Sunday, December 12, 2010

Nana's Homemade Soup #1

Hey! Here it is, halfway between the First Sunday of Advent and Christmas Itself, and I'm still making presents, decorating and planning goodies to eat for the 12 Days of Christmas!

The weather turned unusually cold down here in North Texas tonight, and I thought I'd send you my recipe for Nana's Homemade Soup. Nice to sip while trimming the tree, especially with hot bread, salami and cheese panini, or hot cornbread!

Nana's Homemade Soup

Okay, this is fun. Maybe you never made homemade soup before, but it’s as easy as offending an in-law. Here’s how it goes:

Start this right after breakfast if you want it done by lunch, okay?

Now, when we started being friends, I advised you to keep a good-sized plastic container in your freezer for “juices,” by which I mean water from cooking your veggies, liquid from the cans you open, the water with which you “deglaze”* your meat pans after you use them, the last little bit (or the last ‘quite a bit’ of gravies—except cream gravies), and so on. You get the idea. But don’t use cream sauces or cheese of any sort. That’s for something else.

Even fish juices and waters, like from tuna cans and fish oils (for example, from smoked oysters) are fair game, but keep them in another, separate, freezer container; just be sure to keep them, because they make chowder to die for! Imagine all the essences of the sea, combined with meltingly mealy potatoes, sweet kernels of corn, leeks sautéed in butter, and good rich hot milk in a creamy soup, speckled with black pepper and fresh parsley! Oh, yum!

“Save them juices,” as my son-in-law, the non-saver-of-juices joked, after tasting it. “Nana, save them dee-licious juices!”

I like to tear a few pieces of processed seaweed into tiny bits and scatter them in the soup; they’re full of iodine, which steps up your thyroid function and helps you be energetic. Some say it even helps you drop a pound or two, eating lots of seaweed. If you’re sensitive to iodine, for pity’s sake, stay away from it! If you’re not sure, ask your doctor, don’t take my word for it.

All I know is, it tastes fantastic to me and makes me feel good! Try all this new stuff, unless your doctor says otherwise. You’ll love at least some of it, and it’s all a great adventure, right?

My friend Bora used to warn me daily that I was feeding my family too much sodium from the canned-veggie juices, that we would all die horribly of heart attacks, or strokes, or Creeping Sodium-itis, or whatever, and on and on and on, and then I watched her make her own version of soup, during which she added a good handful of salt. Hmmmm.

I don’t add salt to my soups, or do so very rarely, depending on taste, and none of us have died of heart attacks yet, praise God, so I think you’re pretty safe. If, however, you or someone in your family has a coronary or other problem, be sensible – don’t use this recipe, find another one. There are a lot of them out there.

Anyway, back to the soup: Take all that good leftover liquid, dump it in a stockpot or whatever you usually make soup in, add:

--one or two (16oz) cans of diced, crushed, or whole tomatoes;
--a large onion, peeled and finely minced;
--a can/freezer package of whole-kernel corn;
--as many cloves of garlic as you enjoy (I use half a dozen, peeled and coarsely
--a couple of the outer, discouraged-looking ribs of celery, washed, trimmed,
chopped fine or sliced into 1/4-inch slices,
--a handful of washed, minced, celery leaves,
the mixed veggies left over from dinner night-before-last (anything but broccoli
beets, or broccoli raab; for some reason, they don’t work well in this);
--the meat from any leftover roast, the spare grilled hamburger no one ate (cut in
small dice), the two chicken legs, boned and diced (that just means take
it off the bones, there’s nothing fancy about it, believe me!)
--Diced green peppers, rutabagas, any veggie but beetroot, cabbage, broccoli,
broccoli raab or their relatives. Squash, carrot, corn, peas, green beans and so on are fine.
--Do not add dried beans, split peas or lentils unless you want to cook it much, much longer. That’s a whole ‘nother story. More on that later.
--If you haven’t any leftover meats, use a pound of beef stew meat, beef bones with lots of meat on them, or a cheap piece of chuck, diced, and boil it up until it’s practically falling apart; and:
--between a quart and a gallon of water, as needed. Start with the quart and add more as you need it.

Boil it all up gently until the meat is falling apart, the veggies are cooked, and it smells heavenly and has reduced at least one-third in volume; then add lots of parsley, if you like (not more than ½ cup, fresh or 4 BIG Tbsps, dried), and especially if your soup has any oil on top that you chose not to remove.

I usually remove mine. Just skim it off with your soup-cooking spoon. NEVER save beef tallow (fat) for cooking, but some people use chicken or pork fat with good results, in different parts of the world. Make our own decision about that.

Don’t add salt until right before you serve it. Salt toughens meat and when your liquid boils down, it gets too salty if you’ve salted it too soon. You can add pepper whenever you want.

By the way, did you know that the parsley on your plate at a restaurant is there to aid your digestion? Of course, you have to eat it for it to work. Looking at how pretty it is doesn’t help much. *smile* But that’s why it’s there.

Serve your soup in nice crockery dishes or something that the kids will like (and can’t hurt), and you can even let them help you pour the juices for the next batch of soup into the container ‘for our special soup.’ Little ones, and even children not-so-little, love doing this, and pre-teens and teeners like making the soup themselves.

Try it and see.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Turkey 'n Sausage Gumbo

Looks like the holidays are upon us, and what better way to use up the turkey leftovers than a nice, hot, comforting bowl of good old gumbo, on a chilly Autumn or Winter night?

Gumbo, as we have discussed before, is the Swahili word for "okra," and I can't imagine gumbo without that vegetable. But I can't imagine it, either, without one of my own kitchen standbys, the humble onion.

Onions have been working busily and well in people's kitchens since 'way before the Egyptians started getting fancy with their tombs or the Romans came strutting across Europe bringing law and recipes.

Onions and lilies are members of the same family, and they're grown pretty much the same way. The only difference is that we usually put lily bulbs into the (slightly alkaline, well-fertilized, moist-but-not-wet, well-drained) ground to get a lily later in the season. With onions, either we put in "onion sets," which are little baby onions, into the ground; or we put in onion seeds, which are produced on beautiful 4" compound blossoms (that means the big blossom is made up of lots and lots of tiny little blossoms who have clubbed together to look like a big bloom).

When the blossom is ripe, the onion will produce little black seeds, two or three for each small flower. These seeds, planted and nurtured, will produce onion sets in the first year, and then--replanted--they will grow to maturity the second year.

Of course, we always buy our onions at the supermarket, but it doesn't hurt to know how to do it, just in case something goes wrong someday. Perhaps the Europeans didn't know there would be two world wars within two generations, and I'll bet those who knew how to grow and eat from the land were the Europeans who were able to keep their families fed.

Here's a wonderful way to use onions. I do it all the time, and no one has complained yet.

Turnkey and Sausage Gumbo

I picked-over turkey carcass PLUS
1 6" X 3"-thick chunk of white or dark meat
1 1/2 # Italian hot sausage links
1 very latge onion
6 fat cloves garlic
6 outer ribs of celery, with leaves
1 1/2 tsps dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 (1#) bag frozen cut okra
1/2 c virgin olive oil* OR
a mixture of olive oil and bacon fat, rendered
1/2 all-purpose flour*
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp Spanish paprika
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
salt to taste
1 cup white wine
1-2 gallons water


Boil the carcass in a large stockpot over low heat until all the collagen had leached out of the bones, about 18 hours or all-afternoon-turn-it-off-to-sleep-all- the-following-day. Keep the cover on the pot while cooking and refrigerate it overnight in the pot. Let it cool, then pick every bit of the meat off the turkey bones. Reserve meat in one bowl and the broth in the stockpot. Discard the bones into your compost bin; your plants could probably use the phosphorus and calcium. Dice the chunk of meat. Slice the hot sausage in to 1/2" coins. Reserve together in a large bowl. Peel your onion and dice into 1/4" dice. Smash, peel and finely chop the garlic. Wash the celery ribs and slice into 1/4" slices. Reserve with the onions and garlic in a second, smaller bowl. Measure the pappers, thyme and oregano into a small bowl and reserve.


Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy Dutch Oven, and add the flour when the oil gets hot. Keep it moving with a wooden spoon, not stopping for a minute until it changes and becomes a lovely medium-dark brown color and smells lovely. This is a dark roux, and making it properly could take 10 or 15 minutes or more. Trust me, it's worth it.

When it's the right color, add the onion/garlic/celery mixture and sweat your veggies until they surrender. Now add the black pepper/cayenne pepper/thyme/oregano mixture and stir until it blooms with fragrance. Now add your meats and stir them around until the sausage greys out somewhat. Add about a gallon of the water and all the wine, turn down the heat to medium-low, and let it simmer for about 45 minutes, while the flavors blend, the sausage cooks through, and the broth thickens.

During the last ten minutes of cooking, add the frozen okra and let it cook to tender-crisp perfection. If you wanted to sneak a pound of shrimp just then, or an equal amount of fresh oysters, or both, I won't complain. Neither will you. Just be sure the shrimp lose their transparency but don't get to the "Goodyear" stage, and only add oysters for the last couple of minutes, until their edges curl. Of course you will include the oyster liquor (juices) as well.

Serve the gumbo hot in soup dishes, over a scoop of fluffy, fragrant white rice, with steaming garlic/Parmesan bread and a nice big salad to "go with."

Be prepared to serve "seconds" to all comers. This is just as good the next day, but the broth will have thickened and gotten a little gluey due to the okra. Still tastes great. Try it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A is for Artichoke

I was in the supermarket a few days ago, buying artichokes, when a lady and her husband came up and spoke to me. “What in the world,” she said, in her polite, gentle Southern tones, “are those? And however do you cook them?”

(One sweet person confided to me that she had tried boiling them and they were awful!-- so she threw them out. They would be, if you boiled them and tried to eat that.)

All of us probably have seen those prickly, hard, green vegetables at the supermarket. They look rather like a great big thistle—or like a green, leathery, flower-bud--but the question the Gentle Lady asked is the question most people have: How in the world do you cook them?

“Simple,” I told her. And it is. Not easy, but simple.

I’ll tell you in a minute, but first, let me tell you a little about artichokes. They are native to Sicily, and grow wild there and many other places with the same climate: dry but not desert, and they enjoy rain as long as it drains away. They hate wet feet. They're easy to grow at the back of the garden and will last sometimes for twenty years, giving you artichoke all the while.

They really are a relative of the thistle, with long, serrated, prickly leaves and thick overlapping petals. These petals start large at the outside, growing smaller and thinner toward the middle, until they are almost transparent at the center.

The center, or “choke,” is the problem.

The choke can kill you if you don’t know how to handle it.

Please!—don’t freak or give up on artichokes! Just listen for a minute and I’ll teach you how to make them perfectly safe and absolutely delicious! Just hang in there with me for a little while longer.

The “choke’ is the equivalent of a flower-center; but instead of a velvety center a daisy displays, the artichokes have a bristly, prickly round “brush” of individual hairs, each armed with a prickle, that—if swallowed or inhaled—causes the eater to choke. Hence the name. The inhaled hairs cause the body to react by producing so much mucus that it strangles the unwise eater, and tragedy can follow.

