Betty Crocker’s Kitchen Gardens

This winter has been long, with hardly any snow, lots of cold rain, and never ending wind.

But this weekend, the garden began! Twenty eight blackberry and raspberry plants got planted on Saturday, and this week 150 onion plants and a 20 foot row of potatoes, a few broccoli and cilantro plants and the first planting of peas. Tomorrow some lettuce seedlings go out, and sweet peas and dill will be seeded. This is exciting.

And so is the arrival of this:



I have wanted this book for a long, long time. I finally ordered it as a gift for my sister in law.  I decided to keep it.  I suppose that is terrible of me.

There are chapters on planning the garden, preparing the garden area, and harvesting.  Then, as most gardening books do, it delves into individual plants.   First a second on herbs (quite a bit of space is devoted to this, much more than most modern gardening books), and then vegetables.  The vegetables are divided into “favorites”, ones that anyone can grow, even in containers, and then “elbowroom vegetables”, for people with larger plots. There is a section for kids gardening, including sample plans, and finally a chapter on  using your harvest, with ideas for herb mixes, vinegars, and teas.


I must be approaching old age because all of my favorite housewifey books are out of print. (The Mothers Almanac, How to Live on Almost Nothing and Have Plenty, Taste of Home Best Loved Recipes). Some of them I’ve gotten from the library, decided I had to own, and ordered used copies of. This book reminds me of them. It is practical and beautiful. I love sketched illustrations in gardening and homemaking books. You can imagine the scene belongs to you, in a way a photograph would never let you.


I love how someone has circled the name of some of the herbs. I just imagine some now-grandmother, then-young woman, going through this very copy. She was not interested in lovage, salad burnet, or watercress. (Is anyone?) She starred the line about corn being an attractive ornamental in the back of the garden, and that really is true. It just looks right, and very American .

There is a faint round mark from a mug of coffee or tea, and I am drifting into maudlin territory here, imagining her setting down her cup to attend to a little child. It’s just a book.  And funnily enough, a book only ends up on the secondhand market because someone doesn’t want it!  So I am being ridiculous.

If you are interested in gardening and like Tasha Tudor, I know you won’t be disappointed if you are able to find a used copy.


Laundry/ Mudroom Spring Cleaning

This will be extremely boring.

I have shared my riveting laundry room saga before, and how my washer and dryer got banished to the mudroom while our house was being built. I like the idea in theory (dirty clothes being dropped right in), but my particular laundry room/ mudroom is just sort of awkward at the moment.

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I have toyed with a few ideas to make things neater:

1. Moving the washer and dryer to the basement, where I would have more room. I don’t mean room for things like sorting and ironing clothes, because I don’t do any of that. But it would give me more mudroom space. I could line the wall with a row of shaker pegs, and a crate for soccer stuff. I think this is probably insane, and I would be making my like more difficult in order to make room for a bunch of junk.

2. Getting a stackable washer and dryer. I would still need some sort of narrow shelf for laundry supplies, but I would have room for more hooks. Unfortunately, my old units continue to live, making horrible noises and requiring two spin cycles for clothes to not come out soaking wet. So that is not in the cards right now. We will be together until the bitter end. Also I question my ability to reach the dryer controls in a stacked set up.

Which leaves me with small, very inexpensive tweaks. Thankfully spring weather is right around the corner so snow gear has been taken out of the coat closet. (Ex-pantry. With shelves and everything.).

However, I am also dealing with this:

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Why have I added these to the craziest room in the house? Good question. I guess because I need them relatively near a sink and I can clip the grow light on the wire shelf. But next year I will find a better way.


(No the kitchen sink is not a better spot.)

So. My one possible move is to declutter and organize. I do wish I could do something about the wire shelf because I find it really hard to reach. I am definitely over wanting styled shelves, and think cabinets would be perfect. Much less busy, and much more storage.

But, there are some things to be done with a budget of zero dollars…

I can at least tidy this area. Love those polar bear baby shoes.


And do something about this…. situation.



I actually like the shelves for the coat closet.  The children are more likely to put the coat on a shelf than a hanger, and they don’t wrinkle easily.  The drinks on the floor need a new home.

A sticky hook on the door for the ballet bag is one less thing on the bench.

(It helps that the big girls are at school and so their jackets and backpacks are with them!)

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Ugly shelf organized. (Excessive stash of Mrs. Meyers cleaning products revealed.)  Seedlings moved to basement.  I’ll just keep a few gallons of water down there.  I thought about putting them in our bathtub but i don’t think Matt could mentally handle it.


Now I am feeling very grateful for this little hardworking room, giant bottle of bug spray and all!  It just needed a good clean, and a little change of attitude.


(I assume any house with little kids has rocks on every windowsill?)

I wonder if there will be enough room in here when swimsuits and beach towels re-enter our lives.  Would you ever move your laundry to the basement for more room on the main floor?

Housekeeping advice from Ricky the dishwasher

When I was in college, I worked at a locally famous barbecue restaurant. We had huge lunch rushes and then a lot time sitting around. They employed some real characters in the kitchen, including a dishwasher who quite literally lived in the broom closet. He was a hard worker despite his problems, and was promoted to assistant cook. Soon he was everyone’s favorite cook to work with because he got food out quickly and never seemed overwhelmed and angry.

