I'm daughter to Lissie, sister to Jess, wife to Brien, mom to Hannah, Lily and Eleanor. I am a stay at home mom to my girls, and my free time is dedicated to gardening (I confess I'm still a novice and look to Lissie and Jess for advice), baking and cooking, and card making. I'm doing my part to make the earth a bit greener, trying hard to avoid processed foods and HFCS, and find the "slow food" movement intriguing and inspiring. I love visits to my local farmers' market, fresh produce, reading, getting out in nature, and spending time with my family.


Catholic, homeschooler, lover of books and great wine and an amateur gardening addict.


I'm Melissa aka "Lissie", mother of Rachael and Jessica, and grandmother to a passel of the sweetest children on the planet. I'm a semi-retired public educator and professor who works from home for a small publisher. I am a lover of all things beautiful ... flowers, the mountains, nature scenes, the innocent faces of children, and my rock and fossil collection, to name a few. I enjoy shopping at the farmers' market for fresh foods and then experimenting with new recipes. Good food and good wine delight me. I love to travel so my suitcase is always packed. Like my daughters, I take pleasure in simple things ... clothes drying on the line, tomatoes so fresh they are still hot from the sun, good books, and interesting movies. I'd like to know everything before I die.

Blog Archive

To Be Read Pile

I have a big pile of books that I am looking forward to reading over the next few weeks and I thought it would be fun to see what my two co-bloggers have on their reading lists.

I would like to reread The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne


Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream by David Platt

(Can you tell I feel particularly mercenary after Christmas shopping for my kids?!)

Winter's Tale by Mark Helrpin (started but got sidetracked)

Lady of Milkweed Manor by Julie Klassen


Our Lady of Kibeho by Immacule Ilibagiza

Grandma's Ginger Cookies

You asked so you shall receive. :o) Grandma used to make at least one batch of these cookies a week for her boys.  Wow!

1 cup coffee
3 t baking soda
1 cup shortening
1 cup molasses
3 eggs
2 cups brown sugar
3 t ginger
2 t vanilla
1 t salt
flour to texture (anywhere from 9-11 cups usually--it took 9.5 cups for me yesterday)

Dissolve baking soda in coffee and cool.  Mix all ingredients with mixer except flour.  Add flour slowly and mix in.  Roll to 3/8" and cut.  Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes.  Do no overbake! Store in tin can.

Rach's tips/tricks:
*Go ahead and give adding the flour by mixer a go.  If you have a Kitchen Aid mixer, it should be up to the challenge. 
*I mixed in the last 2.5 cups of flour by hand, kneading the flour into the dough.  You want the dough to be rather like a soft Play Doh that doesn't stick to your hands.
*Flour the work surface before rolling.  It doesn't matter how many times you rework the dough, or how much flour gets worked in, these cookies will still be tender.  Like I have said, this is the most forgiving cookie dough EVER.
*Begin timing the cookies for 8 minutes and then test.  To test, lightly touch a cookie.  Continue to bake for additional time, one minute at a time as needed.  To test, lightly touch a cookie, if it leaves an indentation, they're not ready.  The trick is to NOT overbake them as they will then be dry.  This was the hardest part.

I think that's it.  If you have any questions, I'd love to help if I can.  My email is rachael(dot)davis(at)cox(dot)net.


Coming Out Of The Closet

The Goodwill closet, that is. I don't know why but it seems like there is a hierarchy of thrifting, funky thrift stores are on top, followed by yard sales and ebay and then Goodwill and the Salvation Army are on the bottom. Goodwill has an undeserved bad reputation, the prices are amazing and there are really great finds to be had there. I really love Goodwill - both to donate and to shop. In the last 10 years I've found some of my very favorite clothing pieces there - a fleece vest that I wear all the time in the fall and winter springs to mind and I paid $.75 for it a decade or so ago. I never know what I'm going to find (if anything) and it is sort of like searching for a needle in a haystack. Add my soon to be 3 year old son into the excursion and you've got quite an experience on your hands. We probably pop in every 6 months or so when I take a couple bags of things to donate and today was our day.

I like to layer in the cooler months. Undershirt/tank, then long sleeved shirt, then a pullover/sweater on top of those. I found four great sweaters today for me. All in really great shape and all were $4. The lambswool cardigan from Old Navy is so soft and looks brand new and the gray collared pull over from Banana Republic also looks brand new. I'm excited! I'm still in transition back down from my last pregnancy - I've got about 10 lbs. to go - so I need a couple pairs of pants to see me through the next month or so as the weight finally finishes coming off. I found two paris of jeans that are comfy and flattering for $5 a pair. And last I found Bob a Pendleton 100% wool cable knit pull over sweater that I think will be great for weekend wear this winter. A trip to the dry cleaner for it will put its price around $9.

If you haven't shopped at your local Good Will, I urge you to try it out. Lots of great gently used kids books, novels, and clothing can be found.

Grocery Budgeting

I am terrible at it. I go to the store, throw whatever looks good into the cart and pay. I rarely use coupons, I rarely shop sales. I can be brand loyal even when it is silly. So, I'm giving this a whirl. We eat a lot of fresh food, we generally eat organic so we'll see what I can do. Just starting to meal plan with the sale ads in hand should make at least a small difference. We'll see.

