Deck railings dripping before dawn....

What’s Cooking: Savory Rosemary-Lavender Scones

Deck railings dripping before dawn.... Deck railings dripping before dawn….

I woke this morning in the darkness before dawn and, as I always do, I first checked the view of the constellations—Orion, my favorite, was barely visible, glittering through a veil of high cloud. Next I checked the outside temperature: 49 degrees F, very warm for dawn at this time of year.

I grabbed my laptop and returned to bed, piling pillows behind me so I could sit up and write in my journal. Half an hour later, I heard a sound I don’t usually hear as night is yielding to day: thunder. I looked out and saw showers sweeping down the mountainsides.

Soon, rain was splattering the windows. With no sun to warm the house, I decided it was the perfect time to revive a Sunday tradition from the years BBC (before Richard’s brain cancer), when I baked scones almost every Sunday morning.

Fire at the push of a button on a remote, a luxury after years of splitting and burning wood. Fire at the push of a button on a remote, a luxury after years of splitting and burning wood.

I could of course have simply turned on the charming and efficient gas fireplace tucked in the corner of my living-dining-kitchen “great” room as my supplemental heat source.

But if I’m going to pay for natural gas—and by “pay” I mean both shell out cash and also pay in terms of the effect of the CO2 added to the atmosphere when I burn it—I might as well use that gas to feed myself as well. Hence baking.

I don’t remember the last time I baked scones. I pretty much gave up baking when Richard entered hospice care three years ago. After he died, it was just me, and I was scrambling to finish the big house and build this small one.

I hunted through my recipe books and looked online for a savory scone recipe, and didn’t find one I really liked. I wanted something without much gluten, since lately I seem to be a little sensitive to it, and I had in mind using the herbs growing in pots on my deck, specifically the lavender, which is blooming again—crazy plants!—and the rosemary.

Food processor, ingredients, Mom's favorite green glass mixing bowl--I'm all set! Food processor, ingredients, Mom’s favorite green glass mixing bowl–I’m set!

I wasn’t entirely sure I’d still remember how to get just the right texture to the dough and bake them so they’re crisp outside and crumbly within. But once I got out my ingredients and began to measure and mix and chop and whisk, my hands remembered.

Chopping freshly harvested lavender buds and rosemary leaves—oh, the fragrance! Chopping freshly harvested lavender buds and rosemary leaves—oh, the fragrance!

And the results? I took some scones over to Ploughboy Local Market, and was gratified by the speed at which the scones were devoured, and the expressions of delight. But don’t take my word for it, make ’em yourself!

Susan’s Savory Rosemary-Lavender Scones

1-1/4 cups spelt flour (this recipe was developed for high-altitude; below 5,000 feet, use 1 cup spelt flour)
1/2 cup unbleached flour (could just use all spelt flour)
1/2 cup blue cornmeal
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 T finely chopped mixed rosemary leaves and lavender buds
5 T butter, cubed
1 egg, room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk or half-n-half soured with 1 tsp vinegar
3 T maple syrup

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix dry ingredients plus chopped lavender and rosemary. (I do this in a food processor.) Cut in butter until flour/butter mix is crumbly. (In a food processor, pulse slowly just until crumbly.) Beat egg in small bowl, add buttermilk/soured cream and maple syrup and beat until combined. Reserve about a T for a wash for scones. Pour the rest into food processor, pulse just until the mix begins to gather into a mass. Put about a T flour each onto two cookie sheets. Scoop out half of the scone dough and dredge in flour on cookie sheet until it doesn’t stick. Flatten the ball gently and if it’s still sticky, gently knead in enough flour to make it workable. Carefully pat out into a half-inch thick round. Brush with reserved egg/cream/syrup wash. Cut into 8 wedges, separating wedges so they don’t stick while baking. Bake 15 minutes or until top is lightly browned. Repeat with the other half of the dough. Enjoy!

The finished scones cooling. The finished scones cooling.

Coda: Getting back to my Sunday-morning baking feels like coming home again. I miss Richard and I always will, but I like this simple life I’m building on my own.

Joe Potato's Real Life Recipes by Meriwether O'Connor

Two Outstanding Indie Books: Joe Potato, and Stories in Stitches

When I go looking for a new read, the proliferation of books is sometimes simply overwhelming. So when I discovered these two indie projects by authors I knew through previous work, I wanted to share them with you.