Here was his advice to me when I asked him how he was so quick:

“You just do what you can, where you are.”

He didn’t mean this in a philosophical t-shirt slogan way. He meant to do what needs doing in your present physical location. If you were in the freezer getting fries, well then go ahead and get the onion rings. If you were outside sweeping, better wipe down the outside tables too. If you need to restock your napkins, straighten up the shelf that they are on so you find things easily next time you go in there. And then when tons of food orders started pouring in during the lunch rush, he was ready. There was no running out of onion rings and wasting time running to the freezer while he was supposed to be cooking. No frantically searching for a needed to go container in the messy supply room when an order came in. All of that was already done.

Here are some little ways that I have been doing what I can, where I am.

-organizing the kids bathroom cabinet while they take a bath

-doing one deep cleaning kitchen task while getting a snack or cup of tea

-collecting glasses out of whatever bedroom I go in

-cleaning one shower wall every time I take a shower (keep a dish wand filled with soap and vinegar in the shower)

-bringing in a piece of two of firewood every time I go outside

-bringing up something from the deep freezer when I come up from working out in the basement

-cleaning out the snack cabinet when restocking from the grocery store

-throwing trash out of the car while getting gas (I guess everyone already does this!)

-weeding a small area while watching the kids play outside

-straightening a bookshelf after taking out a book

-dumping my water glass in a houseplant as I walk by

-always bringing a basket with me outside so I can collect eggs, gather kindling, or bring in things from the garden

It helps! The to do list is shorter because so much is happening naturally.

Happy Spring!

“All I Want” Syndrome

“Oh I don’t need a big house like everyone else . I don’t want a big grand foyer or a huge closet. All I want is a cottage, with real wood windows. A garden out back, with antique roses climbing over the gate. I don’t need all this fancy stainless steel that people like today. I would rather have a simple kitchen with just some vintage appliances.”


“People today really like a lot of junk food. Not me. All I want is really fresh, local food. Like our grandmothers had. Like an apple at the peak of ripeness, picked off the tree at just the right time. Or a cow butchered by a local farmer, where you know it had a good life. Some local cheese. It is so good that you only need a little bit.”


“Women today sure love to shop. They must be really bored. All I want is some simple, well made clothing. Yes, I look for quality. Just plain colors, and natural materials. I got rid of all my cheap tee shirts and now I have nice, versatile pieces.”


And then, from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters:

“…She is always turning from what has been offered to her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile, ‘oh please, please… all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast.’ You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may appear to others. At the very moment of indulging her appetite she believes she is practicing temperance…”


C.S. Lewis is using this fictional women to describe how a demon can help her along the road to hell, by wrapping up her sin in a cloak of righteousness.  The woman believes she is denying herself but is being more gluttonous than anyone because she is valuing her preferences over the comfort of others.

It doesn’t matter that what she wants is “simple”.  She wants something other than what she was given.

I am so, so guilty of this!

Trying this year to be happy with what I have.  Not buying beautiful glass jars for my kitchen in an attempt to be a thrifty housewife with a well stocked pantry.  Not turning up my nose at McMansions, or McDonalds.  Trying to control my tendency towards pride wrapped in humility, consumerism disguised as simple living, gluttony hiding as denial.


I bought this apple tree.  But I tried not to pretend I was doing it for the greater good of humanity.


Slow Cooker Beef Chili

My daughters will both eat this, which shocks me, and it’s my husband’s favorite recipe. It seems just very basic and plain, but the flavor is very good! No weird stuff to repel children, all prep done ahead of time, and it freezes very well for up to two months. I adapted it from America’s Test Kitchen: Slow Cooker Revolution.

I like to make it on my baking day, when I cook and bake ahead as much as I can for the week. I am usually cooking bacon to stash in the fridge, so I have a skillet of bacon grease available.  It makes a lot, so I usually serve half and freeze half in a gallon freezer bag.

You will need:

2 slices white bread or hamburger buns, torn into quarters

1/4 cup milk

2 lbs ground beef, 90% lean if available

3 tablespoons bacon grease (or vegetable oil)

3 onions, finely minced

1/4 cup chili powder

6 garlic cloves, pressed

1 tablespoon cumin

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes

1 15 oz can of kidney beans or whole pinto beans, rinsed

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons of canned chiles in adobo sauce, finely minced

1/2 of a bottle of beer


1. Using a fork, mash bread and milk into a paste in a large mixing bowl. Then using hands, Mix in ground beef, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.

2. Heat bacon grease or oil in a large skillet. Add onions, chili powder, oregano, cumin, and red pepper flakes, and cook on medium heat until the onions begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 4 minutes more, until the onions are browned.

3. Add the beef mixture to the hot skillet, 1 pound at a time, breaking up into small pieces, and cook until no longer pink. Add half a can of crushed tomatoes, scraping pan to get any browned bits.

4. Pour contents of skillet into slow cooker. Add remaining crushed tomatoes, beans, soy sauce, sugar, diced canned chiles in adobo sauce, and beer. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.

5. Serve with diced tomato, sour cream, cheese, and crushed tortilla chips.