Monastery Bread and Fragrant Irises

IMG_5715IMG_5719nce, long ago (or so I have read), medieval monks ate simply, dining on porridge, fish, fruit and ale. At some monasteries, a small loaf of bread, the “size of a scone,” was placed by each plate. I read this in “In a Monastery Garden” by Elizabeth & Reginald Peplow, a favorite book of mine. Its depiction of monastery life and gardens appeal to my yearning for a more peaceful, ordered life.

I wondered what such a bread might be like, and have come up with the following, based on a recipe for Jerome’s Millet Bread, from a previous post. It’s a simple whole wheat bread crunchy with either millet or quinoa–your choice. The sage leaf is a nice touch, or you could use a parsley leaf.

In the spirit of that past age, this could be served with a vegetable soup, a piece of cheese, and a glass of wine. Fruit would be the dessert. Before they ate, the monks recited the 51st psalmHave mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of they tender mercies blot out my transgressions . . . Then, they would eat.

Monastery Bread

IMG_57181/3 cup honey
2 packages yeast
3 cups warm water
1/4 cup oil
4-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup millet or quinoa
2 cups white flour
1 egg white beaten with 1 teaspoon milk
optional: twelve fresh sage leaves

In a large bowl, mix the honey, yeast and warm water. Allow it to foam up–about 20 minutes. Stir in oil, whole wheat flour and salt. Let rise for about one hour.

Stir in millet or quinoa and white flour. Knead for about five minutes and let rise for one hour. Punch down, and let rise again.

Have ready two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Upend the risen dough onto a floury surface and divide into two with a large knife. Roll one of the lumps of dough into a rough cylinder, and cut into six pieces. Roll each piece into a round ball, and place onto the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with other lump of dough–you will have twelve balls of dough. Press each one down lightly. Brush each little loaf with the beaten egg mixture. If using, dip sage leaves into the egg white and press one onto each loaf.

Allow the shaped loaves to sit until puffy–about 20 minutes. Have the racks in the oven evenly spaced. Place the baking sheets into the oven, and bake until loaves are brown, about 22 minutes. Makes twelve small loaves.

IMG_5717It’s iris season, and here are some of the irises blooming in the garden. They all have fragrances–the purple iris smells like a sweet grape, the others have soft floral scents. Peace to you. Fran





Strawberry Rhubarb Cornbread and a Bumblebee

Whenever I worry about the world, which, lately, is a lot, I am reassured by the life in my garden, which goes on unperturbed. The bees buzz, the birds swoop, and spring always returns. So here I offer some bumblebees gathering pollen from perennial comfrey flowers, in a little world where all is well.

IMG_5631 IMG_5632

The flower below is a wildflower called bladder campion, and is as elegant as a flower could be. I wish I could say that I had a great idea and planted it myself, but I think the wind planted it.

Strawberry Rhubarb Cornbread

If you have rhubarb growing in your garden, right now you have a lot of it, and so here is a recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Cornbread that can help use it up. This is a bread that’s as simple as a spring morning–nothing high falutin about it. It’s light, sweet and moist, with tart nuggets of both strawberry and rhubarb. I was surprised by this bread–it really is as light as a feather, and cuts beautifully.

Tastes so good with a pat of butter!

Strawberry Rhubarb Cornbread

IMG_56643/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 (8-1/2-oz) packages corn muffin mix
1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
1 cup chopped fresh rhubarb

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9″ square or 7 x 11″ pan and line with parchment paper. Lightly grease again. Combine sour cream, sugar, milk and eggs in a medium bowl until smooth. Stir in muffin mix just until moistened–the batter will still be lumpy. Gently stir in chopped strawberries and rhubarb.

Spread batter into prepared pan. Bake for 35 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm with butter, if desired.

Baking notes: This is one recipe where I wouldn’t use low fat sour cream or milk. Cornmeal is a plain flavor, and benefits from the richness of full fat ingredients. I chopped the fruit into small dice–about 1/3″ cubes. Use strawberries that are ripe, but not at all mushy. This bread tastes good warm or cool. I can see it as an unusual, but good, side dish to baked, roasted or barbecued chicken, along with coleslaw.


Seen in the garden–our cat Puff, enjoying the beautiful weather.


