Country Moon

The Christmas Flower


Of all the symbols, sights and traditions of Christmas, perhaps the poinsettia is the one most taken for granted. It’s cheery red leaves (not petals, we’ll get to that in a minute) adds festive touches to homes, churches and businesses every holiday season, making it the most popular holiday plant.

False "Flowers"

Those bright red “flowers” on the poinsettia plant are actually leaves and not its flowers. The flowers are actually the yellow clustered buds in the center of the plant. The colored leafy parts are called bracts which are modified leaves that turn color in response to the plant’s forming flowers. Once the flowers are gone, the leaf bracts fall off. Eventually, even the green ones drop.

The poinsettia is a light sensitive plant. When you deprive the plant of light in its full leafing stage, the only chlorophyll used to turn the leaves green cannot be produced. As a result of this total darkness and lack of light, the only color that will be produced is red. This is called photoperiodism.

Red is the most popular color with pink and white trailing close behind. To date there are more than 100 varieties including salmon, apricot, yellow, cream and white. Several colors are blended together to produce speckled and marbled varieties. Homeowners and businesses are experimenting with these un-traditional colors to add a personal touch to different decors. The only color that is not produced, but rather is designer-created is blue.

Poinsettia Production

Every state grows poinsettias commercially. California is the top producer with over 6 million pots grown annually. North Carolina comes in second at 4.4 million, then Texas with 3.7 million with Florida and Ohio following them.

That’s a lot of poinsettias, but then, folks buy a lot each holiday season. Approximately 34 million are sold each year which is about 25% of sales of all flowering plants. That earns them the distinction of being the highest selling potted flowering plant with sales at $144 million. Easter lilies are second and bring sellers $22 million each year.

How the Poinsettia Got Its Name

Poinsettias are native to southern Mexico. They naturally bloom in December and they have been used there to decorate churches for centuries. From the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, Aztecs used the leaves to dye fabric for clothing and the plants were cultivated for that purpose as well as for using the sap as medicine. Red was considered a symbol of purity, so the plants became a popular part of religious ceremonies. In Mexico and Guatemala, it was referred to as the “Flower of the Holy Night.” Since, it has also been called the “lobster flower” and “flame-leaf flower.”

Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, a botanist and first Ambassador to Mexico, introduced the plant that would become known here as the poinsettia to this country. He discovered the plant with the brilliant red leaves growing on the side of the road in Taxco, Mexico in December of 1828. He was so taken with the plant that he sent cuttings home to his plantation in Greenville, South Carolina.

Even though most botanists dismissed it as a weed, Poinsett kept studying and growing it. The poinsettia became popular despite its short bloom time. In the 1960’s researchers were to successfully breed the plants to bloom more than a few days.

Since the mid-1800’s, December 12 has been observed as National Poinsettia Day in the United States. It honors the man and the plant that he introduced.

Paul Ecke, Jr. is considered the father of the poinsettia industry since his ranch in southern California produced the majority of the poinsettia plants and cuttings bought in the United States and many that are bought worldwide. Initially, they grew tall stems that had to be bent back into a loop to keep them at a desirable height. He figured out how to get them to branch. It’s from this plant and firm that the football bowl game in San Diego gets its name.

Caring for Your Poinsettia

The big question surrounding poinsettias is how to get them to rebloom each Christmas season. With just a little work starting after Christmas you can help them live to see another holiday. They like temperatures to be between 65* and 75* and lots of direct sunlight which means a southern, eastern or western window. Keep the soil moist while they are still in bloom. When it feels dry to the touch, re-water but don’ let them set in water.

Spring is when you want to get snippy. Allow the plants to get a little drier and in May cut about 4 inches from each stem to ensure a lush, full plant next winter. Start fertilizing in the spring when the soil is moist so as not to burn the roots.

In June move them outside where there is plenty of sunshine. They are a little finicky and don’t like the intense hot sun, but rather, they prefer morning sun in partial shade. Be vigilant about insects and if the temperature drops below 65*, be sure and take them inside.

October is when the real work starts because that is when they need daylight for no more than 10 hours per day. Put them in a dark closet or room with no light at any time, not even cracking the door for a moment. Do this from 5 PM until 7 AM daily for eight to ten weeks. Don’t forget to bring them back into the daylight every day.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. Depending on if you want the challenge or not, just remember that new and superior plants are available each year

A few fun facts about the “Christmas flower” are:

  1. In the wild or tropical climates, poinsettias can reach a height of 12 feet with leaves measuring 6 to 8 inches across. They are actually considered a small, tropical tree.
  2. They have had to overcome a bad reputation as being a poisonous plant. They have been cleared by the National Poison Center in Atlanta, GA and the American Medical Association. Even so, they are not meant to be eaten because they can cause stomach irritation and discomfort. Cats and children may choke on the fibrous parts.
  3. The best way to prolong their life is to keep them out of hot or cold drafts and to keep them moist. Once the leaves wilt too far, it is too late for them.
  4. Many make the mistake of not protecting them from the wind after purchasing them. They are highly sensitive to cold temperatures and even a few minutes of exposure to temperatures 50* and colder will cause them to wilt.

