Archive for March, 2013

Sometimes when you crop a photo for a close up, wonderful things can happen.


I (Sincerely, Emily) love the world of digital photography, and I love being able to crop photos to come in close to really be able to show what I want or crop out things I won’t want to be part of the photo. Sometimes when I crop a photo neat things pop out and the detail is amazing.

close up

This is a super close up of a piece of quiche.

great colors

I love the pattern on the dried outer shell of the loofah’s that a grew a few years ago. I am so glad I took some photos of them before I peeled them all.


I’m (Alexandra) not crazy about fairy gardens, but I have to say, I love getting my eyes down at seedling level and pretend I’m in a tiny forest.


Do you enjoy the detail in close-up photos?

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This is a post I had started over on my personal blog a few years ago, but it just kept getting pushed further down the posting list until it was out of sight. Alexandra commented on my post last week about getting the recipe…. just the push I needed I guess.

I found this recipe back in 2010 over at Living on a Dime and I have been making them ever since then. This is what my husband has for breakfast every day. They make a great snack and they freeze well.  I always grab a few to take with me when I head out to run errands for the day. Having them with me keeps me from making a bad decision (fast food drive-thru) when I start to get really hungry.

I stack them in a pint canning jars to take in the truck.

I stack them in a pint canning jars to take in the truck.

The base of the recipe is great and then you go off in the direction you want to with your special ingredients. I substitute honey for the granulated sugar in this recipe. I know honey still has calories just like granulated sugar, but I am not focusing on calories here, I am focusing on my ingredients and where they come from along with the benefits of the things I add to them. Also, I think I am getting a healthier granola bar then the ones in the store that are full of additives and preservatives that I am working so hard to stay away from.

mixing up granola bars

Homemade Granola Bars           Adapted from website Living on a Dime

Cream together (I use my stand mixer or hand-held mixer)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened

Add to mix (use electric mixer)
2 Tbsp. honey or corn syrup
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg

Peanut butter (optional)

Add to mix (I still use that mixer)
1 cup flour
1 T cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Stir into mix

Add dried fruit, nuts, coconut, etc.

Stir in remaining ingredients.

Add to mix
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 1/4 cups crispy rice cereal (I use an organic puffed rice or puffed millet)

Press firmly into the bottom of a greased 9×13 pan. (I use the back of a spoon to press the mixture into pan.)

Bake at 350° for 30 – 35 minutes. (looking for golden brown – but not crispy

The bars will firm up as they cool.
Allow the bars to cool completely before cutting.
Makes 24 bars.

Here is what I add to mine:
Ground flax seed
Sunflower seeds
Raisins or died cranberries or dried apricots

Granola Bars - done

A few of my notes:

  • I don’t tend to measure the ingredients when I am making these up, other than there is always a 1 cup measure in each jar of flour that I have and 1/4 cup measuring cup in both my oatmeal and my puffed millet. I have found when using honey in place of the granulated sugar that I need to add more flour to the mixture. Since I am not measuring, my granola bars can come out either quite chewy gooey or quite firm and crunchy.
  • Another thing to keep in mind when using more honey in these bars, is that if you bake them at 350F like the original recipe calls for, they will brown and burn more quickly and the bars won’t be completely cooked, so I turn down the oven to 300F to bake them slower and a lower heat setting. They still brown up more, but they don’t burn as quickly.

I cannot count how many times that I have passed on this recipe and everyone that has made them has been thrilled with the results.

I make two batches at a time and always keep them in the freezer.

Do you make your own granola or granola bars? Feel free the share your recipe or a link to it in the comments.

Sincerely, Emily

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When my daughter Nga was 15 we went to Dexter, Michigan and found the house I lived in when I was 3. I took the picture below in an attempt to recreate the photo of me that is sitting (or was sitting) on my father’s desk for as long as I can remember.N at Dexter House

The photos were taken at approximately the same place along the road. A lot changes in 40 years.
Road to DexterHouse
Dexter House had been an antebellum mansion outside Ann Arbor in the small town of Dexter; it was divided into university housing for nearby U of Michigan and had supposedly been a stop on the underground railroad.

