up your blender. (A blender works better than a food processor for making a smooth soup.) Ladle in equal parts of cooked vegetable and stock until the blender jar is half full. You want the solids to just be covered with liquid.  Place the top on and start out on the slowest speed increasing speed every 5 seconds until the soup is smooth. Transfer to a large bowl until all of the vegetables are pureed. If you have more vegetable than liquid you can add more stock, cream and/or cream of coconut to maintain liquid/sold ratio.  In the last jar to be blended, add 3 chopped chilis and the basil – blend.

Rinse the soup pot and return the puree to the pot and adjust consistency to a medium thickness. Heat until it just begins to boil, stirring regularly to avoid burning. Add salt and a small amount of vinegar to taste.  Serve in cups or bowls and garnish with maple syrup, creme fraiche and diced chilis. Eat it up Yum!


Eat Well and Smile Often!!


p.s. Headless Horseman . . . Horseless Carriage . .  . gasoline . . .


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Stone(d) Chili??

Stone ChiliNo, no, no not that . . . wait . . . maybe . . . no, no, no!!  This is not a chili where I infused any happiness . . . wait . . . Stop!!

Let me start again. Stone Chili was made ala Stone Soup, in the style of Stone Soup that is.  Never heard of Stone Soup?  Just two weeks ago I would have found that surprising but lately I have been telling this tale of community dining and contribution to many new listeners.  It goes like this.

Three soldiers of fortune found themselves in a new town without any money or food so they agreed it was the perfect opportunity to make Stone Soup.  With all of the villagers superstitiously watching, the three set about walking the town square kicking stones until one curious villager asked what they were doing. “We’re making stone soup but it takes just the right stone to give it flavor.” Another of the three piped up, ” I’ve found it.” The other two with the villager in tow agreed it looked like the perfect stone.  “If only we had a pot.” one said.  ” I have a pot.” the intrigued villager said and dashed off and returned with a fine deep kettle.

The, now, group of 4 collected firewood, started a fire, washed the stone thoroughly, filled the kettle with water and gently added the stone. By this time other villagers began to gather. “If only I had a spoon?” one soldier said.  “I have a spoon,” another villager said, and a spoon was produced.  The first soldier set to stirring the pot and as the steam rose he dipped the spoon and tasted the broth.  “How is it?” the others asked.  “A little thin still, I think it needs an onion.”  “I have an onion!” yet another interested villager piped up.  And so it went as onions and carrots and vegetables and chickens and meats and spices were brought forth.  With the entire village standing around the soldier with the spoon finally announced, “It’s ready!”  At which point the entire village shared in a pot of Stone Soup.

This is one of my favorite community meal stories.  One where equal contribution brings forth a great tasting meal.  Recently my brother was organizing a family camping trip and he and I were brainstorming ideas for a meal.  Stone chili, I said. And while we bandied about the potential pitfalls of having truly random contributions we settled in on a split approach.  Some of our siblings would bring – whatever – to add to the pot, while one of my sisters was tasked with bringing corn bread.  Personally I have never had a stone soup or potluck party fail because every guest brought a stone or a salad.  It always works out.

It worked out this time as  well.  I brought meat and spices.  A can of corn was offered as was a tin of beans and even some garden grown tomatoes.  My brother roasted fresh chilis and the pot of stone chili grew.  Honestly it turned out to be one of my more successful melanges. I had leftovers at home for a week and could never seem to limit myself to just one bowl.  So Stuff-Your-Face-Stone-Chili was born.

For those of you who read this far I give you the secret sword thrust!

Orange Juice

I first saute’d the meat with onions and a fistful of chili powders that I have collected over the years.  The initial tastings proved a bitter batch. Orange juice was added and reduced. My oh my, what a difference it made.  Fresh roasted chilis, tomatoes, corn, beans and whatever was laying around filled the pot.  It stewed for a good hour before we ladled it over my sister’s cornbread and topped it with a dollop of sour cream.  Yum in a cup I promise you.  So remember, as you are balancing out the bitter flavors in whatever dish you are cooking consider the many sources of sweetness that are available to you: maple syrup, honey, plain old sugar and of course, orange juice. It was so good I forgot to take a picture until this very last bowl.  I was out of sour cream so I added a little feta I had laying around. What?! Every good cook has a little feta laying around.  The flavors blended perfectly.  I call it my Greek version of Stone Chili.

Good luck and be sure to write to me about your Stone Soup experiences.  Until then,

Eat Well and Smile Often



p.s. This stuff would definitely feed your munchies . . . just sayin!