31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget


19 Cities ... Here I come!

The publisher I work for has given me a new assignment. I am to travel to 19 US cities (over the next year or so), visit historical sites, take photographs, and then blog about my experiences. The blog will be directed at 6th and 7th graders. The cities are ones that middle school students who take the required class, United States History 1865 to the Present, study over the course of the yearlong class. For someone whose bliss truly is to travel and experience new things, this is an incredibly exciting prospect. My head is spinning as I think of all the places I will go and everything that I will experience. Just last night I was watching Food Network and one program highlighted three different food sellers in NYC. One was a restaurant that sells only homemade pies. What could be better than that? Who doesn't swoon over homemade pie? Heck, I'd even like to work in that kind of place. So, yes, food is a consideration along with historic sites. After all, I have to eat while I am away, and I only want to eat the best of the best food available. Today I briefly watched a program on National Geographic about New York Harbor. Holy cow! Do I ever want to set off on this adventure.

I need help figuring out what to see in each location. I've already come up with two criteria. First, I must visit at least one place that is well known. As an example, when I go to Philadelphia, I surely must visit Constitution Hall. Second, I want to visit little known places that are historically significant, ones that can easily be overlooked. I have been told that art museums can be included. I think it would be fun to visit places that the students will enjoy reading about, perhaps a toy museum or something of that ilk. So, below are my cities. If you have any suggestions about historic places I should visit OR restaurants with to-die-for food, please post a comment.


1. New York City
2. Boston
3. Philadelphia
4. Pittsburgh
5. Atlanta
6. New Orleans
7. Miami
8. Chicago
9. St. Louis
10. Detroit
11. San Antonio
12. Santa Fe
13. Denver
14. Salt Lake City
15. Los Angeles
16. San Francisco
17. Seattle
18. Juneau
19. Honolulu

Landscape Plans

Right now my yard is a constant work in progress. As I've mentioned before our lot has a lot of challenges. We are on the corner and we back up to a cul de sac - both are huge positives. And prior to moving in I didn't realize that because our street side yard is north, it is the perfect place to set up some chairs in the shade and watch the kids play with their friends in the cul de sac. Lots of other families seem to agree and we have all sat in the grass, on blankets, on chairs and even stood in my north side yard over the last several months while children played because it is the perfect spot. It is also a great place for children to play as it is visible from all other yards on the cul de sac, so we had a lot of sprinkler/wading pool play in this side yard lots of afternoons this summer. Our yard may not be ideal for privacy or for appearance but for practicalities sake, there have been so many good advantages that I am really beginning to love it.

With that said, it needs to look a whole lot prettier than it already does. I've been planning obsessively and my husband has been working like a dog to get it whipped into shape. So far we have a gorgeous island with trees anchoring our tiny back yard and giving us a hard break between our property and our neighbor's drive way. Eventually the cryptomeria will grow large enough to afford us great visual privacy and the crape myrtle and japanese maple on either side of the cryptomeria will soften the privacy screening effect. It is really pretty right now as the seasons change. We have been (with the help of our neighbor who owns a pick up truck) getting loads and loads and loads of compost to amend the beds that we already have and to create new beds with. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to grow plants in subsoil that has been dredged up during the building process and then compacted into dense, unrelenting clay with sod laid over. The pH of our "soil" is 5.1 - yes, I heard your gasps through the computer monitor. SIX lime applications are going to be needed over the next several months to correct the extreme acidity of our "soil".

Over the last few weekends Bob has helped me create a very long, narrow bed that pops out into a much larger semi-circle beyond our house that runs along that shady north side of our house. I really wanted to grow some climbing roses up the side of the house to soften it but they were just never going to work well because of the intense shade. We've put in three hydrangeas, two Annabelles and an Endless Summer Blushing Bride to anchor the narrow part of the bed, along with some hostas and huecheras and at the end of the bed where it pops out and widens considerably and gets loads more sun we put in a Korean Spice viburnum and a Chasteberry/Vitex tree (shrub). I am going to be working in 200 spring blooming bulbs into this bed sometime in November when the weather decides to finally cool off. I am going to be growing a variety of climbers in this bed to cover the wall about 6 feet up, possibilities include climbing hydrangea, honeysuckle (yes, I know it can be invasive) and spring blooming sweet peas or maybe even... GULP... ivy. We'll see what I can figure out. I would rather in look like it is naturally climbing rather than trellised so that is posing some problems as I sort out what to choose. I will probably end up with a combo of a few plants and it is really fun trying to find the perfect ones. With the hostas and heucheras near the driveway I will work in some columbine to give it some pretty blooms in the late spring/early summer. I also plan to put in skip laurels all around the heating/cooling units in the spring to hide their ugliness from view.

In the back of our house we will be putting in stairs off of the covered back porch. The stairs will come right off the middle of the porch and on either side will be garden beds. I am hoping for a naturally shaped patio that follows the shapes of the garden beds and bumps into the large tree island, we'll see what happens budget-wise in spring. In the beds on either side of the stairs will immediately be Pinky Winky hydrangeas. They can take full sun, are repeat bloomers and are gorgeous. To the left of the stairs just beyond the hydrangea will be a Bloomerang lilac which will get to be about 5-6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. In front of the lilac will be spirea and some other blooming perennials that I will not have to stress over on an annual basis. We'll see what I come up with before March/April. To the right of the stairs just beyond the anchoring hydrangea will be two shrub roses, not yet sure which varieties, I could absolutely see any number of possibilities there. I am almost sure they will be a soft pink or white to complement the hydrangeas. I am creating a sea of yellow and apricot roses in other parts of the yard so I have some room for some soft pinks in the back. On the porch rails above each bed will be rail flower baskets and I will be putting in jasmine, my very favorite floral scent which performs beautifully on my back porch.

On the south side of the house running along towards the veggie garden beds and attaching to the main front island bed I will be planting 4 types of roses. Hopefully they will be gorgeous as this is the sunniest and hottest part of my yard. I will most likely put some leafy perennials in front of the roses to soften the effect in case the roses defoliate due to heat, disease or something else. Roses are reputed to be finicky, you know, and I am counting on a lot of trial and error before getting it right and having them do well in my garden.

