Get it from yourself, Experiment & Make one mistake by noon

I aim to learn something new every day and make at least one mistake by noon – otherwise I am not working, living, improving.

Just some advice I regularly dole out that applies well to professional as well as personal life. It’s pretty hard to avoid if you are out there doing and being. I have a few selective daily wisdom emails, one of which is from, another is from HBR and the rest stretch the meaning of wisdom and come from places like the FDA. Recently, Brainpickings shared a true gem for all aspects of life. Penned by James T. Mangan, who some called a bit kooky, but I think was really on to something: Fourteen Ways to Acquire Knowledge: A Timeless Guide from 1936 (via)

Practice-Ask-Desire-Get it from yourself-Walk around it-Experiment-Teach-Read-Write-Listen-Observe-Put in order-Define-Reason

Perhaps instead of learn every day, I should do these fourteen things every day but I would also add a number 15 – Fail (or make a mistake) by noon. That is how we learn and move forward (if you let yourself) after all. You can even think about that failed recipe (See my infamous Kenny Roger’s Dinner Train Bound for Nowhere for real life example) or bombed craft project.

I offer to you excerpted words from Mangan paired with examples of my new found photography love.

Which of the fourteen tactics resonates the most with you?

Photo notes: 14. Italian Honey Bee Package 13. Blank sandwich board in Mountain Home, Arkansas 12. Carrots from my garden 11. Buddha head in local Pea Patch 10/9/8: Dead end street in Beacon Hill looking towards Lake Washington 7/6. Vintage bicycle along the fence at PJ’s in Norfolk, Arkansas 5. Rusty manhole cover in Mountain Home, Arkansas 4. Garden gnome in Beacon Hill 3. Shuttered windows in Florence, Italy 2/1. Classic life ring at a Port Ludlow marina

Daytime Strip Tease: An Alluring Name for a Simple Quilt


The following is a really simple, dynamic and adaptable quilt tutorial. Based on the idea often coined the Jelly Roll 1600, named because it is takes one Jelly Roll or 40 strips (2.5 x 40 inches each) measuring, you guessed it, 1600 inches (finishing at 48 x 64). For this version, I used 3 inch wide strips from my scrap bin and stash. A great stash buster and way to use up fabric that alone is not your favorite, but really shines when combine with others. My version below is also a lot bigger but I really don’t think size matters too too much, if you are resourceful. Last summer I did a quick version and incorporated into a quilt with larger solid pieces. It was actually made up of some charm packs cut in half and longer strips. View it here (and if you like it – it’s for sale too) in my Etsy shop. Or this one, with 45 degree seams – Spooky, Monster High style. I think you could also make some strips and then cut them into squares and alternate them into a patch work of sorts. Or alternative every other strip with a solid white or solid black piece of the same repeating dimensions. I may just try these in the future and update the post.

To start:

  • Cut up lots of fabric, at a minimum as much as in one jelly roll pack, into strips
    • 2 ½ inch works well and is available pre-cut. In my tutorial I used 3 inch strips in various lengths ranging from WOF (width of fabric) to about 6 inches (the smallest)
    • I ended up with about 185 pieces (yes I counted)
  • I am not in the pre-washer camp. Just FYI.

  • Get a drink and small snack, because the next steps take a while, but are simple. Something I think a very beginner sewer could do no problem
  • You will need to have a couple bobbins all filled up for this. Given that this is full of so many colors and it’s just how I am, I like to use quilts like this as an opportunity to use of half-filled bobbins of random colors.
  • The first step is to take the short ends, right sides together and stitch. You could do a ¼ inch seam, I just did to the edge of my presser foot, since it is easier and doesn’t matter really how big the seam is as long as it is the same. You could also join them, not straight/perpendicular but on a 45 degree angle, like you might do when creating a binding. Repeat until all pieces are connected end to end into one loooog piece. This is a great way to learn to chain piece. Just keep sewing end to end without clipping thread. Match up right sides each time. See the second photo below and notice how the red and white piece is under the foot with the wrong side up and then flipped up so that wrong side is on the bottom. This is what I mean by end to end


  • Sew! Sew! Sew! Here some time-elapsed footage for you.

  • Now that you have created a ginormously long strip, you need to go back and clip the threads connecting them, assuming you did chain piecing. Don’t bother with ironing. That would be crazy.

  • Now find the two ends and match them up right sides together. I made 183 seams. Pfew!

  • Don’t worry about twisting, there is a way to fix it later and would be impossible to untwist this big long snake.

  • Get ready to sew the strip folded in half all the way to the end.
    • NOTE: Be sure to enjoy the color combinations as they unfold before you

  • Sew! Sew! Sew! [Can you see the sleepy dog in the photos? Sort of like Where’s Waldo…] Eat some Peeps! If you have some pieces where two seams meet up, I like to alternate so they lay flat. I sew over pins sometimes too…

  • If you are so inclined, this is the only opportunity you will have to “censor” the strips and what goes next to whom. I had a few times where the same fabrics were going to line up to next to each other, so I cut out that section and shortened it or patched in another color to spread them out. You will not be able to avoid this in the quilt beyond this step and it doesn’t take away from it one bit, just me wanting to minimize sections that are the same.

