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My late mother’s birthday fell on July 7. Daddy’s sister, Aunt Celia Ann, also had a birthday around that time, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t recall the exact date. In any case, these July birthdays prompted the creation of the original Army Green Birthday Cake.

I can’t remember who first had the idea, but my two older sisters and I decided to surprise Mother and Aunt Celia Ann with a memorable treat. Although I can’t recall my exact age at the time, I know I was young and eager to participate in any activity from which I wasn’t banned by my siblings. Happily, the army green birthday cake proved to be such an event.

Together, the three of us set about testing our baking, frosting, and cake decorating skills. The batter may have been chocolate…or maybe yellow…perhaps lemon? I’m not sure. The flavor seemed somewhat immaterial. The icing made this cake special.

I remember there being much discussion regarding how to tint the frosting. All we knew was that none of the options available in that little box of food coloring seemed special enough for our creation. I believe we thought lavender would be nice. Sadly, our version of that purplish hue too closely resembled grey and required adjustment. I don’t suppose any of us were well versed on how blue and red combine to make purple or, conversely, how green results when you mix yellow and blue.

Thus the experimentation began.

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I’m not sure how many combinations we tried before realizing that we’d better settle for that putrid olive drab before our frosting went from hideous to coyote ugly. (So nasty you would chew off your own paw to escape it.)

Certainly I was not the only sister who wanted to cry at that point, but we soldiered onward. We assembled the layers into a towering thing of beauty covered in army green icing. We hid the finished product in Mother’s aluminum cake cover, latched tight so there would be no peeking to ruin the surprise.

The next day, we loaded up the family station wagon and drove from Missouri to Colorado over the long Independence Day weekend to visit Aunt Celia Ann, Uncle Bill, Aunt Helen and all of my first cousins. Together we would celebrate those July birthdays in style. Mother packed a picnic basket and a cooler so we could drive straight through, saving time and money – both of which were no doubt in short supply.

With the whole family gathered, what a shock the unveiling of our masterpiece proved to be. I vaguely remember one of the cousins exclaiming, “It’s green!”

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And I’m pretty sure there was laughter…a lot of it.

But the only memory of the event really worth keeping is Mother’s reaction. Her voice conveyed sheer delight when she exclaimed, “Did you girls bake this cake for us all by yourselves? It looks wonderful!”

Thank you, Mother! In that moment you taught me an invaluable lesson. Even an army green birthday cake is beautiful when viewed through loving eyes.

Today is the 37th Mothers’ Day I’ve spent celebrating only the memory of my mom.  She passed away too young. Way too young.

Happy Mothers Day

Happy Heavenly Mothers’ Day 2018 to the amazing lady who, by her actions, taught me to be strong and independent; to love unconditionally; to be brave and unafraid to try new things…

And to appreciate all the army green birthday cakes life has to offer.

 

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Younger folks might not appreciate the affection some antique people (like me!) hold for good, old-fashioned aprons like our grandmothers wore. These days, aprons tend to be single purpose.

 

garden apron

One can purchase gardening aprons designed to hold essential tools. They are universally capable of withstanding the grime that comes with digging in the dirt. Some are waterproof…just in case the wearer has a close encounter of the sprinkler kind, I suppose. They seem to come in two main types: with bib, and without. The latter version straps around the waist – usually with a webbed belt- and has a short panel with a few pockets to hold just the essentials. As an avid veggie, herb, and flower grower, I don’t see the usefulness of an apron so small one that there’s no place to wipe the mud off of one’s hands. The bib type usually sports an extra pocket or two, but aside from covering one’s sternum (which is often where one of those extra pockets is positioned), it doesn’t seem to me to be of any more value than its bib-less friend. Neither variety has a sufficiently ample skirt for carrying a freshly harvested mess of green beans or peas. Heck, they’d barely hold a couple of tomatoes!

