Tag Archives: cooking

Mis-Matched Plates

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Mis-Matched Plates

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It was,  and still is, a tradition for young women who are going to marry to pick out their set of  dishes and cutlery with the romantic vision of many fine dinners with family and evenings entertaining guests. If one had the means…the language wasn’t “dishes” but “fine china” and not cutlery but “silver” in a padded wooden chest.

My first set was one for 12 people and it was fine china by Noritake. Absolutely lovey…white with a colored rim of delicate flowers. My new Italian mother-in-law fancied  and collected several different sets of the very finest china like Mitterteich from Bavaria, Lenox,  and Wedgewood which were all proudly displayed in a oversized Henredon china cabinet in the dining room, and only used on holidays like Easter or Christmas.

I very seldom, if ever, seated 12 people at my table over the years so a set of 12 served as back-up replacement plates for our usual table of 4-8. Eventually, after several moves and lifestyle changes, that set dwindled and new colorful dishes took their places instead. In time, I inherited the Mitterteich dishes from my mother-in-law but to tell the truth they are still in the box of them that she gave to me one Christmas 20 years ago! Complete with serving platters, coffee server, gravy bowl etc. No place to store them in my kitchen (they are packed away in the basement) and no 12 people or Sunday dinners with family,  who live in other states.

Brides these days are more practical and lifestyles are somewhat frenetic for the 30 year-olds, so often it’s Pottery Barn designs or tableware from Target, often bought by the piece rather than a whole set. And from what I know in my own family of busy professional daughters and their busy professional husbands…no one seems to be cooking full meals or sitting down together as a family on a regular basis anyway. Sunday dinner is periodically attempted in between weekend kiddie birthday parties, quickie play dates with peers and their kids, or just organizing and getting ready to once again catch a train on time for work in the city on Monday morning.

Over the years I have moseyed at flea markets and yard sales and I must admit, I fall in love with pretty dishes with interesting or cheerful designs that stimulate my imagination with mental images of happy family around the table, deliciously cooked specialties displayed on a lovely plate, serving hors d’oevres  on a unique platter, to fun and interesting guests for the evening or afternoon. A dish here, a plate there. Always I have insisted on at least two of a pattern, usually four and occasionally six, which serves my actual lifestyle. Once in a while, a solo plate will join the mélange with the vision of serving some wonderful appetizer to a small gathering of good friends.

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I host women’s circles which of course always include food so I do love to set a table where things match, but after this essay, I think I am going to surprise everyone at our next gathering and do a total mix-up! If you got it, flaunt it! My bargain mismatched set of dishes from everywhere!

In a nearby town, there is a “tea room” in which there are tables and chairs of all different styles mixed together and dishes that are all mismatched. The charm is un-mistakable, comforting and cheerful.

Matched dishesIs it also about letting go of the need for “perfection” ..? ( Altho there is aesthetic appeal and pleasure in co-ordination and beauty of things that match)

Are there times for perfect co-ordination, but also times for complete and random experimentation, inclusion or blending of differences? Kind of like a healthy society or culture…preserving unique and indigenous traditions, and yet allowing for a community that is open to differences and exchange of ideas.

The next phase of my life this upcoming year or two will be about moving, or downsizing, deciding what stays with me and what will be released for others to enjoy… the years of “collecting and adding” are giving way to simplicity and the elimination of all that needs to be tended and taking time away from passions and interests that have replaced earlier concerns…but for now…I enjoy my dishes, all of them, matched and now mis-matched and I intend to fill them with good food..sensuous, comforting and nourishing to share with friends and family around the table…

From Christine, The Cook

 

Cranberyy 2    I have other blogs of mis-matches topics and themes too!

For seasonal and spiritual inspiration: http://thegreeningspirit.wordpress.com

For the power of words and word magic for a happier life:http://wordmagicandthelawaof attraction.wordpress.com

For “in praise of music” and music memoirs as a music teacher: http://pianomistress.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

Flemish Beef Stew with Beer and Vegetables

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Flemish Beef Stew with Beer and Vegetables

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July 6, 2o15

I originally posted this in 2013 but since it is going to be “real feel” heat index today of 90 degrees, I brought out the crock pot to keep a cool kitchen and still have something wonderful to eat for dinner!

