What’s Cooking: Custom Hot Chocolate Mix

cocoa heart Artistic hot chocolate

My morning writing ritual includes a cup of hot chocolate, something that you might consider decadent unless you know that caffeine, even in the tiny amounts contained in decaf coffee or tea makes me sick. To stay healthy, I avoid all of those caffeinated drinks  I used to love. Instead, I drink hot chocolate.

It turns out that my hot chocolate habit is healthier than you might think. As an article in Mother Nature Network reports, Cornell University researchers studying the anti-oxidant levels in chocolate found that hot cocoa is a great source of antioxidants.

Chocolate chip hearts Chocolate is heart-healthy; cocoa powder has even more benefits than the solid form

In fact, hot cocoa’s antioxidant concentration is twice as high as red wine, and two to three times stronger than green teas, as well as four to five times stronger than black tea. Since cocoa lacks the fat of a chocolate bar (even dark chocolate is high-fat), it’s a healthier way to eat the antioxidants.

And heating the cocoa releases more of those cancer-fighting, age-fighting, free-radical-neutralizing antioxidants, says Professor Chan Yong Lee, the lead author of the study.

Other health benefits: cocoa’s flavonoids help you process nitric oxide, thus improving blood flow (including blood flow to the brain, which helps prevent dementia), lowering your blood pressure, preventing clots, and improving heart health.

Don’t buy commercial hot chocolate mix though. It’s full of unhealthy corn syrup in various incarnations and saturated fats. And it’s expensive on a per-serving basis. Instead, make your own healthy (and cocoa-rich) mix in bulk. It’s ridiculously simple. (There are only two ingredients!)

Two ingredients: cocoa powder and sugar Two ingredients: cocoa powder and sugar

Health-Rich Hot Chocolate Mix

2 cups organic sugar
8-9 T organic cocoa powder (I use Savory Spice cocoa–it has a lovely flavor)

Mix the sugar with the cocoa powder until it is combined. (Add more cocoa if you like a richer mix, more sugar if you prefer sweeter hot chocolate.) Store in an air-tight jar or tin. Add two to three heaping teaspoons to a cup of hot milk. (Use skim or lowfat milk to keep the fat content from counteracting the health benefits.) Stir and enjoy!

As you sip your healthy hot chocolate, thank the Mayans, who invented chocolate drinks many millennia ago. (Cacao beans are native to South America. They’re one of the Americas’ great native crops, along with chiles, corn, beans and squash.)

GIFT IT: Put the mix in a pretty jar, add instructions for making hot chocolate on a hand-made card, and give it to someone you love for Valentine’s Day.

A little artistic expression of how I feel when I drink my heart-healthy hot chocolate.... Valentine’s Day and hot chocolate makes for happy hearts!

Jars of eggnog on the kitchen island, waiting to go to happy homes....

What’s Cooking? Sinful Solstice Eggnog Recipe

Jars of eggnog on the kitchen island, waiting to go to happy homes.... Jars of eggnog on the kitchen island, waiting to go to happy homes….

In Sunday’s post about Winter Solstice luminarias, I promised to share the recipe for my Sinful Solstice Eggnog. This homemade eggnog has been part of my holiday season traditions since before Richard, Molly and I moved to Salida seventeen years ago.

It started out (as so many traditions do) as just a small thing, a treat for visiting family at Christmas. Over the years though, as our Light the Darkness party moved to Solstice and expanded, so too did the batches of eggnog, until the year when I used four-and-a-half dozen eggs and over a gallon of heavy cream. That was insane.

Now I make this rich eggnog to give away, instead of as the centerpiece for one of the huge parties Richard took so much joy from hosting. I always toast him with a small glass, remembering how he loved the whole ritual of eggnog, luminarias, and gathering our community of friends to light the solstice darkness.

Susan’s Sinfully Delicious Holiday Eggnog Recipe
(Adapted from Joy of Cooking)

one dozen eggs (free-range eggs with their orange yolks make prettier eggnog)
1 pound powdered sugar
2 to 3 cups dark rum (substitute a fruity bourbon or whiskey if you prefer)
1 qt organic skim or lowfat milk
1 qt ditto half ‘n half
1.5 qts ditto heavy cream

Separate eggs, placing yolks in one bowl and whites in another. Cover whites and refrigerate. Beat yolks until creamy. Add powdered sugar gradually, beating slowly. Add two cups of liquor (reserving one, if using three), beating constantly.

Egg whites in one bowl, yolks in the mixer bowl, ready to become nog. Egg whites in one bowl, yolks in the mixer bowl, ready to become nog.

Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour to eliminate the “eggy” taste. Then add the remaining cup of rum (beating constantly), along with the milk, half ‘n half, and the cream. Cover the nog and put it back in the refrigerator overnight (or for at least three hours) to mellow the liquor.

When the nog is mellowed, beat the whites until they form almost stiff peaks (the peaks barely droop). Fold the whites gently into the egg mix and sprinkle the whole with freshly grated nutmeg.

A double recipe of finished eggnog in Richard's largest bread-dough bowl A double recipe of finished eggnog in Richard’s largest bread-dough bowl

Serve in a punch bowl with a ladle and small glasses or cups—it’s very rich. (Serves 20-30 people.)

Enjoy with those you love!

Yellow pear tomatoes, round red stupice, and oblong Pompeii romas, all from plants I grew with my own hands, thanks to Renee's Garden Seeds.

Local Food & Author Platform

Yellow pear tomatoes, round red stupice, and oblong Pompeii romas, all from plants I grew with my own hands, thanks to Renee's Garden Seeds. Yellow pear tomatoes, round red Stupice, and oblong Pompeii romas, all from plants I grew with my own hands, thanks to Renee’s Garden Seeds.

It’s 21 degrees F outside and the mercury is falling fast, stars are pricking the evening sky, and I’m snug on my couch, sipping local whiskey, nibbling bite-sized tomatoes from my summer garden, and thinking about my author platform.

What is “author platform,” and what does it have to do with local food?

Platform is what a writer brings to selling a book in addition to her writing. It’s your expertise in your subject (which mostly applies to non-fiction), your following on social media and your blog; plus your contacts, personality, previously published work, and your message. It is also who you are and how you live.

These days, great writing isn’t enough. Writing is a business, and the truth is, we’re selling a bit of ourselves along with our books.

Hence platform, which is basically the foundation a publisher uses to help sell your books.

Local drinks: Tenderfoot Whiskey, from two blocks away, in a hand-blown glass from Gallery 150, two store-fronts from Woods. Local drinks: Tenderfoot Whiskey, from two blocks away, in a hand-blown glass from Gallery 150, in the same block.

Okay, but why am I sitting on the couch on Sunday evening sipping local whiskey (thank you PT Woods!), snacking on tomatoes harvested a month ago before a hard frost (I took in 15.35 pounds of tomatoes from three plants), and thinking about author platform?

The whiskey is because it’s a cold night; the tomatoes are because their touch of sweetness reminds me of summer on my deck where they grew. (I rarely drink–with me, a little goes a long way–but I do love to sip a finger of good, neat whiskey now and again to clear my thoughts.)

The platform thinking is because I sent Bless the Birds, my memoir-in-progress, to my agent three weeks ago; she read it promptly and loved it. (“Beautifully written, clear in its direction, very strong in description…. Congratulations, you have written the book this story was meant to be.”)

Bless the Birds, a pile of pages on my desk.... Bless the Birds, a pile of pages on my desk….

She also said that the market for “health memoirs” is soft, not a good thing in the midst of the confusion that is publishing these days.

So I’ve been thinking about platform in the sense of what my message is, with this new memoir as well as my twelve previous books and all of my other writing. I’ve always resisted the idea of distilling my mission into a few words.

(I really hate being pigeon-holed. Put me in a box and I’ll have broken out in no time flat. That could be claustrophobia, which I confess to, or it could be sheer cussed stubbornness, which I have to own as well.)

It occurs to me though that articulating my mission would help, not just in selling this new memoir, in seeing whether the story articulates that mission clearly enough to be so visionary that it breaks out of that “health memoir” box.

The storyline that drives the narrative in Bless the Birds is the two-plus years Richard and I spent figuring out how to live well with his brain cancer. That’s health and memoir.

But is it “just” a health memoir? There’s the question. If I’ve done my job well, it’s more than that. Not that cancer, living mindfully and death aren’t universal themes. But….

Which brings me to back platform and local food.

Dinner was local too: Moroccan meatball soup from Ploughboy Local Market, featuring Colorado-grown ingredients. (And a recipe inspired by my neighbors.) Dinner tonight: Moroccan meatball soup from Ploughboy Local Market, featuring Colorado-grown ingredients. (And a recipe from my neighbors.)

I eat local food to support my community (dollars spent close to home have a greater “multiplier effect” than dollars that go to some distant corporate headquarters and return diminished by the many hands they’ve passed through). And because local food is more likely to be grown with care for the community of the land as well.