Lastly, meadow rue is in full bloom, looking lacy and lovely! Peace, Fran



Buttermilk Lime Tea Bread and a Garden Report


This Buttermilk Lime Tea Bread is adorned with sprigs of mint, including lavender mint, apple mint, spearmint and juicy fruit mint. There are also sprigs of perennial comfrey and lamium.

Buttermilk Lime Tea Bread

IMG_56331-3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons finely grated lime peel
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees (if using a dark-colored pan, heat oven to 325 degrees). Grease a 8×4-inch or 9×5-inch loaf pan with shortening; dust with flour.

The following can be done with a large spoon. Mix flour, 3/4 cup sugar, the baking powder and salt; set aside. In another bowl, stir egg, buttermilk, vegetable oil, lime peel and 1 tablespoon of the lime juice until well blended. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and stir just until moistened. Some lumps will remain. Spread in prepared pan.

Bake for about 60 minutes or until golden brown. In a small bowl, mix remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice and 1 tablespoon sugar. Spoon lime juice mixture over top of warm bread. Cool in pan for about 10 minutes. Remove bread from pan.

Baking notes: I used an 8-inch Bundt pan. As well as being decorative, there is no possibility of uncooked batter in the bread center, as there could be in a loaf pan. One large lime or two small ones will yield enough peel and juice for this recipe. Be sure not to overstir. Steel yourself, and the moment the batter is moist, stop stirring.

This is a nice, easy, summery little cake/bread, made special with the tartness of fresh lime, and which can be served with sliced strawberries. Not only can it be made a day ahead, but it should be made ahead, to allow the fresh lime flavor to develop. The original recipe came from a Betty Crocker booklet called “Spring Brunch.”

Garden Report

Although in appearance tranquil, my garden is humming with activity. The mother cardinal continues to sit on her nest, and at least one tiny cardinal has emerged from its egg.


Saw this toad yesterday, adorned with a lilac flower. I am happy to see him!


And here is a young robin, emerged from the bird bath and shaking himself dry. He seems to be in touch with his inner eagle!

IMG_5602 IMG_5603 IMG_5604 IMG_5605

Now flowering: perennial comfrey, pulmonaria, wild geranium and wood poppy.

Found on a stroll at Johnson’s Mound: red trillium and giant white trillium! It was a thrill to see them. Peace, Fran


Spring Wonderland

Last Friday, Jim and I drove down to Starved Rock State Park. We hiked over hill and dale and saw carpets of wildflowers, as well as waterfalls fed by the spring rains. Here are some highlights.


Sandstone layers, laid down long ago by an inland sea. When the glaciers melted thousands of years ago, the flood water carved canyons through the sandstone.

Red trilliums were everywhere–I love their common name: wakerobin.

Here’s some wild phlox with ferns. The fern on the right is hanging off the cliff, about 40 feet above a stream.


Above, Virginia bluebells reflected in a stream. Below, white Virginia bluebells!



Wild geranium

There were carpets of Spring Beauty (below) covering hillsides. The flowers are tiny, but the effect was breathtaking.


If only this plant had a better name! It’s called lousewort. I think I’ll rename it Mr. Ruffles.


I was amazed to see this lovely wildflower, called Bellwort. An aristocrat among wildflowers.



Jack in the Pulpit

Also was amazed to see shooting stars, especially in three different colors!

Interesting mushrooms!


Dutchman’s breeches

Lastly, a waterfall. Hope you have enjoyed! Peace. Fran



Cherry Slice Cookies and a Mother Cardinal

IMG_5501Recipes can take twists and turns, and in the case of these cherry slice cookies, a twist came when I couldn’t find gumdrops. The original recipe called for half a cup chopped gumdrops, and, much to my surprise, my local grocery store didn’t have gumdrops. There were gummy bears, gummy crawlers, gummy pop bottles, but no gumdrops. Seems like the end of civilization as we know it. Time to re-think! They did have cherry slice candies, which are giant gumdrops by another name, so I decided to go with them. I’m glad I did, because these buttery, shortbread-like cookies with bits of chewy cherry flavor are awfully good! There are bursts of crispiness, then bursts of tart cherry chewiness, and it’s fun!

IMG_5496Cherry Slice Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups flour
1 4-ounce package of cherry slice candies
granulated sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. With a large kitchen knife, cut up the cherry slice candies into 1/4″ pieces (approximately).


Sprinkle a little sugar on your cutting board. Separate any pieces of candy that have stuck together and roll them in a bit of the sugar to keep them separate.