This is forever one of my favorite recipes …most delicious with memories of one of my many former lives. How we grow and change in the various chapters of our stories. This is one of the threads that runs through all of them, this recipe altho ingredients change depending what is in the fridge, on he shelf  or in the garden.

Today the herbs were all fresh from the garden, except the bay leaf and astragalus, which most definitely was not part of the original recipe. The fresh herbs today were basil, lemon thyme, parsley and sweet marjoram, the sprigs of which will be fished out of the broth at the end.

(To read about the love affair with my garden this year, please check out the series “My Garden, My Soul” on my http://thegreeningspirit.wordpress.com blog)

Now on the recipe and the story that goes with it!

Many years ago when my former husband and I were first married, we followed his dream of becoming a marine biologist, relocating from inland New York state to the coast of New England so he could attend graduate school and the Colleges of Oceanography and Zoology at the University of R.I. Neither of us had traveled afar in our young years (nobody of our ages did much traveling abroad in those days except to Vietnam under orders from the “Draft”). Being an oceanography/zoology major was kind of romantic,  and later offered him the opportunity to travel the high seas  as a research scientist/oceanographer. But graduate school also offered both of us…all of us.. the opportunity to meet people from other cultures who came here to study as well.

In those years, our closest friends became a couple from Belgium..a country we really had not studied much in earlier school days. She, Anne Marie, and I met a few days before the semester started,  hanging our laundry in adjacent rented apartment backyards. Delighted to find out, over the clotheslines, that both of our husbands, my Jack and her Thierry,  were going to be in the same department at the university, we became fast-friends and colleagues sharing many meals, holidays, daytrips as well as babyclothes and babysitting as graduate student families do,  for many a year. We each learned much about each other’s cultures and perspectives on life ie The American way vs. The European way. From us, Anne Marie and Thierry experienced their first American Thanksgiving (Thierry was aghast that Americans pile all sort of foods on one plate, eating them all mixed up together on that day, he being used to separate courses in more elegant style) and I learned how to make this wonderful stew from Annemarie.

Americans at that time were into “a large portion of meat”,  a starchy food like potato, rice or pasta and maybe a  small salad or token green vegetable on the side. The meat was kind of low cost…hamburger, or a lower quality cut of beef to barbecue  or roast, as the portion was larger than any one ingredient in the meal. The Belgique way, even as graduate students on a stipend, was a small medallion of a more costly cut of beef or meat, surrounded..and I mean surrounded ..by a variety of deliciously and carefully-prepared vegetables and a salad. Our Belgian friends got “Thanksgiving” from us…and I got this Flemish Beef Stew.

The traditional way that Annemarie made this was with stew beef, and onions only, browned in butter, seasoned  and braised in beer, served with potatoes. It is delicious that way, but as always, my creative spirit has enlarged on that recipe and I cook this with other vegetables as well as onions, and season it with bay, dried marjoram and basil. Served with potatoes.

This is a most hearty and delicious stew and I hope you enjoy it. I do not eat much meat, but when I do, I now use only grass-fed beef froma local and known farm. Grass-fed beef, be aware, is leaner and tougher in texture than supermarket beef, fattened and flavored with corn and which, after having sat through a showing of the documentary “Food Inc”, I will never ever purchase commercially in a market again.

As always, when eating meat…I give a blessing and a special thanks for the animal that sustains me in that meal.

