A Winter Update

I don’t usually post during the non-growing season, but I thought I would update with a question and a quick recipe—

Question first: How in the world do you take care of succulents?

I’m become a succulent mom very suddenly (it was a Christmas gift) and I think I’m doing it all wrong. Advice on soil mixture? Care and watering suggestions?

So now that you’ve earned your keep, a quick recipe to tide you over (and the perfect potluck recipe for football fun):

Julia’s Orzo Salad

I should note that my name is not Julia. Julia is the person who perfected the amazing additions to this salad, and who is bugged– constantly– to bring this to gatherings. Much love and adoration to Julia, for this and many other reasons!


  • 1 (16 oz) box of orzo pasta
  • 1/2 small head of broccoli, cut into small florets
  • 1 cup of red pepper, diced
  • 4 oz crumbled feta
  • 4 oz of pepperoni, diced
  • 1- 2.4 oz can of sliced black olives, drained and rinsed
  • 1 packet of ranch dressing mix
  • 4 T of red wine vinegar
  • 3 T of olive oil
  • 2 T of white sugar (1 T if using splenda)
  • 1 tsp of dried basil leaves
Pardon the blurry picture. I was too eager to eat this to take a better one!


  1. Make orzo according to box instructions.* During last minute of cooking time, add broccoli florets to boiling water. Drain broccoli and orzo in a colander and rinse with cold water.
  2. In a small bowl or lidded jar, mix last five ingredients.
  3. Put orzo and broccoli in a large mixing bowl and combine with remaining ingredients, mixing well with vinaigrette.
  4. Let salad rest in refrigerator for at least one hour. Can be made a day ahead. If it seems dry, rewet with 1 tsp of each red wine vinegar and olive oil.

*Orzo expands like crazy, so make sure you cook it in a large pot with plenty of water.

French-Kissing Onion Soup

It’s been a rough summer, mainly due to Japanese beetles. Japanese beetles on my raspberries. Japanese beetles eating my baby apple tree. Japanese beetles in my sleep.

You know one thing Japanese beetles don’t like? Onions.

Continue reading French-Kissing Onion Soup

Red and Blue Crumble Pie

I admit it, okay? No need to give me the third degree. I stole it, and I would do it again. I stole the strawberry from the strawberry plant at the greenhouse, the tiny, red one that was almost too ripe. I did it because I couldn’t stand to see it go to waste.

It’s that lovely season where the weather isn’t roasting just yet, berries are cheap, and I’m in a baking mood. All of these factors collide into a mixed berry pie of blueberries and strawberries, just in time for your summer savoring.

Red and Blue Crumble Pie



  • 2 1/2 cups of sliced fresh strawberries
  • 2 1/2 cups of fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 2 tbsp of tapioca
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup of white sugar
  • 1 premade pie-crust (or make your own)


  • 2/3 cup of all-purpose flour (or a mixture of 1/3 cup oats, 1/3 cup flour)
  • 1/3 cup of butter, slightly chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 375°. In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients and let macerate for 15 minutes.
  2. In a smaller bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, and brown sugar and stir well. Cut in the butter until it forms small chunks.
  3. After fifteen minutes, pour the filling into the prepared pie crust and cover with topping. Put pie pan on a rimmed baking sheet (for easier clean up, cover with foil).
  4. Bake in the oven for approximately 50 minutes. Let cool and enjoy!


Weeds, weeds, and more weeds

The old cliche “kids grow like weeds” only gets more true the more kids I have and the bigger my garden gets. My kids now grow out of clothing every few months and are both old enough to alternatively shove and hug each other. Kids, thus, are cute, at least in the non-shoving moments.


Weeds. Are. Not. Cute.

A few hints to newbie gardeners for eradicating — or better yet, preventing– weeds (chemical free) in the garden.

  1. Grass clippings (or shredded newspaper). After a good lawn mowing, spread the clippings around your already planted garden plot. Like the more expensive options below, the clippings will form a layer which heats the ground beneath it (to kill seedlings) and also gives less space for weeds to grow than open ground. I love grass clippings because they add extra nutrients to the soil, as well!

Unfortunately, my husband let some of the grass go to seed and so the most recent spread of mulch caused a little lawn to appear in my garden… so….

2. Landscaper’s cloth. Held in by metal landscaping staples (or biodegradable staples), this cloth works even more fully to provide the heat because of its reflective black surface. It’s not pretty, but it does the job. I cut “x”s in the material to make room for my plants which I WANT to be there and picked most of the weeds and grass before I laid it down.

My tomatoes, kohlrabi, and peppers surrounded by grass seeds and weeds.
Landscaper’s cloth before it’s fully tacked down… still, much better!

A caveat here: unless you use the biodegradable staples, you’ll have to dig around for the metal later in the season when you clean up the garden. For me, the little bit of effort on the back end is worth the time saved on this side.

3. Burlap. Another option, which my sister-in-law uses is burlap material between her plant rows. On many websites you can purchase old coffee bags and cut them into sizes useful to you in the garden. Unlike the artificial-looking black landscaping cloth, burlap softens in color to a natural-looking gray as the season progresses and works quite well to reduce weed growth.