  • Once you get to the very end you will likely (more than 50%) have a twist. Just pull it tight and cut the strips at the top of the loop. Now you have to free ends. Finish sewing together and then straighten out the ends, because it is probably crooked from your scissors.

  • Now you have a slightly (50%) shorter ginormously long strip. Just like the previous step, find the two free ends, match up right sides together and sew together all the way to the end. Plan on having a twist to fix then too.

  • You now have a 50% long strip (no longer ginormous) that is four pieces wide. Repeat again by matching the two ends right sides together and sewing all the way to end, anticipating a twist, but it gets less likely the wider your fabric at this point. None for me this time! But if you had one, cut the loop like the other times.

  • Your strip is now 8 wide and looking great! Repeat again, almost done and goes so much faster, by matching ends and right sides. This time at the end I would use my rotary cutter and ruler to cut the fold at the end instead of scissors, just to keep it straight and nicer (not chewed looking). I also straightened up the other end with my rotary cutter. Of course, at the same time, right or wrong, that is what I did. Plenty of chances to square stuff up later

  • Looking great! Probably just one more time around folding in half and sewing end to end. This is where you can start to make some calls. I contemplated stopping here with a 16 strip wide piece and then cutting into smaller sections for baby blankets but I decided to go with the full size product and went one more round.

  • All done with the quilt top. Now it is 32 strips wide (Remember yours might be different) and beautifully random. Stand back and enjoy! Go ahead and finish however you want. I plan to just back with flannel no batting and do stitch in the ditch. You should iron it now at this point. I hope you didn’t waste time doing it earlier.

Chicks – The Awkward Period or My life in Chicken Years

The Awkward Period, but hey, we have all been there….. some of us more than others, some may never leave (but that begs other issues.)

Watching my little hens grow up, rapidly, made me reflect on my own growing up, in particular the awkward times of days gone by and yet to come. I must say, that with my recent birthday, I am feeling like I am growing into myself finally, more completely. Sure I have had my act together for the most part, but more about increasing comfort in my own skin.

Hens live an average lifespan of anywhere from 1 to as much as 12, given the wide range of answers showing up on the internet. Obviously this is influenced by who/how is raising them and are they pets or protein (although they are delicate flowers at times – you lay an egg everyday and try not to stroke out), but if we go with a low/middle number of four years (and age of my oldest is right now approx.). Current CDC published human life expectancy in US is 78.7 years or how about 76 (so four divides it nicer) years. Some quick and fuzzy math reveals 1 chicken year equal to about 19 human years. So at seven months, they really get into laying eggs which is about 10-11 human years (about right for that “change”) and continue regularly through about 2 years (38 human years – again conveniently close to the next big “change”). My hens keep paying rent despite being more than 2 years old-less but still adequate. So, bringing it back to the original point – chicks have their awkward phase at about the same point in life we do, it just doesn’t drag on through middle school and high school… college….

So to make my point, I share endearing photos of Amelia, the Silkie. She is really making the most of it and not letting it get her down, although she is 1/3 of the size of everyone else and still mostly downy. She has good role models I suppose, lots of positivity (until we have to integrate the new with old girls….) While viewing, please hum the catchy tune “Ain’t nothin’ gonna to break my stride, Nobody’s gonna slow me down, oh-no I got to keep on movin'” (Matthew Wilder)

Now, for some self-deprecation – please, laugh! That is why I am sharing….. Here are some classic photos of moi. I asked my mom to send me some of the awkwardest photos that she has of me. Apparently, this request cause quite some concern, as she didn’t want to accidently send me something that I would have consider elegant, swan like, not ugly duckling. I didn’t even think about how my request would make others feel. Shame on me. However, she chose photos that are spot on! Also, to protect the innocent, my dear friends, I have blanked out their faces. Know though that they look waaaaay better than I.

Coolot Dance recital at the Elks Lodge, noodling at the Lake, Sophomore Year of Prom (great date, lots of fun), Kids Praise musical (this was confirmed by Mom, Biblical not Mary and Joseph….) Be sure to dig the perms and makeup because I sure did. Perms through my freshman year of college….

Feel free to share your awkwardness! It makes those bad hair days now, seem like nothing…..

It’s Feeding Time at The Apiary – Sugar Syrup


“They could eat all they wanted, for maple sugar never hurt anybody.” Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods

I don’t think Buddy the Elf could agree more either, but there is controversy out there about feeding your bees to help them get up and going in the spring time and set up for the long winter. My approach to bees over the last three years is to trust them to know what is best. However, I do feel though that I brought them to my apiary, in sometimes soggy Seattle and I need to help them out somewhat. Package bees are also an investment. My fledgling feeding philosophy is to feed syrup when I first get the packages going, or early spring for overwintered colonies and some feeding if needed depending on what they already stashed away. I am not doing pollen patties or dry sugar feeding and no medication or treatments. Maybe some year I will experiment with pollen patties but research and questioning more experienced beeks gives mixed results. Granted I am still pretty new with the bee thing, but I have found the advice of Michael Bush of Bush support my idea that bees are smarter than I am and aligns with the amount of time I want and have to put into it (read, not too too much).

