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5thingsbannerWelcome to 2015!  I’ve been crazy busy in the garden and the kitchen, and can’t wait to catch you up on all that’s new.  Here are 5 things that made the past week special …

#1 – The seeds have arrived!

In chilly January, few things warm my heart as much as the arrival of this year’s Burpee Seeds in my local garden center. Have you done your seed shopping yet?



#2 – Warm weather bulbs are here, too …

Here are a few of the pink perennials I’m adding to my front yard garden this year:



#3 – I am still planting bulbs for spring bloom.


In Bakersfield, we have strange weather.  The autumn months are too warm for planting my spring blooming bulbs, and the flower beds are too full of summer flowers and veggies up until our first hard frost, which arrived less than a week before Christmas last year.  I purchase most of my springtime bulbs in the late summer, and store them in a cool place, and I purchase the rest of them when they go on clearance to make way for holiday inventory in the stores.  I planted dozens of daffodils this week, and will be planting the rest of my spring bloomers within the next few days.  Despite the short time in the ground, they will all bloom right on schedule (for Bakersfield, that is), beginning in late February or early March.


#4 – Jovial penne is back in stock!

2015-01 Jan

Yes, this is a very big deal for me … Jovial Foods makes my favorite gluten-free pastas, and their penne rigate (ridged penne) was sold out online last month.  All of Jovial’s delicious products — gluten-free pastas and cookies, olive oil and jarred tomatoes, Einkorn wheat pasta, cookies, and flour — are produced in Italy, and they are all organic and GMO-free.  You can find them in many major grocery stores and health food stores, or you can purchase them online like I do.  I was thrilled to receive a dozen boxes on my front porch earlier this week.

#5 – The Plant Whisperer


Remember that December frost and freeze I mentioned earlier?  It damaged a lot of stock in the big box store garden centers.  I found these 1 gallon plants in need of rescue at Lowe’s this week:  four pots of cool weather poppies (with four plants in each pot!), and six pots of pink-and-yellow Lantana (3 shrubs and 3 creeping variety), all for 99 cents each.  They’re all going into the front yard this weekend.

What are your weekend plans?  If it’s too cold in the garden, are you snuggled up and thumbing through seed catalogs, or are you in the kitchen making something scrumptious to eat?





I’m linking up with Katie, Clare, and Heather this week, to share 5 Things Friday posts.

FTC Required Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


5thingsbannerThis week has been all about the kitchen. With the cooler weather (highs in the 70’s this week, absolutely lovely!), shorter days, and early sunsets, I’ve been in the mood for hearty fall foods, and have been devoting extra time to expanding my gluten-free baking skills. Here’s some of what I’ve been up to:

#1 – Sourdough bagels, gluten-free.

I’ve been cooking and baking with a homemade sourdough starter since Ray and I went to Italy for a Jovial Gluten-Free Culinary Getaway in June, to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. This was our second — but certainly not final — trip to the 18th century villa outside Lucca, in the Tuscany region, to spend a week cooking and baking traditional Italian foods. I went back by myself last month for a 3rd week of fabulous food, friendship, and cooking classes, determined to conquer the sourdough bread recipes that have been eluding me.


Success is coming slowly, as I work towards a perfect blend of gluten free grains and starches, and the correct ratio of liquids to dry ingredients. Today — Friday — was a major victory, because I seem to have gotten the flour blend right to make these fabulous bagels, which we ate for dinner with cream cheese and salami. These bagels look, feel, and taste like wheat bagels, and the sourdough flavor is awesome! I’m looking forward to making them for breakfast on Thanksgiving.


#2 – glutenfreecoookbookATKIn addition to working with sourdough, I’ve been trying out new recipes for yeast breads, using the terrific How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen, that I purchased from Amazon.com last week.

There are two things I truly love about this cookbook. First and foremost, the recipes work as written, which is a rarity when it comes to working with gluten free grains. And each recipe is prefaced with an explanation of exactly *why* it works: details about the ratios of ingredients, and the many not-quite-right attempts, in creating each successful recipe.

