Stuff and Nonsense: 2018


Thinking of Mom: Advent Calendars

Some of my sweetest childhood memories are of the advent calendars my mother would give me every December 1st. I remember I would come home from school in a frenzy to pop open that day's little perforated cardboard door to see what lay behind it (a plum pudding! a squirrel!) and beg my mom to let me open the next day's, too. Of course, I wasn't allowed to open a day in advance (Mom knew where madness lay) and would distract me with a baking or decorating project.

Nowadays, you can get all sorts of fancy advent calendars -- calendars with chocolates or Lego, etc -- but way back in the early 80s an advent calendar was nothing more than layered cardboard printed with a Christmas scene. But, oh, my mother always picked out the best (imho) calendar the card shop had to offer. The calendars I remember best were glittering scenes of anthropomorphized animals readying themselves for Christmas. Rabbits in scarves decorating an evergreen tree in the middle of the snowy woods. Squirrels in Victorian dress getting their Christmas shopping done. Woodland animals having a snowball fight.

A few years ago, I began buying advent calendars for myself. Usually from the gift shop of an art museum like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but sometimes from Lindt as chocolate advent calendars are very much a part of The Husband's Christmas traditions. Chocolate or no, advent calendars aren't as exciting as they were when I was a child and I don't open each door as promptly as I once had, but they still bring back warm memories of my mother and the calendars she so carefully picked out for me. And that's what really matters.


The Not Christmas

I knew the first Christmas without Mom would be a hard one, so I decided the best thing to do would be to make it as low-key as possible. The plan was we would go down Christmas Eve and stay overnight, spending all of Christmas Day with Dad. We'd eat lasagna and garlic bread I'd purchase, drink a lot of whiskey, and play tabletop games until we were too brain-fried, carb-overloaded, or drunk to feel the ghosts of Mom's Christmases Past.

And that was Christmas Eve. Christmas Day, Dad and I visited the cemetery in the morning and it was so peaceful and calm and full of birdsong that I believe my mother would be happy to know that's where she ended up. It's an old family plot in a very old cemetery in the middle of nowhere and lacks the regimented uniformity I associate with cemeteries -- the marching rows of headstones, the tightly clipped grass, the utter lack of naturalness. If such a thing is possible, it feels like a kind sort of place.

Later, we had met up with one of Dad's old associates for Christmas dinner at the casino buffet. Between the unchristmasness of the casino and the necessity of social pleasantries, we did not have opportunity to dwell on our loss or what Christmas ought to have been like this year.

My mother loved Christmas. Loved all the holidays, really. If it was a day you could decorate for, she did. But Christmas was the best, most decorated, most Holiday of holidays. Electric candles and crochet snowflakes at the windows. Wreaths on the doors. Garland around a mailbox stuffed with cards. A tree dripping with ornaments and tinsel. Nonstop Christmas music in the background. Tupperware full of cookies on the workbench for Christmas parties and swaps. Little Hallmark Christmas tchotchkes on every conceivable surface. And my mother at the heart of all of it.

So much happiness, so much light, so much love.


#WordlessWednesday: A Bride

My mother with her mother and stepfather in their backyard on her wedding day, 9 September 1972.


Trying to Find Words. Failing.

We interred my mother's ashes this morning. It was a simple, low-key ceremony at the old family plot with just a handful of close family members. I think Mom would have approved -- no pomp or priest, but deeply heartfelt. I thought I would handle the interment all right, but then the pineapple cookie jar/urn was placed in the grave and it all became unbearable.

No, I thought, that's too deep. Don't leave my mom's ashes in a hole that deep. It will be cold and dark and lonely. She wouldn't like that. But then we were invited to toss some flowers in and it felt marginally less awful.

If I had been braver, I would have taken all the flowers from her graveside and put them in the grave with her urn, surrounding it with color and softness. But I worried I would upset my dad, so did not.

My father without my mother -- it's an impossible thought. My father loved my mother for nearly fifty years, in sickness and health, joy and sorrow, poverty and wealth. She was his best girl. His first and only love. How can I help him go on? Everyone keeps telling me I need to look after my dad now and take care of him and I want to. I am. But it is impossible to look at him and not see my mom.

And it hurts so much.

Always sassing each other.


Words for Mom

Mom & I go for a ride in my little red wagon.

Maryjane Elsie Gardner, of Waterford CT, passed away Friday, November 23, 2018 at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London after a courageous struggle with congestive heart failure.

She was born April 26, 1951 in New London to Joseph Edward Francis and Elsie Alexandra (Shabunia) Francis.