You can get really scientific about what syrup concentration (sugar:water) is employed based on final goal. Some people want to use 1:1 in the spring to stimulate brood rearing, others do this in the fall so that have some new bees set to work the long winter. 3:1 could be used in the winter as you want them to put it away, not have to use as much effort to evaporate it down to the right concentration for capping (bees are so smart they know that at around 18% the honey won’t ferment and then cap off the cells, providing a visual cue that it is good to go, or stay). The thicker syrups don’t do much for brood stimulation. 2:1 is somewhere in the middle, more all purpose, so that is what I do. How do you make a 2:1 syrup?

Watch your chemistry and pharmaceutical calculation class come to life!

Remember (or learn for the first time) a gallon of water weighs about 8.3 lbs. So a perfect 1:1 gallon of syrup, add 8.3 lbs of white granulated sugar to a gallon of water. Brown sugar is not the same and organic sugar would be mighty expensive and debatable if really worth it. For a 2:1 syrup add 16.6 lbs of sugar to a gallon. You can also just grab a cup, bowl, milk jug, bucket, empty soda can or what every vessel you like to use as your “measuring cup” and just use it as your ratio unit. 1 “cup” sugar to 1 “cup” of water and so on.

There are lots of feeders out there; I use a frame feeder in the Langstroth’s and a Boardman feeder on the top bar. I have also tried the baggie feeder method described here, but not yet this year. You can also feed them dry sugar or fondant. I don’t have experience with this yet either…. Maybe this year. I just worry about the moisture in our air out here making a soggy winter mess…. In my frame feeder, I added some black plastic mesh so the bees could “walk” down it to drink; otherwise it is just a big pool to drown in. Not sure why it doesn’t come with it. The mesh is just “Gutter Guard”, conveniently already the right width.

This year I also had some remaining frames with honey and pollen in them from last year’s colonies. I put these into the hives to help the bees get started. Yes, I suppose I could be infecting them with whatever killed my hives this winter. BUT I really just think they either wore out or froze. There wasn’t evidence of dysentery, mites etc…. Some of the frames had some fluffy green mold but no worries, as it is likely Penicillium waksmanii and the bees will clean it off, good as new. The mold didn’t kill the bees, it came after they were gone and moisture increased. I am sticking to this.

Here is the picture play by play. A few last helpful hits: big buckets from restaurants, clip on spoon holder, ladle and cute vintage kitchen scale.

  1. Weigh out the amount of sugar you need. I measured out 16.6 lbs. Took two 8.3 batches, since by mixing bowl wouldn’t hold the whole amount. Don’t forget to tare your scale. (ooo, chemistry class in action!)

  1. Measure out the hot to warm water into a big bucket. It needs to be hot to help dissolve into solution.

  1. If you want, add a drop or two or three of lemongrass essential oil. It is supposed to be attractive to the bees and smell like a pheromone they emit from the nasanov gland. It is also quite pleasing to the human nose.

  1. Stir, stir, stir. Take a break and let it sit. Then stir some more.

A couple great bee sites and references:

Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottom

The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush

Also, find yourself a nice old vintage bee keeping book, just for fun and perspective. I love my A to Z of Bee Culture from the 60s.

Fifteen Dish Delish – Chronicles of a Birthday Degustation


Degustation is a culinary term meaning a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods and focusing on the gustatory system, the senses, high culinary art and good company.”

To keep the degustation experience alive, I want to share the abbreviated chronicles of this thirty-third celebration of me (and my mom – thanks!). This feast hit all the key points: high culinary art, good company (the best actually – dear hubby) and pan-sensory dishes. The location: Rover’s in Seattle by Chef in the Hat. If it wasn’t for the impending closing of this classic (and moving onwards and upwards), I am doubtful we would have selected it given the copious culinary depots about town. While there is no way I can remember all the adjectives tossed about for the dishes, I am going to attempt to describe them and, for some, provide a recipe that sounds and tastes (in my mind) like what we dined upon and maybe a side dish or two of random facts. You can bet that I will attempt to recreate some of these over the coming months.

Amuse bouche – Mouth Awakening to goat cheese, apple foam and other delightfuls.

