Plein Air Jelly

When our lunch at Plein Air was over last Saturday, I brought home all the Sangria fruit plus the cut up fruit that had been served with the crackers and cheese ball. It was a lot of fruit. Cantaloupe and watermelon balls, blueberries, apples, plums, nectarines, pears, and some thinly sliced lemons. I forgot to take a picture of what I had. I just couldn’t stand for all that good fruit to go to waste. #wastenotwantnot

I cooked it up, put it through the food mill and then strained that juice which had a fair amount of pulp in it. I didn’t put it in a jelly bag, but strained it through a colander with fairly small mesh. Some fruit particles came through so the jelly isn’t as clear as It would be if I’d used a jelly bag. I wasn’t going for jelly to enter in the State Fair.

I needed 5 1/2 cups of juice according to the “plum” SureJell recipe. I used that one because it was closest to the amount of juice I had which came from mostly stone fruits. I was a little short so decided to add some Peach Schnapps I had in the cupboard.

I think this was leftover from the year Laura and I rode in the Christmas in St. Michaels parade. It was bitterly cold and we decided we needed a flask. I must have used this for something else since there was only about a quarter cup left. But this stuff never goes bad, right?

I got all my canning supplies ready and put pint jars through the dishwasher.

I followed the recipe exactly as I wanted the best chance to have the jelly jell.

Eight pints went into the canning kettle for a 10 minute boiling water bath.

Several of the ladies from the Plein Air lunch will get a jar. It’s a beautiful claret color and is fruity with a hint of lemon. And it jelled…unlike my strawberry jam in June. Yum!


Caramel Apples with Nuts and Chocolate

We have new next door neighbors. The house had been a rental for the eleven years we’ve lived here and it’s wonderful to see this couple dig in to make it their own. One of the first things they did was remove a row of Leland Cyprus along their back fence. That will give me some much needed sun in a back section of my garden although I will no longer be able to cut cyprus branches from the back of that hedgerow to use in my winter windowboxes.

This weekend the neighbors borrowed our chop saw for two days and this is what they brought over to say thank you. The presentation was incredible and the caramel apples are fantastic. Kerry and Renee – you can borrow our tools anytime.


I liked the Halloween color contrast between the colorful apples, the chocolate and the caramel. I guess you can get these clear cellophane bags at the craft store. I’m lucky if I get cookies for a neighbor on a paper plate and covered with Saran. I really should try to do this better.


I cut the apples into slices so they would be easier to eat, although that might have been a BIG mistake.

Here’s the recipe as best I could figure it out from my neighbor’s description. I think she’s one of those cooks who doesn’t always follow a recipe.

6 craft sticks

6 cold, crisp apples (caramel sticks better if apples are cold)

1 (14 ounce) package individually wrapped caramels, unwrapped

2 tablespoons milk

Chopped mixed salted nuts

Dark chocolate bar, melted

Remove the stem from each apple and press a craft stick into the top. Butter a parchment covered baking sheet.Place caramels and milk in a microwave safe bowl, and microwave 2 minutes, stirring once. Or melt caramels slowly on stove top. Allow to cool briefly.

Roll each apple quickly in caramel sauce until well coated. Place on prepared baking sheet to set. Place in refrigerator to cool. Before caramel becomes totally cold, roll in chopped salted mixed nuts. Return to fridge to cool.

Melt dark chocolate and drizzle over apples. Store in refrigerator.

Green Tomatoes = Chowchow

I had a table full of green tomatoes in the garage after pulling up the tomato plants from my raised beds at the Community Garden. I could have waited for them to ripen (some of them would have) but I needed the table for another project. While sorting through a pile of magazines, I came across a recipe for green tomato Chow Chow. I even had almost all the ingredients in the house.

I needed 3 lbs of green tomatoes, so I pulled out my kitchen scale and the amount of tomatoes I had was just a tad over. Perfect. I pulsed them in the Cuisinart, salted them and put them in a colander to drain.


While that was happening, I began running my pint canning jars through a quick cycle in the dishwasher.  I pulsed a head of cabbage and 2 large onions in the Cuisinart. (I took a selfie of myself crying over the onions but vanity prevented me from putting it in this blog post.)