In their humble way, poinsettias bring color and joy to the Christmas season; it wouldn’t be Christmas without them. If treated right, they are a hardy plant that will give you joy for many seasons if you put forth the effort. As it has been said, “If cared for properly, they will usually outlast the desire to keep them!”

Good Golly Gertie, That's Good Gravy


Gravy…it’s still what accompanies many dinners in many households. There is that certain something about gravy that puts that finishing touch on a meal. Having gravy at a meal was just a given staple for folks in my generation.

Ron remembers his Grammy having gravy sometimes three times a day. Yea, that may be a little excessive but it just shows how gravy was what pulled the meal together. It was also a way to stretch the food dollar when you had a lot of folks to feed. You could throw leftover meat, potatoes, veggies, etc. together, cover it with gravy and have a casserole to feed many for a couple more meals.

Although making gravy is an important kitchen skill for any home cook, it is still somewhat of an art form. The term “gravy” was actually used first in Middle England as “grave.” It is derived from the French since the word was found in many medieval French cookbooks. In the late 14th century, their interpretation of gravy was “it consisted of natural cooking juices from roasting meat.”

As any chef will tell you, there are certain distinctions between gravies, sauces and jus. A sauce is defined as a thick liquid served with food, usually savory dishes, to add moisture and flavor and is not necessarily meat-based. Gravy is a type of sauce made from the juices of meats that run naturally and are often thickened with wheat flour or corn starch for added texture. Jus is made from the same juices but have been refined and condensed to a clear liquid that is naturally thickened. Jus is a reduction and gravy relies on a thickening agent.

The usual thickening agents are flour, corn starch and arrowroot. They all make good gravies, but with different properties. Flour will clump when dropped into a hot liquid and, if not careful, will make a lumpy gravy unless it is added slowly and steadily. Corn starch doesn’t clump but will thicken over a course of a few minutes. It also thickens as it cools so, if too much is added, the result will be gel-style gravy. Being pure starch, corn starch is a more powerful thickening agent than flour so you only need half as much. The rule of thumb is to use one tablespoon of corn starch for each cup of gravy.

Arrowroot can also be used as a thickener. Obviously, corn starch is made from corn whereas arrowroot is made from tropical plants. Corn starch will leave the gravy slightly cloudy and adds a bit of taste to the product. Gravy from arrowroot is clear with no added taste.

Regardless of the thickening agent used, there are generally two different camps when asked how you make gravy. You either start with a roux or a slurry. The end result is the same, it’s just how you get there. Many families today still use whichever method that was passed down from earlier generations.

Ron’s Grammy was in the roux camp. Basically, a roux is a 1:2 mixture of fat to flour…and with this method, the thickening agent is almost always flour. The fat is often butter but oils, margarines and bacon fat can also be used and is melted and combined with pan drippings and simmered for a bit to let all flavors mesh together. Then the flour is added into the mixture. When that is all combined, the liquid such as milk, broth or water is added and whisked in until all is thickened, which makes the gravy.

I, on the other hand, was raised using the slurry method. This way uses a mixture of flour (or other thickening) and water or stock which is combined before adding to the boiling broth and fats. It is slowly added until the gravy reaches desired consistency.

Besides what you grew up with, each method works better for different applications. When making gravies from roasts and other cooked meats, the slurry method is the one of choice but, when making sausage gravy, steak gravy or others from pan drippings where the meat has been fried, the roux works better.

All gravies are not created equal and there are many variations from the traditional meat gravies that we think of when we eat mashed potatoes and gravy.

Southerners like their red-eye gravy. This is nothing like your traditional brown gravy. Black coffee is added to the drippings which creates the unique appearance of the gravy in a serving bowl. The dark coffee and meat sink to the bottom leaving a layer of grease visible on the top. This resembles the appearance of a human eye which is where this southern dish gets its name.

Sawmill gravy is another specialty. Another southern dish, it gained its fame in logging camps. It was made from bacon drippings, corn meal and salt which was browned in a pan before milk was added. Often it would be coarse and thick which made the lumberjacks accuse the cooks of substituting sawdust for cornmeal, hence the name.

