Savoring the Last of the Tomatoes: Homemade Pizza Margherita

September 20th, 2015 § 8 comments § permalink

The last of the tomatoes leave me wanting but ‘oh so ready’ for the fruits of a fall harvest.  End of summer tomatoes around here are a bit tart but still carry a lingering taste of the summer sun.  These do, however, need a bit of a coaxing before their flavor pops.  Fall tomatoes can be used in a quick mid-week pizza when nothing seems to be going right and the body craves some carbo-comfort.  Enjoy and savor while they last.

pizza margherita

The recipe is simple as it needs to be. Pizza Margherita is about ingredients, not fancy style.

I used the classic and easy “No Knead” pizza dough from Jim Lahey. It is my current standard. It is thin and crispy with just enough chewiness to satiate my need for a good crust.  The only adaptations I make are to add a tablespoon of honey to add a nice sweetness in the background and perhaps a splash of wine or hot pepper juice.  Oh yes, I pre-cook it at 500 for a few minutes (10-15 min) to firm it up so it is not undercooked in my little apartment oven.  If you have an old oven as I do, this is muy importante. This dough is nice to make on a Sunday (perhaps a double batch if you have a fam to feed) and stick in the fridge in a bowl or plastic baggie to pull out what you need at night during the week.

This might enable a week-long pizza fest in your home.  Not that I would know about that, really.

Homemade Pizza Margherita

Roast a few tomatoes in the oven at 350 for a half an hour or so with a few cloves of garlic, a sprinkling of salt, a few sprigs of thyme and a good dousing with your favorite olive oil.

Turn up the oven to 500 and get it up there good!

Lay out a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet. No, it is not as authentic as using a stone.  I deal.

Take tomatoes and garlic out of the oven and smash them all over your pre-baked pizza crust.

pizza, getting the tomatoes

Dust with some romano cheese, hot pepper seeds if you like the heat (yes!), and some shredded cheese. I use a mozzarella/provolone mix.


Slide the goodness in the oven at 500 until the top is bubbling but not browned.


Snuggle up on your couch. Eat.  Need I say more?



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Turkish Mezze and a Shepherd’s Salad

August 16th, 2015 § 4 comments § permalink

Cold MezzeI love a good mezze! Or antipasto as Italians call it. And Shepherd’s Salad? Perfect for summertime.

Why Americans have not adopted the idea of mezze is one I shall rue until the day I die. Mezze, coming from the Turkish meze “taste, flavour, snack, relish”, borrowed from the Persian مزه (mazze “taste, snack” < mazīdan “to taste”)(Wikipedia, “mezze”) is a series of cold and/or hot dishes that precede a meal in Turkey or sometimes serve as a meal or snack in themselves.

In short, you get all the flavors in one meal. Never boring!

Long lunches where cheerful colors greet you with a bright hello and whose flavors are as varied as the conversations that flow into the languid afternoon are truly the authentic Turkish delight. Your palate rejoices at the visitation of so many little foods that it is hard to image eating just a tub of hummus and pita chips without the bitter bite of olive or briny feta cutting through the nutty but sweet tahini. Foods complement each other when eaten in tandem and the Turks have mastered this interplay.


Summer salad of cucumber, tomato, onion and purslane dressed in olive oil and lemon. It is great to see purslane, often considered just a weed around here, used in salad.


Cold and hot mezze in a buffet. Note the liberal use of yogurt and fresh vegetables.

A mezze in Turkey would often include ezme (hot pepper compote, often with walnuts), any variety of beyaz peynir (white cheeses), haydari or cacik (yogurt dips), dolma (stuffed grape leaves with rice and spices), olives, lentil kofte (cold lentil balls), pickled vegetables, shredded vegetable salads, cold seafood or sliced tomato. These were the most common but then there are hot mezze which is a whole other post. It was such a fresh and delicious way to start a meal. In most cases, if food hadn’t been already coming, it would have been enough as it was. Ahhhh.


Some different types of olives from around Turkey.

grilled peppers and tomatoes

Mezze can include warm dishes such as grilled peppers and tomatoes though they may also be served aside grilled meats.

Turkish Shepard's Salad

My homemade cold mezze platter: Yogurt sprinkled with sumac, shepherd ‘s salad with sheep’s feta, refrigerator pickles, green olives, hummus and pita chips.

Today I would like to introduced to you the Shepherd’s Salad. Most often served after the mezze in sit down restaurants, we often ate it with the little bites of food. At home, it seems to fit right in with our idea of eating a side salad but can also accompany small bites as well. Shepard’s Salad at the barebones minimum was served to us as chopped cucumber and tomato and then oil and vinegar were given as a dressing. Outside of that it may include onion, green peppers, parsley, mint and sometimes white cheese such as feta crumbled in. I am speculating that if I was a shepard out in the pasture I would chop up whatever I had and eat it which is most likely the idea behind this salad. Ohh, I got a tomato and cucumber, cool, let’s grab this wild onion and little tasty herbs I see growing in the field too! Boom, salad for a shepherd.

So here is my favorite version. It is simple but flavorful. This summer I have eaten in more days than not since returning from Turkey. The best kind of tomato for this salad is not a fancy, juicy heirloom for the most part. Save that for the caprese. We are looking for a meaty one. This is where your everyday garden variety round red tomato works best. Roma or paste tomatoes are ok, too. Cucumbers such as persians or english seedless are best since the skins are thinner and there is more flesh and is less seedy as well. It is also a great base if you need to feed a crowd. The other day I wanted to stretch what I had for a few days (end of the month broke) so I tossed it with a few cups of whole wheat couscous and it was still good.

