Growing up in Miami Florida we basically had two seasons – rainy and not rainy.  Well, that’s not totally true because it would occasionally get cold.  But it didn’t stay cold which meant certain plants simply won’t grow there.

When I moved to Tennessee almost 20 years ago I brought some of my favorite plants and watched them shrivel and die overnight after a freeze.  Ok, lesson learned.  Along the way I discovered perennials – real ones – not the ones that just kept growing in Florida because there was nothing to kill them.  In addition, I learned that one must either mark the ground where these plants live or suffer having them removed by kind and helpful Florida family.  After all, dead twigs and things are to go away.  Well, not really, if they are perennials. Another lesson learned.

After learning those lessons I have fallen in love with seasons and spring is my favorite.  Plants start budding.  The dreary drab colors of winter give way to reds, yellows, whites and eventually green as everything living rejoices and buds away.

Spring also means it’s time for me to move away from my computer and go outside and get dirty.  Time to remove the dead leaves and limbs and old mulch.  My hostas have little spikes sticking up out of the ground with a promise of more to come.  The forsythia, the first thing to bloom in my yard, is a beautiful yellow.  My two fruit trees bloom white, red and pink.  It’s really a glorious palette of color.

And… the bugs come back.  This last winter was pretty much non-existent so the insects have arrived in force.  The good ones are welcome – bees, lady bugs, some moths.  But today I found one of the unwelcome ones.  Digging in the dirt means ticks.  No winter to speak of means more ticks.  And they slowly inch their way up your leg on their mission to get under your clothes to dig in.  And this is not a good thing – around here it can cause Lyme Disease.  I’ve done everything I can to try to keep them away but to no avail.  So, after every dirt digging foray it’s a check of all body parts, including hair.

Even with ticks, and occasionally finding sleeping snakes (yes, snakes) I still await my spring digging with pleasure.  I am pretty frugal, and each year I allow myself one new plant for the yard.  I reserve most of the funds I allocate to gardening to my vegetable patch.  But some of it is earmarked for a new addition.  I don’t have the biggest yard so I have to be selective in what I plant.  This years addition is a Pomegranate tree.  With any luck we’ll have fruit in 3 years.  And Pomegranate martinis. Yum.

Spring means fresh to me.  That includes food.  By this time, I am over the hockey puck tomatoes in the stores.  All the vegetables we have eaten  have been either canned or frozen because the fresh is usually too expensive. I really like it when I can grow my vegetables.  And sometimes it is possible to grow them away from dirt.

Over the weekend when I went to get seeds for the vegetable garden, I stopped by the local Oriental market which is right nearby.  They had packages of mung beans.  A lot of you may know this, but mung beans are used to make bean sprouts.  Two jars are now in process on my kitchen window.  It’s very easy.  You need a jar, a screw on top (without a center – like the ones used for canning) and some screening material.  You cut the screen to fit inside the screw top.  Into the jar, pour enough dry mung beans to cover the bottom.  Cover the beans with water and let them soak overnight.  In the morning, empty out the water by inverting the jar – that’s the reason for the screen and also so the beans can breathe.  Pour in more water, swirl around and pour that water out.  You want just damp beans in the jar.  Repeat this process every day.

Here’s some photos of my two jars.  One of the photos is a bit blurry but the idea was to show you the screening.sprouts1sprouts2

That’s it for now.  I will add some follow up photos when the sprouts start happening along with one of my favorite recipes for sprouts – spring rolls.

Happy spring everyone.  Go get dirty. Ciao, y’all.


Homemade Hot cross bunsI love hot cross buns.  This year I decided to make some and couldn’t find my recipe so I went out on Google.  I found a nice one by the Pioneer Woman.  I included a link to her blog article below.  Here’s what mine ended as – I always nudge a recipe in a little different direction.  This was no exception.

However, while doing my recipe research I found a wealth of information about the mystique of hot cross buns.  Who knew sailors would carry one on board a ship to ensure a safe passage.  Hanging one in your kitchen would guarantee that all your breads would rise.

Old English folklore says if you bake and serve them on Good Friday they will stay good all year and not mold.  I made mine on Easter Sunday because that’s what we always did.  And no, they didn’t last.  But it wasn’t because of a mystical reason – it was because they were warm and soft and yummy.  Duh.

If you shared a bun, it was good luck.  My grandmother used to say “Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be“.  Now I know why.  Her grandmother had said it to her and who knows how far back this tradition went on.

