Category Archives: In between

Afternoon Tea

It’s fall, my favorite time of year. With the glorious blow-out of leaf colors it’s as if Mother Nature wants to give us one last hurrah before we enter the quiet time of late fall which then slides into winter.

Fall in the Pioneer Valley

I’ve loved waking up to misty mornings where you could barely see down the hill or cotton candy sunrises. Loved taking Oliver for walks as the leaves drifted down around us. Well okay, the ticks sucked, and there sure were a lot of them this year, but the leaves have been stupendous. I was even happy to watch the colors dampened down from bright reds and yellows to russets and burnt umbre.

Fall mornings

Fall walks

Fall colors starting to quiet down

The other night there was a frost advisory so I grabbed a flashlight and went out to pick the last of my mint. Bundled and tied, I hung it on a drawer pull to dry a save as a last vestige of summer. Then today it snowed. Seriously. October twenty–seventh. So when better to sip a cup of summer than during a weirdly early snowstorm.

Snow in October

Steeping a cup of home grown mint tea

Mint tea for an afternoon cuppa

Honey for my tea

I put on the kettle, brewed up some afternoon mint tea with a spoonful of honey, and settled down with two new cookbooks – blogger Molly Yeh’s first book Molly on the Range and the latest from Sofra Bakery & Cafe Soframiz written by Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick. I’ll report back when the snow has melted and I’ve read them both cover to cover. The recipes in both books look so good it shouldn’t be too long before I’m heading to the kitchen to start making their food.

Molly on the Range and Soframiz

P.S. I got an email today from my name is yeh telling me I’d won one of her book release give-aways. I can’t wait!!!

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Baking Up Some Happy Mail

It’s blueberry season and all I want to do is bake a pie. But I can’t.

Bowl of summer blueberries

Not because it’s too hot to bake, I just don’t want to heat it up to 350º (or 375º or 400º) since a stupid mouse wiggled its way into my stove, couldn’t wiggle back out, and died! I have taken the stove as apart as I am capable of, but cannot find the darn carcass. Since a service call would probably cost more than the stove is worth I’m trying to figure out what my options are. Trust me when I say roasted mouse is not an enjoyable aroma.

So instead of baking up some of summer’s bounty I’ve been making a load of non-baked happy mail. It requires a glue gun, but no oven. The genius behind these mailable treats is Sandra Denneler over at sheknows, and so far this summer I’ve made a whole bunch of popsicle postcards, ice-cream sandwich postcards and one fabulous watermelon mailing package. Basically I’d say just follow the links to Sandra’s instructions and you should be fine. My tweaks to her “recipes” are below.

Cool Summer Happy Mail

Popsicle postcard happy mail

Popsicle Postcards

1 or more pool noodles (I got mine at the dollar store and big lots)

Large popsicle sticks

Decorative Card Stock

Piece of plain paper for each “popsicle”

I found this was the one piece of Happy Mail that the USPS had trouble with. It ended up arriving in a protective plastic bag to some of the folks I sent it to. So what I started doing was putting it inside a popsicle package, much like you’d find in a box of popsicles (I was thinking inside the box for that bit of genius). It meant that I was better off with a slightly shorter popsicle which could be achieved by placing the sticks in further or making your cut at 5″ instead of 6″ on your pool noodle. That allowed me to use a regular sheet of plain paper, taping the back seam, pinking the edges, and adding a few tabs of tape or glue stick to close each end. The added bonus to enclosing the popsicle in a paper wrapper is that you can write a slightly longer note to the recipient since you won’t need to save space for an address or stamps. 

Happy mail popsicle in mailing wrapper

Too hot glue gun can accidentally eat popsicle happy mail

My friend Olivia suggested trying a really sturdy glue (gorilla glue perhaps?) instead of the hot glue gun so you wouldn’t melt the foam of the pool noodle. I had a few instances where there was not good contact between the card stock and shaped foam noodle so that is a suggestion I’ll consider when I make these again.

Ice Cream Sandwich happy mail

Ice-Cream Sandwich Postcards

Dark brown foam “paper”

1″ white upholstery foam

White ink pen

Denneler suggests you paint the foam white. Since I was able to find white foam I skipped this step. I also had a lot of trouble slicing the foam evenly (and my corners never looked good – they always had that nibbled-on appearance). Shawn finally handed me a box knife with a very long blade which allowed me to “saw” mostly straight edges. All the white ink pens I found were opaque, which meant I had to write and then re-write the whole postcard message and address since it felt too light to my eye.