I really hope you enjoy my little piece of Turkey. If you find yourself really into Turkish cuisine you should check out the Turkish Cultural Foundation’s food site. It is extremely comprehensive.

Shepard's Salad

Turkish Shepherd’s Salad

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Serves: 2 if eaten as a nice sized meal, 4-6 as a side

Turkish Shepherd’s Salad


  • 2 cups of diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups of diced seedless or persian cucumber
  • 1/2 cup of crumbled sheep milk feta (Valbreso Feta is exquisite and well priced at any Middle Eastern store-better than on Amazon.)
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp sumac (great price on Amazon if you don't have a Middle Eastern or Indian store around)
  • 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil (I am using a kalamata olive oil from Trader Joe's right now that is perfect with this salad)
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • salt to taste


  1. Gently toss the tomatoes, cucumber and herbs with the olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar. Add sumac and salt to taste. Crumble in feta cheese and serve immediately. The salad can be refrigerated and will last a few days alright covered.

It is nice served with Pita bread. When isn't something better with carbs?



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Wanderings in Turkey: A Travel Blog

August 4th, 2015 § 1 comment § permalink

Anzac, Gallipoli, Turkey

Silence is the language of God. All else is poor translation. -Rumi

I was kind of tickled that Rumi as so many of the Desert Fathers seem to agree with my blogging style. Best not to clog the internet pipes with my chatter unless there is something to share, no? 😉

So, where have I been?? Well, I recently had the blessing of spending two weeks traveling across Turkey with the Turkish Cultural Foundation who funded a trip for a group of teachers to learn and come back and share all of the beauty of the country not only to our students but whomever we can. Since I am so lucky to be reaching all of you, I am so glad you can travel virtually with me.

Let me tell you, Turkey blew me away! It was nothing I expected but everything I hoped it would be. Stunning topography met generous people all in a place that is a walking Unesco World Heritage Site. Crazy! The amount of ancient civilizations, Greek, Roman, Byzantine ruins and Ottoman architecture in this one country was insane.

The food? Just wait. I have a more than a few recipes to share with you that are healthy, delicious and simple to make. They will transport you there in just a few minutes in some cases! But, heck, if Turkey remains a stable country, there is no doubt that their already large tourism industry will grow steadily (And the good and bad that go along with that.) and you will want to be a part of that. Maybe you can share with me!

What is to come? In the spirit of Turkish food, I will keep the first few simple, Shepard’s Salad, some discussion on yogurt, a few syrup soaked desserts and a recipe for green beans that will transform how you think of this simple legume.

I imagine in the future there will be more as Turkish spices are slowly becoming part of my culinary repertoire but since it is summer we are keeping it simple and fresh.

Today I will leave you with a visual and informative trip to a few of the most beautiful sites in this stunning country. Welcome to Turkey, a travel blog for the next few weeks. This week we will revisit Turkey through their food and learn to make the ubiquitous and delicious Shepard’s Salad.




Shrouded on the Holy Road, Ephesus

Shrouded in, Ephesus, Turkey. Note, I did not cover for Islamic modesty reasons as in a mosque but ancient Christians as well as some modern Catholics still veil at mass and in holy places. If not on the stone of the footsteps of Mary and the Apostles, where??? :)

Kusadasi, Turkey

Some of the group relaxing in Kusadasi, Turkey. To the right the Aegean Sea sparkles at sunset but there is beauty right here to see. What kind and inspirational teachers I had the pleasure to be around!

Cat on pIllar, Ephesus

Cat on pillar, Ephesus, Turkey. Cats and dogs are typically tagged, given vaccines and set lose to live among the people. It is not as common to see animals, especially dogs, in homes but they are well loved.

Tower of Galata in reflection of hotel restaurant

Tower of Galata in the Romanesque style, built by the Genoese, in the reflection of the hotel restaurant, Istanbul, Turkey.

Cistern, Istanbul

Basilica Cistern, Istanbul, Turkey. There used to be a Basilica on this spot. Then that got torn down. the pillars you see here were taken from other classical era buildings. This brilliant structure was used to store water that came in from the aqueducts outside the city. They are gorgeous and it always amazing me how intelligent and invention this was! Now it is holding water due to leaking.

House of Mary

Statue of Mary, Meryem Ana Evi (House of Mary), outside of Ephesus near Şirince, Turkey. The bible traces the last days of Mary to those of St. John the Apostle which historically were in Ephesus where the grave of St. John lies. The specific whereabouts of her house were revealed in a dream to Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, a Roman Catholic visionary and nun. Being that it is a private revelation, the Church does not negate nor accept this but it is a popular site for pilgrimage.

Cora Church Mosaics in Dome

Mosaic of the Christos (Christ) in the dome of The Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, Istanbul. Istanbul is not only home to the Hagia Sophia which is world renowned but this stunning Byzantine church. Once a church, then a mosque, now a museum.

Topkapi Palace with view of Bosphorus Strait

One thing the Ottoman empire was not was monastic. The opulence of Topkapi Palace and the view were striking. Serving as the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for over 400 years, it houses a few harem rooms (ahem), gardens and a large kitchen building where a myriad of delicacies including Sherbert drinks were made for the royalty and their guests. This shot overlooks the geographically important Bosphorus strait where today freight ships are always moving through. It was and is a major route for trade.