Nurturing my local community—including that of the land that nourishes all of us—is part of living my mission and platform. Which I now see as this:

Reconnecting humans to nature to restore us to our best selves and fullest lives—healthy in body, mind and spirit—and also to nurture this Earth, the home of our hearts.

Now to make sure I’ve articulated that message in the story. That’s the visionary part.

Part of the kitchen garden at Terraphilia in fall.

Building a New Kitchen Garden

Part of the kitchen garden at Terraphilia in fall. Part of the kitchen garden at Terraphilia last fall.

At Terraphilia, my old house, I grew everything from strawberries and asparagus to eggplants and tomatoes in a large raised-bed kitchen garden that Richard built for me while the house was still under construction.

I chose to locate that organic garden within the containment wall where above-ground oil tanks had once stood. In my mind, the garden provided a powerful symbol of our ability to heal that formerly blighted industrial property. Each bounteous and beautiful harvest gave me hope for larger project of restoring this battered earth.

A morning's garden harvest A morning’s harvest from my old garden

Now I live by myself at the other end of the block on the last chunk of this once-industrial property. I don’t need a huge kitchen garden, and I’m next to the creek the mule deer follow through the neighborhood every night, munching as they go.

Which is why I planned my new kitchen garden in containers on the deer-proof, custom metal-grating deck that wraps around the front and side of my new house. I sowed greens in a couple of large pots about a month ago, but the main part of the garden will sprout from a round metal stock tank I salvaged from Richard’s studio (it served as his wet-carving station for sculpting “small”–less than ton-size–boulders).

The stock tank on the street-side part of my front deck. The stock tank on the street-side part of my front deck.

I’m behind on starting that garden, in part because my deck is not finished (it lacks approaches–steps and ramp–leaving a two-foot drop at each end) and in part because I’ve been on the road teaching gardening most weekends since late winter, instead of doing my own gardening.

On this rare weekend at home, I determined to make progress. First I hauled roadbase (crushed gravel) from the pile behind the garage to the front deck as the drainage layer of my soil column.

Coir bricks soaking up warm water in a garden trug next to the wheelbarrow in my shop. Coir bricks soaking up warm water in a garden trug next to the wheelbarrow.

Then I mixed my own organic container soil blend using coir bricks, condensed blocks of shredded coconut hull, to provide fiber and keep the soil from compacting, mixed with organic compost from a local farm, plus the remainder of a bag of organic transplant mix I use in growing my own heritage tomato, eggplant and basil plants.

Mixing soil in the wheelbarrow in my sunny workshop. Mixing soil in the wheelbarrow in my sunny workshop.

I re-hydrated the coir bricks in a trug in the workshop/sun-space off my garage, and then mixed them with the rest of the soil in my big construction wheelbarrow.

The hauling route to the front deck passes sandstone benches and blooming crabapple tree. The hauling route to the front deck passes sandstone benches and blooming crabapple tree.

Then I pushed the full, heavy wheelbarrow along the creek bank past the garage and the house, up the sidewalk along the street, and then up the path that cuts across my steep front bank.

The not-quite-accessible front deck The not-quite-accessible front deck

And then shoveled the soil into a trug, lugged the trug up onto the deck (if the ramp was in place, I could simply have rolled the wheelbarrow up), and dumped it, trug by trug, into the stock tank.

Dumping the soil mix, trug by trug, into the stock tank. Dumping a trug of soil mix.

Two heaping wheelbarrow loads of soil later, my shoulders and back were feeling the strain, so I knocked off for the night. When the weather warms up again (the next two nights are forecast to be in the twenties; it’s drizzling snow right now), I’ll finish my new kitchen garden.

As I plant tomatoes and other edibles, I’ll think of my late love, builder of garden beds, houses, and sculptor who loved this earth. Like my old kitchen garden, this new one is a symbol of our ability to heal this battered earth—and my ability to heal myself.

With friend and fellow author, Page Lambert, holding my crystal "book" after the banquet. Photo: John Gritts With friend and fellow author, Page Lambert, holding my crystal “book” after the banquet. Photo: John Gritts (thanks, John!)

One more thing, a brag: Last Thursday, I won the 2014 Colorado Authors’ League Award for blogs. It’s a special honor coming from my peers. Thank you all for the support and companionship on this writing road!

Between Urban and Wild

Books From the Land

The past week was a hard one—one friend lost her adult son and another friend died suddenly. When life hurts, I am comforted by nature and the community of the land, hence this look at two thoughtful books grown with love—comfort food that nourishes mind, heart and spirit.

