Rhubarb Strawberry Jam

FullSizeRenderTart, tangy rhubarb makes a perfect fresh, summery jam, especially with a subtle hint of strawberry. So if you’ve got more rhubarb than you know what to do with, stir up a batch of this and give grape jelly a break from kitchen duty. I got this recipe from my friends Tom and Kim, who got the recipe from Tom’s mother, Clara. Clara immigrated to America as a young woman, so English wasn’t her first language. That’s why I smile when I read my copy of her neatly typed recipe, with sugar consistently spelled “suger.” And there’s another twist to this tale—I now work with Clara’s granddaughter, Lauren, and I love it when she shares memories of her “Oma,” who has since passed away.

I’m glad Clara shared this recipe with me 20+ years ago, because it’s become a favorite with my sons who prefer this over the sweeter berry jams. My Mom was kind enough to cut me a wheelbarrow full of rhubarb from her garden this year, as I’d used most of mine making rhubarb cake for parties. This recipe takes a whopping 18 cups of fresh rhubarb, but after soaking it in the sugar (or “suger”) overnight, it shrinks. (I don’t quite get the science of that…) Once you’ve done your overnight duty, this jam is a snap to make. You can freeze it or can it. My directions below are for canning it, which is my preference. And our favorite bread on which to slather this jam? Old Country Potato Dill Bread, previously posted.

Makes 12 pints

18 cups chopped rhubarb
5 cups granulated sugar
2 (6 ounce) packages of strawberry flavored Jell-O®

In large plastic bowl* combine chopped rhubarb and sugar. Cover with plastic wrap or kitchen towel and let set overnight. Juices from the rhubarb will create a simple syrup from the sugar. (See “before” and “after” pictures below.)

Gather a dozen Kerr® or Ball® pint canning jars and wash in hot soapy water, or run through dishwasher. Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to boil. Add a dozen fresh canning lids and rings to boiling water. Turn off heat, and let lids sit for 5 minutes in the hot water. Now your jars and lids are ready for canning.

Pour rhubarb and sugar syrup into large Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring as it cooks. Stir in both packages of strawberry Jell-O and stir to combine. Remove from heat and use clean ladle to pour jam into prepared jars. Wipe rim of each jar with clean, wet rag to remove any excess jam from jar as it will prevent a clean seal. Top jar with clean, sterilized lid, and tightly screw on band. Invert jar. Repeat process with all 12 jars, turning all of them upside down once filled. Let sit for 5 minutes, then turn all of the jars right-side up and wait for them to “plink.” (As they seal, you will hear the sound of the lid creating a vacuum seal. It may take up to an hour for them to all seal.) Test the tops of jars by pressing lightly in center of lid. They are sealed when the center of lid stays down and doesn’t pop back up. Store in cool, dry place for up to a year.

NOTE: Metal bowls will react with the rhubarb, so it’s best to use a plastic bowl. I use the top of a cake carrier. It’s the perfect size for this amount of rhubarb, and since I never make and take cake, the poor container gets used for something, rather than being ignored and neglected in my basement.



Basil Pesto

FullSizeRenderBasil is bountiful at farmer’s markets this time of year, so what can you do with this most fragrant of herbs? Pesto is a versatile sauce, and making it yourself fills your kitchen to the brim with fresh summertime smells. We love this recipe (from an older Better Homes & Gardens cookbook) stirred up over a a pound of prepared pasta, with cubes of grilled chicken, and cherry tomatoes. Delish!!! I love wide, flat noodles with pesto. Trader Joe’s lemon pepper pappardelle pasta works really well (pictured here), but you can use anything your little heart desires—penne, spaghetti, linguini, farfella (aka: bow tie pasta) or those little cup shaped ones I can’t remember the name of. I draw the line at lasagna noodles, though. That would just be silly, people.

This is also great slathered on a tortilla and sprinkled with grated parmesan, and then baked in a 375° oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until edges or tortillas are crisp. Cut like a pizza and serve with your meal. (If you use corn tortillas, this could be a gluten-free snack.) Or spread on think chunks of sourdough bread and top with fresh mozz and a slice of tomato, then broil in the oven for a few minutes. These make fabulous appetizers. 