Fava Bean Soup, Kusshi Oyster (what a hidden treasure!), White Sturgeon Caviar, Artichoke Mousse

Quite a few recipes out there. Just Google. But I present to you,’s version, mainly because author warns of small portions and uses cream and the word, whirl… (imagine whirled peas)


  • 3 lbs. fava beans
  • Salt
  • 1/2 to 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Garnish of your choice
  1. Remove the fava beans from their pods. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add enough salt to make the water taste salty, and cook beans until inner-bean is tender to the bite, about 3 minutes.
  2. Run the beans through a food mill or shell them again. Cook the resulting mashed or shelled beans in a medium saucepan, covered, with 1/2 cup of the chicken broth over medium-high heat until the beans are very soft – mushy even.
  3. Whirl the beans in a blender until super-duper smooth (let them whirl at least a full minute or two, scraping down the sides of the blender with a silicone spatula as necessary; this will seem like a long time, but the extra processing will make a smoother puree). Add up to another 1/2 cup broth, if needed to keep the blender blending.
  4. Heat the puree over lowest possible heat, add salt to taste, and stir in the cream. Serve in tiny portions garnished with minced chives.

Makes 6 small servings

Foie Gras turchon-style on browned butter cake with rhubarb something or other.

Thank you Serious Eats for the recipe and post! I’d share below but it is many steps, all worth it. Key points: happy corn fed ducks (yes, I realize some people hate this – know where you food comes from), salt, time and a little elbow grease. Turchon refers in part to being tightly wrapped in cheesecloth then quickly poached, more dense and way buttery than usual foie gras.

Smoked Steelhead –Cheore Mousse, Nori Tuile, Citrus Vinaigrette (cute little leaf = miner’s lettuce, made a few appearances)

Sea bass (did you know it’s also called sablefish) with arugula puree and homemade ruffle potato chip J on fennel

Scallops, asparagus tips, arugula puree (our waiter’s all time favorite)

Arugula puree might give your go to sauce in house a run for its money. So much potential and quite refreshing. Make like pesto (pine nuts garlic cheese etc) or just straight up – add to pasta, potatoes, bread, you name it. Thank you Madame Martha Stewart for this straight forward recipe.

  • 2 3/ 4 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 bunch arugula (about 3 1/ 2 ounces), stems removed
  • 1/ 3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/ 8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper


  • Prepare an ice-water bath.
  • Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil, and add 2 1/ 2 teaspoons salt and the prepped arugula. As soon as the water returns to a boil, remove from heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the arugula to the ice bath to stop the cooking. Working in batches, remove the arugula from the ice bath and place on paper towels to drain, squeezing out as much excess water as possible.
  • Transfer the arugula to a blender. Add the oil, remaining 1 / 4 teaspoon salt, and the pepper; puree until smooth and thickened with a small amount of unincorporated oil on the surface. Before using, stir gently to combine and be sure to taste to make sure it meets your flavor needs.

Roast Oregon Quail, Flageolet Bean, Braised Artichokes, White wine sauce (although it looks different in the photo than described on menu).

What is a flageolet bean? They are a variety of beans from France (Flag o lay, with a beret!). They are smallish, pale green, and kidney shaped. Quail is often a treat but tricky to make. I do really enjoy the quail at this great Vietnamese restaurant in South Seattle – Rainer BBQ (Bourdain ate there!) PhamFatale has a great recipe that sounds like my favorite Vietnamese interpretation, basically because it calls out the ultimate dipper – lime, salt and peppa. Try it! I prefer to eat it out as frying at home can be a drag without a fryer.

Foie gras (number two!) with soft boiled quail egg in a soup of its self finished with citrus gastrique

You can pick up a dozen quail eggs for less than $3 at almost any Asian grocery store – what a treat and bite size to boot. Just be sure, unless you want them “boney”, they AREN’T “balut”. You can bet these are now living in my fridge with chicken eggs and some duck eggs (all inspired by this meal).

Lamb sweetbreads with caramelized turnips, browned butter, fresh thyme and rosemary flowers (served up in a cleaned out bone on rock salt)

  • 1 pound lamb sweetbreads BUT this is enough for 10-12 people as appetizers, so less might be more for some…
  • Salt, pepper, paprika
  • butter and olive oil
  1. Clean the sweetbreads if needed (aka pancreas) by removing the membrane lining and cutting off visible excess fat tissue. Wash and dry thoroughly.
  2. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika.
  3. Sauté in a combination of ½ butter and ½ olive oil over medium heat until golden (about 4 minutes per side depending on size.) Don’t overdo it.

Wagyu beef from Snake River Farms in Idaho, with morel mushrooms and peppercorn sauce served alongside quinoa

Halibut, Peavine, Nicoise Olive Ragout, Lemon Butter, Forbidden Rice

A ragout [raˈgo͞o] is simply a main dish stew of sorts. Ragu vs. Ragout is Italian sauce vs. French Stew, even though pronounced the same.

Here is a tasty recipe – you could sub the starch in and out (rice, potatoes etc) around the time the carrots are added in.