Between Urban and Wild: Reflections from Colorado

Between Urban and Wild Between Urban and Wild, by Andrea Jones

“I don’t think there’s a set formula for falling in love, but surprise, wonder, the invitation to thoughtfulness, and meeting the other on its own terms all have a part in the process,” writes Andrea Jones in “Love Letter to a Sewage Lagoon,” one essay in Between Urban and Wild.

I inherited much of my devotion to the mountains from my father, but Lake Powell [the ‘sewage lagoon’] provided me with the opportunity to discover the character of one small part of the world for myself. On the shores of that paradoxical desert lake, I learned what it meant to fall in love with a place. Love, of course, is seldom simple, and it wasn’t long before complications set in.

The complications to that childhood love for the wilderness of blue water set in a maze of pink and red sandstone begin with the fact that the lake is actually a reservoir, “a gigantic human artifact imposed on the red rock land.” And that it drowned Glen Canyon, perhaps the most glorious of the slickrock desert’s sinuous river canyons, and that the damming of the Colorado River to create the reservoir gravely harmed one of the West’s greatest watersheds.

Jones is the rare writer about nature and the land who loves deeply but is not blinded by her affection. Through Jones’ eyes, the West comes alive in luminous detail, and if our relationship with it is complex, contradictory, and sometimes heartbreaking, that gives her plenty to reflect on. Those reflections make Between Urban and Wild haunting and compelling, a book that lasts.

(The full review is posted on Story Circle Book Reviews.)

The Artist, the Cook, and the Gardener: Recipes Inspired By Painting from the Garden

The Artist, the Cook and the Gardener, by Maryjo Koch; design by Jenny Barry The Artist, the Cook and the Gardener, by Maryjo Koch; design by Jenny Barry

Just like a meal stimulates our senses and nourishes our bodies, the garden nourishes our spirits. Our mind’s focus on petty problems is pushed aside and is no match for the pondering of miracles found in a garden. … Walk into a garden and all five senses are aroused: from the fragrance and color of a flower, to the sounds of birds and wind, to the taste of freshly picked produce, to the feeling of moisture in the air or the soft leaves of lamb’s ears and the prickly thorns of a rose.

That sensual beginning gives readers a taste of The Artist, the Cook, and the Gardener, a lush book of recipes and art from naturalist painter Maryjo Koch, inspired by her verdant garden in the mountains of California’s Central Coast.

Open-faced Watercress Sandwiches with nasturtium flowers Open-faced Watercress Sandwiches with nasturtium flowers from the book

The book is arranged into chapters by types of dish—Soups; Salads; Sandwiches, Pizzas & Savory Tarts; and Sweets—interspersed with brief meditations on the seasons in the garden. The whole is generously and gorgeously illustrated with photographs by Koch’s daughter, Wendy Candelaria, a photographer, and paintings by Koch and her painter son, Jonathan. Recipes, text, images, font, and design are lush and stunning, appealing to the senses.

There is little so elementally comforting as preparing a meal using fresh ingredients grown and harvested with love. The Artist, the Cook, and the Gardener offers that kind of comfort, and clearly was a project that grew out of love—Koch’s love for her garden and food, and her collaborator, award-winning book designer Jenny Barry’s love for Koch’s art. We readers are blessed by the fruits of their work.

(The full review and an interview with Jenny Barry are posted on Story Circle Book Reviews, the largest site reviewing books for and by women on the web.)

Thanks to you all for reading along with me. I am fortunate to be part of such a nourishing community.

Local ingredients--everything in the photo came from within a hundred miles, some from just a few blocks away.

What’s Cooking

After last week’s post, The Dangerous Power of Thin, I wanted to share two simple recipes. I may have a tangled relationship with eating, but that does not extend to food and cooking.

I love to cook. I revel in playing with the flavors, colors, and textures of fresh ingredients, in preparing food that’s healthy and delicious, and visually appealing.

Local ingredients--everything in the photo came from within a hundred miles, some from just a few blocks away. Everything in the photo came from within a hundred miles, some from just a few blocks away.

I prefer to create from local ingredients because not only are they more likely to be fresh, I know them. They come from my community, broadly speaking, from earth that’s familiar to me—healthy food from a healthy land.

First is my favorite simple dinner, something I started making when Molly was still in high school. Tuesday is her 35th birthday—Happy Birthday, Sweetie!—which tells you how long ago that was. (The quantities in these two recipes make a single serving, but both scale up well.)

