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Tuesday, 31 December 2013
La Vita e Bella ("Life is good")
Topic: Recipes

Happy New Year 2014!!!


It's almost here and I know you have plans for tonight and tomorrow's foods already....  If you're seeking good fortune in the New year--it will either contain fish or be "hoppin' John" or some version of blackeyed peas and ham...

That's what's on our ER menu tomorrow. the recipe is in the archives--or visit my Memphis friend Joe Spake's blog for his great recipe http://joespakeblog.com/2012/01/12/cooking-with-joe-hoppin-john-is-not-just-for-new-years-good-luck/

I am posting a recipe of true comfort food--easy to prep and bake while you take your contemplative walk through the woods... on January 2nd!





 Chicken Vesuvio!

The American (perhaps even Chicago) Invention

It is typically made with cut-up chicken, but I had boneless chicken thighs so I went for it--technically you can "Vesuvio" any cut of meat, chicken, steak, etc-- or maybe even fish. It's about browning the chicken and potatoes in a "flour and parmesan cheese with seasonings" light breading, then browning them in a skillet in garlic and olive oil, then deglazing the pan with some white wine, then baking--then adding a few green peas at the end. Simple!

Check out the big pciture and you can almost smell and taste it! Yes, those are French fingerlings from the garden ! And yes--I used rosemary cut from the plant I brought indoors!

 Chicken Vesuvio 

for 2-3

6 boneless chicken thighs

4 potatoes, cut longwise into quarters

Olive oil, sufficient to brown the chicken and potatoes

Several cloves (at least 4) of chopped fresh garlic 

2 Tbsp flour

2 Tbsp shredded Parmesan

Salt, Pepper, dried parsley 

About 1/2 cup of white wine or  dry vermouth to de-glaze the pan

handful of frozen green peas 


Heat garlic in olive oil in a large skillet. 

Combine flour, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and parsley on a plate. Coat all surfaces of cut up potatoes and chicken with coating. Brown all surfaces in the skillet assuring adequate olive oil. Transfer to an oil- prepped baking pan. 

Deglaze the skillet with white wine or dry vermouth and drizzle all pan drippings and sauce over the potatoes and chicken.  Add the two sprigs of fresh Rosemary, then cover the baking pan with aluminum foil.  

Bake for 1  hour at 350 degrees. Remove from the oven and scatter the handful of peas, put the aluminum foil back on and return to the oven for an additional 5 minutes.

Serve in a large bowl with a nice side salad. Perfect way to start the new year! 





Posted by Karen at 16:32 CST
Updated: Tuesday, 31 December 2013 17:35 CST
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Monday, 30 December 2013
Wintertime at the Farm
Topic: Harvest Hills Farm activity

Wintertime around the Farm

In the past week, we've experienced an ice storm, heavy snow, a hoar frost, temperatures down to -11 and up to 47...it's wintertime in Jo Daviess County, Illinois.

Here are some photos showing the fields, vineyard and outdoor infrastructure under the ice, snow and frost. The ice and snow you will recognize, no doubt. But it's rare to have the perfect conditions for a hoar frost which covers every surface of thing outdoors with a delicate fuzzy coat of icy dew.



















The Ice coating branches, above and to right

















Then the snow--this is the actual color of the atmosphere during the snowfall- 


 Some photos from the morning of the hoar frost.




I know we are all forced inside by the wintry conditions and weather alerts cautioning wind chills and frost bite. But I'd like to inspire you to force yourself to bundle up, put on the “grippers” if icy, or snowboots, or if very ambitious—the cross-country skies!--and take a nature walk, just for the fun of it. It doesn't have to be further than the perimeter of your backyard or once around the block. It will wake up your ancient brain and stimulate both sides of your cerebrum as you simply experience and observe. You can indeed “communicate” with nature simply by being “in it” provided you use your senses and are open to their input without putting up excuses about why you can't go outside or don't have time.

And, walking the dog doesn't count! The dog's communicating with nature, not you--and you are meanwhile distracted with a task. So, likewise, going out to fill the birdfeeder or feed the barnyard animals also doesn't count as a personal encounter with nature. Go out without a task in mind.

And, if you truly can't leave the house, then park yourself by an unobstructed window and spend some time. You might see something interesting, like these guineafowl at your birdfeeder.


