Laying low

There are bats in the bat house but I’m thinking this is not a screech owl in the owl box…

Sunday was a perfect day, sunny and full of fun and good food with Rich and then friends. On Monday, Cathy left to go off to fused glass classes with her college roommate and between you and me? The timing was just right (hi, Cathy!) because I was talked out, socialized out, and over-fed, ready for some down time. No sooner had she left than this incredible low pressure front moved in so I was into my flannel pajamas and hunkered down in bed with Sophie, glass of wine, popcorn and TV. While it’s been mildly amusing catching up on a few shows after 3 weeks without so much as a glance at television, the political commercials are more off-putting than ever. I know why my friend, Ken, votes absentee and leaves the country during late October and the first week of November. All that money wasted on mudslinging!

Speaking of mud, how about this weather? I’m loving it, watching storm front after storm front roll across the mountains. It’s been raining in sheets and that’s fine with me because I have so many new plants in this fall, as well as about 600 Spring flowering bulbs. Every now and then there’s a break and the sun comes pouring through the clouds; the past three days this has happened right around 430 pm so at that point I go in to the bedroom where Sophie naps in her felted bed on the dresser in front of the window and I announce, “Time to get the mail!” She takes a few minutes to rouse herself and by then I have my shoes on and we head down the mountain to the mailbox. She always stops at the front of the our land where there are giant boulders and what I’ve come to call the “welcome garden” because it’s the first thing on our drive and it’s planted entirely with plants donated from my neighbors here in Sugar Hollow. Sophie sits on the biggest boulder and cries until I walk down to the mailbox and back and then we walk together back up. I usually stop at the garden and pick some peppers and herbs and maybe a green tomato- that’s about all that’s left. Many, many peppers still only half-grown. I wonder how long the weather will hold? Robin posted a picture of all her remaining tomatoes ripening on the window sill and I’m on the verge of picking the rest of mine. I’m hoping to have a few ripen because when I was in Tuscany I had this delicious dish. One taste and it’s one of those foods you begin to crave. Everything tasted better in Italy; must be the soil plus climate or maybe just the love of fine food. If you make this, use really good Italian ciabatta bread, excellent oil and so on.

Pappa al Pomodoro


  1. 5 pounds tomatoes
  2. 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  3. 1 large onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  4. 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  5. Pinch of crushed red pepper
  6. Salt
  7. 1/2 pound stale, crustless, 1-inch Italian bread cubes (4 cups)
  8. 1 cup basil leaves, torn
  9. Ricotta cheese, for serving


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Cut a slit in the base of each tomato. Add the tomatoes to the boiling water and blanch just until the skins start to split, about 10 seconds. Transfer the blanched tomatoes to the ice water to cool.
  2. Peel and halve the tomatoes crosswise. Working over a mesh strainer set over a large bowl, pry out the seeds and press the tomato juice and pulp through the strainer. Discard the seeds. Coarsely chop the tomatoes.
  3. Wipe out the pot and heat the 1/2 cup of olive oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and crushed red pepper and season with salt. Cover partially and simmer over moderately high heat until the tomatoes have cooked down, about 30 minutes.
  4. Add the bread and the reserved tomato juices to the soup and cook, mashing the bread until fully incorporated, and season with salt. Stir in the basil leaves. Spoon the soup into shallow bowls, drizzle lightly with olive oil, top with a dollop of ricotta and serve right away.

This serves six so adjust accordingly and you can make it ahead and stick it in the frig. We had it at room temp and it was SOOOOO good. The side of the house where we stayed in Monte San Savino, as the sun was setting

Italy. People who have been say you can’t imagine how wonderful it is and that was true for us. We had no idea. We did indeed eat our way through the countryside and when we weren’t out in the local restaurants in tiny towns in Tuscany we ate in our little rental with the beautiful view. We figured out how to cook chestnuts, which are quite fiercesome before they have their spiny husk removed and we would peel them and drink Vin Santo, a Tuscan sweet dessert wine. Delicioso!

