Wednesday, February 28, 2007


While winter lingers, long and cold, it is hard to remember how bountiful the earth is. Last night I had a sweet reminder of last year's garden harvest, as I took the last of the grape tomatoes from the freezer to add to my pasta sauce.

Artichoke & Spinach Sauté

Sauté in 2 TBSP olive or canola oil:
1 medium red onion, halfed and sliced thin
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

Spash in 1/4 cup wine (red or white) or flavorful vinegar

Add the following:
1 14oz can artichoke hearts
1 1/2 cups frozen (or fresh) chopped spinach
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas or white beans
1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes quartered or halved

Season with black pepper, herbs, and a seasoned salt mix to taste. (I used black pepper and Jane's Mixed Up Salt.)

Drizzle with a bit more oil or with vegetable broth. Serve over whole wheat pasta, couscous, or just eat it in a big bowl with some bread and a salad on the side.

Notes: To make this *really* low fat, skip the oil in the first step and use only fat free veggie broth. Also, next time I hope I have mushrooms on hand. They would be amazing in this!
The amazing photo of a Jelly Bean Grape Tomato was taken by Haiku last summer!
Photo 2 by Aisling, February 27, 2007

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Ginger Chickpea Stew...

My favorite dinner this week was inspired by a recipe in one of my "heart smart" cookbooks. The original had chickpeas and tomatoes, broth and spices. I thought there wasn't enough going on for a filling meal, so I revamped the recipe based on my tastes and what I had on hand at the moment. The result was delicious, filling and very nutritious:

Ginger Chickpea Stew

Put all of this in a big pot:

1 quart vegetable broth
2 cups cooked chickpeas (or 1 sixteen ounce can)
1 small red onion chopped
4 cloves garlic minced or chopped
1 16 oz can diced tomatoes
1 potato grated
1 potato cut in small cubes
1 sweet potato cut in small cubes
1 cup chopped spinach

Season with:

1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon coriander
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put the lid on and cook over medium heat until potato and sweet potato cubes are falling apart and shredded potato has thickened the broth; 30 to 40 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Note: You could sauté the onion and garlic in extra virgin olive oil before adding the broth and other ingredients. It’s so good without that though, that I prefer to skip the oil and keep things lower in fat. Also, this is a slightly sweet stew. For a change of pace Southwestern or Indian Spices would also be delicious. I'm going to try one of those options the next time I make this stew.

My omnivore husband loved this in his thermos for lunch the next day. He told a co-worker that he liked it even better than the beef stew I sent with him the day before.

photo by Haiku, February 2007

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Fragrant Country House...

Above the laundry room sink is a little wooden cabinet that I found at a garage sale one summer afternoon several years ago. The cabinet is filled with amber and indigo-blue glass bottles, filled with essential oils for aroma-therapy and homemade cleaning remedies. As you can see from the photo, I have commercial cleaning products on hand (the laundry soap for example) but also the ingredients for more natural cleaning solutions (such as the big jug of white vinegar.) On the best days, my clean house smells like lavender and jasmine, cinnamon and sweet orange. If anyone in the house has been ill, we might catch a whiff of eucalyptus in the bathroom and tea tree around the doorknobs and light switches.

I have several books about using essential oils in the home. Mainly, I "wing it" using what I have on hand in the essential oil cabinet. But, I thought I'd share an air freshener recipe from one of my favorite little home keeping manuals, The Naturally Clean Home: 101 Safe and Easy Herbal Formulas for Nontoxic Cleansers by Karyn Siegel-Maier, published by Storey Books.

"To make your own herbal spray air freshener, first wash the container thoroughly. Then fill it with water (use distilled if it is also going to come in contact with human skin or foods; do not use the spray ion skin within 12 hours of exposure to sun) and add 5 to 7 drops of an essential oil or combination of oils per 8 ounces of water. Here are some suggested blends:

Country Spice - cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, bay
Romance - vanilla, sandalwood, ylang ylang, jasmine, neroli and rose
Far East - patchouli, cedar, sandalwood,lime and coriander
Calming - bergamot, geranium, clary sage, chamomile, and yarrow

There are other combinations listed in the book, which you can check out here: Check out some of Storey's other offerings while you're there, if you have time. They call themselves "book publishers of country wisdom, do-it-yourself, and well-being. "

My little blue pump bottle of air freshener is currently scented with jasmine, patchouli and ylang ylang. It smells clean and fresh... and a little bit dreamy.
photo of the laundry room on a good day, by Aisling 2006

Monday, February 19, 2007

Banana Oat Scones...