Another specialty gravy will surely please all the chocoholics out there. Originating in Appalachia, mountain people prove that not all gravy comes from meat drippings. The name comes from an old southern practice of using the word “gravy” to describe any roux-thickened sauce that is made in a skillet. It can be sweet or savory. Some refer to chocolate gravy as “soppin chocolate” since it is usually served over fresh-baked biscuits which are used to “sop” it up.

Sometimes it is started from all dry ingredients with added butter for the fat. Other times, the fat comes from the drippings of fried bacon. Either way, it is a sincere chocolate experience that proves you can have your chocolate for breakfast!

Most of us never give gravy a second thought, it is just a staple part of our diet. Different regions of the country have their own variations which proves that gravy isn’t just gravy.  It has been said that a cook can make gravy out of nothing. No wonder then that, when it comes to gravy, Ron’s saying, “Good golly Gertie, that’s good gravy” rings true!


Chocolate Gravy Recipe


  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder                                     
  • 1 cup sugar                                                      
  • 3 Tbsp flour                                                      
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 cups whole milk, warmed
  • 4 Tbsp butter, cubed and chilled
  • hot biscuits



  1. Sift cocoa, flour, sugar and salt in large skillet
  2. Whisk continuously, adding warm milk in slow, steady stream until smooth
  3. Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously with heat-proof spatula until gravy thickly coats spatula, about 8 minutes
  4. Remove from heat, add butter, stir until butter is melted and serve over biscuits.

A Beautifully Simple Christmas Bucket List

It’s in the air again, that special time of year that is Christmas. Folks make plans to go home to family and friends, businesses wind down and, if only for a few weeks, it seems that everyone’s worlds turn just a little slower. At least that is how it is supposed to be.

Photo by Pixabay/Janet Dahmen

Sadly, for many in this fast-paced world, Christmas only adds more pressures instead of relieving them. How many times have you heard, “I have to get the shopping done, I have to make cookies, I have to get the cards out,” and so on. Why do we “have to” do any of it? Today’s society makes us believe that we have to do all the traditional stuff plus a lot more.

Not this girl, not this year. I have a Christmas bucket list. For the most part, I want to go back to simpler times and really enjoy the season. If I get the cookies baked; if I get the cards in the mail; if I find that perfect gift, it will be great but none of those are on my absolutely have to do list anymore.

How many times have you picked up Christmas cards that depict sleigh rides, chopping down the Christmas tree or folks snuggled by the fire with hot chocolate? People yearn for an old-fashioned holiday but then jump right back into the rat race of the “holiday have-to-do list.”

It is great when folks decorate their homes for the season. However, it should be what you like to see, what decorations makes you happy. Sadly, especially in small towns, I have seen one neighbor trying to outdo another with a bigger, brighter outdoor display. Really, is this what the holiday is all about?

A couple years ago my sister Jean told me that she finally had the Christmas tree she had always wanted. It was a beautiful live spruce tree decorated only with tiny white lights and tin foil icicles. She has never liked the idea of putting ornaments on a tree just for the sake of having ornaments. I couldn’t imagine what it looked like but, when I saw it, it was the most beautiful tree I had ever seen. There is beauty in simplicity.

That’s why I have tried to put the “reason for the season” at the top of my bucket list. I have always believed that the best presents didn’t always consist of the latest fad, but rather something that was special for the recipient. If it is homemade, that is even better because a lot more thought and work go into a gift from the heart than one that is just plucked off store shelves at random just for the sake of giving a gift. If I am going to give a gift, I want it to be something that will actually mean something to the recipient.

I remember when I collected snowmen. It got a little out of hand. We would spend two days setting out all the snowmen and Christmas decorations, inside and out. At last count, I had over 100. Enough. I put the special ones that the grandkids made and others that friends and family gave to me back on the shelf and sold the rest this year.

At first, I felt twangs of guilt of letting them go until Michelle, my niece, helped me to realize that they were bringing others joy instead of just setting in a box in the basement. That made it better and less really is more as I do enjoy the special few instead of having the house cluttered with all of them. I really like the idea of it only taking an hour to set them out as opposed to two days! There is beauty in simplicity.

Photo by Pixabay/trygd

So, back to my Christmas bucket list. I have always wanted to go on a real sleigh ride at Christmas time. There is a tree farm not far from me that offers rides through their Christmas tree fields, on wagons if there is no snow and sleighs if there is snow. I will be going this year. I am not going for a tree, instead I want to step back in time and go for the ride in the crisp air, drink hot cocoa by the fire and smell the scent of pine.