Maryjane graduated East Lyme High in 1970 and went to work at Two Guys department store as a cashier and later in the jewelry department.

In 1972 she married her high school sweetheart George L. Gardner and they set off on a 46 year journey of life and love. She is also survived by her daughter, Lynn, of whom she was super proud of in every way and loved dearly.

She was a skilled craftsperson dabbling in ceramics, tole painting, and became a very good quilter. A modest and unassuming woman, she once casually entered quilted items at a fair and won multiple ribbons. Appalled at the idea she may have hurt the feelings of local contributors, she never again entered a judged contest.

A skilled cook, she enjoyed hosting noisy holiday family gatherings and produced trays of delectable cookies, endless jars of jams, and lovely pies.

In addition to her husband and daughter she is survived by James Antill, Lynn's husband, sister Marilyn Burleson of New London, sister Diana MacDonald and her husband William, two nephews George and Lee Burleson of New London, and niece Jennifer MacDonald of New London.

In lieu of flowers contributions to the American Heart Association or the National Diabetes Association.

My dad wrote this for his best girl. I cleaned the punctuation and capitalization up a little, but left that rest as it is. How could I do better?


A Pineapple For My Mother

The staff at the funeral home provided us with brochure full of urn options, but none of them felt like Mom and we both knew she'd strongly disapprove of the cost of an urn. In the end, I bought a white ceramic pineapple cookie jar with an airtight lid off Amazon. Mom loved pineapples as a symbol of hospitality and we thought she would have gotten a kick out of it if she'd been there to see it. Felt ever so slightly weird dropping it off at the funeral home, but decided they'd probably seen weirder and we were paying so much money already that who cared?

Also, my mom being dead is really making me no fucks given about everything else.



I was at work when the text came from my father saying he'd brought my mother to the hospital that morning. She'd been short of breath. Dizzy. Holding too much fluid. It looked bad.

By the time I called to ask if I should leave work and come, it was already too late. My mother had died. Her heart stopped.

Our hearts broke. I do not know how we have gotten through the week since her death except by grim determination. There are Things That Must Be Done. Steps That Must Be Taken.

But, oh, the aching sense of loss. The constant ordinary, everyday reminders that my mother is gone somewhere I cannot reach. Those poems and songs that talk about arms aching to hold someone? I always thought they were silly, but now my arms quite literally ache to hug her one more time.


Turkey, Turkey

Small feathered dinosaur.

Have you every stroked a turkey? Last weekend Barnes Nature Center, part of the Environmental Learning Centers of Connecticut, hosted two turkeys from its sister center, Indian Rock Wildlife Preserve. The pair, a male (tom) and female (hen), had been raised together since hatching in May and seemed very at ease with the crowd of humans that had turned out to gawk at them.

And pet them. I'd never touched a turkey before and was, for some reason, astonished to discover how soft and satiny they felt. Even their raw-looking heads were soft -- like kidskin. And warm! Especially the dewlap/wattle.

Look at that display!

Don't know what a dewlap/wattle is? It's the fleshy growth under the turkey's neck. The fleshy bit that hangs over the beak is called the snood. The lumpy red bits around the base of the wattle/dewlap are called caruncles. How do I know all this? A young man was very eager to explain it all to me so that the next time I see wild turkeys in my backyard I'll know exactly what I'm looking at.

We were allowed to feed the turkeys and, being adults, we were allowed to feed them by hand instead of from a paper cup. I was completely chuffed to get both turkeys eating out of my hand at the same time. I felt like some kind of Turkey Whisperer. However, I am not going to try that with the turkeys that occasionally visit our backyard. "Local Woman Pecked To Death By Wild Turkeys" is not the headline I want to follow my death.

I have conclusively determined that turkeys like food.


Autumn's Bounty

While I'm not hosting Thanksgiving this year, that has not kept me from unrealistic fantasies of covering my kitchen counters with Brussels sprouts, carrots, turnips, parsnips, cranberries, winter squash, and potatoes. Fall is my favorite season and its harvest produces my favorite flavors. Food-wise there is nothing that makes me happier than a sheet pan packed edge-to-edge with roasted fall vegetables.

I first discovered how delicious roasted vegetables could be at a little restaurant in Montpelier, Vermont in the early naughts where I, in a fit of vegetarianism, ordered a platter of what turned out to be delicious vegetable candy. I have been hooked on roasting vegetables ever since.

