Life as I know It

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

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Add Memories, Stir Slowly

This is the time of nostalgia.

It seems as though every Christmas ornament, piece of greenery, homemade food, aroma, and music carries memories of years past. I find myself in the middle of work, just sitting and thinking of what I had hoped to accomplish and places and friends I had wanted to visit, but didn't quite manage to fit into life.

This coming year I vow to have more fun and to create more, visit with friends more, cook more, garden more, walk more, listen to more music, dance more, spend more time in Maine, and laugh and love more. Nothing fancy or far-fetched, just the simple things that warm a life from the inside out.

In honor of a friend's birthday, I pulled out my file of recipes and looked for something hearty and toothsome to bake. One of the first recipes out was the one for beer bread from my friend Bonny. I had tasted her warm beer bread a few years ago and begged her for the recipe. Now, when things are bothering me and I can't go outside and weed, I make soup and beer bread.

For the holidays, I chose some strong ales that have the aromas and taste of spices. They were perfect for this batch of baking. Herewith, and with a heartfelt flourish, I present my version of Bonny's Irish beer bread (which should be made with Guinness!).

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Butter your loaf pan.

For some reason, I plopped the bowl and my Grandmother Lovejoy's loaf pan right on top of the set table. Why? I don't know, but I ended up making a big mess everywhere.

I love the way the dry ingredients bubble once the beer is added.

Ended up pulling out yet another bowl and starting a second (then third) loaf. This is how the mixture looks after a few strong stirs.

Spooned the thick, aromatic mixture into Grandmother's loaf pan.

Poured the melted butter over the top.

...and fifty minutes later the first loaf was out and cooling.

...and then the second and third, which I baked in a new, high-fired Italian terra cotta pot.

...and after the bread cooled, I wrapped it in natural colored parchment baking paper, tied it with baker's twine, and decorated it with fresh rosemary. The fun part was delivering this to our dear friends Frank and Aline.

Thoroughly blend:

3 cups of flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
4 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
3/4 cup of sugar ( I often use honey and simply use a couple of tablespoons less than 3/4 cup sugar called for)

Make a "nest" in the middle of the mixed ingredients and add one bottle of beer. Stir thoroughly.

Transfer the ingredients to your buttered loaf pan.

Melt 1/4 cup of butter.

Pour the butter across the top of the loaf.

Bake for 50 minutes.

Ahhhh, if only our lives could be as simple and straightforward as this recipe.

I send you love across the miles and fond wishes for a joyous and healthy new year. 


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holding Them Close to Your Heart

This snowman is feeding his bird friends. A bucket of seed is being visited by woodpeckers and a nuthatch. An apple core necklace, mouth of raisins, and strings of fresh cranberries look tantalizing to the Cardinal. Broom corn hair, strings of cranberries and peanuts, and a hat topped with black oil sunflower seeds will entice many other birds to visit. Is that a chickadee I hear??

Dear Friends,

Are we all on a run right now? Running to the store, baking, entertaining friends and family, finishing  our craft projects, addressing cards, and wrapping the last of the gifts. 

At night, we like to slow down and sit quietly by the fire, the little fir tree lit with ornaments that tell some of the story of our lives. 

The quilt at the base of the tree was made by my Nonie Clarke. The starfish that tops the tree came from Laguna Beach in 1965. It was my first ornament and is the best tree topper ever.

The long farm table is filled with the last of the gifts to be wrapped. It may look like chaos, but I have piles separated and labeled for each person. I better finish wrapping these tomorrow because we have company coming this weekend.

The stockings aren't hung by the chimney with care–yet. I'll hang them up on Christmas Eve. The stockings were all  done by Christmas Cove Designs in Maine. One knitted stocking for each of the grands. Little Luke, who just left the NNICU (after four and a half difficult months), has the newest one with Santa and a reindeer.

And, finally, my little German stick sheep are flocking on the mantel. I am thankful that they survived the big earthquake in December of 2003. They were lined up along the mantel in our Cambria cottage when the big San Simeon quake hit. All the sheep, the trees, and greenery shot across the living room and landed about ten feet from the mantel. Some were broken, others lost their ears or legs, but these survivors are still a part of our family traditions.  

Tomorrow will be baking day with a final wrap up and delivery to neighbors and shut-ins. When the grands come, they'll be whipping up my special "Bird Booster" to satisfy all the birds in our lives and the lives of our friends. We plan to smear the mixture into pine cones and into the dried halves of oranges, but you can simply smear this onto tree trunks and branches.

Kids love to smear the "Bird Booster" into pine cones. This is my good friend, author Sherry Shahan, who is showing off the pine cone her grandsons filled with booster for her for her birthday.

This recipe provides fat and protein, which will help keep birds warm on cold winter nights. This is a simple project for the children in your life and will help connect them to the magical world of nature.