I am still trying to plan the front beds. Our builder is replacing 17 shrubs in the next week that I think are shockingly awful in both hardiness and appearance - the japanese holly inkberries have got to go. Once I know what I'm getting (hopefully it will be better) I can plan to either use those in the future landscape plan or know I am going to have to pull them and try and budget for something else to go in their place. I'm working on some plans now but all could change in two weeks. I'll keep you posted. I definitely want something climbing on the side wall in the photo above and I also want the beds to look full, dense and interesting. Quite a challenge considering how pitiful they are right now. I put a lot of red and white annuals in to give some pop in the front this spring/summer and I tried to cover up with coleus this summer the ratty shrubs that are going to be replaced. Let's hope next summer it looks a lot better from the street than it did this year.


Roses - Final Decision

I've decided on which roses I am ordering. I've read and thought about and reconsidered and now I've settled and I am moving on until next spring, which I'm sure I'll have decided on a few more. Let me tell you, diving headfirst into the world of rose growing is quite an adventure. There are something like 100,000 varieties, there are hot debates about spraying for disease vs. not within the rose growing community along with differences in opinion on original root or grafted root and if grafted then with what - multiflora, Dr. Huey, fortuniana and so on. There are some roses that are gorgeous but have fallen out of popularity and are now almost impossible to find (which sort of makes them even more desirable for some reason!) and others that are not so great, in my opinion, and can still be found in late October at the local big box home improvement store. It seems most people want pink and easy and going a little farther than that makes the experience all the more interesting for me as a gardener.

I've discovered that I have very little interest in pink and red roses, I much, much, much prefer yellows and apricots and some showy whites. The one exception is the Christopher Marlowe which is supposed to be an incredibly watermelon/salmon/orangey-pink that sounds very interesting and has certainly caught my eye. I've decided to order all my roses bare root from a Canadian seller, Pickering Nurseries, who graft onto muliflora root stock. This rose seller is really highly reputed in the online community so I am ready to give them a go.

For now the front beds will receive Christopher Marlowe by David Austin and OSO Easy's HoneyBun by Proven Winners. Both are low, small growers which will give a nice pop to the front of my house. I am going with the HoneyBun because I am new to growing roses and I want to see if a rose bred particularly to be disease resistant really is compared to the showier, more finicky roses I seem to prefer (from images).

Next, we will be creating another bed along the south side of our house which will extend the existing front bed island down the side towards our garden boxes. What is most exciting about this bed is that my husband has no idea it is going to be created! He really thought we were done with landscaping this fall aside from mulching and I know he is going to be just thrilled to discover yet more sod needs to be removed and more holes need to be dug and more compost needs to be liberally dumped into the area - creating these kinds of garden beds are really his favorite way to spend the weekend . In this bed I will stagger from largest to smallest four rose varieties. First and biggest is Tamora, followed by Charlotte, followed by Crocus Rose and finishing up the bed is the short, creeping Pillow Fight. I really, really want to try Bouquet Parfait but it is darned hard to find and it has a blush of pink instead of yellow. Pillow Fight will no longer be available for purchase after 2010 as Weeks is pulling it from the market so that fact along with it's yellow centers pushed it into the cart rather than me taking the time to chase down Bouquet Parfait.

We removed a medium sized pine tree last weekend that was going to eventually get too big for where it was planted near our neighbor's much larger cryptomeria (the landscapers just put it in based on the plan for the house right before we closed rather than realizing that longterm it would never work out, ridiculous) and now there is a nice bare spot begging for a medium sized shrub. I will be putting in Crown Princess Margereta there, another David Austin variety because she packs a lot of punch with her color and she is almost thornless, which is a plus since she will be close to where children are playing. It was really hard choosing her, the lack of thorns being the most important feature. I was loving Grace, and Sweet Juliet as well.

Moving back to the front of my house, there is a wall on the right side of my front bed that is begging for a climber, and I am going to give Maigold by Korbes a try. It is a gorgeous peachy/yellow rose that is supposed to be a prolific bloomer and I think I can train it to climb. 5-6 feet or so feet to give a nice splash of color.

If we decide to move forward with a patio in spring then I will probably order Grace and Lady Emma Hamilton to go in huge pots to add some color to the space. Or maybe not. We'll see what has caught my fancy by then.

A couple pics to show where roses will be planted.

This long stretch behind the laurel and in front of the veggie beds will be a dedicated rose bed, it gets full sun all day until around 4 p.m.

This interior wall will be where Maigold is planted. Let's hope she likes it here! It also gets full sun from sunrise until about 3 p.m. so she should be fine.



I am one of those people who gets really intensely interested in a subject and I read and research, devouring books and websites as I gather information about whatever topic that has caught my interest until I know enough to feel satisfied and I move on to something else. I've researched everything from yurt living to raw foods during these crazed periods of interest.

Gardening as a whole topic is something that I doubt I will ever exhaust because there are so many sub-categories under the gardening umbrella - veggie gardening, gardening for sustainability, urban gardening, off-grid gardening, succulents, roses, shrubs, trees and so on. Just scan the lengthy list of forum categories over at Garden Web and you'll see what I mean.

My current obsession is roses. I have no idea why, there are many plants that are far less finicky that also have great fragrance and put on one hell of a show for the entire length of the growing season. Roses can be incredibly picky plants, they are prone to fungal diseases, are particular about their soil conditions, how much light they get and so on. They can be scrawny sticky plants with gobs of thorns with just a few blooms to pay you for your trouble. And to top it off, my mother has never grown roses that I can remember and so I don't even have any prior experience to whet my appetite. So why roses and why now?

