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.
Two Happy Surprises

Yesterday I went to Lowe's to buy something and in the middle of the main aisle was a bright green display for Ball canning supplies. Knowing that I was hoping to make pickles and spaghetti sauce later in the summer, I bought some rings and flats for my canning jars. Then, I spied the "Ball book" something I have not seen for sale in 25 years. It is a soft cover, magazine-sized book of canning recipes. My old trusty one from the late 1970s is at Rachael's house, and because I wondered how much recipes have changed in 30 years, I bought a copy. On my way home, I decided to run out to Crow's Nest in Price's Fork to see what fresh produce they have for sale. Mama mia! I almost fainted when I saw the huge bunches of just-dug beets. For the past many months I have been hankering to make beet pickles so with this happy find I bought six bunches of the biggest beets I have ever seen. The cost? $1.50 per bunch. Amazing. I got home and called Rachael telling her that I needed the beet pickle recipe from the old Ball book. She sent it to me. On a hunch, I checked the new Ball book to see if it contained a beet pickle recipe. It did and I wondered how much it had changed over the years, thinking how sad it was that everything seems to end up "new and improved". Imagine my shock and delight when I read Rachael's email with the recipe. It is the exact same one as in the new Ball book! I guess some people think like I do: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. As I type this the pungent odor of vinegar and spices are overwhelming my house and my nose. Oh, those jars of beet pickles all lined up on the counter sure look inviting.

Here's the recipe:

Beet Pickles

3 quarts peeled, cooked small beets

2 cups sugar

2 sticks cinnamon

1 T whole allspice

1.5 t salt

3.5 cups vinegar

1.5 cups water

To cook beets:

· Wash and drain beets.

· Leave 2" of stems and the tap roots.

· Cover with boiling water and cook until tender.

· Combine all ingredients except beets.

· Simmer 15 mintues.

· Pack beets into hot jars, leaving 0.25" head space. (Cut larger beets in half, if necessary.)

· Remove cinnamon.

· Bring liquid to boiling.

· Pour, boiling hot, over beets leaving 0.25" head space.

· Adjust caps.

· Process pints and quarts 30 minutes in boiling water bath.

Yield: about 6 pints.


Dressing for Salad or for Chicken

Last night I cooked a dinner good for a hot day. I grilled chicken breasts and made a large green salad. For both the chicken and the salad I created the following dressing. I brushed it on the chicken while it cooked, used some to dress the salad, and when the chicken was done, I poured the remainder over the chicken when I served it.

Whisk together until fully emulsified:

3-4 T. Lemon Juice
1-2 t. Dijon Mustard
1 T. Minced Fresh Rosemary (Here's where it pays to have an herb garden.)
1/2 t. Sugar
1/4 t. Salt
1.4 t. Pepper
1/4 c. Olive Oil
1 Minced Garlic Clove


A New Project

I am beginning a new project, one that is perfect for a newly retired person who needs to learn how to use all of the bonus time she has been given. (What a gift!) Over the years I have inherited a ton of family papers and artifacts. I've used many of them in teaching teachers how to teach history so that children will learn it while falling in love with a fascinating subject. Needless to say, everything is in a bit of a mess because I've never organized things before. There is so much now that I must get a handle on it before I inherit anything else. My goal is to create a family archive, and to this end I have contacted an archivist in the Special Collections Department at Virginia Tech. (I hope to hear back from him tomorrow.) I want to tackle this project in a methodical manner so that the end result will serve two purposes. First, one hundred years from now, no family member will remember my Uncle Richard, so I want to ensure that his artifacts and papers make sense to someone in the future. I want whoever reads Uncle Richard's World War II letters to realize what a treasure they are. Hopefully, future family members will come to know Uncle Richard through what he has left behind. Second, I want to create finding aids that will serve as a model for those who inherit the collection so that they can add to it and create new finding aids for whatever has been added. Perhaps this is a waste of time. I hope not. It seems that every generation in our family has a history buff or two. My daydream is that some day, one of my great-great grandchildren will peruse Uncle Richard's picture album from the front lines of World War II and will want to know about the man who took the pictures. The same is true for the gloves Dad wore when chauffeuring Generals Eishenhower, Bradley, Clark, Groves, and others, or for his Tootsie Toy collection. Imagine someone in 2080 holding toys a boy played with in the 1920s and then learning about his great-great-great grandfather. Won't that make these people real? Won't they come to life? My greatest fear is that no one beyond me will be interested in any of this and will donate the mess to Good Will. I truly don't think that will happen if for no other reason than my descendants will realize I put a ton of work into this project and will want to preserve it.


Spaghetti Sauce Alternative

Ella doesn't like spaghetti (or white potatoes or macaroni and cheese or any other typical kid fare). She likes the noodles with butter, the typical red sauce does not impress her. Bob figured out that if he kicked it up a notch with garlic, capers and kalamata olives then she got on board with red sauce. Cooked tomatoes are super good for you and processed and dried pasta is not really, so trying to get her to eat the healthier part of a spaghetti meal was a good challenge.