In England there are poems and songs surrounding hot cross buns.  A lot of my heritage is based around the UK so I’m not surprised they are an important part of my upbringing.  Somewhere I remember her saying one half penny two half penny which I believe was the price of the buns.  I’ll have to ask my British friends the next time I talk to them.  Still I wonder where these traditions came from.  Some of them are quite powerful.  But the people that remember are long gone.

We as a people now do such a lousy job of retaining our cultural histories.  We forget why we do things – we just know that’s what you do.  Nobody asks why.  Well, actually that’s not true.  I ask why.  My sons used to ask why.  Boy, I wish I had had access to Google back when they were growing up – I would have been the information ninja.  A client of  mine called me that one day and I loved it.  I need to figure out how to put that on a bio somewhere.

No matter your religion, these buns are wonderful.  I posted a copy on my Facebook page and a friend of mine said “even Jews would like these buns.”  True indeed.  Now I am asking myself why wait until Easter to make these (besides the “they are fattening you dope” question.  My mother in law would only eat them around Easter time – and it wasn’t because that was the only time they showed up.  You weren’t supposed to eat them – can’t figure out why.  That goes back to the lost cultural history thing.

That’s it for now.  I’ve been busy posting on my business blog ( and neglecting my favorite one – talking about food and being southern and doing neat things.  A friend of mine said you haven’t posted recently – go get at it.  Well, Nancy, here you go.

Ciao y’all.

Link to the Pioneer Woman recipe:

The year has started off rather chilly.  It’s not snowing but it’s dreary and cold.  So, I figured we needed something warm and comforting for dinner this week.  One of the things I miss from Miami are the wonderful hearty Cuban soups.  One of my all time favorites was Caldo Gallego.  I created my own version of it years ago, and decided that would do the trick this week.

What, you might ask, is Caldo Gallego.  It’s really a white bean stew that originated in the Galicia area of Spain.  That area tends to be cooler so warm stews and soups are a staple.

My recipe goes like this:

2 cans white beans

Chorizo or Salami

1 Ham hock and small ham pieces

One large sweet onion – diced

3 cloves of garlic – diced

Olive Oil

1 large turnip – diced small

5 leaves of collards – chopped

3 medium potatoes – diced

6 cups water and 4 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon Cumin


Saute the chopped up ham hock, ham pieces and salami or chorizo in the olive oil.  After they have browned a bit, add the garlic and onions.  Turn down the heat and saute until the onions are translucent.  Add in the chopped turnips and potatoes.  Saute to absorb the fats.  Next add the beans.  Stir to combine.  In about 5 minutes add the water.  Now, taste the water and add any needed salt.  Add the cumin and any pepper to taste.  Let simmer for about an hour.  Add the collard greens.  Let simmer an hour more.  The more this cooks the better it gets.

Serve with some wonderful earthy bread.

That’s it for now.  Enjoy the recipe.  Ciao y’all.

This year we decided to have a lean Christmas.  Everyone is scrambling for extra cash so I told people to either make simple gifts or give coupon books with things like “I’ll do the dishes” or “I’ll cook every night this week” (my personal favorite one).

What I elected to do was make several rice neck warmers.  I had gotten one at a spa recently and thought, gee, I can do that too.  This article will describe my simple process, ideas for which were gleaned from several Google searches, but ended up being my own design to fit what I wanted.

The main items you need are a sewing machine, some fabric, and rice.  In my case I bought packages of kitchen towels at Walmart.  We get them every year to  make crocheted kitchen towels and find them to be sturdy, soft and durable.


To start off, I cut off the double seamed ends of the towels. Then, I measured 11 inches for my width.


The standard size I found out on the web was 11 x 22 so my cut down towel was perfect.


I folded the towel inside out lengthwise.


Next, I stitched a seam down the open end, curving the edges at the bottom narrow end.

I left one end open.


I trimmed the corners of the narrow end so it would not bulge when I turned the towel inside out.


After I turned the towel inside out, I stitched a seam down not quite the middle of the towel.


By “not quite the middle” I mean one half was a little narrower than the other. It’s not exactly in thirds. I found that the towel, once filled with rice, seemed to lay better if the two sides were not exactly the same width. I made sure the the middle seam did not go all the way to the end of the towel so I would have an edge to turn over and stitch closed.


Next came filling the sides with rice. I created a funnel out of the top of a quart size soda bottle.