Hagia Sophia from the street, Istanbul

Street view of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey. The Hagia Sophia (or Holy Wisdom/St. Sophia) was once a Byzantine church, then a mosque and now a museum. It was and perhaps still is one of the monuments that stirs the souls of people from many religions.


Here we have the Caravanserai Sultanhani at Askaray from the medieval Seljuk times.These were ancient motels for groups traveling with their goods across Turkey. You can tie up your camel, have a bite to eat and share stories with the other travelers. Pretty cool, huh. They also kept you safe from raiders with their high walls. The last stop in Turkey on the silk road was Bursa and today you can find a caravanserai turned into a large and beautiful silk market. You can curse me but I bought a cashmere scarf there.


Just another hill, huh? Well, that is what you are supposed to think. At the tippy top you see a window or doorway looking over the land. These are the homes and churches in the Göreme Valley in the Cappadocia region. This region is full of tufa which is a soft volcanic stone that is easy (er) to carve into. This, coupled with the Jenga like stone structures make it the perfect place for monastic hermits to find respite from the world. Over 300 little chapels/churches and tiny homes can be found all over the region.  Need a secret hideaway? You may have to fight me for one. ;)

Pammukkale, Turkey

These natural “snow” covered rocks are actually formed by the calcium rich thermal waters at Pammukkale. The waters bubble up and stream their soothing waters all over the park, leaving deposits that shimmer in the sun as well as pockets of water that make for lovely wading pools. Originally, the waters were a holiday destination dating back to Roman times, now, hotels stud the area where people can bath in the medicinal water and smother their aching muscles with the mineral rich mud.

Central Anatolia

Many people in the Central Anatolian interior have their own cows and sheep to make milk and cheese. This area is also the “bread basket” of Turkey.


Eight underground stories of homes, wineries, stables and stores make up the city of Derinkuyu in Cappadocia. Around 20,000 people lived, prayed and breathed (uhhhhh) in this slightly claustrophobic area. I guess if I was being persecuted for my Christian faith and needed to go underground I could make it work too. Right?

Eye over Cappadocia

The Turkish nazar or boncuğu is found everywhere in Turkey. Thought to ward off the evil eye or bad thoughts from people, it is a very popular amulet that some take more seriously than others. This tree overlooks Göreme valley and sits outside some stores where one can purchase their fill of protective amulets.

Turkish rug

Yeah. I am a sucker. I bought a rug in Turkey. We all were treated to a tour where we saw silk spun, weavers hand tie their knots and were promised the women were paid fair wages. Then they came with the tea, the wine, the raki and the skilled salesmen started throwing out gorgeous rugs before us like a visual cornucopia. Think I can afford a real silk rug? Wrong. This one is wool on cotton and is still my biggest splurge to date. I am happy. :)


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The Best From-Scratch Tomato Marinara & How to Blanch a Fresh Tomato

June 16th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

-An excerpt from Canticle of Brother Sun, St. Francis of Assisi

Man do I love Francis of Assisi. His passion and insight into nature touches us all, regardless of religion. With summer rolling forward and school over for the moment, it is time to embrace the fruits of sister mother earth that sustain us, in their purest, because we can.

It is difficult to want to cook inside right now, layering flavor upon flavor, slaving over a hot stove not because the bounty is not inspiring nor the flavors fascinating, but because on their own or barely dressed the fruits of summer are so very perfect. In this part of my world, the flavors of the fruits of the earth explode on the tongue in a passionate dance. Tomatoes are coming and when they do, you have a mission. Eat them in their simplest form with me!

If I am not eating a tomato sliced in half liberally sprinkled with some sea salt, there are some nice and easy ways to highlight the bright flavors of this delightful fruit that are worth the time.

Last summer I used some nice Amish reds and canned tomato soup with a delicious (though technically not canning approved…so I won’t taunt you much more) heirloom recipe from a coworker that was creamy and delicious.

Every summer I go crazy for Tomato and Mozzarella di Bufala Caprese Salad made with hearty beefsteaks and fresh Mozzarella di Bufala or cream-filled Burrata from Pennsylvania Macaroni in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. Oh to die for!

Extra plum tomatoes make for a beautiful Creamy Fire Roasted Tomato Soup served with a thick and generous cut of chewy, crusty rustic bread from Bread & Salt.

And if you find yourself with some extra, you can roast some nice cherry tomatoes. This way they are perfect to smother all over a pizza crust or toss with a nice linguine. They also freeze nicely in a ziploc bag, air squeezed out and doused in a green and vibrant olive oil. This I do every year to enjoy the fresh taste the year round.

Now one recipe I do use the tomato for year round is pasta sauce. I have tried and developed many sauces over years, including my families’ own heritage recipe and must say that this sauce, if used with whole plum tomatoes, fresh or fresh-canned, is one of the best and seriously sublime. Silky, fresh flavors are best served with a wider noodle, sprinkled with some Pecorino Romano cheese for a touch of salt and brine and a wedge of focaccia to sop us any leftover juices. You won’t want to leave any behind, trust me.

In keeping with the heart of the canticle of Francis of Assisi let us respect the sustainability of the tomato and the laws that nature puts in place to guard our overconsumption and if we can, let us use homegrown or farmer’s market tomatoes for this project. They are the best tasting and the most likely to have been grown using a respect for nature in mind.

This truly is the best from-scratch tomato marinara sauce I have every developed and it stems from its lack of development. Enjoy!



