Life as I know It

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San Luis Obispo, California, and South Bristol, Maine, United States
Author ~ Illustrator ~ Lecturer

Friday, December 31, 2010

My Wish for You

My resolution for 2011 is to always see the world through the wonder-filled eyes of a child.


Max Ehrman
circa 1923

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.
Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Max Ehrmann 

I start each day with these treasured words.

Blessings to you and yours in 2011.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Tasha Tudor Wings her way to Suzanne in South Africa

Our Christmas brunch is always graced by this wonderful syrup pitcher from talented potter-artist Julie Whitmore. Check out her blog and her etsy site for some of her amazing work. If you see something you like, act quickly, her works disappear from the site almost immediately. 

And the winner is...

Good bye dear Tasha book, but I must say, you're flying into a great, new, life-filled home with lots of joyful activities and children. You'll be well used and well loved by Suzanne from the fabulous Down in the Meadow blog. Her name was pulled out of a basket with 140 other hopefuls, but Suzanne it was and off Tasha goes. I think this couldn't happen at a better time for Suzanne. Last week her home was struck by lightning. Nobody was hurt, but her computer and all her addresses, etc., were blitzed. Please drop her a line and establish contact again. Suzanne please send me your mailing address.

Holiday Joys and the invisible thread of family traditions

Sara's faerie mailbox was visited by the Christmas faeries who filled this mini sock with treats. The miniature socks are available from Christmas Cove Designs in Maine. They also made all our large stockings. I always add a little bell to the toe. Faerie voices!

The faeries filled Mo's sock, too.

My dear friend Marilyn (from Maine) sent me this wonderful Bodleian Press advent calendar. We have an advent calendar every year, but this is my all time favorite. I'm saving it for next year, too. This is such a simple tradition for the children, but they anticipate the calendar every year and take turns opening the windows each day.

How wonderful it is to share the holidays with children. I enjoy every minute of their excitement and discoveries. This will be a short post as I have more family arriving this afternoon and lots of cooking to do in preparation.

I haven't finished setting the Christmas eve table, but look at the crop of wheatgrass! I will have a healthy, thriving garden this year if the French fable is true (which I am sure it is).

What would I do without my Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home cookbook? This is their tried and true pork roast on a bed of apples. I pat the room temp roast with salt and pepper and a mixture of my homegrown herbs de Provence, then sear the meat, and nestle it onto the apples. The apples have salt and pepper and a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar sprinkled on them. This cooks for an hour at 350 degrees and comes out moist and perfect.

Cookies on a platter.

Just like clockwork, the old Christmas cactus burst into pale fireworks.

Candles are lit, the little tree glows with tiny lights, Christmas music fills the rooms, but the children can't venture in to shake packages or squeeze their stockings until after supper is finished. Delightful torture. I remember how excited I always felt at my Nonie and Bopie's home each Christmas eve.

Each of us has a long, hand knit stocking, that hangs by the chimney. I spend hours finding and wrapping small things to fill them to overflowing. The tip of the toe always holds a miniature glass log cabin filled with Maine (of course) pure maple syrup.

I  buy these from Maine Gold. My grands adore them. Asher, our 9 year old, arrived one February cradling the little syrup in his hand. "I want to have breakfast for dinner," he said, "and I brought my own maple syrup."

What are Sara and Mo doing? They're looking for a long, long gold thread, which will lead them to a special hidden gift. This treasure hunt along the thread is always exciting and lovingly anticipated.

See the thin, golden thread beside Mo? I loop it around legs of furniture, go up and down steps, over books, and finally, after he has searched and giggled his way along the line...

...he traces the thread to its hide-out inside the Amish cupboard.

Sara follows her gold thread through four rooms and ends up peeking into the little blue chest in the entry hall.

Anticipation (and simplicity) makes this such a sweet tradition.

Christmas morning brunch usually features a vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg laced french toast made of brioche or challah (of course, the Maine maple syrup is liberally applied to it).

On Christmas eve Jeff brought me a special and unexpected gift, which he picked up with the last of our cards and other mail. "Here is a great gift," he said as he handed it to me.

Yes, it was a great surprise and a very special gift, but nothing, and I mean nothing, was as great a gift as having my family and friends here for the holidays.

