Sweet Cream of Tomato Soup

Every year we’ve had a vegetable garden, There’s just nothing like home grown veggies. Not only do you know where the food came from, you can pick your veggies, and cook them the same day, so freshness can’t be beat, it’s fun to share with family and friends. Also knowing you can live off the land if you need to is a good feeling. As Glenn Beck say’s, in case of a disaster, natural or otherwise DO NOT GO TO THE STADIUM!! So maybe we’re doomsday preppers, but hey, what can it hurt to be prepared!

Tomatoes especially grow like weeds here in Southern CA. It’s very rewarding, but you’ll also find all kinds of critters will enjoy your tomatoes before you get the chance, so you’ve got to be willing to chase off birds, Then there are the squirrels, that’s not an easy enemy to fight. Gophers, even more difficult. By the end of the season however, weeds used to be our biggest problem. So a few years ago, I showed my husband Jack an article from Sunset Magazine of some raised bed gardens that seemed to make perfect sense. The article explained better crops, nearly weed free, and an easier way to tend to the garden in raised boxes you could reach across easily, not so much bending.  Better drainage , the soil warms faster, Drip irrigation, and better crop yields per square foot!

So on my birthday that year my hubby started building 9 raised bed planters 6 feet across and 9 feet long filled with 50/50 mix. that’s 50% garden soil, and 50% mulch. Now this is the gift that keeps on giving! The raised beds resulted in our best crop yields ever!

If you don’t have time or space, Costco does sell some pretty good vine ripened tomatoes, or you can find some nice soup worthy tomatoes at your local Farmers Market.

Years ago, we found a recipe in an Amish Cookbook for garden fresh Tomato Soup. This recipe has become one of the things the kids remember the most about summer at home.

Sweet Cream of Tomato Soup

3 medium onions

¼ cup water

½ bunch celery

6 lbs fresh ripe tomatoes quartered

2 Tablespoons kosher salt

2 Tablespoons sugar

8 Tablespoons butter

½ cup Flour

4 Cups Milk, or you can use half Milk and hald Cream

Place the onions and water in a large heavy soup pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until the onions have softened and have begun to turn translucent, but not brown. about ten minutes. Add the celery, tomatoes and salt. To the onions, stir and raise the heat to medium. Cook covered until the tomatoes are tender about 1 hour. Taste.

Notice here I tossed everything into the pot together.. That works too!

Strain the soup, discard the solids

In a small bowl mix together the butter, and flour until thoroughly combined. Simmer a few minutes.

bring the soup to a boil over medium high heat. Stir 1 cup of the soup to the flour and butter mixture, Whisking until there are no lumps.

Then whisk that mixture into the soup. Lower the heat and gently cook, stirring frequently, until the soup has the consistency of a medium thick gravy, about 8 minutes. Let it come just to the boiling point, but do not boil.

Heat the milk in another small saucepan over medium heat until it’s almost at the boiling point. Slowly add the milk to the soup. Do not let the soup boil. Stir well and serve. 8-10 servings

I forgot to picture the milk going in, you’ll have to use your imagination!

Posted in cooking, Gardening | 2 Comments

Home Made Macaroni and Cheese From Epicurious. Com

Last Saturday our Son Jack  and daughter in law Davina asked us to watch our three grands so they could enjoy a quiet date night. Why of course I said, mom and dad need a break!    Later our daughter Michelle called and asked if we wouldn’t mind taking their 4 kids because they also wanted to take a date night. I know how important date night is when you have little ones under foot, and now the cousins can get in some quality time together.

We went to work finishing up a remodel and headed back home with enough time to get cleaned up.

On the way home I thought OK. We are going to have 7 kids all under the age of 8. My first thought was how precious they are.  Each little person has his or her own special qualities all little miracles in my eyes. I want to be sure everyone brings home a good memory and a deeper relationship with their cousins.

We needed something to feed them dinner something for desert and some kind of fun activity.  There was no time to go to the store, so we needed to use what we had on hand. Most of the kids are old enough to start learning a few basic cooking skills. So my thoughts wandered to a few pampered chef parties I had attended in the past few months. I loved how each attendee is given tools and ingredients and everyone participates making the task a fun joint effort. So why not launch granny’s cooking school based on the pampered chef model of cooking together?

