Cooking from the garden


Vegetable gardening is always a mixed bag of success. One year you get buckets of tomatoes, the next year just a handful, but enough green beans to feed the neighborhood. Never count your vegetables until after the harvest. 

 After years of his vegetable garden, my husband seems to have discovered the secret to successfully cultivating green peppers. At least this year. I’m calling it benign neglect. We came home from a two-week trip to South Carolina and picked a bucket full. That’s more than we’ve ever had, but that was just one load. The pepper plants have continued to produce. So, we have had fajitas and stuffed peppers, which I had actually not made before. (Sorry, no pictures — they tasted great but were not remotely photogenic.) Here’s my current pepper stash (along with a few tomatoes and one lonely lime). 


I’m told I can just chop peppers up and freeze them to use later in soups and stews this winter. I’m going to give this a try. 

But basil is another story

When all else fails, the basil keeps coming. And coming. For that reason it’s fun to grow, but then what to do with it? Crank up the pesto machine. 


I made my first pesto last year. In the past when recipes called for a dab of pesto to finish off a soup, etc., I just used some from the grocery store. However, as I have learned more (and experimented more) with adding layers of flavor to my cooking, I’ve begun to appreciate this flavor booster.

Last year I made a small-ish batch of pesto and froze it by dropping tablespoon-sized dollops on a parchment-lined sheet pan, freezing them quickly, then storing the frozen tablespoons in a plastic container. I pulled the pesto out by the “tablespoon” as needed. What a great resource! It didn’t take up much freezer space at all and it was perfect to put a finishing touch on soup or add extra flavor to bruschetta.


This year I’m upping my pesto game with bigger batches. Right now I have one jar in the fridge and 4 more in the freezer for friends. We have so much basil, I’m sure I’ll make anther batch to freeze the tablespoon measures for this winter.

We’re calling this Porch Pasta

This recipe is a good example of cooking from the garden or the farmer’s market. It uses fresh tomatoes and zucchini along with the pesto.


I browned a pound of mild Italian sausage and added a zucchini that I had quartered the long way, then cut into half-inch dice. I stirred this combo around a bit until the zucchini was just lightly browned, then added a cup of roughly diced fresh tomatoes. While I was working on this I also cooked a box of rigatoni in a large pot of boiling water, just until al dente. I saved a cup of the pasta water (in case I needed it to loosen up the sauce), then drained the pasta and added it to the sausage/zucchini/tomato mixture. Depending on how much pasta you want, you may or may not use all the rigatoni. (I aim for the pasta to be about half of this dish. You may like more.) Next I added a generous tablespoon — make that two — of pesto.

The pesto adds a bit of creaminess to the pasta as well as flavor. I think the sausage and the pesto flavor the dish perfectly without blunting the freshness of the tomatoes and zucchini. But you could add a pinch of red pepper flakes to the browning sausage. With a green salad on the side, this was a simple and really fresh supper.

No pesto but still delicious

GreenBeanCapreseFinally, friends stopped by late Sunday afternoon for a casual supper and I served this Green Bean Caprese Salad  with burgers. The recipe is from Chris at The Cafe Sucre Farine  (whom you should be following whether you like to cook or just have to sometimes). She also included the recipe for lemon-basil oil to use as a light dressing. This salad was a big hit and such a welcome change from potato salad and/or baked beans. Plus, isn’t it pretty? 

And that wraps up August. I always consider this month bittersweet. Summer is sadly winding down but school is starting and I always loved that anticipation. August 31st was my favorite uncle’s birthday. Bill would have been 102 this year. (Yikes!) He taught me to swing a bat, ice skate and even can tomatoes. His simple, straightforward faith carries me along on the toughest days. He’s been gone for a long time, but then again he’s always with me.

Thanks for stopping by. Have a great week, and I’ll see you again soon!