Until next time (and next year),


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tasha Tudor would LOVE this holiday give-away

I must finally feel like I am home. Although we moved into this city house four years ago, I had never unpacked my lambs from the old blanket box. These lambs sat on my fireplace mantel every Christmas for 30 years, but when we moved, I felt like I was adrift, not really a part of this new/old house. This year the lambs came out of hiding and paraded across the top of a pie safe. I'm happy to see them and so is my family. The tradition continues.

In 2007, when I was in the throes of writing and illustrating a book, my husband Jeff signed me up for a blog. "Why did you do this to me?" I asked him. "I have enough going on." He said, "You miss all the people you corresponded with when you wrote your Heart's Ease column for Country Living GARDENER. This is a way to get back in touch." 

I ignored the blog and continued on with life. Once in awhile, I'd post something and feel good about it, but I didn't really know about visiting other blogs, and I didn't understand what the "follower" button was-until last February or March when I finally installed it and looked on in wonder as readers pushed the follow button and joined me as friends.

Since beginning this blog, I've reestablished relationships with readers who wrote to me years ago. Just last week my husband showed me a big box of letters and copies of e-mails from readers from the years I wrote for GARDENER. Lo and behold, some familiar names popped up; Nancy (Lemon Verbena Lady) was at the top of the list. "I love your magazine column," she wrote. 

Now I receive comments, real letters, and wonderful e-mails from readers with whom I've had a relationship for years, and I am so grateful for their love and friendship. To honor those of you who are followers, I want to do a drawing for one of my favorite books, The Tasha Tudor Cookbook, which is in like new condition and is signed by Tasha Tudor.  And in answer to Brenda, from Coffee Tea Books and Me, who said she'd like one of my books,  I am also including the winner's choice of one of my titles. Followers, please leave a comment to be eligible for the drawing.

Tasha signed this book plate in 1995.

Her charming illustrations are timeless. They touch our hearts.

Great recipes, too.

I can almost smell the scent of baking breads and cookies. 

GOOD LUCK! Eligibility is for those who are loyal followers, and the drawing date is on Christmas Eve. I'll announce the winner on Christmas Day. 


I've been turning to the Anna Thomas book Love Soup for many winter meals.

Also using Edward Espe Brown's Tassajara Cookbook and Bread Book.

Hand Fried Fresh Kale Salad

Serves four

Two bunches of kale (about 20 leaves)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 Tbs. seasoned rice vinegar

Cut the kale into ribbons (I left the stems on the dino).
Add salt to the kale and start squeezing (I love this as much as kneading bread).
Mix lemon juice, honey, and pour onto kale. Taste it and add more salt if needed.
Add ginger and radishes, mix, add sliced apples.

I shop at 3 or 4 great little farmers' markets each week. Kale is on the top of my favorite's list right now. I especially love the dino kale, which is pictured on the counter along with season's end sweet peppers. We are so spoiled here.

I ALWAYS have fresh ginger in the refrigerator. In the case of the kale salad I love making, well, ginger and radishes are a must for a zinging flavor. If you can't use your fresh ginger right away, you can tuck it into a plastic bag and freeze it. I can't taste any difference.

I started with two huge bunches of dino kale, which filled the bowl to the brim. I added sea salt, fresh squeezed orange juice, and started squeezing the mixture in my hands, a process Ed calls "hand frying." WHY? I don't know, but I do know that fried kale is wonderful (as is this).

Within less than a minute of squeezing, the kale became as palatable as its cooked counterpart. Also, the dino kale reduced in size by half. Until a few years ago, I commonly made roasted kale salads and kale chips, but until I took my cooking class with Ed, I never had it raw in a salad. It is great. Give it a try.


The tree we love to use for Christmas is being planted this year, so I had to shop for another. I chose a variegated buckthorn, which looks like it has snow on its leaves. I love it. The buckthorn is in a five gallon tub and fit perfectly into my big, old crock.

I'll keep this outdoors in a big, terra cotta pot and use it again next year.

This Edwardian paper squirrel with a flocked coat always climbs near the top of our tree. It once topped a fancy hat.

Jeff has always wanted a sailboat, but with our schedules, we would never get much chance to use one. So, a few years ago, I found this in Maine. He can dream.

This is corny, but I LOVE it. Lili (Fearless Nesting), I am thinking of you here. This is a mussel shell from Burnt Island, Maine, in the Boothbay Harbor region. We boated out to Burnt Island for a picnic with my pal Marilyn and her family. The couple caretaking the lighthouse had gathered mussel shells and decorated them. I fell for it big time. Corny, but wonderful too. On the inside it says, "Burnt Island, Maine." 