There’s an easy way to get around this. Trust me, people, I’ve been cooking and eating artichokes for three-quarters of a century and I haven’t killed anyone yet, nor have I strangled on artichokes. Guess why?

BECAUSE WE REMOVE THE CHOKE!—which is the same as pulling a rattlesnake’s fangs and poison glands. Without the choke, the artichoke is a pussycat. A delicious gustatory pussycat. And now you’re going to find out how to do it!

Here’s how you prepare an artichoke to be safe and luscious to eat:

1.) Wash the outside of your artichoke. You don’t really have to do this, because you’re going to steam them over boiling water, but we Americans are paranoid about cleanliness when it comes to food, so wash it if you will. I won’t tell.
2.) Now take a tightly-closed artichoke (the ones with wide-spread petals are old and tough—don’t buy them!) and with a large serrated knife, cut the top off the artichoke, straight across, until the blossom is about 4 1/2"--5" tall.
3.) With your kitchen shears, snip off the prickly points on each remaining petal. Cut them straight across like French Fingernails. Take off about ½” of the tip.
3.) Cut off the stem level with the bottom of the artichoke so it can sit up straight, and remove any small, broken or discolored petals around the stem.
4.) Next, spread the petals apart, gently but firmly moving them outward, away from the center. Press them away, but don’t break them. Be firm but careful.
5.) Now with a tablespoon, begin at the inside, where the petals are 2” long and less, and start scraping them off the inner base of the artichoke. That is, from the 2” long petals near the center, to the entire center. Remove it all. Scrape them up from the bottom, making sure to clean out under the longer leaves as well, because the “choke” tends to try to hide little prickles under there, too.
6.) DO NOT USE WATER at this point. Water will glue the prickles to the sides and you will fail to see them. Dry-scrape the “choke” out of the artichoke blossom, taking away all petals 2” long or shorter, and discard them in your compost container. It takes strong hands, but you can do it.
7.) You should end up with circular rows of petals surrounding a large, empty center with a smooth base inside. BE SURE TO CLEAN WELL UNDER ALL THE REMAINING PETALS SURROUNDING THE CENTER. The center base probably will turn an unappetizing dark color. Ignore it. It’s just showing off. When it’s cooked, it will be jade green and luscious and nice as you please. If it bothers you too much, squeeze a little lemon juice over it and watch it start to behave.

Now for the Stuffing. What? You did know there would be some kind of wonderful Sicilian stuffing for these things, didn’t you? Well, sweetie, there is. This is how you make it, and it’s enough for three nice big (properly prepared) artichokes.

1 ½ boxes Italian Bread Crumbs
3 ½ c Parmesan cheese, divided
1 large onion
3 large ribs of celery
½ head garlic
10-12 leaves fresh basil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp red pepper flakes
¾ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
6 oz shrimp in their jackets*
6 ozs sliced mushrooms*
2 eggs
1 ½ c white wine*
Olive oil


Peel and mince onion. Reserve in a big bowl. Trim, slice and chop the celery small. Use the leaves as well. Smash, peel and mince garlic and julienne the fresh basil leaves. Reserve them in a medium bowl. Add your red and black peppers, oregano, and salt—everything we’ve mentioned so far--to this bowl as well.

In a little bowl, beat the two eggs (if you’re using them) with 1 Tbsp water. Reserve.

Save the garlic peels, celery trimmings, and the heavy basil stems; you’re going to be using them in just a minute.

Peel the shrimp and chop them small. Rough-chop your mushrooms and put them in the same second little bowl as the chopped shrimp.


In a large frying pan, heat about ¼ c of olive oil until it's hot. Add the contents of the onion/garlic/basil/oregano/peppers bowl to the pan and sweat the veggies until they're 'sweating' and the onions look transparent and soft.

Now add the mushrooms and shrimp to the veggie/ mixture

To the small saucepan, add 1-1/2 c of water, and 1 ½” white wine* and the shrimp jackets, the garlic peels, celery trimmings, and the chopped basil stems. Place them all together over medium heat and watch them carefully. Shrimp jackets (shells) love to try to climb out of the pot in a lovely white foam that smells absolutely horrible when it hits the heat. Otherwise, it smells heavenly. Keep it all in the pot by stirring and/or adjusting the heat. Do not cover completely; offset the cover to prevent their boiling over.

Once the mushrooms are plumped and the shrimp are just pink WITH NO TRANSLUCENCE (be really sure of this, okay?) add the bread crumbs and keep stirring until everything is mixed together like old friends. Toast the breadcrumbs for a minute or two, then take the pan off the heat. Using the back of your wooden spoon, stir in about ½ c olive oil, blending it in until everything looks damp but not wet or (God forbid!) gloppy. If there are any lumps, mash them with the back of your spoon.

If you’re using the eggs, add them now and mix them in well. Now, using a ladle and pouring it by ½ cups, strain a little of the shrimp/celery/basil/garlic skin/wine stock (“shrimp stock”) through a sieve or strainer into the crumb mixture. If it's still too dry, add a bit more, but don't add too much. As we agreed above, we don't want it to be sloppy or even wet. Just promising. Mix everything well until it’s evenly blended, then add 2 c of the Parmesan cheese.

You have added everything EXCEPT THE rest of the SHRIMP STOCK. Strain that and reserve it in the freezer for gumbo, etouffee, or Shrimp Creole later. The recipes will be in future blog posts, I promise. And oh, do I make a gool ol' gumbo!

You also have ¾ c Parmesan cheese left over. Good. Wait a minute, you’ll need it in just a second.

Place your first artichoke in the big bowl and, beginning at the outside, use your wooden spoon (and your hands, once it cools a little) to fill every petal with stuffing, ramming it down well to the base. Continue to fill the petals, going around and around. Pack in firmly as much stuffing as each petal will hold. The artichoke will expand to permit this and look marvelous.

At last, fill the center with stuffing, again, pushing it down well. When the blossom is so full it can’t hold another crumb, pour ¼ c (one-third) of the reamining Parmesan cheese over the top; place the stuffed artichoke on a rack over a few inches of boiling water, and steam over medium-low heat until a petal pulls out easily, with a slight tug. Keep a sharp eye out, so your water doesn't boil away.

It’s often advisable to tie the petals together loosely with clean kitchen string, but be careful not to tie them too tightly; the stuffing needs room to swell. Cover tightly and simmer hard over medium-low heat until the artichoke is done.

Refrigerate the artichoke if you have used the shrimp/shrimp stock/ mushrooms or eggs, all of which are perishable and optional (but yummy!) Artichokes WITHOUT the abovementioned additions can stand out for a couple of hours.

Repeat the process for stuffing and steaming the other two artichokes, and refrigerate them until they are devoured. It generally doesn't take long.

Here’s how to eat them:

Cut them into wedges, if you like, or do it our way, which is to put the whole blossom on the table on a sturdy plate and let family and friends keep at it until they gobble it up. The stuffing is scraped with the bottom teeth off the petals individually, along with the base of the petal itself. Sounds awful. Isn’t.

Quite the contrary, it’s practically addictive! The base itself is the piece de resistance, a gourmet's delight! Tender and creamy-firm, it’s a great substitute for English Muffins in an Eggs Benedict. A well-prepared base, covered with a perfectly-poached egg and a mask of Hollandaise sauce, is a pure joy!

Wonderful stuffed as an hors d’ouvre, or at a party as a savory offering. But you’d better make a lot! Your guests are going to love it!


Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Simply stated, compost is black gold.

Am I talking about oil?—“Black Gold?”

No, I’m not talking about oil; oil is absolutely nothing compared to compost. If the world went ‘Bang!’ tomorrow, and we were back to a stone and a spear, oil wouldn’t mean a thing. It would just be that same old black gooey stuff my dear immigrant Grandfather used to dig up in his back yard every time he went to move
his outhouse. He called it (God forgive me!) “that-a goddy-d*mmy oil-y!” His swear, not mine—I don’t talk like that, and neither does he, any more, God bless him. He’s been dead about seventy-four years.

According to family legend, his nephew saved him the “oil aggravation” by buying the land nearby, drilling under my Grandfather’s land, and suctioning away every last drop of the oil, thereby relieving my Grandfather of the problem.

Oh, well; it was just oil.

But compost, now, compost is what your veggie plants eat to grow. It’s what earthworms give their lives making, singing all alone there in the dark. Yes, singing. When you see a Robin cock his head to listen, when hunting on a lawn, does he hear the earthworm’s music, eat it along with the ‘singer’, and then sing it back again to us? I wonder.

Strictly speaking, though, a scientific study done recently absolutely confirmed that earthworms actually sing, using their little setae, which are kind of like bristles all along their bodies. Of course, we don’t do it that way, but hey, to each his own, right?

Well, why not? Crickets rub their ankles together to make music, and we don’t do that either. I had a first (and last) date with a guy in high school once, who tried that in our living room, but before he could even get one note going, he was flying though the air out onto our front lawn, and my sainted father was gently reminding him to “Give our regards to your parents, son!—and don’t you ever let me see your ugly face around here again!”

So much for home-made cricket music.

Back to the compost:

Compost is pretty much made up of two sorts of components: green stuff and brown stuff. Let’s clear the air quickly: “brown stuff” doesn’t mean manure; “manure” means manure.

“Brown stuff” means dead leaves, dry grass, torn bits of black-and-white newspaper and such. “Green stuff” is green grass clippings, kitchen waste (except meats, dairy, grease and unfortunately, onions, which repel earthworms, who are your best friends in the world after your parents, your priest/minister/rabbi, and your spouse.) Earthworms eat bits of green stuff, brown stuff and manure, pass this through their skinny little selves, and expel for our benefit the richest manure in the world, known as “earthworm castings.” Earthworm castings are what your veggies write at the top of their Santa Claus list.

And it’s all made up of brown stuff, green stuff and manure. The smaller you can cut these elements, the quicker they will become rich, dark brown, velvety new earth. Now, you may have some questions about adding manure to the mix. You can use horse, cow, chicken, lion, elephant (I kid you not; some people beg it from zoos, and it’s not a bad idea!) camel, just about anything except human and pet manure (dog, cat-, rat-, mouse-, snake-, or gerbil--manure, too.) Goldfish water from the bowl or aquarium is fine.

Even compost has its limits.

You can add well-rotted, listen to that again, WELL-ROTTED manure to your compost bin, but not fresh manure. Fresh manure has too much ammonia in it and unless it’s had months to rot down and mellow, will burn your plants the way acid will burn flesh. Not a pretty analogy, but I want you to understand the magnitude of the problem. Why grow all these lovely veggies and flowers, and then scorch them to death because you didn’t rot the manure down? Be wise and used well-rotted manure to begin with. You can use all of that you can collect.

You can, however, add fresh manure to your compost bin, only if you are willing to let it “cook down” before you try using it. It helps the pile rot faster, but it, in itself, takes a good long while before it becomes usable.

People in big cities, where they have Police Stables, are in luck; they can get horse manure, happily mixed with bedding straw, usually for nothing. If they send their kids with big double-bagged trash bags, the kids get to know the police, the police get to know the kids, and they will often help out when they can, especially with community gardens (and especially if you share a bit of produce with them—they’re only human, you know, and they like veggies as much as we do) and all is well.