Here’s a photo of the super-easy sandwich bread I made from the cookbook:

Whether you’re an experienced baker and cook, or just learning your way around the kitchen, this book deserves a prominent position in the libraries of all gluten free cooks. In addition to providing 180 delicious and do-able recipes for any occasion — including a recipe for their basic flour blend — the editors also review many of the gluten free products available in stores. I was not at all surprised to learn that America’s Test Kitchen’s #1 choice for gluten free pasta is the terrific organic brown rice pastas from my friends at Jovial Foods in Italy, which are available in many U.S. stores and can also be ordered directly from Jovial’s website.


#3 – Boiling and braising … soups, stews, and delectable dried beans


As noted last week, I added a beautiful bright red 7 quart dutch oven to my collection of enameled cast iron cookware. I love these hard-working pots, and use one or more almost every single day, on the stove top and in the oven.

I’m going to do a separate post on the 10+ things I cooked this week in my cast iron pots, so please check back in a day or two. I’ll add a link here when the post is online.


#4 – Wine Tasting for the home cook


Every time I go to Italy, I learn so much about cooking basics: Italians excel at preparing high quality food from fresh, simple ingredients, at home and in restaurants. Roasted, grilled, and braised meats are a year-round staple, and — much to my surprise — the cooking wine of choice in Tuscany is white wine, not red. Despite America’s love with red-wine-heavy, tomato-based Italian American dishes, central Italy — home to excellent red wines — mainly uses white wine for braising and sauces, with or without tomatoes, adding herbs with a very light hand.

As native Californians, and lovers of big, bold, red wines, this was quite a culture shock. The results, however, are delicious, and we pay very close attention to the chefs we cook with in Italian kitchens, learning to cook with a lighter touch, with less garlic and fewer, well-chosen herbs, high quality olive oil and healthy animal fats (ah, lardo!), and white wines that bring out nuances we’ve missed in the past.

We haven’t abandoned our beloved red wines, we’ve simply added something new to our toolbox, and we’re pleased to be re-creating favorite Tuscan dishes in our own kitchen. And if you’re wondering, I chose the Liberty School Chardonnay for my lovely Italian stew, and used the same wine for the pumpkin risotto we had the same evening.



#5 – November Eggplant


In early June, I transplanted three small eggplant starts into the new front yard cottage garden. Despite going in two full months after the backyard eggplant — and despite the fact that summer’s brutal heat had already arrived — these plants grew fast and strong, and are still providing us with armloads of eggplant.

These came off those three plants, and they’re spattered with soil from an unexpected thunderstorm. I used three of them to make Moussaka, and hubster Ray gave the rest away at work on Monday morning.


What’s cooking in your kitchen? Please say hello in the comments section so I’ll know you were here.


And now, I’m off to the garden! Have a delicious weekend!





I’m linking up with Katie, Clare, and Heather this week, to share 5 Things Friday posts.


FTC Required Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


5thingsbannerWelcome to my first 5 things FRIDAY post.  This is one of several places to find out what’s going on in the kitchen and the garden, and where I have been or will soon be going. I will be posting in this category frequently, but not necessarily every Friday.

Happy Halloween! Here are five things that rocked my week:


#1 – Earlier today, I discovered the perfect Halloween Costume for lazy foodie folks like me.

CIY Ina Garten Halloween Costume

Source: http://foodnfemininity.blogspot.com/2010/10/diy-food-tv-halloween-costumes-ina.html


Yep, I’m channeling Ina on Halloween!



#2 – Extra Virgin: Recipes & Love from Our Tuscan Kitchen, by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazer, is one of several terrific Italian cookbooks I ordered from Amazon.com when I got home from Italy last week. I’m looking forward to cooking my way through the book with my friends in the “Cooking Through Extra Virgin: Recipes & Love from our Tuscan Kitchen” Facebook group.