Caroling is another tradition that has basically gone by the wayside, which is sad. I remember one evening right before Christmas when I was still living at home, there was a knock on the door and a church group had stopped to carol. It is a treasured memory to this day, partly because of the tradition and partly because we never expected to have carolers in the country.

Many light displays today are synchronized to music and cities and towns are putting up huge displays that folks can drive or walk through. There is nothing wrong with these except many are charging megabucks to go through and see them. Are these really Christmas?

I much prefer the old-fashioned way of driving around the countryside and looking at individual homes. My Aunt Sharlene and Uncle Don used to decorate their home and barns with lots of lights and seasonal décor. They didn’t go overboard, but rather had just enough to be tasteful. He had an antique tractor that he would do one side in green for John Deere and one side in red lights for International. They had a large nativity display and the highlight was a large cross on their barn.

Photo by Lois Hoffman

They no longer decorate since he has passed, but my aunt and my cousins still put the cross on the barn. Though I miss all the lights that they had, there is something regal and stirring about that cross by itself. There is beauty in simplicity.

So, this year and all years hereafter I will be working on my Christmas bucket list by simplifying. I did make a few Christmas cookies this year but I didn’t make three double batches like in the past. I did send Christmas cards and with each one that I wrote, I reminisced about times spent with that person. And it is all OK.

The best part of all is that I still have time to enjoy the season. I will be going to the tree farm and I will be stopping in to see a few people that I haven’t caught up with for a while and I will be curling up by the fire with some hot cocoa.

It is so ingrained in us that we always have to do the things that we are accustomed to doing every year. We feel the pressure but we do it to ourselves.

Instead of dreaming about an old-fashioned Christmas this year, I am going to live it. There really is beauty in simplicity.

Garden in a Box

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

How many times have you wandered the endless toy aisles at Christmas and was overwhelmed by all the selections that you just knew your kids or grandkids would play with once and then toss aside? For years I have searched for something that kids would cherish, that would help them along life’s way… in other words, just be something more than “stuff.”

I am not a scrooge, it is not about the money, but rather it is about value…and not the monetary kind. Perhaps this year I have succeeded in finding at least one item of that nature.

It was right there before me all the time. It is true, that sometimes you cannot see the solution because it is too close. I found mine where it has been all along, in the garden where my soul lives.

Of course, gardening and farming has always been close to my heart and I have always thought it sad that kids growing up in today’s world aren’t exposed to the old ways and hard work that have always been an integral part of farming life. It’s not their fault because most “farming” that kids, especially those that grow up in the city, see is the big tractor or combine in the field with the farmer enjoying air conditioning (or heat), music and probably eating lunch while in the fields. Sometimes they don’t even have to steer!

Yea, what is so hard about farming? They have no idea of the blood, sweat and tears that make it possible for them to eat every day.

So, it dawned on me, why not show them, up front and personal what it takes for them to eat that bowl of corn flakes or whatever. After all, hands-on is always the best way to learn. Thus, the idea for the “garden in a box” was born.

Actually, it is pretty simple, I wanted to gather everything for kids to be able to plant a few seeds, nurture them and watch the miracle of how a simple dormant seed can multiply many times over and provide fresh produce. It doesn’t require a lot of space. Probably, the less space you have is all the better because the idea is to learn how just a little piece of earth can produce much. A container works equally as well.

I started back in the summer buying a few seed packets of lettuce, radishes, carrots and a few flower packets of marigolds and zinnias. Anything that suits your fancy is fine as long as it does not vine out like cucumbers or melons. The idea is to keep it in a tight space, so anything that grows straight up is best.

I also went for flowers that grow fast and is vibrant. Nothing catches a child’s eye more than color. Marigolds and zinnias fit this bill and they keep producing most of the summer. It’s even better if you make it personal and incorporate some of the child’s favorite veggies.

Next, I picked up a pair of small gardening gloves, also in bright colors. Then I added a small spade and three-tined garden fork. To round it out, no garden is complete without a watering system so a small watering can rounded out the mix.

Image by M Ameen from Pixabay

Every gardener knows that for anything to grow, you also need to fertilize it. I saved an old plastic corn starch container, the kind where the lid screws tightly on. However, any container that can be sealed tightly would work. I put a large label on one side and then spray painted the outside and lid, taking care not to cover the label. Before the paint dried, I sprinkled glitter over the paint.

When the paint was dry, I wrote “magic growing powder, do not open until ready to plant” on the label. Who doesn’t like a little magic and isn’t fertilizer and the whole seed sprouting thing a little magical in its own right!

Then, I wrote a note telling them what all the stuff in the box was for and the real important thing was that they could not open the “magic powder” until spring…not even for a quick look or the seeds would not grow. Hopefully, this will save having fertilizer all over the house! Next, I put everything in a larger box and wrapped it with a big bow on top.