Most of us have to make do with dead leaves, kitchen waste (see list*), and torn-up black-and-white newspapers. Nix on the colors; they’re poison Mix this in a ¾ brown waste--¼ green waste ratio, either in a 4’X4’ bin made of chicken wire connected to old 2X4s at the corners, a compost tumbler, or any 4’ X 4’ X 4’ container that lets air and water in, and will allow you to turn the manure every few days to a week.

Every time the container gets full, move it off to one side and shovel the contents back into it.

Sounds stupid.


This aerates the contents and helps them heat up. The best compost is that which has heated to 160*F inside, has stayed that way for a bit and has ‘cooked’ well. This gives rise to all kinds of beneficial bacteria that make your soil an absolute feast for your plants. When it is finished, it will smell like God’s Breath on a good day. Like fresh-turned earth in the Spring. It’s wonderful!

In cities, many people choose to buy a compost tumbler, and for what it does, it’s worth the price—if you have one. You can get compost from some of them in as little as two weeks. Check out my recommendations on this blog re: compost tumblers and other useful garden and kitchen gadgets. You’ll be glad you did.

When your compost has cooled and smells the way I’ve described it, fill your planting containers with it and put in your seed. Save the rest to invigorate your planting beds. Your little plants should just jump into action. And nothing makes a bitter, snowy day so fresh and hopeful as a container full of new green plants “Spring--ing” into life!

*Usable waste:

Outer lettuce/cabbage leaves Bell and other pepper membranes and stems
Eggplant, squash, broccoli and other veggie peelings, and carrot tops and scrapings/peelings Coffee grounds/tea leaves/opened tea bags
Shrimp/lobster shells (well-crushed)
Any potato peelings you don’t bake (Yum!—Potato skins!)
The coarse outer beet tops (use the tender small ones for cooked greens)
that soggy green stuff in the fridge that used to be something good,
but you can’t remember what
paper napkins, like black-and-white newspaper, will also decompose well

Unusable waste:

Onion/onion skins
meat (any)/meat drippings
cheese, regular or cottage/ricotta/feta, etc.
eggs, raw or cooked
clam/mussel shells
citrus/citrus peels (depends on the state you live in)
grits, cooked
office paper--takes much longer to decompose
colored papers or slick-surface papers

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A is for Asparagus

This year, we had an uncommon surprise—our asparagus actually came up! Now if that sounds kind of like, ‘So what?’ let me explain that I’ve been waiting to plant and grow asparagus for the past forty years, but (while my husband and I grew children and grandchildren and friends and businesses in all the many places we have lived) we never lived in one place long enough to grow asparagus.

Oh, we planted them. Worked the soil and enriched it, make sure it had the correct pH—slightly alkaline, about an 8--(as you’ve heard me say repeatedly, gardening is, after all, not at all about the plants—it’s about the soil) and put down the asparagus roots; but then, we moved again, and the asparagus, like all our many fruit trees and bramble bushes, as well as the rose bushes and perennials we planted, passed to someone else.

Welcome as the gift was, to give as well as to receive, I wanted one day to eat of our own bounty, to put up pears and applesauce, to make apple butter for sandwiches and apple ketchup for pork roasts, to gather our own black- blue- and raspberries, to dry our own meaty tomatoes, and at last, to cut our asparagus and prepare them fresh from the earth.

Well, this year, we began. I put in 24 healthy young plants, and less than a week later, up came the tiny, delicate fronds, no bigger than a pencil lead, but unmistakably asparagus. What a joy!

Asparagus is a member of the fern family, and the asparagus that grace our Easter or Passover tables are simply the buds of these same fern fronds. In fact, some say that the Latin word for ‘sprinkle’, as in the phrase “Asperges me, Domine,” used in Catholic worship, comes from the plant name; or that the word comes from the use of that plant for sprinkling. Who knows? All I know is, whenever the priest goes by sprinling us with Holy Water, chanting, “Asperges me, Domine,” I get as hungry for asparagus as for a blessing.

Anyway, asparagus starts small. Our first sprouts were the size of a wooden pencil lead. In fact, for the first two or three years, the gardener can’t collect any asparagus at all, but must allow the plant to gain strength and breadth; first so that the plants will be suitable for the table, but also to protect the plants themselves.

They are living creatures, even though they are not animals or humans; so as much as is possible, we should be good to them; and in return, we can count on their contributing delicious variety to our dinners, and healthy phytochemicals and minerals to our diets.

I meet a lot of people who tell me, “I don’t know how to grow things. Is it hard?” No, it’s not, not if you start off right. As I keep saying-- and will keep saying, so expect it-- gardening is all about the soil, rather than the plants. You can buy the most expensive plants you like, and tuck them into the ground and water them like mad, but unless you’ve properly prepared your soil, your plants are doomed.

For example, here in North Texas where I live, both our soil and our rain are alkaline. So unless you’re willing to plant xeriscape plants—that is, plants that have been living here since Plato expounded on the rocky hills of Greece, you’d better be ready to add a whole heck of a lot of peat moss and at least one bag of expanded shale to every one of your 4’ X 8’ garden beds.

In places where the soil is sour and acid, you will need to lime your soil. When we lived in a place like that, I used to crush my eggshells and add them to the soil wherever I wanted to grow bulbs (tulips, daffodils, crocus, etc.) I found that it helped immeasurably. Lime (oyster and clamshells, limes itself, and eggshells) sweetens acid soil, while expanded shale, peat moss, pine needles and coffee grounds tone down the sweetness of alkaline soil, making it more acidic. Tea or opened tea bags are good, too, but you can get free coffee grounds from Starbucks simply for the asking, so it’s smart to go that route, too.

What’s important to understand is that plants can only take up nutrients from the soil if that soil is at the proper pH. If it’s too acidic, some plants will wither and die; if too alkaline, others will shrivel and yellow and die. But if the soil is at the proper pH, and you plant all the plants who like the same pH, your whole bed will love you, and thrive like the dickens.

So what do we want here?

What you want, what every avid gardener wants, is a beautiful neutral 7 on the acid-alkaline scale. Of course, gardenias, lilacs, blueberries, azaleas, and many other plants prefer a slightly more acid soil, while others, like lilies, asparagus, and numerous other beauties prefer a slightly alkaline soil. What to do, what to do?

The first thing to do is to test your soil. One way is to take 1 Tbsp. samples from several places in your garden and put them in a canning jar or clean jelly jar. Add fresh water to the top and stir thoroughly. Then, using your soil test kit, follow the directions for determining just what your soil needs for optimum performance.

Keep your soil deeply dug, evenly moist and well-augmented with vermiculite, compost (your best friend!), greensand, and whatever other local amendments your soil needs to reach that ideal .7. You’ll be glad you did! And once you’ve grown your asparagus, here’s a quick and easy way to serve them up!

Braised Asparagus

1 # fresh asparagus
½ stick of butter or the equivalent in margarine, ghi,
or other substitute
¾ tsp dried or 1-½ tsp fresh minced tarragon OR
¾ tsp dried or 1-½ tsp fresh minced marjoram

Wash the asparagus briefly under cold water, pat dry. Snap the stalks where they break naturally when you bend the asparagus in half. Reserve the lower stalks, cutting off the dry end with a sharp knife, and slicing into 1” pieces. Place in a pot covered with water and set on medium heat somewhere on the back of the stove. This is for later.

If you like, you can peel the bottoms of the asparagus stalks with a veggie peeler, laying them flat on a cutting board and simply sliding the peeler along from halfway the top to the bottom. I never do, unless I’m dealing with old store—bought veggies that have been sitting around for a while. Do whatever works for you about this.

Slice the asparagus tops on a slant, making pieces about 2” long, and reserve. In a wok or large frying pan, heat the butter/margarine/ghi until it’s melted and smells wonderful. Add the tarragon or marjoram and warm it until the essential oils are released, and you can smell that lovely fragrance as well. (Remember, we eat with all our senses, so the nose counts, too.) Add the sliced asparagus tops and stir-fry until they are crisp-tender. This is wonderful served with baked chicken, creamed onions and a nice light rice pilaf. Something luscious goes well as a dessert. I’d use ‘Mudgie’s Lemon Pie”* if I were you.

Oh, about the asparagus bottoms you’ve been boiling: put them through your hand-cranked food mill and save the soft pale-green material that squeezes through. The fibers go in your compost bucket. Waste nothing.

Boil down your asparagus water to 1 quart and add the soft pale green stuff from the food mill. Be careful not to let it stick to the bottom. If it tries, turn down your fire. That’ll teach the little dickens. Mix well and freeze or reserve in the fridge. You should have a thickened, cloudy, pale green liquid. Good.

Using a simple white sauce recipe, the asparagus-water mixture, a little whole milk, about ½ c white wine* (added carefully) and whatever leftover asparagus you may have, you have all the ingredients for a scrumptious asparagus soup to start off your next meal, or for a lovely lunch with a shrimp salad and whipped gelatin dessert. 1” croutons quickly fried in a little herb-flavored butter go prettily on top of the soup for crunch. So does a dollop of sour cream. Make sure your herbs all go well together, such as tarragon/parsley/ chives. Sage, oregano, basil and paprika are out. So is dill. Again, make sure you don’t boil the soup once the wine is added, or it may curdle.

*See ‘The Big Family Cookbook’ coming soon to Watch for it!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Squash of all kinds have been around for a long time.

The Native Americans used to call corn (maize), squash and beans “The Three Sisters,” because of the way they helped each other. The corn provided a ‘trellis’ for the beans, the squash shaded the corn and bean roots with its broad leaves, and because the beans are ‘nitrogen-fixers,’ they actually take nitrogen (a natural fertilizer chemical) right out of the air, and pull it into the soil, where other plants—in this case, the squash and the corn—can use it.
They help each others asthree loving sisters do.

This time, we’re talking about Winter Squash. You start the seedlings the same way as usual, unless the weather is past ‘frost time,’ after which you could plant the seeds directly into the garden. I like to start the seeds indoors because birds absolutely love digging up sprouted seedlings. I understand that it’s one of the few ways they can get Vitamin C, so it’s understandable. It’s not as if they can go buy vitamin products.

When we start them indoors, even in clement weather, we have less need for scarecrows and more control over the final spacing of plants. It always bothers me to read instructions that say, “grow five plants and when they’re ‘up’, pinch off the three weakest.”

What kind of nonsense is that? They’re all living things, and each deserves to grow, just as much as the other ones do. Just start them where the birds can’t get at them and space them as you like when they’re ‘Big Kids.’

As far as Winter Squash, there are so many good ways to fix it that it would take a whole chapter in a book to tell you about them. But here are a few ideas for you:

You could use acorn squash the way you used the sweet potatoes in the pork (or beef) roast. Just scrub it, slice it, remove any bruised or discolored parts, and put it around the roast as it cooks. You don’t even need to peel it. God has already marked it into sections where you should cut it.

