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.
The Grammar of Happiness

I watched a very interesting documentary recently.  It featured an American man who went into Brazil in 1977 as a missionary with the hopes of converting an indigenous tribe, the Piraha.  His goal was to learn their language well enough that he could translate the New Testament into their language so they could receive the Gospel.  Over the course of 25 years he learned their unique language, became a linguist by degree and lost his faith in Christianity.   The American, Daniel Everett, has challenged the prevailing view of expert linguists about how and why human beings acquire language based on his research of the Pirahan people. 

I had no idea linguistics could be so thrilling!  Even more interesting is the transformation of this man over the course of a few decades and where he is now both professionally and spiritually.  I find any conversion extremely interesting, especially if very strong beliefs were present before the conversion happened - even if that conversion is one that takes a person from belief in God to atheism.   I admire people who are fully engaged to the point that they come to some sort of personal conclusion, even if their conclusions about God are far different from my own.   I guess having experienced a religious conversion myself I have empathy for the staggering changes it brings to one's life.  

This documentary is very watchable, very thought-provoking and even entertaining.  I highly recommend it and I will be reading Dr. Everett's book soon.  You can watch the documentary, The Grammar of Happiness  on Smithsonian's website.


Fall Planting

Yes.  I'm still planting.  It sure as heck was cold today with the wind blowing, though!

Advent is upon us and I've finally gotten the final gardening jobs finished that must occur.  There are still some shabby looking daylilies out there that need trimming back but I am just not going to look at them and pretend they do not look pathetic and sad and in need of trimming.

I've planted peonies, alliums, transplanted some dwarf hydrangeas, moved nandina and catmint, planted potted mums in places that didn't need anything new but I couldn't stand to toss them as their blooms began to fade and spruced up my window boxes with some more euonymus to fill in.    I planted (with help!) 500 Dutch Master daffodils around the sign of my church last weekend and went back out today with my husband and added some compost to the bed and then mulched.  The Knights of Columbus were out there selling Christmas trees and well, I am just not ready for that yet.  Too early for me!  I'd wait until Christmas Eve if my children did not give me pleading Bambi eyes about the whole thing.

Back to the alliums.  I planted some and I'm not sure why.  I had a Groupon for my favorite nursery and no idea what to buy (for the first time ever).  I don't have a lot of space left but I had an area in the back of a bed that could use a bit of drama and height so I planted some alliums to perk it up.  I'm not even sure I really like them as they look like a plant right out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  Huge lollipop flowers is what they are.

I also transplanted Cityline Rio hydrangeas into the front bed where they will get a bit of sun but mostly shade.  I bought these plants on a whim a couple years ago and I've not yet seen a single bloom.  They were in pots, I haven't pruned them at all and no idea what to do with them.  Hopefully they will be happier in the ground than they were in their pots. 

I also planted Cytherea peonies - 3 of them.  I've never planted peonies before, I hear they are a bit picky and will not bloom if not planted correctly so I pored over the instructions and I'm hoping for the best.  


Chocolate Fudge Pie

Ah, chocolate fudge pie...:sigh:  It's rich, chocolatey deliciousness, and Jessie inevitably asks for the recipe around this time of year so I thought I would go ahead and post and share (that, and Jori asked for it too ;oP).

This is a pie whose recipe doesn't call for a crust.  However, I like crust with my pie, so I'll use either a regular pie crust or a graham cracker crust (and as I was feeling lazy today, graham it was).


  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3 squares (1 ounce each) unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans


Directions for Chocolate Pie
Melt butter and chocolate in double boiler; beat in sugar. Fold in flour and salt. Add vanilla. Beat eggs; fold into chocolate mixture with pecans. Turn into a greased 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 350° for 20 to 30 minutes. Center of the chocolate pie should still be moist when done.

This pie is incredibly fudgy and is wonderful when served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. :o)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!



I have a dear friend who also happens to be my neighbor and she always finds the perfect gifts to give to me.  These gifts are personal and particular as she understands what I like.   She gave me the book The Curious Gardener's Almanac by Niall Edworthy for my last birthday.  It sat on my bedside table for months, patiently waiting its turn, and finally I picked it up and it has been one fun delight after another as I've browsed through it.  This is not a "how to" gardening book and it isn't a book that needs to be read in linear fashion.  It has all sorts of weird and engaging tidbits.  
For instance:
"It is estimated that one third of human food supplies depends on pollination by insects, mostly bees.  It is not known exactly how many bee species there are in the world but the number is thought to be around 30,000.  Bees are particularly attracted to blue, white, yellow, and purple colors for their ultraviolet properties.  It is no use planting red flowers in your garden to attract bees because bees cannot see red."  
And honestly, with an author named Niall Edworthy, how can this be a bad gardening book?  Does that name not scream rural England to you, land of Gertrude Jekyll-esque gardens?  He claims to be a novice in the beginning of the book but it must be kismet that he has the name in the world that screams "Gardening Authority".  