My original recipe for scones came from a book called The Joy of Snacks. I don't remember the book and may have to track it down sometime to refresh my memory. I think it was borrowed from the library. I have modified the recipe so much over time, that it is quite different than the original (which contains egg and raisins, and does not use bananas.)


(scant) 2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup non-hydrogenated (no trans-fats) margarine, melted
1/3 cup soy milk (plain or vanilla)
1 ripe mashed banana


Combine dry ingredients; set aside. Blend mashed banana, melted margarine, and soy milk until fairly smooth. Add in dry ingredients and mix just until moistened. Shape dough to form ball; pat out on lightly flours surface to form 8 inch circle. Cut into 12 wedges (scones); bake on oiled baking sheet at 425 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Serve warm.

Note: I go "skimpy" on the flour at the start and reserve some to add at the end if needed. Not all banana's are created equal! I will (carefully) add more if the dough is too sticky to shape and cut.

photo by Aisling, February 19, 2007

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Dream of Summer...

Garden catalogs have been arriving in my mailbox in recent days. I don't know if I'll buy any of the lovely, colorful plants that grace their pages, but I have certainly "whiled away" several hours leafing through them, dreaming of summer in the garden. Most of my new plants will come from other gardeners, or the bargain table at my favorite nursery. Of course, I will splurge on a few new full-priced items, but most of my gardening projects are done with just a little money and a whole lot of elbow-grease (my own!) And, of course, faith that the garden will be a beautiful sanctuary for my quiet hours. A lot of faith gets turned into the soil in my garden, and dreams mingle with the fragrance that fills the air.

Today, I read a sweet children's book called Rosy's Garden: A child's Keepsake of Flowers. The illustrator, Satomi Ichikawa, gets top billing on the book's pretty cover, while the author of the text is noted in smaller print on the title page. Someday maybe my gardens will be as exuberant and carefree as Rosy's Grandmother's. Eavesdropping as Rosy's Granny told her stories about the herbs and flowers in the garden, I lost myself for a while in an imaginary summer.

photos by Aisling, Summer 2006

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Winter Blue...

After too many colorless days in a row, bits of blue sky peeked out from beyond the clouds this afternoon. It is amazing how sweet and rejuvenating a blue sky can be in the middle of a long, gray winter. The sun made its appearance just in time to let us see it sink down into the lake, while soft colors glowed on the frozen surface.

I was busy in the kitchen this evening, but don't have anything to share yet. My dinner is a work in progress; I'll share when I've settled on an actual written-down version of the recipe! For now, I hope you enjoy Haiku's photo of the late afternoon sun and my favorite Winston Churchill quote:

"We are all worms. But I do believe I am a glowworm." ~ Winston Churchill

photo by Haiku, February 7, 2007

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Grandpa's Soup...

One year when Limerick and I were visiting with my Grandparents in Tennessee, Grandpa taught us how to make his cabbage soup. The soup was simple. He threw chopped cabbage, carrots, onion, and potatoes into a pot of water. He added a drizzle of oil and some salt and pepper and let it simmer. I'm fairly certain he threw in okra, but not as positive about tomatoes. The veggies flavored the water and by the time the potatoes were falling apart, it was a good tasting pot of soup.

One time Limerick made the soup when his Dad and Step-Mom were visiting. They didn't say so until years later, but they were surprised by a soup that used water as the broth. Over the years as we made it, the recipe changed. We usually skipped the okra, because it isn't an ingredient I generally have on hand. We always use canned tomatoes and the juice they were canned in. And we got into the habit of adding soup base, or canned broth. Still, despite adaptations, I often think of Grandpa's simple pot of vegetable soup.

