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.
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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