Category Archives: Books

Regarding Thanksgiving

“Wake up now, look alive, for here is a day off work just to praise Creation: the turkey, the squash, and the corn, these things that ate and drank sunshine, grass, mud and rain, and then in the shortening days laid down their lives for our welfare and onward resolve. There’s the miracle for you, the absolute sacrifice that still holds back seeds: a germ of promise to do the whole thing again, another time.”

Barbara Kingslover,  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Thanksgiving celebrates the bounty of the growing season and provides a special day to offer thanks for the many other blessings in our lives.  What a perfect combination:  food from the garden and thankful hearts!

No matter where our food came from–the grocery store shelves or the organic farm, or perhaps our own backyard–Thanksgiving is the perfect time to pause and reflect on the growing season from start to end.  Here is the culmination of that season and all its elements: seed, soil, sun, water, and the gardener’s touch.  Praise God for that he gives us the chance to take part in the awesome process of providing sustenance for ourselves and the ones we love.

Happy Thanksgiving!



I really have no excuse for not knowing what to make for dinner. After all, this is my cookbook collection:

My cookbook and recipe storage shelf.

There must be a million or more dinner ideas right there on that shelf!

I simply love to page through a cookbook or magazine to check out recipes and read about food.  It’s a bit of an obsession.  I’ve come across others like me, people who read a cookbook like it’s a novel.  We can’t help it, we simply have a voracious appetite for recipes and food writing!

I can eat a bowl of processed macaroni and cheese while reading through a recipe for Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Olives and Lemon and it’s almost–almost–like I ate the chicken rather than the mac.  I can work through a recipe in my mind, tasting it along the way, imagining each element coming together and then visualize the final product.

I suppose this is like reading a book or watching a movie and feeling so swept into the world created by the author or director that you felt like you were there.

And then there are the clipped recipes from newspapers, magazines, websites, friends, family, etc. I’ve tried different methods for organizing and using them. It’s a work in progress which I’ll write more about another time since it warrants its own post.  Could I ever possibly use the 1,000’s of recipes I’ve collected?  Probably not.  But they provide me with ideas and inspiration.  Some of them I’ve had around for quite a while, they are like old friends.  I like to go back and visit them once in a while.  Often a recipe or idea that did not appeal to me before might hit me the right way another time and I end up cooking it.

This year, I’m making an extra effort to have my recipes ready for when the produce is picked in my garden.   There are so many new things I’d like to try, having my recipes ready lays the groundwork for successful and interesting meals.  No one can get bored when there are new tastes to try every day. 

Around here, you won’t hear us say “what are we going to do with ANOTHER zucchini?”; we have an arsenal of ideas for any garden veg that decides to go crazy. 

Bring it on, Garden of 2011–the cookbooks and I are waiting!

Picture Books in Winter

Picture Books In Winter

Summer fading, winter comes–
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs,
Window robins, winter rooks,
And the picture story-books.

Water now is turned to stone
Nurse and I can walk upon;
Still we find the flowing brooks
In the picture story-books.

All the pretty things put by,
Wait upon the children’s eye,
Sheep and shepherds, trees and crooks,
In the picture story-books.

We may see how all things are
Seas and cities, near and far,
And the flying fairies’ looks,
In the picture story-books.

How am I to sing your praise,
Happy chimney-corner days,
Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
Reading picture story-books?

Robert Louis Stevenson

More time indoors means more time spent in books, online and watching movies.  I do all of these things with my son and daughter.  We love to read books together–the more pictures the better!  Pictures and words can transport us from the cold, grey existence of a Wisconsin February to a myriad of places, times and circumstances.

This time of year I’m spending a lot of time looking at seed catalogs, gardening books, websites and magazines.  The colorful photos are inspiring and thinking about all those different fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers makes me happy.  I do feel a bit like a wide-eyed child enjoying a picture book and all the wonder of imagination it sparks.

Since I’ve begun gardening, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) cannot affect me.  I have found a way to cope with this season.  I have found peace in the fact that my garden needs the rest that winter provides.  I appreciate the time that I have to plan for the next season.  And I also find that having a winter makes spring, summer and fall that much more a thing to savor.  By the time the ice starts melting I’m more than ready to delve into another gardening season.  It’s the time off that makes the time on so much fun.

You know, life has seasons too.  Of course I’m not the first person to make this comparison.  But there are days that seem very cold, unproductive–sad even.  Other days may be warm and abundant, joyful!  And every kind of day in between.  I’ve experienced them all.  I’m guessing most people have.

So, how to cope with a wintry time of life?

Thanks be to God that all we have to do to remember the spring, summer and fall of our life is open up that old familiar book and dig in.  The Bible shines with all the SONshine we could ever need, giving us hope for our future and a reason to keep on going throughout our winters.

This reminds me.  Besides spending time in picture books with my kids this year, I’m going to spend more time in the Bible with them.  We have some really nicely illustrated children’s Bibles here at home.  Often, in the excitement to hear Mommy stumble through Fox in Socks (again…) the Bible books get passed over.  What an opportunity we are missing to let some SONshine in! 

Here’s to Winter!  The season that makes the other seasons–and God’s love–seem even more bright.  Thank you Winter for your quietness, your grayness and your coldness.  They are blessings too.

Beans: Really Slow Food


Tongue of Fire beans.