#3 – These whole grain, gluten-free biscuits, which I baked on Monday … delicious! I’m still working on the recipe, and should have it ready to share soon.


#4 – Ripe tomatoes picked this morning in our Bakersfield garden. After the long lull in tomato production during the burn-your-butt months of August and September, we once again have tomatoes on the plants that survived the summer, as well as the “second season” transplants I planted in August.  Warm weather and the California drought may mean fresh tomatoes on our Thanksgiving table.


#5 – Lodge 7.5 Quart Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven — Isn’t she gorgeous? She arrived this afternoon, and I can’t wait to use her! I got a great deal from Target, saving more than $28 off Amazaon’s price. Here’s how:

I had already determined that Target had the best price for the red Lodge 7.5 quart dutch oven ($72.99 versus Amazon Prime’s price of $90.85 – both included free shipping). I belong to the shopping rebate site eBates.com, so I clicked through the Target link on eBates, to earn a 2.5% rebate on my Target purchase. Then I googled “target coupon” and found a $10-off-on-purchases-over-$50 coupon on retailmenot.com, a free non-membership coupon site. The coupon reduced my purchase price to $62.99, and I got an additional discount of $3.15 (5%) by paying with my Target Red Card (a debit card linked to my bank account).

Total discount on Target website: $13.15 (17% of original total), final price was $64.33. And I’ll still receive the 2.5% ($1.61) eBates rebate, making my actual price $62.72, which is $28.13 less than Amazon’s price.

Lesson: Join eBates.com and get rebates on almost all of your online purchases … and always search for coupons, whether shopping online or in person at your favorite stores.

Have a great weekend!





FTC Required Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Over the past few months — during the worst of the summer heat, when daily highs exceeded 100 degrees, and the garden was on autopilot as long as it had water — I’ve been out of town a lot, enjoying life to the fullest, with little time to write about it.


Traveling feeds my soul: it teaches me about my self and my place in the world, and introduces me to something new and wonderful each and every day. 2014 has been filled with vacations, business trips, blogging conferences, out of town cooking classes, writer’s retreats, and quick weekend getaways, all focused on the things I love most: family, food, friendship, photography, garden tours, writing, and seeing the world.



Now that fall — marked by shorter days and temperatures in the low-to-mid-80s — has finally arrived in Bakersfield, I have literally hundreds of things I want to share with you.  Today marks the first official day that I am “back” on the blog, and I want to celebrate the day and the season by showing you some photos from my September trip to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where I attended the Big Harvest Potluck with nearly 100 food bloggers, chefs, and professional writers.




This year, the main event day was held at Fordhook Farm, the home of W. Atlee Burpee’s Chairman and CEO George Ball.  George was a fascinating, brilliant, and gracious host for our group, and I will have more to say about him — and Fordhook, home to Burpee’s world famous test gardens — in a future post.




For now, I simply want to share a few of my photos of the fabulous fall displays found throughout the property.  I know you’ll enjoy the bounty of the season as much as I did.








I have always been a writer, since the time I could grasp a crayon or pencil. I wrote short stories as a child, fell in love with Haiku in 3rd grade during an extended study of Japan, and wrote the requisite love poetry in my teen years.

In college, I majored in English, minored in Education, and received two teaching credentials. I have taught every grade from K through 12, in traditional schools, alternative schools, continuation high school, and even in the lock-down ward in juvenile hall in the late 1970s. I have also taught creative writing, adult literacy programs, parenting workshops, and English As A Second Language (ESL) classes in schools, churches, and community centers. Always, my primary goal was to teach my students to read and write, to help them find their inner voices and express themselves succinctly in the world.

As an adult, I have written and sold magazine articles, essays, fiction, poetry, and women’s erotica. I have written and published more than 100 reproducible books for beginning readers — used in classrooms around the world since the late 1990’s — as well as dozens of integrated thematic curriculum units, learning games, and classroom management guides for early childhood classrooms (U.S. grades Pre-K through 3). My teacher resource books are available for purchase on my teaching website, KinderKorner.com.