2 slices bacon, diced
1 tablespoon butter
2 carrots, chopped in chunks
1/4 cup shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ – 1 teaspoon dried thyme

Fresh ground pepper and salt
1/4 cup flour
1 cups dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
3/4 cup olives, (feel free to mix colors), pits removed
½ – 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (depending on how much you like


1. Cook bacon. Remove to a separate plate.
2. Without cleaning pan, add butter. Melt.
3. Add carrots, shallots, garlic, thyme

4. Saute for approximately 10 minutes. If you don’t want your carrots to soft, do for less time..
5. Add flour by sprinkling over sauté mixture. Keep cooking and stirring for 2 minutes
6. Add wine and chicken stock, in parts, maybe thirds, stirring to deglaze the tasty bits on the bottom of the pan.
7. The goal is to bring to boil for five minutes or until the sauce thickens/reduces, stirring often

8. Add olives and mustard. Simmer another 10 minutes until sauce is thickened.
9. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. (hint: salt and pepper) and add crumbled bacon.
Note: ragouts often benefit from being made a day ahead but would hold out the bacon until serving.

You could cook the meat/protein in the same pan after step on, to brown and add it back in to finish cooking at step 8.

Inspired by and

Muscovy Duck, Herbed Polenta (the best ever IMHO), Asparagus with Duck egg, sprinkled with paprika and served with Rhubarb Compote

Rhubarb appeared in several dishes over the course of the evening, given that it is in season. Really nice pairing and opens up rhubarb for so much more than jam and crisps! Bon Appetite has a nice spread of savory pairings and recipes. Go check it out!

Dessert! (Remember it is spelled with two s’s, as you always want more than desert)

I’d love to hear of your dining adventures…… Cheers!

All Wokked Up about Watercress and Sugar Snap Peas

Another quick and quite taste wok experiment. This time, we did green roulette. In the fridge we had watercress, a gigantic bag of sugar snap peas and a random part of onion from the night before. To make this a little bit different, I convinced the Wok Master, to add some ginger and play with rice wine vinegar, instead of just oyster sauce and garlic.

Stir Fried Watercress and Sugar Snap Peas


  • Sugar snap peas, about 2 cups, but not scientific, use what you have or want
  • A bundle of watercress, the stems all bunched up were about 3 inches in diameter
  • Onion, a lot or little, we just had about a ½ cup of white onion hanging around, chopped, not too fine.
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • 2 T or so of garlic
  • 2 T rice wine vinegar
  • About 2 T or so oyster sauce, not too much, gets salty
  • ~ 1 T canola oil


  1. Wash vegetables and drain well. (water in heated wok oil = splattering)
  2. Take the ends off the peas so they are easier to eat.
  3. Heat the wok with the oil. Remember – key to wokking is high heat
  4. “Pre-cook” the snap peas. Not a real professional term here, sort of like blanching. We basically put the prepped peas in a bowl and filled it with 180 F water out of our dispenser and let it sit for a minute or two. This was just to help it cook along, since they will take longer than the watercress
  5. Add in garlic and ginger. Apparently, our ginger in the jar has more water, than the garlic as it Splat. Tered. Stir around
  6. Add onion pieces. Stir stir for about 30 seconds
  7. Add in snap peas and stir stir for another 30-60 seconds. You goal is to keep them still crispy but cooked
  8. Add rice wine vinegar, followed by watercress. Stir around, to get the watercress to start wilting, about 15-30 seconds
  9. Add in oyster sauce and finish stir frying. Don’t over cook

You could easily add bell peppers, mushrooms etc to this stir fry. Lots of alternatives. Enjoy!

So what is watercress, and where has this been all my life? Watercress is a perennial plant (first who knew), and, apparently, one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by upright humans. It’s in the Nasturtium family, and when you see the leaves you know why. Tangy a bit like radish greens but not too much, like arugula. If ever in the charming UK town of Alresford, they host a Watercress Festival every year. Apparently attracting watercress-atians from all over, to the tune of 15,000. Look at all this tomfoolery! On home soil, Huntsville, AL used to be the Watercress Capital of the US but due to circumstances not disclosed on Wikipedia, this honor is now bestowed upon the budding metropolis of Oviedo, FL. For my fellow pharmers, it is a known inhibitor of the cytochrome P450 CYP2E1 enzyme (gasp! Not another leafy green with drug interactions!!!!).

Yikes! The Cupboard is bare……

A compilation post of some kitchen hacks for things that I all too often Google search of “substitute for [fill in the blank]”. You know you’ve done it and if you haven’t, you must not be cooking or live in a grocery store.

Data sources:

  • A great reference I keep tucked away in one of my recipe binders: January 2011 – Real Simple
  • Trial and error
  • Joy of Cooking

Lemons or Limes: Use fresh lime (or lemon) juice or half the amount of white or red wine vinegar. [note: if canning, don’t mess around with this, use the bottled stuff]; What no limes? I have found the True Lime packets to come in quite handy, very shelf stable and not a laundry list of scary chemicals.

Baking powder: easy to just make your own and avoids any noticeable metallic taste: 2 T cream of tartar + 1 T baking soda: sift together three times, stores for 6 weeks but why, just make it in the moment. Thank you, Scott Peacock of MS Living.

Baking soda: not so much in baking but in life, this stuff can substitute or replace a ton of things. Here is my experience cleaning on oven with it…..