Like the Nike advertising advises: just do it!

Posted by Karen at 13:44 CST
Updated: Monday, 30 December 2013 19:06 CST
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Sunday, 15 December 2013
Do a couple of nice things for yourself...
Topic: Entertaining/Party

This is one of the most difficult times of  the year in terms of time- management and demands on your time, isn't it? Yet, it's important to remember to treat yourself while you're addressing all of your family and friends' needs.  

Here's an easy recipe for your breadmaker to do--for YOU..

Make  yourself a nice comfort bread--just a little demi-loaf-sized.


 Polish Babka

(makes 1 demi-loaf in the breadmaker)

Set up and prep your breadmaker container with a little spray oil.

Combine the following ingredients together:

¼ cup (½ stick) butter, melted

¼ cup pure cane sugar

2 egg yolks

Mix well.

Add- ½ cup warm milk (temp betw. 90-110 degrees)

½ cup golden raisins

Put the above mixture as the first layer in the bread maker.

Next, add 2 cups of flour (bread flour or all purpose flour) as the next layer.

Make a well in the middle of the flour, add:

¼ tsp of Bread Machine or Rapid-rising yeast (check the date to make sure it's fresh!)

Here's a picture with your layers and well in the breadmaker.

 Start the breadmaker on the “Sweet” bread setting (2h 50 min) or you can use the “Basic” setting (3 h) and use Light or Medium crust.

This makes a very dense, small loaf. 1 slice is substantive especially topped with fresh sweet butter or Farmers cheese or cream cheese-- (and a better choice than a bagel in terms of carb count!)


And, in case you need reminding--did you plant an Amaryllis bulb or two? Maybe you still have your bulbs in the garage from last year- or you've bought some new bulbs? In any case, if you re-pot and water now, in about 3-4 weeks--when the snow is really flying--these blossoms will be there to greet you!




Posted by Karen at 15:55 CST
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Saturday, 14 December 2013
Crunch Time Recipes
Topic: Education and Values

I had the great fortune to have a paternal grandfather who was a baker. As a child, my memories of the bakery developed my future palette and palate--unlimited tortes, whipped cream delicacies, sugar encrusted pieces of art and real bread.

Likely you, my Reader, have similar memories of your parents' and grandparents' kitchens, filled with the most beautiful culinary delights, especially at holidays. I am not going to presume to teach you anything traditional this year. Savor your family heritage!

But, if you, like me--have a very willing but culinary challenged spouse or partner, put him/her to work on this simple recipe. It can provide an artistic diversion because, you can vary it a bit and call it your own. It requires few kitchen skills and will be appreciated however it turns out!

In case they are really kitchen challenged, please remind them to tie back hair (if applicable) and WASH their hands (20 seconds with soap and water)....ok start. 




  Easy Bourbon Balls

(about 4 dz 1 inch balls)

2 c ground vanilla wafers (use food processor)

¼ cup bourbon

Combine above together in a large bowl. Then add the following: 

1 pkg (12 oz.)semi sweet chocolate chips, melted in the mircowave

2/3 c. sweetened condensed milk

Mix thoroughly.

In separate bowls, have some powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and ground nuts to roll the balls in.

Have a tray or serving platter prepped with paper candy liners (available in the baking section of most groceries). If you have this ready, then you'll be able to immediately place the coated ball into its liner which is the plan.

Using a teaspoon, scoop the mixture into your nice warm palm and rotate until you have a 1” sphere. Take the ball, still warm from your hands and roll it in one of the toppings, then place in its paper candy liner. When all are done, refrigerate. The balls become firm, solid after chilling. They can then be packed into containers and taken to your party or neighbor's—that is, shared.

Note: My husband used DARK chocolate chips and Wild Turkey so I know they'll be yummy—and adults' only!.

Posted by Karen at 16:38 CST
Updated: Saturday, 14 December 2013 16:56 CST
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Thursday, 12 December 2013
Last Minute Gift Ideas
Topic: Education and Values

Last Minute Christmas Gift Ideas for the Foodie and Gardener...

I know it's crunch time and the most difficult people are left for you to choose for Christmas gifts. You probably have already done your homemade gifts in advance. Certainly, you paid attention to making preserves, canning , floral sugar, wine etc. weeks ago.