I have known this fact my entire life although I don’t remember when I first heard it. I think it must have been when we lived there, and that my mother explained what that meant.

I doubt I understood the concept of slavery, or escape, or race for that matter. I know that when I was in 3rd grade I did not understand what “colored people” were (that was the term used then). I know this because I can remember my friend Dodo (yes, Dodo, short for Dorothy) talking about someone’s “colored” gardener and the image that invoked of a person with skin like a book’s endpage– a swirling kaleidoscope of color.

This is not so much a beautiful evocation of the natural tolerance of children as of the rigid segregation in which we lived, inasmuch as I never ever encountered people of other races. I can remember vividly in fact, because it was so rare, the few non-whites I met growing up. The housekeeper at my school, the Hindu girl in fourth grade (also the only handicapped child I encountered), the three black girls at Haverford Junior High.

My kids knew from a very young age that there were different races, but they didn’t exactly understand what that meant. They knew their father wasn’t white, but since Asian people are essentially invisible in our society, and you never really encounter the terminology, they used to tell people that their dad was black, which people found very confusing. When Nga was about 6 she asked me one day, in her high piping voice, why we were the only white people on the train we riding. Everyone on the train laughed, especially since Nga is not, in fact, white.

I believe I told her that it was smart people who ride the train, and has nothing to do with the color of your skin.

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Cold, snow, and frozen ground. It’s spring in the northern tier states!


This is my (Alexandra) robin friend from many years ago. I used to call him the “god of the garden” because he was so clearly in charge. His cousin was kicking around last week, extremely confused that it was so cold.



I  (Sincerely, Emily) grew up in Minnesota and Wisconsin and even though we heat up in March down here in South Texas, I still think about March and Spring Break as a time of snow storms. There were many a Spring Break when we would be flying down to Florida to visit Gramps and we would be driving to the airport in a snow storm or unable to make connecting flights because of a snow storm and be stuck in the airport (usually Chicago) for a day or two.

Robins are still a sign of Spring for me, but now instead of waiting for them to arrive up north, I watch them come through my yard in large flocks as they migrate north for the summer. I missed the robins this year, but I stepped out onto the front porch the other day and the oak tree what waking up to Spring. The sage in the backyard is also waking up for Spring and is sending up buds that will flower very soon. The bluebonnets are blooming everywhere That is Spring in South Texas.

Spring - oak tree, front yard

What signs of spring are you seeing?

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I am just trying to accept my new pace for now and have termed this year “The Year on Hold.” My mind is still moving at its normal speed, but my physical body is moving at a fraction of normal. I would say 1/8th speed of less. Dang that is slow.

My hands and nails haven’t been this clean in a long time and my nails are longer than they have been in years and year.

These hands haven't seen the dirt in many weeks

I cleaned out some stuff in the silverware drawer and found a set of 2 forks and 2 knives that had been my Gramp’s. I set them out for a meal one night. Mom and I had fun looking at them and talking about them. She thought they were mostly likely from Gramp’s second wife’s brother who had been in Germany and brought them back. The antlers are so much more knobby than the deer antlers here in the US. and the detail is beautiful. They were fun to use and enjoy.

Gramp's treasurer's

The 14 year old neighbor girl came over on day and I taught her how to make granola bars. I sat on a stool in the kitchen and guided her through the recipe. It was fun for both of us. As we waited for them to cook and cool, we played a game. I let her pick the game and she chose Battleship. I bought the game at a garage sale a few years ago and this was the first time I had played it in decades. The game was missing a few of the boats, but we made it work. On the first game we each hit a ship on our second guess. Imagine that. The second game it took us forever for either of us to hit a ship. It was pretty funny.

Hit! You sunk my battleship!