Chili powder: ½ teaspoon dried oregano, ¼ teaspoon dried cumin and dash of bottled hot sauce

Cheddar: Colby, Monterey Jack, American other kinds of cheddar. Cheeses are pretty flexible, know how it melts, taste it’s flavor and imagine it in your dish

Parmesan: use pecorino, asiago, romano or other hard cheese, just like cheddar, think about the taste. I’ve even use gruyere. Really depends on what you want the cheese to do…..

Pie crust or other pastry wrapper: pre-made pie crusts! I’ve even used this instead of puff pastry and vice versa, different effect but still pastry. Store crust worked well in my empanadas, onion tart and Amish pie (couple other subs in this one too).

Sour cream: plain yogurt (and vice versa). I now just make my own. It also makes a great crème fraiche.

Fresh herbs: hard to say a true substitute but in a pinch, use a pinch (1/3 amount called for) of the dried version. I also try to root herbs from meals at Vietnamese restruants (yes, I take them home) and grow with varying success. There is also some frozen, “fresh” herbs out there that I have found helpful to have on hand.

Nutmeg: in sweet dishes only, use cinnamon, ginger or allspice.

Buttermilk: 1 T lemon juice (or plain vinegar), plus enough milk to equal 1 cup. Let it stand. I have also had good luck with buttermilk powder

Self-rising flour: 3/4 cup all-purpose flour + 1 teaspoon baking powder +1/4 teaspoon salt (double, triple etc to get the amount you need)

White wine: chicken stock (or beef), sherry (use less than called for) or even water (maybe, not recommended). Some even recommend watered down juice. I also freeze white wine in ½ cup portions and been relatively successful with this endeavor.

Shortening or butter: use in a 1:1 ratio. Butter is better but there is a time and place for shortening.

Raisins: I have had success in cookies and salads using dried cranberries, figs and/dates. Carrot salad post coming soon. Lots of substitutions in this one!

Mayonnaise: yogurt, sour cream. I am planningon trying my hand at making my own mayo at home…

Bread crumbs: crushed corn flakes, crushed corn Chex, crackers, panko. One time I didn’t have enough corn flakes so pulled out the flakes from Honey Bunches of Oats. Don’t quite recommend as they carry with them the sweet cereal taste. Oh well. J

Here is a savory chicken recipe: I used some Dijon and any of the substitutions would work just fine!

I also love making this Chicken, Apple and Brie dish out of the Costco cook book (this was the fated Honey Bunches of Oats experiment). Great to make the day before up until the step of egg wash and coating with corn flakes. Do that the day of…

4 (4 oz each) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1-2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 lb brie cheese, rind removed and sliced thin
1 cup corn flakes, crushed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
salt and pepper

Pound chicken breasts until thin. Spread on a flat surface and fill with sliced apples and Brie. Wrap up the ends and then the sides of chicken to form bundles. Secure with toothpicks or string. In a deep bowl, lightly beat egg with salt and pepper. Dip the bundles in egg wash and then roll in crushed corn flakes to fully coat. Arrange seam down in a baking dish. Rub a bit of butter into the pan before putting the chicken rolls in to prevent sticking

Bake in a 375 F oven until cooked through, around 20 to 30 minutes. Let stand a few minutes before slicing.

Fresh items with canned items: you know, I would always sub fresh for canned but there will be times that I will not use canned instead of fresh, might be worth just waiting. Consider your circumstances… J

“Wrappers”: more so an easier way to make ravioli and dumplings, Use premade wonton wrappers. Slightly different flare but if it makes homemade dumplings and ravioli a reality, do IT. Here are some examples- kimchi mondu and crab goat cheese ravioli.

Eggs: haven’t used these substitutes, rarely am I low on eggs and if I am, I might just cut recipe down….. #1 – 2 T flour plus 1/2 T shortening plus 1/2 t baking powder plus 2 T water and #2 -1/2 mashed banana plus 1/4 t baking powder

Cooking oil: applesauce, depending on recipe this makes a great low fat substitution. Google this one when the moment comes…. I also haven’t got to hung up on canola vs. vegetable oil and just use them interchangeable at this point

Pasta: I think for the most part you can just use whatever kind of noodle you want and have. Or, like I have, mix together the remaining small amounts of several kinds of pasta. Call it pasta medely or pasta potpourri – instantly cool

Pork marinades: I have used jams and jelly, mixed with something savory like garlic and/or onions. Just watch when grilling as the sugar will burn, but I think that is tasty too

My general rule of thumb: if the ingredient is likely there to create some chemical magic reaction in the recipe I will Google and cross reference several sites or post pone BUT if it is an ingredient there for flavor profile, color or sustenance, think about if it can just be omitted (not if it seems “foundational” like carrots in a carrot salad) or what is similar: for herbs things like thyme and rosemary and sage seem sub-able to me; mint and basil, parsley (just leave out IMHO), cilantro – basil (unless clearly central to recipe), scallions use onions or green onions(both are a tad more potent than onions), granulated sugar and powdered sugar (or brown sugar, with this one, start with less and add substituted in by taste as sweetness if varying); walnuts, pecans, almonds or pistachios (these can be a little more distinct but great in salads etc); orange zest or juice – extract, especially if baking.