Recipe for Bird Booster from My First Bird Book and Bird Feeder.

1 1/2 cups of peanut butter
1 1/2 cups of shortening, bacon grease, or suet
3  cups yellow cornmeal
1  cup flour
1  cup sand

Mix thoroughly and enjoy watching the birds feast on your offerings.

Sending love across the miles,



This is a live stream of two radio personalities in Cleveland reviewing my bird book and bird feeder. Jeff found their site online and took a photo of them talking with me in California. They were a part of a 23 city "radio tour" that was arranged by Workman Publishing. Yes, 23 interviews, which began at 4:18 a.m. and went on for over 8 hours. Jeff and I got up at 3:30 and prepared for the onslaught.

Yep, I'm in my robe and in bed and talking with radio hosts around the country. The headset is a necessity. It is almost impossible to hold a phone for 8 plus hours, sip tea, drink lemon water, and locate things in my book without fumbling. Click here for a list of stations. Scroll down to December 13, 2012. Some interviews were taped for later broadcast.

Friday, December 14, 2012

We Mourn

We mourn the loss of life, innocence, families, friendships, futures, in this senseless act of violence against "our" children.

No words can express our sorrow,

Jeff and Sharon

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Infinite Passion of Life

"A tavola non si invecchia."
"At the table, one never grows old."

Thank goodness, because we sure spend lots of time around tables enjoying food, friendship, great conversation, and traditions. I love every minute of our sharing stories and recipes. We try to gather together about once a month. Next time it will be at our house, so I'll have the helping hands of both Jeff and John Gonyer; they say they'll be my sous chefs. I'll need them.

The table holds a bowl of freshly harvested persimmons and pomegranates. Mother Nature creates the best decorations. A line of candles and persimmons parade down the center of the table.

Bonny, Lucy, and Cindy exchange family stories.

Cindy and our ever faithful hostess Susie Bassetti gripe about me taking a photo of them. I want you to know that these women are fantastic, creative, and loving. Susie and I have taught classes together; she once made all the wreaths for Heart's Ease, and she continues on as a beloved friend.

Left to right: Lee, our host Ellis (whose family has owned the ranch over 100 years), Buck Beery, my Jeff, and John Gonyer. The boys huddle outside in the herb garden and watch the food cooking.

This is our friend Bruce Black, who owns The Squibb House Bed and Breakfast and the Shop Next Door, the old barn next to the Squibb House. Bruce keeps the barn filled with antiques, art, and Amish furniture.

I think pot luck suppers are one of the best ways to learn about new foods. What you're seeing here is Ellis holding a glass of his own Bassetti Vineyards wine. They are also famous for their award winning Taggiasca olive oil, which is smooth and buttery. The tray to the right holds freshly picked poblanos stuffed with jack cheese, and grilled. My yellow Le Creuset is filled with wild and basmati rice, crimini mushrooms, which I cooked for an hour in a reduction sauce, and topped with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. We had ham, two chickens roasted in the wood-fired oven, baked pumpkin from the Kendall's Dos Pasos Ranch on Santa Rosa Creek Road, and a big salad of chopped brussel sprouts, kale, and lettuce. It was all divine, but it was just being there with friends that made it taste so great.

I promised Susie that I'd edit her out of this photo. This is our dear friend Virginia, who is also our neighbor in Maine. Ginny has helped me through some difficult times; she is one in a million and irreplaceable to us.

"There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the infinite passion of life."
Federico Fellini

That is how it is...the infinite passion of life. Friends are the glue that mends broken hearts.

May you have many friends and feasts around your table.

Love across the miles,


Recipe for my wild rice and crimini mushroom casserole:

Two cups of wild and basmati rice
Four cups of chicken broth
Tbsp. of butter and Tbsp. of olive oil

Bring to boil in a heavy duty pot. Turn down when it comes to boil. Lid the pot. Cook on low for about 20 minutes or until all the broth is absorbed. Use a fork to fluff the rice. 

While rice is cooking:

Clean and dry flavorful crimini mushrooms (I used 12 ounces) and slice thinly.
Chop shallots, carrots, and celery into tiny pieces.
Grate 2 cups fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Heat a heavy duty skillet, add Tbsp. of olive oil, Tbsp. of butter, mushrooms, and veggies. Stir constantly, slowly add a few Tbsp. of good balsamic vinegar (see my recipe below), a splash of soy sauce, and simmer it until it is reduced down to what looks like a brown glaze coating mushrooms.

Since I can't justify spending $50.00 on a good, syrupy balsamic, I make my own.

1 cup of balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup sugar

Mix the sugar and vinegar together and cook in a heavy duty saucepan over high heat. Stir and allow to come to a boil. Reduce heat and cook (stirring occasionally) until mixture thickens to the consistency of maple syrup. I keep this reduction in a jam jar in the fridge. It will last a few weeks.