The Best From-Scratch Tomato Marinara & How to Blanch a Fresh Tomato

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Serves: Makes about a little over a quart of finished sauce

The Best From-Scratch Tomato Marinara & How to Blanch a Fresh Tomato


  • 1 28 ounce can of whole plum tomatoes in their juices or 10-12 (about 2 pounds) freshly blanched plum tomatoes (see instructions below), skins removed
  • 1/2 an onion
  • 3 sprigs of thyme or about 2 tsp
  • 2 Tbsp butter and 2 Tbsp of a nice bright and verdant extra virgin olive oil
  • sea or kosher salt to taste
  • a pinch or two of crushed red pepper flakes to dress if you wish
  • 12 oz box of whole wheat linguini or pasta of choice


  1. Sift through your tomatoes. Make sure that there are no hard bits. Chop off ends where the tomato was attached to the vine. Place tomatoes, juices and onion in blender. Puree until they form a nice crushed consistency, relatively smooth with consistently sized pieces throughout.
  2. In a small dutch oven or large saucepan, add butter, oil and thyme. Heat thyme with butter until sizzling.
  3. Add tomato and onion mixture. Heat over medium until warmed through, or about 10 minutes.
  4. Add a 1/4 tsp salt. Keep adding salt, 1/4 a tsp at a time until the flavors of the tomato burst. Salt can really make the difference, bringing out the flavor of the tomato so don't skip this part. I can add anywhere from 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp depending on the tomato and how much cheese I wish to add. This is something you really want to develop a taste for.
  5. In a larger pan, bring about 8 quarts of water and a pinch of salt to a rolling boil. Add pasta and cook according to the time on the box.
  6. Drain pasta and add to sauce in pan. Toss. Serve in bowls with cheese and red pepper seeds (optional). I like it hot.
  7. How to blanch your tomatoes - Assemble your tomatoes. Wash them to make sure they are free of dirt and mud. Score the skin of each tomato by making an "x" on the end of the tip of the plum tomato (the end that was not connected to the vine).
  8. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  9. Add tomatoes to the pot of boiling water and keep in for about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.
  10. Take out one by one and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Remove one at a time and peel. The skins should come off relatively easy now.
  11. Place peeled tomatoes in another bowl to wait to be used in this delicious recipe. They may be refrigerated for a few days or frozen this way.



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Homemade Vanilla: The Legacy and The Recipe

April 29th, 2015 § 10 comments § permalink

Ah, vanilla.  A baker’s gold.  Have you ever wondered how vanilla extract came to be?  I did.  My curiosity as to what was in the little bottle at the store and what made it so darn EXPENSIVE led me here to share this experiment and history with you. If you love to bake, crafting your own homemade vanilla will be one of the best things you ever did.

Homemade Vanilla:  The Starter

Homemade Vanilla: The Starter

According to the sources used in the Wikipedia article on vanilla, this intoxicating flavoring comes from a pod that grows on the plants of the orchid genus Vanilla.[1]  (See my picture from Phipps Conservatory  below!)  This plant was originally cultivated in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica by the Aztecs and was called tlilxochitl. [2]

Additionally, if you enjoy mythology you will love this.  According to Totonac lore, this orchid was born into the world when Princess Xanat fled to the forest with her lover after her father expressly forbid it so. The two were captured and beheaded. As the story goes, in the location where their blood touched the earth, the lovely vanilla orchid began to grow.[3]

Conquistador Hernando Cortes is credited with its travelling to Europe where the little plant experienced difficulties with pollination due to a lack of the native Melipona Bee.  Uh oh! What is a continent to do? Well, long story short, they figured out how to hand pollinate it.[3]  Imagine people spreading the little pollinators flower to flower with teeny brushes (today Q-Tips are often used).  Now, can you imagine a French patisserie left without the use of vanilla?

The vanilla bean spotted in its native environs. (Phipps Conservatory)

These super cool little bean pods turn black when they are picked and cured, hence the Aztec name tlilxochitl or “black flower.”[3]  You can use them by splitting one down the middle with a paring knife and carefully scraping out the seeds.  These can be added to creme (mmmmmmm) or desserts. Personally, I take the bean pod leftover and throw it in my sugar jar and it infuses my sugar with the most lovely flavor and NO WASTE!  My heart be stilled.

Now, if you buy extract in the store, it has usually been steeped in ethyl alcohol or a combination of water and alcohol (cheap).  Mexican vanilla has a reputation for adding weird compounds such as coal tar to enhance flavor and imitation vanilla gets its lovely taste from paper mill runoff. If you buy in the store, read your label please. Know the words or be happy eating tar.

Since you are going to see a lot of words thrown around on bottles of vanilla, this clarification may help. Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla and Mexican vanilla are made from the strain v.planifolia and Tahitian vanilla and “West Indian” Vanilla from the v.tahitiensis and v.pompona strains respectively.  Each has varying characteristics, though I have only tried McCormick’s two versions, Nielsen-Massey Bourbon-Madagascar (nice) and a watered down Mexican bottle bought at a resort made from the same bean. Hands down, the Nielsen wins as do the straight beans themselves.  But let’s face it, if you bake a lot, those beans get mighty pricey and even the bottles add up.  What to do? Enter homemade vanilla.

If you find well-priced beans this makes more vanilla extract than the average family can use in a year AND being it is not watered down, higher strength. This will last indefinitely.