I always try to call out in my recipes and cooking escapades if I have substituted things and that or if something is really not necessary IMHO. Also be ready for things to fail, just reflect on what went wrong and learn from it. Need some encouragement, see Dinner Train bound for Nowhere….

What substitutions have you been successful with? Let’s make this a living post…..

The Last Boxed Cake Mix Stand and Tossing Together a Trifle

I’ve decided to no longer use boxed cake mixes, or at least not keep them in my pantry (caveat presented later). Ditto for canned frosting (it’s not as good anyways). Last week I finished, K. Flinn’s Kitchen Counter Cooking School, in which she presents straight forward food, eating and cooking advice. One chapter addresses cake mixes: presents history, breaks down the façade of time savings and ties it up with a bow noting that nostalgia and warm fuzzies outweighs the harm. Love confetti cakes? Then make it. So, what drove me to this choice? Without referring back to the book for the specs, here is what was in my mind yesterday:

  1. Wait! I still have to add three ingredients to the mix? A recipe from scratch doesn’t have much more.
  2. It doesn’t take much more time
  3. Lots more sugar, but from scratch is all ingredients you have on hand
  4. Almost creepy long list of ingredients in the box, too many syllables

Unfortunately, this decision has put one of my go to cook books at odds. I love and am slowly working through the KCCS book, and while a new addition, see it hanging around and influencing for quite some time. In contrast, my well-loved Cake Mix Doctor cookbook isn’t going to get as much action. While sad, I carefully crafted my proclamation that cake mixes would not be in my pantry – this allows me the wiggle room to buy a mix for a specific Cake Mix Doctor recipe (note these have often have quite a few steps and additions). There are some yummy ones and while I am sure I can make from scratch, I do like the results. I may try modifying a scratch cake to fit the Doctor’s orders……

collage book

I also love making cake mixes in Mason Jars and as gifts. Note Exhibit A: Bridal Shower party favors

To honor the long-live cake mix (both in shelf stability and time on earth, more than 60 years) and clean out a few things for the last time, I decided to make a boysenberry chocolate cake. Game plan: mix about ¼ cup jam into mix and then spread a layer in between 8 inch rounds, frost and top with M&Ms (new flavor: raspberry chocolate discovered in LV airport). Instead of flouring to prep the pan, I used cocoa powder, to add chocolate flavor but also avoid white gunk on a chocolate cake. Worked like a charm!

Cake turned out fine (nothing too special) but while making the cake (destined for somewhere else) and slicing the layers to make flat, I was inspired and, frankly, more excited about the remnants. Thinking about all the berries in the fridge and sudden overwhelming desire to make trifle, I did.

A trifle is a god send for any failed cake, cake chunks, store bought angel food cake, frozen pound cakes etc… I found a few recipes out there and mixed them together based on what I had lingering around the kitchen and came up with what I will call: Balsamic Strawberry Chocolate Trifle. I wouldn’t get too hung up on if you have enough of this and that, just taste the creamy part, taste the saucy part and layer away. Think about other add-ins to make it stretch.

Not enough strawberries? Add other berries, like blackberries (I did).

Ran out of yogurt and cream cheese layer (or didn’t have any to start)? Use cool whip, whipped cream, just yogurt or vanilla ice-cream.

Not a lot of cake? Just use more of everything else or maybe sneak some Nilla wafers in or something.

Needs some more sauce? Try liquor, thinned out jam, thickened juice etc…

Balsamic Strawberry Chocolate Trifle

  • 8×8 pan batch chocolate cake or brownies, angel food cake, pound cake, cookies etc. [or whatever amount you had, I ended up with about this much after flattening the two 8 inch round pans for the two layer cake.
  • Strawberries, sliced [not scientific – use more, less, add other fruit] and some just quartered for eventual puree
  • ½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon vanilla extract for yogurt, cream cheese filling
  • 1 – 2 cups plain Greek yogurt [I used my homemade yogurt, sour cream or cool-whip would work just fine. I think you could use a berry or honey flavored yogurt here too without much impact, given that it matches final flavor profile]
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened [about a 1:2 ratio with yogurt – I only had 4 ounces, and used 1 cup yogurt, was a little short but no big gig]
  • ⅓ cup sugar [granulated, or I think powdered would work fine too] for cream filling & ¼ cup granulated sugar for puree
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice [fresh squeezed or out of your favorite carton]
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar [don’t have any? Don’t worry, it will be fine without it]
  • 2 tsp cornstarch plus 2 tablespoons tap cold water to make a paste
  • Mint leaves for garnish [totally optional, but pretty, I didn’t have any]


