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Monday, June 27, 2011


Well it had to happen sometime,   my mind is starting to go to pot.  I try to keep it sharp by reading, involving myself in lively conversations, and doing mind games like NY Times crossword puzzle and Sudoku, but it hasn't improved my memory any.  Case in point, I had ginger on my shopping list so I bought some.  The next time I went to the grocers, I had a nagging feeling that there was something I had forgotten.  Oh yes!  Ginger!  So my second bottle of the expensive little spice went into the cart.  Then the next day I was organizing my pantry when I found a little tin that holds all the rarely used spices like cardamon and chervil, well, there was another bottle of ginger.  Since when did ginger become a rarely used spice?  The end results is that now I have almost a pint of  it.  We will be eating gingerbreads and spice cookies for a very long time.  But that's ok.  I've forgotten how nice and homey  a  humble little cookie made from pantry staples tastes.  Seems now days, if a cookie doesn't contain some exotic and often expensive ingredient, it isn't worthy of baking.  When the boys were home and our budget was meager, we made a lot of these types of goodies.  They even request custard once in a while.  They never guessed that I made it to use up the milk that was beginning to go sour.  Here's a recipe:

Ginger Creams

1/3 C. shortening
1/2 C. sugar
1 egg
1/2 C. molasses (I made a mistake and bought the "robust" flavored molasses and had to cut it with Lyle's Golden syrup)
1/4 C. water
2 C. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda (why do we put "baking" in front of soda?  If you don't know what we are talking about perhaps you shouldn't be allowed near an oven?)
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon
white frosting

Cream shortening, sugar, egg, molasses and water together.  Stir in dry ingredients and blend well.  Chill dough.  Bake cookies at 400 degrees on a lightly greased baking sheet for approximately 8 minutes.  Cool.  Frost with white frosting.

While I was at the grocers, I noticed that they had a big bag of cucumbers on the reduced for quick sale bin.  This was providential as our dill has just began blooming and it looks like the cucumbers we planted are a major failure this year. It seems dill and cucumbers never are in synch in my garden anyhow.  Makes me wonder how pickles were ever invented.  The abandoned compost bin yielded the nicest dill this year.  For the last couple of years, we have been reluctant to till it over as it produces some of the best little gifts.  This year dill and onions.  Last year tomatoes and pumpkins.  And the perfect tomatoes too.  Hardy enough to survive through a Michigan winter.  I saved the seeds and grew some for this year.  So far the are outperforming all the other tomatoes.  If you would like some of these compost tomato seeds, just let me know, and I'll be glad to send some to you in the fall.

Anyhow, back to pickles.  Aren't they wonderful?  At the end of summer when we dig the potatoes, we always have a meal of them just boiled with a dab of butter and these pickles.  Perhaps not nutritionally sound, but so delicious!  They taste of the good Earth!

Bread and Butter Pickles

15 C.  sliced pickling cukes
3 yellow or white onions (I once used red and it made the most unattractive peach colored pickles)
1/4 C.  pickling salt
4 C. cider vinegar
 4C. sugar
 1 1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. celery seed
2 tbsp. mustard seed
fresh dill heads

Cover cukes, onions and salt in a large bowl.  Cover with ice.  Let stand for 3 hours.  Drain.

Combine vinegar, sugar and spices in a large pot. Bring just to a boil.

Place 1 dill head in each sterilized pint jar.  Fill with cucumber mixture.  Pour brine over the cukes, leaving a 1/2 inch  headspace.  Poke a sterilized knife in the jar to make sure there aren't any air bubbles.  Place sterilized lids and rings on the jars.  Process 10 minutes in a hot water bath.

Lastly, I leave you with a picture of my Issac Perrier rose.  It looks so lovely growing up the weathered shingles.  The cool weather is a real boon to the roses this year. By the by, we have finally settled on a name for our cottage.  We needed to have one, as we are having a quarterboard made up for the entrance. And the name is ...... Sweet Briar Cottage!