I made some cabbage soup today, but for the first time made homemade vegetable stock to throw the ingredients into. I started with a basic recipe for Winter Vegetable Stock, which included a small quantity of lentils in addition to the usual celery, carrots, onion, garlic, and some root vegetables. I was missing a lot of the ingredients called for, and just used what I had on hand. The result, after straining the stock ingredients and adding some extra oregano, cracked black pepper, and a good splash of hot sauce was a very tasty broth.

The pantry is a little bare this week and I didn't have any canned broth on hand. As a result, I fed my family something better, fresher, more full of vitamins and minerals than a canned stock would have had. Still, in retrospect, the best of cabbage soup I ever had was probably that first one that Grandpa cooked for us in plain water, with a drizzle of oil, and little salt and pepper.

photo by Aisling, February 2007

Monday, February 05, 2007

Baby Bella & White Bean Stew...

Four days into a winter storm, the school is actually closed for a "snow day." This rarely happens here. Mostly, we just take winter weather in stride; we're used to it. However continuous snowing and blowing ultimately will slow those of us who live on the back roads down a bit more than usual. Sub-zero temps (taking wind chill into consideration) just adds to the equation.

For lunch, I just ate a big bowl of yesterday's Baby Bella & White Bean Stew. This is a recipe that I came up with after hunting for one online, but not finding what I was looking for. I thought I would share, in case anyone else looks for excuses to buy Baby Bella (little portebello's, a.k.a. crimini) mushrooms. This warm, filling stew is a really good excuse!

Baby Bella and White Bean Stew


2 tablespoons Olive Oil

3/4 cups chopped onions (a combination of red and green, or just whatever you have on hand)

6 cloves garlic, (4 chopped roughly and 2 crushed)

2 cups sliced Baby Bella mushrooms

2 (16 oz) cans veggie broth

2 (16 oz) cans white beans

1 cup frozen chopped spinach

1/2 cup plain or whole wheat couscous

1/4 cup red white or balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon oregano

1/4 to 1/2 crushed red pepper

Freshly ground black pepper to taste


Heat olive oil. Saute onions, garlic, mushrooms and spices until mushrooms are golden. Deglaze the pan by stirring in wine or vinegar. Add broth, white beans, and spinach. Cook on medium high until the broth comes to a soft boil. Add in couscous and turn off heat. Cover and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

This will really thicken up, so add more veggie broth if you want it more soupy. If you like things spicy, this is good garnished with crushed red pepper and/or a little shot of hot sauce.

This will make 4 to 6 generous servings.
photo by Aisling, February 5, 2007

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Missing the Moon...

On the second, the Hunger Moon lit the night sky. Somewhere up there, it was full and round and bright, but I did not catch a glimpse. On the drive home from town earlier that afternoon, the sun was shining weakly through banks of heavy cloud. As I went further north, it suddenly appeared as if the road dead-ended at a solid white wall. The only way home was forward, so on I went into a world of white - white road, white sky, white air - seeing nothing beyond a few feet in front of my vehicle.

Fortunately, we made it up the steep hill and down the winding narrow road that takes us home. From that moment until now, the snow has not stopped. Yesterday, we braved the roads to take Haiku to a friend's birthday party and, as a consequence of that choice, today Limerick had to brave worse roads to bring her home. He had to leap at the chance early this morning when a neighbor plowed the road and the end of our driveway. There was a good possibility that he wouldn't make it out later, as the snow is falling and the wind persisting.

The dark towering maple trees on the back hill look like pale white birches. Snow is clinging to the entire length of each branch, pressed into place by the force of the wind. My candle is already burning on the kitchen window-sill. I am definitely not going out in this weather... Even Maude our intredip German Wire-Hair Pointer, does not want to linger outdoors. Today, I'll get my daily dose of fresh air from the cold wind whistling through the edges of the front door!

photo of Maude, by Aisling, February 3, 2007

Saturday, February 03, 2007


Over the past few days, I have begun a new ritual. When the busyness of the day is done...when there are no errands to quick runs to the bus stop...when I am home for the day, I light a little candle on my kitchen window sill. It burns there, while I cook dinner for my family and clean up whatever mess we have made during the day. It burns until I tuck the last little one into bed and turn out the lights for the night.