I generally use it with the sweet potatoes, a lot of thick sections of large carrot, a head or two of roasted garlic (peeled, of course) and big chunks of pre-browned onions. Add a cup or so of red wine and about a half-pound of fresh or canned, rinsed, mushrooms to this mix, and you have a meal. Green peas, about two cups full, don’t hurt, either. This method cries out for hot garlic bread, or hot bread spread with one of those green onion party spreads. It’s a nice way to use up those leftover one-third-of-a-container of party dip. Mmmm….

Spaghetti squash can be boiled whole (Be careful not to overcook it!) and then cut in half, the ‘spaghetti’ (strings of squash) scraped out. Cover it with a good marinara sauce with canned mushroom pieces and black olives in it, and liberally covered with Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano cheese for a satisfying supper.

Spaghetti squash is good, too, with chopped canned clams, some roasted garlic and either a good olive oil sauce, a butter sauce or even an Alfredo sauce. It’s a Godsend for people with gluten problems, because cooked only al dente (which means ‘to the tooth’, or ‘still a bit firm’), spaghetti squash is a fine stand-in for the real thing.

And while you might mistake it for real pasta, spaghetti squash…well, okay, you can tell it’s not real pasta, but still, it tastes terrific, and some people only eat pasta to have something to carry the sugo and Parmesan on it anyway!

As far as the other squashes, like Hubbard and the others, bake them, mash them with butter, a bit of salt and some cinnamon (and maybe just a whisper of nutmeg), and serve hot with ham steaks, roast beef, duck or chicken. You can hardly go wrong.


Cut the squash lengthwise and using a tablespoon, scrape out the seeds and the stringy ‘umbilical cords” onto a plate or paper towel. Don’t try this with summer squash, because they’re usually sold in the supermarket at a small size, and haven’t had time yet to develop viable seeds (seeds that will grow.) But winter squash acorn squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash—actually, spaghetti squash might be a summer squash, but you can save the seeds anyway--and many others will work just fine like this.

When you’ve scraped the ‘innards’ out of the squash, go ahead and bake it while you tend to the seeds. Here’s how to bake it:

Take the two squash halves, lay them face down on a buttered cookie sheet or jellyroll pan (cookie sheets are perfectly flat with a rim only on one side, so you can pick it up easily; jellyroll pans have a 1” lip all round. Use either one, it doesn’t matter) and bake at 350*F—400*F degrees until you can pierce the skin easily with a fork or the tip of a knife.

If you’re going to cook pork with this sort of squash, you can sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar and a few shakes of cinnamon on it before you serve it, either in the shell or once it’s scooped out into a bowl. A couple of pats of butter and a dash of salt won’t hurt, either.

Meanwhile, back to the seeds. Separate them from the ‘strings’ and wash them in a colander or large sieve under cold running water. Not ice cold, just from the cold water tap. Remember, we’re not making “squashcicles.” It’s going to feel squishy and ‘different’, so if you like, have your elementary-school kids do this part—mine loved it!

When the seeds are clean, pour them onto a paper towel and spread them out to dry. Don’t use the microwave or the conventional oven (or any other kind of oven) to speed the process along. Let them air-dry naturally. Shade is great. Sunlight is umm...okay, I guess, but not the best. Microwaves are death.

If you’re planning to plant them, even as part of a container garden--and they’re great in containers!—keep out as many seeds as you want plants, and put them into the same old container-with-the-drain-holes-covered-by-a-coffee-filter-and-filled-with-garden soil and keep it in the sun or under a strong artificial light. Remember that the plants get really big, so factor that into your indoor garden planning. Outside, who cares?

I often make two holes with a church key in the bottom of an 8-ounce Styrofoam coffee cup, line it with a bit of filter large enough to cover the holes, and fill it with good dirt to start large plants like squash, fennel, okra, tomatoes, and the like. Do whatever you want.

You really have to try hard to make a mistake in gardening—or cooking, either, for that matter. Both are just a matter of doing what seems right to you. Be bold! Try it! You can always compost the garden evidence, and eat the kitchen evidence.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hi, everyone!

It occurred to me (as I was posting on another blog, actually!), that I've been telling you how to cook this, that and the other thing, without sharing my "kitchen stuff" list with you! Omigosh! I'm so sorry! Here it is, with my compliments:


For the Beginner” (I have a "For the experienced cook" list, too)

Pots and Pans:

1 Dutch Oven
1 large (11”) skillet
1 small (7-8”) skillet
1 (1-qt) saucepan (also called a ‘saute pan’)
1 (2-qt) saucepan
1 (3-qt) saucepan
1 (4-qt) saucepan
1 4-qt) pressure cooker
1 set (4, 8, 12-qt) stock pots
1 small (12”) colander

1 set mixing bowls:

1 (1-pint)
1 (1-quart)
1 (1-gallon)

1 pasta server
1 wire cheese cutter
1 cheese knife and board
1 corkscrew
1 box grater
1 rasp

1 (2 cup) Pyrex or aluminum measuring cup
1 set of Measures (1/4c, 1/3c, 1/2c, 1c)
1 sifter
3 (8-9”) aluminum cake pans
3 (8-9”) aluminum pie pans
1 (9”x2”x13”) aluminum rectangular pan
(aka “lasagna pan”)
2 cookie sheets
2 muffin pans (2-1/2” cups)
2 round aluminum pizza pans

3 lg cooking spoons, metal
(solid, pierced, slotted)
1 ladle, metal
3 wooden spoons
1-2 wire whisks (“whips”)
1 (3”) wire mesh strainer
1 (6”) wire mesh strainer
1 potato masher
1 rolling pin
1 pancake turner (solid)
1 egg turner (slotted)
1 set measuring spoons (1/4tsp—1 Tbsp)
1 metal spatula (for frosting cakes)
2-4 plastic or rubber spatulas
(preferably heat-resistant)
1 pair kitchen shears
12 (14”) metal skewers
2-3 metal tongs
2 (1-1/2”) brushes for greasing pans, brushing on
B barbecue sauce, etc.
1 (6”) funnel
1 (10-12”) funnel
1 salad set, wooden or plastic (fork and spoon)

1 (9”) French Cooks knife
2-3 paring knives
1 (11”) serrated slicer
1 large butcher’s knife
1 (8-9”) utility knife
1 knife sharpener (manual)

I kitchen string holder and sturdy string
Bamboo skewers (1 pkg)
1 sugar sifter
Sugar bowl and creamer
1 bottle opener with triangular tip
(aka “a churchkey”)
1 nutcracker-and-picks set
Plastic decorating bags and tips

Since you won’t have enough knives for a proper knife holder, why not take a medium-sized new flowerpot, decorate it with acrylic paints to match your décor, and fill it with cheap wooden chopsticks.

Once it’s full of clean chopsticks, it’s a simple matter to store your knives,
blade downward in this flowerpot for easy access and handy storage.

Your decorating bag will come in handy for piping a pretty edging of roasted
garlic mashed potatoes around the edges of a hot Shepherd’s Pie, and will be
helpful in “prettying up” your muffins and layer cakes. It’s a big help, too, in
filling devilled eggs and topping desserts with home-whipped cream or one of
those blocks of cream cheese, mixed with minced pineapple. Mmmm…

What You Need in Your Kitchen

Hi, again, everyone!

It occurred to me (as I was posting on another blog, actually), that here I was, telling you how to cook this, that, and the other, and I had never sat down and told you what you would need to do all of that.

I'm awfully sorry; sometimes you think people "just know" (I don't know why!), and forget to write it down for them. So, here's the list of what I think is absolutely indespensible in a kitchen:



Pots and Pans:

1 Dutch Oven
1 large (11”) skillet
1 small (7-8”) skillet
1 (1-qt) saucepan (also called a ‘saute pan’)
1 (2-qt) saucepan
1 (3-qt) saucepan
1 (4-qt) saucepan
1 4-qt) pressure cooker
1 set (4, 8, 12-qt) stock pots
1 small (12”) colander

1 set mixing bowls:
1 (1-pint)
1 (1-quart)
1 (1-gallon)

1 pasta server
1 wire cheese cutter
1 cheese knife and board
1 corkscrew
1 box grater
1 rasp

1 (2 cup) Pyrex or aluminum measuring cup
1 set of Measures (1/4c, 1/3c, 1/2c, 1c)
1 sifter
3 (8-9”) aluminum cake pans
3 (8-9”) aluminum pie pans
1 (9”x2”x13”) aluminum rectangular pan
(aka “lasagna pan”)
2 cookie sheets
2 muffin pans (2-1/2” cups)
2 round aluminum pizza pans

3 lg cooking spoons, metal:
(solid, pierced, slotted)
1 ladle, metal
3 wooden spoons
1-2 wire whisks (“whips”)
1 (3”) wire mesh strainer
1 (6”) wire mesh strainer
1 potato masher
1 rolling pin
1 pancake turner (solid)
1 egg turner (slotted)
1 set measuring spoons (1/4tsp—1 Tbsp)
1 metal spatula (for frosting cakes)
2-4 plastic or rubber spatulas
(preferably heat-resistant)
1 pair kitchen shears
12 (14”) metal skewers
2-3 metal tongs
2 (1-1/2”) brushes for greasing pans, brushing on
barbecue sauce, etc.
1 (6”) funnel
1 (10-12”) funnel
1 salad set, wooden or plastic (fork and spoon)

1 (9”) French Cooks knife
2-3 paring knives
1 (11”) serrated slicer
1 large butcher’s knife
1 (8-9”) utility knife
1 knife sharpener (manual)

I kitchen string holder and sturdy string
Bamboo skewers (1 pkg)
1 powdered sugar sifter (the metal kind with a handle and pierced top)
Cookie cutters, various
Sugar bowl and creamer
1 bottle opener with triangular tip
(aka “a churchkey”)
1 nutcracker-and-picks set
Plastic decorating bags and various tips

Since you won’t have enough knives for a proper knife holder at first, why not take a new medium-sized clay flowerpot, sterilizeit by pouring boiling water into it, drying it well (air drying is best after wiping with a clean dishtowel) decorate it with acrylic paints to match your décor, and fill it with cheap wooden chopsticks.

Once it’s full of clean chopsticks, it’s a simple matter to store your knives,
blade downward, in this flowerpot for easy access and handy storage.

Your decorating bag will come in handy for piping a pretty edging of roasted
garlic mashed potatoes around the edges of a hot Shepherd’s Pie, and will be
helpful in “prettying up” your muffins and layer cakes. It’s a big help, too, in
filling devilled eggs and topping desserts with home-whipped cream or one of
those blocks of cream cheese, mixed with minced pineapple. Mmmm…

I'm sure these items will be of great help to you in your cooking and baking (even if you only cook at holiday time) and that you will enjoy using them as much as I have done.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Okay for Okra!


I’ve been seeing some strange recipes lately that suggest the way to cook okra is to (ugh!) boil it. Well, maybe that’s how some people like it. I can’t understand why, but to each his own, right?


Let’s talk about okra for a minute. The Swahili word for okra is “gumbo.” I kid you not. So when we say, “Chicken gumbo,” we’re really saying, “Chicken-and-okra.” Shrimp gumbo is the same, and so on and so on. I’m not sure how okra—or gumbo—got here; perhaps some enterprising ship’s captain--or some homesick African, boarding a boat for a trip he never wanted to take--must have hidden a few of the BB-shaped cream-colored seeds in braided hair, in a fold of clothing or a pocket, and nurtured them here.