Our daughter Michelle ( who is a pampered Chef consultant) is very organized. I love this about her because she inspires her free spirit easily distracted mom to keep my Act together.

As everyone arrived Michelle fitted me with her beloved Tulla Baby carrier. Today’s baby carriers are so much more comfortable than the ones many of us used in the early 80s. Those were more like mountain man survival packs with metal frames, you really needed a good pair of hiking boots and some pine trees to feel like you didn’t stick out like a sore thumb, as I recall your baby sort of towered over the top of you heaven forbid you ever crossed under a low hanging tree branch I can’t even go there!  So this is the new way to carry a nine month old and have hands free to teach a cooking class to an 8 year old a 7 year old, a six year old a five year old and two three year olds!

 This Tulla was so much fun, easy to use and Mackenzie had a blast being part of the cooking class.
So our first step was gathering our ingredients.

First we needed bread crumbs however we were out of Panko bread crumbs so we used home made hamburger buns we had in the freezer. Pop Pop showed the boys how to safely use a box grater, we actually had the kids make their breadcrumbs by grating frozen bread and it worked perfectly!

 Next Austin grated the Parmesan cheese!
 Once Jack and Connor had enough bread crumbs we tossed them together with the Parmesan cheese, some fresh garlic and melted butter, mixed them all together and set the topping aside while we worked on the cheese sauce.

We also grated 16 oz sharp cheddar and measured out the remaining ingredients while Pop Pop worked on cooking the pasta.  Sorry no pics of that part. 7 kids to supervise. Just want to add a little note. These babies have awesome parents. They work hard every day to make sure they’re raising good human beings, so we can’t take any credit for how well behaved they are.  Of course they’re kids we do not expect perfection it’s our job to help their parents when they need help, and to appreciate them for the individuals they are. Unconditional love in my opinion is job#1 for grand parents.

 Paige helped me press the fresh garlic!

While Max helped supervise and enjoyed a snack!

We were pretty busy so we didn’t get pictures of where Pop Pop made the cheese sauce then added the noodles. Then topped with the breadcrumb mixture but here is the finished project. Best Mac N Cheese we have ever tasted!  One change we made to the recipe. Pop pop cooked 1/2 pound bacon and added it to the finished sauce. Why?  Because there are 6 boys including their pop and because..  Bacon!

A quick prayer from Reagan, tick tock tick tock this is the way we pray. Thank you God for Jesus and blessing our food today Amen!



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Home Made Chai

Chai 1Tran`scend`ent
Beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience.
(Of God) Existing apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe. DIVINE

This year after the holidays were over, I simply was exhausted, grumpy, and stressed.
Having gone there a couple of times before in my life, I knew exactly what to do, hit the books and refresh my knowledge on stress reduction. This time I joined the Audible Book Club, this way I could keep moving, plug in headphones and listen whilst getting things done!

I found listening to Audio Books so relaxing and fun, I’ve listened to one book after the other since the first of the year. To date, I’ve logged seven full days of listening.  You can find a million audio books on every subject:  www.audible.com   Thanks to all this great info,  then began journaling which soon became written prayers. Now that has changed my life and lifted me up more than anything else.

Another little trick I’ve been learning is Mindfulness. Well, this is something new, after a lifetime of busy ness, Mindfulness, is about slowing down. It’s about stopping altogether several times a day to notice what’s happening around you. For instance:  At the moment I’ve glanced out my home office window. It’s a windy day, there are shadows dancing across the lawn from the leaves on the trees. The Golden Retrievers are napping on the floor.

Focusing on breathing naturally for a few minutes, your entire mind and body go into neutral. Soon the stress disappears.  It’s that simple!

After practicing this a few times a day, the relaxation is now becoming a habit.

Mindfulness meditations practiced daily are scientifically proven to alter the brain into a naturally more relaxed and positive state.   It’s used by Nasa, and the U.S. Military in high stress situations because it works like magic with no drugs alcohol or side effects.