I’ve also done a mixture of half real mayonnaise, and half prepared pesto for a sandwich spread. You want to wake up your boring old lunch, this will do it! So is that enough ideas to get you going?

IMG_1038I’m super excited because my basil is actually doing great in my mini herb garden this year. In the past, it’s grown rather sparse in my pots, but my plant is going gang-busters right now—it’s yielded enough to make 3 jars already! But when I’ve not had basil right out my back door, I’ve bought bunches from the farmer’s market, and spent a morning making multiple recipes of pesto, putting each batch in an 8-ounce container (pint jars work great). Then I use one batch fresh for dinner or appetizers, and freeze the others for use all year long. There is nothing like a batch of pesto over pasta in the dead of winter—it’s a reminder that spring will come again.

Makes 8 ounces

1 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves (washed and rinsed)
½ cup fresh parsley springs (without stems), or 1/4 cup dried parsley
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup slivered almonds*
1 large clove garlic, quartered
¼ teaspoon salt

In a blender or food processor, combine basil, parsley, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, almonds, garlic, and salt. Cover and blend or process with several on-off turns until paste forms. Stop machine to scrape down sides as needed.

If not using immediately, store in airtight container and refrigerate up to a week, or freeze for 6-12 months.

*NOTE: I used to make this with pine nuts—the traditional nut for this recipe—but they are crazy bonkers expensive, so I use almonds now and they work just as well. Pine nuts also have a tendency to go rancid if not refrigerated, and I’ve wasted those little gold nuggets unintentionally. So I quit buying them and stick with almonds.


IMG_0959With my fresh mini herb garden pots going wild, I’ve been looking for ways to use the abundance of mint threatening to take over the deck. The Good Earth restaurant makes a fabulous tabbouleh, and after ordering it recently, I thought it looked easy enough to duplicate at home. I tried Ina Garten’s recipe found on foodnetwork.com, and I liked her process, but found the recipe had too little bulghur in ratio to the herbs and tomatoes, too much pepper, waaaaaaay too much salt (even with using only 2 1/2 teaspoons table salt instead of the kosher salt she recommended*), and far too many scallions. Then I looked at Ellie Krieger’s recipe, and ended up using my own amounts based on the two recipes. Ina puts the dressing into the bulghur wheat while it’s soaking, and Ellie pours in on after the fact. I tried it Ina’s way, and it seemed to have great flavor, with my adjustments to amounts below. I’m sure it would work fine to add the dressing after soaking the wheat, too.

I know this traditional Lebanese dish usually has more herbs and less bulghur than you see here, but we preferred a little more of the ancient grain to temper all the mint and parsley. And my son Justin said that 1 cup mint was over-the-top, and I needed to back off a bit. I liked it, but I love mint so much I want to marry it, so take that into consideration.

This is a versatile dish. It can be served as an appetizer along with toasted pita triangles and spicy hummus, and some sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and Kalamata olives. Or it can be a salad or side to a meal. Shred or cube some grilled chicken into the bowl, and it’s a meal. The ease of the dish, plus the fresh herbs, make it perfect for warm weather, no matter which part it plays in your meal.

*NOTE: I did some research on kosher salt/sea salt/table salt, and found that you need more kosher or sea salt than table salt if substituting one for the other in a recipe. See this handy conversion chart for your own reference.

Serves 6-8

1 1/2 cups bulghur wheat
2 1/4 cups boiling water
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
1/2–1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves (1 bunch)
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (1 bunch)
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and medium-diced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2–3 tablespoons mined red onion
2–3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the bulghur in a large bowl, pour in the boiling water, and add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and lemon zest. Stir, then allow to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour. (You can also just pour the boiling water over the bulghur, and add the dressing ingredients later.)

Add the mint, parsley, cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, chives, and the pepper; mix well. Season with salt, if necessary; cover and refrigerate. Flavor improves if the tabbouleh is made a few hours ahead of serving time.