Sad as the story must have been, I’m so glad they brought those seeds, for generations of Americans of all colors have enjoyed okra for centuries.

Okra likes hot, dry weather (of course, it needs some water) and practically takes care of itself. .Plant them at the back of the garden bed (they grow between 2 ½’ -4’ tall, after all danger of frost is past, and then stand back. They are very enthusiastic growers.

It’s an interesting-looking plant, with pretty yellow flowers, so you can grow it pretty much anywhere but in the living room. Well, practically

Pick the pods when they are three or four inches long. They are most tender then, and will cook quickly. Longer pods, or old pods, will be stringy, tough and unappetizing. Also, you can’t really chew or eat them when they’re dry and stringy, so stick to the small ones for the “best eatin’.”

There are lots of good New Orleans and Louisiana recipes that deal with okra, so many we’d have trouble listing them all here. Here’s a good one that’s quick, easy, great with barbecue, and appeals most particularly well to the menfolk:


About 1-1 ½ # fresh small okra OR
1 (12 oz) pkg. frozen okra
I large onion
I (16 oz) can diced tomatoes
1-2 garlic cloves
½ tsp oregano
¼ tsp thyme
Olive oil
¼ tsp red pepper flakes* OR
1 small pinch of cayenne powder
¼ tsp black pepper, ground*
½ tsp salt*

*Use as much or as little as you wish; just remember, you can’t make this dish without some pepper(s) and salt; and that you can always add more, but once it’s in, you can’t take any out. Walk softly when sprinkling stuff.


Peel and finely dice the onion. Reserve. Crush, peel and finely dice garlic. Reserve that, too. Open the tomatoes. If you are using fresh okra, rinse, top, and tip them (cut off the tops and tips), cut into ¾” slices and reserve in a separate bowl.

In a heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and oregano, thyme and black and red peppers. Sweat them, then add the okra and stir for five Hail Marys if you are Catholic, and about 3 ½ minutes if you are anything else. What you are looking for is a tender but crisp okra slice. You may have to say another Hail Mary. Whatever.

Add the can of diced tomatoes, juice and all. Keep stirring all the time. This is very important. You must not let the okra scorch. Not even a little bit. If it does, toss it in the compost and start over. When all or almost all of the juice is gone, the okra is crisp-tender, and the okra mix is getting dryer-but-not dry, add the salt and black pepper, and take it off the heat. It’s done.

Serve with whole lot of fried shrimp or catfish+, boiled, mashed or fried potatoes, and a great green salad, and enjoy. Or with anything else you like to eat.

+Recipe to be found in “The Big Family Cookbook”, also by this author, at

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


The next time you reach for your potatoes and find that they have long, knubbly white shoots reaching back at you, don’t despair. This is a very good sign you’ll be growing some potatoes, because these snaky things are potato roots

Once, when our son, Kip, was young enough still to be called “Kippy,” he had seen a show on TV that talked about the commercial raising of chickens, and the many eggs they laid. He came into the kitchen with a thoughtful look on his face, and climbed up on a chair to see what I was cooking. As it happens, I was peeling potatoes. He watched for a while, and then asked me, “Mommy, what lays potatoes?” I blinked, frowned, smiled and said, “Excuse me?” He repeated the question: “What lays potatoes? Chickens lay eggs. What lays potatoes?”

I hugged him and thought about what a good question that was, for a little boy not even four years old. Then I explained the difference between egg-laying creatures and (sort of) egg-shaped veggies. He looked rather disappointed, and I finally realized that I had better grow some potatoes—and pretty quick, too--before he made some kind of nest somewhere for whatever fabled creature he imagined was laying our potatoes.

Here’s how to grow your own potatoes if you only have a small back yard or even a terrace or concrete-floored porch (in which case you will need something underneath the container to catch the fluids that will develop):

Take an empty wooden or plastic barrel, keg or even a stack of old automobile tires. Sounds silly. Isn’t. Wash them well, rinse them, and knock both ends out of the barrel or keg. Lay the container on some newspaper, and put about 9”—12” of good rich soil on the bottom. If you're on actual soil, be sure to dig the underlayment well.

Now take your sprouted potatoes and lay them right on the soil. Some people ‘chit’ their potatoes to make as many separate ‘seeds’ as possible. ‘Chit’ them by cutting the potatoes apart, leaving at least one ‘eye’ or shoot to each portion. Dry them for a day or two—depending on your weather and climate—until a greyish skin grows over them. This prevents molding and rotting. Then use these chits on your soil or, preferably, in your garden.

In the well-dug garden, people usually mound up the dirt around the potato plants as they grow, to give the stems more places to grow tubers (‘potatoes,’ to us). But in the barrel, keg or tire stack, you can simply keep on adding straw, hay, dry grass or whatever as the plants grow taller. Just be sure to keep the soil watered: “moist but not wet” is the key. Mound the soil, hay or whatever up to the last six leaves, leaving those free at the top.

The plants should keep growing until they reach to top of the container. They finally will die off as the weather gets colder, and their leaves will yellow and die. When that happens, stand by with a big garbage bag and a basket or bowl for the potatoes, because you’re going to lift away the container and carefully pull back the dried grass or hay. Put the dried grass or hay into the bag, and then into the compost bin if you have one. There should be left lots of small potatoes—and perhaps some good sized ones—for you, and all you need do is dry them a few days in the shade. Not only will you have free potatoes that you know absolutely have no poisonous chemical on them, but your children will always know where potatoes come from.

never in the sun, for that develops solanin, a poisonous substance that turns the skin and flesh green and renders them inedible. Dry them in the shade and you’re fine. .

Dry the potatoes for a few days out of sun and rain—say three or four days—and then use them in this recipe:


8-9 large, mealy potatoes, such as ‘bakers’
I whole head of garlic
1 (8 oz) container sour cream or diet substitute
¾ c—1 c fresh minced parsley
2—4 Tbsps olive oil
Salt and pepper* to taste


Peel the potatoes and cut into 1” dice. Slice the top of the garlic head, place on an oven-proof pan or dish, and drench with 2 Tbsps of the olive oil. Cover with an oven-proof bowl and bake at 350* for ½-1 hour, testing every 15 minutes for tenderness. DO NOT OVERCOOK. Overcooked garlic looks and tastes like old leather. When it is very soft and tender but not brown, remove from the oven and reserve until they cool.

Check your potatoes—they should be done by now. Strain them into a bowl—DO NOT lose the potato water; it’s great for making sourdough bread, wonderful for chowder (that’s another post), and super—when cooled--for watering your alkaline-loving bulbs. Just put it in a gallon-sized ice cream bucket—or several smaller containers--and freeze it.

Mash your garlic in a small bowl with the remaining 2 Tbsps of olive oil until it is an even, smooth slurry. Pour this over your potatoes. Add the sour cream or substitute. Mash them all together with a potato masher (back in the Depression, we kept a clean Coca Cola bottle for mashing veggies) until it’s all well-mixed. Leave a few lumps. Add the parsley, salt, and black or white pepper, if you like, and you’re done!

Serve this with roast beef, Cajun or other meat loaf, or pork chops, with steamed broccoli-and-lemon juice, glazed carrots, and lemon pie for dessert. Oh—a tomato aspic instead of a salad can also be invited; but if you don’t "speak aspic," lettuce wedges are good, too. Enjoy!


Remember to let me know what you think of the recipes, and of the blog in general! If there is something you’ve always wanted to cook, or grow, or both, let me know and I’ll do a post on it. This is a gift from me to you, and as with all gifts, I’d like it to be something you really want.

Thanks, and God love you!


Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Because we are having a wedding in the family this week, it occurred to me that many young people don't really know what's needed to run a kitchen. I'm sure that different ladies would nominate additional or substitute items, but these are the things I find most needful. I hope you enjoy cooking with all of them, and have fun doing it!

For the Beginner:

Pots and Pans:

I Dutch Oven
1 large (11”) skillet
1 small (7-8”) skillet
1 (1-qt) saucepan (also called ‘saute pan’)
1 (2-qt) saucepan
1 (3-qt) saucepan
1 (4-qt) pressure cooker
I set mixing bowls:
1 (1-pint)
1 (1-quart)
1 (1-gallon)
1 8 qt stock pot
1 small (12”) colander
1 pasta server
1 wire cheese cutter
1 cheese knife and board
1 corkscrew
1 box grater
1 (2 cup) Pyrex measuring cup
1 set plastic Measures—(1/4c, 1/3 c, ½ c, 1 c)
1 sifter
3 (8-9”) cake pans
3 metal pie pans
1 (9”x13”x2”) rectangular pan
(aka ‘lasagna pan’)
2 cookie sheets
2 muffin pans (2-1/2” cups)


3 lg cooking spoons, metal
(solid, pierced, slotted)
1-2 wire whisks (“whips”)
1 (3”) wire mesh strainer
1 (6”) wire mesh strainer
1 potato masher
1 pancake turner
1 metal spatula (for frosting cakes)
1 meat fork
2-3 metal tongs
2-4 plastic or rubber spatulas
(preferably heat-resistant)
1 pair kitchen shears
12 (14”) metal skewers


1 (9”) French Cook’s knife
2-3 paring knives
1 (“) serrated slicer
1 large butcher’s knife
1 knife sharpener (manual)

large wooden cutting board
smaller wooden cutting board

(I specify wood because wood 'heals' itself
and doesn't retain harmful germs the way
plastic is said to do.)

Watch for 'The Big Family Cookbook,' coming soon to

Remember to let me know what you think of the recipes, and of the blog in general! If there is something you’ve always wanted to cook, or grow, or both, let me know and I’ll do a post on it. This is a gift from me to you, and as with all gifts, I’d like it to be something you really want.

Thanks, and God love you!


Thursday, July 1, 2010



Eating jalapenos is a bit of an adventure for some. Here in Texas, jalapenos are a staple of daily life.

Some of us even grow our own. Starting jalapeno peppers is pretty easy: Go to your grocery and buy one pepper. That’s right—one. Get a big, healthy-looking one: shiny, firm skin, bright green color. Don’t bother with the yellowish, anemic-looking ones.

Wash the pepper with a soapy sponge and rinse it well. Really, I'm not kidding. I could tell you it makes them less hot, but then I'd be lying through my teeth. Washing them just makes them cleaner, and you're about to eat this one, so trust me. Wash it.

Pat it dry with paper towels or a clean cloth, lop off the top and the tip (saving as much of it as you can), and slit the side with a sharp knife. Remove the membranes and the seeds and reserve the seeds. (Ha! Now you know where I'm going with this.) Those are to plant. The membranes go into your compost container. The edible parts of the top (not the stem or the sepals), the tip, and the ‘shell’ of the pepper get chopped fine and put into a sandwich zipper-closure bag, and popped into the freezer for use whenever you choose. I vote for 'now.'