In November, I mentioned here that I like to think of the beginning of each month as a "mini New Year." As each month begins, I try to think of some goal for that month; something I can do better. This month, I am trying hard to make the most of my kitchen with what I have on hand. So what if the inexpensive counter tops are stained, I can still scrub them with lemon juice. I can keep the appliance surfaces sparkling and the window clear to showcase the butterfly garden on the creek bank. Though I don't have a lot of money to spend on making improvements, I can make sure the kitchen is set up for how I really cook. I can have the things I use most often conveniently on hand, and store or eliminate the things I hardly ever use.

With a clean kitchen, it is easier to launch into bread making or other baking. I like to do all the messy cooking jobs in a very clean kitchen, so part of the process has always been to clean the kitchen well first. A job I undo, as I sprinkle flour to roll tortillas, or assemble pasties.

The little candle in the window, the clean surfaces, invite me into the room that truly is the heart of our quiet country home.

photos by Aisling, February 3, 2007

Thursday, February 01, 2007


This lovely word, Serendipity, ought to be the name for the used book store I frequent (in the basement of a local library.) It never fails that I find, amid a fairly limited selection, a book on a subject I have recently begun researching, or a novel someone recently suggested that I read, or a book by a favorite author that I could not afford new.

Thursday I invited serendipity into my life by running into the library on my way to collect Haiku from her gymnastics lesson. I was happy to find a novel with an elegant cover and an equally elegant name, The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama. Anything Asian resonates with me these days, due to Senryu's exchange in Taiwan. I also found an old collection of stories and poetry by a favorite fantasy author, Ursula K. LeGuin, author of Cat Wings and many wonderful tales.

A really lovely find was two books (one a hardback) by lifestyle author Alexandra Stoddard. I have several of her books, but she has written many that I do not yet own. I particularly love the quotes she adds to the margins of her writing.

Yesterday while instant messaging, Senryu made a comment about a friends "Meg-Like I.Q." I instantly recognized that she was referring to Meg from M. L'Engel's A Wrinkle in Time. The conversation flowed on, and then she paused to say, "I love that you get my references."
This quote in one of the A. Stoddard book's comments on that sort of happening:

"I always felt that the great high privilege, relief and comfort of friendship was that one had to explain nothing." ~ Katherine Mansfield

If we are fortunate, the comfort of friendship - or as I consider it, harmony - also exists within a close, loving family. It is a sweet thing to explain nothing and yet be understood, isn't it?

photo by Aisling, February 2007

A few years ago, we gathered frequently with friends for potluck dinners, campfire circles, and front porch picnics. We are still on friendly terms with all of those people, but all of our lives seem to have moved into a different gear. Some of the kids are older, going more and more in their own directions. The adults are older too, of course, and perhaps going out less, staying in more. I have a goal this spring, as soon as snow and mud are no longer a concern on our little private lane, to have friends over more often for a big pot of soup and a few loaves of home-baked bread.

I want our Quiet Country House to be like this farmhouse in France, which Alice Steinbach writes about in Educating Alice, in the chapter called "The Secret Gardens." She says:

"Eventually, pots of chocolate mousse flavored with bits of orange rind appeared, accompanied by a big bowl of ripe juicy strawberries coated with sugar. I ate everything placed before me, my appetite whetted not only by the superb food but by the company as well. This was a house of many appetites: for books and music and art and flowers and conversation and, of course, food. It was a house that had been nurtured by hardy, elegant people whose lives, like the olive trees surrounding them, had put down deep roots here. And it was a house from which I would take away many good memories."

Come to think of it, I'll bet I have a few friends who would brave even this snowy road for some Pumpkin Bread fresh from the oven! Maybe I wont wait until spring after all. I want this to be a house for books, music, art, flowers, conversation, food, and of course, friends and family... all gathered together.

photo by Aisling, January 2007