Joe Potato's Real Life Recipes by Meriwether O'Connor Joe Potato’s Real Life Recipes by Meriwether O’Connor

If the short stories in Joe Potato’s Real Life Recipes don’t make you belt out at least one (perhaps astonished) laugh like the woman in the photo on the cover, you may need to take your sense of humor in for a check-up. Meriwether O’Connor knows and deeply appreciates rural Appalachia, its people and their no-nonsense and sometimes desperately hardscrabble existence.

Each character in these stories is someone you might meet there: vivid, unique and offering a wry and rooted view of life. And each has a recipe to share.

In this extraordinary collection, you’ll learn about apartment “rabbits” in New York City and how to catch and cook them, and meet Gardenia and the one unlucky squirrel that ate a hole in her trailer and thus became dinner. You’ll watch as a third cousin touches up the hair of his dead relative with black shoe polish at a funeral, and learn his recipe for peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches fried in a cast iron pot. (“Yes, you can use other metals, I understand, but what better skillet is there that can also be used in self-defense?”)

After reading Joe Potato’s Real Life Recipes, you’ll understand “local food” and Appalachian people at a whole new level. I’m not at all surprised that this collection was nominated for the Weatherford Award (yes, the one Barbara Kingsolver won for Flight Behavior). Or that Carolyn Chute, author of the best-selling novel The Beans of Egypt Maine, said about O’Connor and her stories:

VERY engaging style…Vivid characters…A strong writing voice like (this) is rare.


Stories in Stitches, Volume Three, by Donna Druchunas and Ava Coleman Stories in Stitches, Volume Three, by Donna Druchunas and Ava Coleman

Stories in Stitches is a collaborative effort between award-winning author and knitter Donna Druchunas (who wrote Arctic Lace, among other books) and well-known designer and knitter Ava Coleman. Stitches is actually a series of books on the stories behind the patterns of hand-knitted creations from dolls to socks and sweaters.

And I do mean stories: Volume Three, on patterns from World War I & II, tells the tales of both author’s ancestors, and thus of the people and culture involved in those wars. In “Dancing Stitches and Flying Fish,” a sock pattern and its history conjures a story that Donna Druchunas’ Eastern European Jewish grandmother might have told,

My grandmother sat at the foot of my bed when I was a little girl. Every night after she fluffed my pillow, tucked the blankets in around my neck, and kissed me on the forehead, she would settle in and tell me a bedtime story. Every night the story was the same.

Bubbeh’s name was Tzivia, she would begin….

The flying fish sock pattern that inspired Donna's research into Jewish history. The dancing stitches sock pattern that inspired Donna’s research into one particular chapter of Jewish history.

You don’t have to be a knitter or a fiber person to appreciate the history and storytelling in this gorgeously designed and beautifully written series, or to understand how hand-made objects can reveal so much about who and why we are.

Opening page of one of the stories in Volume 3 of Stories in Stitches. Opening page of one of the stories in Volume 3 of Stories in Stitches.

As Ava Coleman writes in the Editor’s Letter,

We tell our stories so future generations remember. Sometimes that is so we don’t repeat the mistakes of past generations. Other times it is to share skills and ideas with our future generations. This issue shares a bit of both.


Traditional publishing offers a curated experience: editors, publishers and marketers select the books they think are good and publish them. Indie publishing offers a wide-open proliferation of voices and stories. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes not so much.

Until you spot a treasure among the multitude, like Joe Potato’s Real Life Stories and Stories in Stitches. These voices and stories simply shine.

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….

One of three harvest baskets full!

What’s Cooking: Smelter Stomp Red Sauce

One of three harvest baskets full! One of three harvest baskets full!

One windy evening two weeks ago, I raced darkness and plummeting temperatures to harvest the remaining tomatoes from the kitchen garden at Terraphilia. I picked both ripe fruits and green ones large enough to ripen inside over the next few months.

Back in the house, I thawed my hands and weighed the overflowing baskets of fruit: seven plants yielded 26 pounds of tomatoes, ten of those from a single Pompeii Roma plant.

(Thanks to Renee’s Garden Seeds for the productive and delicious tomato varieties, including Pompeii Roma, Marvel Stripe, Persimmon, Stupice, Black Krim and Yellow Pear. Renee Shepherd finds, develops and sells the best-ever tomato varieties. Her seeds are either organic or produced sustainably.)