I managed to take another trip to the emergency room last Sunday. I only stayed 4 hours this time and I am determined to not go back (unless I have to of course.) The blood clot has broken up (that’s a really good thing for me) and I should be on the road to recovery and smooth sailing at this point. The big thing right now is to get my INR (International Ratio) level stable in the therapeutic range. I go to the lab for a blood test once a week and then we adjust the amount of coumadin that I take to keep the INR in a stable therapeutic range. The range we are shooting for is between 2-3.

In the mean time I am digging through and cleaning out drawers a little at a time. I am going through piles of papers and organizing what I can a little at a time. I also hope to have time to work on blog posts and read other blogs and comment more consistently. My mom picked all the cabbages for me before she headed home and I hope to get a crock of sauerkraut fermenting (with help.) I imagine many of you in the northern hemisphere are getting antsy for spring to arrive. In my area we have already hit 90F and most people have their spring gardens planted.

“The Year on Hold” will still be frustrating for me, but I will make the most of what I can.

When was the last time you played Battleship?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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This morning I decided to finally work on my crème brûlée recipe… and wow was it yellow when it came out. I don’t mind a yellow custard. In fact, I prefer it because I know where my eggs come from.


So now I am currently reading a forum about crème brûlée variations and some people are actually saying that a yellowish custard is a sign of using food coloring or “bad eggs”! Um. What?

(I’m offended, can you tell?)

I’m sorry. My eggs were laid this morning, fresh as can be, by happy, healthy hens and my custard is Bright. Fricken. Yellow. It would be yellow if I used one egg or a dozen. That’s what fresh egg yolks are. Bright. Fricken. Yellow.

After some reading I discovered that eggs get their yellow yolks from the carotenoids in the chickens’ diet. Of course, some chicken feeds have additives of synthetic carotenoids, or even dyes (what?!) and in some cases these additives are what cause people to have allergies to modern eggs. Blerg.

So, because I know my chickens are fed all natural, local grain, I am happy to indulge. Eggs, cream, unbleached sugar and a dash of irish cream liqueur? Yes. Please.

(I apologize for not having an awesome photo of the crème brûlées after I caramelized the sugar on top… somehow they’d vanished before I got my camera back out!)

Do you prefer your crème brûlée to be pale cream colored, or is yellow acceptable/desirable?

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Seed starting

Up here in Zone 5 (ish), March is a slog.

It’s not that the weather is terrible, or not just that the weather is terrible, but Illinois March is cruel– you know there’s a springlike day just struggling to get out, but winter Just. Hangs. On.

What’s a gardener to do?

Seed Starting 101
Roughly my presentation
at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show
DIY stage, March 10

Choosing seeds

  • Space—how much space in your seed starting area, how much space in your garden
  • Cost—I never started seeds until about 7 years ago, because I wasn’t growing all that much; once I started expanding my garden nursery starts got too expensive
  • What you’ll eat
  • Something new

Type of seeds:

  • GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) produced by any means of genetic modification, whether by modern genetic engineering or age-old plant breeding methods
  • GE Genetically Engineered—these are your Frankenseeds, and are not commonly encountered in home gardening
  • Hybrid- An “F-1”, or first generation hybrid, is created when a breeder cross-pollinates two pure plant lines to produce a seed with desirable traits (such as disease resistance, uniformity, or color) from both parents; not stable from generation to generation
  • Heirloom, aka open pollinated is a stable hybrid—breeds true from single parent. Generally the plant needs to be stable for 50 years to be considered an “heirloom”

Starting seeds

  • Indoors
  • Winter sowing
  • Direct
  • Reseeding

Materials to start seeds indoors

  • A warm surface or a seed heating mat
  • 12 to 14 hours of light—a sunny window is not enough. Get specifically grow lights, or just get a shop light with one warm fluorescent tube and one cool flurorescent tube, OR get can clamp lights with a 150 or 200 W CFL bulb
  • Sterile containers*
  • Seed starting mix
  • Seeds
  • Water
  • An electric fan

Sterile containers can be purchased seed starting kits, biodegradable pots, standard ceramic pots, plastic 4” starter pots, TP tubes, DIY newpaper pots. But if they aren’t new, you must sterilize them with heat, 10% bleach solution, or rubbing alcohol.