Now there is even such a thing as an egg-gathering apron. Outfitted with a dozen or more little ovum-sized pockets, this garment apparently serves the purpose of eliminating the need for carrying a basket to the hen house. These aprons are all bib-free, which is just as well since egg-gathering activities generally take place below the waistline. Usually sewn up from nostalgic adorable gingham or adorable chicken print fabrics, they certainly make an impressive barnyard fashion statement. But here’s the thing: to me they look like a cracking incident waiting to happen. If the wearer should happen to bump into something or forget herself and crouch down, she could end up with egg all over her cute little apron and whatever she’s wearing under it…to say nothing of the egg on her face when she returns from the chicken coop with no usable fresh eggs.

egg apron

And then there are the kitchen aprons. One website I visited proudly proclaimed that it featured more than 320 varieties from which customers could choose. Seriously? I had to check that out. Aside from color choices, I found that their stock consisted primarily of two types: bib aprons for men and bib aprons for women…although for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what made one gender’s apron distinct from the other’s. They all had a neck loop that held the bib against the chest, a sash that tied at the waist, and two good-sized front pockets. Probably okay for guys and slim, petite girls, but for tall, curvy women like me that little bib wouldn’t cover enough chest area to keep the pasta sauce from splattering all over my blouse.

kitchen apron

Server aprons generally fall into two categories: with and without bib. Both types featured multiple pockets for holding a ticket book, cash, change…and whatever other necessities a waiter or waitress might need to work efficiently. Some seemed fancier than others to match the tone of upscale eateries as opposed to the more utilitarian-looking aprons seen in chain restaurants and coffee houses.

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There’s even been a resurgence of that 1950s favorite, the hostess apron. You know – the kind June Cleaver wore with her heels and pearls when she worked in the kitchen. (Okay, the younger crowd might not even know who June Cleaver was. Google it.)

June Cleaver

It seems to me that the industry now produces just about every single-purpose apron one might imagine. What seems lacking is a good, old-fashioned grandmother’s apron.

I started my online apron research because I spend a lot of time in the kitchen…and I mean a LOT of time. I already own at least half a dozen aprons and while some are more useful than others, none do an adequate job of keeping my clothes clean and stain-free. I thought about ordering a chef’s coat. That should keep the marinara off of my favorite concert t-shirt! But what about the other activities that keep me busy throughout the day? The gardening, the laundry, the housecleaning…? Heck, I would gather eggs if the city where I live didn’t frown on residents keeping live chickens.

chef coat

No, what I really need is wardrobe of aprons wardrobe like my Grandma Creech wore. The primary purpose, of course, was to protect her clothing. And it did so regardless of the task at hand. With a waist-to-neckline bib large enough to cover her ample bosom, nothing would slop on the bodice of her house dress or her Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. The skirt of the apron was gathered and full, wrapping around and almost meeting in the back. It featured two large pockets in the skirt and a smaller pocket in the bib, which held her ever-present handkerchief.

Grandma’s apron was omni-purpose, a feature lacking in modern aprons.

I fondly recall sitting with her while we snapped green beans. The apron stretched across her lap held the newly-harvested produce. As we worked, the snapped off ends went back into her apron and the beans went into the cook pot. When we were finished, she gathered the waste in her apron skirt and transported it to the compost heap where, with one good shake, it was deposited.

On laundry day, she filled those immense pockets with clothespins before she carried a basket of newly washed bed linens to the back yard and hung them to dry in the sunshine. Nothing compared to the fresh scent of those summer-air-dried sheets and pillowcases.

More than once I saw Grandma run a stray dog out of the yard by flapping her apron and yelling “Shoo!” That same fluttering garment served as a signal that the food was on the table and the young’uns had best come and get it while it was hot.

On occasion she even wiped away my childhood tears with that apron when a skinned knee, a broken doll, or some perceived mistreatment by an older sibling threatened to ruin my life forever.

Ah…those were the days.

More to the point, those were the best aprons.

I haven’t abandoned my quest, although it appears I may have to search out a pattern and put my limited sewing skills to work if I want some really useful aprons.

Gosh, I wish I had my Grandma’s apron!

Every home cook has had some recipe not turn out as expected. At least I hope I’m not alone.

Some dishes that flop can’t be redeemed and it’s best to cut your losses, pitch the burnt chicken that wasn’t supposed to be Cajun-blackened, and order a pizza.

Interlaken, Berner Oberland, Switzerland

But if we get creative…and more than a little lucky…that “oops” can be salvaged or put to some other use. Got a little carried away salting the stew? No problem. Add more potatoes. Potatoes suck up salt. Did the rice stick to the bottom of the saucepan? Just leave about ½ inch layer everywhere it’s stuck. The fluffy white grains tend not to pick up a burned taste if they’re not in direct contact with their less fortunate friends.