Growing up, there were many vegetables my mother cooked that I insisted I did not like, but I've come to realize it was not the vegetables but the method of preparation that was off-putting. Boiled vegetables are, generally speaking, ick. Sautéed or lightly steamed vegetables are better. Roasted vegetables are the best. The sugars in the vegetables become caramelized, creating a layer of sweetness and depth of flavor that cannot be achieved with any other method. Also, I love the crispy, slightly charred bits that stick to the pan. Those are, for me, the cook's reward.

Also it's an easy/completely lazy way to cook. Put your chopped vegetables on a baking tray, toss with oil, season as needed, and roast in a 425°F oven for 20-30 minutes or until desired level of yumminess is achieved. If you want to be fancy, you can stir the vegetables and rotate the pan about halfway through the cooking time for more uniform roasting. Sometimes I do this, but I usually don't because I'm off doing Important Things like napping meditation or laundry.

Anyway, dreams of mounds of autumn vegetables led me to attend Gresczyk Farms' annual Fall Festival this past weekend. This family friendly event had touchable farm equipment (I know a tractor when I see one, but that's about it), a hay bale playscape, food trucks, tons of free samples of locally produced goods (including wine), live music, and so much produce. Tables and racks and carts of fruits and vegetables. And that doesn't even include what was already for sale in the farm store. I walked in with fifty dollars in my pocket and walked out with four dollars and So. Much. Stuff.

From Gresczyk, I bought Brussels sprouts, turnips, carrots, yellow onions, and yellow potatoes. I also purchased a wee perfect-for-two chocolate cream pie (The Husband loves chocolate cream pies) and wedge of strawberry rhubarb pie (ditto) from Granny's Pie Factory, a pie shop in East Hartford I have been meaning to visit since last Thanksgiving. Because pie wasn't enough for sweets, I picked up three six packs of Real Cookies Bakery -- cinnamon chip, ginger molasses, and triple chocolate. Operating out of Canton, Real Cookies' cookies are definitely very morish and I ate almost all the ginger molasses cookies while watching Doctor Who. (How many times can I use "cookies" in one sentence?)

You may be astonished I did not purchase any parsnips or winter squash. Gresczyk Farms, rather surprisingly considering the bounty of veg they were selling, did not have any parsnips. I was briefly excited by cream colored roots that, disappointingly, turned out to a variety of carrot. Soul? Crushed. That's when I decided to buy too many cookies. Or that's what I'm telling myself.

More likely, we just wanted cookies.

As for the squash ... my bag of holding was simply overloaded and could not accommodate squash without rupturing. I could probably have loaded The Husband up with squash, but he wouldn't have been happy about it and I'd already picked up so many other things he doesn't like to eat. The Husband, not liking vegetables (that aren't corn, peas, green beans, proper baked beans, tomatoes, or cucumber) since 1976.


#Wordless Wednesday: Old Cat Is Old

Little is very old now and smelly and weird, but also still very soft and snuggly.


#WordlessWednesday: Gate in Autumn

Gate leading to the Shôyôan Teien, College of East Asian Studies, Wesleyan University.


Adventures in Yoga

To my surprise, I have begun a regular yoga practice. The sound healing and meditation workshops I've attended have all been held at yoga studios and, after one workshop, I somehow got it into my head to enroll in a five-week basics of yoga beginners course. Then, because that clearly wasn't enough, I signed up for a bunch of chair yoga sessions. And I'm loving them both. Yoga is, to my astonishment, something I can do.

Previously, whenever I'd thought of what kind of woman did yoga, I'd visualize Fit White Non-Disabled Lululemon Barbie. And, sure, one of the studios I attend is full of that type of woman, but they're not going to the same classes I am. My classes are full of people like me, who are gamely trying their best while frequently lacking elegance of movement. Warrior (Virabhadrasana) III, for example, is a right bastard if you don't have good stability. I do not have good stability and weeble-wobble with my leg only partially raised before I retreat back to Mountain Pose (Tadasana). I do a really good Mountain Pose.

As for chair yoga ... well, anyone who tells you chair yoga isn't "real" yoga is speaking nonsense. It may be gentler, with the traditional poses modified for accessibility, but it is still a very active and mindful practice. The chair yoga class I take uses a combination of sitting and standing positions. With the standing positions, we use the chairs as a support to adapt freestanding traditional forms like Tree Pose and Down Dog. Everyone takes whatever amount of support they need from the chairs. Some practitioners Down Dog to the top of the chair back. Others Down Dog to the back of the chair seat. It is all about working at our own pace within our own range of limits and abilities.

Anyway, I come away from yoga with a brain that feels relaxed, loose, and languid while the pleasant burn in my arms and legs serves to remind me that I am killing it at downward-facing dog and plank pose. The good brain feels don't last, no, but it's brilliant while it does and gives me a goal to move toward -- I will find a way to one day always feel that way.


