Chestnuts – Fresh from the Garden

Fresh Chestnuts
The chestnuts are looking great this year!  They feel solid and I have been picking them them this morning.  Picking chestnuts is a prickly affair, one best wears heavy shoes and gloves. If you are fortunate to have a chestnut tree in your garden, it’s well worth the effort!



Once harvested, the nuts are  washed and then soaked in hot water (120-125F) for 30 minutes. Any nuts that float to the top are considered ‘not good’ and are discarded. They are then cooled, dried and stored at 35-40F in cloth bags. They will keep for weeks until ready to roast.

How to roast
chestnunts on baking sheetslitting chestnut
1. preheat the oven to 425F  
2. cut a Y slit into each nut

3. line cookie sheet with foil and spread out the nuts in a single layer
4. fold up the foil, leaving opening on the sides, then add 1/2 cup waterPeeled Chestnuts
5. roast for ~20 minutes
6. take out of oven, peel and enjoy

Roasted nuts can be shelled and frozen for later use.  Shelling is much easier when the nuts are hot. I leave the pan in the oven and get 2-3 nuts out at a time, then pack them in ziplock bags and put in the freezer.

Odenwälder Kochkäse – German Cooked Cheese – Recipe

One of our favorite foods when visiting Germany is Kochkäse, a creamy, semi-liquid cheese that is served on bread, on top of Schnitzel, or it can be eaten like a dip with crackers.  There is no shortage of recipes, most of them use ingredients impossible to find in the US, take weeks to prepare, or are complete fails in the flavor department.
For the last 20 years I have tried to make this delicacy here in Chattanooga. For the first time…..SUCCESS…Here’s my recipe using Greek Yogurt.

Koch Käse with crackers

Koch Käse with crackers

1 Large (35.3 ounce) container 2% Fage Greek Yogurt
2 1/2 teaspoons Natron (Baking Soda)
2 teaspoons Salt
2 tablespoons Butter
2 teaspoons caraways seeds (if desired)

Yogurt with Natron and Salt

Yogurt with Natron and Salt

1. Strain the yogurt in the fridge overnight.
Line a strainer with cheesecloth (a kitchen towel, coffee filter or clean handkerchief will do too). Set the strainer over a bowl and pour the yogurt into the lined strainer.
2. Pour the thick yogurt into a bowl and mix well with the Natron and Salt, using a wooden spoon.  Cover the bowl and let sit out on the counter at room temperature.  Stir every few hours until the mixture is translucent. This process will take about 24 hours.
3. Pour the mixture into a pot, add 2 tablespoons Butter. Stir constantly and slowly warm on VERY LOW setting until it has the consistency of vanilla pudding.  DO NOT let this mixture get hot or it will curdle.  If desired, add caraway seeds.
4. Pour into containers and store covered in fridge, will keep 2 weeks.

Finished Kochkäse

Finished Kochkäse

Bite Back at Henbit

Come visit and take a look in our gardens, you’d surely soon guess my favorite color in plants. From light lavender to a deep, nearly black – purple – it’s present in every bed and during every season.

But not every purple flowering plant is a keeper. Henbit – OH NO! I have no idea where it came from but it’s everywhere in our garden. Lamium amplexicaule officially is a member of the mint family, flowers during cool weather and is present throughout the US.

Henbit plant

Henbit – GO AWAY!


My favorite method, so I’ll mention it first. Spread newspapers, flattened cardboard boxes and junk mail around the plants and cover with a thick layer of compost or mulch. Instantly, the beds look great and cared for and weeds stay suppressed all season. You may be tempted to go for weed fabric or plastic – resist and use biodegradable paper. It’s better for the environment and there will be no need to wrestle with bits and pieces of material a year or two down the road.
Don’t give weeds a chance to get started!

Hand Weeding

What other activity can you think of that is so destructive and rewarding at the same time?
While not having to hand weed would be the best option at all, no amount of mulching and using groundcovers will eliminate weeds completely. Henbit seems to only need a single ray of sunshine and a speck of dirt to grow into a fine specimen plant!
Try to disturb the ground as little as possible and avoid disbursing weed seeds (don’t shake off the plant) before tossing it. Use a hand weeder or a pair of clippers to cut off at the base. repeat as needed and sooner or later, the roots will be exhausted and incapable of sending up new growth.