Those of us who are entrusted with even a little piece of God’s earth know how special it is. Hopefully, this will help even city kids to know the joy that we gardeners and farmers know. It will be interesting to see next spring if the kids tend to their small two-foot square gardens or not.

Perhaps this gift is more for me than them, but at least I will know that I tried to share the magical joy of growing things from a tiny seed. And I will also know that I didn’t buy the latest gadget that will be hauled to the landfill in a short time. I hope I did well.

Kitchen Switch Ups!


Country MoonNothing is more frustrating when cooking or baking than getting part way through a recipe and discovering that you are lacking one ingredient. We have all been there. My most recent blunder was making a cake and not having any baking powder. The fact is, there are substitutions that will work in recipes without changing the flavor or texture…and without running to the store in mid-recipe!

Following is a list of some of those that you may want to tuck away somewhere just in case you find yourself in a pinch:



INGREDIENT                         SUBSTITUTION

1 tsp allspice------------------  1/2 t cinnamon, 1/4 t ginger, 1/4 t cloves1 tsp arrowroot starch

1 tsp arrowroot starch-----   1 T flour or 1 T cornstarch

1 t baking powder-----------   1/4 t baking soda plus 1/2 t cream of tartar or 1/4 t soda plus 1/2 cup buttermilk

1 cup beer---------------------    1 cup non-alcoholic beer or 1 cup chicken broth

1 cup bread crumbs--------    1 cup cracker crumbs or 1 cup ground oats

1 cup beef or chicken broth---1 bouillion cube plus 1 cup boiling water or 1 T soy sauce and  enough water to equal 1 cup

1 cup packed brown sugar-----1 cup white sugar and 1/4 cup molasses or use 1-1/4 cups confectioners sugar in place of the white

1 cup salted butter---------- 1 cup margarine or 1 cup shortening plus ½ t salt or 7/8 cup vegetable oil plus ½ t salt (will not work in all recipes that call for butter)

1 cup unsalted butter-----1 cup shortening or 7/8 cup vegetable oil

1 cup buttermilk-------------1 cup yogurt or 1 T lemon juice or vinegar in 1 cup milk

1 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips-----1 oz unsweetened chocolate plus 4 t sugar or 1 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 t shortening

1 oz unsweetened chocolate-------3 T unsweetened cocoa and add 1 T shortening or vegetable oil

1/4 cup cocoa----------1 oz unsweetened chocolate

1 cup corn syrup------1-1/4 cups white sugar plus 1/3 cup water or 1 cup honey

1 cup cottage cheese----1 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup heavy cream-----1 cup evaporated milk or ¾ cup milk plus 3 T butter

1 cup 1/2 & 1/2------- 7/8 cup milk plus 1 T butter

1 t cream of tartar----2 t lemon juice or vinegar

1 egg-----------2-1/2 T powdered egg substitute or ¼ liquid egg substitute or half of a mashed banana plus 1/2 t baking powder

1 cup evaporated milk-------1 cup light cream or 3/4 cup milk plus 3 T butter

1 cup fat for baking-----1 cup applesauce or 1 cup fruit puree

1 cup cake flour-------1 cup all-purpose flour minus 2 T

1 clove garlic--------1/8 t garlic powder or ½ t granulated garlic or 1/2 t garlic salt, reducing the rest of the salt in recipe

1 t ginger-------------2 t fresh, chopped ginger

1 T fresh herbs--------1 t dried herbs

1 cup honey----------- 1-1/4 cups white sugar plus 1/3 cup water or 1 cup corn syrup

1 t hot pepper sauce-----3/4 t cayenne pepper plus 1 t vinegar

1 cup ketchup----------1 cup tomato sauce plus 1 t vinegar plus 1 T sugar

1 t lemon juice---------1/2 t vinegar or 1 t white wine or 1 t lime juice

1 t lemon zest---------1/2 t lemon extract or 2 T lemon juice

1 cup margarine-------1 cup shortening plus 1/2 t salt or 1 cup butter or 7/8 cup vegetable oil plus 1/2 t salt

1 cup mayo-------------1 cup sour cream or 1 cup plain yogurt

1 cup whole milk-----2/3 cup evaporated milk plus 1/3 cup water or 1/4 cup dry milk and 1 cup water

1 cup molasses------3/4 cup brown sugar and 1 t cream of tartar

1 T mustard----------- 1 T dried mustard, 1 t water, 1 t vinegar, 1 t sugar

1 cup chopped onion-----1/4 cup onion powder or 1/4 cup minced onion

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese-----1/2 cup Asiago cheese or 1/2 cup Romano