Crunchy Cauliflower and Pea Salad

IMG_0963Trying to get kids—or picky adults—to eat their veggies? This crunchy salad loaded with fresh cauliflower, celery, and peas might just convert some veggie-haters into lovers. Ranch is the base of the dressing, and then there’s bacon…so I rest my case. I think I got this super easy recipe from a women’s magazine ad promoting Ranch dressing, from when Ranch was new player on the food scene (80’s or 90’s?). I will say that the cashews are delicious in the salad, but if you’re not going to consume the whole bowl in one sitting, they soften and take on the texture of mushrooms by the next day. So only add the cashews to the amount of salad you think will be eaten first time around. Otherwise, the salad is fine leftover the next day!

This is a nice year-round recipe, as the ingredients are available any time. It’s especially good with spring and summer menus, as a side to grilled meat, burgers, or brats, and even better if you’re bored with beans and slaw. And as excited as we Midwesterners are about summer when the first blades of green grass appear, we do get to that point. Am I right, people?

Serves 6-8

10 ounces fresh shelled peas, or frozen
2-3 cups fresh cauliflower florets, in bite-size pieces
1 cup diced celery
1 sweet red pepper, diced
1/4 cup diced scallions
6-8 slices crisply cooked bacon, crumbled
1 cup cashew halves

For dressing

1 cup Ranch dressing
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove fresh garlic, minced

If using frozen peas, rinse in cold water in strainer, and allow to drain. In large bowl, combine cauliflower, celery, red pepper, and scallions. Once peas are drained, add those as well.

In medium bowl, combine Ranch dressing, sour cream, Dijon, and garlic. Beat with wire whisk until dressing and sour cream are smooth. Pour over vegetables, and toss to combines. Add crumbled bacon and toss again. Add cashews just before serving.

NOTE: If using a gluten-free Ranch option, this recipe is gluten-free. Leave out nuts if you’ve got nut-allergy folks in your circles, and it tastes just fine without them. The bacon gives it enough flavor so you won’t really miss the cashews. The bacon also removes it from the vegetarian dish category…sorry.

Raspberry-Rhubarb Slab Pie

FullSizeRenderWhen my rhubarb plant got beaten up in a fierce summer storm, I needed to get creative in the kitchen and use it or lose it. Browsing online, I came across this raspberry and rhubarb dessert (from tasteofhome.com) that sounded like a fun departure from my usual go-to rhubarb recipes. Plus, I’ve never made a pie crust—unless we did a pastry session in 7th grade foods class. Who can remember? At any rate, I thought I should get outside my baked-goods comfort zone and challenge myself a little.

Whoever coined the phrase “easy as pie” was on drugs. What’s so “easy” about PIE??? I followed the instructions for making the pastry, and got ready to roll out the dough. The directions were to roll it out between layers of waxed paper, but it was too flimsy and the dough was slipping all over the counter and the flour was flying. So I switched to floured parchment paper, and that worked a little better, but it was still no picnic. (That’s another expression I don’t get… Doesn’t making a full meal to bring on a picnic rank up there in culinary challenges? I find it exhausting.)

The next hurdle was trying to get the dough evenly distributed—equal thickness, and sorta in a rectangular shape. After 3 hours (or so it seemed) of huffing and puffing, I did finally get the bottom piece rolled and ready for the fruit filling. But then I had to do it again for the top! Ugh. I just about stabbed myself with the rolling pin. The end result was quite tasty, but I don’t think I’ll be winning any ribbons at the Fair in my lifetime.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it an 8. I loved the sweet-tart combination of the raspberry and rhubarb, and it was a nice change of pace from strawberry-rhubarb. It would be a fabulous treat to bring to a potluck, as it serves two dozen. I also liked that it was slimmer than a piece of pie, and the crust to fruit-filling ratio was perfect. Had my crust not been so tough, it would have been a perfect dessert. Next time, I’ll buy the Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts* and save my sanity.