Step by step for indoor starts

  • Make a calendar—you want 4” tall plants on planting day, with at least 4 sets of leaves. Your seed packet should tell you how long from planting to sprouting; assume 3 to 4 times that for plant out date. So a tomato will sprout in about 6 to 8 days; and get to four inches in 3 to 4 weeks. In other words, don’t start tomato seeds indoors before the beginning of April or later, because you can’t plant them until late May.
  • Sterile containers can be purchased seed starting kits, biodegradable pots, standard ceramic pots, plastic 4” starter pots, TP tubes, DIY newpaper pots. But if they aren’t new, you must sterilize them with heat, 10% bleach solution, or rubbing alcohol.
  • Moisten the starter mix (only moisten what you will use today)
  • Slightly underfill your containers
  • MAKE MARKERS BEFORE YOU PLANT. Again, creative reuse, popsicle sticks, plastic plant markers, etc. Use a black sharpie or laundry marker so the writing doesn’t fade or run
  • Lay your seeds on the surface of the cell or planter, then cover with the correct amount of starter mix/soil—the packet will tell you how deeply to plant, but generally you want the seed twice the depth of its largest dimension.
  • Overplant. Assume 80% germination on freshly purchases commercial seeds, 50% if you’ve gotten seeds at a seed swap or by saving them yourself.

Taking care of your seeds

  • Most vegetable seeds will sprout in a week. Some, like beans or radishes, will sprout in a couple of days. Some, like basil, parsley and parsnips, may take a month.
  • Keep them moist but not soaking. Until they sprout you can help keep the soil moist by laying a piece of  plastic wrap over the top of the pot.
  • Water seeds and sprouts from the top, seedlings from the bottom
  • Because no indoor light is the same as sunlight, keep those lights on 14 to 16 hours a day. Use a timer.
  • Once they’ve sprouted, place a fan on low in the room. Doesn’t need to be blowing on them direct, but this will help keep fungal diseases like damping off at bay, and will make the stems stronger.
  • Be ruthless—pinch off weaker seedlings until you have only a few more than you need. Once you plant, donate the ones you don’t need to your local garden club sale or school garden.

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Time for some green I suppose!


I (Xan) haven’t dropped off the face of the earth, Not Dabbling evidence to the contrary. I’ve been swamped by a major life crisis (not ready to share in a blog post yet, but I will eventually), the usual “March madness” of my job (every deadline in fundraising happens between Feb 25 and March 15) and the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, where the Peterson Garden Project has a major exhibit.  So despite the grey outside, I’ve been seeing lots and lots of green and growing things, which will always put a smile on your face.



So, apart from the lovely green eggs my ameracaunas are laying these days, there just isn’t much green in my life! The world around us is sleeping in this year and I have yet to start my seeds. It’s almost like mother nature hit the snooze button at the beginning of March. Hopefully she’ll wake up soon! I’m getting desperate for some green!

Still, it is Saint Paddy’s day, so I’ll leave you with this:

Bailey’s Irish Cream crème brûlée! Did you know you can add a shot of Bailey’s to pretty much any crème brûlée recipe by simply removing a little tiny bit of the cream? Mmm… (For those of you who don’t like to drink, you can add Bailey’s Irish coffee creamer!) Enjoy!


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This past week has been Spring Break in my area of South Texas. Everyone has been making plans, going somewhere or just planning to relax at home. “Spring Break” doesn’t really mean anything to me. No kids, no one heading to visit us… it was just another week on the calendar. Well, that was what I thought. From my post last week you learned about my many limitations.

I really need to back up to the end of January when this all started. I had a complete hysterectomy. It was necessary and unavoidable. There was no way I could leave either ovary because of tumors (happy to report they were benign!) I can get real technical and use all the medical explanations, but I will keep it simple for now. Complete hysterectomy. Done. Most of us know that there is always a risk with any surgery; big or small. Most of us know that sometimes there are complications. For me, those things are always in the back of my mind.