So the people left...they are also the most important people, aren't they? Moms, wives, husbands and close friends--those fellow sustainable gardeners and foodies....the hardest of all...

How about a few ideas?

First, the crockpot...if they have one size, get the other...For example, Mom has the perfect size for her and Dad. Then, buy her the bigger crockpot for Beef Burgundy on Bastille Day! Or, she has the mega-size, then get her the one that will make Beef short ribs or Osso Bucco for her and Dad!

How about that Immersion Blender. If the Foodie on your list does not have an immersion blender, then THIS is THE gift for them. They will love you for it!

Then there are the two things every good gardener should have: SALAD SPINNER and FOOD DEHYDRATOR. If you've read the Summer/Fall blogs, you need no further explanation.

And, there's the gift every sustainable gardener will love...a gift card for a truly great organic seed company. Why not? Even if they have researched everything, every gardener has a curiosity to try something new. I like http://www.groworganic.com/peaceful-valley-gift-card.html but there are infinite options for you once you start looking.

How about a really out-of-the-box idea for the person in your life who DOES know everything about gardening and food safety but just lacks a “credential”? One of the best gifts would be to fund a course in safe food handling that leads to a certification. Why? Because there is a certain confidence and “street cred” one gets from certification. Try


You can also check your local extensions from your state and regional universities for great programs in good agricultural practices and safe produce handling.

For example, I have taken classroom courses through Iowa State University http://www.extension.iastate.edu/ and online courses through Cornell  http://www.gaps.cornell.edu/ 

You can check out options in your state but also consider the national programs that will allow your “gift recipient” to chat with like-minded people around the country while they take their virtual courses!

These ideas may be “last minute” but they may end up being...perfect for the perfect person!

Posted by Karen at 16:17 CST
Updated: Friday, 13 December 2013 10:30 CST
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Saturday, 7 December 2013
Yogurt--Breakfast and Beauty ?
Topic: Education and Values

Now that Winter is settling in ( I know technically it's still Autumn but it was 3 degrees this morning at the Farm!)--everyone is inside, we are cold-stressed, our resistance is lowered and exposure to illness heightened. Don't forget to include yogurt in your diet.

Here's my favorite breakfast that takes no time to create. Plain yogurt, mixed nuts, a drizzle of honey.



 Now... what about this yogurt recipe?


Looks edible,doesn't it? Well, it's another yogurt recipe but this one is the real focus of today's blog. The weather and the holiday food and just the aging process are likely doing a number on your face, so why not try this ANTIOXIDANT-YOGURT FACE MASK ?  You probably have everything around to make this right now.

 Antioxidant- Yogurt Facial Mask

2 Tbsp. Coffee grounds, fresh, cooled

2Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

3 Tbsp. Plain, unsweetened yogurt (greek styled or regular)

1 Tbsp. Honey

Conbine in a mini-processor or hand mix very well.

Apply the mixture with a cotton ball, disposable makeup pad, OR your fingers to your entire face and under the chin and lower jaw, avoiding the eyes. It's a thin mixture, so slide it on but do NOT rub it into the skin since the grounds can actually scratch the facial skin. (note: avoid rubbing any masks or scrubs with particles into the face for this reason) Just apply it on the skin surfaces and let it dry. Keep it on about 20-30 minutes. Then—into the shower and let warm water rinse it off.

You will notice very smooth skin and a reduction in puffiness and wrinkles!

Refrigerate the remaining mask mixture and you can repeat a mask in the next couple of days while it's still fresh and use-able.

Obviously, do not use this recipe if you are allergic to any of the ingredients.



Posted by Karen at 10:30 CST
Updated: Monday, 16 December 2013 22:19 CST
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Friday, 6 December 2013
Buttery Cinnamon Coffee Cake -for holiday cheer!
Topic: Recipes

Christmas Cooking means “Cinnamon-Alert” in the Kitchen

This quick recipe I am sharing with you is adapted from one currently circulating around the internet. 

“Adapted” because I've changed proportions and the size of the pan to keep it real. You and your friends can be completely satisfied with a carb-y food served in smaller proportions. You don't have to overcook and overeat...

This little recipe is quick to whip up and bake. I think that it would be a perfect holiday-time hostess gift—baked in a 8x8 inch aluminum disposable pan, topped with a bow.

