Monthly Archives: September 2015

milkweed and balloons

While I was at Pippin’s for a few days last week we went to a balloon festival. We had to get up in the dark and drive half an hour to Montague in the Shasta Valley, to see the filling and lift-off of about a dozen hot-air balloons.P1010826 flame balloon

Before the sun came up it was chilly. Pippin managed to get all three car seats in the back seat of her Outback, so we could go in one car. The Professor had to drive the roomier van the opposite direction that morning to get it worked on.

The stars were so bright, it thrilled my heart! But I didn’t have time to gawk – we put on our warm caps and fleecy sweaters and were on our way. Straight ahead was a huge star – ah, but not a star. Probably the planet Venus.

GL IMG_0515 Scout and Ivy balloons

I don’t think I had ever seen balloons filling before. It’s very dramatic the way flames whoosh noisily into the expanding emptiness after simple fans have run for a while to accomplish the initial inflating.P1010851 my fave inflating crp

My favorite was the one at right with a design that included a lot of black, but I soon realized that it looks better on the ground. Once it is in up in the air it is too dark and muted. The gaudier a hot air balloon the better, for complementing the wide open sky. Besides, a giant drifting balloon is a fun and cheerful thing, and maybe a dark blob up there doesn’t agree with that mood, being too reminiscent of a black cloud.


P1010875 4 balloons + women


Scout wanted to climb up a little hill with his friends, to get a better view. I started up after them but turned back because of the star thistles. Pippin had run into some friends and they were still out on the flats behind me, with Jamie in the BOB stroller. All around me this rosy weed was the only thing easily seen besides those thistles and the sparse and flattened grasses, and it was scattered all over.


Soon all the balloons were up and floating over the hill. Scout is in this picture somewhere.

P1010884 many balloons and hill

P1010897 milkweed

Pippin decided to try to find where the balloons were going to land, so she drove around on the bumpy roads, and when I saw a solitary balloon setting down in a field she stopped the car so I could get out to take a picture. At the same time she said, “There’s a nice crop of milkweed,” and Scout said, “Oh, I want some milkweed pods! I know how to plant them!”

I took my picture and then managed to break a sharp-edged pod off a plant that was also tangled up with star thistle — ouch! I got one that hadn’t quite released its feathery seeds. I also don’t think I’d seen milkweed pods before. I gingerly stashed it in my purse.


P1010905 deflating

Around another corner we saw from a slight elevation where two balloons were coming down together. One started to deflate, the second one came down and went up again briefly to hop a fence, and then we had to leave and call it a good balloon-watching morning. We came home with lots of pictures and milkweed seeds. Only then did we eat breakfast!



More about my trip in upcoming posts….

I surprise myself.

GLS P1010617
Place card showing through rainbow cup

I thought I might be able to do a little something for someone special, and it turned into a surprisingly big something. What surprised me was the chain of events that resulted from a simple idea that would have been too stressful even to even consider just a month ago.

The baptismal name of one of my goddaughters is Sophia, and the day that we commemorate Saint Sophia was this month, just a few days after The Feast of the Elevation of the Cross. On Sunday I suggested that she come over after Vespers on Wednesday, the evening/beginning of the name day, for a light meal to celebrate; Wednesday is a fasting day so it would pretty much need to be a vegan meal. I hoped there might be three or four of us eating it together, but wouldn’t have been surprised or unhappy if Sophia and I were the only ones celebrating.

GLS P1010609


<< (Favorite pewter water pitcher that my in-laws bought while traveling in Denmark)


This was not a very well thought out party I was giving, but was more the kind of thing that is "thrown together," though that phrase does not adequately describe the flowing way the guest list and the menu developed over the next two days, culminating in a dinner party for twelve! It seemed to me in the end that God had used this desire I had to bless my friend to steer me in the right direction, down the path at the end of which I discovered that I am adjusting to not having a husband to cook for, and that my grief is less consuming and disabling than before.

On Monday I shopped, after the festal liturgy, and put extra leaves in the table. Tuesday I GLS P1010622made the soup and the cake. Wednesday afternoon I made the bread and cleaned house and set the table. I didn’t have twelve matching of anything, but I had six of the same placemats, spoons, napkins, etc., so I alternated around the table.