Homemade Vanilla: The Legacy and The Recipe

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Serves: 2 pints

Homemade Vanilla: The Legacy and The Recipe


  • 1 pint of vodka
  • 1 pint of rum or other dark alcohol
  • 8 vanilla bean pods


  1. Clean and sterilize two pint mason jars.
  2. Slice 8 vanilla beans down the middle, scraping out their seeds.  Place four pods worth of seeds in each jar.  Slice pods in half and place four in each jar.
  3. Fill one jar with vodka.
  4. Fill one jar with rum.
  5. Cap tightly.
  6. Put in dark location for at least two months.  Shake when you remember.
  7. Advice: Wait as long as you can. Take this as a spiritual exercise in patience. My bottle is now three years old and going strong. I just keep topping it off with alcohol if I have it on hand and add more pods after I finish with them for a recipe. The flavor just keeps getting more nuanced with the addition of different types of beans.

Vanilla extract at the 2 month mark.


I purchased some nice vanilla bean pods at a nice price here: Premium Bourbon-Madagascar Vanilla Beans – 7 beans

  1. James D. Ackerman (June 2003). “Vanilla.”  Flora of South America 26 (4): 507. Retrieved 2008-07-22. “Spanish vainilla, little pod or capsule, referring to long, podlike fruits”
  2. The Herb Society of Nashville (2008-05-21). “The Life of Spice. “The Herb Society of Nashville. Retrieved 2008-07-23. “Following Montezuma’s capture, one of Cortés’ officers saw him drinking “chocolatl” (made of powdered cocoa beans and ground corn flavored with ground vanilla pods and honey). The Spanish tried this drink themselves and were so impressed by this new taste sensation that they took samples back to Spain.’ and ‘Actually it was vanilla rather than the chocolate that made a bigger hit and by 1700 the use of vanilla was spread over all of Europe. Mexico became the leading producer of vanilla for three centuries. – Excerpted from ‘Spices of the World Cookbook’ by McCormick and ‘The Book of Spices’ by Frederic Rosengarten, Jr”
  3. Silver Cloud Estates. “History of Vanilla.”  Silver Cloud Estates. Retrieved 2008-07-23. “In 1837 the Belgian botanist Morren succeeded in artificially pollinating the vanilla flower. On Reunion, Morren’s process was attempted, but failed. It was not until 1841 that a 12-year-old slave by the name of Edmond Albius discovered the correct technique of hand-pollinating the flowers.”
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Loving Your Weeds: A Healing Plantain Salve

April 19th, 2015 § 4 comments § permalink

step gently my love/underfoot lie my dearest/those who heal my wounds


Bet you didn’t know that right in your own backyard you may have one of the most soothing plants known to man…and it probably gets mowed away with the grass.

Plantain oil and salve in a compatible environment.

Plantain oil and salve in a compatible environment.

Lucky for you, it is not to late to save it. Time to let this magical weed grow and grow until you have enough to add to your medicine chest.  What is this amazing gift, you ask? Why, its the plantain!

Plantain grows close to the ground and is characterized by a ribbed appearance.  The species defines the size of the leaves.  In PA they often look like this or flat and broad.

Plantain grows close to the ground and is characterized by a ribbed appearance. The species defines the size of the leaves.  This is of the buckhorn variety.

Born of the plantago species, there are over 250 varieties in the United States, most commonly the broadleaf and the buckhorn.  The crushed fresh leaves can be applied directly to small cuts, sores, bee and wasp stings, eczema, insect bites and sunburn.  According to the Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, plantain has healing properties because of the high allantoin content. Allantoin is often found in over the counter moisturizers and salves such as this one.

Plantain is as good a treatment for the pain of a bee sting as it is for diaper rash.  I often use it on shaving burn/cuts and it does quite well in this regard.

If you are in an area that does not have plantain or you are timid this first time, it can be bought dried from a reputable source.  I do, however, recommend seeking it fresh.

The first step in making the salve is infusing an oil.  I stuff a mason jar (see above) with the leaf and oil, making sure to cover the leaves completely.  Do this to make sure it does not mold (trust me).  Leave the jar in a dark corner for at least a month or gently warm on a stove for at least four hours.  I often double infuse the oil, changing the leaves at the end of the month.  When finished infusing, strain the oil through cheesecloth or something similar.

Note:  I prefer the cold process but this does take patience.  Now is the time to start!

How will you make this oil into a salve? In short you will:

Step 1: Slowly melt oils with beeswax, swirling pan over heat source.

Step 1: Slowly melt oils with beeswax, swirling pan over heat source.


Step 2:  Let mixture cool until hardened.

Step 2: Let mixture cool until hardened.


Step 3:  Scoop your salve into sterilized containers.

Step 3: Scoop your salve into sterilized containers.

See how easy that was?  I was intimidated for years but it is incredibly easy to make plantain salve.

Now that you have a basic recipe, you can add other herbs (like calendula and lavender if this is for a babies’ bottom), carrier oils and essential oils in your plantain salve if you wish.  Keep the beeswax on the low end for a soft, spreadable salve and on the high end of 2 TBSP for something just short of chapstick.  I prefer the middle ground of 1 1/2 TBSP.

Enjoy the process!

Loving Your Weeds: A Healing Plantain Salve

30 minutes

Serves: about 1/3 cup

Loving Your Weeds:  A Healing Plantain Salve


  • 1/4 cup plantain infused oil (Cover freshly washed plantain leaves in olive oil. Leave one month in a dark place shaking often, then strain out the leaves.)
  • 1 TBSP coconut oil
  • 1-2 TBSP beeswax
  • 5 drops rosemary oil (as a preservative)


  1. In a small pan, melt oils with beeswax, slowly swirling pan over heat source.  You want to melt the beeswax with as little heat as possible so as not to disturb the volatile structure of the olive oil.
  2. Pour directly into containers, or if easier, let cool and scoop into sterilized containers.
  3. Spread liberally on diaper rash, eczema, bug bites, dry skin, bee stings or small cuts.  Be soothed.