Vegan Pumpkin Stew @ Buddha Bistro

The yoga studio I attend most often -- The OM Center for Yoga & Massage -- has a small cafe called The Buddha Bistro attached to it. The Bistro's seasonal "Pumpkin Love" smoothie with its strong pumpkin (not spice) flavor is a definite favorite and I keep meaning to try to make my own version at home, because there is simply not enough pumpkin in my life this autumn. Anyway, a few weeks back, the Bistro posted a flier for forthcoming cooking classes, including one for a vegan stew in a pumpkin. I've always wanted to try making a stuffed pumpkin, but I'd been intimidated by what I presumed was a huge amount of work. The class seemed like the perfect opportunity to find out just how hard it could be.

Turns out making a stuffed pumpkin is dead easy. Or, at least, the way we did it in class was dead easy. Yes, it's a bit time-consuming, but there's enough break between steps that you could go read a book or sort laundry or write another angry-yet-persuasive letter to your senator. You could even roast the vegetables and stuff the pumpkin well ahead of time, delaying the baking stage for days. Stuffed pumpkin doesn't necessarily look like a make ahead meal, but it definitely could be.

The only thing I would caution you about is seasoning. Season generously. Very generously. The amounts listed below are the bare minimum you should use. At the very least, heap your spoons. When you're prepping the pumpkin, you're going to think "Oh, my cake, that's too much!" and panic a little, but then you're going to start eating the pumpkin and find yourself reaching for the spice rack.

Buddha Bistro Vegan Pumpkin Stew
Serves 4-6

1 sweet (baking) pumpkin
2 medium white potatoes
2 small red potatoes
½ sweet potato, peeled
8 baby carrots
½ butternut squash, peeled and seeded
¼ head cored red cabbage
½ red onion, skinned
3 Brussels sprouts, trimmed
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp sage
1 tsp + 1 tsp salt
1 tsp + 1 tsp pepper
½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 Tbsp thyme
½ cup + 2 Tbsp neutral cooking oil
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
1 Tbsp corn starch
½ cup vegetable broth

Preheat oven to 435°F. Line a three quarter size sheet pan with foil.

Chop potatoes, carrots, and butternut squash into thumbnail-sized cubes. Slice or shred red cabbage, onion, and sprouts. Combine all vegetables together in a larger bowl with sage, salt, pepper, pie spice, thyme, and half a cup of oil. Spread evenly across sheet pan and roast for about 25 minutes or until vegetables are almost cooked.

While the vegetables are roasting, mix the vegetable broth and corn starch together. Set aside.

Scrub the pumpkin clean. Remove the seeds and guts. Prick all over the inside and outside of the pumpkin with a wooden skewer. Sprinkle the inside with remaining teaspoon salt, pepper, and dried sage. Set aside.

Reduce oven to 350°F.

Put your mostly-roasted vegetables in a large mixing bowl, add starch mixture, and stir until evenly coated. Pack it all inside your pumpkin. Place the top on the pumpkin and rub with the remaining oil.

Wrap pumpkin in aluminum foil and place on a quarter sheet pan. Bake at 350°F for 2-3 hours or until the inside of the pumpkin is easily pierced with a fork.

Carefully remove foil. Place pumpkin on serving platter and admire.

I'd love to try this again, with turnips and parsnips instead of the white potatoes. Also, maybe some mushrooms? Definitely more sprouts. Seriously, you could use whatever fall or winter vegetables you like.

While I ate this pumpkin without any accompaniments a little whole berry cranberry sauce or pickled red cabbage wouldn't go amiss.


#WordlessWednesday: River & Sky

The sky and the river; the river and the sky.


Adventures In Sound Healing & Meditation

My therapist suggested I try meditation as a means of managing my anxiety -- another tool in the "mental health toolbox" she's helping me assemble. I didn't think reading a book on meditation would help me much and the YouTube videos I tried to watch just gave me the fidgets, so I decided to do the easy thing and download a bunch of free apps.

Of the three I downloaded -- Calm, Deep Meditation, and Headspace -- I've found Headspace most beneficial. The ten day starter program is free when you download the app and is then $12.99/mo or $94.99/year. After doing eight days of the starter, I bought a year's subscription with zero qualms. Headspace is a very straightforward app with lots of cute, engaging illustrations. It feels friendly and I use it every day.