Finally, the wheatgrass that I planted on December 1st looks great. This patch of green will sit in the center of our dining table on Christmas Eve. The long, healthy grass signifies the good crops and harvest I'll have in the coming year.

On Christmas Eve by candlelight, we will toast the past year, talk about all that made us grateful, and we'll lift our glasses in joy and celebration.

Happy Holidays to you all. You are the bright and shining pieces of the quilt of life.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

"Icing on the cake of my life"

This baked catastrophe looked beautiful to my grands.

So, how do YOU handle grief, joy, burdens, and blessings? I tend to approach these disparate feelings in the same way. I cook and especially love to bake or make soup. I garden. Everything about gardening makes me lose myself in the task, whether it is weeding, planting, transplanting, fertilizing, propagating, you name it–if it is outside in the garden, it is a healing salve to my soul.

This is the time of year when I love to work on containers that may be crowded with too many plants. Also, it is a time when I replant many of my pots. 

The past couple of weeks have been tough ones. The loss of a friend, another close, close friend in the hospital having a heart procedure, yet another (Virginia, who is often seen in my photos here) in the hospital with a grave problem. Tending to my writing, drawing, cooking, and gardening helps me through the worst times. I feel so lucky to have friends and family who make my heart soar. Thank you for all your e-mails, letters, gifts, and loyalty.

One of the biggest joys in my life is to spend time with my grands. Last night, in celebration of the upcoming holidays, we baked cookies for some teachers. I scanned two of my favorite cookbooks, my dear friend Susan Branch's Christmas cookbook and her Vineyard Seasons. Last year we used Sue's cookie recipe (from her pal Elaine) for our baking. I also considered using Tasha Tudor's sugar cookie recipe, but in the end, I turned to my friends at the Mennonite Girls Can Cook blog, which I visit a few times a week, and used their sugar cookie recipe. This was simple, fun, and do-able for children.

Both Sue's and Tasha's books are signed, making them even more treasured. Guess I'll have to have the girls sign their recipe sheet, which I printed off their blog.

We hauled out the trusty Kitchen Aid (I need a fork lift for this) and began our work (play).

Sara (in her magic cloak) checks out the children's baking drawer and finds some cookie cutters and rolling pins.

The "kid drawer."

One for Mo-one for Sara, and, of course, the sprinkles.

Mo at work. He laughed so much we were hysterical too.

Sara chose the smallest cutter, a little gingerbread man with a heart.

The refrigerated dough got warmer and warmer as they worked, played, sculpted, and thrashed through the flour. Our kitchen looked like it had been dusted with snow.

Though they look like mini-disasters, they tasted great.

So I hope Anneliese forgives me for making her recipe look so bad, but they're a cinch to do, and the children in your life will thank you for the fun.

Simple Sugar Cookies


1 cup butter, room temp
1 ½ cups icing sugar
1 egg
2 Tbsp. milk
½ tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt


Mix butter, icing sugar and egg well in mixer.
Add milk and vanilla, then combined dry ingredients.
Chill in sealed container for a few hours or overnight.
Divide into two or three parts (working with small
amounts of pastry makes rolling out easier).

Pre heat the oven to 375 degrees. I spread our cookies onto cookie sheets lined with parchment and we added sprinkles. We baked them for about 8 to 10 minutes.

Sara said, "These are DIVINE." Mo said, "UMMMMMMMM." Thanks Anneliese. And thank you Kathy at MGCC who wrote these words to me today. "Being a grandma is certainly the icing on the cake of my life." I LOVE that and feel the same way.

Happy gardening and happy baking,


P.S. Won't you join me for a few minutes and listen to a radio program I did this week? The program is about family, friends, and traditions. 

This was fun. I was tired and my voice sounded tired, but I enjoyed reminiscing about the holidays. Below is the traditional tray of wheat berry I mention and the chandelier that I always decorate with olive boughs for peace.

Cheers and Peace!

As we approach the new year...can you believe it will be 2012? (CAN YOU BELIEVE I GOT THE YEAR WRONG? TALK ABOUT AN ALTERED REALITY), I want to offer my followers a well-considered give-away. I love my signed Tasha Tudor cookbook, which she signed for me while we were appearing as speakers at an herb conference. I want to give this book away to anyone who is a follower and who leaves a comment on this or the next posting. All joys to you!