I am in tune with my body. I always have been. I can tell if something just isn’t quite right and I am not afraid to go have it checked out. I grew up in a household with a doctor (my mom) and I was always interested in things so when someone would get sick, I payed attention and learned. If someone I know gets sick or diagnosed with something, I tend to do research and learn more about it. When I head into a doctor’s appointment I come with a notebook and questions.

I was just starting to get out and do things over the past two weeks. Starting to do a bit of grocery shopping and able to push a lightly–loaded cart. A week ago Friday was a busy day for me. I had several stops and errands. Spring Break week was to be busy. A friend and I were doing a presentation on the Herb of the Year – Elder (sambucus or elderberry) to a group of Master Gardeners. I had a field trip and lunch arranged for the garden club I am in. My friend and I were doing our Elder presentation for the local Herb Society. Busy week. Samples to make, etc. Friday I was wrapping up loose ends with all these stops and errands.

Just a short walk to the truck was hard. I was short of breath and having chest pain. I knew it wasn’t my heart, it was my lungs. My mind thinks; blood clots or walking pneumonia, but I don’t have other symptoms other then the shortness of breath and lung pain. I ran a few more errands and I didn’t feel any better so I headed home. Saturday there was no change so I headed over to the local Urgent Care. They didn’t do any scans of x-rays, they suspected the same thing I did – blood clot. Again, since I only a few symptoms, they basically gave me two options – to head to the newly built ER or head down into town to the hospital where I had my hysterectomy to that ER because it would be one less transfer if I needed to be admitted. They stressed that the hospital ER might be my best choice because all my information was in their system including my medical insurance and it would save time. Down the road to the hospital I went (you guessed it, I drove myself)

I was quickly ushered into triage. After they listened to my “story” (hysterectomy, shortness of breath, etc) they asked me if I worked in the medical profession. Nope, that’s just me. They were all taking bets that it was a blood clot (I just didn’t know that at the time) and off for a CT scan I went. Then all the commotion started. The scan showed that I had a very large pulmonary saddle emboli (really big blood clot hanging out between both lung at the heart.) That is not good! Then I had ultra sounds of both legs where numerous more blood clots where found. Just then my husband arrived. They were sending me off to have a filter installed (an IVC filter – Intra Vena Cava -a filter put in below the lungs and heart above the kidneys to catch and break up the additional clots that were traveling up.) The staff that had not seen me were looking for my husband to sign on sent forms. The doctors said I could sign my own forms because I was “conscious and alert” (because for the size of the clot, I really shouldn’t have been – just another symptom I didn’t have.) Filter installed smoothly. Time to head up to ICU and settle in.

From the reactions of the doctors and nurses in the ER and every doctor I met and checked in with me and followed me in ICU, there is a consensus that I am lucky to be here. Once the ER docs saw my CT results they couldn’t believe I was conscious and coherent because I didn’t have any other symptoms and haven’t had any of the other symptoms like:

  • Swelling in my legs
  • Heat in my legs from the clots
  • Pain in my legs from the clots or when they examined them
  • dizziness,

So my Spring Break was an unplanned trip heading towards the big city, a room with a view on the 5th floor (ICU), room services three times a day. Amenities and bonuses are just too long to list so here are just a few (and of course not free for charge)

  • Bed Pan – because I am not allowed out of bed at all! (by the way, those things just DO NOT work at all. Not at all!)
  • Blood pressure cuff going off every 15 minutes all day and night (I know it is important, I can live with it)
  • 6 electrodes stuck to my chest with all the wires going everywhere
  • IV (Intravenous/drip) catheter – for me, this hurts alllll the time.
  • Blood thinning medications
  • A low-sodium, low vitamin K, cardiac diet (ahhhh my garden is full of vit. K –  KALE, SPINACH, BROCCOLI – that’s not on the coumadin list)*
  • A adjustable bed (wow, they did let me move enough to operate that one on my own!)
  • Cable TV (a treat – watched the Food Network mostly – what a surprise)