I especially like that I can adjust the length of every meditation session so I can slot a little in wherever it will fit in my day. Most days, I do ten or fifteen minutes on my lunch break followed by forty five minutes before sleep. To be fair, I seldom make it through my bedtime meditation without falling asleep. My therapist insists this is okay as the active intention is there.

Because I have socialization issues, I've recently (gently) pushed myself to try a few "real world" sound healing and meditation workshops. Part of me has been very cynical about the whole experience -- sure, the vibrations from the crystal singing bowls are going to do some magic woo with my chakras. But there is something extremely calming and, dare I say, healing in lying quietly in a dimly lit room with a bunch of strangers, just being. So I'm going to do more sound healing and meditation workshops. As I told my therapist, even if I don't think I'm approaching the practice the "right" way or getting the "right" things from it, it does help dial down the noise in my head.

My APRN and I are still working on the right pharmacological treatment -- I've tried several different medications of varying doses and my anxiety is better, but not still not good. If I was a 9 out of 10 at my first appointment, I'm down to a 6 now. We all want me to get to 0, so we keep plugging along.


Adventures in Anxiety

I have, over the course of my anxious life, experienced several full-blown world-is-ending anxiety attacks. I've always considered the one I had on the London Underground at rush hour (freshly deplaned, completely jet lagged, and on my way to the In-Laws) to be the worst:

My heart raced. I felt weak, light-headed, dizzy. My hands went numb. My chest was crushed under an invisible weight. I could not breathe. I lost control. I was consumed by dread. I was going to get off that train and out from under the ground or I was going to die.

Obviously, I didn't die. But I felt humiliated by my brain and angry at my inability to regain control before I completely lost it in a crowd of strangers. It was not going to happen again.

It did. Oh, it did. Not as badly the next time or the time after that or even the time after that. But each attack was still a terribly humiliating and angering experience.

And yet I did not seek help of any kind or even admit to myself that I needed help. And years went by and I was mostly okay and that was good enough (wasn't it?) then ... doom came upon me. Stalked me. Lived inside my gut. Whispered in my ear. Everything was bad, no good, terrible ... doomed.

Finally, I saw a psychiatrist who prescribed a low dose antidepressant. And, for a while, everything was okay again. Not, in retrospect, great or even good, but not doomed. Alas, for a variety of reasons that mostly boil down to "I felt I'd gotten as well as I could with her," I stopped seeing the psychiatrist and stopped taking the antidepressant.

I was okay for a few months, maybe even half the year, before everything started to spin out of control again. I knew I needed help, but on the bad days the thought of making an appointment to talk to someone about medication and therapy was too much to bear and, on the good days, it simply didn't seem important enough. Also, with the world being a garbage fire, I told myself it was hard to know whether my feelings were really that abnormal.

Then one beautiful day this summer, I found I couldn't leave the house. Couldn't even go out on the back porch without breaking out into a sweat, feeling like I couldn't breathe, and that my legs might give out beneath me. I became increasingly agitated -- I wanted to go out, I had things I needed to do, I was letting myself down -- and had a full blown room-dimming chest-crushing panic attack.

I knew what it was and that I wasn't going to die, but as I lay myself down on our bed and tried to breathe my way through what my brain was telling me was definitely the end of the world, I rather wished I might. Once the attack passed and I had a good cry, I felt exhausted and strangely calm. The sudden all-pervading sense of doom had retreated to the edge of my perception.

Thankfully, I had the sense to ask for help. I tried to find a new psychiatrist covered by my insurance, but those I worked the courage up to call where either not taking new patients or could not see me for months. I knew I didn't have months -- as days passed I began increasingly to feel I was holding another attack back through sheer willpower -- so I called a therapist recommended by a friend and she saw me that same week. It felt like a miracle. I liked her immediately and now see her weekly. With her help and the medications prescribed by an APRN she recommended I feel better than I have in years.

Years. Which is not to say I am anywhere near well yet, but I can see more clearly the size and scope of my anxiety and am learning beneficial ways to manage it. I'm reading books, listening to podcasts, journaling, and all that shizzle. Some of it seems very unscientific and I have to fight my own cynicism, but I'm definitely improving. It's astonishing and a little bit scary. I've been anxious for so long. Who will I be when I'm not anxious?

#WordlessWednesday: Wild Asters

Wild asters blooming along the Farmington River.


An Excess of Eggplant

Look at that handsome Under-Gardener with his arms full of aubergines. Does he look a bit stunned by the number of fruits cradled in his arms? Does he wonder what suspicious aubergine-enriched meals await him?