I'm concurrently obsessed with cottage style gardening. I love big showy blooms - mophead hydrangeas being my favorite flower ever - and I love a loose and comfortable landscaping style. I like the idea of towering hollyhocks, big fat pink peonies, lilac and dogwood trees and... roses. Roses are a must in a cottage garden.

I've been planning and drawing up landscaping plans for the rest of my yard. The north side of our house is the garage side and it faces the street. We have the unsightly AC/Heating units there along with the driveway and it isn't very attractive. We are going to put in a long bed that stretches the length of the house with skip laurels to block out the units, and other shrubs and perennials to fill in. The north side of our house gets very little sun, so this will be where I get to play with shade loving plants - hostas and columbine, bleeding hearts and so on. The bed is anchored by a larger island that juts out with a Korean Spice Viburnum and a Vitex/Chasteberry tree (which were just planted this weekend). There is a 12 foot length of space between the island and the heating and cooling units that would be a perfect place for some medium sized shrub roses that have a bold color and are repeat bloomers... except that roses don't like shade. But the initial planning of this long bed is what got me thinking of roses and now that I've started thinking about them I can't stop.

Roses must find a home somewhere in my yard. I am determined to make this happen. I found the Rose forums at GardenWeb and wow, those folks are knowledgeable. Tea roses, hybrid teas, Old English roses, and so on. There are thousands and thousands of varieties in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colors and petals volume. Tall climbing roses, short ground covering roses, and everything in between. I, of course, love the showiest, most opulent roses, no plain tea roses for this lady. David Austin Roses provide just the style of rose that I love. I almost think I would love to specialize in rose hybridization when I go back to finish my B.A. in Horticulture (a million years from now when I have all my children in school) because the work that rose hybrid specialists do is just fascinating. As a lady who loves open pollenated, heirloom veggies it is sort of a shock to realize how much I appreciate the tinkering that hybridization accomplishes with roses.

I've stumbled across many roses that I would love to grow, unfortunately I lack the space and the right growing conditions to really give many varieties a shot (there is also the always annoying budget to consider). I am not a pink person - much to my 5 year old daughter's dismay - so I have very little interest in traditional pink roses though some of the really spicy dark pink roses are interesting to me. I am absolutely going to be ordering Christopher Marlowe from David Austin to plant this autumn in my front bed and I am considering a couple other varieties for spring delivery to be grown in containers. I may try and convince my husband to give a climbing rose a shot on the south side of our house right near where our veggie garden boxes are. I've got my eye on a few yellow climbing varieties but I've got all winter to continue my research.

Varieties that I think are gorgeous:

Bouquet Parfait

Moser House Shed Rose

Golden Fairy Tale

Crocus Rose


Graham Thomas

Grace (for a container, wouldn't this be lovely on a patio?)

Other online rose sellers with great reputations:

Pickering Nurseries

Palatine Roses


Peach Salsa

I stumbled upon a blog called Love Made the Radish Grow via the Frugal Green Co-Op site about a month ago. We had just picked a ton of peaches at a local farm and I was trying to figure out way to process them. Imagine my delight when I read an interesting recipe for peach salsa and direction on how to can it. I figured 8 pints of peach salsa weren't too huge of a commitment and Bob and I got the rest of the ingredients together and put up several pints.

Peach Salsa
6 c pitted peaches, diced
1 1/4 c diced onion
4 jalapeno peppers, diced (seed these if you don't want it too spicy. I personally like only a little edge)
1 bell pepper, preferably red, diced and seeded (though an color will suffice)
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro or 1/4 c dried
3/4 c white vinegar
2 T honey

Oh.My.Goodness! We pulled out a jar of it to use to dress up fish tacos the other night and let me tell you, I think I heard the choirs of angels singing in heaven as I chewed. It is delicious, it is easy to can, it is delicious, it requires very easy to find ingredients, it is delicious, it takes very little time to process at 20 minutes, it is delicious, and it can be used in many ways in many various recipes. I think we are going to try it over pork roast next.

Absolutely a pantry staple for the rest of my life. I will brave all kinds of buzzing and stinging insects in the orchard to get loads of peaches each summer so I can make a lot more of this. Yummy.


Paul Robeson Tomatoes

And the winner from the tomato garden this year is... PAUL ROBESON. Clap, clap, clap.

This tomato is everything it is reputed to be. The flavor is unbelievably rich, slightly smokey and not too tart or sweet. The vines produced an average crop and while it wasn't my most prolific tomato it certainly produced enough to make it worthwhile because of the gorgeous, delicious taste.

I grew out two plants and gave one of them to my neighbor. She agrees, that it is hands down the best of the summer.




Finally, my morning glories bloomed this week.


Fall Gardening

Almost everything I planted for the spring and summer is showing signs of wear and tear. My containers look tired and shabby and my garden boxes are full of plants that are succumbing to end of season weather and laziness. Oh, and I believe all the remaining 10 tomato plants have blight. Exciting times in the Gaulden garden!

I am planning for Fall. I've got cucumbers, radishes, carrots and turnips (for the greens) started. I will be planting spinach, broccoli rabinni and various lettuces over the course of the next week. The shabby, crumbling tomato plants will be pulled out and trashed after thanks has been given for their production of the summer, so prolific at times that I felt a little crazy trying to deal with the produce. I'll keep the beans going for a few more weeks and then they will bid goodbye as well.

Summer of 2010 - you were hot as hell and just about as dry and I'm not sorry to see you go.

I'm planning some great fall container gardens. After perusing my latest issue of Southern Living (a magazine which I simply swoon over and I know this declaration will firmly pin my age in the age 30+ category) I found a great recommendation for Plentiful Pansies, a new hybrid which is rated for zero degrees F and apparently spreads prolifically like the Wave Petunias (I should add here that I am only snobby about heirlooms when it comes to veggies, flowers are welcomed as hybrids being easy and with prolific blooms). Alas, every garden center I've contacted said that they are so new that most growers did not get them started and they will most likely not be available until next year.