I am currently using salve from last summer but give it a sniff or pitch it if you are worried about how long it will last.  Usually I replenish my supply each spring. Longevity relates to the freshness of the oil, storage conditions and bacteria introduction.  Use fresh oil, keep it cool and use clean hands!




Elmore, C.L. & McGiffen Jr, M.E. (2007) Pest Notes: Plantains. University of California, 2007.  Available online. Accessed April 21, 2013.–Encyclopedia-of-Alternative-Medicine


*Medical disclaimer: I am not a licensed medical professional. What I do is purely for research and/or personal/family use. I cannot be held responsible for improper use. Always seek advice from a medical professional if you have doubts.  These claims have not been approved by the FDA (No kidding?!).

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On Mystery, the Hermit Life and the Pomegranate.

March 15th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

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I apologize to my readers that it has been so long since I have posted. There is something about blogging that is completely vulnerable and while that is why I love writing and blogging so very much, it is also what can cause the writer to step back and pause “hermit style.”

We live imbrued in a voyaristic society. We thrive (self included) off of getting a glimpse into the minutae of everyones’ lives. It has what spawned the increasing popularity of reality TV from the beginnings (of my recall) of the Real World San Francisco. Yes, WAY back. My voyarism began with Puck wowing us with his unabashed no-holds-barred antics, my heart went out to Pedro as he was the living embodiment of the 80’s/90’s fear of HIV and many of us girls related to the struggles of Rachel, a strictly raised Catholic with a rebellious streak. For myself, this grew into an increasing want to see, “am I alone?”

The beginnings of this initially wonderful (in my opinion) way of seeing that others did in fact share in the struggles we share in was beautiful.  But that is changing now. Our thirst has escalated and it seems that many of us cannot live without a glimpse into the worlds of others wether to validate our very being or to condemn those in an attempt to make ourselves feel better. Man, it getting crazy.

The last month I spent teaching Rome with my students made me wonder over and over, are we that different than the bloodthirsty gladiators? Is our thirst for seeing others in pain and agony that different in its intent than desiring blood and gore. I truly wonder.

So how does this relate to writing? How much to share? How much to keep secret? And where this certainly is a space where food, philosophy and culture are a highlight, without the human connection, what good is this? On some levels I wonder how many of my words do contribute to the common good or do they do more to take away from the beauty of NOT knowing. Where has the mystery gone?

And this makes a writer wonder…where should the line be drawn?  I have no answers, (as usual) but a withdrawal into the secret garden of my heart was much needed the last few months. This hermit withdrawal quite readily coincided with the hibernation of the bears and still greater, seems to be a coincidental coorelation with the withdrawal into the desert of Jesus during what is now Lent for the Roman Catholic. So maybe it is not so odd to want to withdraw at times if even the greatest of men has had this need as well.

Where does the pomegranate come into all of this?

Just take a look. Crimson, smooth and lovely, on the outside it is glorious. But when you take a look inside, WOW.


Hades abducting Persephone. From a tomb in Vergina. Macedonia, Greece. Lesson: Beware the Pomegranate. :)

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve in Stained Glass. Some historians think the legendary apple was really a pomegranate.

About now you might think I would begin to show pictures of the mysterious insides of our prime subject and perhaps a delicious recipe to boot. But of course that would be too predictable.

If you have never seen the brilliant red seeds spilling out like rubies after you have sliced and squeezed the fruit, it is time for you to do just that. If you have, then I encourage you to do so again and relish in the delightful pop each seed makes when crunched on between the teeth.

Lent is the time for simplicity and a natural pomegranate fruit in all of its delicate simplicity is recipe enough. Enjoy both the mystery of cracking open this delicious fruit and the joy of tasting its natural sweet-tart taste dance on your tongue.

See for yourself! That usually seems best. :)



P.S. While hiding away in my hermitage I received a wonderful care package from a fellow blogger and reader living in France. Thank you, Deb. It meant so much to me!

Care package from Debbie in France

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On Finding Quiet in the City + Swiss Chard and Potatoes + Tomatoes

December 31st, 2014 § 3 comments § permalink

I am too alone in the world, and yet not alone enough to make every moment holy.


Swiss Chard & Potatoes

It is a wonderful blessing to live in the middle of the city, especially as a single gal. Multiple grocery stores, coffee shops, libraries, parks, churches, restaurants and museums are within walking distance and this is all I really need to get by.

Oh yes, and there are people at every turn. Enough people that it is impossible to truly be alone unless I am actually in my apartment. Even then, Simba manages to awaken me to the fact we are not really in solitude with the parade of humans and dogs that stream by outside our window. Furthermore, it is quite impossible to be in complete silence with the sweet sounds of my neighbor and her daughter plucking chords on the guitar or practicing musical verses. You know, living life. :)

Whereas in the past I would have been more acutely aware and even bothered by these sounds, as of late I am becoming more accustomed the perpetual motion. it is possible that in part this is a general physical desensitization but honestly, it runs much deeper than can be explained away by a simple psychological response.

This kind of peace does not so much respond to the symphony but is in itself the symphony.

By no means have I conquered the noise of this world but when you find even a whisper of peace in your heart and begin to attune yourself to the beat of this heart, those screeching sounds which used to destroy the silence do much less to rattle you.