Watermelon happy mail package


Watermelon Package

1 – 8″ smoothfoam 1/2 ball

Light green acrylic paint

Dark green acrylic paint

Mod Podge


Watermelon image (see original instructions for pdf to print out)

Glue Stick or spray glue

Clear packing tape

To get the mottled green watermelon skin you need to apply the dark and light paint together. I started with a thin coat of dark green, let it dry then did another coat of dark green and squirted on lines of light green which I smooshed in a wiggly zig-zag pattern. The mod podge really gives it the look of an actual watermelon and helps protect the acrylic paints too.

Both Shawn and Russell were convinced the watermelon package would be smashed or the lid would pop off so I put very few items in the package and after gluing the “lid” on I added 4″ strips of clear tape with cuts every 1/2 inch on the lid side to allow the tape flat to lie flat without ridges.

Watermelon mailing package with lid glued and taped on

The one I sent arrived in perfect condition (way to go USPS)!

If you happen to find yourself somewhere that it’s too hot to turn on your oven (or if you have a mouse-y problem like mine) try these recipes from the archives:

Watermelon “Cake”
Crêpes with Blueberries
Zebra Cake
Herbal Ice Tea or Plain No-Sun Ice Tea
Grilled Pizza

Blueberry crepes


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How Do You Relax?

The other day someone asked me what I did to relax. It’s an interesting question since what I do to relax and recharge might be someone else’s idea of landing in the seventh circle of purgatory with the flames turned on high. Still I was the one being asked the question so here are my answers:

There’s a fair amount of fluidity to what is on or off my relaxation list at any given time, though cooking and reading have pretty consistently had a spot. There’s a chance that some things may make a comeback (beekeeping), while others will decidedly stay in the past tense (running, macramé and reupholstery). It’s my list, so don’t judge.

My latest knitting project


While cooking is at the top of my list, I realized it didn’t have to be my cooking. I am truly tickled when someone else cooks for me. It’s honestly such a treat, and it happened last night. My husband made us a pot of his Kielbasa Stew to take the chill off.

Warm up with a big pot of Kielbasa Stew

Shawn’s been making this dish for me since we first started courting over twenty-two years ago. The first time was probably during the blizzard just after we met. While this stew is never the same, it is always delicious. Simple, straightforward food for a cold winter’s night. Serve with a game of backgammon and it’s sure to be a relaxing evening.

Shawn’s Kielbasa Stew

Chicken Broth

Onions, chopped

Carrots, peeled and chopped

Potatoes, peeled or not and cubed

Turkey Kielbasa, sliced into discs

Sun Dried Tomatoes, slivered (optional)

Olive Oil

Lightly sauté chopped onions in a splash of olive oil and when they become translucent stir in the kielbasa. Put the lid on and let the kielbasa heat up for 5-10 minutes. Then add the broth and vegetables, simmering over low heat until the potatoes and carrots have softened, about 20-30 minutes.

You can add a dollop of horseradish to your bowl if you need a good sinus cleanse. If you like something to dip in your stew add a slice of cheese-y toast. Or plain, cause it’s just dandy as is.

If you’re wondering what the measurements are for this stew you’re out of luck. Shawn doesn’t measure, he just goes by what feels good and what’s in the cupboard. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be fine!

Shawn's super easy Kielbasa Stew

I’m interested in what you do to relax. Leave a comment below cause I might want to try it, and I promise no judging.


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Giving Thanks

The kids are home from college and catching up on some much-needed rest. I’ve done my shopping, though I’d forgotten about the locust-like tendencies of teenagers and twenty-somethings who have been surviving on dining hall food for months, so I’ll be off to the store again this morning for a few more staples. It is gratifying to see that both Isabelle and Russell like to cook and it is usually the first thing they do when they get home.

This year we’re going to try something new. Not to eat, since that will consist of our tried and true favorites, but rather to read. Seth Godin’s Thanksgiving Reader *. It’s a a free download you can print out and share at your Thanksgiving meal.

The Thanksgiving Reader by Seth Godin

If you wanted some Thanksgiving food ideas you can try these:

I’ll be making several of these Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Pies

These are tastey no-bake treats for your vegan and/or gluten-free friends

Our stuffing, well dressing really since we cook it out of the bird, is a variation on this recipe

I made a double batch of Ginger Cranberry sauce yesterday

If you love applesauce here’s an easy one to whip up

I’m going to try The Food Lab’s dry brine turkey this year

We’ll probably make a Thankful Pie with some of the leftovers

For my vegetarian friends I suggest you check out 101 Cookbooks

If you’re a really adventurous vegan you may want to tackle J. Kenji López-Alt’s Vegetable Wellington, it looks amazing

Getting ready for Thanksgiving

I am grateful for my family, the food we will be cooking, and being able to share this food journey with you my readers. Wishing you a very happy Thankgiving.