There are things that can be done to at least make the product edible. If you can move past the initial upset and frustration, you might even find your kitchen malfunction amusing.

Case in Point:

One sunny Thanksgiving morning I felt excited that my daughter had volunteered to host the family feast. Instead of taking the time and effort to prepare the entire meal, my assignment seemed pretty simple. She only asked that I bake a pumpkin pie and a pecan pie to bring to the dessert table.

My recipe for pumpkin custard fills two 9-inch shells, so the previous day I baked up a couple of them along with my son-in-law’s favorite pecan pie. Although dear daughter hadn’t requested it, I decided it would be a nice touch if I took along some fresh whipped cream to dollop on top. (Because, of course, there weren’t enough calories in those pies already to put us all into a near-terminal food coma, right?)

Joyfully singing my favorite Thanksgiving hymn, We Gather Together, I pulled out my stand mixer, poured in a pint of heavy whipping cream, a teaspoon of vanilla, and a couple of tablespoons of sugar in the bowl and pushed “start.” I watched for a bit until the sugar and vanilla disappeared into the creamy whiteness before deciding I might as well unload the dishwasher while the mighty mixer did its thing.

By the time I finished that little chore and went to check on my mixer, the cream had gone from liquid through whipped and straight into butter.

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Oops.

Well, it was still edible, so this was not an epic fail. I just found myself short on whipped cream and long on butter. I poured a tablespoon of honey and about a teaspoon of cinnamon in to the bowl and started the mixer on low speed. I watched it constantly and hit “STOP!” the instant everything had blended. Removing the soft honey butter from the mixing bowl, I shaped it into a flat oval and pressed a design on top with a cookie stamp. Then off it went to the fridge to chill.

Voilà! A disaster turned into a bonus.

On the way to the feast, hubby and I stopped at a convenience store and picked up a can of store-bought whipped cream. Not as fresh and not as impressive, but still capable of adding unnecessary calories to the pies.

When we arrived at dear daughter and son-in-law’s home bearing pies, whipped cream, and the mystery gift, I announced, “I hope you don’t mind. I knew you planned on baking those yummy yeast rolls, so I took the liberty of making some cinnamon-honey butter to go with them.”

“Oh, Mom!” she exclaimed. “You shouldn’t have gone to all that trouble, but I’m sure the kids will be thrilled.”

“It was literally no trouble at all,” I replied with a Cheshire cat grin.

Cheshire Cat Grin

My kitchen failure might have remained a secret had not sweet hubby found it necessary to announce to all present, “Yep. Your mother tried to make homemade whipped cream, but instead she made butter.”

Oh, well. It got him a good laugh, even if it was at my expense.

All’s well that ends well. The kids (and adults) really did love the “accidental butter” on their dinner rolls. Canned whipped cream served the purpose just fine. And everyone raved about how delicious the pies were.

If it is edible it’s not a failure, right?

Comment below to share your experiences turning kitchen disasters into edible non-failures.

Jane Austen

By nature, writers are a curious sort. By that I mean we are easily led down The Rabbit Hole by the plot bunnies we insist on chasing. Research being an important activity for any serious writer, the lure of interesting information is a siren’s song that sometimes delays our current works-in-progress. Occasionally when we are sidetracked, however, The Muses favor us with an idea worth pursuing.

Recently, while researching dinner party fare that might be served by characters in the novels of Jane Austen, I stumbled across references to Martha Lloyd’s Housekeeping Book. I’ve read Austen’s works, but I’m no “Janeite.” Several of my closest friends are so devoted to that author that anything Jane-Austen-related is certain to please. I understand the attraction; I just don’t share their enthusiasm to the same level.

Until I tumbled down this particular bunny burrow, I was unaware that Martha Lloyd and Jane Austen enjoyed such a close friendship that Miss Lloyd lived in the Austen household for a number of years, eventually marrying one of Jane’s brothers. After the death of his first wife, Mary, Francis Austen married Martha Lloyd – his dead wife’s sister. (But that’s a story for another day. Here I go chasing plot bunnies again!)