I've got big plan for my yard in the next 12 months, lets hope I can hobble the budget together to see the projects through. I am dreaming of a patio, a fire pit, a couple adirondack chairs, three new long beds, some shading and view shielding in the forms of 8 footish lilacs and hydrangea trees, coupled with nandina, spirea, bush hydrangeas and maybe even some peonies if I can find a sunny enough spot.

Oh, and my 5 year old daughter Ella and I are also planning on several dramatic displays of bulb flowers this spring. Off to the garden center to let her choose tomorrow. If her tastes hold true we will have the pinkest, fluffiest, fanciest tulips and daffodils in the neighborhood. (And yes, I saw !pink! daffodil bulbs today).



Let me tell you, I don't like Giada De Laurentiis. I am not sure why aside from the fact that she is incredibly perky and far too thin to be any kind of a cook, especially one who specializes in Italian. Bob likes her a lot. He defends her perkiness and waistline by saying both are genetic and I should cut her some slack. Hmmm. Our debate about old Giada has been going on for years now. He would sneak and watch an episode of her show and I would enter the room and start grumbling. I am not a Food Network fan anyway, so Giada in all her glory was just too much for me.

Giada De Laurentiis has recently started a line of products for Target. I have been canning lately and let me tell you, canning tomatoes is not for sissies. It is a long, hot process that takes all day. So ready to eat, jarred sauce from the store is not an uncommon sight in my pantry. I stumbled by an end rack of pasta sauces, knew I needed some and put some jars in the cart without really thinking about it, thanking the shelving folks for allowing me to skip one trip down an aisle with glass jars and my three children in tow.

Imagine my surprise when I got home and opened the Creamy Tomato sauce by Giada. Oh my gosh, this stuff is like heaven in a jar. Great for immediately dipping bread in, pouring cold over hot noodles for kids when you are in a hurry, etc. It is delicious. Seriously delicious. So, I suppose I'll have to stop all the Giada hate now because I will be buying this sauce again.



The cool wet weather has really helped our tomatoes, believe it or not. They were struggling just to hold steady during the weeks and weeks of massive heat and this past week of cooler temperatures and some rain has helped ripen up so much fruit that we are going to be canning tomato sauce today. Neither Bob nor I have ever canned so it should be a real adventure for us.

Yesterday we picked peaches at a local farm, so those will be made into jam and peach butter in a few days. Today Ella pulled the rest of our carrots, I believe the ones pictures are the variety Cosmic Purple. She also picked some chard, we have tons more but I am running out of ways to serve it at this point. A neighbor mentioned chard soup yesterday so I suppose I'll be looking for a recipe. Our green beans are starting to prolifically produce as well, but the kids are really enjoying them by eating them immediately after picking.

Ella loves to garden and help with veggie prep. She pulled the carrots and raced inside to wash them, using the only sink she can reach without a step stool. Who knew our half bath would get so much action this season!


Cades Cove, Smoky Mountains

I had the pleasure of visiting this bucolic and gorgeous place this past weekend. It is so breathtakingly beautiful, I will never forget it. There are cabins for rental in the cove along with several hiking trails. I hope our family can vacation here some day.


Spotlight On

I kept seeing this book discussed in various places that I visit online so I ordered it and have really enjoyed it. Frankly, I am in awe of families that can really be self-sufficient. I do my best with vermicomposting, growing some of our own veggies in the spring/summer/fall and buying organic when I can. I try and make my own bread and get local meat. But I have yet to try my hand at making homemade yogurt or sewing all my kids clothes. The ladies who seem to have the time for this also seem to have a slightly different household workload than my own with their spouse also around the vast majority of the time. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying that sometimes practicality wins in my life and that means occasionally pulling into Chik Fil' A or using plastic ziploc bags and ditching them or throwing out leftovers instead of using them up.

But if I am really getting down to nitty gritty honesty, my biggest problem is lack of discipline. This is an overarching problem throughout many areas of my life from how I choose to spend my free time to not planning ahead to pack nutritious food prior to heading out with the kids knowing I am going to be tired and hungry and susceptible to pulling into Chik Fil' A. I definitely have a sense of entitlement that I should have fun and free time to waste on Facebook and video games instead of choosing to spend that time doing something more productive. Speaking just about this very thing on her blog, Sharon Astyk wrote a really great piece in response to an article written in Salon about the book. It was a really thought-provoking blog post and I encourage you to follow this link and read it. It made me think and since I read the post I am more aware of the things I take for granted that I can buy easily and cheaply.

Here is an excerpt from her post:

There's a kind of willful incompetence that is endemic in our society, and it is the territory of privileged folks who characterize basic, functional human work as something you need a special gift for. And this serves them well. As long as you don't know how to do something, and can naturalize your "flaws" as just "how you are made" you don't have to apologize for the fact that you are sticking someone less privileged with your work. In fact, you can totally sympathize with them, and totally care about justice for people just like them - at the same time that they get paid badly or treated badly for doing work you could do too.


Granny's Gumbo Recipe

Brien's Granny was born and raised in south Luzianna and grew up cooking Cajun goodness. She brought these recipes to Brien and his family when she would come to visit. Her style of cooking involved LOTS of garlic, "pepper" (cayenne!), and sea food. Mm.

She had moved to Williamsburg prior to her death, and even though she could no longer see, I can remember her standing in the kitchen with Brien, imparting her knowledge and wisdom of cooking all things yummy. I'm not sure what triggered it, but recently, B has had a hankering for seafood gumbo. He took himself into the kitchen and went about replicating Granny's recipes--for of course, nothing was written down, it was all in her head.