Then 1 hot red pepper from my garden,  and two large red bell peppers – the recipe called for a green one which I didn’t use. I like the pop of color the red peppers added.



I gathered pickling spices into a piece of cheesecloth, and dumped it all into the biggest stock pot I had.


Sugar and vinegar were added and it boiled for an hour and a half. I thought it might be mush after cooking it so long, but it wasn’t.


The house smelled wonderful. Towards the end of that boiling, I got my canner on the stove and started heating water. I used my electric kettle to help the process along. I sterilized my lids and tools and was ready to go as soon as the dishwasher stopped. At the end I had seven pints of green tomato chow chow. A pint and a half went into the fridge and it’s delicious.


Here’s the recipe if you’re interested.

Green Tomato Chowchow

  • 3 lbs green tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1 medium head cabbage
  • 1 lb onions (about 3 medium)
  • 2 large sweet red peppers
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped – I used a red pepper from my garden
  • 4 cups cider vinegar
  • 2 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 tsp mixed pickling spice

Chop tomatoes. Transfer to a strainer and sprinkle with salt. Let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, chop cabbage, onions and red peppers. I chopped onions and cabbage separately in the Cuisinart. Place in a large pot with drained tomatoes and jalapeno. Stir in vinegar and sugar. Place pickling spices on a double thickness of cheesecloth. Gather corners to enclose spices, tie securely with string and add to pan.

Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered until thickened, stirring occasionally, 1 – 1 1/2 hours. Discard the spice bag.

The original recipe called for this to be cooled and refrigerated until used. I put my boiling hot mixture in prepared pint jars and processed in a hot water bath canner for 10 minutes. This made 8 pints with a little more. My canner holds 7 jars, so the remainder went into the fridge.

This is a delicious accompaniment to all kinds of meat. It had a little warmth from the pepper, which is all I wanted. Oh, I also put a clove of garlic in each of the jars I canned. I haven’t opened any of those yet to see what the garlic does to the flavor. I will definitely make green tomato chowchow again next year.





What Happened before Wildlife in the Garage

Friday night I came home around ten from an Eastern Shore Writers Association meeting in Berlin, Maryland. I went with Laura Ambler, Betty Ann Sands and Jo Ebling. The drive is an hour and a half  from Easton (almost to Ocean City, MD) and on the way Laura was talking about the Healing Tree in Berlin that Mindie Burgoyne had told her about. Laura wanted to hug the tree. We were a little early so we parked and walked to the tree – a weirdly twisted sycamore.

healing tree and Laura

Supposedly you feel healing energy when you put your hands near the tree. Didn’t work for me or Betty Ann. Looks like it worked for Laura like a shot of vodka. Jo said she felt something.

The meeting was at The Globe in Berlin. This small town looks very interesting. Sort of like St. Michaels, MD. Lots of shops and places to eat and drink. Perhaps worth a trip back during the week. It’s probably crawling with tourists during the summer season because of its proximity to Ocean City, MD so maybe this fall.

Our speaker at the meeting was Denise Clemons who writes a food column for the Cape Gazette in the Lewes, DE area. Denise, who is a master gardener, went into the Gazette office ten years ago to pitch a garden column. She was told they had a garden columnist but their food column person was really ill and that’s what they needed. Any writer worth her salt would have said yes and that’s just what Denise did. So for ten years she’s been writing a food column which is not the same thing as a restaurant review column. She told us no one will invite her and her husband to dinner. Hey, Denise, come on over. I’m not afraid. I was taught to cook by my Iowa mother who was raised on a farm. My cooking is overlaid with a garnish of Food Network tips. My specialty is figuring out how to make something wonderful out of leftovers in the fridge. It’s kind of liked Chopped!

At this point my husband would be saying, “please come to the point. What does this have to do with wild life life in the garage?”

When I opened the garage door – not to pull in my car – the garage is full of gardening stuff, I noticed a small frog hop into the garage and go behind a bookshelf full of odds and ends. It was after ten o’clock, way past my bedtime. I wasn’t about to try and find that friggin’ frog.