Ingredients:

1 lb of stew beef (local grass-feed preferred if possible),  several tablespoons of butter ( The Belgians love butter and like Julia Child, use it with abandon) 1-2 large onions sliced thin (I use a sweet onion like Vidalia), 2 cloves of garlic chopped small, 2-3 carrots sliced thin, 1-2 ribs of celery chopped, 1-3 parsnips (optional) sliced thin, 1  (24-oz) can of beer (I use Bud..can use a fancier one if preferred), I small can of beef broth, 1-2 thinly slices of bread slathered with honey mustard ( a tuscan olive bread is good if you have it), 1 large or 2 small bay leaves,  a dash of dried basil and marjoram (go easy at first..adjust  and add a little more if suited to your taste..you can always “add” but your can’t “take away” once something is too much!), salt and pepper. Boiled potatoes on the side to add to the stew at serving. (a couple of options for the stew while cooking…a small squeeze of  anchovy paste, or several chopped kalamata olives..go easy..and taste along the way)

IMG_6874Preparation:  

Cut the stew beef in small one inch chunks, and saute in butter, browning on all sides. Add the onions and stir to soften onions, add garlic, saute but do not burn. Add other vegetable and saute gently for several minutes for flavors to blend. Add 3/4 of the can of beer to cover the meat and vegetables, and 1/2 of the can of beef broth. Stir. Add the bay leaf, and dried basil and marjoram, and a little salt and pepper. Meat and vegetables should be covered with liquid. Lay the slices of bread which have been spread with a thin layer of honey mustard on top of the meat and liquid, bring to a gentle boil, lower heat to a simmer and cover, with a little opening. The bread will eventually dissolve and in stirring, will thicken the broth. Do add the rest of the beer and broth as needed while cooking. The stew is done when the beef is tender.

I do not give exact ingredients because I cook with basic ingredients and experiment and taste taste taste along the way in the cooking process.. For me it is like an art project, requiring small adjustments and assessments all along the way, to create a meal that will be delicious and a favorite to repeat many times in the future!

Good luck and good eating to you!

Christine, The Cook

Tempting Tomato/Eggplant/ Basil Teasers (orig. 2013)

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Tempting Tomato/Eggplant/ Basil Teasers (orig. 2013)

IMG_3443Sometimes (often) my culinary creations are a project which I oversee for an evening, or for several hours in preparation..cooking, writing, listening to music, staying between the table where I work and the stove. At those times, I linger and taste and savor and adjust..playing with my food as it were.

But on other nights, it has to be a little quicker but still…sensuous, savory, satisfying and delicious.  And sometimes it has to be a “light” meal as well..simple and without a lot of other accompaniements.

This is one of my very favorite creations. It is is actually a kind of an appetizer, but I would not have too much patience making up 50 of them for a party. But for a light supper for one or two, perhaps a cup of broth, a little crusty bread and a plateful of these are just perfect. Oh, and don’t forget the wine..a lot rose is my preference.

Ingredients

1 small-medium  narrow eggplant sliced in rounds, fresh basil leaves (or dried basil if necessary), a soft mozzarella sliced in rounds, cocktail tomatoes seeded and opened up, or small plum tomatoes seed and cut in thin rounds, black pitted olives cut in half lengthwise,  1-2 finely minced garlic gloves or garlic powder,  a sprinkling of finely-grated parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.IMG_3440

Preparation:

Lightly spray heated indoor grill with olive oil. Lightly cook eggplant rounds until just a touch soft/translucent. Set them aside in baking dish, place a tomato slice on each eggplant, a LITTLE minced garlic or a sprinkle of garlic IMG_3441power, then a fresh basil leaf (sprinkle with dried basil if no fresh basil is possible..but fresh is the BEST), top with a mozzarella slice, olive pieces, a sprinkle of ground pepper and a sprinkle of finely grated parmesan.

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Broil until cheese starts to melt and brown..serve.

I like this with a light rose wine. Or the light Gallo Paisano Wine...not fancy..just friendly and simple.

 

 

**** I know I have established that I am not Italiano. However, tomorrow I do start a series at the University in Conversational Italian. I have been listening to the practice cd in the car and repeating musical Italian phrases while I drive..Of course I have read and loved the book “Under The Tuscan Sun” which had me longing for the simple life…but for now my reading/handbook is:                                                                     

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CIAO! 

***If this looks good, don’t forget to click “Like”!

I also invite you to check out my blog   http://thegreeningspirit.wordpress.com and see what a magical world we live in!