Well, we think this recipe is now ready to share:

Granny's Gumbo

1 cup bell pepper
1 cup celery
1 cup onion
1 cup carrots
6-8 cloves garlic
1/2 cup flour
1 stick butter
chicken stock
2 pounds meat of your choice
1/8-1/2 t ground red pepper (depends on how spicy you like it!)
salt to taste

1 cup onion
1 cup celery
1 cup carrots
1 cup bell pepper
(I typically chop it fairly fine so it will cook quickly)
6-8 cloves of garlic, minced or put through a garlic press

In a large Dutch oven over medium-low to medium heat, melt a stick of butter (please, NO margarine!!). When the butter has melted, gradually add in a 1/2 cup of all purpose flour. You MUST stir this constantly. It will become hot hot hot and quite sticky and has been referred to as Cajun Napalm, so be sure you don't splash any on yourself.

You will keep stirring the flour/butter mixture until it is about the color of peanut butter. Then, add the onion and garlic. After about a minute, add the remaining veggies. Cook these until they are well softened and the onion is clear, about 10 minutes or so.

Add a carton of chicken broth/stock (or, make your own), and stir until slightly thickened. Add your meat (in this case, 1 pound shrimp peeled and deveined, 1 pound scallops with the small muscle removed from the side--although, this evening we made it with chicken and smoked sausage), and cook until meat is heated through or thoroughly cooked.

Add the seasonings and serve over rice.



Tomato Taste Testing Has Begun

ETA on 7/28/10:

Our Paul Robeson tomatoes have begun coming in and - this is the best tomato I've ever eaten! They completely live up to their reputation and will be grown again every summer for the rest of my life. Delicious!

The White Tomesols are producing now as well and they are a really interesting mid-sized tomato. The flesh is mainly cream and near the top of the tomato gets slightly more pale yellow. The taste is very light and slightly citrus. I am pleasantly surprised as I mainly grew them for the kids - they like to see veggies growing in "funny" colors.


I'm going to keep a running tally as various varieties ripen. It is so interesting to me how the area of the country they are grown in and the weather conditions present during the growing season can change a particular variety's flavor so much.

So far we've had four varieties produce ripe fruit:

Mystery Variety (I thought I was growing Black Cherry but Baker Creek has had a well documented mix up and they have no idea what seeds were put into one lot of Black Cherry seed packs, the lot I happened to get a packet from). It appears to be a paste variety and it is thick skinned and a bit mealy but still better than anything you can get at the grocery store. I will not be growing the seeds from that Black Cherry pack again. I like Amish Paste for a paste variety and unless this plant ends up being a prolific, steady producer I don't see any reason to grow it again.

Golden Sunray - Can in no way compare to Dad's Sunsets. They are fine, but the flesh is not very juicy and the flavor is milder than I like. I won't be growing it again.

Stupice - Early variety, the point isn't the flavor it is eating ripe tomatoes by late June/early July!

Sioux - Unbelievable flavor and juiciness. This variety has lived up to its reputation. The fruits are quite big, juicy and have a great tang. It will be on the maybe list for next year. Yum!

I have White Tomesol, Green Zebra, Dad's Sunsets, Paul Robeson, Brandywine, Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge and Amish Paste setting fruit and getting ripe. I'll report back when we've had a chance to eat some of them.

*I prefer juicy, tangy, more acidic tomatoes to sweet varieties.

Bread & Butter Pickles

See this jar of pickles? There are 41 more just like it sitting on my kitchen counter. It took two days of effort, but in the end it will be worth it. Besides, I love to can. When my girls were little, I canned every summer--lots of different things. Since they have been gone from my home, I haven't done much canning because it's hard to eat a lot of canned food all by yourself. As a result, it's been years since I have made bread & butter pickles. I decided to make them this summer mostly because I use them in various dishes I make, and the ones from the store just don't taste as good. Plus, they have a lot of additives I do not want to consume, so the decision to make my own pickles was fairly easy to make. I'm growing my own cucumbers, but I only put in six plants meaning my harvest won't be a big one. To date I've harvested three, not enough for even one jar of pickles. Saturday, when I was at the Farmer's Market, I found a good deal; a lady sold me an entire box (about 35 pounds) of cucumbers for $15. I felt a little guilty because it seemed the farmer wasn't getting much return for her hard work. Fresh cucumbers have a short shelf life so Sunday and Monday quickly became pickling days.

I've used the same recipe since 1978. It is one generously shared with me by my cousin, Lynn. I've never looked for another one because these pickles are so good. You can find the recipe at the bottom of this post. I suggest, though, that before you attempt to make pickles, you read about home canning. There are little steps you have to take to ensure that you won't end up with botulism or some other dread disease.

So, what am I going to do with 42 jars of pickles? Family members have all said they'll take a few jars, and I'll give some to friends. And I'll use some myself. Best of all, it will be great to once again have a shelf full of pickles that are ready for use at any time. There nothing quite like a shelf full of beautiful home-canned foods as a reminder that your labor to produce them was well worth the effort.

Cousin Lynn's Bread & Butter Pickles Recipe:

30 cucumbers 1” in diameter

10 medium onions

½ cup salt to 2 cups water--Morton's makes a nice pickling salt that comes in a 4-lb. box.

ice cubes

Slice cucumbers and onions very thin. (That’s in the original recipe. I now slice mine fairly thick.) Place in large container and pour salt water over them and enough ice cubes to make the water cold. Mix. Let stand for three hours. Drain and rinse in cold water baths twice. Drain again to remove all excess water.