Yes, a closet hermit can do very well in the city. But the peace is not simple external, it is driven by God.

I find it very strange that I am paradoxically alone and yet completely surrounded. Rilke puts this so much better and is so fewer words but he seems to reference this feeling of being comfortable in solitude but not alone enough to let God completely penetrate the soul. It is so comforting that He is there but yet so frightening that He is so far.

Then again, maybe Rilke means that the world has abandoned him but not enough that he has reached the ranks of the saints, left completely in the wake of the world with only God to contemplate.

Regardless, I guess some more soul quieting is in order. I imagine instead of moaning that I have no time to be in a hut on top of an isolated mountain (with room service of course-ha!) there needs to be more time set aside for quiet prayer. Ok.

Chard, Tomatoes, Potatoes Chard, Tomatoes, Potatoes2

I don’t know much but I do know that in keeping with the quest for simplicity of soul I am trying to find healthy food that feeds the body but does not distract the soul. Clean food. Simple food. Nothing too heavy. This family dish came to mind after a long talk over tea with my financial guru friend R. She has a knack for wielding a food budget the way a ninja wields nunchucks.

I have been adding ceci beans for added protein and to stretch the dish further but my family’s original recipe is much simpler. Choose whichsoever makes you happy. Super simple, super delicious, super thrifty!

If you haven’t made swiss chard and potatoes + tomatoes, please do and enjoy our family’s recipe.

Swiss Chard and Potatoes + Tomatoes (Bietole e Potate con Pomodori)

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Serves: 4-6 main servings or more if side

Swiss Chard and Potatoes + Tomatoes (Bietole e Potate con Pomodori)


  • 1 (or 2, two wouldn't ruin it) bunch of swiss chard, washed well with woody stem parts removed
  • 1 pound of potatoes (yukon gold works well), scrubbed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 can organic ceci beans (garbanzo) -optional but I love them
  • 1 large 28 oz can of whole tomatoes in their juices (3 lbs of fresh Roma tomatoes, chopped, if in season)
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • a few cranks of black pepper
  • grated pecorino romano to taste
  • hot pepper seeds to taste
  • olive oil for cooking


  1. In a large pot, place scrubbed potatoes with the skin still on into a pot of cold water. Make sure water clears the potatoes by about 1 inch. Bring to a boil slowly. Boil potatoes for about 7-10 minutes if they are small to medium, 12-15 if they are on the larger side. Potatoes are ready when a forks can slide in and out with relative ease. Take potatoes out carefully with a slotted spoon and chop into large pieces.
  2. In a dutch oven or large saute pan, saute the onion over medium heat in about a Tbsp of olive oil. Saute until the onion is soft and becoming translucent.
  3. Chop chard stems into small, 1/2 inch pieces and tear leaves roughly. Add to pan. Saute for about a minute.
  4. Add tomatoes, squeezing them between your fingers as you go to mash them.
  5. Add potatoes and ceci beans if you have them.
  6. Saute until greens and potatoes are soft and tomato juices are covering the vegetables.
  7. Season with red pepper seeds, black pepper and ample pecorino romano.

Enjoy in bowls with bread and extra romano.


Bietole e Potate

Oh, and remember, in words better than I can give:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going.
No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.




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On Nourishment + Honeyed Vanilla Orange Blossom Rice Pudding

October 4th, 2014 § 7 comments § permalink


As much as I love comforting food, there are times where the gifts of this world may nourish the body but do little to nourish the soul.

It’s annoying, I know.

You know what I am talking about. The times you wish for anything but to be in your own skin, when your skin crawls and itches and all you want to do it to jump out of your body. These are the days that the last thing you want to do is sit with your own thoughts and be with yourself. So, you seek comfort elsewhere. Anything to not feel the annoyance! We run around buying things that hope to calm our restless souls and seek out foods to fill the lack within. Or maybe we look to friends or husbands to say the right words or offer comforts that just don’t seek to fill that void.

This doesn’t mean I am not going to enjoy this comforting dish and the latte that steams beside me but at the very least today I needed to acknowledge the ache. The ache that can only be filled without, not within.

Acknowledging the world as insatiable is at least a start.

Because the words of others are all the more profound that my own, the words of the French mystic Gaston Courtois come to mind.

If the world is insatiable, where do we turn to with our hunger?

“I hunger for you. I search throughout the world, but particularly in compassionate hearts wherewith to appease my hunger. The problem for Me is how I shall be able to nourish the weakened cells of My Mystical Body. In them I hunger; in them I thirst; in them I suffer.

I hunger with love to nourish the many souls who are fainting by the wayside. Give me acts of faith to permit me to enlighten those who doubt; acts of obedience to make them pliant, to make them docile to my voice; to purify them of their vices; acts of charity, above all, that I may show mercy to them and fill them with My love.”

We are all called to love and that love comes in the form of nourishing another, not just the self and turning to be filled by the eternal God who wishes to nourish us. That is the most whole form of nourishment. The one that stays.

Can we do this? Perhaps together we can all at least try.

Though it may not fill that deep cavernous void in the soul, can some days love come in the form of rice pudding to fill the hunger of the stomach? I should hope so. :)

There are many adornments that rice pudding may wear.  My favorite by far includes the flavors of old Persia.  Cardamom, raisins, saffron and a variety of nuts often grace kheer, the Southwest Asian version of this dish. Liquids like coconut milk and sugars like jaggery often add complexity in the region of Southern India and apricots and figs may be found in this dessert a hop, skip and a jump to the east. Overall, the flavors are unique and diverse but complement each other beautifully quite like the region itself.