A day at the (art) museum

BisaDetailHi. Before I say another word, I need to apologize for my last post. “Good Stuff” probably arrived in your inbox riddled with typos and crazy mixed up type. I can’t believe this happened, but I hit publish instead of review. And out it went. I’m so embarrassed. I realized my mistake immediately, but it was too late. I did clean up the mess on my website, so if you read the post at, you saw the corrected version. 

On with today’s post. I’m so excited to share this. 

Earlier this week I met two of my best-ever friends (the kind from the first day of high school!) downtown at Chicago’s Art Institute. Our goal was to see the Obama presidential portraits and then hopefully take in another exhibit on quilts. It turned out to be quite a day. 

The Obama portraits were more interesting in person that we expected. Like us, you have probably already seen them in the media. They are not typical presidential portraits. The artists — Kehinde Wiley for former President Barrack Obama and Amy Sherald for former First Lady Michele Obama — are the first African Americans commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to create official portraits of a president or first lady.  

Mr. Obama’s pose was familiar — seated, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, as if he’s ready to engage with the viewer. The portrait is really large, commanding even, and maybe a little imposing. I’ve been curious about the leafy background since the painting was revealed. The artist used it to work in flowers representative of places in the president’s life, including Chicago, Hawaii, and his father’s native Africa.


Mrs. Obama’s portrait is also non-traditional. I imagine most viewers are initially struck by her gray skin, a trademark of the artist. According to the Art Institute, Sherald  does this “as a nod to these historical photographs and a reminder of the relative absence of African Americans in the history of painted portraits, but also to relieve her subjects from the internal and external limits imposed by the construct of race.” Interesting, huh? The hair, the expression, and the African-inspired fabric of her dress are all very much Michelle Obama. And purposeful. Interestingly, the background on her portrait is just blue. The blank but colorful background is another hallmark of artist Sherald.


Chicago was just the first stop for these portraits.  They’re traveling on to the Brooklyn Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, High Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Bisa Butler’s portrait quilts

I’m not sure what we expected from this exhibit, but it wasn’t close to as extraordinary as these quilts proved to be. Artist Bisa Butler constructs her quilt portraits from bits and pieces of fabric, from the finest details of a facial expression to the puffiest sleeve on a dress. I tried to show some of the detail in the first photo, above. 

Although each work is strictly fabric, she approaches each piece as she would a painting, often working from a found photograph and selecting fabrics as an artist selects paint pigments. Butler incorporates kente cloth and wax-printed African fabrics in her quilts, using bright jewel tones rather than more traditional shades to depict skin tones. She believes this conveys the emotions of her subjects —who may be everyday people or historical figures. Look at the range of expression on the faces of the children in this quilt, Safety Patrol, which opened the exhibit (and knocked our socks off from the start.). 


This quilt is based on an old photograph. The tulle on the hats is a three-dimensional addition. I love how naturally the women are posed.


We were struck by the detail on the mother’s dress. Once again, the pose is so natural. Look st Dad, holding his daughter still


I love the fabric layering and detail in each quilt and the remarkably life-like poses. (Look at the feet in each quilt!) I have always considered quilting as a precious part of our American heritage: a necessity for frugal homemakers to use what they had and an evolving craft reflecting historical moments as well as an art form. Bisa Butler’s work redefines the medium.  I’ve spent a lot of time studying these images, trying to grasp both her vision as she approaches each quilt and then the skill and artistry to select and assemble the fabrics.

That’s all I have right now. I hope you are having a good week. Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you again soon.   

Good stuff! 


Are you keeping cool? It’s hot and humid here, a good day to stay inside with a good book or maybe an organization project. Here are some bits & pieces I’ve been thinking about lately. 