I am trying to save money. This means I am trying to eat out of our well stocked pantry for a couple weeks. I am not planning recipes to buy items for, I am figuring out how to use things up. Tonight I was tired and I desperately wanted to order in but I resisted and pulled out the VitaMix and VM recipe book instead. In a pinch I can usually throw enough common items in it and get something edible and tasty back out very quickly. Quick was in order tonight.

I began with the Tomato Basil recipe and adjusted it quite a bit. I did not have sun dried tomatoes as the recipe called for but I did have two fresh tomatoes and some canned tomatoes. The recipe only called for one clove of garlic and that just wouldn't do. I added more basil, a can of artichoke hearts, 2 tsps. of capers and lightly blended for 25 seconds on a medium speed (6). I then put it over spaghetti noodles with some fresh chopped parsley and parmesean cheese on top.

1/4 balsamic vingear

2 Tbs. red wine vinegar

2 whole fresh tomatoes

1 12 oz. canned diced tomatoes

4 cloves of garlic

8 fresh basil leaves

2 tsps. capers

1 can artichoke hearts

1/4 c. olive oil

The kids LOVED this! I may play with the vinegar and reduce it a bit the next time as there was a noticeable tang but it certainly was not a bad tang, as we all gobbled it up. The artichokes blended up in the sauce give it a "meatier" texture while keeping the sauce deliciously vegetarian.

The ingredients in the measurements above are definitely good for 2 meals for a smaller family or 1 meal for a large family. You need far less sauce on the pasta since it has such a punch than you do with typical marinara recipes.

If you try this let me know what you think. I used a VitaMix but any old blender will do since you want a coursely chopped and blended consistency and not a smooth consistency. Enjoy!



Do you ever eat really poorly when you travel? I do. I eat at fast food restaurants and eat junk food that can be bought at convenience stores and gas stations. It is almost part of the travel ritual, I buy and eat foods and let my kids eat foods that we usually wouldn't eat. Sometimes a McDonald's french fry and a real Coke really hit the spot. My grandmother always packed a cooler full of nutritious and cost-conscious foods for traveling. I should be more organized and do the same but to be honest, it is hard enough just getting myself and the kids packed up and loaded up and to our destination without losing my sanity.

Last week I was away from home. I helped my aunt prepare healthy meals but I snuck quite a few real Cokes in, ate cookies and fast food and all sorts of bad things while on the road. And when I got home I just really felt blah. I do think days of eating crap affect your mood and your energy levels. So now I am trying to even back out again and get myself on track.

Our menu has included most fresh, raw fruits and veggies, big salads and some light grilled chicken, turkey burgers and simple green smoothies. I'm hoping that it only takes a week to get rid of the lingering headache and the two pounds I gained while gone. I'm happy to be back into my regular eating routine but, boy...

That real Coke sure tasted delicious!


Lemon & Blueberry Ice Cream

Rachael and I arrived back in Blacksburg after a week on the road. Her kids are troupers, but we all are a bit road weary. Before we left, we promised Dottie that she could see baby Ellie and sweet little Lily upon our return, so I figured that inviting her to dinner would be a good idea. Rachael tackled the Tikka Masala, while I made a large green salad. We planned to serve the Tikka Masala over rice, and all we needed to round out the meal was a refreshing dessert. Mind you, we arrived at my house at 3:00 and dinner was to be at 6:00, so it had to be something simple and quick. I rooted around the fridge to see what was there and still in usable condition after a week's neglect. I found two large lemons, and I had just purchased a couple of pints of blueberries for breakfast. From past experience I knew that lemons and blueberries are a good combination so I decided to make lemon-blueberry ice cream. I hunted high and low for a good recipe, but found none, so I made up my own. It turned out so well, I decided to post my simple solution here:

½ cup fresh lemon juice

Grated zest from one large lemon

1 cup whole milk

1.5 cups sugar

3 cups heavy cream

1 pint blueberries

1. Put sugar and milk in mixer bowl and mix on low speed until sugar is dissolved.

2. Add other ingredients and stir.

3. Pour into ice cream freezer.

4. Process for 20 minutes.

5. Put into freezer-safe bowl. Cover with foil and freeze for 1-2 hours prior to eating.

Dottie said it was her favorite dessert I've ever served her. That is saying a lot!