The heady scent of orange blossom (also known as neroli in its oil form) was my initial inspiration for my Persian inspired version. Nothing is as intoxicating as the scent of the water of the bitter orange. I love to splash this musky honeyed scent on my wrists and let it linger in my hair. In this dish, it gives the rice pudding a slightly mysterious note that floats among the grounding scents of vanilla and of cardamom.  This dessert gets its complexity from its slow, slow cooking with layers of flavor stirred in along the way.

It is optional if you cannot find it, the pudding is just as delicious. But don’t skimp on that syrup!

Comforting, silky, and sweet, rice pudding is a beautiful way to end a fall day. Add a cup of chamomile tea and settle in.



My recipe here I originally published over at The Dabblist if you wish to hop over there too.

Vanilla Orange Blossom Rice Pudding

Serves 4. Recipe inspired by Mark Bittman


1/2 cup organic white jasmine rice
4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup organic cane sugar
1 1/2 tsp orange zest
3/4 a vanilla bean, split and seeded
1 Tbsp orange blossom water


Heat your oven to 300°. Pour milk, rice, sugar and orange zest in an oven proof pan with a lid such as a dutch oven. Stir and cover, placing in oven. Check and stir every 30 minutes. After the first 30 minutes, add the vanilla seeds and stir. At the hour thirty mark add the orange blossom water. At each stage the rice pudding will begin to thicken slightly.  Take out after about 1 hour 45 min and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.  Rice pudding should firm up nicely.

Honey Cardamom Syrup


1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup water
9 green cardamom pods, crushed

Bring ingredients to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 4 minutes, lifting up saucepan and swirling syrup over the heat source keeping it simmering but keeping it from boiling or burning. Let the flavors infuse while the rice pudding cooks for an hour and thirty minutes. When rice pudding is almost done, strain out the cardamom pods and seeds. Reheat slightly until a bit more fluid. Pour over pudding.





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On Emotion & A Proper Cup of Tea

September 15th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Turkish Tea

Care for a cup of tea? A smooth black English tea is good as is a Turkish cup.


Might you prefer an herbal? I can offer you that too.

I wish today I had a recipe for you but it has been that kind of week. A tea week. Strong, black and milky with a touch of honey.

This is the kind of week we have all had where our emotions get the best of us. Where our passions cloud our judgement and obscure the path to peace. The kind of week where you want to play Duffy’s “Warwick Avenue” over and over…and over….et. al.

But I am here to encourage you that after you have done that for more time than you should, cut the cord and sit back with some tea, reaching into the silence of your heart.

Don't end up a slave to your emotions.

Don’t end up a slave to your emotions.

One of the most difficult things for me to grasp when studying the Desert Fathers (which perhaps much to your dismay I have a current fixation with) is that advice where they start talking about controlling the passions. Not feed our anger? Whaaaat? Not stroke our sadness? Yep. Nurture the pain so that you can heal, yes, but let it overtake your mind and body? In regards to our spiritual (and let’s face it, bodily) health, it really is no good.

The doorway to heaven may not be the easiest to open but it is the only one that leads to peace.

The doorway to heaven may not be the easiest to open but it is the only one that leads to peace.

Do not misinterpret this, Catholics are not against emotion or feeling. Come on, we are human after all and to feel is a beautiful thing. Like anything, however, there has to be limits and boundaries. Let emotion humble you, not exhault you. Then, the healing will come much quicker and be much deeper and the lovely moments will simmer and be savored rather than going off like a firework and disappearing.

Emotion does not exist in a vaccuum. Negative emotion, that of which I speak here, stems from one of the “8 great faults,” according to J. Cassian. The ever knowledgable and wordy (to the point of making me want to bonk him on the head) Cassian says this:

“…gluttony, fornication, covetousness, anger, dejection, accidie, have a sort of connection with each other, and are, so to speak, linked together in a chain, so that any excess of the one forms a starting point for the next.”

So how does this happen, Cassian?

“For from superfluity of gluttony fornication is sure to spring, and from fornication covetousness, from covetousness anger, from anger, dejection, and from dejection, accidie.”

So it kind of works like a tree, huh?

“Wherefore in order to overcome accidie, you must first get the better of dejection: in order to get rid of dejection, anger must first be expelled: in order to quell anger,covetousness must be trampled under foot: in order to root out covetousness, fornication must be checked: and in order to destroy fornication, you must chastise the sin of gluttony.” John Cassian, Conference 5, Chapter 10.

These are the six he finds connected and overindulgence in negative emotion can find itself caught in this muddy pool.

The Desert Fathers saw the connectedness in all of the passions of life. Let one go and like a set of dominoes the others are soon to fall. Root out one and it will be much easier to do so to the rest.

That which lies in front of your face may be beautiful but there may be something even more beautiful just beyond.

That which lies in front of your face may be beautiful but there may be something even more beautiful just beyond.

So have a proper cup of tea. Rest. Heal. If need be let your saline tears fall like raindrops into its bittersweet waters. But hope and don’t be overcome by the vices seeking to eat you alive. For hope is the salve of God, the balm we all need.

The legend says if you throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain you will return again!

The legend says if you throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain you will return again!

Oh, and try some of this when you are done torturing yourself with the emo tunes. 😉



P.S. I recommend the inexpensive yet delicious PG Tips or Taylor’s of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold with milk and honey. Help my blog and soothe your soul. Butter cookies are good too.  It just feels good.

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