Adjust bed

I have a long recovery ahead of me. I can walk about as fast as a snail’s pace fairly well right now. Anything faster and I am super short of breath and have terrible pain in my lungs. Walking and talking around completely out of the question, my oxygen saturation drops below 90 (not good) and I need oxygen (which I have at home and use as needed during the day and use all night.) Since I can’t walk and talk at the same time, you can see how how chewing gum is completely out of the question. I haven’t chewed gum in years so that is good! I can barely do anything in the kitchen, just too much exertion (I can make toast! but I can’t make bread) I will be on blood thinners for a minimum of 6 months and the filter (Intra Vena Cava) will be kept in for that period of time too. It will take that long for my lungs to heal and get back to taking a normal, pain-free breath of air.

Right now we are linking the pulmonary saddle emboli as a complication from my hysterectomy because we do not know if I have a family history of clotting. Once I am off coumadin I will go through a full hematology work up to find out.

My spring and summer and fall look pretty bleak in terms of a garden (no, this isn’t a “poor me” post.) There is no way I can plant a garden. Even if my friends and neighbors plant it, I can’t water it, weed it, harvest it. Hopefully by June I can drive and hit the framers markets. Again, this isn’t a “poor-me” post, this was more about sharing my recent turn of events in hopes that it spreads some awareness and could bring up some discussions as I go through the healing process.

What do you think this is?


*Also, eating foods high in vitamin K (kale, spinach, broccoli and more) is a big topic of discussion when it comes to blood thinners. If you are interested, I would like to incorporate that into a post(s) as I go through this process. Comment and let me know.  I am just starting so it is fresh and new to me.

Sincerely, Emily

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So I believe that Pinterest is evil… Like seriously evil. At least, for hyper-manic people like me it is.

A lot of people can use Pinterest and just walk away. They go “Oh, look at this new idea, how cool! I’m sure I’ll find time to do this eventually!” and then within minutes it is pinned, filed away for a rainy day and left to accumulate dust for a while, until eventually they get around to pulling it out, budgeting for it, setting aside time for it and working on and completing it.

Or, they are even more rational and they go “Oh, look at this new idea, how cool! Wish I had the time to do this!” and they pin it at look at it a few more times before forgetting about it.

I, however, am never still. This is a trait that I seem to have picked up from both of my parents, seemingly amplified by their combining genetics. While showing Pinterest to my mother this past week (now that I think about it, I may have created a monster by introducing her to the site…) I stumbled across a photo:

This photo, which has unfortunately been cached on Pinterest so I have no idea how to find out where it came from, sparked something deeeeep inside me. That something was a complex feeling of inspiration, restlessness and intense desire.

Now, my kitchen is nothing like the one pictured here, but the thing that struck me most were the open shelves on the cabinetry. Cooooooool… So I found myself pinteresting things like: “kitchen open shelves” and “DIY kitchen cabinets” which led to things like “DIY kitchen counters” and “paint kitchen counters” and even “DIY kitchen lighting”!

Oh boy.

So without a real plan, or much of a budget, I launched in. I tore off the cabinet doors and started ripping off hinges and tearing out contact paper…

This was my kitchen counter and cabinets before the madness began…

Here are two early in-progress shots…

And here is where things have finally started to come together. I still have even more planned, and I’m sure I’ll post some more photos as soon as I can get to it, but less than $200 later and only probably about 8 hours of work into it this is what I have!

Now, are there other DIYers or wanna-be DIYers out there who would be interested in a series on how I did the cabinets and how I plan to do the counter? I’m never sure how much folks enjoy reading the DIY posts, but I am happy to go over the tools and the work and plans that went into this to share what I’ve done.

Have you ever taken a wild idea from Pinterest (or a similar site) and just run with it? Were you happy with your results?

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