This hat

I’ve been on the hunt for the right summer hat for years it seems. Something to shade my face, but not look like Scarlett O’Hara. Something that stays on my head but is more attractive than a baseball cap (my usual go-to). As a bonus, something that would work beyond the beach would be great. Thanks to a tip from Cindy Hattersley (check out her blog here and her Instagram here for serious inspiration) I ordered this hat by Wallaroo on Amazon. It’s perfect. I rolled it up & stuffed it into my backpack for our flights, and it readily snapped right back into shape. It’s cool and comfortable, with a drawstring inside the brim to tweak the fit. It came in a ton of colors. I ordered mine in this mid-brown, kind of tweedy look that goes with everything. Now, I’m thinking of a second one,  but I’ll have to start all over picking a color. 

Dressed up mac & cheese 

MaCheeseGood old mac & cheese is showing up on menus everywhere, often gussied up with lobster or shrimp, you name it. I previewed a menu at a Kiawah restaurant and read a review that raved about their mac & cheese side. (Southern cooks really do love their sides, with everything from a sandwich to fried chicken.) So, I ordered it. One taste quickly won me over, and my husband — who foolishly ordered fries with his pulled pork sandwich — accepted my offer of a taste and kept coming back for more! 

This was three-cheese mac with fresh basil. So now, of course, we experimented  here. I started with Ina Garten’s recipe for mac & cheese from Barefoot Contessa Family Style. She uses freshly shredded cheddar and Gruyerre. (I also used cavatappi instead of regular mac, per Ina.) Then once we got the cheese sauce on the cooked mac, we filled a ramekin with the cheesy mac and added basil chiffonade until we got the right taste. (We actually dumped the ramekin of mac into a bowl and then added basil for easy mixing and tasting.)  We  used 3/4 cup of fresh basil chiffonade per recipe to get the right flavor mix.  That’s a lot of basil, but we think we nailed it. I’m looking forward to serving it soon. (Plus, anything served in an individual ramekin is just so cool! )

These shoes

ShoesI love these shoes — this is my third pair. They are Tulip by Ilse Jacobsen. I bought my first pair, in a bright pinky-red, to take along on a trip to Europe as my alternative walking shoes. They were so comfortable I wore them almost every day on  a four-week trip thru France, walking over cobblestones, city streets and everything in between. The uppers are made from recycled microfiber; the outsole is natural rubber, and they are stitched, not glued. My only complaint was that by the next summer they were beginning to show some dirt that I just couldn’t clean off. I solved that problem by buying another pair in black; the red ones became my go-get-the-mail, water the yard, run to the store shoes. I’d been thinking of another pair this year, maybe in blue (to wear with jeans). But I found this green or mayube khaki color while on vacation. The saleswoman suggested they may be more versatile and I think she’s right. You can find them at Nordstrom, Zappos, Soft Surroundings or lots of independent shoe stores, which is where I got mine. 

What I read on the beach

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz is about Jacob Finch Bonner, a once promising novelist with a now floundering career teaching in a minor writing program at a remote college. Bonner borrows the can’t -miss plot of a former student who has died, develops it into a New York Times bestseller, now destined for the big screen. Not only has he found fame and fortune, he’s also found his soulmate. Life is good — until he begins to get mysterious messages accusing him of stealing the plot. This is a page-turner with an interesting take on writing, publishing, and especially social media with a cool twist at the end. 

Then I read The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. It’s on bestseller and “must read” list everywhere. My book group discussed it last week. The Vignes sisters are identical twins growing up together in a small, Southern Black community who run away at age 16. They stick together, struggling to find work and keep a roof over their heads until Stella discovers she can pass as white and, essentially, runs away again to create a new life. Desiree maintains her racial identity and, after years away, returns to her hometown with her daughter. What does it cost Stella to maintain her lifelong secret? And what does it cost Desiree to come back home?  Theire’s a lot to think about and discuss  here.

So, that’s the good stuff. I hope you enjoyed and I look forward to seeing you again soon. Thanks for stopping by.

Thirty years at Kiawah

FullSizeRender-5 2I tried writing from vacation on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, but to be honest I was just too “checked out” to focus on blogging. Usually our family beach week is too short for much of anything but a few stray Instagram posts; this year Steve & I spent a second, full week after the rest of the family headed home. It was frankly a self-indulgent, post-pandemic reward and we loved it.