Bring to boil in a large pot:

· 5 cups white vinegar

· 2 tsp. Celery seed

· 1 tsp. Ground ginger

· 1 tsp. Curry powder

· 4 cups sugar

· 1 tsp. Turmeric

· 2 tsp. White or regular mustard seeds

Add cukes and onions and bring to boiling point. Simmer ten minutes. (This, also is in the original recipe, but I don’t cook the cukes; I leave them raw.) Put into hot sterilized pint or quart jars, and add the pickling brine. Add canning lids--flats and rings--and only tighten the lids with your fingertips. Process ten minutes in a canning pot with a canning rack after water begins to boil.


Green Hornworms

Green hornworms are a huge annoyance to tomato gardeners. The larvae feed on the tomato plant and leave damage in their wake. If you see them you just have to suck it up and pluck them off and either squish them or drown them (I like to use a pail of soapy water). When I first started getting serious about gardening I would spot the hornworms with white looking eggs all over their backs because they were easy to see. I thought these were especially bad because the eggs would hatch and out would come scads more of the green hornworms. I was mistaken!

Just this weekend my husband plucked a cocoon riddled hornworm off our tomato plants and headed for the trash can with it. I told him that he had just gotten rid of some very good friends for us! Wasps lay tiny eggs on the hornworm and then the eggs hatch and then the hornworm is eaten as a first food for the wasp larvae and then the larger white egg looking things are the wasp cocoons. It is a parasitic relationship that benefits the organic gardener.

So if you see this in your garden, leave the green hornworm alone!


Papa's Potato Salad

Jerry Noonkester made the best potato salad on the planet. It was wonderful to eat while still warm, and still wonderful to eat while cold. For years I tried to make potato salad like he did, but never quite got it right. Lately, however, I seem to have done a better job of recreating his masterpiece. (Sadly, Jerry is no longer with us, so I can't ask for his help.) Here's my version:

Quantities vary depending on how much you want to make.

  • Boiled Potatoes
  • Chopped Onion
  • Chopped Hard Boiled Eggs
  • Chopped Bread & Butter Pickles
  • Mustard (Raye’s Sweet & Spicy works best. You can order it from the factory in Eastport, Maine or buy it at Harris Teeter or Fresh Market. I'm not sure if Trader Joe's sells it.)
  • Hellman’s Mayonaise
  • Salt
  • Pepper
My process is simple. I boil whole red potatoes, drain them, and when somewhat cool, peel off the skins. (They slip right off.) Next, I cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces and dump them in a bowl. I chop eggs next and add them to the potatoes. [Note: For three pounds of potatoes, I use four to six eggs.) Then I add a chopped onion and chopped bread & butter pickles. (I like my own pickles best, but ones from the store will work in a pinch.) I mix all of this together and add enough mayonnaise to coat things well. Then I put in a tablespoon or two of Raye's Sweet & Spicy mustard. I've tried other mustards, but this one works best. Avoid spicy brown mustard or Dijon. Salt and pepper to taste and mix well.


Dreams Do Come True

I've oft dreamed of having an herb garden, one easily accessible from my kitchen. All winter long when I'd pay exorbitant prices for small packets of dried out or wilted herbs sold in the produce section, my resolve grew. I love to cook and most of the recipes I use call for fresh herbs; dried ones just won't do. I suppose that last winter I spent about $8 per week on herbs. I'd get them home and they would be wilted or dried or worse. Picking through the slim selection available at the grocery store usually resulted in frustration. If I didn't use the herbs the same day, it was most always a mistake. Often, there was more than my recipe called for and too many went to waste. So, in late winter when seed catalogs began to arrive in the mail, I eagerly looked for a good solution. One company I've dealt with for many years is Gardner's Supply in Vermont. When their catalog arrived, I sat down to peruse what they had for sale. I quickly spied what I hoped would be a good idea--a standing herb garden. It claimed to be easy to assemble, and one option was to add wheels. Too many times in my life what has looked great in a catalog has resulted in disappointment. But I always have faith in whatever I set out to do, so I placed my order in March and filled with anticipation eagerly awaited it arrival. The catalog was right. The thing was easy to assemble. One nice feature is the self-watering system which makes it easy to keep things fresh.

Other times I've grown herbs--mostly basil--I have not been successful. What you see in the picture above is dramatic success! Yes, every herb I planted has grown and is now lush. The scorching heat has things looking a bit tired, but trust me, all is healthy in my little standing garden. Needless to say, I LOVE it. It is portable and on wheels so in the winter I can bring it inside where it can reside next to the sliding glass door. Now, every evening as I'm cooking, I slip out onto the deck, scissors in hand. I cut a bit of whatever strikes my fancy knowing that it will quickly grow back. Tonight I put chives and a bit of chopped dill in my potato salad and it was divine. Then, in a large tossed salad I put fresh basil and tangerine sage and the rest of the chives. Again, it was delicious. If you are interested in such a garden, check out Gardner's Supply. They have a website, and best of all the standing garden is currently on sale, reduced 10%.


Tomato Growth

Transplant Day

Week Three

Week Five

These plants are going crazy. We used a simple mix of compost and peat and that seems to be giving us the best results we've had in raised beds thus far. We've really pruned a few of them back pretty severely of suckers and let others go - we are testing whether pulling the suckers really makes a big difference in tomato production. I've found a few tomatoes with blossom end rot that had to be yanked and chucked but overall things are going well. Our one plant, Stupice, has already produced a few tasty tomatoes and another should be ready tomorrow. The herbs are also doing well and our chard and beans have really taken off. We harvested our radishes and they were too spicy for the kids so I will be looking for milder varieties.

Because of the insane heat and lack of rain we are watering daily and deeply. The tomatoes especially are beginning to show leaf curl from the intense heat - they like it hot but they are trying to not get burned to a crisp! Hopefully things will cool back down into the 80s this weekend and we'll get a little rain.