Paint Class

So I have been thinking about painting some of the —eeewww brown— furniture in our house for some time.  I am not someone to whom design and matching colors comes naturally so ii have been following Pinterest boards and paint groups on facebook for some time.
Finally, I was ready to take the plunge and try out some painting techniques on an olf board.  I started -per the info I learned from the paint groups- by going to some ACE hardware stores and buying sample paints (on sale 1.99) in the colors I liked, plaster of paris powder, sandpaper, wipe on finish coat, and java gel.

I think it was my good luck to see the ad for the painting class at Redbriar Antiques when i was out shopping.  ‘bring a piece of furniture and leave with it finished’. I signed on the dotted line!

So rather then trying out painting on a scrap board, I jumped in head first and painted this gossip bench.

gossip bench


gossip bench

getting ready to paint

gossip bench


gossip bench

java gel top, purple and cream paint

gossip bench

home again – all finished

Mixing It Up

One of the things I love about Belle’s garden is the way that she has mixed edibles with ornamentals, and perennials with annuals. You will find fruit trees and brugmansia, tomatoes and jade plants, and many other examples of food-producing plants alongside ornamentals in Belle’s beautiful garden.

In my own garden, I try to emulate Belle’s permaculture-esque approach. One trellis supports sweet autumn clematis, another provides a structure for a grape vine. Each spring, I sprinkle zinnia seeds betwixt and between the perennials in my garden. Rosemary and sage grow next to coneflowers and rose bushes. I even have a small patch of asparagus, which offers beauty (those fern-like fronds are gorgeous), delicious salad additions, and the sturdiness of a perennial.

There are so many reasons to garden, and we each have our own set of wishes and desires when we bring together soil, seeds, roots, water, and sunshine. My grandparents had a bit of an on-going battle regarding gardening for food or for pleasure. My grandmother loved flowers and throughout my life she planted all sorts of things. My grandfather, though, somehow thought growing flowers was wasteful. He preferred to see any gardening efforts go toward growing vegetables.

Asparagus, Penstemon, and Lilies growing in a tangle.

Asparagus, Penstemon, and Lilies growing in a tangle.

Happily, there is a middle ground, and Belle demonstrates it wonderfully. Pathways that twist and turn amongst the flowers, fruit trees, berry bushes, and vegetables offer surprises no matter which way you look. My favorite time to visit Belle is during her spring driveway sale. At that time, there is an area behind her house that is filled with purple iris and columbine. It is breathtaking — even though she doesn’t have any edibles mixed in that particular area!

Winter look of Belle's mixed garden with columbine and iris

Winter look of Belle’s mixed garden with columbine and iris




Snow, Ice, and Strawberry Dreaming

Some people love winter. They say things like, “Snow! Sweaters! Hot chocolate!” and smile. I’m not one of those people. I don’t own the proper clothing — it seems crazy to buy expensive boots that I might need for one week out of an entire year. No. I’m a thin-blooded southerner who handles heat far better than cold!

For me, the absolute worst part of winter is February. The majority of this week in Chattanooga the temperature is unlikely to rise above freezing. At my house there is a thin blanket of snow on the ground. The few, sad flower stalks leftover from last year in my garden are coated in ice. The little pond is frozen over.

icy garden

What is a gardener to do?

Plan, of course. And dream. I’m using part of this week to draw a map of the berry patch my family will build this summer. We have blueberry bushes, wild raspberries and blackberries to tame, and we are ordering strawberry plants. We will have a much larger garden this year than usual so there is quite a lot of planning to do. This forced “thinking time” is probably a good idea!

Eventually, we hope to be able to offer a “U-Pick” berry option, so we are trying to think about the future as well as the upcoming season. With all of that in mind, I’m going to plant the strawberries in gutters. I will set three foot tall posts every ten feet or so, drill holes in the gutters for drainage, and attach them to the posts.