We sometimes forget how long we’ve been coming to South Carolina. My son pointed out that we first came when he was twelve. Now he’s forty-two. (I have no idea how thast happened!) I guess thst makes it a serious tradition. We’ve missed a few years and occasionaly have come just the two of us. This year my daughter had a big work project so she had to pass. However, my son and daughter-in-law and our two grandsons were here with us the first week.

A lot of families find a home-away-from-home escape. Here in Chicagolond it’s often a beach in Michigan or a cottage in Wisconsin. We just happened to find Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Sometimes we came after family reunions in Atlanta or before visiting Grandma in Washington, D.C. We have stopped in Asheville and the Smokies, but this is always the destination. Are we boring? In a rut?

We liked the beach, which is long and broad and seems only vaguely crowded at high tide. There are no boom boxes or jet skis.


There’s a lot of beach chill’in.


And, some years, some very sandy play.


I took my camera along one morning on a walk to get coffee and a bagel.  Beyond the beach the the island is densely wooded with palms, palmettos and live oaks.



Kiawah Island was originally cleared and turned into a rice plantation. Eventually, however, the plantation was largely abandoned and the pines and live oaks took over. It was a fertile hunting ground until it was again privately acquired and strict environmental covenants were put in place to preserve the area.

The island is peppered with lagoons like this one. They’re pretty and they also support a lot of the wildlife. The sign in the lower left warms visitors not to feed alligators. (We saw at least one that lived here.)


This deer greeted us on a walk back from the beach.


Our son and daughter both have a healthy respecrt for nature, and I’m sure it comes at least in part from their time spent here. In addition to the obvious birds, deer and alligators, we’ve come across sea turtles on their early morning trek to the ocean. Naturalist-led trips in kayaks and canoes have opened their eyes to the plant and animal life and its threats.

Despite its reputation as a golf destination (the PGA tournament was just held on its Ocean Course), this is very much a family destination. Most accommodations are in cottages, villas or private homes. The only hotel, The Sanctuary, faces onto the Atlantic. Its generous stretch of ocean-side lawn is a sundown magnet for spontaneous soccer games, bubbles and adult conversation. This is especially true on Saturday nights when there is also live music. You can’t see it in this photo, but off to the right several couples took advantage of the live music for a little dancing. And off to the left, at the far edge of the lawn, soccer and frisbee shared the green space.


We often stop at the Sanctuary bar, for the people-watching as well as a drink. (And the charcuterie is pretty good, too!)


Here’s a view of the same bar early in the day. I just love the “clubby” feel of leather and dark wood combined with the  pond yachts and sweetgrass baskets on the wall. (Remember my sweetgrass affliction here?)


This broader shot of the adjacent lobby/lounge shows off more small seating areas to accomodate conversation, reading, and the occasional card game. It’s just very gracious. The ocean is right outside those beautiful windows, but there are no cheesy nets, buoys, or mounted fish to be found.


One of the things I first fell in love with here all those years ago was that everyone pretty much traveled by bicycle. This was at the height of my car-pooling summers when I spent entire mornings, it seemed, dropping off and picking up kids at camps and lessons. The first week we spent here I never got back in the car after we arrived! (Full disclosure: my husband left once or twice for groceries.) We still laugh about the post-dinner rides we took for ice cream, riding back along dark bike paths.


It’s reassuring that after 30 years, the bicycling tradition continues, and the beach remains pristine. There are more houses now and a very welcome grocery store, along with a few non-chain restaurants and boutiques, just off the island. But the essential character is unchanged.  I think that may be one of the things that keeps us coming back.

So, that’s where I spent the last few weeks. Now we’re home, weeding the garden, resuscitating plants that took a hit in  the heat wave here, and wondering what to do with a dozen cucumbers and almost as many green peppers harvested from my husband’s vegetable patch.

Have a great week! See you next time.