Add mushrooms, celery, shallots, and carrots to the cooked rice. Stir in one cup of freshly grated Parmesan. Top casserole with one cup of grated Parmesan. Bake in about a 350 degree oven until the cheese melts. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

How to Hold a Hummingbird?


I don't know how long the little hummer was trapped inside my laundry room before Jeff found her this morning. I think she must have been shut inside there since yesterday afternoon. Imagine the fear and frustration. She could SEE the blooms of pineapple and pitcher sage, purple blooms of the tulbaghia, and the deliciously slow drip of the fountain, but she couldn't reach them.

I talked quietly to it for a few minutes. Flight slowed, the hummer examined me, the white's of her eye showing, then dropped to the windowsill, little heart pumping so wildly that I could see it beating from a few feet away. I moved slowly and gently curled my hands around a bundle of life so lightweight that I couldn't feel it.

When I stepped outside the laundry room, I wished the hummer well and opened my hands, but... lay inside my cupped hands, tail feathers ruffled, wings bent, spider web tangled through its wings and legs, and wrapped tightly around its long, needle-like bill. It would not be able to fly or eat in this condition.

Poor little sweetheart.

I ran my fingers across wings and tail, removing tangled webs from everywhere.

Come on, young lady, it is time for you to leave.

But she was exhausted. She stretched out and tucked her bill onto the top of my fingers. Looking closely, I realized her bill was still glued together with sticky webbing.

 I ran my fingers down her bill to remove the web, ...

... but the glue-like strands were stuck around it. I needed water to loosen it, but I knew that the little hummer was failing fast. So, I did what any good mother would do, slipped my lips over her bill and licked off the webbing.

She spread her wings across my palm. By now her heart beat normally. Jeff was getting ready to do a movie of her take-off, but before he could adjust the camera settings, she was gone. Her first stop? The pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) that she had been able to see through the glass of my laundry room. 

FARETHEWELL, little Anna's hummer. Thanks for starting my day off in the most beautiful and meaningful way. And thanks Jeff, for chronicling this amazing visit.

Love across the miles,


P.S. Anna's are usually found in my California (zone 9) gardens every month of the year. I keep two hummingbird feeders filled with a sugar-syrup solution. Simply mix one cup of water with 1/4 cup of pure white granulated sugar (NEVER HONEY). Microwave the mixture for about a minute and a half.  Let it cool thoroughly. I clean the feeders a few times a week with a baby bottle brush and hot, hot water, and refill them. They're hung in the shade so the sugary mixtures doesn't ferment. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Tornado

The floors are swept, shallots, herbs, and salad greens gathered–let the tornado begin.

Gathering greens, herbs, and edible flowers from my container gardens.

And taking time out to puddle around with my plants, and to...

...sweep, and prepare for...

...the arrival...


...stylist Sunday Hendrickson. You've seen her work on the pages of many magazines, including Country Living, Country Living GARDENER, Romantic Homes, Cottage Style, This Old House, and many more. Sunday is producing a photo shoot of our gardens and shed, which will be featured in one of my favorite magazines early spring 2013. Can't wait to see it.

Sunday and photographer Mark Lohman peer at the computer screen to make sure that a photo is perfectly composed, and that the light is right.

Mark focuses on my little garden shed "Sprig."

Sunday and Mark decide whether to turn one of my containers a bit for a better shot.

The better shot.

Mark is bent over his camera (upper left) focusing on a close-up. Sunday is moving plants and arranging my containers.

Is "Sprig's" door better open or closed?

Inside "Sprig."

Sunday shields Mark's camera from the sun's glare.

What began at about 7 A.M. is over by mid-afternoon. I'll let you know which magazine will be featuring "Sprig" and my container gardens this spring, but right now I am sworn to secrecy.

So now it is on to one of my favorite holidays...

Cookbooks out and at hand.

Apples simmering, cooking down to applesauce...

Herbs steeping in vinegars...

Wild rice and crimini mushrooms begin to bubble...

Sweet potato, apple, and cranberry slaw is dressed and set in the fridge to deepen flavors...

Jeff is making sweet potato chips with the Joyce Chen spiralizer, the same tool I used to make the slaw.

By now, it is late, late, and it has been a long day. We've made a few of the dishes ahead of time to lighten the burden of work on Thanksgiving (when our little kitchen will be jammed with people). 

I want to wish you a joy filled Thanksgiving with family and friends. As I gather ours close, I will be mindful of all the simple blessings in our lives. A roof over our heads, food, a bountiful garden, family, friends, and laughter. I wish the same for you.

Sending love across the miles,


P.S. Luke is not able to come home yet, but I was finally allowed to sit in a rocker and hold him. He is beautiful and now weighs over 7 pounds, but he is still fighting his way through some problems. 

Darla and Lori, I am always grateful for your kind words and prayers. Thank you!