No, I haven’t reached perfection yet…  That will be when I’m dead!  But for now, I will practice slowing down a little each day and enjoying this life to the fullest while here on earth.

One way to practice Mindfulness is to sit down with a cup of tea, and maybe a little snack and just sip your tea and watch the birds moving around for 15 minutes or so. What a great way to re-charge your batteries and enjoy the rest of the work day, even when it’s stressful paperwork, and phone calls, it’s just plain easier now, and we need to allow ourselves to enjoy our work!

Now if you really want to experience an amazing little mindful exercise, try this Chai recipe, it truly is divine.

From Epicurious.com!

2-inch piece fresh ginger, cut into thin rounds
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
10 whole cloves
6 cardamom pods
6 cups cold water
6 bags of black tea (preferably Darjeeling)
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar


Combine first 5 ingredients in medium saucepan. Using mallet or back of large spoon, lightly crush or bruise spices. Add 6 cups water; bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover pan, and simmer gently 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add tea bags and steep 5 minutes. Discard tea bags. Add milk and sugar. Bring tea just to simmer over high heat, whisking until sugar dissolves. Strain chai into teapot and serve hot.

Chai 1

Gather the first 5 ingredients

chai 2

Smash them with a spoon or a mortar and pestle

chai 3

I didn’t get too crazy, just kind of broke them up a bit

chai 5


Add the spices into 6 cups water, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer for 10 minutes

chai 6

Add the 6 tea bags and allow to steep for 5 minutes

chai 7


Pour into tea pot through strainer

chai 9

Add the Milk

chai 10

Then the brown sugar

Pour into cups and enjoy!   You can keep the remaining Chai in canning jars and store in the refrigerator to enjoy for the next few days.


chai 11

Life is good…

Posted in Audio Books, cooking, Mindfulness, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pineapple Upside Cake

The other night our daughter Michelle and her husband Chris invited us to their house for dinner to try Michelle's new Beef and Broccoli recipe.

Somewhere in the past year I read, if someone invites you to dinner, bring wine and dessert. Great! So we brought a bottle of our daughters namesake, Chateu St. Michelle Riesling, and Pineapple Upside down cake. Which seemed like a perfect pairing, and we had all of what we needed in the kitchen!

One reason I decided to bring this Pineapple Upside down Cake is that we were a little short on time, and I've made this cake so often over the years, it could easily be put it together with stuff we had in the pantry in a short amount of time, yet this cake has never disappointed its recipients. As a matter of fact, this recipe was adapted from an old cookbook “Christmas Treasures” that is so loved and used its falling apart, when you hold the book upright, it automatically falls open to this recipe.

The only problem, after trying many different ways to turn this upside down, without the sticky, crunchy caramelie goodness sticking to the bottom of the pan, and almost never has it come out of the pan without a hole in the top of the cake. Thankfully my family never cares what it looks like, but that day I was determined to find a way to conquer the age old problem of a holey pineapple upside down cake.

Parchment paper on the bottom of the pan, seemed like a logical material to keep the top of the cake from sticking, since nothing will stick to Parchment, a quick google search brought up some discussions of home cooks who found success with it, but it would mean changing the recipe again to give it a try, since the old recipe starts out on the stove top in a skillet, it was worth a try to skip the stove top prep and cut a piece of parchment paper to sort of fit this pan, no it doesn't have to be perfect, that takes the fun out!

Melt a stick of butter and pour it over the parchment paper, being careful to cover the entire surface of the bottom of the pan. Notice my fatal error of forgetting to brush some of that butter onto the sides of the pan,learn from my mistake, you need ALL of the pan greased!

Add a cup and a half of brown sugar, just sprinkle it on evenly, being careful not to mix it, just sprinkle!

Drain really well, a can of crushed pineapple, and carefully sprinkle on top of the brown sugar.

In a separate bowl. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt (dry ingredients )

In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar, add the egg, milk and vanilla, mix till well blended.

Add your dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and incorporate until you have this nice cake batter. I dot the batter over the pineapple, then carefully spread it over the surface of the brown sugar, butter, pineapple layers without mixing it together, just smooth the batter over the pineapple till it's covered.