1 cup raisins--------------1 cup dried currants or 1 cup dried cranberries or 1 cup chopped pitted prunes

1 cup cooked white rice-------1 cup cooked barley or 1 cup cooked bulger or 1 cup cooked brown wild rice

1/4 t saffron----------1/4 t turmeric

1 cup sour cream--------1 T vinegar or lemon juice in enough milk to make 1 cup, let stand 5 minutes to thicken

1/2 cup soy sauce-------1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce plus 1 T water

1-14-oz can sweetened, condensed milk-------3/4 cup white sugar plus ½ cup water plus 1 1/8 cups dry, powdered milk, bring to a boil and cook, stirring

1 cup vegetable oil for baking---------1 cup applesauce or 1 cup fruit puree

1 cup vegetable oil for frying---------- 1 cup vegetable shortening

1 t vinegar-----------1 t lemon or lime juice or 2 t white wine

1 cup white sugar--------1 cup brown sugar or 1-1/4 cups confectioners sugar or 3/4 cup honey or 3/4 cup corn syrup

1 cup wine----------1 cup chicken or beef broth or 1 cup fruit juice plus 2 t vinegar

1 pkg active dry yeast---------1 cake compressed yeast or 2-1/2 t dry yeast or 2-1/2 t rapid-rise yeast

1 cup yogurt------------1 cup sour cream or 1 cup buttermilk or 1 cup sour milk

1 t apple pie spice----1/2 t cinnamon, 1/4 t nutmeg, 1/8 t allspice plus 1/8 t cardamom, ginger, or cloves

Italian seasoning-----1 t basil, 1 T parsley, 1/2 t oregano

2 cups maple syrup----2 cups sugar, 1 cup water, bring to a clear boil, take off heat and add 1/2 t maple flavoring

1 cup miniature marshmallows--- 8 to 10 large marshmallows

1 jar marshmallow cream-------melt 16 ozs marshmallows and 3 ½ T corn syrup

1 T Dijon mustard-------1 T dry mustard. 1 t water, 1 t white wine vinegar, 1 T mayo and a pinch of sugar

Note:  Always remember when a substitution calls for liquid, to decrease liquid in the recipe by that much. Hope these hints help to save a trip or two to town and happy baking!                                                  

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Image by pastel100 from Pixabay

Let the season of food begin. We all have our own comfort foods and this rings true especially during the holidays. Comfort food helps you get through a bad day or feel better when you are sick. Certain foods are even associated with treasured memories.

In a broader sense, different parts of the country have certain foods that are indicative of that region like grits in the South, pasties in Upper Michigan, lobster in Maine, etc. Then there are those off-the-wall regional favorites, many of which you can only love if you are raised with them. Some of these include:

Deep-fried Cheese Curds

Deep-fried cheese curds, popular in the upper Midwest. In Canada, folks relish fresh cheese curds and gravy smothering their fries and also the deep-fried variety. Original deep-fried cheese curds are always the most popular food at the Minnesota State Fair.

Chocolate Gravy

Chocolate gravy is made with flour, fat, cocoa powder and varying amounts of sugar. It is more popular in the South, served as a Sunday morning dish over biscuits and gravy. Head to the Ozarks and Appalachia and you are sure to cross paths with this favorite. The first time I encountered it was recently in a restaurant in New Castle, IN. Apparently, it is moving north!

Loco Moco

Loco Moco is one of Hawaii’s most popular comfort foods. Expecting it to be something made with pineapple, I was surprised to learn that it is white rice topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg and brown gravy.


Goetta says Cincinnati all over it. Locals refer to the scrapple-like breakfast food as “Cincinnati caviar”. It was originally created as a way for German immigrants to save money and extend their ground pork or beef supply by adding steel-cut oats. The meat and oat mixture is shaped into a loaf and then sliced and fried in pork fat until it is brown and crispy at the edges. 

Reindeer Hotdogs

Reindeer hotdogs are a popular treat in Alaska. Mike Anderson of M. A.’s Gourmet Dogs in Anchorage has served this popular street food for 20 years. Made with caribou (reindeer) meat, grilled franks are topped with Coca Cola caramelized onions. The meat is readily available in Alaska and the Alaska Sausage and Seafood ships smoked reindeer sausage spiced with coriander and white pepper so the rest of us in the lower states can also enjoy.


Geoduck is a popular food in the Pacific Northwest. It gets its name from the leathery siphon protruding from the six-inch shell of the Geoduck clam that lives in the waters off Washington and British Columbia. The clams weigh about 3 pounds, can be 100 years old and the edible siphon can grow to lengths of three feet. The tender body meat is sautéed in butter with shiitake mushrooms and asparagus.