From Christine, The Cook

 

                           

Roasted Cauliflower with Curry and Turmeric

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Roasted Cauliflower with Curry and Turmeric

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It is COLD in the Northeast USA now and I find that cooking with the WARM spices like curries, turmeric, cayenne keep the bodily  “fires” burning from the inside out for a feeling of warmth and comfort. One of my favorite fast and easy recipes for inner heat and delicious eating is this one. There are many variations on this with an added ingredient here or there but this one so far is the one that works for me, allowing for culinary creativity as I am so inspired.

The price of cauliflower varies widely. Yesterday at Belmont’s it was $4.99 for a head, and $2.99 a head at Shaw’s. Both beautifully fresh and white. Shop wisely and economically!

Although a white vegetable, cauliflower is nutrient rich and the powerful brown/red/orange spices in curry (turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne etc) are warming to the body and digestion, protective and anti-tumor as well. This recipe is a winner…good to prepare ahead and take to a potluck also, serving warm or hot.

Basic ingredients:

1 head cauliflower, cut into flowerettes, olive oil, curry powder and preferred extra spices like turmeric, cinnamon, cumin. IMG_8742

Extra ingredients as desired:

tahini, honey, a good chutney (I use Major Grey’s)

Preparation:

1. Cut cauliflower into flowerettes, place in a large bowl and drizzle with  a tablespoon + of olive oil, tossing to coat well. Sprinkle with curry powder to coat as desired and add a sprinkle of one of the extra spices if preferred. I do ot have a measurement here but go by eye, to color the vegetable. Just remember: you can always ADD but you cannot SUBTRACT an ingredient…be discerning…a little at a time. Sprinkle with a little salt (fingertip-taste…do not overdo!) Toss to coat everything evenly.

IMG_87412. Place on a cooking pan. Bake/Roast at 400 degrees for 15 -20 minutes depending on your oven… turn the flowerettes after that time and bake/roast until done…I like them to turn a slight golden color but do not burn!

3. Serve as is, adjusting for flavor   OR….

4. MY Special touches:

~ when in the serving bowl, I add a teeny bit of honey to taste

~ when in the serving bowl, I add a teeny bit of tahini to coat very lightly

~ when in the personal dish, I add a little bit of mango/raisin chutney if desired

This recipe is open for adjusting to your personal taste and preferences but I assure you, it is delicious and won’t last long in the serving bowl.

Stay warm, inside and out!

From Christine, The Cook

Cranberyy 2

A delicious life has many ingredients! Check my other blogs..

For inspiration: http://thegreeningspirit.wordpress.com

For music/the arts: http://pianomistress.wordpress.com

For the power to create a good life: http://wordmagicandthelawofattraction.wordpress.com

 

Crunchy Cranberry Relish, Pie Filling or Simply Scrumptious Snack!

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Crunchy Cranberry Relish, Pie Filling or Simply Scrumptious Snack!

Crunchy Cranberry Relish

Every year at Thanksgiving whether we are cooking for a home celebration or for a communal celebratory pot-luck, our favorite and most-requested recipe cards come out of their safe places tocreate specialties that grace our tables, dazzle our eyes and tickle our taste-buds. But really, why only at the holiday? There are some foods that are so delicious, so healthful and nutritious that we might consider NOT filing the recipes away in that for-holidays-only envelope.  Some are more than worthy to keep front and center and to have ready as a condiment, snack or “wellness-while-eating” food throughout the year.

This recipe for my Crunchy Cranberry Relish is requested each holiday and it is simply splendid! This year I have purchased and frozen a number of bags of fresh cranberries to be able to make this on a regular basis as a treat, a side, a pie filling AND for the wonderful healthful benefits that cranberries offer us, along with the orange, orange peel, cinnamon and nuts, even though it does require a fair amount of sugar to sweeten the tartness of the cranberry, which is significant. In my recipe, I do not give andexact amount for the sugar, for I add it cautiously, tasting along the way until I get the proper balance of sweet and tart that pleases me, which is WAY less than standard recipes for cranberry relish  ie TWO cups of sugar per 1 12-oz bag of cranberries! NO WAY!  Taste, taste, taste  as you prepare to counteract the tartness of the fruit but you don’t need to overdo the sweetness.