Ripe Pompeii Roma tomatoes ready to be chunked for sauce. Ripe Pompeii Roma tomatoes ready to be chunked for sauce.

Last week, I moved all of those tomatoes to Creek House, the ripe ones in two large split-ash harvest baskets, the green ones in a large paper shopping bag. I figured I’d use the Romas make red sauce for winter.

Only they sat on the counter getting riper. I wondered what I had been thinking. Cook? It’s been months since I had time and energy to cook regularly.

The past few weeks have been especially grueling. Most days I’ve worked straight through from the time I get up (about five am) to the time I fall into bed. (Thank heavens for  the deli at nearby Plougboy Local Market, without which I’d starve!)

But last night, my brain was too fried to work on the presentation for the workshop I’m co-leading at the Women Writing the West Conference in Kansas City this weekend. And I didn’t think the ripe Romas would keep until I returned.

Herbs, garlic, red wine and olive oil (not pictured) plus tomatoes and a little salt are all you need for a great basic red sauce. Good herbs, garlic, red wine and olive oil plus tomatoes and a little salt are all you need for a great basic red sauce.

So I dragged a stool to the kitchen island, rooted for the last few heads of garlic harvested from the Terraphilia kitchen garden, poured organic olive oil into my wok, minced and sautéed the garlic, and then began to chunk tomatoes to add to it, simmering them with herbs and some leftover red wine I’d saved.

An hour later, the kitchen smelled great, I was more relaxed than I’ve been in weeks, and I had two quarts of Smelter Stomp Red Sauce made largely from local ingredients: the garlic and tomatoes from my former garden, the herb mix from Savory Spice in Denver, and the leftover wine from Vino Salida, my neighbors’ artisan winery. (Smelter Stomp Merlot is a full-bodied red wine made from grapes that are hand-stomped–correction, “foot-stomped”–by volunteers.)

Here’s the recipe:

Smelter Stomp Red Sauce
5 cloves garlic
2 T olive oil
5 pounds ripe Roma tomatoes
2 tsp Cantanzaro herbs (includes dried lemon rind, marjoram, oregano, basil and garlic)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup leftover red wine, the heartier the better

Smelter Stomp Red Sauce in jars Smelter Stomp Red Sauce in jars

Mince garlic. Saute gently in olive oil in a 4-quart non-reactive sauce pan. Chop tomatoes coarsely and add to olive oil. Simmer and add spices, salt and wine. Simmer for about an hour, cool, and ladle into freezer-safe containers and freeze. Delicious over pasta, with vegetables and chicken, over rice and quinoa, and also with mild-flavored fish. (Makes about 2 quarts, depending on how juicy your tomatoes are and long you simmer the sauce.)


I didn’t have time to cook red sauce last night, just as I didn’t have time to write this blog post tonight. (It’s late. I’m tired. I drove almost 400 miles today and have to get up early to drive across Kansas.)

But cooking and writing are two ways I love this life and this world. And love is something we can use more of, especially right now. It’s our species best gift. We just forget how to live it.

I wanted to share that realization with you. That’s love.

Ruffled red lettuce, mache, and arugula, all from Renee's Garden Seeds.

What’s Growing: spring snow

Ruffled red lettuce, mache, and arugula, all from Renee's Garden Seeds. Summer lettuce blend, mache, and arugula, all from Renee’s Garden Seeds.

Monday evening at about six, in a break in my long work day, I went out to the kitchen garden, un-clipped one side of the row cover fabric on the raised bed that holds my winter planting of spinach and mesclun and did a quick thinning and harvest. So quick, in fact, that I didn’t stop to shoot a photo of the growing tapestry of greens and reds.

The weather bureau had changed the forecast for the next day from 30 percent chance of less than a tenth of an inch of snow to 80 percent chance of 2 to 4 inches. I thought I’d better harvest before the storm hit. Just in case.

I yanked crowded mache, pinched back arugula, and thinned ruffled red and green lettuces, pulling up small plants, cutting off the roots with my garden scissors, putting the leaves in my garden basket and tossing the roots to the compost pile. In ten minutes, I had a basketful of fresh greens, the row covers were clipped tightly bed over the bed and the wind was rising.