Now simply plant the seeds in your usual flat/half quart milk container/rusty-old pan-with-holes, any and all covered-by-bits-of-coffee-filter-paper-towel-or-rag-filled-with-potting-soil, and covered with between a sprinkle and 1/8” potting soil, and watered daily. Put it onto a sunny window sill like you always do. You can also use empty egg cartons with the tops cut off and plant one seed in each little module, but they dry out like mad, so be sure to keep them damp. Some people will tell you to plant two and kill the weak one when they get bigger, but that sounds mean. I like to give everybody a fair chance. Some of my weakest seedlings have turned out to be the most fruitful grown plants. Let 'em live. If they want to die, they'll let you know: they'll do it.

Pretty soon, you’ll see the sharp little green leaves coming up, and they grow very fast. They look great. When they get too big to stay where they are (when they have their second set of leaves), simply pot them up into clean, empty vegetable cans/foam plastic cups/little pots (with the holes, the coffee filters, etc., see my previous posts), fill them with good potting soil or good garden soil, and make a hole in the middle.

Prick out the plants with a popsicle stick, a chopstick, or what have you and--lifting them only by a leaf--transfer them one by one, each to its own new pot.

NEVER, ever, pick up a plant by the stem—if you injure a leaf, you lose a leaf; if you injure a stem, there goes the entire plant.

Also, NEVER let the roots stay in the air; keep them covered with soil until you can transfer them. Tuck them in snugly, at the same level in the soil they were before, water well, and keep in light but not sun for about 12 hours. Once they’re settled, you can put them in bright sunlight, little by little; they love it! And you 'll be harvesting your own jalapenos in no time!

Want to know a Mexican “not-so-secret?” Good homemade salsa is not so hard to make if you have grown your own tomatoes and jalapenos! Here’s how I do it:


6--8 ripe, firm, Roma-style tomatoes (plum type)
1 large onion
2-6 nice big jalapeno peppers (depending on how hot you like it)
¼ c chopped fresh cilantro


Peel the onion. Wash, rinse and dry the tomatoes and jalapenos. Chop everything fine and put it all in some pretty little serving dishes. Sometimes you can find ‘fun dishes’ that look like peppers. You want to put it out in several dishes, because I’ve seen guests just stand over a single bowl of salsa scarfing it up as fast as they could, and nobody else could even get close.

If you scatter it around the room in different dishes, at least other people have a fighting chance. It helps to put on some good “salsa music” while you’re making and serving this, just to get into the mood, and be sure you buy a couple of big bags of tortilla chips so everyone can scoop up the delicious treat.

Invite a few friends in, set out the goodies, roll up the rugs in case you can't help dancing, and enjoy the evening. Ole’! Arriba!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Everybody is pretty familiar with the old standby veggies: corn, peas, potatoes, and carrots. Some brave souls venture into spinach, broccoli and even Brussels Sprouts. Lettuce, tomatoes and celery mostly are relegated to salads, and that’s about that.

But let’s try something new this time—let’s try leeks.

Leeks are members of the onion family, and before you run the other way, making a cross with your index fingers in my direction, let me reassure you—you won’t get digestive upsets from eating leeks that are properly cooked.

What you will get are compliments on this yummy side dish that goes well with fish, beef, or chicken. (As far as I’m concerned, it goes well with anything, and after dinner–-or ‘supper’, if you’re a Southerner like me--I just dump the leftovers in my “Soup” container in the freezer.)


Make your old standby flat container with holes in the bottom, covered by pieces of coffee filter. Don’t drink coffee? Then use pieces of paper towel. Can’t afford such luxuries? No problem! Use doubled squares of bathroom tissue or small squares of rag. They’ll all work, and one is as good as the next. Now fill your container with good dirt, either potting soil, garden soil or your own compost. See upcoming Post #10, “How to Make Compost—in the City, the Suburbs or the Country.” It’ll cover the whole process no matter where you live.

Back to the leeks: with a popsicle stick, a pencil or a twig, make ‘drills’ (evenly-spaced shallow gutters in the soil) for your seeds. Space the seeds about an inch apart, or the width of the first joint of your thumb. Plant them carefully, but please don’t go so far as to use a ruler or anything; just do your best. Seeds are innocent creatures of God, and they are very forgiving. Cover them gently, pat down lightly and water well. Some people like to use vermiculite to cover them. Do whatever you like.

In a week or two, you’ll see slender little loops of green pushing up through the soil.

Leeks are monocots, which means they don’t have the two halves of seed casing like beans, tomatoes and most others. Those kinds are dicots, which name comes from the Greek meaning “two” (“di”) and cotyledon, (“hollow;cavity.") I have no idea what 'cavity' has to do with it, but I know they're not dentally dangerous, so don't worry.

It’s easier to remember when you’re actually looking at the plant. If it has one green finger pointing upwards, and no seed split case, it is a monocot-- actually, “monocotyledonous” (sway "say "mono-cotrty--LEE-din-us." Throw THAT at your science teacher, kids, for a shock. Just make sure he has a strong heart first. Corn, bamboo, leeks, scallions and lilies are monocots; beans, lettuce, squash, tomatoes and most other veggies are dicots (“dicotyledonous.”) Hit him with that, too, if his heart will take the double whammy.

All you have to do is be careful not to overwater (or underwater) the leeks, keep them in a sunny window or under grow lights, and relax. Plant them out in the garden or in a pot when they get abaout three or four inches tall, and us them for cooking when they’re an inch thick or more through the stalk.

Carefully cut them off about two inches above the soil. This is your first and perhaps only harvest, but if you’re lucky, your plants may give you a second, smaller harvest from the same plants. You can only hope.


3-6 large leeks
½ stick (4 oz) butter, margarine or olive oil (but the butter tastes best, trust me!)
½ --3/4 tsp marjoram
salt and black pepper to taste


Remove most of the heavy medium-green portion of the leek. This gets rough-chopped and tossed into your compost container; or failing that, chop them; cook them down over medium heat in about 3 c. of water for about 30—45 minutes; drain, reserving the liquid; and add it to your Soup Container in the freezer. The solid stuff goes in the compost.

Cut the white portion and the lighter green, more tender portion of the leek into 1/8”—1/4” slices. Separate them--they will look like concentric rings--and wash well in a colander under cold running water.

Drain \thoroughly. Heat the butter/margarine/oil in a large frying pan, sauté pan or skillet, add the marjoram, and sauté for one minute, until the fragrance begins to rise. Add the leeks and sauté, stirring gently from time to time, until the leeks are tender. You will be surprised at how such a lot of volume cooksw down to a much smaller amount. Ah, but the taste of that amount! Put them into a warmed bowl and serve them to 4—6 hungry people. Mmmm…

Thursday, June 10, 2010

So Chili it's HOT!---Anaheim Chilis

When people talk about peppers, they are most often talking about sweet green Bell Peppers or Hungarian Wax Peppers, and I love all of them--but I have a particular liking for Anaheim Chili Peppers.

In the first place, they’re not as hot as many other peppers, but they have the most delicious flavor, and just enough warmth to be present without burning out your digestive system. Kind of like having a warm, funny conversationalist at your dinner, but not an arsonist.

Anaheim Chilis are grown the same way as any other pepper, but another nice thing about them is that you can make the b-e-s-t dishes using this handy pepper! Omigosh, you can practically feed an army with a handful of Anaheims, and everyone will love it!

Pick the peppers when they’re between six and eight inches long, and still green, and prepare them for cooking the same way, too. See Post #5 for growing and prep details.

In the meantime, here’s a recipe my family loves—and so do all our friends--even the kids!


6-8 fresh Anaheim Chilis OR
2-3 (4 oz) cans chopped green Chilis
1 (1#) block of cheddar cheese OR
1 (1#) block Monterey Jack cheese
6-8 large eggs
13 ½ ozs evaporated milk
4 Tbsps flour
¾ tap salt and ½ tsp black pepper


Wash the Chilis and pat dry. Lay the Chilis over an open flame, or if you have an electric over, place the chilis on a cookie sheet and broil for 1-3 minutes, keeping careful watch and turning them to blacken all sides. Remove from the fire (or oven) with tongs and place in a bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let them steam. They will do this on their own. Let cool.

Remove the towel and the Chili skins, and underneath that awful black mess will be the prettiest green flesh you ever saw. Open the Chilis with a small paring knife, remove the seeds and membranes. Chop the chili flesh fine and reserve. Discard the burned skins, the seeds and membranes in your compost container, as they all go to make more fresh earth. (BTW, this recipe also works with the canned chopped green chilis. Just open and proceed. Then why, you may ask, did you bother me with all the mess?

Because, dear child, one day the world could go ‘bang’ and you’d be left not knowing what to do with those fresh chilis while your children were starving, that’s why? Would I let that happen to you?—Never! Anyway, as my mother told me, knowledge is power--and don’t you forget it. It’s true.)

Back to the recipe:

Separate the eggs, the yolks in a smaller bowl, the whites in a larger one. If you have an electric mixer, use your mixer bowl for the whites, making sure no tiniest drop of yolk gets into them. Yolk is mostly fat, and if there is just one faintest iota of fat/yolk in there. your whites will not beat up fluffy and white. They will just lie there looking at you accusingly. Use them for something else—an omelet, maybe—because they do not now and never will have the intention to become meringue for you. They have been betrayed by yolk. Terrible fate for an egg white with aspirations of becoming meringue.

Just don’t waste them. Use them for something.

Okay, back to work:

To the beaten yolks, add the flour and beat it in until it is incorporated. Add the milk, the pepper and all but a pinch of the salt, and reserve. Grease a 13” X 9” X 2” pan and reserve. Turn your oven to 375—400*F (oven heats vary.) Grate your cheeses right into the greased pan and cover them evenly with the reserved chopped chilis.

Beat the egg whites with that pinch of salt you didn’t add to the eggs, until they are stiff but not dry. Leave them in the mixer bowl and while running the machine slowly (or if you’re doing this by hand, folding constantly) add the milk/egg/salt-and-pepper mixture. Mix well but try not to deflate the whites. Keep it all as fluffy as possible.

Pour this whole mix over the cheese-and-chilis in the pan, making it as even as you can without making yourself crazy. It’s dinner, not pinochle. (More on this later.)

Place in the oven and just let it bake. It should be golden and luscious-looking when you take it out, and the filling should be set like custard, but the hot cheese will be gooey, so don’t try the knife-into-the-middle trick to see if it’s done. If it doesn’t wiggle when you shake it, it should be done. Just make sure the egg part is set, but don’t overcook. Overcooked eggs taste like something you scraped off a pan somewhere (well, actually, it is something you scraped…) Well, anyway--

This will keep on a very low oven for about an hour, if dinner is somehow delayed (and if you can fight your husband and kids off while you make the boxed Spanish rice, open and heat a can of refried beans, and whip up a quick salad and the iced tea to go with it all. Flour or corn (maize) tortillas, warmed and buttered, lend a nice touch, too. Oh. and Flan for dessert!



Remember to let me know what you think of the recipes, and of the blog in general! If there is something you’ve always wanted to cook, or grow, or both, let me know and I’ll do a post on it. This is a gift from me to you, and as with all gifts, I’d like it to be something you really want.

Thanks, and God love you!


Monday, June 7, 2010

You Know, I Love GREEN BEANS and HAM! I Do, I Love Them, Ma’am I Am!!