That day I had finally planted by window boxes and they were under the tree waiting for Saturday’s predicted rain. I had planted most of the rest of my raised-from-seeds seedlings but there were still a few plants that I had to drag into the garage. Including that rosebush!

The next morning I noticed that one of the cells where I had planted hyacinth beans looked like it had a seed sprouting. A sprout with  two eyes? Something wasn’t right. Turns out the little frog had found a bed for the night but before I could put my palm over his temporary quarters, he jumped out and disappeared again. It was raining and the prediction was for it to continue all day. I’ll be prepared for him in the morning and try to return him (or her) to the native habitat.

In the meantime I was working on the draft of the third book in my Romantic Suspense series. Late in the afternoon when I had left the office I was sitting in the living room reading. My husband was watching the news (turned up because his hearing aids are about to quit). Suddenly I had an idea about the plot of the book I was writing. I have learned from bitter experience that I need to get up immediately and write it down because if I don’t it will probably NOT come back to me. How this new plot twist insinuated its way between a thriller novel and political talking heads astounds me, but it did. I’ll work on that, and the frog, tomorrow.

Sunday morning update: checked for frog but didn’t see any evidence it had checked into the frog motel overnight. If it’s not raining hard today I may leave the garage door open and perhaps he will leave. I don’t want to find him dried up behind the paint cans.

Monday morning update: still no frog and still raining. That rosebush may not get planted until July.


My New Favorite Thing – Fried Halloumi Cheese

My husband loves what he calls “French dinners.” It’s really tapas from leftovers. A little bit of this and a little bit of that with a nice bottle of wine. Now I have something new to serve which elevates leftovers to another level. Fried Halloumi cheese.

halloumi cheese prep

I saw this cheese in the health food store a couple of weeks ago. It said it was the “authentic grilling cheese of Cyprus.” It was made from goat and sheep milk which are dairy sources I can eat, so I bought some.

When I came home I looked it up on the internet. Turns out that fried Halloumi cheese and olives are a staple breakfast dish in the middle east. The cheese is cut into cubes and fried in olive oil to which a few red pepper flakes have been added. The cheese gets a lovely brown crust.

halloumi cheese and mala

Laura was coming over for dinner since her husband was flying. She helped put our French/Middle Eastern/Spanish tapas dinner on the coffee table. Steamed shrimp with fresh herbs. Salami. A salad made from three different kinds of cherry tomatoes from my garden with pea shoots (local farmer’s market) dressed with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar with honey. Green grapes and local figs. And, of course, the fried Halloumi Cheese with olives. And wine. What a treat. Note: unless we are eating in the dining room, Laura prefers to sit on the floor.

halloumi cheese Laura and Roger

When the evening was over I thought how easy this dinner had been. Of course with Laura I never angst about whether the house is clean, but I was talking to myself about getting better about inviting people for simple dinners that don’t take all day. The all day affairs always leave my wondering what was I thinking when I issued those invitations. I predict more French dinners in my future.

Do What Your Mother Tells You

My mother died six years ago. But I still talk to her – usually in that thin space between consciousness and sleep. Last week I had something troubling me and I knew it would almost certainly keep me awake. Or if I woke up in the middle of the night, I’d start obsessing which, as you know, doesn’t help solve anything.

So I asked my mother what I should do. And the answer came loud and clear.

Bake pies!

What the hell did that mean? But I did go to sleep. When I woke in the middle of the night she was still telling me to bake pies. In the morning I asked my psychologist husband what he thought it meant. A wise man, he said he thought my mother was telling me to stop worrying (easier said than done) and do something that gave me joy.

My mother was an Iowa farm girl and from her I learned to cook, bake and preserve food. We weren’t a mother and daughter who shared confidences. I didn’t consider her my best friend, but she was always there when I needed her. And she taught me confidence and how to do things. She told me I could do or be anything I wanted. At age eight, when I told her I wanted to be a brain surgeon and a ballerina, she didn’t crack a smile.