Or just the thing to bring as a coffee-break treat cake for your co-workers during the holiday season (can be doubled to a 9x13 pan if you have a large crew.) Or how about baking a couple of these to send over to your neighbors' houses as an unexpected breakfast or teatime surprise?

Why? Because the holiday season just screams for CINNAMON.




Buttery Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Prep an 8x8 inch square pan with spray oil.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together in a large bowl:

¼ cup (one half stick) of butter, melted

1 egg

¾ cup milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 &1/2 cups flour

½ cup pure cane sugar

2 tsp. Baking powder

Pour mixture into the prepped pan.

Next combine the following:

½ cup (1 stick) softened butter

½ c. brown sugar

1 Tbsp. Flour

1 & ½ tsp. Cinnamon

Spoon the above mixture over the top of the cake batter. Take a butter knife and slide mixture around and into the cake batter.

Put it into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until cake is done. 

Remove the cake from oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes or so, while you make the following glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar combined with ½ tsp vanilla and 1 tbsp. water—stir until smooth, then drizzle glaze over the top of the warm cake. 

When cooled, cover with some plastic wrap or use the see-through plastic lid that comes with dispoable cake pans! Place a bow and send it on its merry way to spread some holiday cheer. 

Posted by Karen at 14:07 CST
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Saturday, 30 November 2013
Turkey and Black Bean Chili
Topic: Recipes
Just in case you STILL have leftover turkey from Thanksgiving...
 Here's a great, quick little recipe to try...
Turkey and Black Bean Chili 
In a prepped crockpot, combine the following ingredients:

About 3-4  cups of chopped, cooked turkey

1 small onion, diced

1 -14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes with the juice

1 -8oz can of tomato sauce

1-16 oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained

1 small can of diced green chilies

1 Tbsp (or more of chili powder)

1 Tbsp dried or chopped fresh cilantro

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cumin




Stir, cover, cook on “Low” 7-8  hours. "Doctor up" the seasoning to your preference. Top with some shredded cheese, guacamole and/or sour cream, if you'd like. Add a tortilla or two.




Posted by Karen at 19:56 CST
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The Great Thanksgiving Dinner Leftovers Casserole
Topic: Recipes

If yours is like so many households, it's two days' past Thanksgiving and you still have wrapped containers with turkey pieces and leftovers from all those side dishes you made. Now--if you wrapped and refrigerated them faithfully right after dinner on Thanksgiving, they are fine to use today (2 days later) in a casserole.

And what a simple solution this is!

Prep a baking pan with spray oil. Choose a size to accommodate your amount of leftovers.

Start with leftover stuffing as the bottom layer. Build up strata-style from there with your sides: sweet potatoes, green beans, corn-you name it (even if they were originally casseroles themselves, just layer them in). Cut turkey pieces into bite sized portions and put a generous layer in, also any potatoes you may have. Then pour gravy over the whole thing, 


Bake at 350 degrees about 45 minutes until completely heated through. Remember the food safety rule: Internal temperature for previously heated foods should always be 165 degrees. 


It will be more appealing once it's baked and plated! And maybe there's a little leftover pumpkin tiramisu somewhere in the refrigerator waiting for you too!


Posted by Karen at 06:40 CST
Updated: Saturday, 30 November 2013 06:41 CST
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Friday, 29 November 2013
Christmas Lanterns
Topic: Crafts

A Thanksgiving tradition in our family was re-introduced yesterday. After dinner, while letting our food settle--and not yet ready for dessert-- the kids and interested adults created a holiday craft. I say we "re-introduced" it because for awhile, we had kids too young to do a craft and adults too busy with those too young. Now our little ones can handle any project you stick in front of them!

This holiday project is super simple and will keep little fingers busy while you do other holiday preparations and gift wrapping. And you need very little materials, all available at low cost. In fact, you may have these things in your house right now!  Plus, once these lanterns are done, you can use them as centerpieces, part of mantle decorations, or even as luminaria going up a staircase, inside or out!

To make one dozen lanterns:


  • assorted ribbon, bows, tinsel on wire, gel-sticks (used on windows)
  • optional rice, glass beads
  • optional spray snow for a little "glitz" on the interior, if using tea candles. 
And below are our results, created by all ages, from elementary school kids  to older adults. 







Posted by Karen at 13:53 CST
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