  • Slice cake or brownies into cubes, not too small that they crumble (1-2 inch). Or just break it up into chunks with your hands!
  • Cream yogurt, softened cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Chill until ready to use if you want. I didn’t.
  • In a small sauce pan, combine strawberries, sugar, orange zest, orange juice and balsamic vinegar and bring to a simmer. You could add liquor here (Cointreau anyone?)
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for 15 minutes to thicken, but watch because it bubbles up real quick
  • Whisk cornstarch with cold water in a small bowl. Mix cornstarch mixture with strawberry mixture and continue to cook for 3-5 minutes. Or add liquor here…
  • Remove from heat and let the puree cool.
  • To puree: mash with potato masher or put in blender and blend on high until smooth. But why mess up the blender?
  • Stop and assess the quantities of the main layer ingredients: cake, sliced berries, berry puree, yogurt cream sauce.
  • Select your vessels: big bowl? Trifle stand? Individual glasses? Whatever, just make it something clear.
  • Plan your attack to divee out.
  • To assemble trifles, start with a layer of cake chunks. Next, add a layer of sliced strawberries and spoon over some yogurt cream. Drizzle some strawberry puree. Repeat this layering until it is all used up.
  • Top with powdered sugar, ice cream, mint, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, reduced balsamic vinegar or all of the above, if desired. Don’t forget that you can really get away with just about anything in a trifle….

I hadn’t planned on blogging this so no step by step but here is the final product. Talk about how to win friends and influence people (and clean out the fridge)!

Adapted from,, and my taste bud reference lab. Thank you to the cake mix for making extra and my fridge for having some inspiring ingredients, but not quite enough of any, forcing me to be creative.

Hives Alive – 2013 Bee Adventure Beegins


Hives are alive again – 3 sets of new Italian girls. Sadly none of mine made it through the winter. I have plenty of hypotheses, nothing confirmed. In case you are wondering, bees come in packages by the pound, including one queen, marked (a dot with white out) or unmarked. Three pounds of bees, like those pictured below have anywhere from 7,500 to 10,000. A bit counterintuitive, but they are quite calm in this situation as there isnothing to defend and the queen isn’t even necessarily theirs. She is in her own little cage inside the box with bees surrounding here – I am holding the queen cage in the photo with the blue gloves. Bees can’t really sting you through the latex gloves and it is easy to work with than big leather gloves. Those come out later when the bees are more defensive. Just watch your wrists…..

One of two top bars didn’t even make it to winter, the other did but didn’t put away enough food (I didn’t take any either). They seemed to have just quickly reduced in numbers then jump ship, as there wasn’t much in the way of “carnage” left inside. They even left some drawn out comb with honey – a hive warming for the next crew I suppose.

The two Langstroth hives (with Carniolans) located on our upper west facing balcony all looked to be well set for winter AND provided us with several gallons of honey. However, they both died out too but in separate ways, I think. One had not as much dead bee bodies, as they were able to keep up with the undertaker role. It is something else to see how clean they keep the hives and to move out the dead or almost dead. Some don’t leave without a fight. No hospice or nursing homes in bee land…. The other looks like it froze and died all at once, given the almost 2 inch deep layer of dead bees. Again, both had frames with honey and put away extra after our harvest. The conditions on the balcony, while very fun for viewing out our window, made for tricky working conditions and pretty gusty living conditions. In the heat of summer, the male drone bees seemed to enjoy loitering around in the balcony space below, which is where we like to have BBQs and friends – just a little challenging, no bee vs. people incidents and usually the bbq smoke moved them out, but did present the need to wear shoes on the deck and clean up after them. Might have been more than they could handle…

This year we decided to just run one top bar, maybe try splitting a hive later into the other one and moved the two Langstroths back down into the yard, with one of them ultimately going across the alley to our very green thumbed neighbor. All three packages are Italians, no real reason other than that is what the bee fellow was bringing up from California, but I wasn’t to hot on the Carniolans – given that I had quite the time the tree times they stung me. Giant welts and one blistered up like a regular burn – don’t worry, no gory photos, but should I ever get a tattoo it will be a bulls eye on my right upper thigh. I do believe inpart their attacks were based on what I was wearing, which they must not like very much. Lesson learned: bees don’t like skinny jeans.

This will be my third year with bees and I can’t wait to see what they will teach me this year. We were out of town this year when the packages arrived but the bee-man graciously installed them for me. A little bummed that I ddint get to do it because it is really quite the rush and something else to be handling that many bees all at once. I do have photos of my very first year installing packages into the top bar hives. I will share those with you. The bees basically pour out of the box, into the hive, sounding like packing peanuts. I also do an initial powder sugar shower treatment for the bees. It serves a few purposes 1) food source 2) bees will clean each other and begin to bond (not reaaaly sure about this but why not) and 3) non-chemical way to treat and prevent mites. It makes for some snowy white bees that can’t really fly. Just scoop the powder sugar out onto a screen placed over the hive and bees and sift it in. I used a paintbrush and removable ($5) window screen from Home Depot. This screen as proven quite handy and right now it covers the temporary chick box.

Can’t wait to see what these girls achieve this year!