I carried my harvest inside, weighed it (3/4 of a pound), dumped the greens into the sink, washed them in cold water, and spun them in the salad spinner.

Organic greens, fresh from the garden—yum! Organic greens, fresh from the garden—yum!

Then I made myself a simple green salad, my favorite spring meal:

1 bowl mixed salad greens, freshly harvested
1/4 avocado, chopped (organic, Mexico)
1 hard-boiled egg, chopped (uber-local, from Maggie’s hens 6 blocks away)
1 T chopped roasted pecans (New Mexico)
1 T grated Rocking W Swiss cheese (Ploughboy Local Market)
1/2 T lemon-infused Stonehouse olive oil (organic, California)
2 tsp balsamic vinegar (organic, Italy)
pinch salt
fresh-ground black pepper

And went back to work on a landscaping-for-wildlife project that will launch later this spring. I worked until bedtime, did yoga, brushed my teeth, washed and creamed my face, and fell into bed. (That’s my life: sleep, yoga, eat, work–either writing, consulting, or carpentry, take a walk, eat, yoga, sleep, repeat….)

Three inches of wet snow and more coming.... Two inches of wet snow and more falling….

When I got up in the morning, I was very glad I had taken the time for that quick harvest. Because snow blanketed my garden. The greens bed is the middle one in the photo, with its row cover hanging down.

We’ve had almost no snow all winter and spring and my valley is desperately dry. So I didn’t complain as the wind blew and the snow fell–and fell, and fell, all morning, all afternoon. I didn’t complain as I shoveled, heaving a layer so wet and heavy that water came out as I pushed it off my half-block of sidewalk. I didn’t complain as I shoveled the second time, when the temperature, 35 degrees F at dawn and dropping steadily all day, was down to 20 degrees.

Salida with snow. The forested summit in the background is Methodist Mountain, one of our small peaks, at "only" 11,707 feet elevation. Salida with snow. The forested summit in the background is Methodist Mountain, “only” 11,707 feet elevation.

When the snow quit last night, I measured almost eight inches (twice the forecast amount). The total moisture came to four-tenths of an inch. Which may not seem like much to you, but it’s significant in this high-desert parched by years of drought.

This morning, the sun came out, and the snow began melting, sinking straight into the thirsty soil. By afternoon, it had vanished and the birds were singing happily in my native grassland yard, including a small flock of western bluebirds, the first I’ve ever seen here. They foraged energetically for grasshopper nymphs, grabbing and swallowing them head-first. (Chow down, bluebirds.)

Snow's already melted, footer forms appearing.... Snow’s already melted, footer forms appearing….

Later, I snatched a few minutes for a break and took a brisk walk by the new house site. I figured the snow would have prevented my concrete guys from starting to lay out the forms in the footer trenches. Wrong.

There’s the street view of my tiny house-to-be, looking toward what will be my side porch and kitchen wall. Woo-hoo–I can see it emerging!

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!

What’s Cooking: I’m playing with my food again

Paris Market Mesclun, a gorgeous and delicious mix of lettuces, other greens and herbs, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

It’s been a while since I’ve written about my adventures with cooking and eating local food, not because I’ve stopped growing or eating local food. It’s the cooking part. After Richard died, my interest in preparing food deserted me. When I felt like eating, I ate well thanks to the deli at Ploughboy Local Market, but I rarely had the energy or creative drive to make my own meals.

Lately though, my enjoyment of playing with food (which is how I see preparing whatever is fresh and handy) is returning. I’m not back to where I was before, but I’m better. Maybe my renewed drive to create my own meals stems from summer’s approach and the revival of my organic kitchen garden, which despite this year’s serious drought, heat and wind, is now producing bountiful pickings of spring greens and herbs, strawberries, and asparagus.

Maybe it’s just that I’m getting used to cooking for one–one whose appetite varies widely depending on whether I’ve managed to find middle gear for the day, or whether I’ve run fast and hard and my energy has crashed. In the former case, playing with and eating food seems like fun; in the latter, neither the playing nor the eating are worth the effort.

Yogurt cheese, a soft, spreadable and tangy cheese that’s much tastier–and healthier–than cream cheese

Whatever the reason, this week I made the first batch of yogurt since last November, and when I lifted the jar out of the water bath and scooped up a thick, creamy and tangy spoonful, I wondered how I could have forgotten how delicious it was. From there, it was an easy project to make a pint of my favorite yogurt cheese, and then I was off and running.