Woops! Out of time, we did not have 50 minutes to wait for this to bake, and still be ontime for dinner, so I covered it with plastic wrap, and asked Michelle to preheat her oven to 350, then popped it into her oven when we arrived, that way this cake could be baking while we enjoyed happy hour, and the most delicious Beef and Broccoli, compliments of Michelle Martin!

After cooling the pan for ten minutes, using a dinner plate out of Michelle's cupboard that was a little bigger than this pan, set It on top of the cake.

Flip it upside down, You don't see this part, but the cake stuck to the sides of the pan because I forgot to grease the sides, stopped and ran a knife along the sides, and flipped again.
The Parchment paper worked perfectly! No holes on the top of the cake! The sides are a little rough though!
Ta Da! The Parchment paper worked! Michelle and I did need to patch the sides for this picture, but still this is a plain golden brown looking cake, not pretty, what to do..

So Michelle grabbed a can of whipped cream and made this Santa clause design, we laughed so hard at the sight of it, but seriously, it tastes so good!

We managed to save a slice for a better looking picture here. No matter how it looks, when my husband and I got into the car to head for home, he said, “That is hands down the best cake ever”

Now my heart melts, here's the recipe:


Pineapple Upside Down Cake

For the topping:

1 stick butter

1 1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1 20 oz can crushed pineapple well drained

assemble in layers as shown above

For the cake

5 Tablespoons butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1/2 Cup milk

1 1/4 Cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

Start by mixing butter and sugar till light yellow and creamy, add the egg, vanilla, and milk, In a small bowl mix dry ingredients, add to wet ingredients, see above photos

Bake at 350 for 50 minutes, important, allow cake to cool 10 minutes before flipping!




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Wild Blueberry Muffins


Wild Blueberry Muffins

Wild Blueberry Muffins


May or June of 2002, I read a life changing article in Woman’s Day Magazine. The article was about home organization. The writer referred to a website http://www.flylady.net Founded by Marla Cilley, who calls herself Flylday, now with over 600,000 members.

Right away I knew this was what I’d been looking for.
I signed up for the daily emails, and dedicated myself to following her instructions.

One of the most important rules is no whining!
There are so many life changers in Flylady’s program I don’t have room here to name them all, but just a few would be: Starting with the kitchen sink. Setting the timer for 15 minutes. One reason for the timer is to prove to yourself you can do anything in 15 minutes. Another is to break your routines into small tasks. Making a short list and following it in order, instead of running around like a chicken with your head cut off. Grocery lists, meal plans, tackling paper clutter, and so much encouragement, like ” You’re not behind, just jump in where you are” “Flying means Finally Loving Yourself” No more beating yourself up for falling behind on things. One of the best lessons was, do a little every day so your weekends are spent doing fun things!

Now to the born organized person this would come naturally, not so for people like me, I had to learn organization! Soon the house was under control. I was painting and decorating, a little at a time, and enjoying life more than ever. Soon our home had become the comfortable place I’d always dreamed about, what a gift, and it was FREE!

Life isn’t perfect, it’s life! I still fall off my routines sometimes, and that’s OK. But the most important thing I learned from Flylady is to stop trying to be perfect, once you let go of perfectionism, you enjoy and appreciate your home and family so much more, because you have the tools in place to manage your own little bed and breakfast, no matter what your situation is.

If you go to the website and see the drawing of Flylady she has wings. I do believe she does Gods work. I will always be greatful for this wonderful lady Marla Cilley (Flylady)
Flying leaves more time for focusing on work, and making time available for doing things you enjoy.

Sometimes before checking off my daily list, I’ll pop something into the oven before I start. The house is filled with happiness while something bakes, then the whole house is blessed. That’s as close to perfection as it gets!

This recipe is simple to make, and most of the ingredients are probably in your pantry. You can buy frozen Blueberries, and make them whenever the mood strikes. The original recipe is called Wild Blueberry Buckle, but the recipe makes an amazing batch of blueberry muffins. Very easy to make and simple ingredients!