There’s nothing quite so promising as the bright green ‘flags’ that green beans send up in springtime! Throughout the dark, rainy days of pre-Spring, when the air hints at warmth only to deliver a cold slice of ‘Sorry!--still Winter!’; and your windowsill flats are showing not much more than tentative pale green loops pushing up through the potting soil, you kept hoping for full-blown green plants—and now here they are!

1.) started your plants—perhaps as your childrens’ school project (the “bean seed in a paper cup” thing)—and went on to plant half a cardboard-milk-carton-with-the-requisite-holes-in-the-bottom- covered-by coffee-filters-(you knew that!)-and-filled-with-potting-soil.

2.) made several lines in the soil with a popsicle stick or a spoon handle or whatever, and planted your bean seeds twice their own depth.

3.) even let them lie down in the rows, and didn’t stand them on end. They have a lot of work to do, you knew, and deserve all the rest they could get!

4.) kept them in the sunniest window you could find, and when there was none, you kept them under a lamp, for warmth. Some of you even put the carton on tope of your refrigerator, where it’s nice and warm. (Beans hate cold feet!)

Now they’re up, and you deserve a pat on the back! Maybe two or three.

When that fleeting glimpse of sunshine out there becomes a real item, and the ground starts to stay warm even at night—well, anyway, when the threat of frost is absolutely past—plant out your little bean plants.

Put them about 4”-6” apart, and provide something for them to climb on: a trellis, some strings tied to small, rust-proof nails along a wooden fence or shed, or even some brushwood—this could be big twigs cut off the bushes in front, some reeds cut near the bayou (if you have a bayou or a klong), a piece of the latticework that people use to cover the naked knees of houses, or whatever you can think of as a trellis. Even chain link fencing makes a good trellis for climbing veggies and flowers. Use what you have.

A few caveats:

Never pick green beans before the morning dew evaporates. This encourages molds and mildew, a nasty grey powdery stuff that kills your vines. You and I want nice, healthy plants, don’t we? Of course we do. Planting flowers beside the vines encourages beneficial insects like bees, ladybird beetles and other Good Guys who will pollinate your bean blossoms, giving you more veggies per vines, as well as eating aphids and other Nasties.

Beans, like peas, are legumes, and are nitrogen-fixing. This means that they collect nitrogen from the air and lock it into the soil, where it is available as fertilizer for heavy feeders like sweet corn. I always plant corn the following year where I had beans or peas this year, so I can take advantage of God’s goodness to us, even in the plants He created. Remember, back ‘way before the European, African and Oriental immigrants flooded these shores, the Native Americans used to plant corn, beans and squash together (they called them ‘the Three Sisters.) The corn provided a ‘trellis’ for the beans to grow on, the beans fertilized the soil for the corn and squash, and the squash shaded the roots of the corn and beans, keeping them cool and moist. It’s a good example of brilliant eco-planning, and we would be wise to emulate it.

Here’s a good old Deep South recipe for green beans. It’s not elegant, but it is delicious, and children usually come back asking for ‘second helpings’ whenever I make it. It goes like this:


2 # fresh green beans
I large ham bone with some meat still on it
the more, the better; OR
1 # chunk ham, sliced Kielbasa, or hot dogs
1 tsp each salt and ground black pepper
4-6 large potatoes
1 large onion
2-3 Tbsps oil
2-3 qts water


Wash, string and snap the beans. Strings and top ends go into the comport container. Reserve. Peel and dice onion finely. Wash the potatoes and remove the ‘eyes.’ Peel if you like, but remember that the skin has a great deal of Vitamin C in it. Do as you like about peeling them. Cut them in half lengthwise, into two flat ovals. Reserve in cold water.


In a large, heavy Dutch Oven or pot, heat the oil and sauté the onions until the sweat. Add the green beans, the ham bone and the water. Turn the heat to medium low, partially cover with the lid, and cook for about two or three hours, or until the beans are totally limp and just don’t care anymore. The meat should be falling off the bones, and the fragrance should have pervaded the house. Add your potatoes, and cook for another fifteen minutes or until a fork pierces the potato without resistance. Add salt and pepper. Remove from heat.


With big squares of good cornbread covered with thin lashings of molasses, and big glasses of ice-cold milk. Better serve it in a soup bowl and eat it with a spoon, because that ‘pot liquor’ is too good to miss! If you have any left over, put it in your Soup Makings container in the freezer. Yum!

PS: Even my toddlers loved the pot-liquor-soaked cornbread. If the children want to soak their cornbread in the pot liquor, let them!—even if it has molasses on it. They’re only children once (well, maybe more, because don’t be surprised if your husband wants to eat it that way, too!) Try it and see!

Remember to let me know what you think of the recipes, and of the blog in general! If there is something you’ve always wanted to cook, or grow, or both, let me know and I’ll do a post on it. This is a gift from me to you, and as with all gifts, I’d like it to be something you really want.

Thanks, and God love you!


Wednesday, June 2, 2010


This is going to be a short but delicious post today. I'm so excited, I can hardly type! I just put my re-edited first novel on the Web at Check it out. It was first published in 1973, right after I stopped working for Star Trek (the old TV series--maybe some of you will remember it) and now I'm getting ready to put all five of my books online, as well as the new ones I'm working on.

So I'm really jazzed today!--but not so jazzed that I can't give you a terrific recipe for summer squash, that's s-o-o-o-o good with pastas of all kinds. Here we go:

We’re going to be talking about squash again, but this time it’s Summer Squash, that meltingly delicious veggie that almost no one has met. At least, not under very favorable conditions. It’s time to change that image, and right now, too.

You might even want to grow some, to have it on hand free, and not have to go to the store. But before you decide, be sure to try this first:

No matter what kind of squash you think you want to grow, buy one first to try it out, and--if and your family likes the taste of it, once it’s cooked--save the seeds. The process is outlined in Blog # 3 and pertains only to winter squash; of you want to grow your own summer squash, you’ll have to buy some seed packets. Sorry. I have to buy them, too.

Caveat here: I lied. You CAN grow summer squash seeds by letting zucchini grow to the size of baseball bats and harvesting the seeds. Or by letting crookneck squash get so hard and dry it's almost impossible to pry open the skin to get AT the seeds. I just don't have the room to do it any more. So mea culpa. Buy or grow at your own preference. I tend to buy summer squash seeds, that's all.

When you've grown some nice little guys, here's what to do with them:

ZUCCHINI OR CROOKNECK SQUASH (or any summer squash)

6-8 zucchini or crookneck squash, about 6" long
1/2 tsp dried OR
1 tbsp fresh chopped basil leaves, chopped
1/2 tsp dried OR
1 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves, chopped
2-3 Tbsps olive oil
1 large onion
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper


Wash, peel and slice the squash into 1/4" slices. If the skin is very tender, you may leave it unpeeled if you so choose. Reserve. Peel the onion, cut it in half from top to bottom (Arctica to Antacrtica, not across the equator) and slice the halves into ¼” slices.


Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Sweat the onion until it becomes transparent, add the basil, and fry for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the zucchini or crookneck squash, reduce the heat, and braise with a few Tbsps water for 5-7 minutes, partially covered.

Serves 4-8, depending on how hungry you are and how much you like the recipe.

Summer squash is also wonderful simply peeled (when necessary), boiled in a small amoung of water—be sure to save the water in your Soup Container—buttered and lightly salted. Pattypan is especially good like this. It tastes a good bit like corn-on-the-cob, without the bits that stick between your teeth. Very nice for invalids, babies, toddlers and the elderly—and anybody with a liking for meals that taste like food!

This side dish is wonderful with manicotti, any kind of pasta, and a good lasagna!

Remember to let me know what you think of the recipes, and of the blog in general! If there is something you’ve always wanted to cook, or grow, or both, let me know and I’ll do a post on it. This is a gift from me to you, and as with all gifts, I’d like it to be something you really want.

Thanks, and God love you!


Saturday, May 29, 2010


Let’s get growing green peppers. They’re easy, and this works for all kinds of peppers.

I can hear you now, saying, "Oh, it's no use; my family won't eat that." Well, try it once. They may surprise you.

My husband and I have kids from all over the world, and it was amazing to me that kids from anywhere, of any color, race or nationality, will eat anything that looks, smells and tastes good--given half a chance. Tell them they only have to eat four bites. That even a good dog will eat four bites. They're children of God--so much better than the best 'mere dog.' Tell them so and ask them to eat the four bites, but they don't have to eat the pepper if they don't want to.

You may be happily surprised!

Back to the peppers:

Of course you know that most peppers (except Bell Peppers) are at least a little bit ‘warm,’ and that some are downright hot, while others still are absolutely incindiary! If you are a 'pepper novice', I'd stick to Bell peppers, Anaheim chiles, and occasionally a bit of jalapeno. Stay away from the habaneros, the cayennes, the Tabascos and especially the pequenos! Leave them to the pros and the reckless!

Some people like to wear gloves while handling them. I don’t bother with that, but then, I’m careful not to touch my eyes, nose, mouth or anyplace else I don’t want to have burning for a week.

If you bite into a pepper that is hot, hot, hot, DON’T drink water! Take a teaspoon of sugar and hold it in your mouth. For some reason, sugar seems to neutralize the “heat” of the warmest peppers. Water just spreads the volatile oil over more of your sensitive tissues. Go the ‘sugar’ route.

Buy nice thick-walled peppers for your salad. I mostly use Bell Peppers in any and all colors—they even come in purple now, you know!—but sometimes I ‘break out’ and use Anaheim Chilis, small sweet yellow peppers and often a bit of jalapeno. Makes a nice change.

I wash everything with plain old dishwashing soap and a good sponge with a ‘scrubby’ side, and then rinse well and dry. Then I simply cut off the tops and bottoms of the peppers--saving every bit of the edible part--open the pepper out and remove the core, the seeds and the membranes, and cut the pepper into dice or strips. Then I put the pepper flesh into a zipper-lock plastic bag, mark it, and pop it into the freezer. This way I have peppers of all kinds, all year long, to use any way I like—except for fresh salads. Thawed pepper is a miserably un-crisp beast and your salad will hate it. So will you. But for everything else, it’s great! By the way, I usually mark the bag before I fill it, which makes writing a lot easier.

About the seeds:
Separate the seed from the membranes and put the membranes and stem in your compost container; then put the pepper seeds on a paper towel overnight. Feel them the next morning and see how dry they are. If you want to plant them, don’t dry them overnight, treat them to a ‘garden bed.’ This ‘garden bed’ is just like the one you made for your tomatoes (See Post # 3, “Will Work For Food”) and cover them with a bit of soil; water well and set on that same sunny windowsill or its clone.

Be sure you keep the different kinds of peppers separate. Grow them in different containers if possible, so you’re not reaching for a cayenne when you thought you were growing Anaheim Chilis.

If you are drying them, wait until they are completely dry, and then put them into a marked ‘paper pocket*’ and store in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to use them.

