Life as I know It

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

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Let Them Eat Cake!

This stuffed squash was one of the main dishes. I bought the squash at a farmers' market in San Clemente. The farmer didn't know the name of it, but he said it was a "good baking" one–he was right.

A few years ago my friend Sue Branch mentioned that in all the years she has been writing, she has never had a book party. She wasn't complaining; it was simply a statement of fact. When she said that I decided that when she finished another book we would somehow celebrate it with a wonderful party.

When Sue finished A Fine Romance I talked with Jeff and with our friends Susan and Ellis Bassetti and told them I wanted to throw a party for her. Ellis and Susie quickly seconded the idea and volunteered to hold it at their ranch, which has so much more space than our home. (And who wouldn't want to attend a party in the middle of an olive grove and a vineyard?)

So onward and upward. Plans began to form, close friends were invited, and helpers were enlisted. Let the cooking begin!

Our little kitchen turned into an assembly line for a couple of days as we prepared for the party.

Recipe to follow at end of posting.

Ellis Bassetti mans/chefs the outdoor wood-fired oven he built.

Somehow Ellis knows exactly when his foods are finished to perfection. Practice, I guess. I have a tough enough time trying to get them right when I use an oven.

My granddaughter is wearing an official server's apron, but forgets her chores and loses herself in an adventure with the two pups. Much better than working!

Congratulations Sue dear!!

My pal Matt Spurr helps dish out and serve the cheesy peppers.

Joe Hall (alias "THE DREAMBOAT") surveys the box of oysters he flew in from a favorite fish market, The Net Result, on Martha's Vineyard.

Joe shucked the oysters for all of us newbies.

This is hard work! One slip of the knife and...

My salad was filled with all sorts of goodies from our garden, including pears, apples, and pomegranate arils. 

This is a nine pound pork loin seasoned with my homegrown herbs and marinated for two days.
I usually cook these for an hour, but in the hot, hot oven (which immediately sears in the juices) it took very little time and tasted great!

Setting the buffet table. 

Ok, so you can't actually see who is who, but some of the guests didn't want their photos taken...I understand that 'cause I never want my photo taken either.

The twenty foot long pine table had a garland of pomegranates, persimmons, and grape vines...

...and an array of beautiful and loyal friends (including Sue's original girlfriends from high school).

Sometimes I'd look around and see maybe a dozen people with their phones out and happily photographing the goings-on. 

A Fine Romance book cake by Renee Linn of Linn's Restaurant and Bakery. Renee spent hours working on this piece of art, which tasted as great as it looked. Thank you, Renee, for all your creativity and giving.

Don't drop the cake, Jeff!

Through the herb garden and to the grape arbor dining room.

Sue was surprised and she loved it!

Umm, I like the corners. Lots of frosting please. If I'm going to blow the calories, I might as well go for the good stuff.

Cute boots, Sue. 

The adorable Julie Marie (Idyllhours blog) sent two hand felted squirrels to the party. One for Sue and one for me. They are darling. Mine will go up on the animal shelf in my studio. Thank you, Julie Marie, for your thoughtfulness and caring.

I'll wind this posting down with the announcement of the winner of the vintage Anne Morrow Lindbergh book, Gift from the Sea, which I have treasured and read over and over for years.

I just hope that you all get the chance to read this, and that our lucky winner (automatically picked by the random number generator) is number 30,  Donna, but I do not have an e-mail address or any information about her. Donna, if you read this, I need your address, etc. It won't be published. If you are a member of The Grimy Hands Girls' Club, you'll receive an extra gift.

Also, I am in a bit of a dilemma here. Our winner of Sue's personally autographed book, A Fine Romance, from my last drawing, was never claimed. Chris Morgan won it, but I can't find Chris and she hasn't written me. I am going to wait for another week and then draw again if I am not contacted by Chris. Does that sound fair?

Baked Stuffed Pumpkin

Here is the recipe for the baked, stuffed pumpkin, which I plan to also do for Thanksgiving.

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees 

You'll need:

Large baking pumpkin or squash
Box of cremini mushrooms (they're more flavorful than white buttons)
2 stalks celery
1 sweet yellow onion
2 cups rice (I used Basmati and wild)
1 container organic chicken broth (32 oz)
2 tsp. butter
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 apples diced
1 cup pecans toasted

Cut the top off your pumpkin and clean out seeds and strings. Save the seeds and toast them (or dry them and replant them); they taste great.

Rub butter on the inside of pumpkin and lid and set aside.

Slice mushrooms.

Dice celery and sweet onion, add sliced mushrooms.  Drop a tsp. of olive oil and a pat of butter into a skillet and cook the mushrooms, celery, and onion till tender. Sometimes I add a splash of red wine or a good balsamic vinegar and make a reduction sauce from the juices. Gives these a richer taste.

Pour organic broth, two teaspoons of butter, and soy sauce into a heavy-duty lidded pot. Bring to a boil, add rice, turn heat to simmer. It took about 25 minutes for my rice to cook. Lift lid, check that all liquid is absorbed, and fluff rice with a fork. Add mushrooms, celery, and onion. Keep rice uncovered and set aside.

Cook diced apples in a buttered skillet. Stir constantly, add the brown sugar, stir till apples just start to soften. (They'll cook thoroughly in the squash.) Add toasted pecans to the apples, stir to incorporate. This will coat them with a bit of the brown sugar.

Stuff squash/pumpkin all the way to the top. Perch lid on top, and it is safest to bake the squash in some sort of a pan, preferably one attractive enough to sit right on your table.