Martha Lloyd kept a “household book,” in which she recorded favorite recipes, homemaking hints, medicinal remedies, household occurrences, and so forth. The original Martha Lloyd’s Household Book has been preserved and is safeguarded by the Jane Austen Memorial Trust at Chawton House Museum, in the home where Jane Austen lived the last years of her life.

open book

Sliding further down The Rabbit Hole, I became curious whether it was a common thing for women to maintain such household books. I learned that many homemakers of the time did as Martha did, but in researching how far back the practice originated, I came up empty handed…well, sort of. That research led me to a later book, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1861 by Samuel Beeton, the husband of Isabella Beeton, the book’s author.

Then I found reference to Miss Beecher’s Housekeeper and Healthkeeper, the work of Catherine Beecher. In an era where the cult of domesticity doctrine ruled the lives of women, Catherine became a dedicated proponent for the education of women. She founded The Hartford Female Seminary in 1824 to offer ladies access to higher education. Teacher, lecturer, and author, Miss Beecher’s contributions no doubt had a tremendous impact.

Now that I’ve led you through the labyrinth of my thought process, I’ll advance to the point of this blog : The legacy people can leave to their families – as well as the future – by creating their own household books.

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How to accomplish this is up to the individual. In this age of technology there’s literally nothing that can’t be recorded electronically or converted to electronic storage…locally or somewhere on that mystical Cloud. This is likely the best route for computer-savvy, tech-minded individuals. I haven’t checked, but I would be surprised if there aren’t at least half a dozen apps for that. Some bloggers have found fame and fortune producing their online versions of household books.

 

For more old-school folks, nothing beats a beautiful leather journal and an ink pen that fits well in your hand. A benefit of this method, especially if your intended audience consists of family, is that future generations will be able to read your words, written in your own hand. Pretty nostalgic, don’t you think?

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That brings me to the “Me” in the title. As you may be aware, I am a ruptured cerebral aneurysm survivor. Having avoided the very real specter of death, I recognize the importance of leaving behind something of yourself for your children, grandchildren, and all the generations to follow. I can’t think of any more personal legacy than passing down favorite family recipes, a family tree, photos, and stories of ancestors long passed.

Hindsight being, as they say, 20/20, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to start a household book when I was still a newlywed bride…or in any of the subsequent years, preferably before that nasty brain bleed robbed me of some of my memories. But it’s never too late, is it?

Young or old, female or male…if you haven’t already done so, start your own household book today. Someday one of your descendants may want their high-tech replicator to exactly reproduce your signature dish. What a shame it would be if that information had been lost to the universe because you never passed it down.

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Sometimes a bargain is just too good to pass up, even if you don’t know what the heck you’ll do with the items you’re buying. It happened to me just a couple of days ago.

Cruising around the produce section of one of my favorite grocery stores, I spotted the biggest, most beautiful lemons I’ve seen in a long time. And bonus! A three pound bag only cost $1.79 and contained six bright yellow lemons. At 30¢ per huge lemon, I couldn’t resist.

On the drive home, I started second-guessing that decision. With just hubby and me at home, I puzzled over how I could use six huge lemons before they shriveled up and turned rock-hard.

We aren’t real big on lemonade. I like to add a citrus note to a lot of my recipes, but a little bit goes a long way. I figured I could use two, maybe three lemons before they went to waste. Not good enough.

Then it dawned on me: Lemon Meringue Pie. I hadn’t baked one in years…and when I did, I had always gone the easy route, using box-mix lemon pudding (not instant…the kind that you cook). When I separated the eggs for the meringue, I just beat the leftover yolks and whipped them into the pudding while it was thickening. I never tried making lemon pie from actual lemons, but I was pretty sure that’s how my grandmother did it.

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So, out came the cherished family cookbook, but I found no recipe for Mabel Norton’s Lemon Pie. Darn!

Next, I turned to the 2-volume cookbook I inherited from my mother when she passed away. Mom always said that before she got married she couldn’t boil water without burning it…hard to believe because she certainly developed into an awesome cook, though not much of a baker. I figured if those cookbooks were responsible for her transformation, they could surely teach me how to make a lemon pie from scratch. I found a couple of Lemon Meringue Pie recipes and studied them. Once I’d familiarized myself with the basics, analyzed the similarities and differences between the recipes, and threw back a shot of Apple Pie Moonshine for courage (just kidding…I actually poured myself a mug of coffee), the experiment began.

Here’s the recipe I developed for putting my own spin on the classic Lemon Meringue Pie.