Inserting the funnel end into one side of the towel, I poured in rice until it was almost full.


My trial towel worked better if it wasn’t jammed full of rice.


It needed to be flexible to move around my neck or shoulder. I found filling up the sides leaving about 2 to 3 inches open worked well.


After filling both sides, I turned in the open end and stitched it closed, backing up over the stitches to ensure I had a nice tight closure. On some of the neck warmers I added a ring of zigzag ribbon to act as a holder. The size of the holder was designed to fit over a door handle.


How long you put the warmer in the microwave depends on how hot you want the warmer to be. 2 seconds is slightly warm, 3 seconds is starting to get pretty hot. 4 seconds will guarantee a burn on my neck, so try it out starting at lower temperatures till you find the one you like. My husband found out that 4 seconds was too hot for him, but a friend of mine heats hers to 5 seconds. Again, it’s personal choice.


That’s it for now. Hope everyone has a happy 2013. Ciao y’all.

Recently, I have found a new vice – Pinterest. I spend evenings scouring around looking for great tips, tricks and culinary adventures. I stumbled upon on photo that show someone regrowing celery from the bottom that had been cut off a celery bunch. Hm, intriguing idea.

I went to the blog entry (I’ve listed the link below to give proper credit) and saw that not only could you do this with celery but also Bok Choy. So, I embarked on yet another experiment. And I’m happy to say, well, gosh darn, it works. I’m posting the first photo here and will update the blog entry as time progresses and my experiment continues to grow.

While digging down in the blog, it pointed me at yet another blog which talked about the same thing and also noted that you can regrow spring onions indefinitely. Basically, you put onions you have either pulled out of the ground, or bought in a store, into a glass of water. You “harvest” the top parts leaving about 2 inches of the onion still in the water. And voila, the onions continue to keep growing. That’s pretty cool and I will try that project soon as well.

That’s it for now. Here’s the link to the blog I found on Pinterest.

Ciao, y’all.

This month, lots of things in my garden are coming in and need to be picked. Every year I try to get creative and do different things. This year is no exception.

First off, I have a grape vine growing Suffolk Seedless Grapes. They turn a really nice red color and unfortunately have become very popular with wasps. It has become apparent I will lose the race if I try to wait until they are fully ripe. Just last week, I lost 7 clusters to the evil winged monsters. So, I decided to harvest them ahead of schedule. Here’s what I did as kitchen experiments with the grapes.

For one half, I pickled them. Yep, pickled them. The ingredients are vinegar, sugar, rosemary, chopped garlic, and red pepper flakes. I found the recipe on the American Public radio station website. Were they successful. Well, my husband loves martinis. He usually puts olives in them. Not anymore. Now it’s pickled grapes. I’m worried I’ll not have any left over for me to eat.

The next grape experiment was making raisins. I had my dehydrator out for tomatoes, which I’ll talk about in a bit. I took the other half of the grapes and put them on the racks to dry. Sweet isn’t an adequate word to describe the taste. Oh my goodness. Now, I’m trying to figure out which I like more – pickled or dried grapes. Next year, after installing some kind of netting to ward off the wasps, I’ll try both. Or maybe some wine. Who knows.

Now, on to the last experiment. I love sun dried tomatoes. This year I have a bumper crop of tomatoes so I quartered several and put them in the dehydrator. That’s not new. What was new is what I did with the dried tomatoes. I found a recipe that I sort of followed that layered the sun dried tomatoes in a jar, in the following order: one layer tomatoes, add in some chopped garlic, some dried oregano, some kosher or sea salt, a layer of basil leaves, then repeat again the same items to the top of the jar. Note – the basil leaves are from my garden too. Pour olive oil to cover the entire mixture. Again, this was awesome and I can’t decide if I like the tomatoes or the flavor-infused olive oil best. Truly, a grand experiment.

It is pretty cool to harvest food from your garden and then create wonderful tastes in the kitchen using those ingredients. I just love summers and the fruit of our labors in the yard.

Here’s links to the recipes I found using Google to help me with my experiments.