I also do not cook this relish, but use the berries raw (after a good rinse, picking over and spin-drying) and chopped fine in my little cuisinart chopper/grinder which works beautifully.IMG_7026  Raw cranberries are exceeding healthy and full of nutrients (articles below), and the nuts, if they are not forbidden to you, raisins and cinnamon as well are nutrient rich as well.

Make this as a crunchy relish to eat alongside other foods, either with meat or vegetarian. I will include a recipe in another post about using it as a pie filling, or keep a bowl of it in the fridge, snacking on a tablespoon or two of it when you get a craving to eat something sweet or crunchy that are full of empty nutrients and calories. I do believe your will LOVE this!!

Ingredients: 1-12oz bag cranberries, rinsed, picked over and dried, 1 large seedless navel orange, cut into 1 large wedge with rind and the rest without rind in small chunks to fit in the chopper, golden raisins, chopped pecans or walnuts, cinnamon, 1 cup (more or less to taste) of sugar to taste (I use an organic sugar that has a light tan color) and for a special sparkle, a dash of cointreau or triple sec, if desired. I ask forgiveness for the lack of definitive measurements, as I prepare and cook as I go along..rather like an art project..creating as I taste. So far in my long cooking career, what tastes good to me, taste good to others.. The best I can do, is to encourage you to experiment..add things with a VERY light hand and taste along the way always until you are pleased with the result. You can always add, but you CANNOT subtract…just remember that! Creative and cautious all along the way!

Preparation: Chop washed and dried cranberries somewhat fine in the chopper. Set aside. Chop one large wedge of the navel orange finely, add to the cranberries, and chop the rest of the orange wedges fine and a little soupy in the chopper  There shouldn’t be mushy orange chunks) and add to the cranberries. Stir..slowly sprinkle 1/2 cup sugar into the mixture…stir and taste…add slowly…stir and taste , add more sugar until it is a right balance of sweet and tart that pleases you…add a handful of raisins, sprinkle with cinnamon or pumpkin pie spices (start with 1 teasp), stir, taste adjust..add a small pouch chopped nuts (I prefer pecans) stir gently, taste…adjust. Add a dash of cointreau or triple sec..careful, they are VERY sweet.

I prepare this a day in advance of eating to let the flavors blend and mellow. I cover it and keep it in the fridge. Before serving, stir, taste and adjust ingredients again if necessary. Serve  cold or at room temperature. ENJOY! SAVOR! AND BE HEALTHY! (links for cranberries and nutrition below the picture)

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http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=145

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=dailytip&dbid=226

 

 

Tasty Tuscan Kale and Potato Supper

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This was originally published in June 2013..but its worth the repost. Tuscan Kale is a beauty… a textured, rich dark green packed with nutrients and flavor…summer’s ending now so we want to savor and enjoy that fresh goodness now as often as possible….

Well it has been a while since I have been here..but don’t think for a minute that I have not been cooking! Life has called me to turn my  attention elsewhere momentarily and write in alternative venues but still cooking and eating and savouring the experience continues, althugh without documentation…. until tonight, when taking delight in the fresh produce of  early summer, I have been inspired to share another in-the-moment culinary creation that was satisfying, sensuous, simple and simply delicious!

Tuscan KaleThe “Star” ingredient tonight was kale, and specifically a variety called Lacinato, or “dinosaur” or “Tuscan” kale, distinguished by its ‘ knobby (not curly) leaves and more delicate taste. Mine was organic as well, and admittedly a bit pricey, but actually as I am committed to eating deliciously for pleasure AND for good health, it is something I factor into my life and budget whenever  can.

“Tuscan” Kale is quite pretty..green leaves with a hint of blue, and a plant that was favored by Thomas Jefferson in his beloved gardens in Monticello. I must say that I will look for this on a regular basis from now on and will grow it as an heirloom in next year’s garden.

Tonight’s dinner was impromptu on a very warm night, when I wanted something sustaining and “green” with a healthy carb or starch. A one-pan dinner. You will note in many of my recipes that I use some of the same ingredients on a regular basis in my recipes but I assure you that as you focus on a variety of main ingredients and use these as supports, that each delicious dinner/supper will have its own unique flavours and textures and it will taste new and original!