Then, I will fill the gutters with soil and strawberry plants. The benefits of this system are that weed control will be much easier, no bending to pick berries will be required, and it will be easy to snip the runners.

There are drawbacks, as well. Watering will be an absolute requirement. There are several irrigation systems that could work, and I will be investigating them this summer. One intriguing design I’ve looked at included a second set of gutters running beneath the one with the plants in it. The bottom gutter would be filled with water with some sort of mechanism that would allow the roots to wick up water.

Strawberries themselves are a promise of spring. Already, we are getting some pretty good Californian strawberries in the grocery stores. That alone is enough to give me hope that the ice, snow, and freezing temperatures will soon be gone!

Here are some places you can learn more about growing strawberries in gutters, if you are interested:


Jeff’s Favorite Cake – Recipe

Time: 20 minutes prep, 25 minutes bake, 10 minutes finish
Difficulty: Easy2014-11-27 09.17.44 (Small)Step 1:

100 g butter
100 g sugar
1 package vanilla sugar
4 Egg yolk (large)
200 g flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Mix butter, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla sugar and beat till fluffy, add in flour and baking powder and stir till smooth.  Spread across TWO springform bottoms, this is a very thin base!

Step 2:

4 egg whites
200 g sugar
1 tablespoon cream of tartar
Make meringue and
spread onto both dough bases.80 g sliced almonds – sprinkle on top of meringue then bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Let cool.

Step 3:

1 pint whipping cream
2014-11-27 09.11.08 (Small) 2 packages whip-it
 1-2 package vanilla sugar
Mix together and whip cream until stiff peaks form, fold in fruit (mandarin oranges, gooseberries, currants, blueberries, etc) and spread on bottom layer of the cake.  Cut the second layer into desired number of slices and put on top. Use a sharp knife and cut the cake all the way through.



My Firefox is Sluggish and Crashes Fix

Are you about ready to throw your Firefox browser in the garbage and go back to MSIE?  It’s slow, it uses up all your memory and then – to add insult to injury – the #$%@#$ plug-in container crashes.

There’s two things that are responsible for your woes.

1. Flashplayer.  nearly every webpage nowadays  has some ad on the page which uses flashplayer.
2. plug-in container.  It came along in the early (think single digit) version of FF and really isn’t needed in the newer versions (24+)

This is a 2 part fix and will work on machines running Win7 and Win8.1, i can’t speak about any other OS. You have nothing to loose if you run other versions of Windows and have googled for a fix, tried all the other ones you found and none worked. I certainly have spent hours looking for help and have tried most every suggestion I have come across.  This solution below is the ‘magic combination’ that  works for the computers I have encountered with this problem.
The images shown were taken from my Win7 system.  For Win8.1 use the search to find system properties.

open add onsStep #1.oen option  turn off autoplay for flashplayer.
open FF >>
Go to options >> click on add-ons >> set flashplayer to ‘ask to activate’

ask to activateStep #2. turn off plug-in container

propertiessys set
>> rightclick ‘computer’ and select ‘properties’

>> click on ‘Advanced system settings’


>> click the ‘Environment Variables’ buttonenvironment


>> click ‘New…’
in the user section if you want to set this separate for each account or in the system section if you want to set for all users on this machine

edi var
>> type: MOZ_DISABLE_OOP_PLUGINS in the ‘Variable Name’ box and set value to 1
>> click OK. OK. OK. to exit.  Restart Firefox.

2014 Fall Sale & a Friendly Plant Swap

Have you ever been to or hosted a plant swap? A few of my friends have started getting together in the spring and in the fall to trade plants and I attended for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It’s a really nice way to get rid of the plants you need to thin out.


photo credit: Modern Sauce, the lovely hostess of the 2014 fall plant swap

I took oregano, lemon balm, sedum, bee balm, lilies, and cannas. Others brought hostas, hellebores, and iris. Everything found new homes, and then we piled in a car and went to the wonderful Green Thumbs Galore Fall Driveway Sale. Everyone bought a few plants and we joked that next year we’ll be bringing cuttings from our purchases to the swap!