Here is the tricky part. I baked my squash for a little over two and a half hours. You MUST be able to slip a spoon into the flesh of the squash, which you'll also be eating with the stuffing. Since this is a trial and no error dish, just start it baking early, keep lifting off the lid of the squash and poking at the flesh. When finished baking, set it atop your stove and keep the lid on. I covered mine with aluminum foil and it stayed hot for an hour.

Baked Baby Bell Peppers

Pre heat oven to 350

Selection of baby bell peppers
Olive oil
Sea salt
Goat cheese
Mixed herbs (I use oregano, lemon verbena, smoked paprika and something called Perfect Pinch Salad Seasonings.

Cut peppers in half and discard seeds and any pith
Spread peppers onto a baking sheet lined with parchment
Drizzle lightly with olive oil and top with a few twists of salt
Bake till sides just begin to brown. You must bake the shells empty first or the bells won't be cooked enough and will just taste raw.

Mix equal parts goat cheese and fresh Parmesan, drizzle on a bit of olive oil,add some herbs (make sure all herbs are cut into teensy pieces, especially the lemon verbena).

Stuff the cooled baby bells with the mixture. Top with a snowstorm of fresh parmesan, another drizzle of oil, and the Perfect Pinch Salad Seasoning. Toast in oven for about 10 minutes.

These are a huge hit! They've become a family tradition at our house. They take a bit of time, but when we cook for people we love it is fun.

Sending love across the miles,


P.S. Many thanks to the editors of Garden Gate magazine for their glowing review of my recent book, My First Bird Book and Bird Feeder, published by Workman and available through my site and many others. Hurrah! Introduce children (and maybe yourself) to the world of birds right outside your window!

I like how Garden Gate has pre-punched pages that can be easily inserted into a notebook or journal.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Solitary Confinement: it isn't always bad!

Do you have a book that feels like a wise, old friend? Do you revisit it year after year? I do, and it is still relevant and important to me after reading it over and over since 1969. A book this well written and deeply considered never wears out. That is why I am so happy to share this vintage hardbound copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's book, Gift from the Sea, with my loyal followers and readers. It is a small thank you that I hope will enrich your life. Just leave a comment in the comment section of this posting. Also, if you are a member of the Grimy Hands Girls' Club, you'll receive a bonus gift. If you have a book you wish to share, well, now is the time to tell me (us) about it.

Oh, I should mention that most of the shells in this photo were picked up on Captiva Island, which is where Anne was staying when she began this book. The Spirula spirula (looks like a ram's horn), the two baby ears, and the worm shell and sand dollar are all finds from my walks. I use a micron 005 pen to write on the back of each shell with the date and place they are found. It is a wonderful way to remember where you had adventures.

November Garden

November in a corner of the patio. Jeff says he will divorce me if I make him move that huge boulder again, but I don't believe him. I love puttering around the containers in my garden. Mini worlds of pleasure. Can you see the little cherry tomatoes in the left hand corner?  Amazing. The tomatoes and basil are still thriving. 

November tapestry of Zinnias, nasturtium, geraniums, and succulents. Texture in a garden is one of the most important features.

A tattered and wind-worn Painted Lady on a glorious Bog sage.

I picked a trug full of fruits from my garden. Brown turkey figs, Feijoa (we call them pineapple guava and they are the BEST), pomegranates...

...and the last of the apples to be picked for pies, applesauce, and crisps.

Salvias are blooming, Nepeta is getting ready to bloom again, and 8 out of 10 of the artichokes are flaunting their sculptural beauty.


I spend so much time alone (my version of solitary confinement) when I am writing, or simply dreaming of writing a new book. Weeding, walking, cleaning, day dreaming, ironing, all these diverse threads of time and thinking are woven together in the fabric of your dreams and schemes. You may not actually be setting words down on paper or stitching an appliqué onto a friendship quilt, but your brain is working, organizing, and accomplishing way more than you could ever dream. Speaking of dreaming...I have actually dreamt entire passages in my books, also solved some problems during dreaming, and came to the title of Roots Shoots Buckets & Boots in a dream at 2:30 A.M. Your brain is active all the time. Even if you don't remember.

I have an aversion to the telephone, so sometimes I'll go for four or five days without speaking with anyone except Jeff (and I see him only at meals and in the evening). The phone jangles me out of my reveries, so I turn it off and concentrate wholeheartedly. Even doing drawings takes full concentration. 

Here is your recipe for fudging, no walking away from a project, no matter what your creative bent,  just set your heart to it and work, work, work (and enjoy the process). And if you do it it over, and over, and over until it is right.  Until it suits YOU. A labor of love to be sure, but you already know that, right? You do the same thing when you quilt, or draw, garden, cook, or create anything. 

This illustration didn't make it into my new Random House/Delacorte Press book, Running Out of Night (to be released Fall 2014), but I still learned lots from working on it for so many hours. I'll use it when I do school visits and talk to groups. My grandchildren gave it a two thumbs up for true creepiness, which is the mood I tried to convey. 

Never trust anyone who works in an organized, tidy space.

In answer to your questions about where and how I work, a video is worth a million words. This video shows my studio at our little house in San Luis Obispo, California. 

(Due to a technical glitch, this video doesn't show up on some browsers. Click this link to go directly to the YouTube video.)

Be sure to leave a comment on this posting so you can win the vintage copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea.

Love across the miles,


P.S. If you are in the San Luis Obispo area this Saturday, November 9, join me for a free talk and slide show at 10:00 a.m.. E-mail me for further information.