Baby Swiss from Rocking W Cheese on Colorado's West Slope, thanks to Ploughboy Local Market Baby Swiss from Rocking W Cheese on Colorado’s West Slope, thanks to Ploughboy Local Market

Cheesy Eggs Poached on Greens and Salsa

1 tsp butter or olive oil
2 T salsa (any kind: hot or mild, tomato and chile, fruit and chile…)
1 1/2 cups fresh greens (again, any kind, even mixed salad greens), torn into bite-sized pieces
1 – 2 eggs
1 T cheese, chopped into small cubes
fresh-ground pepper

Put the butter or olive oil in a microwavable bowl with a lid. (If you prefer to cook on the stove, you’ll need a very small flat-bottomed pan with a lid.) Spread salsa in the bottom in a layer, and top with greens. (Don’t worry if the greens fill the container–they shrink with cooking.) Microwave the salsa and greens for a minute or so on high, until they are hot and wilted. (Or sauté covered for a very short time without stirring.)

A green-shelled egg that's so local I bring the chickens food scraps, thanks to Maggie and Tony A green-shelled egg laid by my friend Maggie’s flock just a few blocks away.

While the greens are cooking, beat the eggs in a small bowl, add the cheese and grind in pepper to taste. Pour the egg mix atop the hot, wilted greens (again, don’t stir), cover, and microwave or cook on high for a minute, or until the eggs are set and the cheese melted.

Cheesy Eggs Poached on Greens and Salsa Cheesy Eggs Poached on Greens and Salsa

Uncover and enjoy. Excellent with warm sourdough bread and a fruit salad. I ate this for dinner tonight—yum!

The second recipe is the hot breakfast cereal I invented for Richard’s anti-cancer diet, which helped keep him healthy through four brain surgeries, radiation, and two courses of chemo. The idea is to eat food high in fiber and anti-oxidants, and low in simple sugars and starches, a good strategy for all of us. (All ingredients are organic, many are local.)

Measuring dry ingredients into the bowl. Measuring dry ingredients.

Creamy Hot Cereal

1 1/2 heaping T whole rolled oats (the old-fashioned kind)
1/2 T blue cornmeal (adds a nutty flavor)
1/2 T oat bran
1/2 T flax meal (great for Omega 3s)
1 T walnuts, chopped
1/2 T dried sour cherries
1 T raisins
1/2 T dried cranberries (not the kind sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup!)
pinch salt
1/2 T ground cinnamon (sweetens the cereal and lowers blood pressure as well as controlling blood sugar)
1 tsp ground ginger
1 1/4 cup water

Mix ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Add water and let soak for at least an hour (overnight is fine). Cook on high (uncovered) for four minutes and then stir. Return to microwave and cook for another three minutes. Add milk or yogurt if desired. The cinnamon and ginger jazz up the flavor.

I buy the ingredients in bulk to save packaging and money. This cereal can be mixed up in quantity and stored in glass jars, but you’ll need to stir it before measuring it out because it settles. A serving for me is 2/3 cup of the mixture; others may eat more. (It’s very filling.)

Adding fresh-ground spices (these are from Savory Spice in Denver) makes the mix fragrant and flavorful. Adding fresh-ground spices (these are from Savory Spice in Denver) makes the mix fragrant and flavorful.


You may notice some changes to the design of this blog/website. My friend Mark Wiard has been helping me update it, including adding a handy Events Calendar. Feel free to explore and let me know what you think, but be aware some sections are still under construction….

Books worth reading & a brag

Janisse Ray’s powerful call to preserve heritage crop seeds, our food inheritance.

Last week I read two of the books in the “to review” stack on my desk: Janisse Ray’s The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food and Cultivating a Movement: An Oral History of Organic Farming & Sustainable Agriculture on California’s Central Coast, edited by Irene Reti and Sarah Rabkin.

If you care about food and how we grow it in this country, both books are “must-reads.” Ray writes an impassioned and informed manifesto, a call to learn about and save the thousands of unique varieties of food plants we have carefully bred. Reti and Rabkin’s book weaves interviews with a fascinating and diverse cast of characters into a picture of how organic farming sprouted in California.

Here are excerpts from those reviews:

The Seed Underground is a call to grasp why seeds matter, and then to act on their–and our–behalf. As Ray writes in Chapter Two, “A Brief History of Industrial Agriculture,” seeds and the genes they carry are an inheritance we need to survive. And that inheritance is being stolen:

Some things are inherent to the earth and thus belong democratically to all its inhabitants. Air and water, for example, are part of the public domain and should be forbidden in the marketplace. Seeds–always part of the great commons of human history–can no more be owned than fire. Or the ocean. And yet, the biotechnology industry has steadily made its way through courts and legislative halls like an evil maggot, claiming what does not belong to it, saying life can be owned. And it can’t, Monsanto. It can’t Syngenta.