Fried Diamondback Rattlesnake

Fried diamondback rattlesnake is a delicacy in Texas. The world’s largest rattlesnake roundup is in Sweetwater, TX where the snakes are captured in the desert, skinned and then battered and fried. I have heard the word “delicious” used to describe them, however I think I will pass.


Turducken hails from Louisiana. Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme invented this dish of chicken stuffed inside of a duck stuffed inside of a turkey with all bones removed so it slices like a multi-ringed pork loaf. NFL commentator Joe Madden ate one during a New Orleans-Saints game in 1997 and made it famous.


Chitlins, this food also originated in the South. Sometimes known as chitterlings, this traditional soul food dish is made from the small intestines of pigs. After a thorough cleaning, they are slowly simmered until fork-tender and then breaded and deep fried.


Provel is known in St. Louis, MO. It is a Velveeta-like processed cheese product made with mild cheddar, Swiss and provolone cheeses with liquid smoke added. It was first made popular by Imo’s Pizza in St. Louis as a pizza topping. Today, the famous St. Louis style pizza uses Provel cheese on crispy, thin-crusted square slices of pizza.

Pickled Pigs’ Feet

Pickled pigs’ feet, a southern delicacy, are pigs’ feet that are slow-cured in a brine of white vinegar, salt and spices and preserved in a jar. Fans navigate through fat and gristle to find bits of vinegary ham-like meat. They are usually eaten straight from the jar with some hot sauce.


Scrapple is straight from the Pennsylvania Dutch. They were resourceful in creating a farmhouse pate as a way to use up the unpopular parts of a pig such as the head, organ meats and sometimes the skin. These parts are boiled with cornmeal then pressed and baked in a loaf pan. Slices of it are then fried. Pon haus is a cousin of scrapple. Many folks think they are one and the same even though there are slight differences. Usually, folks are fans of one or the other.


Bull Testicles

Bull testicles, not surprisingly, are popular in the West. Testicles are sliced, battered and deep-fried. Yep, you read that right! Usually bulls or bison supply the meats which are also known as Rocky Mountain oysters or prairie oysters. Whatever the name, it is the same animal part. An annual festival is held in Clinton, MT and is called none other than the Testy Festy!

Hot Browns

Hot Browns is a Kentucky classic started in the 1920’s as a late-night indulgence for revelers at Louisville’s Brown Hotel. It is an open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich topped with creamy Moray sauce.


Stuffies are served in southern New England, especially in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Stuffies are Qualog clams stuffed with chopped clam, sausage, bread crumbs and herbs.


Acutaq is the Alaskan Eskimo version of ice cream. Its origins date back thousands of years and was created as a portable snack for Alaskan Inuit hunters on extended trips. It is fat rendered from polar bears mixed with seal oil, berries and snow. Modern versions mix shortening, berries, sugar and water (or snow if available).

Frito Pie

Frito pie, now popular as fast foods and fair food, originated in Texas. It is a conglomerate of Fritos, chili and cheese, often called a “walking taco”. No matter what you call them, they are the original “messy Marvins”!

Alligator Sausage

Alligator sausage hails from New Orleans and is a mixture of alligator meat and pork. This sausage is usually used in gumbos and stews.

Garbage Plate

Garbage plate is a concoction from upstate New York. Macaroni salad is combined with potatoes and topped with meat (sausage, steak, meat patties or hot dogs), mustard and chopped onion. Some versions “grow” until they weigh upwards of three pounds…very appropriate name!

Watergate Salad

Watergate salad is one of the South’s versions of a salad although it is probably as far from healthy as you can get. This southern favorite combines pistachio pudding, crushed pineapple, Cool Whip, mini marshmallows and nuts.


Chaudin hails from the Cajun low country. It is roasted hog stomach stuffed with a sausage mixture and served sliced over rice with Holy Trinity Gravy, which is a local favorite in itself. The gravy is made with flour, browned onion, bell peppers, celery and garlic. The Pennsylvania Dutch have their own version of stuffed pig belly with sausage, cabbage, potatoes and seasonings. I make this quite often although I choose tin foil instead of pig belly.

This list could go on with many more local favorites. Part of the fun of traveling is experiencing local flavor. So, this year you could add some of these regional favorites to your menu…or not. My only suggestion would be to know what is in it before you eat it!

Kitchen Garden Provides Veggies All Year

Country MoonFor all of us die-hard gardeners, the world is just not right when something green is not growing. That’s why late fall and the winter months seem so terribly long.