Ella's Birthday Cake

A week ago I still had no idea what to make for Ella's 5th birthday cake. She had asked for strawberry shortcake for her birthday party that is coming up this weekend but I still wanted a cake for her for her actual birthday - 5 is a big milestone year after all!

I randomly decided to check in on a blog I visit infrequently, Posy Gets Cozy, and lucky enough a really tempting looking cake and frosting recipe was up. It looked so good I decided to try it out. We decided that the cake was really as good as anticipated and the frosting was a nice complement, though I am pretty sure I will use 1/2 tsp. of vanilla extract next time instead of a tsp. of almond extract - it was fine, but I really tasted the flavoring and I think something less bold would be better. This really makes a big cake, after we had each eaten a piece, I split the rest of the cake up and delivered it to three of my neighbors!

Here is the recipe:

Hershey's Deep Dark Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

(***I used 1/2 cup of hot coffee and 1/2 cup of boiling water***)

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round pans or one 13x9x2-inch baking pan.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes for round pans, 35 to 40 minutes for rectangular pan or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.

*The Cloudburst frosting recipe is on Posy's blog, I didn't ask for permission to repost it so I am not going to, so I added a direct link to the recipe above.


Simple Pleasures

My father is an artist (he attended three years of art school), as was his brother, his uncle, and his nephew. For some reason the ability to draw realistically seems to pass from uncle to nephew in my family. I've always felt left out in the creativity department, though, when I was a child, my dear grandmother spent hours teaching me needle crafts. I did okay with embroidery but flunked knitting and crocheting. It was not for her lack of trying. My hands just never seemed to have the fine motor skills required for keeping stitches consistent. Thankfully, both of my daughters have not been afflicted with this problem; they are whizzes at both knitting and crocheting. So, it was that fate stepped in and allowed me an opportunity to find a way to express myself artistically in my older years. And it's great because I now have lots of time to pursue my new-found hobby.

A couple of years ago I arrived at my sister's house for a visit, and she apologized that she already had a card class scheduled. Her daughter had put together a class and my sister was hosting. "If anyone doesn't show, you are free to participate," she told me. I did, and a whole new world was opened up to me. I did not need to be able to draw or have much fine motor skill to make cards. I fell in love that day, and have been making cards ever since. I can spend hours in my studio playing with color and embellishments. I send cards all the time, but they still stack up. I must have about one hundred, but I know eventually they will all go to good use. In a small way I now understand how an artist might not want to let go of a painting. These cards are my babies, and I'm loathe to send my favorites because I enjoy looking at them. (I'm sure that sounds extremely silly.) It seems odd that I, a woman with no true artistic ability, can sit and create things using my imagination. Rachael is also an eager card maker, and her ability far outstrips mine. She has much more innate artistic talent than I. Recently she told me that she is entering cards in a weekly challenge. I decided I would do the same. The card above is one I'm entering in this week's "Oh, Baby!" challenge. It's taking a lot of guts for me to put my work out there. But, as my grandmother used to advise, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."


Vicarious Thrills For My Two Co-bloggers

Is there anything better than a small town parade? Look at that color guard. Doesn't it make you beam with pride to be an American? I'm posting this for my daughters--my co-bloggers--who did not get to attend their hometown parade.

The community band did not march, instead opting for a ride on a truck. I guess this is in deference to the older members who may not have been able to march in the hot sun. And yes, the sun was scorching hot.

The folks in this jeep passed out small American flags to the children who ran out to get them. With a small town parade it is easy to stop the flow long enough for the audience to become participants.

The only horses in this year's parade were kind enough to not mess the road with their droppings.

These VT students yelled out the original, historic cheer:

Hokie, Hokie, Hokie Hi
Tech, Tech, VPI
Sol a rex, sol a rah
Poly tech Virginia
Ray, rah, VPI
Team, Team Team!

(At least I think those are the words.)

Both political parties made their presence known.

Lots of red, white and blue were in evidence.

Only in a small town like Blacksburg would a rusted out old truck make it into a parade. I loved it!

I think anyone who wants to can join the parade, even the local Imaging Center.

Yes, I agree. Kids should play outdoors. And this area is so beautiful and safe, I'd like to see more kids doing just that.

The political opposition was represented, too.

Lots of trucks were in the parade, most for local businesses.

These old cars--this picture and the next two--seem to show up every year. I think kids watch for them.

There were muscle cars, of course. I liked this one because it was so patriotic. As they passed, each one would rev its engine ... just because it could.

What's not to love about an old truck?

Of course, the BT was decked out for the parade. I think buses and firetrucks and rescue squad vehicles are in parades to show us that our tax dollars buy important things.

It may be hard to tell in this picture but this entire family was decked out in red, white, and blue. The next several photos below illustrate that we are well taken care of in the safety department. I'm not sure why they do it, but if they didn't make the siren blow or beep their super-loud horns, the firetrucks would just be a bit ho-hum.

Blacksburg's mayor was in the cat bird's seat. Of course, he waved to all his constituents as he passed.

I couldn't resist including a picture of our local road sweeping machine. Like I said, only in a small town would this be in a parade.

I LOVE the American flag and it was everywhere. Happy birthday, USA! Long live small town parades!

One thing I have always loved about Blacksburg is the beauty of the Virginia Tech campus. Great pride is taken in the landscaping across the huge expanse of land on which Tech sits. Tech is a big part of what makes Blacksburg Blacksburg, a high tech community in a rural environment. So, I'm wondering why the Highty Tighties or the Marching Virginians or the football team or President Steger were not in the parade. And for that matter, where the heck was the Blacksburg High School band or the Blacksburg Middle School band?


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