That was Ray the thundering preacher speaking. Here comes Ray the poet, ending what might have been a dry chapter with this lyrical, heart-hooking passage.

A seed makes itself. A seed doesn’t need a geneticist or hybridist or publicist or matchmaker. But it needs help. Sometimes it needs a moth or a wasp or a gust of wind. Sometimes it needs a farm and it needs a farmer. It needs a garden and a gardener. It needs you.

(Read the full review on Story Circle Book Reviews.)

Cultivating a Movement, an outstanding example of oral history, edited by Irene Reti and Sarah Rabkin

“We in the United States are in the early throes of a revolution,” writes historian Linda L. Ivey in the foreword to Cultivating a Movement, “a radical change in the way we think about food.” The revolution Ivey refers to is the organic farming movement, the biggest change to American agriculture since the adoption of synthetic pesticides after World War II. “For this development… we can thank, in large part, a group of revolutionaries from the Central Coast of California.”

More than two dozen of those farmers were interviewed for this book, a project of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Some farmers, like Betty Van Dyke, who grew up on her Croatian-American family’s orchard in Cupertino in the 1930s, were born to the land; others, like Amigo Bob Cantisano, founding organizer of the Ecological Farming Conference, were hippies.

Cultivating a Movement brings the revolution of organic and sustainable farming alive through the voices of those with dirt under their fingernails as well as those who crafted the original organic-labeling legislation. It’s a satisfying and nourishing read. (Read the full review.)

The view of the patio-in-progress from the kitchen garden.

And now the brag:

This weekend I resumed laying flagstones in the patio-in-progress off my bedroom. Fourteen months ago, Richard and I laid the first stone. When he could no longer physically help, he showed me how to pry the rocks out of our cobble-laden soil, sift the soil to make a sandy bed, level that bed and lay a flagstone. He also taught me how to safely move the smaller flags myself. (I can’t move the big ones, which weigh considerably more than I do; the smallest flag I laid this weekend weighed just over 50 pounds; the largest weighed 80.)

Two of the stones I laid this weekend, in their bed of sifted soil, embedded in a matrix of the gravel and rocks from that soil, plus flagstone fragments.

I laid three flags this weekend, and before I cleaned and stacked my tools (they’re leaning against the house wall in the photo above), I used the mattock to loosen the rocks where the next two will go. And I extended the gravel path from the kitchen garden to meet the edge of the new patio.

Working with these flagstones connects me to the joy we grew in our life together, and to this beloved if rocky ground. It leaves me feeling tired, but very blessed….

What’s cooking: strawberries and basil

Fresh-picked and fragrant!

Well, not strawberries and basil together, though that would be interesting.

Despite our continuing drought, July brought just enough rain to perk up my kitchen garden. I’ve been harvesting heirloom tomatoes by the basket, and I’ve got several pounds of golden and ruby beets I’ll pull and roast this weekend; the chard, cabbage and cucumbers will need picking soon.

What has my attention right now though is my strawberry patch. My plants, a mix of ever-bearing varieties including Fort Laramie, bear fruit all summer. But they’re most productive in June and from mid-August until the first frost in September.

I don’t have a big patch, but it’s enough that I harvest a cup or so of sweet, juicy, intensely flavored berries every couple of days. Sometimes I eat them as I pick, or give them away, but often I save them until I have enough to make Richard’s favorite strawberry jam, a simple recipe involving very little sugar, and simmering the fruit mix to make a thick, ruby-colored and intensely flavorful jam.

The fruit/sugar/brandy mix when it has simmered and thickened to the consistency of jam.

Simple Strawberry Jam

4 cups ripe, organic strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
4 T fruit brandy or port
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Wash and hull the strawberries, cutting out any soft parts. Chop coarsely (the smaller the pieces, the more spreadable the jam). Put the strawberries, sugar, and 3 T of the brandy or juice into a two-quart or larger microwaveable dish with a lid. Cook on high power for five minutes or long enough to bring it to a boil. Then take the lid off and simmer until it is reduced to a cup and a half of thick, chunky jam. (I use half-power on my microwave for about 45 minutes. Check periodically to make sure it’s not boiling over or burning. ) Scoop the jam into clean half-pint canning jars. Don’t fill the jars up to the brim–leave space for the jam to expand a bit as it freezes. Screw lid on tightly, label, and freeze. (The jam will also keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.)

Summer sweetness, preserved for winter

This jam smells heavenly as it cooks, so it may be hard to not eat it as soon as it cools, but the flavor only improves with time, so don’t eat it all!