Kitchen gardens provide the perfect solution to the winter doldrums. The concept is really very simple; it is growing vegetables from veggie stumps and vegetable scraps. These are usually tossed but, with just a little work, they can regenerate many times over.

Many varieties lend themselves well to this method. A few of the more popular ones are:


Celery stalks can be grown from a stump. Merely cut the bottom two inches off the bottom of a celery stalk and plant it root-side down in a saucer of water or into one or two inches of potting soil or moist sand. Leaves, then tender stalks will appear from the center. When it is well-rooted, put it in a bigger pot and enjoy fresh stems and leaves for months.

Image by RitaE from Pixabay

Lettuce, Bok Choy, and Cabbage

Place leaves from these plants in a bowl with just a little water. Put the bowl where it gets plenty of sunlight and mist the leaves with water a couple times a week. After a few days, when roots and new leaves appear, plant the new plants in soil.


This herb grows just like grass. Place the leftover root in a bowl or jar with enough water to cover it and leave it in the sunlight. After a week, put it in the herb garden or a pot.

Bean Sprouts

Soak a tablespoon of your favorite beans in a jar with shallow water. Leave overnight and then drain the water and put the beans in a container. Cover the container with a towel overnight and rinse in the morning. Keep doing this until sprouts appear and reach the size you want.


Wash avocado seeds and use a toothpick to suspend them over water in a bowl. Water should cover the bottom inch of the seed. Keep it in a warm place but not in direct sunlight. Check the water each day and add more as needed. It can take six weeks for the stem and root to appear. Once the stem is 6 inches high, cut it back to 3 inches. When leaves appear, plant the seed in soil, leaving half an inch above ground.

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Photo Courtesy of Getty images


Potatoes can be started from peelings. Cut the peelings into two-inch pieces, making sure that each piece has at least 2 or 3 eyes in it. Allow them to dry overnight and then plant 4 inches deep in soil, with the eyes facing up. In a few weeks you will have new potato plants.

Sweet Potatoes

Cut each one in half and suspend it in the same manner as for avocados. Roots will appear in a few days and sprouts can be seen on top of the potato. Once the sprouts are 4 inches long, twist them off and put in a container of water. When the roots are an inch in length, place them in sand.


Ginger is easy to re-grow and it will provide you with a steady supply for months. Simply place a spare piece in potting soil. New shoots and roots will appear in about a week. Pull it up and use it again. Be sure to always save a piece of rhizome from each new plant so you can keep the cycle going.


Cut off the top and insert a few toothpicks to hold it above a container of water. Keep it in direct sunlight and change the water every other day, making sure to keep the container full. Roots will appear in about a week. Plant them in soil outside and in cooler climates, keep them inside.

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Photo Courtesy of Getty images


Just pull a clove off and plant it with the roots facing down. Place in direct sunlight and once roots appear, cut them back so you get a bulb. Part of the new bulb can be planted again.


Cut the root of the onion off, leaving half inch of onion attached. Cover lightly with potting soil and keep in a sunny area. For green onions, put the entire white base with the roots in water and set it in direct sunlight. Change the water every few days. Snip off what you need and let the rest grow.


Take your jack-o’-lantern and wash and dry the seeds. Spread the seeds in a sunny area and cover with soil. Even easier, you can plant the entire jack-o’-lantern, just fill with soil and plant the whole fruit.


Save the seeds, plant in potting soil and keep in direct light. These grow fast so you can keep saving seeds over and over.

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Photo Courtesy of Getty images


You can have those fresh tomatoes and BLT’s all winter. Plant seeds indoors in pots, make sure they get plenty of sunlight and water a couple times a week.


Salvage the tops of turnips and put them in a container of water. New green tops appear in a few days. Allow roots to grow until they are ready to be transplanted. This works for many root crops like beets and parsnips.


You can grow an entire new tree from a pit. Keep it in cold storage a few weeks so it will germinate. Clean it, put it in nutrient-rich soil and put it in the fridge in a lidded container. Leave it three months and then plant outside.


Remember Johnny Appleseed? Apple seeds can be planted, just allow them to dry first. However, several seeds from the same apple will yield different kinds of apple trees. You will need at least two trees for them to grow well. This technique can be used with peaches, nectarines and plums too.


Save your seeds and grow dwarf trees inside. Meyer lemons produce smaller plants so they are a better choice for indoors. Just clean and dry the seeds and plant in rich soil. Be patient though, you will have to wait a couple years for your efforts to pay off.

Hazelnuts and Chestnuts

These trees can also be grown from seed. Just dry them out well before planting and remember to plant more than one for cross pollination.

This is just a partial list of fruits and vegetables that can be grown right in your own kitchen. Now, you can’t get much fresher than this!

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