Makes 18-24 servings

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
3/4 cup plus 1 to 2 tablespoons 2% milk
1 egg yolk
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
5 cups fresh or frozen unsweetened raspberries, thawed and drained
3 cups sliced fresh or frozen rhubarb, thawed and drained


1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 to 6 teaspoons 2% milk

 In a large bowl, combine flour and salt; cut in butter until crumbly. Whisk 3/4 cup milk and the egg yolk; gradually add to flour mixture, tossing with a fork until dough forms a ball. Add additional milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, if necessary. Divide dough into two portions so that one is slightly larger than the other. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour or until easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit. Roll out larger portion of dough between two large sheets of lightly floured parchment paper into an 18″x13″ rectangle. Transfer to an ungreased 15″x10″x1″ baking pan. Press onto the bottom and up sides of pan. Trim pastry to edges of pan.

In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add raspberries and rhubarb, tossing to coat. Spoon into pastry. Roll out remaining dough and place over filling. Fold bottom pastry over edge of top pastry; seal with a fork. Prick top with a fork.

Bake 45-55 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack.

For icing, combine confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and enough milk to achieve a drizzling consistency; drizzle over pie. Cut pie into squares. Serve warm or room temperature with ice cream.

NOTE: If using frozen rhubarb, measure rhubarb while still frozen, then thaw completely. Drain in a colander, but do not press liquid out.

* Pillsbury also makes a gluten-free refrigerated pie crust option.

Lemon Caesar Salad Dressing

IMG_0919Fresh summer salads need a fresh summer dressing, and what tastes fresher than the zing of real lemon? This dressing recipe make-over from a Pillsbury Classic Cookbook circa August 1991 (those little grocery store booklets sold in the check-out lanes next to the trashy tabloids) uses sour cream as a thickening agent instead of the traditional coddled egg, so there’s no raw egg issues in this mix. I’ve made it with just torn romaine lettuce, grated Parmesan cheese, and big, buttery croutons, but that’s too limiting for this zesty salad topper. It’s great on any torn greens and vegetable combination you can dream up.

IMG_0924Pictured in my salad are curly leaf lettuce, chopped sweet red peppers and cucumber, jicama chunks, fresh basil, and grated heritage carrots (they’re purple—so they kinda look like bacon bits), and finally a sprinkling of grated Parmesan, as a nod to it’s Caesar roots. Be warned that lemon is the predominant taste in this dressing, so pucker up. (Mom and Janine, this one’s for you!) I’ve never used the anchovy paste suggested in the original recipe, and we’ve found it’s just dandy without it. In fact, I think it would make it far too salty. 

Most people know how Caesar salad got it’s name…but here’s a refresher just for kicks. It was created by Chef Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who worked in kitchens in Mexico and the U.S. Legend has it that he came up with the concoction during a 4th of July rush when his kitchen supplies were running low, and these were the ingredients he had on hand. His original recipe didn’t use anchovies, either, so I guess I’m in good company there. Apparently, there are a variety of bottled dressings called “Cardini’s Caesar” to be found in grocery stores. But why buy it bottled when it’s so easy to make your own?

Makes about 3/4 cup dressing

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1-2 cloves garlic, minced (I typically use only one clove)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon course ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk—or combine in a jar and shake vigorously—until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use, or pour over salad greens and vegetables, and toss until greens are coated.

Classic Baby Back Ribs

IMG_0681With the 4th of July just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to share our favorite baby back rib recipe. These super savory morsels of meat take a few hours on the charcoal grill, but they are totally worth the wait. My husband Rich found this recipe on Weber’s website, and aside from his apostasy of Weber and zealous love of his new-found Big Green Egg, he follows the recipe pretty closely—minus the homemade barbecue sauce. We have someone with an allergy to tomato-based foods in our family, so he avoids brushing any BBQ sauce onto the ribs while grilling. There is also a philosophy out there in manly grilling land that says adding barbecue sauce to meats makes them char, as tomato has a low burning point. Those in the “dry rub” camp say, add your sauce when you’re eatin’, not when you’re cookin’.