As you can see, we are suffering from an excess of eggplant (that's "aubergine" if you're English). When I planted three wee, spindly seedlings in May I hardly expected them to amount to much. At best, one might thrive while the others dwindled and died. More likely, none would survive to fruit. And then, this.

These plants aren't anything special -- just your classic Italian eggplant -- and I did absolutely nothing for them aside from a bit of fertilizer early on. But the amount of fruit coming off them since late August has been, well, bonkers.

So what do we do with all that eggplant? While I've taken an occasional basket to work, mostly we've just eaten them.

Betty Crocker's "Baba Ghanoush" is definitely my go-to recipe. It's easy, delicious, keeps well, and is well-suited to my snacky lifestyle. I've tried other baba ghanoush recipes, but Betty Crocker's is the one I keep coming back to. The addition of roasted chickpeas just gives it that extra bit of something.

I've also made Martha Rose Shulman’s "Lasagna with Tomato Sauce & Roasted Eggplant" from the New York Times with fabulous results. It reheats well, so don't be concerned about the amount of leftovers it makes.

In a pinch, I roast cubed eggplant with cherry tomatoes, onion, and garlic and then toss the vegetables with cooked multigrain pasta, feta, basil, and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Most recently, I made Betty Crocker's "Stuffed Eggplant." This was an delicious, easy Sunday dinner that even The Husband enjoyed. I did make some alterations to the recipe, cooking the onion, pepper, and garlic together in the olive oil, then adding the beef so I didn't dirty two skillets. I also used a blend of shredded cheddars instead of pecorino Romano, because cheddar is all I had.

And there are still more eggplant.


Around Connecticut: The Sweet Beet

I've been following The Sweet Beet, a vegan health food market in Granby, on Instagram for almost a year now and their postings invariably fill me with a strong desire to get in my car and head north. Unfortunately, Granby is about 45 minutes from here and that always seemed like a long way to go to get a smoothie or chickpea salad sandwich. Until Friday, that is.

This was my Friday off -- the perfect time to tootle around the northern part of the state, admiring the fine beginnings of fall, collecting my farm share, and drinking vegan yumminess. I headed north from West Hartford after therapy, reducing my trip to a mere half hour. Pulling into Sweet Beet's shared parking lot, I found myself full of a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I had looked forward to visiting for so long ... surely I had overhyped the place in my head?

Happily, no. The Sweet Beet is charming and staffed with very nice, helpful people who want you to have an exemplary shopping experience. I obtained the "Candy Corn" smoothie (boo-nana, pineapple, mango, turmeric, carrot, hemp, cinnamon, and coconut ... best smoothie I've had in 2018) of my recent fantasies, as well as a number of interesting krauts and pickles, several store-made ready meals for work, and a few mini cupcakes ("Sweeties") to share with The Husband.


Easy Salmon & Summer Vegetable Bake

I love my farm share, but there comes a point every week where I become overwhelmed by the contents of my kitchen and feel ALL.THE.VEGETABLES.MUST.GO. This salmon dish is one of my favorite easy ways to use those vegetables up as it makes for both a filling and colorful supper. Prepping and assembling the dish only takes a few minutes and then I can just ignore it as it bakes.

I like to serve this over rice, drizzled with the delicious pan juices, but sometimes the tomatoes aren't so juicy and then I serve it with mashed potatoes. Basically, we like carbs.

Easy Salmon & Summer Vegetable Bake

Yield: 3


  • 1 lb boned salmon fillet
  • 8 oz small zucchini, sliced into ¼-inch thick coins
  • 2 oz coarsely chopped shallot
  • 6 oz small grape tomatoes
  • 3 oz red, yellow, and orange bell pepper strips
  • Olive oil
  • Penzeys "Florida" salt free seasoned pepper (or what have you)


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Lightly oil a 13x9-inch baking dish.
  3. Place salmon in dish and surround with zucchini, shallots, tomatoes, and peppers.
  4. Drizzle salmon and vegetables with olive oil. Season as needed.
  5. Bake 30 minutes or until salmon reaches 145°F and flakes easily with a fork.


#WordlessWednesday: Sage

Love the soft, velvety texture of sage leaves.


#WordlessWednesday: Corn

Always—I never knew it any other way—
The wind and the corn talk things over together.
And the rain and the corn and the sun and the corn
Talk things over together. ("Laughing Corn," Carl Sandburg)


#WordlessWednesday: Butterfly Weed

The butterfly weed has begun blooming again. I've never had a second bloom from it before.