Friends had invited me over for dinner, so I used the yogurt cheese to invent a new dessert: Stuffed Plums Go Ginger and Chocolate. It’s pretty simple, if you have a source of sweet dried plums (you could use prunes or dried apricots, but if you can find sweet dried plums, you’ll be glad you did).

Dried plum topped with ginger yogurt cheese and a toasted pecan half

Stuffed Plums Go Ginger and Chocolate

26 dried plum halves or whole prunes split down one side and flattened
1/2 cup yogurt cheese
1-1/2 T Mayan cocoa (cocoa with ground red chiles and cinnamon)
2 tsp fresh-ground ginger
4 tsp sugar
26 pecan halves, toasted

Divide yogurt cheese between two bowls. Mix Mayan cocoa into cheese in one bowl, adding 2 tsp sugar to sweeten. Mix ginger into cheese in other bowl, adding remaining 2 tsp sugar. Turn plum halves pit side up (make sure none have pits!) and flatten. Using a small spoon, put a dollop of one kind of cheese on each plum half, making sure to cover the fruit. Fill half the plums with the cocoa cheese and half with the ginger cheese. Press a pecan into the cheese on each plum. Arrange plum halves on a platter, serve, and enjoy the contrast between the two flavors of dessert cheese! (Serves six for dessert)

Here’s another easy recipe using yogurt cheese.

Pesto Quesadillas

8 corn tortillas (fresh ones are best)
1/2 cup yogurt cheese
1/4 cup pesto

Spread yogurt cheese on each tortilla, and then add a dollop of pesto and swirl it into the yogurt cheese. Arrange tortillas, yogurt cheese side up, on baking sheets; broil for two to three minutes, or until cheese mix is bubbling and has begun to turn golden at the edges. Remove from the oven, cool, fold in half, and serve. Yum!

A yogurt cheese and pesto quesadilla with a tossed salad from the kitchen garden

I ate my quesadilla with a simple tossed salad of mesclun picked from the garden (thank you, Renee’s Garden, for the “Paris Market” mesclun mix!), dressed with lemon-infused olive oil and red wine vinegar, and topped with dried cherries, a chopped hard-boiled egg (uber-local, thanks to friends Maggie and Tony’s chickens) and toasted slivered almonds.

It looks like my yen to cook is coming back. Not every day, but often enough that it feels good. I take that as a sign that I’m finding my rhythm in this new and unplanned-for role of Woman Alone. I hope Richard is smiling about that.

Rocks from hand to heart


My solstice tree stands undecorated in the corner of the living room, my email in-box overfloweth, and it’s been almost a week since I wrote in this blog. (That’s the solstice tree in the photo above. The beautiful watercolor of the lily bed adjoining my kitchen garden to the right is by artist and neighbor Sherrie York.)

Last week got away from me, in part because I headed over the mountains to Denver on Wednesday, didn’t get home until Friday afternoon, and then needed a day to recover.

The 128-mile drive to Denver is something I do not undertake lightly at this time of the year, when traveling over the three mountain passes between our valley and the city can be… exciting. But I needed to spend some time with my dad, and I wanted to deliver the hand-to-heart rocks Molly had carved to Richard’s doctors and key staff at the VA Medical Center. (That’s one in the photo below, a hand-sized, river-rounded cobble carved with his signature polished concavity.)


Each rock was packaged in a classy black corrugated cardboard gift box donated by Jerry Scavezee and Toni Tischer of Gallery 150, the Salida gallery that carries Richard’s sculpture, and accompanied by a small broadsheet, which said in part:

“Richard thought of his sculpture work as a way to bring our natural love of this planet and its living communities into our daily lives and experiences. One of his signature ways to help people ‘see’ a rock as something unique and worth respecting was to take a rough native rock–whether a one-ton boulder or a pebble–and grind out and polish a concave place in the rock’s surface. In essence, he was making a ‘window’ into the rock’s interior to reveal its beauty.

“When it was clear that his life was ending, he showed Molly how to use his carving tools and asked her to make a set of rocks with his signature polished window, rocks that would be comforting when held in the hand and would convey his love of the earth… I helped him choose the rocks, Molly carved and polished them, and together we decided who each rock belonged to.”