What goes great with these tender, smoky ribs? Any of these recipes already posted on my blog: Corn Bread or Savory Sweet Potato Biscuits, Curry Cabbage and Vegetable Salad, Mean Mexican Rice or Baked Beans with Bacon and Caramelized Onions. For refreshments, try Mint Lemon Sweet Tea, Fresh Lemonade, or Rhubarb Mint Coolers—and follow your super summer meal up with warm Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp. My mother-in-law Marynona’s famous Potato Salad recipe (another summer time staple) will be posted soon. Never fear—I’ll be sure all your warm-weather dietary desires are covered!

Serves 4 to 6


2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons paprika
4 teaspoons granulated garlic
4 teaspoons pure chili powder
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin


4 racks baby back ribs, each about 2 pounds
4 medium chunks of hickory wood, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes


1 cup apple juice
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons barbecue sauce (from above)

Mix all the rub ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

Using a dull knife, slide the tip under the membrane covering the back of each rack of ribs. Lift and loosen the membrane until it breaks, then grab a corner of it with a paper towel and pull it off. Season the ribs all over with the rub, putting more on the meaty sides than the bone sides. Arrange the ribs in a rib rack, with all the ribs facing the same direction. Allow the ribs to stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes, or until the surface looks moist, before grilling.

Fill a chimney starter to the rim with charcoal and burn the charcoal until it is lightly covered with ash. Spread the charcoal in a tightly packed, single layer across one-third of the charcoal grate. Place a large disposable drip pan on the empty side of the charcoal grate. Fill the pan about halfway with warm water. Let the coals burn down to low heat (250° to 300°F). Leave all the vents open.

When the fire has burned down to low heat, add two hickory wood chunks to the charcoal. Put the cooking grate in place. Place the rib rack over indirect low heat (over the drip pan) as far from the coals as possible, with the bone sides facing toward the charcoal. Close the lid. Close the top vent about halfway. Let the ribs cook and smoke for 1 hour. During that time, maintain the temperature between 250° to 300°F by opening and closing the top vents. Meanwhile, make the mop.

Make mop: In a small saucepan mix the mop ingredients. Simmer for a few minutes over medium heat to melt the butter, and then remove the saucepan from the heat. Or melt butter in microwave, and add other mop ingredients and stir.

After the first hour of cooking ribs, add 8 to 10 unlit charcoal briquettes and the remaining two wood chunks to the fire. At the same time, lightly baste the ribs with some mop. Leaving the lid off for a few minutes while you baste the ribs will help the new briquettes to light. Close the lid and cook for another hour. During that time, maintain the temperature of the grill between 250° to 300°F by opening and closing the top vents.

After 2 hours of cooking ribs, add 8 to 10 unlit charcoal briquettes to the fire. Remove the ribs from the rib rack, spread them out on clean work area and baste them thoroughly with some mop. Put them back in the rib rack, again all facing the same direction, but this time turned over so that the ends facing down earlier now face up. Also position any ribs that appear to be cooking faster than others toward the back of the rib rack, farther from the charcoal. Let the ribs cook for a third hour. During that time, maintain the temperature between 250° to 300°F by opening and closing the top vents.

After 3 hours of cooking ribs, check if any rack is ready to come off the grill. They are done when the meat has shrunk back from most of the bones by ¼ inch or more. When you lift a rack by picking up one end with tongs, the rack should bend in the middle and the meat should tear easily. If the meat does not tear easily, continue to cook the ribs. The total cooking time could be anywhere between 3 to 4 hours. Not all racks will cook in same amount of time. Lightly brush the cooked ribs with some sauce and, if desired for crispiness, cook them over direct heat for a few minutes. Transfer to a sheet pan and tightly cover with aluminum foil. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm with barbecue sauce on the side.