I have also had the privilege of training teachers throughout the U.S. and Canada: working as a consultant for school districts; presenting staff development workshops; keynoting and speaking at state, local, and regional education conferences; and hosting my own one- and two-day KinderKorner Balanced Literacy Workshops, where I taught teachers how to create self-managing multi-level classrooms that addressed and met the needs of each individual child, with an emphasis on creating joyful, competent, and fluent readers and writers.

Reading and writing are reciprocal processes, and I believe they should be taught in a meaningful context, rather than as separate isolated subjects whose lessons are based on rote memorization and fill-in-the-blank workbook sheets. Authentic, purposeful, self-directed writing was a required daily component of my Language Arts & Literacy program at all grade levels, beginning in Pre-K. My students chose their own writing topics, and they wrote everything from grocery lists to party invitations, restaurant menus, instruction manuals, short stories and poetry, thematic dictionaries and word banks, explanations of math processes and concepts, non-fiction reports, and much more.

[update, 07/23/14 I’m sitting in a hotel room in San Jose, where I am attending the Blogher conference for the next 3 days. With a little time on my hands, I pulled up my KinderKorner website — KinderKorner.com to find a few pictures of my kindergarten class writing during the 2000-2001 school year. As you can see, they’re having a great time. I, however, am sitting here in mild shock, looking at photos of myself from 14 years ago … yowzer! I truly had forgotten how cute I was back then, and how young and thin … and, again, I say yowzer!]


Like “real” published authors, each student found his or her personal voice, and wrote about things that were of personal interest and importance. They understood that writing was a process, not a get-it-done-and-over-with assignment. Writing was a creative and enjoyable activity, beginning with planning, then progressing through writing a first draft, sharing and peer-editing, conferencing with the teacher (me), then re-writing and fine-tuning, with the goal of publishing one polished piece per week in the form of an illustrated book. After “publication,” each student read their finished work to the entire class, and then their book was added to the classroom library, where it would be read and enjoyed by their friends, families, and classroom visitors for the remainder of the year.

My job was to model the writing process in brief mini-lessons that were seamlessly woven into classroom instruction, activities, and discussions, providing dozens to hundreds of examples of purposeful writing each week, continually building skills and providing guidance. I was a coach, facilitator, and editor, but I was also — as shown to my students each and every day — a writer who went through the same process and steps the students did, moving toward a completed piece of writing or a final draft worthy of publication.

Which brings me back to training other teachers to do the same. I cannot overstate how important it is that teachers write when their students are writing: not the entire time, but certainly for the first three to five minutes. If we want our students to be writers, we must be writers in their eyes.

Teachers are used to being in charge, to giving orders, to calling the shots, making the rules, and exercising control over groups of students. Every teacher who has ever sat or stood in front of a room filled with students, did so with the implied title of Expert. Teachers, more than any other demographic group I’ve worked with, absolutely hate being told they must sit down — right now — and write, whether for two minutes or twenty.

Experienced, well-trained, highly educated teachers — adults who often have multiple college degrees — begin to shut down when asked to participate in a writing exercise designed for 5 year olds. They cross their arms instead of their t’s, and they roll their eyes instead of dotting them. They groan, they whine, they say they don’t see the point of actually doing the work themselves. They avoid making eye contact with me, and with one another, suddenly obsessed with looking through book-bags and purses for some non-existent object. Invariably, a few get up and leave the room, heading for the bathroom in the hope of avoiding putting pen to paper and sharing their words with others.

It is blatantly clear that the majority of teachers consider writing an unpleasant chore, as opposed to the joyful experience it can be when taught correctly. Our youngest writers must have role models and instructors who show their students — daily, and in multiple ways — that writing is a pleasurable and integral part of daily life, regardless of one’s age. And it is equally important that our students’ families do the same. Writing a grocery list together is far more valuable than forcing a child to fill in the blanks on a worksheet. For now, that’s all I’m going to say about teachers who force their students to do what they refuse to do themselves.

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