In this case I used a jumbo muffin pan wich only makes six muffins, but they look like something from the bakery and taste so much better.

Wild Blueberry Muffins

(Adapted From Wild Blueberry Buckle: Los Angeles Times Easier Than Pie American Desserts/ The Jordan Collection of New England Cookery)


3/4 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup vegatable shortening
1 egg
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup milk
2 cups blueberries

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cinnamon
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup butter
Cream sugar and shortening by beating until fluffy, antn beat in egg. Sift together flour, salt and baking powerder and add to shortening alternately with milk. Blen in blueberries and pour into buttered muffin tin
Mix sugar, cinnamon, flour and butter and sprinkle over top of buckle. Bake at 375 for 30 to 35 minutes for jumbo muffins, or you can bake it as a 10 x 6 coffee cake for 45 minutes.

Posted in baking, cooking, Home Organization, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Attracting Orioles to your back yard feeder

ImageThis is a picture of a Bullocks Oriole:  About 20 years ago we bought our first Hummingbird feeder.  Much to our surprise we noticed a bright yellowish orange visiter trying to drink the nector.  We had lived in this dessert valley 60 miles north of Los Angeles our entire lives, and had never seen such a beautiful bird.  We were able to identify it as an Oriole.  Not long after, we found an official Perky Pet Oriole feeder.  The difference in the feeders is mostly larger ports to accomodate the larger Oriole beak.  I used to spike the nectar with orange extract, but found that not to be necessary, they’ll eat the nectar any way they can get it, but they do love fresh oranges.

The home made nectar recipe to feed Orioles is the same as Hummingbird Nectar.  For many years we’ve enjoyed the Orioles here from about mid March through about July.  Recently I read how much Orioles love grape Jelly.  Since I had only seen one or two Orioles this season, I decided to carve out a few oranges and fill them with a little Welch’s purple magic!  Within about an hour or two we had Orioles dropping out of trees to hit this feeder.  So basically all I did was hang a platform feeder close to the window, cut some oranges in half, take out a little pulp, dot some grape jelly into the crevaces, and get out of the way!

Oriole/Hummingbird nectar:

4 cups water

1 cup white sugar

Directions:  Bring water to a boil, add sugar and stir untill melted.  Cool completely.  Scrub your feeder with soap, hot water, and a little bleach, rinse well, add nectar, and hang from the nearest tree or eve!

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Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies with Toasted Pecans, and Dried Cherries

Adapted from Cooks Illustrated

This is everybody’s favorite cookie around here. Not only are the flavors amazing together, but the oats, and nuts, and dried cherries, and chocolate work together to make one awesome energy food! Forget granola bars, one of these in the afternoon will keep you going till dinner. I try to keep the ingredients for these cookies in stock, It’s very important that Granny and Pop Pop’s house is always a place where you are welcome and loved, and of course, there’s almost always something good to eat, home made fresh out of the oven.


1 1/4 cup flour

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4 cup old fashioned oats

1 cup toasted pecans

1 cup dried tart cherries

3/4 cup chocolate chips

1 1/2 sticks butter

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

1 large egg

2 tsp vanilla

Mix together the dry ingredients, set aside.


Measure out the chocolate chips, dried chopped cherries, and chopped pecans.

Into the bowl of an electric mixer, add the butter and brown sugar. Beat until smooth, add egg and vanilla, beat until smooth.


Add the flour mixture, the pecans, cherries, and chocolate chips..

Mix just until ingredients are incorporated.. You don’t want to make a tough cookie!

Scoop dough with an ice cream scooper onto a cookie sheet. Put the rest of the dough you wont be using right now into a baggy and store in the fridge, to pull out for a fresh hot baked cookie whenever the mood strikes! No more hard cold stale cookies, that leave you feeling like you just wasted a bunch of calories on a hard cold stale cookie!


Bake at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes, check after 15 minutes. Don’t let them get too brown, just sort of golden as in this picture. They need to be chewy, yet soft. Not dark brown and crispy, dark brown and crispy = bad cookie

Recipe tested and approved by Austin 🙂




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