When I asked for advice, she gave it, but didn’t interfere if I didn’t follow her suggestions. This time I thought I should listen.

peach pie crust

So I baked pies the next day. I haven’t baked a peach pie in a very long time, even though they were my favorite kind when I was a kid. I even made the crust from scratch.

peach pies

When they came out of the oven, I took one to Laura’s office and she and her accountant, Betty Ann, and I took a pie break. Baking pies and sharing them with friends gave me joy.

Sometimes you just need to do what your mother tells you.

Dinner on the Terrace

Laura served dinner on the terrace and sent me photos. With that view who needs dinner!

wine glass for blog

On the menu: Chicken Marinara

Time: 30 minutes.

Baked chicken breast medallions over angel hair pasta with an artichoke, black olive, and tiny squares of fresh mozzarella marinara topped with basil. A side of (canned) green beans tossed with olive oil, vinegar, and chopped walnuts, refrigerated. You just can’t mess this one up. Mala note: canned green beans. Seriously? I could have given you fresh radishes, arugula and lettuce from my garden. My beans just started to bloom.

Chicken Marinara

For my recent birthday Laura gave me a bottle of black truffle oil. Last night I made mushroom risotto and used some of the oil. Wow. It really ramped up the flavor. What a great gift.

Summer crabs should be available soon. Stay tuned.

Laura Offers Wine and Velveeta



wine glass for blog Casal Garcia for blog

Sometimes it’s all about the wine. Casal Garcia. A faintly effervescent rose Vinho Verde from Portugal. A perfect spring wine!

Time: 30 seconds.

Paired with the first outdoor hamburger grilling of the season topped with a healthy slab of (Velveeta) cheese. Oh, yeah, I went there. And it was awesome. I’m still drooling.


Added potato chips, some nuked (that looks weird!) fresh corn and asparagus in butter, and a side of applesauce. Yum!

Time: 10 minutes

Note from Mala: Is Velveeta cheese? I’m not sure. But it does make a very creamy base for cheese sauces. My favorite real cheese is Manchego sheep cheese with a little bit of quince paste on top. And a glass of wine. Let’s not forget the wine!

Laura Blogs about Seared Duck Breast

I love cooking. I love cooking shows. I love talking about food. Ask friends, and even not so close friends, I love talking about food. I actually drool. Seriously. It’s disgusting.

I love thinking and writing about food and once penned a screenplay called Secrets of the CIA. No, not the spooky alphabet agency- the Culinary Institute of America.

Mala and I manage to add food into just about anything we write. I just plain love food. From pate and caviar, to Big Macs and fried bologna sandwiches, count me in. And Bugles? Don’t get me started. They make the BEST witchy fingernails ever and then – YOU GET TO EAT THEM!!! Does food get better than that??

The subject of dinner comes up in the office every afternoon and especially when Mala and I are writing. We tantalize each other with what we had the night before or what’s to come tonight.

Mala thought it might be fun to share. I liked the idea because (I’m the REALLY crummy, sluggy, non-contributing partner in this blog.) plus it would give me a way to remember some of these dishes. (Don’t blame the wine. I try not to.)

Dinner usually starts with a survey of the fridge, freezer, and pantry and no pre-planned menu. Last night’s sortie turned into:

Duck Medallians

Seared duck breast medallions with parmesan mashed turnips drizzled with a brown butter duck jus and a red cabbage/Granny Smith apple, honey and balsamic vinegar slaw.

Time: 35 minutes (for 2 or 3)

Chop turnips, boil
Pan sear duck breast in butter/olive oil. Then put in oven for 10-20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Chop ¼ of red cabbage, ½ Granny Smith Apple and add honey and Balsamic to to taste. Refrigerate.

Smash/rice/whip turnips. Add butter, parm, cream, etc. (whatever you have).

Salt and pepper EVERYTHING. To taste.

Then Plate. Make it pretty! (Good plating is like lingerie- a feast for the eyes that whets the senses, and makes everything taste better! Which results in, as my friend Speedy calls it, “The big food O!”

Note from Mala: Laura’s plate looks like it came from a restaurant kitchen. Mine never look like that. I love cooking, but we have a lot of food sensitivities in our household which makes cooking challenging. Laura has inspired me to try to make my plates prettier. But her comment about lingerie?  Just ask my lucky husband.