Sunday in the Garden

I planted a wee pot of pineapple sage by the hummingbird feeder in late May as I'd heard its flowers were attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. Well, for the longest time the plant did nothing. Threw out the occasional red blossom, yes, but otherwise just sat there, looking gangly and unloved. I guess it was gathering energy, because the pineapple sage experienced a huge burst of growth in late July and now, in September, has completely taken over a third of the raised bed. The spiky red flowers are quite plentiful and the hummingbirds have been skipping right over the feeder to get to the flowers.

In Connecticut, pineapple sage is best treated as an annual but I am going to heavily mulch the crown when the foliage dies back and hope the plant will come back on its own. Otherwise, its back to Agway next spring for a new one!

That's a 48-inch black steel shepherd hook the hummingbird feeder is hanging off and the vegetable bed is about 18 inches deep, making the pineapple sage around 2½ feet tall!


Roasted Vegetables With Pasta

I've become less and less of a follower of recipes. I used to browse cookbooks all the time, looking for new recipes to try. I would visit multiple shops to track down just one weird ingredient. Now I look in my fridge and make whatever comes to mind. Tossing in a bit of this and a bit of that until I'm happy. Which is great for easy time-saving meals, but terrible for food blogging.

Anyway, this is one of those meals that I toss together quite often but never talk about because it's not "interesting" or "pretty" enough. You can use whatever vegetables you have on hand -- although you'll need to be adjust cooking times if you use "firmer" vegetables like winter squash -- and whatever seasoning blend pleases you most.

Roasted Summer Vegetables With Pasta

Yield: 4 servings


  • 14 oz zucchini, cut into ¼ coins (3 small)
  • 8 oz yellow onion, halved and cut into wedges (1 large)
  • 15 oz plum tomatoes, chopped (3 large)
  • 3 oz bell pepper strips (4 mini)
  • 3 oz small grape tomatoes (a generous handful)
  • Olive oil, as needed
  • Penzeys Tuscan Sunset salt-free seasoning blend
  • Onion powder
  • Roasted garlic powder
  • 8 oz cooked pasta
  • Crumbled feta


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Brush baking sheet with olive oil.
  3. Place vegetables on baking sheet.
  4. Drizzle with oil and season as desired.
  5. Roast for 30 or until desired tenderness, stirring everything half way through.
  6. Toss with cooked pasta and sprinkle with crumbled feta. Eat.



Mom's Coleslaw

My most recent CSA farm share included a very large "Gunma" cabbage. This variety of cabbage is, I am told, highly sought after because it is a tender and sweet cabbage with a large flat shape that makes it perfect for stuffing. Well, while I love to eat stuffed cabbage, I have never made stuffed cabbage before and am unlikely to start soon.

So far, I've thrown an eighth of the cabbage in a minestrone soup, roasted a quarter of it with onions, and used another quarter to make my Mom's coleslaw. This is a very basic slaw, but it was served at every childhood Easter and family picnic and I retain a certain nostalgia for it.

The recipe is just an estimation. It is totally up to you how much milk or mayonnaise or seasoning you use. For me, I like a slightly dry, garlicky slaw so I used a half cup of mayonnaise and two tablespoons milk. As for garlic, I sprinkled the roasted garlic powder on until it looked like too much and knew that was exactly the right amount.

Mom's Coleslaw

Yield: 8 Servings


  • 4 cups finely shredded green cabbage (about ½ a medium head)
  • 1 carrot, grated coarsely
  • Salt, pepper, garlic powder, & dried parsley as desired
  • Mayonnaise, as needed
  • Milk, as needed


  1. Combine cabbage, carrot, and seasonings in a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise and milk until you like the thickness.
  3. Pour over cabbage and stir to combine.
  4. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours (overnight is best).
  5. Adjust seasonings as needed before serving.



Tomato, Basil, & Mozzarella Flatbread

Between the garden and our CSA share, we are inundated with tomatoes. The cucumber have mostly given up in this heat and the few that have ripened recently were incredibly bitter, so cucumber and tomato salad is no longer a regular at our table. Instead, I've been slicing the tomatoes, dressing them with a drizzle of white wine vinegar and garlic-infused olive oil, and finishing them with a little sprinkle of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. My father occasionally chops up vine-warm tomatoes, sprinkles them with sugar, and pours a little cream over them. He says this is good both as breakfast and dessert, but I am not brave enough to try it.

Anyway, I've found sandwiches and flatbreads are a great way to use up our tomato excess. The sandwiches are simple -- take a slice of hearty bread (farmhouse white is most traditional), spread it with mayonnaise, add thick slices of tomato, sprinkle with salt and pepper, add a few basil leaves, top with another slice of bread, smoosh the sandwich together a little bit to make sure everything is well glued together, and eat.