Monday, June 13, 2011


If you have a complete set of salad bowls and they all say Kool Whip on the side, you might be a redneck.
~Jeff Foxworthy~

The lettuce in the garden  is loving the cool weather.  It's one of the easiest vegetables to grow, as it isn't very particular to what soil it grows in.  Heck!  It will even reseed itself if you aren't the tidiest of gardeners.So for the next couple of weeks we will be eating salads until we start to turn green.  But there are so many wonderful ways to prepare them, it's a nice dilemma to have.

And it's thrifty too.  This lettuce is the lovely Merveille de Quatre  Saisons  (fancy schmancy isn't it?) or simply put, Marvel of the Four Seasons.  Purchased for the hefty price tag of  three packets for a dollar at the Dollar General store.  How much does a head of plain old iceburg lettuce cost now days? 

I once overheard my son telling  one of his friends that I made the best salads in the world.  It pretty simple really.  Just use the freshest of ingredients, like lettuce picked fresh just minutes before serving,  Use one of the much-maligned salad spinners to make sure that the greens aren't soggy.  Tear the leaves into bite sized pieces.  Can't stand those big pieces that you get in restaurants can you? Make sure you don't use the stems.  Finely mince , dice or slice all other vegetables you are going to use.  And don't use too much dressing.  It should just enhance the flavors not drown them out.

Several people have asked me how I  "got" our boys to eat salads and vegetables.  Simply put, they didn't have a choice.  They were expected to eat what was put in front of them or go without.  We never prepared special meals for picky eaters.  Hate to sound like an old fogey but, children are treated like royalty now days.  Just go to a garage sale and see tables upon tables of children's clothing and toys is proof enough.  And having suffered through many conversations interrupted by little children that asking rude questions, while their parents stood by smiling, thinking it was the cutest thing, makes me long for the Victorian age when children were "seen and not heard". Anyway to get back on track ...  Children are so influenced by their parents when they are young, so if you don't eat healthy for your own sake, consider doing it to set a good example for your children. If you don't tell them it's yukky they won't know it.  Here's a recipe that even "picky" adults like:

Taco Salad

Prepare simply chili or use some leftover (in a pinch you can buy some of Wendy's)  But here's a recipe that makes up quick:

Brown together:
1 lb hamburger (or vegetarian crumbles or leave it all together and just use an extra can of kidney beans as I do)
1 large onion.
To that add :
1 can kidney beans
1 can tomatoes (I add a pinch of sugar if using store bought)
1 package of taco seasoning
salt and pepper to taste

Now back to the salad:
 Layer some lettuce, crushed taco chips, some of the chili and shredded cheddar cheese in a large bowl.  You can gild the lily if you like (and who doesn't)  and top with a dollop of sour cream, chives and salsa.  That's it! If you're a vegan you can substitute the cheese with a soy cheese, but to be honest, I find them a pretty poor substitute,  so I just use  the real thing sparingly and a low-fat variety. Cabot's is good.

We also make up  our own Taco seasoning  in large batches.  The dollar stores and Wal-Mart  carry an inexpensive brand of spices called Spice Time that sells for a dollar or less. It cost a lot less to make up your own if you make a lot of Mexican foods. And I do!  Here's the recipe:

Taco Seasoning:

1 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. sugar
1/2  tsp. salt

Combine and store in a dry place. We multiply this recipe by ten or twenty times and keep it in a quart-sized mason jar on the pantry shelf.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


"Always wear something sensible when cooking at the barbecue" 
~Lady Godiva~

One of the joys of summertime is yard sale-ing. We pack a lunch, a thermos of lemonade and start out early.  In our area, all the little towns have a city-wide garage sale day, so our hunting is concentrated to a small area, it really saves on expensive gas.  We have a list of wants and were pretty fortunate to cross several off our list this year.  A Boston rocker (wanted one of those for years), a small wing-back loveseat (watch for a post on that later),  some wrought iron hinges for our back door, we even found a pretty set of hand-wrought  fireplace tools for $20 that we were just looking at in a catalog the day before at a much higher price.  Sometimes we find something we never realized existed.  Like this cute little grill that looks like a toolbox.  Just the thing for packing in the trunk and using at picnics and tailgating parties.  It even has a cute little Scotsman on it.  It must have been made by the same company that manufactured those pretty little red plaid thermoses and picnic sets.  Here's our favorite grilling  recipe:

Grilled Eggplant Sandwiches

Slice  an eggplant into 1/2" slices, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with Italian seasonings, salt and paper.  Slice an onion into nice thick slices.  Grill until nicely browned and softened.  Butter (we use an heart healthy olive oil based margarine) a nice crusty loaf of bread such as French or Italian. Sprinkle with Italian seasonings.  Layer the eggplant, onions, slices of tomatoes and some fresh basil.  You can top this with fresh mozzarella if you like (it's good, but not vegan, alas!).  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil over all.  Wrap in tin foil and place on the grill.  Bake until the crust is toasty and the cheese melts and the vegetables are warm and meld together.  If you don't have a grill  (or it's raining)you can broil the vegetables in the oven.

This is one of our favorite summertime meals.  And it is especially thrifty because we grow all of the vegetables in our garden.  As a matter of fact, we grow specific heirloom varieties, such as Princepe Borghese tomatoes, cioplianni onions, and an old variety of eggplant just so we can get an authentic taste.  It is wonderful!

Sunday, June 5, 2011


And when your back stops aching
 And your hands begin to harden ...
You'll find yourself a partner in the Glory of the Garden
~Rudyard Kipling~

Whew!  What a week!  For those that don't know my story, my husband and I live in two different states.  About five years ago, he purchased this little cottage for me  after noticing that my asthma always improved when I visited my mother in Michigan.  Romantic isn't it?  It was and still is, a very humble abode and our intention was just for me to live in it during the summer.  But along the way, my health improved so much and I fell in love with this quirky little village, so we decided it would be best for me to stay on and work at improving this  little bungalow with the goal of making it a retirement home for the two of us.  Why didn't we find a place that the two of us could live in together?  Unfortunately, chemical companies are never located in bucolic areas, and my husband is a very remarkable chemist.   Anyway, to make a long story short, my dear husband has been here for the entire week.  It has been a sort of preview of what the retired life will be like with my old sweetheart. All I can say is that I'll never be bored!

On day one, he noticed a truck with a load of  firewood parked at the farmer's market. " Doesn't that look like a bit much?" I dared to ask.  "No just a couple of cords.  It's not too much."   he replied.  So the next thing I see is a big old truck dumping tons of firewood on our driveway.  Sometime after stacking the fourth or fifth cord, he finally admitted it was a tad bit more than he thought.  Since we only use our woodstove to take a chill off or in emergencies, I think the wood will probably rot before we  use it all.  But you'd have to meet my dear husband to understand that his credo is "more is more!" .  When he insulated the attic, he bought enough insulation for the Biltmore estate, not a 1000 square foot cottage.

Day two was time to get the rest of the garden planted. Long, hard, and hot work but eight hours later our garden looks like an illustration out of a Beatrix Potter book.  He even made an adorable twiggy trellis for the beans.  A weed-free vegetable garden with its straight rows of greenery is a thing of beauty indeed!

The next day we rearranged our bedroom.  Living in such tight quarters, we are always experimenting with ways to maximize the space, and a new arrangement was badly needed.  While the room was in such disarray, he noticed that I had a lot of things stored under the bed.  So he organized everything into plastic bins and labeled them.  When I mentioned that there was no room to store them, he rearranged the attic!  One of the most wonderful things about my husband, is that he is one of the hardest workers, you'll ever meet.  When other women complain about how hard it is to get their husband off the couch and do something around the house, I can never relate.  Mention that the walls need washing and he'll have the room cleared of all the furniture, the walls washed, and while we're at it might as well give them a new paint job, quicker than you can say "Jack Robinson".

The rest of the days were a kind of blur. There wasn't a waking moment that some machine, be it a rotor tiller, lawn mower, weed whacker,  a chainsaw or drill wasn't being used.  After he left this morning, I sat and listened to the birds.  It was the like the calm after the storm.  My husband looks like Teddy Roosevelt, as a matter of fact, we used to have a picture of Teddy hanging in our hallway and when people stopped by we would tell them that was Ran's grandfather.  The always remarked that the looked exactly alike.  Then we would laugh and let them in on the joke.  People always wrote that Teddy was a human dynamo, a machine in perpetual motion.  If I believed in reincarnation, which I don't, I would seriously believe that I am married to Teddy, reincarnated!