* Since I’m writing this post the day before Thanksgiving and there seems to be a high demand for the reader you can also click here to go directly to the pdf.


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Adding Some Color

Pink field flowersTwenty seven days is a long time. Not in relationship to a lifetime, or even when considered in the context of the 365 days that form a year, but for my family the past 27 days marks the longest time we’ve neither seen nor heard from Isabelle since the day she was born. Black eyed SusansMostly things seemed pretty normal around here during the month of June. The lawn mower decided to take an extended vacation so we’re seeing what our yard looks like without being mowed – it’s rather pretty. Shawn went out to Chicago to celebrate the 100th birthday of a friend. The septic system needed emptying, which is a job I’m sure the guys driving those honey trucks do not get paid enough to do. DaisiesOliver the dog decided to tell a visiting buck whose yard it was, only to be sprayed with something pretty nasty (I didn’t know that deer could do that). He came yelping back to the house for a bath. The deer got to spend the night bedded down in our pink flowers. Deer bedFor Isabelle though June meant Air Force ROTC Field Training month (well 27 days to be exact). Which, in this age of being in touch 24/7, dialed the clock back to the pre-cell phone, pre-texting, pre-Skyping, pre-Facebook, pre-Instagram, even pre-phone calling days. In order to communicate we had to take pen to paper and let the USPS shuttle our missives back and forth.Radishes and carrotsWe did get some letters, which were read again and again. Then an actual call last night after her graduation ceremony. It was lovely hearing her voice, and reassuring to find out she hadn’t melted into a puddle in the Alabama heat. I’m sure there are stories, some which can be shared, and others which cannot. The main thing I’m grateful for is that she made it through and came out smiling. Vegetables from the farmer's marketAfter nearly a month of military food I thought our Cadet could use some color in her diet. So before driving down to pick her up from the airport we stopped by the farmer’s market to get some vegetables and fruit. It should make a change from MREsCherry tomatoes and peasThe other touch of color she requested was to stop for dinner at our favorite local vegetarian restaurant Paul & Elizabeth’s on the drive home, followed by ice cream at Herrell’s. I guess she’d been dreaming about ice cream a lot while down in the south, can’t imagine why. Herrell’s was super sweet and had a free sundae waiting for her. Here’s to a summer filled with rainbows of color and no more MREs. Celebratory sundae at Herrell's


P.S. Here is the pile of mail she received while at FT. It’s incomplete as there were many letters which hadn’t arrived by the time she left. We’re expecting they’ll be forwarded to us or returned to sender. All in all a huge stack of happy mail.

Field Training happy mail

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Owning It

Sometimes I come up with the absolutely, bestest ideas for other people, and I’m trying really hard to stop doing that. Or at least reign in my inclinations. A classic example is when Isabelle was about to enter 10th grade and I thought it would be amazing if she made a Periodic Table of Elements for her Chemistry class at the Academy at Charlemont. Not just a drawing of the elements, but a painting of all one hundred and thirteen of them, each on its own miniature canvases. When I come up with an idea for someone else it’s usually a doozy!

Periodic tableUnfortunately Isabelle initially said yes to my grand idea so I went down to the Guild Art Supply and ordered 113 – 2″ square canvases. A color scheme was come up with, and at one point in the year Belle and a friend painted the backgrounds for most of the series (there may have been some prodding on my part, I don’t really remember). It took her most of 10th grade for her to finally got up her courage and tell me she didn’t want to do this project since it was, as she truthfully informed me, “your idea Mom.” Gulp. She then asked if she could use a few of the canvases to keep so she could paint some pictures for her friends because they were, after all, pretty cute. As I was feeling somewhat deflated that she didn’t think my grand idea was quite so grand, I said yes.

A few years later Russell, who by 10th grade was much better at saying no than his sister, didn’t even let me finish my sentence when I suggested he take over the project. He just gave me the “you have got to be kidding me” face and I stopped mid-sentence.

Nothing is square

So the project sat in a small box in the back of Isabelle’s closet until last year when Russell decided to skip his senior year of high school and go to college a year early. It was time for me to finish my great chemistry class idea and paint individual canvases of the Periodic Table of Elements. So as my son was finishing up the spring semester of his junior year I spent the evenings and weekends painting and hand lettering the metals, non-metals, alkali metals, alkaline earth metals, halogens, and chalogens. Unfortunately I’d forgotten about the canvases Isabelle had borrowed, plus there was that pesky element 116 Livermorium, which had been added to the table since I’d first conceptualized this little project, which resulted in my having to make a desperate last minute trip to the Guild to get a few more canvases. Unfortunately they were sold out. There is a reason everyone tells you not to procrastinate. The clerks at Guild took pity on me and scoured the store for sample mini canvases, which someone had painted on for display purposes. They let me have those samples so that I could paint over the micro landscapes and finish up my PTE.