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Janet’s New-Fashioned Lemon Meringue Pie

Ingredients:

1 baked and cooled 9-inch pie crust (see Note)

1 cup granulated sugar, plus 6 tablespoons for the meringue

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt, plus a small pinch for the meringue

1½ cups water

Juice and zest of 2 large (or 4 small) lemons

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 eggs, separated

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon almond extract

Directions:

While you’re preparing the pie crust, set your eggs out so they’ll come to room temperature before you start making the filling and meringue.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit and place a baking sheet on a center rack.

For the filling: In a medium saucepan, whisk together 1 cup of sugar, flour, cornstarch and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Zest the lemons over a 1-pint glass measuring cup. Fill the cup to the 1½ cup mark with water. Squeeze the lemons over the cup. You should end up with about 2 cups total liquid. If it measures less than 1¾ cups, juice another lemon. If you’re close to the 2-cup mark, just add a bit more water.

Separate your eggs, putting the whites in a small glass or metal mixing bowl and the yolks in another small bowl. Set the egg whites aside and whip the yolks until they’re broken down and lighter in color.

Add the lemon juice mixture into the dry ingredients in your saucepan and whisk to combine. Cook the filling mixture over medium-high heat, whisking frequently, until it comes to a boil. Stir in the butter and vanilla extract. Once the butter has melted and is completely incorporated, reduce heat to the lowest setting and remove about 1/3 cup of the hot filling mixture and slowly add it to the egg yolks, whisking constantly. (We want to temper the egg yolks, not cook them, so add that hot liquid very slowly!)  Add the tempered egg yolks to the filling mixture in the saucepan. Increase heat to medium-high and bring it back to a boil. Whisk constantly until the mixture thickens to the consistency of pudding. Once thickened, remove from heat and pour into the prepared pie shell.

To make the meringue: Using an electric mixer beat egg whites until frothy. Add a pinch of salt, the cream of tartar and the almond extract. Beat on high until white and a bit shiny. At this point, the beaters should leave a slight trail in the egg whites and soft peaks begin to form when the beaters are lifted. Begin adding the 6 tablespoons of sugar, no more than 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until stiff peaks begin to form.

To assemble and bake the pie: Spoon the meringue on top of the filling, starting at the crust edges and working your way to the center. It’s important that the meringue seal against the crust to keep it from shrinking away from the sides as it bakes. Once you’ve completely covered the pie with meringue, use the back of a spoon or a spatula to lift it into pretty waves or peaks. Place the pie on the pre-heated baking sheet and bake at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes to thoroughly cook the egg whites. Increase oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and bake another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the meringue is golden-brown.

Remove pie to a cooling rack away from drafts and allow it to cool completely before serving or refrigerating.

NOTE: For information on how to pre-bake a pie crust, see my blog post titled Misery Loves Chocolate

Don’t skip the almond extract in your meringue. It adds a subtle, but delightfully delicious flavor counterpoint to the sweet/tart taste of the lemon filling.

lemon pie

What do I do when life hands me lemons? Why, bake a pie, of course!

 

 

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If you were a homemaker in the 1970s, odds are that a kitchen witch adorned your galley, magically preventing pots from boiling over, milk from curdling, and roasts from burning.

She may have been riding a wooden spoon or a whisk instead of the traditional broom. And she may have resembled a plump crone or a sexy maiden. Regardless of their appearances, transferring such talismans brought good luck to both the giver and the recipient, enhancing their popularity as housewarming gifts.

The tradition is believed to have begun in Scandinavia, although there’s some debate over precisely which country gave birth to the practice. Regardless of the origin, the custom dates back hundreds of years to an era that modern Wiccans often refer to as “before the burning times.”

In those superstitious days, thousands of years ago, a prevalent belief existed that the fire heating stone ovens possessed magical, transformative powers. A large black cauldron hung over glowing embers tended by the women of the family became the center of the home. From this vessel, the witches (it wasn’t considered a negative term back then!) prepared food to sustain and herbal concoctions to heal.  These wise women played a vital role in the peasant communities.

We can learn much from the practices of these ancient healers. Our stoves, utensils, pots, pans, and ingredients are the magical tools with which we create nourishing, healthy, and delicious foods for our families and friends. If we educate ourselves on the properties of various herbs and other plants, we can use them not only to enhance flavors, but also to create chemical-free household cleansers and home remedies that effectively treat common maladies.