Pickled grapes:

Olive Oil and Dried Tomatoes:

Ciao y’all

Woo hoo. I harvested the first Shiitakes today. They will sauted with balsamic vinegar and wine and put over sliced Rib Eye steak over Ginger Rice. It is really cool. This experiment actually needs to be upgraded to a project – not an experiment. It’s working. Still haven’t seen any Pioppino mushrooms but they are supped to take longer. The enokitakes are starting to “bud” – I guess that’s what you call it. Mushroom farming is new to me so I need to study up on the jargon. But, I can’t wait to see how the mushrooms taste. They will probably be the freshest I’ve ever eaten. Still not brave enough to go out in the wild and harvest – but we’ll see. Maybe. One day.

Shiitake Mushrooms - first harvest!

Well, the mushroom experiment has officially started. We are actually into week two of the process. That process is basically misting the mushroom bases 3 to 4 times a day. This photo shows the humidity bags over the Shiitake and Pioppino sets.


Notice we have babies on the Shiitakes. Woo hoo.

Looking Closer

first mushrooms

This is a closeup of the mushroom babies.

All that is required is the daily misting. The hardest part was the fact the water couldn’t have chlorine. That meant boiling water every day. Mother nature came to the rescue and provided us with a deluge over the weekend. I harvested rain water and now have a proper supply of non-chlorinated water for my mushroom patch.

Mushroom Misting


Now, figuring out a way to help Don remember to mist them for me while I’m off on baby watch in Arizona will be the real trick. Wish me luck.

Ciao, y’all. And happy new year.

One of my favorite things about the holidays is cooking.  We have lots of traditions, like making sure there is eggnog to drink while we are cooking.  It’s funny how you notice those things when they are missing.  You go – oh durn, where’s the eggnog.

My grandmother always made what she called Crescent cookies – which we turned into balls, not crescents. Powered sugar, ground pecans, melt in your mouth cookies. My mom makes her Scottish Shortbreads. Heck it’s not Christmas until we have them.

I make my Barcardi Rum cake, but use Myers Rum instead.  I suppose that’s against the rules – but the rum is so much richer and works better in the cake.

It’s fun to add traditions to the list.  My daughter-in-law’s family make tamales which I need to do one day soon.  And my husband’s family does the pork chops and sauerkraut for New Years day.  Seems chickens scratch backwards and pigs root forward, so you need to eat pork to go forward into the new year.  Hm, I think I wrote about this last year.

The main thing I did this year different was to make a cheese ball recipe I haven’t made for over 30 years.  I used to make this a lot when I was first married eons ago.  I had forgotten how good it was.  I tweeted about it today and several people said – ‘hm that sounds good’ – so here’s the recipe.

4 (3 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese
6 oz. blue cheese, soft
6 oz. Cheddar cheese spread
2 tbsp. grated onion
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 c. ground pecans or 1/2 c. finely chopped parsley

Combine cheeses, onion and Worcestershire sauce. Beat until well blended. Stir in 1/2 cup pecans, 1/4 cup parsley – shape into ball, wrap in plastic wrap, then foil. Refrigerate overnight. About 1 hour before serving, roll in remaining nuts or parsley. Place on dish and surround with crackers.

Warning, this is addictive. People tend to hover around it like it was a chocolate fondue or something. If you want any, grab your crackers and spread and run for the hills.

Well, that’s it for today. Happy holidays, y’all.

Well, the boxes have arrived. I am not quite ready to get them set up because the room I will use is where we are having a party this coming weekend. But, I wanted to make sure all was well, and besides, I was excited to see what they looked like.
I’m glad I did open the boxes because after slicing thru the tape, this is what I found. Glad I didn’t wait an extra long time. They are mushrooms though so I suspect it wouldn’t have been a bad thing to have them sit a bit. It’s the moisture part that is probably the biggest thing. In the winter, with the heat running, there is not a lot of that in the place. I’ll need to use the humidity bags included with the kits for sure. Since Shiitakes are my favorite, I opened that box first. The picture to
the right is the shipping details from
the mushroom farm. I can only hope that my mushroom block ends up looking as rich and loaded
as the one on the photo.
Only time will tell.
This what was in the Shiitake box. It’s a clump of the starter and spores and has a date of 10/19 which is when the humidity bag was created. Some of the little nodules on the side are mushrooms that are starting. Woo Hoo.

The instructions say to check the label and if it’s not 40 days since the package was built, to keep it in the box until the 40 days were up. Since this is December, we’re good to go.

Here’s the Enokitake set. Sort of looks the same.
And finally, here is the Pioppino starter set.

Now I just have to have the party, and get the dining room set up as my new mushroom farm.

The next blog entry will show what I come up with.

Ciao y’all and happy holidays.

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