When your Pepper Babies get their first four leaves (remember, cotyledons don’t count!) you can transplant them to Styrofoam cups with coffee-filter-covered-holes punched in the bottoms of the sides and covered with pieces of. Unlike tomatoes, peppers like to be transplanted at the same level as they were growing before. Don’t tuck them in up to the chin like tomatoes. Just a nice step across to a bigger ‘apartment’ and peppers are happy. Keep them in a sunny window and water when the ground is dry 1/2” from the top.

When the plants get too big for your Styrofoam cup, and the weather has evenly up for spring, plant them out in your garden. They’re pretty plants, so they can hide out in your flower garden if you don’t actually have a veggie garden yet. Sometimes bell peppers bear heavily, and need some support. You can tie them loosely to a sturdy stick with ‘rings’ cut from old pantyhose that have ‘runs’ in them (waste not, want not) or use soft pieces of 1” wide cloth. Try not to make the ties too unsightly; gardens are supposed to be pretty, and we want yours to be the prettiest.

Gardens love veggies. In monasteries all over the world, the monks used to pair veggies and flowers that would help each other. There are several veggies that can enhance your flowers, and several flowers that go nicely into salads or cooking pots. I”ll be doing a post on that in the near future.

Meanwhile, I have a nice recipe for your dinner tonight, and tell the kids (especially the boys) that they need not eat the peppers themselves; that’s only for the men (If you have picky girls, say ‘It’s only for the grownups.’) Whatever vegetable matter they don’t eat can go into the compost bin, to create new earth for your next few years’ gardens, so don’t sweat the small stuff if they decide to stay little boys and girls for a while yet. They grow up too soon anyway.


1 # ground beef
4 green peppers
1 med onion
1 cup cooked rice
2 cloves garlic
3-4 cups pasta sauce
OR canned, diced tomatoes with juice
½ tsp thyme
¼ tsp oregano
olive oil
1-2 eggs
½--1 c grated Monterey Jack cheese
Salt and ground black pepper to taste


Peel and dice onion; reserve. Smash, peel and mince garlic; reserve. Boil some water in a 4-quart pot, and while this is heating up, wash your peppers. Take off the tops and save everything, as above. Using a tablespoon, clean the seeds and membranes out of the pepper and rinse it well.

Now from here you can do it one of two ways:

Either chop the pepper tops, onion and garlic, and sweat them along with your thyme, oregano, and black pepper, then proceed as follows, or you can:

Mix the meat, rice, eggs, onion, garlic, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper all together in a big bowl. Mix it with your hands to make sure it’s all evenly distributed. Reserve. Put your seeds in paper towels and the rest of the membranes and stuff into your compost container.

Now, boil the peppers for 3 minutes (and the tops, if you’re using method two—only watch them--they boil for a much shorter time than the whole-pepper cases—maybe for one minute). Remove them carefully—you don’t want to break them or punch a hole in one of them—and drop them in cold water. I use a large slotted kitchen spoon, or sometimes a large sieve with a handle.

Stuff them generously with the meat mixture and put them in a greased 9” X 9” pan or casserole. Pour the pasta sauce on top and around them and sprinkle the pepper tops with the cheese. If you have a canning funnel with a wide (2 ½”—3” mouth) you can center the opening over each pepper in turn and drop your cheese through, plop onto your pepper, no bits of cheese all over the pan. Cover with greased foil. If you use the spray-on stuff, your cheese won’t stick to the foil, it’ll pretty much stick to the pepper top, where you want it. Why feed the foil when the kids like it so well? An additional sprinkle of Parmesan doesn’t hurt, either, if it’s right there in the cabinet and your family likes it.

Leave a small air hole in the foil so the peppers can breathe.

Bake at 350*F for about 45 minutes to an hour, (or microwave [NOT in a metal pan!] for about 7-10 minutes, lightly covered by greased waxed paper. That should keep most of the cheese off the paper and onto the stuffed peppers.). Serve with a great mixed salad, corn-on-the-cob and iced tea. Nice!

See you next time, when we’ll be talking about

Remember to let me know what you think of the recipes, and of the blog in general! If there is something you’ve always wanted to cook, or grow, or both, let me know and I’ll do a post on it. This is a gift from me to you, and I’d like it to be something you really want. Thanks, and God love you!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Will Work For Food

Have you ever seen those people who stand under stop lights, bearing a cardboard sign that reads, "Will work for food"? I've often wondered why we don't use all that wasted land between freeway ramps and freeways, empty lots, and other unused patches of earth to cultivate food crops. Gasoline suppliers supposedly have removed the lead from their formulae, which makes exhaust safer for roadside plants, as well as for people; why aren't we raising sheep, or carrots, or lettuce or any number of things on that waste land? As long as there is one hungry person in this or any other country, can we really afford to waste one square foot of arable land--or even land that could be made arable? It's something to think about.

Okay, y'all, let's get down to growing! Here's today's post:


When you want to insure your family a supply of nice fresh veggies, look no farther than your own back yard or terrace. It’s very easy to grow many of the vegetables you enjoy most, and fun, too!

Start in your kitchen. Okay, let’s say you’re going to cut up some tomatoes and green peppers for a salad. Roma tomatoes are best for salad, because their flesh-to-seed ratio is higher than the big sandwich tomatoes, which can be a little watery sometimes. The Roma’s are also good for sun-drying, roasting, and using in a Pasta Primavera.

So you go ahead and cut up the tomatoes and green peppers. There will be lots of tomato-and green-pepper-seeds remaining on the cutting board. Separate out the green pepper seeds and put them on a saucer, a piece of waxed paper, or a paper towel. Reserve them for now. For what to do with green pepper seeds, and a great green pepper recipe, see my next post, “It is Easy Being Green—Peppers!”

Here’s what you will do with the tomatoes:

 Collect the seeds while you are cutting the tomatoes, and reserve them.
 Scoop up the tomato seeds and plop them into a clear glass container (a drinking glass or clean jelly jar will do just fine).
 Fill it with water, leaving ½” --1” space at the top of the glass.

What you are doing here is what’s called ‘retting’ the seeds. It’s actually a ‘wet-rotting’ process (Get it? Retting--rotting?) that will erode and destroy the jelly-like orange-red gel that surrounds each seed and prevents them from starting to grow while inside the tomato. It also will prevent their growing in your garden, which is why we’re retting them.

 Several times daily, check the tomato seeds. Stir briskly, then carefully pour off the water, including any floating seeds, loose pulp, gel, or bits of other material. Floating seeds float because they don’t have the elements inside that will let them grow and produce a plant. So it’s okay to dump them. (Note: if the seed has a lot of pulp or gel surrounding it, separate it from the pulp before deciding to toss it; it may be one of your better ‘growers’ that just got trapped.)

 Pour off the water and the floaters, stir briskly, and fill with fresh cool water.

 When the seeds seem to have no more gel left on them, pour them through a strainer, let dry and tap out onto a paper towel.

 When completely dry, save them in a paper ‘pocket’ or a folded, marked paper towel. Do not save seeds in plastic or waxed paper, as they are alive and need to breathe.

 I like to plant my seeds right away, since I have a veggie garden, but I like to start them first in a flat, half a milk carton with holes in the bottom, or a in a plastic box—the kind you buy cinnamon buns or strawberries in at the store. Line it with pieces of coffee filter cut to size, fill the box with good garden or potting soil and just pour your tomato seeds all over the top.

Do this over the sink, since you’ll probably have sort of a flood, or at least a lot of drips. Put up the cover and set them on a sunny windowsill, if you have one. Mine is in the kitchen, and I can watch over my ‘babies’ as they sprout and grow. I like to sprinkle about a 1/4” of soil over them. Either way, they’ll grow; the soil just helps them stay moist, which is absolutely REALLY important.

Pretty soon you’ll have lots of little tomato plants sticking their heads up. When they have four real leaves (cotyledons don’t count), transplant them to foam- plastic cups or clean canned veggie cans or whatever you have, with three holes cut into the bottoms with a “church-key” (a can-opener that makes a triangular hole.) Cover the holes with bits of coffee filter before you fill the cups halfway with good potting soil. Make a 1” hole in the center of the soil. One inch both ways.

Prick the tomato plants out carefully—I use a clean popsicle stick—and never, never, NEVER pick up a plant by its stem. Always pick it up by a leaf, tugging gently at it until it comes free. You can use a bit of water to get it out of the soil without damaging the roots. That usually helps.

Place your baby tomato plant in the hole (in the cup) and tuck it in gently. Fill up the cup until the plant has only its leaves above the soil. Doing this gives the plant a chance to build roots all along the stem, and makes for a stronger and healthier plant. It will just stand there for about a week, and then start growing so fast you’ll think you traded your cow for these seeds.

When the plant outgrows the cup, and the weather is warm enough, transplant your tomatoes into your veggie or flower garden. Provide a stake, a wire cage or something of the sort for each one, so it can hold on and remain upright. You don’t want all those luscious tomatoes lying on the ground, rotting away. Keep the plant straight and tall, and you’ll be eating sweet, fresh, organic tomatoes in no time.

If you grow too many tomatoes to eat right off the vine, you've brought lots and lots to the soup kitchen or food bank, and your neighbors and friends have been given all they will take, here’s something fun to do with the excess:


6-8 fresh tomatoes
1 can refrigerated pizza dough
1 really large (not giant, but big) onion
4--6 cloves (the individual pieces, not the whole head) garlic
About ½ c fresh basil
2 Tbsps fresh oregano*
2 cups , home-made sugo, good tomato sauce or pizza sauce*
Olive oil as needed
A sprinkle of red pepper flakes, if you like*
1-1 ½ c grated Italian cheese-Parmesan,
Peccorino-Romano, Parmigiano/Reggiano,
or if you don’t have any of that, just use
Mozzerella or Monterey Jack. Cheddar is
good, too, unless you’re Italian or Sicilian.


Grease a jellyroll pan or cookie sheet with some of the olive oil. Don’t go crazy, you don’t want greasy old pizza. Just enough. Lay out your dough, spreading it as evenly as you can. Slice your tomatoes into ½” slices and lay them on the dough like shingles on a roof. Chop the washed basil and sprinkle liberally over the tomatoes. Smash, peel and mince the garlic. Peel and slice your onions into ¼” slices like onion rings, and fry them and the garlic in a bit of the oil until they sweat and smell wonderful. Lay them over the basil and the oregano, if you’re using it.

Now this is where you use the sauce, if you’re going to use it. I usually don’t, unless I have made some sugo and have some left over. Famous last word, “left over.” (One time one of my kids came to me and said, “Mom, what’s a leftover?” Poor kid thought it was a baseball pitch. He had big brothers and sisters with insatiable appetites, so he never met a leftover. At least, none that he recognized. More on that later.)

Sometimes I use the 2 Tbsps oregano*, sometimes less. People should cook according to their moods that day. Use the oregano, don’t use the oregano… 'Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday'... Do whatever you like about that. You know what you like.

Cover everything with grated cheese and bake at 350--400 F (oven heats vary) until the crust is golden and the family is rushing the kitchen salivating, armed with paper plates, and forks at the ready. Hold them off until you cool the pizza a little bit, and then let them at it. Be sure you grab a couple of slices, too, before it disappears. Enjoy!

PS: This is really good on a hot day with an ice-cold soda, and beer for the men.

*optional, but try it sometime.