Although I was almost always thinking about food I also thought about wine and art and history and community and family and cats. I’ll post more photos in the next days but here is one of my favorites. There were so many great views that I started challenging myself to only take scenic photos that had cats in them.

(Where’s Gatto?)

I mentioned that I was getting a lot of plants in the ground this autumn. A first year garden is a thing of hope and promise and right now my garden consists mostly of small sticks with a couple of new leaves starting at the base indicating that these gifts have taken hold. There are daisies and asters and Joe Pye weed and phlox and monarda and dozens of others, all just getting going. And then, when I got back from Italy, there was a fine birthday gift from my sister. Betsy is pretty much the best gift giver ever; she puts a lot of thought into her gifts and then she wraps them so beautifully. A gift certificate for White Flower Farm is the perfect choice for a gardener because you can page through the glossy catalog and choose from hundreds of premium perennials that come back year after year, each strain more beautiful than the next. Betsy might have been thinking I would get bulbs but I jumped the gun and bought those in bulk at Costco because I wanted to get some naturalizing bang for my buck. I’ve been working on clearing my woods and several hundred daffodils are going in there this weekend. White Flower Farm is pretty pricey so you’re likely to get 6 tiny exquisite pale peach colored narcissus rather than the giant bag of King Alfred yellows I’ll start with. I think what I will get is an old-fashioned Bleeding Heart. I had one for 30 years that I dug up from my grandmother’s garden when she died and it was moved successfully from apartment to house to house over the years. I gave Betsy part of it when she moved into her Kalamazoo house but when it came time to move to Chicago the poor thing gave up the ghost. A city courtyard just didn’t suit and so I lost it. Now I’m going to order one from White Flower Farm and there will be enough left over to order a giant (I mean giant) blue hosta called Bressingham Blue. I grew it in Ann Arbor and it was the most impressive shade plant ever. I hadn’t checked the mailbox for a couple of days when we had company but yesterday there was another small box from Betsy with their homemade sour cherry jam and these lovely bird sticky notes. See what I mean? I wish we lived closer together so we would see more of each other.

8 responses to “Laying low

  1. You make me ashamed of myself. I seldom cook anything like that soup, don’t grow my own foods (any more), don’t plant much of anything except a few pots (and my yard is a barren wasteland, thanks in small part to the herds of deer that roam our subdivision. My windows are dirty, my walls need painting (etc.,etc.,etc.) and I don’t sew/paint/craft anything any more. My get-up-and-go………went.

    I read your posts and see your glorious photos and wish I could be you when I grow up.

  2. Huh. That’s odd, Judy. I often wish I could be you when I grow up.

  3. Glad to know you are safe–as I wondered, hearing the news of the harsh weather front moving through NC.
    The photo of the side of the house in the afternoon sun–BREATH-TAKING. At first glance, I thought it was one of your felted projects!

  4. I think you have a Beanie Baby in your owl box.

  5. I am tortured waiting for the grass to get to a point I can walk on it and start work on clearing out my small flowerbeds. Today, I saw a lone monarch butterfly (it was 86 after all) dining on the lantana and the blood red milkweed that has made a recovery since the monarchs quit laying eggs on the leaves. I scolded her (it was a female) and said she better get a move on and head south. All the others left weeks ago. We still have sulfurs but even they are thinning out. I really must get some Joe Pye weed and plant the milkweed seed for next spring. Because of the 12 inches of rain in four days a couple of weeks ago and now, the warmer temperatures.. we have an infestation of mosquitoes that is worse than we saw all summer.

    Have the storms from this mega-low storm been harsh there? They are still approaching here… I hope they die out a bit before they hit.

  6. How about this weather, and hooray for flannel pajamas! I am tired of the political ads here and I just hope it all ends for the better. I wish I had five pounds of tomatoes left for your recipe! And Joe Pye weed? It grows everywhere the ground is slightly wet here.

  7. So glad to hear how well you sound and that you are enjoying your solitude! We are having a marvelous time here, though had to wade to the glass studio. Many beautiful things in the kiln. Can’t wait to show you!

  8. Even the stray cats in Italy seemed to be well taken care of. Why is that? Do the Italians have a special love for cats?

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