I watched the documentary, "Last Will. & Testament" about William Shakespeare recently.  Apparently, most people know that it isn't a done deal that William Shakespeare of Stratford was THE William Shakespeare of literature fame.  He may have just been a dude with the same name as the pen name of another person.  I did not know this.   Lots of famous writers and thinkers have questioned the legitimacy of Shakespeare actually being Shakespeare (Freud, Mark Twain, to name two).   I watched this documentary on a whim and I'm so glad I did because it was so interesting!    


Flourless Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Cassis

Yesterday was Nana's birthday.  I wanted to make a cake she would enjoy, something decadent, rich and utterly delicious. 

Knowing Nana's love of chocolate and raspberries, I thought I had hit upon perfection after a skeg through my pinboards. 

Lil took one look at this cake and said, "It sure is flat!"  Why yes, yes it is.  Flat and full of dense, chocolatey goodness

12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (2-1/4 cups)
6 oz. (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into six pieces; more for the pan
5 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. table salt
3/4 oz. (1/4 cup) unsweetened natural cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy; more for the pan

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 300°F. Lightly butter the bottom of a 9x2-inch round cake pan and line it with a round of parchment. Lightly butter the parchment and the sides of the pan and dust with cocoa powder. Tap out any excess.

Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave or in a medium metal bowl set in a skillet of barely simmering water, stirring with a rubber spatula until smooth. Remove the bowl from the water bath and set aside to cool slightly. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, and 2 Tbs. water. Beat on mediumhigh speed until the mixture is very foamy, pale in color, and doubled in volume, 2 min. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually pour in the chocolate mixture. Increase the speed to medium high and continue beating until well blended, about 30 seconds. Add the cocoa powder and mix on medium low just until blended, about 30 seconds.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a pick inserted in the center comes out looking wet with small gooey clumps, 40 to 45 min. Don’t overcook. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 30 min. If necessary, gently push the edges down with your fingertips until the layer is even. Run a small knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Cover the cake pan with a wire rack and invert. Remove the pan and parchment and let the cake cool completely. The cake may look cinched in around its sides, which is fine. Transfer to a cake plate. Cover and refrigerate the cake until it’s very cold, at least 6 hours or overnight.

(Also, a helpful tip: To slice this cake (or any dense, sticky cake), heat the knife first, either by dipping it in a tall container of very hot water or by holding it under hot running water for a few seconds. Then wipe it dry before cutting the cake. The knife will cool quickly, and the cake will start sticking, so expect to rinse and repeat several times. A crème brûlée torch, if you have one, is also handy for heating up a knife.) 
I modified this blackberry cassis recipe to make the raspberry cassis.  I'd never made one before, and I have to say, this sauce hit the perfect note of sweet and tangy and was an unbelievable complement to the richness of the cake.

1 bag of frozen raspberries
1-2 baskets of fresh raspberries
1/3 cup creme de cassis
1/4 cup sugar, approx.
juice of 1/2 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
1 tspn cornstarch
pinch of salt

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the raspberries, frozen and fresh, until they begin to release their juices.
2. Add in the creme de cassis, sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice and bring to a simmer.
3. When the liquid begins to simmer, spoon about 1/4 cup of the liquid into a small bowl.  Add the cornstarch to the liquid in the bowl and whisk thoroughly until the cornstarch is dissolved.  Return the cornstarch mixture to the berries cooking in the saucepan.
4. Bring the mixture to a boil and allow to boil for about a minute.
5. Reduce heat to a simmer until the liquid begins to be syrupy.  Remove from heat--serve warm immediately or reheat in microwave before serving (if you are freezing the sauce for later use).

This cake wasn't that hard, nor did it take that long to put together.  I made the raspberry sauce while the cake was baking and simply reheated it when it was time for birthday cake.  If you're looking for an easy, yet undeniably decadent dessert, this is it. :o)


Pumpkin Carving

My husband is a very detail oriented, methodical, disciplined kind of guy.   It is nice to have him around because we balance each other out.   He is always our pumpkin carver as the kids like to choose their favorite character and see it lit up on the face of their pumpkin.  If it were up to me the pumpkins would have triangle eyes, a round nose and a lopsided mouth with a tooth or two stuck back in with toothpicks.  Absolutely nothing wrong with those kind of pumpkins as those were the jack-o-laterns that made up my childhood and I have nothing but fond memories of them.

Bob spent all morning last Sunday outside on our back porch as the wind began to whip (Sandy was on her way) carving these pumpkins.  Ella wanted to create her own design and she made a charming jagged grin with a nice "Boo" at the top.  I like her pumpkin a lot as it is very "her".  She is moving father away from commercial characters and she is very creative and likes to draw, write stories and so on.  I wasn't surprised that she wanted to go her own way with her pumpkin design.  Gabriel has left Thomas the Train behind and has become a huge super hero fan.  I either read or make up stories for the kids at bedtime and the other day I was scolded by him when SpiderMan began to fly in my story.  Apparently he only swings from webs he throws.  OK, now I know!  So, SpiderMan was his must have for his pumpkin.  Grace is very partial to Princess Aurora as she has long hair, a crown and wears a pink dress.    She liked the design that Bob carved into her pumpkin because Aurora's hair looks fancy and long.  Grace wants nothing more than long "princess" hair right now.

All three pumpkins turned out so well!


(C) 2010
Blog design by Splendid Sparrow