The flatbreads are slightly more complicated, if only because you need to use the oven. To save time, I use a prepared pizza crust, but you could make your own.
  • Slice 8 oz ball fresh mozzarella.
  • Slice a large tomato or tomatoes.
  • Chop a handful of fresh basil.
  • Chop four or five fat garlic cloves.
  • Brush pizza crust with a little garlic-infused olive oil and sprinkle with a salt-free Italian herb blend. Bake in a preheated 450°F oven for 3 minutes or until it crisps and the edges have browned a little.
  • Top with sliced tomatoes, garlic, basil, and cheese. Sprinkle with some freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle with a little more oil and bake 5 more minutes or until cheese is melted.

Makes a beautiful, crunchy pizza bursting with summer flavors.



#WordlessWednesday: Fancy Queen Anne's Lace

Never seen so much red in Queen Anne's Lace. Wonder what variety it is.


Summery Bean & Chopped Vegetable Salad

This summer, my garden seems very reluctant to give me any tomatoes. So far, I've harvested a double handful when I'd usually be up to my eyeballs in delicious cherry and currant tomatoes by now. Garden tomatoes have very much become an supplementary rather than key ingredient in many salads and packed lunches.

This is a kind of "clear out the kitchen salad" which makes good use of stuff you probably already have hanging around. The corn is usually leftover roast corn, but thawed frozen or drained can will work just as well. If you don't have Penzeys Florida seasoning blend, use salt-free lemon-black pepper, garlic, and onion powder to taste.

Bean & Vegetable Salad

Yield: 8


  • ⅓ cup lime-infused olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • ½ Tbsp Penzeys Florida seasoning blend
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1 cup diced seeded cucumber
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • ½ cup red bell pepper, diced


  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, seasoning blend, garlic, and cilantro. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Pour dressing over salad and toss until evenly coated.
  3. For best results cover and refrigerate overnight. Allow to come to room temperature before serving. Adjust seasoning as needed.



#WordlessWednesday: Black-eyed Susans

Black-eyed Susan, the best friend of many a lazy gardener.


CSA Share Goodness

CSA Saturday! Yes, I usually pick up my farm share on Friday afternoons at the farmers market, but with the Italian Festival on I knew that parking would be madness and moved my pickup to the farm. Glad I did, because Gresczyk Farms' store is full of even more deliciousness. Picked up a pint of Hastings Farm honey yoghurt (the best yogurt) and a quart of garlic kosher dill chip pickles. Just been standing in front of the fridge, eating the pickles straight from the tub.

What did I get in my partial share this week?

  • Half dozen eggs
  • Half dozen sweet corn
  • One pound pickling cucumbers
  • Half pint blueberries
  • One bunch golden beets
  • One bunch white onions

I'm not going to do anything fancy with this week's share -- berries in yoghurt with granola, onions and cucumbers in salad, beets roasted and pickled, corn grilled with butter, eggs scrambled with toast.


#WordlessWednesday: Tomato Season

The cherry tomatoes are beginning to ripen! Hooray, for delicious red orbs.


Sunday (Not) in the Garden

It rained most of today so I didn't get out in the garden as planned. Yesterday, I pulled the snap peas as they had just about reached their end and I needed a spot to relocate the utterly unhappy chard. Things have not going well at all for the chard, trapped as they have been in the sprawl of Brussels sprouts. This is my first year growing sprouts and I was not sure what to expect so I did not allocate enough space for them and they've taken over, nearly smothering the chard. They are at least growing the way they're supposed to, I think, and mini cabbages are slowly forming along the stalks.

Anyway, the chard have been dug up, replanted, fertilized, and watered. Hopefully all will go well with them from now on and I will soon be inundated with chard ... but not too soon as it's begun to appear in my weekly CSA share and there's a definite limit to just how much chard I can cope with before I make some regrettable smoothies. The limit is two. Two bunches in one week. More than that and I get a little chard crazy.

The cucumbers are in fine fiddle and are, I think, trying to put me to shame. Or actively going to war against me. "Oh, you human, you poopooed us. Dismissed us as weak and doomed to fail and yet here we are burying you in the fruits of our vines." At the moment, my crisper drawer is 70% cucumber and I have resorted to making pitchers of posh cucumber-lemon spa water.

Speaking of things I can't keep a handle on, the basil have bolted and are covered in beautiful white flowers. I feel I should be a bit cross with myself for not reining them in when I could, but they look so lovely in bloom and the bees love it. Who am I to thwart the happiness of bees?