So here we are..Tuscan Kale and Potato Supper, with some flavorful surprises, and packed full of nutrients and good vitamins and fiber for you!

Ingredients  *note: I use what is available in my kitchen. Feel free to substitute what is available in yours!

1 small bunch of Tuscan kale, washed and chopped in thirds, 2 gloves of garlic chopped, 3-5 large basil leaves torn, 2-3 cocktail tomatoes seeded and chopped, 3 thin slices of canadian bacon chopped, 2-4 green or black deli olives chopped, a large diced cooked potato set aside, several small chopped chunks of soft mozzarella cheese, a squeeze of lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Preparation in one large frying pan

Heat pan, add some olive oil for saute-ing (not “frying”), add chopped kale and stir until softening, add garlic and continue to stir (do not burn garlic,  add diced canadian bacon to brown a little, add a little more olive oil as needed and a little water or canned chicken broth. Cover and steam to soften, add chopped tomato, stir..salt and pepper to taste, a squeeze of lemon, add torn basil, cover and simmer gently..there should always be a IMG_5340little broth…add chopped olive..taste along the way, always! for your own personal pleasure.Adjust seasonings. In a separate bowl..a deepish one…place cooked diced potatoes, add the chopped soft mozzarella and top with the hot kale mixture. I also added a little finely-grated parmesan cheese and mixed.

A TOTAL Sensuous Supper with incredible flavour to savour! Enjoy!IMG_5341 (Never accept a boring meal!)

Memoirs! Laughter in the Kitchen!

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Well first off, I have to say it’s a good thing my children don’t read most of what I write as their lives with full time jobs, marriages and small children keep them too busy to even answer e-mails. They would both kill me for posting this picture. But it makes me smile, if not laugh out loud with them when I remember one of our rare times together, which only happens a few times a year, with the three of us each living in a different state.

It is our way though, when planning time together..a quick weekend before everyone has to get back to work..to decide the all- important question “What are we going to do for dinner?”. When they were growing up, even with full-time working parents, meals were a non-negotiable nightly ritual at the table, with a variety of food lovingly prepared from favorite recipes, at a table set with dishes, knives and forks and chairs set around so that we actually ate together, looked at each other and talked! Those were simpler times then…everyone so busy now with complicated work and school activity schedules.

IMG_6961When we get together now, it is..at least for one meal… an attempt to capture the communion of mealtime but at this time  with small, lively and giggly children it is hard to look across the table adult-wise and eye-to-eye to finish a conversation, let alone a sentence! Where the REAL communication takes place is in the kitchen..a bottle of wine, veggies, meat, desserts…chop, chop. dice, saute, bake, season and lots of laughter. Did I say wine?Wine (or a Mike’s).

 

 

 

On this visit, daughter Lisa who used to be a vegetarian determinedly took on the sectioning of the chicken…daughter Melissa, our craftsperson and baker did the desserts, and  I, the Greening Spirit,  prepared the salad and vegetables while the kids wove their energetic persons in and around all the prep amusing themselves cousins-style. The REAL visit for myself and my IMG_6967 daughters took place right here in the kitchen.. working, talking, laughing and trying to contain the children’s energies of up/down, in/out and numerous requests for other more amusing forms of entertainment.

I don’t always actually remember the meal at the table as I drive back to my home state because by the time we get to the table,  the children and we, rushing through a short weekend trying to fit everything in, are tired and the meal is a blur. But always, I remember the times in the kitchen with my daughters, talking, telling funny stories and laughing in the kitchen.

Over the years things will shift and change and things may be calmer and slower and we will miss the chaos. But always the time together is precious… and yes, I think the kitchen in the Heart of the Home.    IMG_6976

 

From Christine, the Cook (aka “Mom”and “Noni”)

 

****  New post on my Greening Spirit site: http://thegreeningspirit.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/kissed-sensual-spirituality-and-hildegarde-of-bingen/

**** New post on my Piano Mistress site: http://pianomistress.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/memoirs-creative-listening-and-art/