Mix butter and brown sugar until completely combined, then stir in flour. Then stir in the cut-up cherry slices.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls, and place about 1-inch apart on lined baking sheet. Grease the bottom of a glass, then dip into sugar. Press down on dough balls until 1/2″ thick.

Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until bottom of cookies are light golden brown. Let them sit for a few minutes before removing from cookie sheet.

Baking notes: You could use orange slices for this recipes, or maybe you will find gumdrops! Maybe civilization isn’t ending, after all! The dough is firm, and I mixed in the flour and chopped candies with my hands.


crabapple blossoms

crabapple blossoms

Mother Cardinal

What a beautiful time of year, with the fruit trees blooming, and tulips everywhere. And much to our delight, a mother cardinal has built a nest in the yew bush up front. We try to studiously ignore her as we pass in and out. We have also seen her at the bird bath. I will keep you posted!





Lastly, the pulmonaria is blooming. I love how the pink and blue flowers are on the same plant! Peace. Fran



A Magic Pie and a Rabbit Rumpus


Way back when, there was a fad for so-called “Impossible Pies.” Made with a commercial baking mix, the ingredients were whirled in the blender and poured into a greased pie pan. A crust formed as the pie baked: easy!

My basic qualm about the recipe is that the baking mix contained hydrogenated shortening. I try not to over-worry about such things, but as well as being bad for your arteries, hydrogenated shortening is flavorless. So when I ran across this simple butter and egg-based impossible pie recipe, from a Land O’Lakes Shortcut Baking booklet, I gave it a try. The result was really delicious. A delicate, silky custard tasting of coconut, vanilla and nutmeg forms magically above a soft crust. The coconut flavor is not pronounced. This pie is so easy and inexpensive, but it can be company fare.

Magic Coconut Custard Pie

2 cups milk
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
3 tablespoons butter, melted
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch ceramic or Pyrex pie pan; set aside.

Pour milk into a blender, and add remaining ingredients. Cover; blend at medium speed for about 1 to 2 minutes. The batter will have the consistency of a pancake batter.

Pour mixture into prepared pie plate. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Sprinkle with nutmeg, if desired. I decorated the pie with a sliced strawberry and a little bunch of grapes.

Baking notes: Be sure to use a 9-inch pie pan. The batter will fill up the pan almost to the top–don’t worry. It will grab the sides of the pan, puff up and not run over. Test the pie after about 40 minutes baking with the tip of a sharp knife. The pie will be a bit quivery, but the knife should come out clean if it’s done. Return to the oven and bake for a few minutes longer if the knife shows liquid batter. The pie can be served warm or cold, and cuts well either way.


Rabbit Rumpus

I was standing by the kitchen window sipping a cup of coffee when I noticed two rabbits hippity hop into the yard. The coffee was from Starbucks, and the caffeine was beginning to effect me like a hammer blow to the head. Perhaps because of this, I began imagining a story for the rabbits.


He was a veritable Brad Pitt among rabbits.


She was an Angelina Jolie.


It was love at first sight.

My romantic reverie was interrupted when Jim shouted “She’s giving birth!” The gardener in me had conflicted feelings.


But all was not as it seemed. They had a showdown.


Suddenly, all rabbit hell broke loose.


They fought.

IMG_5415 IMG_5416

There was a truce, and Angelina smoothed her ruffled fur.


I have the feeling this rabbit rumpus isn’t over. To be continued. . . .


My peach blossom tulips are blooming. Always love them! Peace, Fran



Just a Robin

This will be a slightly abbreviated post, as I am taking part in a week-long workshop starting tomorrow, which is my most usual day to post a blog. Obviously, I am not the most organized person, and didn’t think ahead! The workshop will be about icon painting, and will be held at a local Romanian Byzantine church. There will be lectures by the teacher, plus we will paint an icon. I have always loved the rich beauty of these paintings. I’m a bit nervous, but excited. I will report back next week!

I do have some nice robin photos to share, taken as he sat in our pear tree. Yes, he’s just a robin, but his feathers are like silk, and he is quite beautiful. I hope you enjoy! Peace. Fran

IMG_5360 IMG_5361 IMG_5363 IMG_5367

It's been a rather brisk, wintery spring so far. Here is a hellebore after a recent snow storm.

It’s been a rather brisk, wintery spring so far. Here is a hellebore after a recent snow storm.