As one whose love for gardening is almost as intense as my enjoyment of cooking, I suppose I am a kitchen witch. Hearth and home are the center of my universe and I like to believe that – on a good day, at least – magic happens on my stovetop and in my oven.

I grow a variety of herbs in my gardens and at any given time you’ll find bundles of them hanging to dry in my kitchen.  Herbs can be expensive to purchase at the grocery store, but they’re easy and inexpensive to grow. It isn’t necessary to have a large garden plot or a serious green thumb to do it yourself. Most herbs grow happily in pots on a sunny window sill or planted in groups in a container on your deck or patio. They love to cohabitate flower beds with annual or perennial plantings or make themselves at home in vegetable gardens. Basil and tomato are wonderful companions…and what could be more welcoming than the pleasant aroma of lavender greeting visitors at your front door?

A comprehensive discussion of herbs and their uses would be far too lengthy for a blog post. Perhaps we’ll visit the topic more in the future. But for now, I’ll provide you with a list of my five favorite herbs and some (perhaps unexpected) uses for them.

  • Sage is a lovely perennial herb. Once established, it will come back year after year. It pairs deliciously with poultry, sausages, fish, and roasted root vegetables. In the garden, it attracts pollinators and repels cabbage moths, so plant it alongside broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, or Brussels sprouts. Combined with white vinegar and a drop or two of dish detergent, sage makes a delightfully scented all-purpose cleaner. Infuse sage and lavender together and mix with water to create a wonderfully fragrant linen spray that will leave your bedroom smelling fresh. It is believed to repel bedbugs, so carry a small spray bottle with you when you travel and apply it to the linens in your hotel room. Couldn’t hurt, right? That lavender and sage infusion mixed with Epsom salts makes a soothing, relaxing bath blend – great for soaking sore muscles from all that work you did in the garden and even better bottled in a pretty container to give to a friend.

 

  • Rosemary is possibly my favorite herb. Where I live, the winters get too cold for rosemary to winter over successfully in the garden, but in warmer zones it is a perennial herb that grows heartily into an ornamental shrub. It pairs most famously with lamb, but also enhances pork, beef, and chicken as well as roasted vegetables…especially potatoes. Its earthy, woodsy aroma makes it a natural air freshener. If you combine rosemary with peppermint and dry rice and sew the concoction into a small pillow, you have a fantastic treatment for sinusitis or migraine. Just lie down for thirty minutes or so with the pillow over your closed eyes and you’ll likely feel some relief from your headache. A word of caution: this remedy should not be used by folks who have seizure disorders because both rosemary and peppermint are highly aromatic and could possibly trigger an episode.

 

  • Basil is an annual herb, so in outdoor gardens it must be replanted yearly. If you grow tomatoes, plant your basil right alongside them. These two are as fine companions in the garden as they are in marinara sauce. And without basil where would pesto be? I generally plant both green and purple basil, primarily because I can’t decide which variety is the prettier plant. It may be an old wives’ tale, but I’ve heard that if you chew a basil leaf to release the oils and then apply it to a recent insect bite or sting, it will draw out the venom and help ease the pain. Some believe basil has both antibiotic and antibacterial properties and it’s said to calm the digestion. (Would this be why so many Italian recipes call for the herb?)

 

  • Peppermint (and all other members of the mint family) should be grown with caution. It is highly invasive and spreads faster than wildfire. I recommend growing it in a glazed container on a saucer…and checking frequently to make certain no roots have escaped. It’s also important to keep it well trimmed so that it doesn’t go to seed. As mentioned above, peppermint is highly aromatic, so if some does escape into your lawn, mowing it would at least be a pleasant olfactory experience. I originally started growing peppermint for the sole purpose of making Mint Juleps on Kentucky Derby Day, but I found that I enjoy it more when it’s infused into iced tea than when it’s muddled with whiskey. I also use it to make Mint Jelly, which is my favorite condiment to accompany lamb. Sachets stuffed with dried peppermint are great for deodorizing athletic shoes if one is diligent about inserting them every time the cross-trainers come off of one’s feet. Chewing peppermint leaves can freshen the breath and soothe the stomach.