Then there’s my basil, inter-planted between the heritage tomato plants for shade from the high-altitude sun, and producing like crazy right now. (Thanks to Renee’s Garden for the pesto basil seeds.) When I have too much basil (or any other green herb), it’s time to make pesto.

So I got out my food-processor, and began snipping basil leaves into my four-cup glass measuring cup.

Here’s my basic pesto recipe, which works with a whole variety of herbs, including basil, French tarragon, cilantro, arugula (a green which I cut 50/50 with spinach for a spicy pesto), and chervil to name a few:

Basil leaves fresh from the garden, snipped from the stems

Basic pesto

3-6 cloves garlic, depending on how much you like
1/2 cup hard, aged cheese, cubed (such as Parmesan, Asiago, Manchego)
1/2 cup toasted nuts (pine nuts are traditional, but I also use pecans, walnuts and almonds)
4 cups of herb leaves and flowers if tender (or greens like arugula)
1 cup olive oil

Drop the garlic cloves into a food processor while it is running to mince the garlic. Turn off the machine, add cheese cubes and nuts, and process until the texture of very coarse corn meal. Add herb leaves and pulse until minced. Turn on machine and pour in olive oil in a thin stream until mixture is coarsely pureed and liquidy. Spoon into jars and freeze, or eat some immediately on bread or warm pasta. (Makes 2-1/2 cups)

Basil pesto, ready for the freezer

For this basil pesto, I used toasted pecans because I had organic ones, and asiago cheese for its nutty flavor. It’s delicious as a sandwich spread, as well as mixed with vegetables, rice, or pasta.

This winter, I’ll pull jars of strawberry jam and basil pesto out of the freezer and feast on the flavors and colors–and the memories of my summer garden. Yum!

Road report: Down the coast…

It’s 55 degrees F and foggy in Fort Bragg, California, this morning, and it feels very much like fall. Word has it that we’ve had some rain at home, and the first snow is dusting the high peaks. The seasons are changing in Richard’s and my life too, and I’m feeling that poignantly this morning when Richard is sitting across the table from me in Headlands Coffeehouse in downtown Fort Bragg, the room humming with talk and the air warm with the steam from many cups.


He’s enjoying his coffee and chocolate crossant and smiling at me, and I’m trying not to worry about the fact that his vision has deteriorated enough (probably from the glioblastoma in his right brain) that he now walks hesitantly, reaching for railings and posts and my hand to help navigate and balance. (The photo above is actually from Redfish Restaurant in Port Orford, Oregon, a fabulous place to eat, but more about that in a moment.) He got turned around going from the parking lot to the room this morning–twice. Just another excuse to walk together, I say to myself, another reason to hold hands. But if something happens to me… That’s one of the worries that creeps in at night.

Still, we’re having a wonderful trip, by and large, taking what comes with an abundance of delight and love for this life, this earth, and each other.

The outstanding gifts of the last couple of days of driving steadily down the coast from Waldport, Oregon, where we woke in pea-soup fog, have been botanical ones–not that the scenery and food have been shabby either.


Just a few miles south of Waldport the roadside along Highway 101 eruped in lemon yellow: evening primroses in full bloom, splashed by the sunshine beginning to slice through the fog.The contrast with the dark, wind-shrubbed wall of shore pines (a variety of lodgepole pines that thrive in the salt-spray zone) was starkly beautiful.

We stopped at Yachats at the Green Salmon, memorable for the pastries–marionberry danish bursting with fresh-picked berries–as well as the coffee, the friendly crowd of locals and tourists, and the emphasis on local food and sustainable business practices. Then we wound down the coast to the Oregon Dunes area, where three big rivers have carved away the wall of headlands along the coast, carrying enough sediment to create a sea of dunes.

The swamps inland of the dunes are filled with one of my favorite plants, carnivorous, insectivorous, their leaves chartreuse green tubes hooded like a ocean liner’s stacks, mottled with red splotches like stained glass… Darlingtonia, or cobra lily, which obtains nutrients lacking in the swampy soils where it lives by digesting insects–flies and native bees, mostly–lured inside its light-filled but confusing tubes.



One or two Darlingtonias is weird enough, but a whole mass of them would delight even the most jaded child inside each of us.

We stopped in Port Orford, a tiny town perched atop a storm-weathered headland sheltering one of the few natural harbors on southern Oregon’s coast, to visit friends: writer Ann Vileisis and her husband, photographer Tim Palmer. We were late–leverything takes longer these days–only had time for a short visit, but they directed us to a nearby restaurant for a late lunch, resulting in another memorable meal on this journey through regional gastronomy…


Redfish Restaurant would be memorable for the view–it is perched at the edge of the headland, overlooking miles of headland, stack, and cove. It would be memorable for the art–it is next door to the newest branch of the Hawthorne Gallery, featuring a couple of Richard’s favorite abstract sculptors. Then there is the food–local, innovative, delicious. Oh my! We figured our late and lovely lunch was an anniversary treat (it’s not cheap…).