The soup is one I created thirty years ago out of necessity, when we lived in such a small town that I had to drive a distance to do my major grocery shopping. One day the cupboard was somewhat bare and I didn’t want to make that trip, so I concocted this stew using what I had on hand, that has the colors of the Italian flag in its ingredients, plus some Italian flavors, hence the name. It’s probably the only recipe I’ve created that has any kind of interesting name to go with it.

I haven’t actually tried using fresh basil, which is very odd since in the last decades it’s been so available in my garden and would seem to be preferable. Having pulled up my spent basil plants only the week previous, I didn’t have it available this time, either. I thought about buying a bunch, but decided to just go with the original recipe for this party and be safe.

GLS P1010582

Italian Flag Soup

½ cup olive oil
3 onions, chopped
garlic (optional)
5 cups large white dried beans
2 tablespoons salt
black pepper
1/3 cup dried basil (or equivalent in the fresh herb)
4 bay leaves
10-12 red potatoes in chunks
2 bunches Italian parsley, chopped

In a 16-qt pot or larger sauté the onions, and garlic if using, in olive oil. Add the beans and water to cover 2 inches. Simmer for about an hour.

Add the salt, pepper, and bay leaves. Simmer another hour, adding water as needed to keep it soupy.

Add the red potatoes, basil, and parsley. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, adding water as needed. Adjust seasonings and serve. Nice to make the day before so the flavors can mellow together longer.

It seemed to me that the soup and cake were the backbone of the culinary aspect, so I had to decide on those elements of the dinner at the outset. The cake I discovered on this website after browsing a while online. I wanted it to be vegan and also not chocolate, because these days I’m afraid of losing sleep over evening chocolate. The only change I made was to cut the sugar in the recipe from 1 1/2 cups to 1 cup, and it was just right.

I did make the Caramel Sauce, which I think is optional. I wouldn’t make it again, because 1) Caramel is much better with butter or cream, 2) Making caramel is a bother, and I’m not sure I didn’t scorch it a little (though it did taste nice with the cake), and 3) Everyone said it was completely unnecessary because the cake is perfect the way it is.

I appreciated the lack of cinnamon in this cake, because I think it gets overused in baked goods, and the spices that were present were not so heavy that they overwhelmed the subtlety of the pears. I have transcribed the recipe after making my adjustment.GLS P1010571

Gingerbread Pear Bundt Cake

For the cake:

1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 medium pears, peeled and diced 1/2-inch (about 3 cups diced)
1/4 cup powdered sugar for dusting the top, if desired

Caramel Sauce:GLS P1010636

1 cup full-fat coconut milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease bundt pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted coconut oil, water, brown sugar, molasses, vinegar and vanilla. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Use a whisk to mix the batter together just until combined. Fold in the pears.

Pour batter into the bundt pan and bake until the cake begins to pull away from the edges slightly and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out nearly dry, 45 to 60 minutes.

Let cool for 5 minutes then use a knife to carefully loosen any stuck sides. Invert cake over a wire rack and lift off the pan. Let cake cool completely. Carefully transfer cooled cake to platter or cake plate and dust with powdered sugar, if desired.

While the cake cools, make the caramel sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, vanilla and salt. Set aside. Add the sugar and water to a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir just to combine, but do not stir after that! Allow mixture to come to a boil and watch it carefully. After about 6 minutes, the mixture will start to turn golden, then light brown, and it will smell like caramel. As soon as it has turned brown, slowly pour in the coconut milk mixture. The caramel will bubble enthusiastically at first. If the sugar hardens around the whisk, don’t worry, this is normal – just keep stirring and it will dissolve. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the caramel sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes.

Slice cake and put on plates. Drizzle individual servings with the caramel sauce. Serve.


The caramel sauce may be made ahead of time and kept refrigerated in an airtight container. It keeps well for up to 5 days. Allow the sauce to come to room temperature to thin out a bit before serving. You can also warm it in the microwave for a few seconds to speed up the process.

It was a special evening in that two of my guests were named Sophia, and our priest was able to come, and “my” Sophia’s godfather as well. We had a lively group with more food contributions to the table coming in the form of salads, and much good and edifying conversation coming from everyone. The soup was popular and not much was left over.

We ate grapes, too, giant seedless Perfect Grapes, the consensus was. I made Himbasha bread, and it was the only part of the dinner that I wasn’t truly happy with. I overbaked it trying to make sure it would be chewy enough, and it ended up awfully crusty, but my friends thought it was wonderful because they like the crust. It was fresh, at least! I’ll have to keep working on that recipe, which I’ve told about before.