I carried a shopping bag full of the boxed rocks into the VA Medical Center first thing Wednesday morning, eager to return to the facility where we had spent so much time since he saw bird hallucinations in September, 2009, a place where he had been hospitalized six times–four for brain surgeries, and where we had been treated with skill and kindness. My first stop: Richard’s oncologist.

On the way to meet her, I ran into the social worker from his palliative care team. As soon as she expressed condolences, my eyes filled.

“I warned you that most people find it hard to come back,” his oncologist said a few minutes later, fingering the rock we had picked out for her with its silky smooth concavity revealing big pink feldspar crystals in a gray and white matrix.

“I thought I’d be okay,” I said. “And then as soon as I saw Sarah…” My eyes filled again.

His oncologist hugged me. We talked for a few more minutes, and once she was sure I was indeed okay, she headed back to the consult room, her rock in her hand.

“Keep in touch,” she said.

“I will,” I promised.

And on I went. Each rock-delivery visit was similarly sweet and painful, yielding stories about Richard. By the time the shopping bag was empty, I was wrung out.


As I headed down the stairs, I realized that part of the grief I felt was that not only had I lost my love, now I was losing a community of people who I had come to care for in the time they cared for him.

Just before I left the building, I spotted one of the nurse-practitioners from neurosurgery.

She expressed her sympathy, and then as we parted, she said, “If you need anything, call. We’re here to serve you, too.”

Tears filled my eyes.

“Thank you, Fran,” I said.

Then I walked on out to the car to cry in private.



We’re celebrating Richard’s life on December 23rd (the day after Winter Solstice, his favorite holiday) from 2:30-4:30 p.m. at Salida’s SteamPlant Event Center, next to the Sculpture Park that features his “Matriculation.”

We’ll take time to gather and socialize, to listen to recollections of his life, to reflect in silence and speak if so moved. We’ll end the celebration by placing luminarias–small candles set on sand in paper lunch bags, with a few words for Richard written on each bag–in the sculpture park, to illuminate the night and signal the turning of the year, when the days grow slowly longer. 

If you’re in the area, please join us. If you can’t be here, you can join in spirit by putting out a few luminarias of your own. Help us spread Richard’s light and love!

Shootings, haiku, and gardens

Last night I went to sleep thinking of yesterday’s tragedy in Tucson, and this morning woke with a haiku in my head. As some of you know, I have a daily haiku practice: I post a haiku and photo every morning on Facebook and just the haiku on Twitter (search: susanjtweit).

It’s my way of fostering awareness and mindfulness about what’s happening in life–in particular, the community of the land–in the virtual world of internet social networking. The brevity of classical haiku–a whole thought contained in 17 syllables–is perfect for Facebook, and for Twitter’s 140-character limit. The discipline helps me shape my thoughts and choose my words, and say something I hope is useful in short form.

As I understand it, haiku was originally a sort of epigram introducing a longer poem; it’s traditionally a 5/7/5 form, with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second and five in the third, although in English that particular rhythm is a strict rule. Haiku is usually focused on nature and landscape. There’s traditionally a reference to the season or the time of year and a word that acts as a hinge between two thoughts, scenes or parts of the poem, and it often incorporates a surprise.

Here’s what formed in my head as I thought of yesterday’s shooting:

Haiku for Tucson–and the world:

To grow healing:
sprout. reach for the sun. drink rain. root.
grow community.


My heart goes out to Representative Giffords and her family, along with the other shooting victims and their families, and the shooter and his family–to the whole community, really.


Today’s post was to be just a brief garden report in honor of the persistence of our kitchen garden in this extraordinarly dry and cold winter. We’ve received less than an inch of moisture here in the valley since last September; our snow shovels sit unused on the back porch. Without the blanket of moisture, nighttime temperatures have already dropped as low as minus twelve, and winter’s a long way from being over.


Yesterday, when I pulled back the row covers on the two beds in the kitchen garden that we keep under wraps over the winter, to check the soil moisture, I was delighted to find not just hardy spinach and winter herbs like parseley and chervil thriving; the baby lettuces were looking great as well. That is an auspicious sign for the occasional winter salad, as well as a impressively good jump-start on greens for spring.

(That’s the row covers in the photo above, with a skiff of snow–all we’ve gotten this winter so far–giving them a bit of white frosting. Below is some of the lettuce. These particular plants are Monet’s Garden Mix from Renee’s Garden Seeds–aren’t they pretty? They’re small but thriving despite the sub-zero nights!)