Gardening Hopes

My mom, Lissie, posted on facebook yesterday that gardening is an act of faith. And oh boy, that is such a true statement. You work like a dog, spend countless hours and a good bit of money and in the end you get what you get and you don't throw a fit. The whims of nature with the weather and critters really change the game yearly and the assaults are unbelievably sneaky. It takes a rabbit only a day to ravage your lettuce or an especially wet and cool summer to ruin your tomatoes that you started from seed way back in March. The fact that so many of us do it again and again and again and that there is an enormous online gardening community devoted to gardening as well as countless books on the subject demonstrate that we collectively do want to figure it out . For this very reason I can see why commercial agriculture with its use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and wasteful irrigation practices became popular. Farmers just want a guarantee that their crop is going to survive and be marketable. Obviously things have seriously gone off the rails but I really do understand the original impulse and how wondrous chemical fertilizers seemed, and why modern irrigation and pesticides were embraced.

My blog confession of the week is this: I use Miracle Gro. I know, I know. I don't use it on everything, especially not on anything we will eat. But for my flower pots and front beds? Ahem, yes. What can I say? I want them to be big and beautiful and especially the front beds need a lot of help. We have compacted clay and rock up there. The last two weeks as I've been working at planting things I've literally dug out 2 trash can loads of compacted clay and added soil amendments in its place. It will be years before those beds have workable soil and I don't have that kind of time. The shrubs that the builder put in are all horrible and spindly but we have decided to wait for end of season sales for new ones for the front. So in the meantime I have put in perennials like coralbells and false spirea, salvia and hyssop to fill in the sparse areas and then in the front I've gone with an eye-popping red and white combo to draw the eye forward. Nothing like some petunias, impatiens and verbena to look good in a hurry. I have some double hollyhocks on the way that will fill in the very back behind our crappy japanese hollies. Those and a small vitex tree are the last things I am planting this summer.

In the back, we (Bob) put in a large island with 4 big trees including two cryptomeria, a japanese maple and a crape myrtle and a skip laurel in front. We have a small nishiki willow, one elagnus and one beautiful hydrangea to round things out. I've put in some lavender, some columbine and sprinkled zinnia, four o'clocks, nigella and bishops lace all around the bare areas to try and fill them in a bit this summer and I planted some small Teddy Bear sunflowers along the front. More hollyhocks will go in the back to once again fill in while we wait and wait and wait for the trees to grow to give us more privacy. Hollyhocks are really lovely, I'm just hoping to avoid rust with them here because I had such a problem with it in Kansas.

All along our double stairwell in the back we have some big pots to block little ones from falling. Along the outside rail I've planted three varieties of morning glories. We have several other pots of mixed flowers here and there on our porch and outside the garage.

As for our raised beds, we originally bought prefab cedar boxes but we couldn't find any labeling on what they were coated with so Bob decided to take them back and build with raw wood, which we are sure will only last a few seasons but that is OK. What is nice about building our own is that we got a greater depth than we could get from prefabricated boxes and we will easily be able to modify two of them into cold frames this fall. We mixed a combo of compost and peat moss and put all the seedlings in and so far everything seems to be doing well.

We are growing several varieties of tomatoes, pole beans, a few varieties of peppers, some herbs, radishes, carrots and two varieties of chard and my most anticipated new trial of summer 2010 - charentais melons which we will grow up a trellis.

Tomatoes: Amish Paste, Golden Sunray, White Tomesol, White Currant, Black Cherry, Stupice, Souix, Paul Robeson, Brandywine, Green Zebras, and Dad's Sunsets

Peppers: Baby Belles, Jupiter, Thai Hot, Red Marconi

Beans: Kentucky Blue Wonder

Herbs: Dill, thyme, 3 mints (chocolate, apple, peppermint), parsley, chives, 3 basils (lime, thai and genovese), lemon verbena, lemon balm.

Chard: Pink Flamingo and Rainbow

Radishes: French Breakfast and Plum Purple

Carrots: Atomic Red and Cosmic Purple (both Ella choices)

*In the photo below of the raised beds, the perspective is off, there is 15 feet between the end of the slide and the raised boxes!


Improving Ready-to-Eat Foods Via The Microwave

One guilty pleasure that I discovered many years ago was to microwave ready-to-eat foods made of chocolate. First it was Golden Almond candy bars. I’d break the bar into pieces and zap the pieces for about 20-30 seconds. Then, I’d sit with a long iced tea spoon and eat the melted mess. About this time a friend told me that M & Ms could be greatly improved by a session in the microwave. The trick, I was told, is to only zap them long enough so that the candy shell cracks slightly leaving a warm melted center. Overdoing it results in scorched chocolate, so it is better to do a batch for 15 seconds, test one, and add more time if needed. Mama mia! What a wonderful way to improve on an already “perfect” food. Today, Rachael told me that the only way she eats Moon Pies is after they have spent 15 seconds in the microwave. “The marshmallow greatly expands so that the Moon Pie doubles in thickness," says she. I’m not a fan of Moon Pies, but this is tantalizing enough to make me want to try it.

So, what ready-to-eat foods do you like to microwave? Let us know in the comments so that we can try them out.


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