A couple of the women did most of the clean-up, so that part was easy, too. My feet were sore, but Sophia was radiant and blessed, which made me very happy.

GLS P1010619

We make festival.

GGL coffee


My parish puts on a huge international food festival every year in September. I’ve written about it before, I think. We have to start baking and doing other kinds of preparations months ahead.



GGL IMG_0207baked crp
GGL IMG_0247 roll Gk crop

Earlier in the summer when Maggie was visiting we worked together at church on one of the cookie-baking projects, the Rainbow Chocolate Chip. Another week I helped make the Greek twisty cookies.

GGL IMG_0252 GK baked crp

I always enjoy working on church projects like this, where I am on an assembly line and can chat and get to know people a little better. It’s not stressful when someone else has the recipe and the system all figured out and I can just do as I’m told.

GGL green bean prep 2015



When the date of our event drew closer I went one day to cut up green beans for more than three hours; these would go into my favorite dish that we sell, Serbian Green Beans. The blanched beans are mixed with garlic-laden, buttered bread crumbs, then topped with sour cream and heated in the oven for about 20 minutes. Most of that process happens just before they are served steaming hot.



GGL P1010592 cabbage 2015

That prep day we were also making Sarma, which are stuffed cabbage rolls; the recipe includes a bit of sauerkraut, and the picture below shows the total amount that was needed. Actually, one gallon had already gone into the kitchen before I took the picture.

GGL P1010588sauerkraut

GGL IMG_0682


Just one day before, my friend Diane came with me and we offered our four helping hands. So many tasks had to wait until this day, such as cutting up vegetables for the kabobs, and stirring the Eritrean stews.






GGL IMG_0679

Year after year I notice how happy everyone seems to be, getting our party together, even if they are awfully tired by the end of it. We all see it as an expression of love to our community; if it were merely a fund-raiser I’m sure we couldn’t drum up enough energy for it. But it’s been going on for more than 25 years and a lot of people now look forward to the food, the music and dancing, and the joy.

GGL Glendi dance (2)

GGL IMG_0686

That last day Diane and I ended up sitting at a table where we made finishing cuts to endless sheets of baklava and placed the diamonds carefully into individual serving trays. Some people avoid this job, because it is messy, but there are plenty of little broken corners to snack on while you work, so if you like baklava….well, come to think of it, that might be another reason to avoid that job.

My job on the festival day was not to work in a food or craft booth, or the beer garden or the children’s area, but to mind the bookstore – I’m sure that doesn’t surprise anyone. I served several hours, and then I had a hard time dragging myself away, even though I did need a rest.

It was time for Vespers, which was the perfect thing to restore the soul that might be weary. After that I was looking around for a particular old friend I wanted to talk to, and I discovered her in the Eritrean tea and coffee tent, which I didn’t even know existed, maybe because it was tucked in a corner behind the main Eritrean booth.

GGL P1010684 Eritrean tea-coffee 2015

The woman who made tea for me was burning frankincense while she told another customer that this event is the thing she most looks forward to all year. Her colleague explained that the whole reason we make this offering of our time and effort is to express the harmony that we in our church share.

That is just what I was feeling.

seed and harvest

We had a day of rain this week, and the earth put forth its smells of life and death. In the front yard the heads of dill hung heavy over the African daisies and verbena. I was glad I’d just collected some dill seeds the day before when they were still dry. I expect to see lots of little dill sprouts here next spring from what I didn’t collect.GL P1010651

GL P1010659



These trailing orange zinnias are the result of seeds dropping to the ground from last year’s blooms. This year I deliberately collected some of them, too, in hopes of having them in my new back yard garden as well.




P1010569GL P1010657


The butternut squash vines keep traveling toward the street, and I occasionally steer them to the side. I think they hold enough big fruits to keep me happy through the winter. But I pulled up the basil plants, which I had utterly failed to make use of this summer. I’m hoping to plant some winter greens where they were, so I looked through my seed boxes to see what was handy.

GL P1010555


Not much but old, old seeds. The rocket (arugula) seed is from my own garden almost 20 years ago. But sometimes they have life in them, no? So I found a flat in the garage and planted thickly in rows to test them. The rain fell on them, the sun is shining on them where they sit out in the sea of dirt/mud, itself still not improved upon. Now we’ll see if anything happens. I’m pretty sure something will.

GL P1010559