One final note: Tomorrow I have the honor of kicking off the blog book tour for a charming and insightful new children’s book, Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, by JoAnn Deak, Ph.D. I thought I knew a lot about brains after the past 19 months with Richard’s brain cancer and his two brain surgeries, but this book taught me some new aspects of our body’s most amazing organ. So swing by tomorrow for a review of Your Fantastic Elastic Brain and a special offer from publisher Little Pickle Press. (Note to FTC: I don’t receive any compensation for these reviews–I should be so lucky!)


Lighten Up: Preserving Summer’s Bounty

Food that’s ready to eat is awfully convenient, but conventionally processed food is often astonishingly unhealthy. It’s unhealthy for the environment in terms of the energy and other resources used to produce, process and package it. It’s also often unhealthy for those of us who eat it, in part because of unnecessary and often highly processed ingredients, from high-fructose corn syrup to excess sodium.

My solution to wanting convenience but also wanting to lighten the carbon footprint of what I eat–and  to take advantage of the flavors and health benefits of fresh, local, seasonally available food is to preserve some of this bounty for later consumption. (That’s a jar of my strawberry freezer jam above.)

If you’ve never preserved summer fruits and vegetables in quantity, it may seem intimidating. I go for simple techniques. I choose freezing instead of canning, for instance, because heating my house in the summer by using the stove to cook and can seems like a waste of energy (in terms of the energy used by the stove and the energy we devote to cool the house down after cooking). Here are two simple, healthy and delicious recipes to get you started on making your own convenience food, and preserving summer’s bounty for later enjoyment. (Both recipes are easy to do with kids if you have some around who are ready to
learn how to cook!)

Here’s a very simple recipe for putting up summer fruit.

Apricots for the freezer

At least two pounds of ripe apricots, preferably organic (the more the better, because in freezing, there are economies of scale–I processed almost 20 pounds last weekend, and that’s it for the summer)
Fruit Fresh or a similar type of powdered Vitamin C or ascorbic acid preservative (get the kind without added sugar)
Sugar (one half-cup per 4 quarts of sliced apricots)
a quart (4 cup) measuring cup
a large mixing bowl
quart-size freezer bags or containers

Wash the apricots, sorting out any that are soft or overripe. (Those can be stewed or cooked into preserves later, but they won’t freeze well.) Slice the ‘cots in half, take out the pit, cut out any brown or moldy spots, and then slice each half into four pieces. Put the pieces in the quart measuring cup, and when it’s full, into the bowl.

When you’ve got four quarts (16 cups) of apricot pieces in the mixing bowl, add half a cup of sugar and four T of Fruit Fresh. (The photo above shows the slices with sugar and Fruit Fresh added. You can see that they’re releasing their natural juice.) Stir, and then scoop into the quart containers. Label the containers (as in the photo below) and put them in the freezer. Repeat until you’ve processed all the ‘cots.


You can use the same basic recipe with any summer fruit, including berries, plums, and peaches. (I blanche the peaches first, dipping them in boiling water for a minute and a half, so that I can slip the skins off. But if you don’t mind peach fuzz, it’s not necessary.) Now that you’ve got that down, let’s try a simple jam that uses the microwave rather than the stove, and goes right into the freezer.

Simple Strawberry Jam

(adapted from Cooking Light)
4 cups ripe, organic strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
4 T fruit brandy (I use plum) or sweet, mild-flavored juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

Wash and hull the strawberries, cutting out any soft or brown parts. Quarter and then halve the quarters lengthwise if the berries are big. (The jam will spread better of the fruit pieces are small.) 

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 bowl. Then take the lid off and simmer it until it is reduced to a cup and a half of thick, chunky jam. (I use half-power on my microwave and it takes about 45 minutes. Check to make sure it’s not boiling over or burning. The photo below is the partly cooked jam.)

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 put into the freezer. (Makes a cup and a half.)

This jam smells intoxicating as it cooks, so you may be tempted to eat it right away. If you must, eat just half a cup, and put other cup in the freezer for winter, when its ruby-red color and summer flavor will be such a treat! (If you choose not to freeze it, the jam will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.)

Next week: preserving herbs and greens as pesto–not just basil–for the freezer…