Carolina Barbecued Pork

FullSizeRenderSlow cooker recipes are such time-savers, and this shredded pork number from the Crock Pot website is especially tender and tasty. Serve the shredded meat on crusty ciabatta rolls, not on hamburger buns or other soft breads. Stiffer, crustier bread holds up better with this juicy meat recipe. This is perfect for a graduation open house spread (if you live in the Midwest and do parties for high school graduates), but also works at potlucks in spring, summer, fall or winter. I’ve doubled it to serve a crowd, and every time I’ve had this simmering in the slow cooker, the recipe has been requested by a few folks. Let everyone serve themselves, and then gluten-free people can dish up a heaping pile of meat and avoid the bread. Vegetarians in your midst? They might change their persuasion when they get a whiff of what’s cooking. The original recipe gave instructions for making a sauce with the vinegar and seasonings, and then pouring it over the cooked meat when serving. But it’s easier and works perfectly fine to throw it all in the slow cooker, and let the ingredients make magic together.

(My apologies for not posting this last week in honor of Father’s Day! That was my intention, but you know what they say…the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Not sure what that has to do with a blog post.)

NOTE: The Curry Cabbage Vegetable Salad (posted recently) is a nice side with this sandwich.

Serves 6-8

2 medium onions, chopped
4 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon paprika (I use smoked Spanish paprika)
2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 to 6 pound boneless pork butt, shoulder, or loin
1/3 cup cider vinegar
4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
BBQ sauce of choice

Place onions in bottom of Crock Pot. In large mixing bowl, combine brown sugar, paprika, salt, and pepper. Roll pork in rub until it coats meat. Place meat in pot on top of onions. In a measuring cup, combine cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, red pepper, sugar, mustard, garlic salt, and cayenne pepper. Stir to combine. Pour over meat in pot. Cover and cook on Low for 10-12 hours, or on High for 5-6 hours. Once cooked, remove meat from pot and shred for sandwiches. Return meat to juices in pot. Use slotted spoon to serve meat.

Mint Lemon Sweet Tea

IMG_0850Nothing is quite as refreshing in a summertime drink as mint. If your mint is growing like a weed (in your mini herb garden pots), here’s one way to tame it. I found the original recipe in a food magazine put out by Marshall Field’s (before it became Macy’s), and credit is given to “Sunkist Growers, Inc.” in a tagline. I’ve added more mint, less sugar, and never bothered with the suggested grapefruit, so I think this is kinda my recipe now. I’m giving you an amount of mint (because that’s what you do in a recipe), but I nip off fistfuls of the herb from my pot without measuring, rinse and chop leaves only (no stems), and we’ve never thought, “Oh that’s too much mint.” (Pinch mint stem off right where new leaves are growing, as pictured here. That way your plant will branch out as it grows.)

FullSizeRenderNormally I’m a tea snob, but this is one case where I say, go for the Lipton’s. I used to find gallon-sized Lipton’s tea bags at Sam’s Club, but they no longer stock them. (Costco doesn’t carry any Lipton’s products.) I’ve found the large tea bags through Walmart online—they are cheaper and so much easier than unwrapping 12 single-serving tea bags.

One of the secrets of this drink, is pouring the boiled and steeped tea into the sugar, and stirring to dissolve it before adding the cold water. That’s how the southerners make their sweet tea, and it really is so much better than adding sugar to cold tea, where it just sinks to the bottom in an undissolved, sweet sludge. This tea has become our summertime drink of choice, and my son’s call it “liquid gold” or “the nectar of the gods”—when they are waxing poetic, that is. Suffice it to say, they really, really like it. I think you’ll like it too!

Makes 1 gallon

12 Lipton’s tea bags, or 1 gallon-sized tea bag
1 cup fresh spearmint leaves, rinsed and chopped*
4 cups boiling water
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
8 cups cold water
1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice

If using individual Lipton’s tea bags, unwrap and gather all the strings together. Flip them over the side of medium mixing bowl. (Gallon-size tea bag just goes in the bowl—it has no wrapping or string.) Add chopped mint. Pour 4 cups boiling water over mint and tea; cover and let steep for 5 minutes. Put sugar into gallon-sized pitcher. Place a sieve over opening of container. Pour hot steeped tea through sieve into gallon container, pressing on tea and mint to get all liquid out of bags. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Add 8 cups cold water and lemon juice. Stir again. Refrigerate for 3 hours or more before serving. Keeps in frig for a couple weeks—if it lasts that long.