After that, we headed south down the coast to Crescent City for the night. Yesterday, we wandered through the coast redwood forests. If you’ve not experienced these magnificent trees and the multi-story communities they create, from marbled murrelets nesting on huge branches twenty-stories up, to the hundreds of species of mosses, lichens, bryophytes (club mosses and their relatives), microorganisms, birds, amphibians, and mammals that live on and around these giants, you’re missing a chance to know awe.

They’re bigger than you can imagine, taller than many multi-story buildings. When you put your hand on one of those massive, ribbed trunks, I swear you can feel the pulse of all life.

When we reached the ocean again after winding our way up and over the spiny ridges of the Coast Range, the plant world surprised us with one more gift: California poppies were blooming, a reprise of spring, when life awakens after the winter rains. I didn’t expect their sunny faces at all, making the gift that much sweeter.

And on we go…


Road report: Olympia to Oregon coast

Yesterday’s drive took longer than expected, so by the time we stopped for dinner last night, the moon was rising over the Yaquina River Bridge in Newport, Oregon. As we sipped a Juniper Ridge IPA and a fresh lemonade (you can guess who had which!) at the Rogue Ales Pub on Newport’s old waterfront, we raised a glass to our friends Martha and Jon Roskowski and their twins, Lucas and Sophie. Thanks for dinner and the beer! Then we dug into our food, a wild-caught salmon filet sandwich for Richard and a bowl of thick clam chowder chock-full of succulent local clams for me.

We’re in local-food heaven here, eating our way down the coast. The salmon are running, oyster, clam and crab harvest is in full swing, and the berries are ripening. Our first night in Olympia, my brother, a salmon biologist and a passionate birdwatcher who had been out on the ocean that day leading a birding trip, brought home fresh whole Dungeness crab. (I should have shot a photo of those big, beautiful steamed crabs, but I was too busy cracking their shell and extracting the sweet, succulent meat!)


The next night, when the whole Tweit/Roland/Bryant cohort gathered, we had salmon burgers and fresh-picked local sweet corn, perfect for the toddlers among us. The following night’s appetizer was red-neck clams from the clam guy at the Olympia Farmer’s Market (we dispatched them so quickly that by the time I thought to get my camera out, all that remained was the pile of shells in the photo above), followed by a tossed salad from Bill and Lucy’s farm share, plus sablefish, a delicious, buttery deep-ocean fish that Bill marinated in rice vinegar, ginger and lemon juice and grilled perfectly, and for dessert, local ice cream with blackberries I picked that afternoon just down the street from their house.


Oh, my! No wonder I feel like I should be running the Coast instead of driving it. (Only I’d be waddling with all I’ve eaten.)

Last night at the Rogue Ales Pub, I noticed a sign on the wall. Just three words separated by dingbats:






“That could be the motto for our trip,” I said to Richard.

“It’s a good way to live,” he responded.

“I think that’s how you have been living,” I said, “and why you have inspired so many people over the course of your life.” His eyes teared up.

We’re acutely aware of verb tense right now, as Richard’s physical ability and vision decline–he’s having increasing difficulty with balance, navigating around furniture and other stationary objects, and walking without the steadying support of my hand. “Have been” and “have” can be read as the past.

“And you are still inspiring people,” I amended quickly.

“Thank you,” he said.

Yesterday began foggy over breakfast with friends Terry and Steve McLellan at Olympia’s classic Spar Cafe. We lingered longer than I planned because it was hard to say goodbye. We finally headed south and west, bound for Willapa Bay, the Columbia River where it meets the ocean, and the Oregon Coast. Shots from along the way:

A quiet marsh along the south edge of Willapa Bay

Officer’s houses at Fort Columbia, a post-Civil-War era Army fort near the mouth of the Columbia on the Washington side–beautiful examples of government architecture of an earlier day

Why I love the Pacific Coast–Nehalem Bay and beyond

Why I love the Pacific Coast, part II–Cape Foulweather and Devil’s Blowhole

Why I love the coast, part II–Sunset last night at Beverly Beach State Park, with one of the elegant arching bridges that carries Highway 101 in the foreground. An ordinary beach on an ordinary stretch of the coast, transformed by the moment.






And on we go…