There are lots of reasons plant swaps are fun. You get to hang out with people who have at least one common interest. It’s a fun way to get ideas on how to deal with problem areas in your yard or garden. We talked about things we’d like to do, someday. One person wants to learn more about propagation; I want to learn more about fruit trees. Plus, you might end up with some new plants!

One attendee said the best thing about a plant swap is that if the plant dies, you can blame the person who brought it. That seems reasonable enough to me!

From the plant swap, I brought home some hellebores, for the only shady area in my yard, and some rosemary cuttings. The hostess had a big rosemary plant. It’s the only one I’ve seen that survived last year’s extra hard winter. I’ve got 10 cuttings in water. If they root successfully I’ll take most of them to the next swap in pretty little pots.


Photo credit: Emily Fazio, plant swapper extraordinaire!

At the sale, I got Russian sage, a crocus, and some gaillardia. I’ve wanted Russian sage for years. It is a beautiful color and has a really wonderful texture. A friend used to grow it and include it in gorgeous bouquets of cut flowers. Gaillardia is simply cheerful. I love the bright color and long blooming period. The crocus was completely an impulse buy — I’m not even really sure what the bloom of a crocus looks like!

The combination of the plant swap and going to the sale was great. I hope that it becomes a set in stone tradition.


The Apple Jelly Saga — Part 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my first attempt at making apple jelly. (spoiler alert: it didn’t go well) As promised, this is the sequel to that post. It’s a good thing the apple trees were productive this year…

The Second Attempt

Making true apple jelly means extracting the juice from the apples. In all my research, it seemed that most folks cooked the apples until tender then hung them in a cheesecloth bag or strainer over night and let the juice drip down into a bowl.

Since making the jelly on my own was a failure, I decided to get the family involved on the second attempt. The apple trees grow on the family farm, after all. We didn’t have any cheesecloth, but we did find a new, clean, white undershirt — you know the kind commonly called a “wife beater.”

We cooked down the apples, then pulled the shirt over a huge mixing bowl. Of course when we put the apples into the shirt, it just fell down to the bottom. Since we are creative people, and there were about 10 of us trying to come up with a solution, we knew there had to be a way! There was: duct tape.

We taped the shirt to the bowl so that it wouldn’t fall down, put the apples in, and covered the whole mess. The next day…there was about ¼ cup of juice in the bottom of the bowl. I still don’t understand why our brilliant idea didn’t work. But, since it takes about 7 cups of juice to make a batch of jelly we were out of luck. Again.

At this point, I was ready to abandon the entire idea of making a sweet, preserved treat from the apples. I was leaning heavily toward slicing them and making half-cooked pies to freeze and use all winter. Because apple pie, right?

The Third Attempt

Then, I came across this recipe for Rosemary Infused Apple Preserves, and noticed that

I left the rosemary instead of removing it like the recipe instructed.

I left the rosemary instead of removing it like the recipe instructed.

you used the whole apple — no need to extract the juice! I had to try one more time. Happily, the same day I made preserves, I’d promised to show a cousin how to bake homemade bread. We ended up with fresh, hot bread and homemade preserves. At the same time! It was a moment of culinary bliss.

This recipe resulted in something that seemed more like applesauce than it did anything else — but the most flavorful applesauce I’ve ever had. Since I’m a rebel, I didn’t really follow the recipe. Here’s what I did instead:

  • Peel, core, and chop the apples
  • Cook until they are soft, with a few sprigs of rosemary
  • Taste
  • Add the desired amount of sugar (I used significantly less than the recipe called for)
  • Squeeze the juice of a lemon in
  • Cook until the sugar is dissolved
  • Mash and stir until you have a consistency you like
  • Load into clean, sterilized jars and process in a water bath

I haven’t tried it yet, but these preserves would be delicious with a strong cheese. Or maybe with a pork roast. Definitely on breakfast toast. Next year, I’m skipping the jelly attempts and going straight for these preserves!