About a year ago, I decided I would grow some pretty little beans that would add color and interest to my garden.  I did not have a long-term plan for the actual dried beans, but I thought it might be nice to have them.

Now it is time to do something with these beans.  This is new territory for me, I’ve never cooked a dry bean in my life.  And like anyone who has nursed anything into existence, I’m a bit reluctant to get started for fear of messing something up.  After all, these beans have been a year in the making.

I first chose these beans from Johnny’s Seeds based on their lovely color photo and the promise that these Tongue of Fire beans retain their flavor no matter what you do with them, and could double as snap beans if I chose to pick them early.

I was pleasantly surprised when they poked out of the ground in early June, ahead of the other beans I had planted and much healthier looking.  They further pleased me by not being eaten by whatever ate the other beans.  I’m not sure if it was the sunny location, or the constant tending by my son, but these beans looked great for the entire season.  They were the beauties they promised to be.

Bean seedlings emerge, sharing space with marigolds and tomatoes.


I’ve decided on a recipe for Pasta and Bean Soup from We Called It Macaroni by Nancy Verde Barr.  This cookbook is written in such a way that it’s hard for me to stop reading Nancy’s personal stories and anecdotes.  I’m drawn to her simple Italian bean recipe by her memories of running her hand through the bags of dried beans at the local Italian market of her childhood.  She has a knowledge and love for beans!  How perfect.

I love this Italian American cookbook.


It’s a multi-step process to take beans from dried to mouth-watering.  And let’s not forget the months already spent growing the beans, the weeks drying them, and the time they’ve spent on my pantry shelf awaiting this day.

Out of the jar and ready for action.


There is so much to love about these beans.  Each bean has its own unique design, and the colors are terrific.  (Please forgive some of these photos… apparently a snow storm is not the best time to photograph food in natural light.)

Pretty beans.


I have to admit I had some fun playing with these beans in their dried form.


Now that I’ve had my fun making bean arrangements and photographing them, it’s time to begin the bean bath.  Dried beans need to be soaked overnight, or they can be subjected to the “quick soak” method which involves heat and less time soaking.  For my purposes, overnight soaking worked just fine.

Following the overnight soak, they were drained, put in a pot with cold water to cover 2 inches and a bay leaf, brought to a boil and then simmered for an hour.  I couldn’t resist stealing a few from the pot here and there and calling it a “taste test”.

The cooked beans had a pleasant texture and great bean flavor.

Soaking and cooking the beans.


Now the beans were ready for the recipe, twenty-four hours after I pulled them out of the pantry and one year since I purchased the seeds to grow them.

Beans were added to the Bean and Pasta Soup, then served with a smile. Delicious!


I think the lesson here is that sometimes slow is good, really good.  In a world where we are accustomed to instant gratification, it seems odd to wait so long for a bowl of bean soup.  It might even be kind of backwards if I thought about it too much.  I could probably buy a bowl of bean soup for $2.00 at the local deli.  Instead, I’m sure I spent at least that much on the envelope of seeds.  I had to use garden space and water to grow the beans.  It took time and energy.  Cooking them involved even more time, the purchase of a few ingredients, and of course that dreaded chore: cleaning up the kitchen and dirty dishes.  It was an effort that seems a bit out of proportion to the result.

Or was it?  As a gardener, I get so much satisfaction out of eating something I grew.  Especially when it turns out so well.  As a mom, I am able to glean so many lessons from the simple task of making this soup.  My kids know how a bean grows, they know what a bean–both raw and cooked–tastes like.  They know the joy of running their hands through a bowl of dried beans, just like Nancy Verde Barr remembers from her own childhood.  They know that God gives us the resources we need to provide for ourselves and our bodies, if we will just put in the effort.  They help with measuring, stirring, “taste tests” and serving the final product.

We pray over this bowl of soup: “Come Lord Jesus, be our Guest; and let these gifts to us be blest. Amen.” 

We look outside, where a five-foot snow drift rests against our patio door.  How awesome is it to enjoy something from the garden on a particularly wintry day when I can’t even walk out the door if I wanted to?  It is awesome indeed. 

It was worth the wait!

Peter Rabbit

A page from our family's copy of this beloved storybook.

Garden enjoyment can take place any day of the year and in so many varied ways.  Sometimes, when I can’t get out in my garden, a book can be just the thing.  Young and old alike have cherished Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, both the stories and the unforgettable artwork.  It happens to be a favorite around here.

My children love to color.  I found some nice Peter Rabbit coloring pages for them work on:  Kids-n-Fun Coloring Pages.

Here is a very sweet narration of the beloved story, by a two-year old!  I especially love that it features music by Yo Yo Ma.  (This has to be viewed on the YouTube site, click my link to be directed.)

Here is another adaption, which combines live action and animation. 

And the second half of it:

Winter days needn’t be dreary.  There are so many wonderful stories and books with beautiful illustrations–Peter Rabbit is just one of them.  It’s fun to lose myself in Mr. McGregor’s garden with Peter.  And I love sharing this garden, and the many others in books, with my children.

Coloring Books

Now here’s something for the kids!  We love Dover coloring books, and it looks like they have a nice selection of garden themed coloring and activity books this year. 

I usually order directly from Dover, but many  titles can also be found on Amazon.

Coloring a garden can be a perfect antidote to winter’s monotone-ness.

Visit to see the huge selection of coloring books for kids.