There are many chemicals out there– we’re lucky to live in an age of agricultural wonder– but one of the pleasures of growing my own food is the simplicity of the process. Just like I like food with simple ingredients I can pronounce, I like that take on gardening, too.

A general garden update:

Perennials: Asparagus, Chives, Dill (just barely), Raspberries (but no flowers yet)

Annual Vegetables: sugar snap peas, “seed” potatoes, onion sets, green beans (one row, with another to follow next week), two blocks of sweet corn (with one more to follow next week), zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant, banana and sweet peppers



Chives plus World’s Best Potatoes

The garden is coming up, and one item in particular is ready and has been for weeks: chives. If you grow chives, you know that they grow as heartily as dandelions and they are reliably ready early in the season. Chives are a great addition if you’re looking for a perennial, since they’re edible and they make pretty purple flowers (which my three year old likes to gather into onion-y bouquets). Chives can be good additions to garden salads, but I like them especially as a finisher to my favorite potato dish. This recipe, adapted from America’s Test Kitchen, gives you soft potatoes with a crunchy, buttery shell. They take a bit of babysitting (especially near the end), but the payoff is worth it. I like to serve these alongside a roast chicken, since so many ingredients (lemon, thyme) overlap.


  World’s Best Potatoes


  • 1 1/2 lbs small red potatoes (similarly sized, if possible)
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into single tbsp
  • 3 peeled garlic cloves
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh chives
  1. Scrub potatoes and halve them, but do not peel or pierce them. Place the potatoes facedown in a single layer, covering the bottom of a 12-inch nonstick skillet. The potatoes should fit snugly along the bottom. Add water, butter segments, garlic, thyme sprigs, and salt and bring to a simmer over medium/high heat. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes (or until potatoes are just tender).
  2. After fifteen minutes have elapsed, remove the cover and take out the sprigs of thyme and cloves of garlic. Discard the thyme, but keep the garlic and allow to cool. Mash garlic and combine with lemon juice and pepper. Set mixture aside.
  3. Increase the heat on the potatoes to medium/high once more and, with lid still off, simmer until the water has evaporated– about fifteen minutes. The butter will start to sizzle (you’ll smell and hear it, at this point).
  4. At this point, babysit your potatoes very closely, moving them gently to allow the cut sides to remain down but not stick to any one spot in the pan. The goal is to get spotty, browned cut sides (about 5 minutes). If you aren’t vigiliant, the best parts may stick to the pan.
  5. Once browned, remove the potatoes from pan and toss with garlic/lemon mixture. Add chives just before serving, and enjoy!
    While this recipe claims to serve 4-6, my husband and I routinely polish it off with just a little help from our two kiddos. A recipe simple enough for weeknight dinner, but tasty enough to impress a dinner guest or two (if you’re generous enough to share).

A Preview of Things to Come

This blog is an annual tradition of mine from plotting the garden to the final harvest, so I’m back again this season for another round of garden talk, memories, and recipes.

This year, I’m scrapping some of my traditional plants: no cucumbers or squash this year… or at least, not at draft one of the garden plan. Instead, I’m going to try potatoes and sweet corn, two additions that even my father never planted. More on that as the experiment progresses.

I brought my young daughter to the local farm supply store to pick out seeds and stopped by the baby chick display. Some year, though not this one, I’ll head home myself with one of those small, cheeping cardboard boxes that I see others leaving with. I’ve got chick envy; I’ll admit it.

Today my husband tilled. This is his annual contribution to the effort and one I’m grateful for. I could barely wait until the tiller was back in the shed to go out and dig my hands in the dirt. I planted two rows of carrots (Nantes variety) and about forty yellow onion sets. Tomorrow, if the ground is soft, I’m putting in the snow peas and I’ve got the potatoes ready to pop in the ground on Tuesday.

I’m building a trellis system for our raspberry bushes this year, and hopefully this summer I’ll have some good raspberry recipes to share.

Since I’ve got nothing fresh to share a recipe on today, I’ll share a research item instead. As I map my garden plot each year I like to look at compatible plants to put nearby. I don’t want my plants bullying each other, after all. This resource from the Farmer’s Almanac helps me cross check to ensure a healthy environment for my little sprouts.

Are you planting anything new this year?

Tomato-Related Public Service Announcement!

Save your Easter eggs—

Or at least their shells! Popping out of my hibernation for a timely reminder that though tomato season is (sadly) months away, you can invest in your tomato plant future by saving egg shells.  I usually start right around Easter every year.  First I grind them in batches and keep them in a plastic bag in the freezer.

To use them, crush them into a fine powder and place some of that powder in the hole that in which you transfer your baby tomato plant.

Why?  The calcium in the eggshells can help prevent blossom end rot!

So keep those colorful eggshells (and the not so colorful ones, too) and sprinkle a handful of pulverized shells when planting your tomatoes this year.