*NOTE: Just a reminder that you should use spearmint, not peppermint. Hope you planted the right herb!

Wheatgrass Pots

IMG_0800“Grass” and “pot” in one blog title—I’m just asking for some serious ribbing from my offspring with this post. But the teasing will be worth it, cause I love these charming little winter wheatgrass table toppers. The first image shows grass seeds that were grown indoors for 2 weeks, and have been trimmed once to even out the wheatgrass growth. Before I show other photos, let me give you instructions for growing these. It’s not hard, but you have to plan ahead a couple weeks if you want these on your table for a specific event. Some people love to have wheatgrass on hand to throw in smoothies, or to juice and drink just plain. My reason for growing it was for the pop of bright green on the table, and not for nutritional benefits. I don’t think my husband would tolerate me putting grass in his food. If he knew, that is.

For wheatgrass pots

Terra cotta pots
(I used 5″ azalea or orchid pots, which are more squat than other pots, and give more surface area for growing grass.)
Terra cotta saucers to fit pots
Potting soil (with peat moss and vermiculite, etc.)
Winter wheatgrass seeds
Large clear plastic bags
Twist ties

Loosely cover hole in bottom of terra cotta pot with a stone or shard of broken pot. This will keep the dirt from leaking out when watering the pots. Add dirt to pot to about 1-inch from top. Sprinkle generous amount of seeds onto dirt, covering 75-85% of surface. You do not want area completely covered with seeds or they will choke each other out. But a decent amount of seed is needed, or the grown grass will be sparse. Top the seeds with a sprinkling of dirt, just enough to cover the seeds, about 1/4-inch.

IMG_0734Water the pots and let them drain in the sink for a bit. Put pots on saucers, then fit clear plastic bag over top of pot and saucer, fill with air, and secure bag with twist tie. Make sure bag is loose to allow for sprouting of grass. Place in sunny spot. Bag will create a mini-terrarium, and these will not need water until the grass is a few inches long, about 7-10 days.

Condensation will form on the top of the plastic, as you can see in the photo. (You can’t really see it, but the grass seed has sprouted and is almost ready to be uncovered.) Once most of the wheatgrass has sprouted and is about 3-inches tall, you can uncover the pots and leave them in a sunny spot to continue filling out. At about 14 days you will probably want to trim the grass evenly. This is the point the pots should be ready for displaying on your table or counter top. Water the pots every couple of days, when the dirt feels dry on top. The grass tends to start dying off about 4 weeks after seeds were started, probably because it gets root-bound in small containers.

Once your grass is grown, you can jazz these up a bit. The first time I grew wheatgrass was for my son’s wedding. We grew a couple dozen 8.5″ pots of grass indoors, and used them on the tables at his summer wedding reception. My daughter-in-law hand-lettered numbers onto cute little signs to stick in each pot, but I don’t seem to have a picture of the finished product. (In know, I know…bad mother-in-law!) Oh, they were darling! And they fit our frugal-wedding budget—roughly $5 per centerpiece.

Then I grew these one spring when my youngest son was drumming up clients for his lawn mowing business. I made signs that said, “Mitchell won’t KEEP OFF THE GRASS. He’s ready to mow your lawn for you…” with his contact information at bottom. I cut out the signs and glued them to corrugate (one of my favorite crafting materials), and stuck a bamboo skewer in the signs. (You have to be sure the channels for the corrugate are running straight up and down on the signs in order for the skewer system to work, so double-check corrugate direction before gluing the signs down. Learned that the hard way.) We brought these to his current clients, and those who had expressed interest in his services. I’m sure these—as well as his magnetic personality—helped secure a couple extra clients that year.

The versatility of the sign-on-a-stick is shown in other pictures. There’s an example of a birthday party centerpiece using the three little pots, breaking up “birth” and “day,” because after all, you are celebrating the day of one’s birth, right? You could also do a sign with a poetic saying like the Maya Angelou quote here, “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” I personally couldn’t get away with this. There’s too much testosterone around my table for me to indulge in feminine whimsy. But go ahead and try an idea like this in YOUR home!