Working late into the night

There was also the very large reality of how to place 114 elements, all nicely painted on miniature canvases, onto a background. That was a pretty big mistake of mine, since a background was not something I had conceptualized at all when I was dreamt up this wonderful idea. My poor husband, as so often happens, was asked to come to the rescue. He can think in 3D and spatially understood that while the canvases might have fit into a box slightly bigger than a gallon sized paint can when stacked on top of one another, they were going to take up a heck of a lot more real estate when spread out into the Periodic Table of Elements. He also realized that those cute little canvases were not square. Not a single one of them, which meant the background had to be even bigger. Fortunately he has the brain of an engineer, the skill of a master carpenter, and the patience of a saint. He even calculated the maximum size this background could be so that it would still fit into my car, thus saving him the job of transporting the PTE to the Academy in his truck.

Not so small periodic table of elements

Just before the end of the school year I finished it. Five years and two chemistry teachers later. By some miracle the whole thing fit, by a few millimeters, into the space in the chemistry room designated for the Periodic Table of Elements. Hopefully I have learned my lesson when it comes to thinking up epic ideas for other people.

Mike Cardozo the PTE and me

Also I think that for the foreseeable future my involvement with chemistry will be solely through food and cooking.

Periodic Table of Elements


P.S. I found a wonderful book at the Jones library the other week, Paul Parson & Gail Dixon’s The Periodic Table: A visual guide to the Elements. You can find it on AbeBooks, but it costs much more than it’s original price of $14.95, so my recommendation is to go to your local library and check out their copy.

periodic table book

Photo credits: drawing of Periodic Table of Elements courtesy of Middlebury College. All other photos by Shawn Allen.


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Best Christmas Present Ever

Two weeks ago I gave my sister the best homemade Christmas present ever. It smelled good, tasted good, and I knew she’d love it. Here’s what it consisted of:

1  1/4 pounds of sugar

2  3/4 cups sugar

1  1/2 cups brown sugar

half a dozen eggs

10  1/3 cups flour







1 cup pecans

Non parelis and colored sugars

Baking Soda, Baking Powder, Salt

What I made and gave her was raw cookie dough for Molasses Cookies, Snickerdoodles, Scandinavians, Sugar Cookies, and Shawn’s favorite Pecan Butterscotch cookies.

Cookie dough for Christmas

Why is this the best homemade Christmas present ever? Because it makes her house smell divine plus it gave her way more cookie booty than the I would have had time to bake and decorate. The bonus was after everything was baked and eaten that was it, no worries about if what I gave her fit her decor or if she had shelf space for it. Though since she’s my sister I can say with confidence that if I did give her something it would be to her taste. She is my sister after all.

Try it, there’s still time for you to make this present yourself and give it to someone near and dear. If you’d like use the recipes on my blog, or if you have favorite holiday cookie recipes whip up a batch of those. Make sure to include all the bits and bobs they’ll need to finish the cookies such as cinnamon sugar for the Snickerdoodles, red and green colored sugar as well as some red seedless jam for the Scandinavians (whoops, sorry I forgot the jam Heather!), along with baking times and temperatures. I should have added a roll of parchment paper but my sister was creative and made do without, cause I forgot that too.

Don't forget all the bits and bobs for decorating cookies

When you’re thinking of which cookies to give make sure they can be formed into a log, then sliced and baked. Snickerdoodles, molasses crinkles, and pecan butterscotch cookies all work well and can be cut from refrigerated or frozen logs. For anything that needs to be sugared before baking simply dip the slices in sugar and make sure both sides get coated well. Scandinavians need to be smooshed into thumbprints so those work too but let the recipient know they have to come to room temperature first. Since sugar cookie dough needs to be rolled out before being cut into shapes I make a flat disc of that dough so it’s easier to roll out.

 You could also make a Christmas CD to get everyone in the cookie baking–tree decorating (in case they don’t have their tree up)–present wrapping mood. I mentioned some of my favorites in this blog post. This year I’ve been listening a lot to Straight No Chaser’s Christmas Cheer , who have cheeky remixes of some of my old favorites. I’ve also been cranking this and this, both of which have been flying around the internet this holiday season.

Another reason I gave this gift to my sister is because she’s pretty busy with their newest family member – Edgar Allen Pug. They all have their hands and laps full of this adorable new puppy. He is the softest, most scrumptious black pug ever!

Edgar Allen Pug

Edgar the pug


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