 

  • Oregano is a member of the mint family. Although not as invasive as peppermint, precautions should be taken when you introduce this perennial herb into your garden. Trimming to control flowering is important and pulling up runners to maintain a compact plant makes it more attractive and less likely to overrun its neighbors. I grow both Greek Oregano and Golden Oregano in my garden. This herb lends a Mediterranean flavor to many dishes. We’re all familiar with its use in Italian herb blends, but one of my favorite uses is incorporating it into breads…especially focaccia. I love a slice of warm Greek oregano bread dipped in garlic-flavored olive oil. Yum! You’ll find the golden variety in most of my recipes for marinades. It does something quite magical to the flavor of roast beef. According to Medical News Today, oregano is believed to contain antioxidants and may have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

 

Including herbs in our proverbial “bag of tricks,” contributes to our kitchen success. So, stir that cauldron (or stock pot), with the blade of your charmed athamé (or maybe just a wooden spoon!), and throw in some fresh or dried herbs to create some stovetop magic.

And, please…don’t say “Kitchen Witch” like it’s a bad thing.

pexels-photo-265903.jpegImagine, if you will, how entertaining our Easter celebration became in the company of people plagued by irrational fears.

It’s a wonder there was a meal on the table at all, since the hostess, Aunt Lydia, has magerirocophobia – an intense fear of cooking. Thank goodness her daughters, Cousin Emma and Cousin Stephanie, pitched in as best they could. What with Emma suffering from optophobia, opening her eyes was just too stressful, so she wasn’t allowed to do any chopping or slicing. And poor Stephanie, with her lipophobia, became somewhat hysterical because of her fear of the little bit of fat she saw on the Easter ham.

While the women busied themselves in the kitchen, Uncle Fred stayed curled up in fetal position in the darkest corner of the upstairs closet. Suffering from anthropophobia, his irrational fear of having company seemed to be getting the best of him. I can’t say I blame him, given the quirky people gathering in his home. (Which raises this question: Where do people live if they have domatophobia, a crazy dread of being inside houses?)

Mother seemed edgy all day. What with her syngenesophobia (fear of all relatives), the tic in her eye commenced every time the doorbell rang and more guests arrived. Fortunately, her terror didn’t prevent her from reminding Aunt Lydia that my brother, George, needed a special place set for him at a table for one. All of his utensils, napkin, and so forth had to be positioned directly in front of him. Because of his dextrophobia, objects – including human beings – situated to his right horrify him. Grandmother Jones would, of course, take her meal standing at head of the table. She certainly deserved the place of honor, but her cathisophobia left her petrified of sitting down.

Once dinner was served, the real fun began. My sister-in-law, Abby, wouldn’t allow any food on her plate. Her sitophobia made even the thought of eating far too alarming. Cousin Carl, seated next to her, never uttered a word throughout the meal. He’s deiphophobic, you know, so he’s afraid of large meals and dinner conversation. His twin sister, Camille, made up for his silence, though. She was on the phone the entire time. Her dread of losing cell phone contact, or nomophobia, seemed to be in high gear.

My nephew, George Jr., freaked out when Aunt Lydia put the platter of devilled eggs on the table. Poor lad has ovaphobia – an absurd aversion to eggs.  And his little brother, Devon, burst into frantic tears when he bit into an innocuous looking Easter Peep and discovered what it was made from. Who knew he had such a severe case of althaiophobia that the sugar-coated treat would trigger his fear of marshmallows?

After dinner, we gathered the youngsters for our annual Easter Egg Hunt. I felt so sorry for some of those children. Of course, ovaphobic George Jr., refused to participate in any way, shape, or form. And Emma’s adorable toddler, Maize, absolutely panicked when saw a certain egg nestled among the daffodils. Being porphyrophobic, she was scared to death because the offending ovum had been dyed purple.

I’m sure Grandpa Jones had good intentions when he arranged for a special visit from the Easter Bunny. He didn’t realize how many family members suffer from leporiphobia. For them, the experience brought to life their nightmares about being chased by evil mutant rabbits

Thank goodness, my personal paranoia didn’t set in until this morning when I stepped on my bathroom scale and had an attack of barophobia. Sometimes gravity scares the hell out of me.

But as Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated in his first inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

That would be phobophobia, in case you wondered.

Note: The people, places, and events in this story are purely fictional. No Peeps or bunnies were injured. Really.
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