Mushroom Barley Vegetable Soup


My birthday is just days away, so I went to the license bureau to renew my car’s registration. One of my neighbors works there, and she asked me about my back. It so happens that she is also having trouble with her lumbar spine, so I commiserated with her briefly about my muscle spasms that have been flaring up this week. She advised me, “You need celery.”

The line was moving too quickly for me to ask how celery had helped her. Obviously food choices do have an impact on health. I’m uncertain of what magic celery could work on muscle spasms. Perhaps it is one of many fruits and vegetables that reduce inflammation.

This is the second time this week my curiosity has been piqued about celery. Yesterday I read a superb food history article called “Celery Was the Avocado Toast of the Victorian Era” by Heather Ardnt Anderson. It seems strange indeed that such an unremarkable vegetable once occupied center stage on the dinner table.

All of this reflection on celery inspires me to share my favorite recipe that includes this vegetable.

Mushroom Barley Vegetable Soup

Serves 6

  • 2 T butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cups sliced carrots
  • 1/2 pound sliced mushrooms
  • 5 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 t freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking barley
  • 1 14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 15 oz can dark red kidney beans, drained
  • 4 cups beef or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, chopped (I used a whole bunch from the grocery store because I love parsley)

Melt butter in dutch oven over medium heat. Add diced onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, carrot, celery, ground pepper, and bay leaf. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes, beans, barley, and broth. Cover pan with lid and let simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables and barley are tender. Stir in chopped parsley, remove bay leaf, and serve.


PB&J Smoothie


A few days ago my daughter and I visited a smoothie shop that recently opened in our neighborhood. While their fare was delightful (and I wish them the best of luck with their business), I walked away calculating how I could make similar drinks that could cost less in dollars and calories.

My childhood love of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches has not diminished in adulthood. This smoothie uses frozen fruit and peanut powder to infuse this drink with PB&J flavor with less fat and added sugar.

This time I used frozen grapes, but almost any fruit that freezes well would work in this recipe. I froze these grapes myself almost four months ago, and they are still holding up well in my freezer. After rinsing and drying them, I plucked them from their stems and packed them in freezer bags. Once frozen, they are great in smoothies and homemade sorbet. I suppose they could also be used in place of ice cubes in cold drinks.

PB&J Smoothie

Makes one serving

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 frozen sliced banana
  • 1/2 cup frozen grapes (plus a few more for garnish)
  • 3 T peanut powder

Place all ingredients in blender and pulse until smooth. Serve topped with a few frozen grapes.


Pizza Buffet

Last year I endured a minor tragedy in electronics that lead to my owning a smart phone with an awful camera. My Samsung S5 tanked just days after the manufacturer’s warranty expired, and my cell phone insurance did not cover loss in the event of failure due to a restart cycle so relentless the phone could eventually reach a blacksmith range temperature. Since I am batty, I am imagining a cell phone glowing with enough heat to fashion horse shoes.

Back to the phone topic, I bought a cheap replacement phone, the LG V8, which retailed for just $144 when it was still available. This phone is adequate in every way except for its camera. In low light, the pictures have so much noise that the raw pictures look like time travelling back to the dawn of digital photography.

This evening we enjoyed a pizza buffet at a local bowling alley. We stopped in the parking lot because it hosted a donation drive for Hurricane Harvey relief, and we ventured into the bowling alley for the buffet.

I tried taking some shots of dinner, but this is the best I could do:


Why the frame? It distracts from the noise in the picture, and it so happens that we had such a good time at dinner that the moment seemed worthy of such polish.

Our dinner conversations are typically full of tangents. My daughter is taking German this year in school, and she let me know that she found four different words in translation for the word dewlap, which is the double chin found on some female rabbits and male guinea pigs. She also reminded me that people get dewlaps as well . . . and my early turkey neck qualifies as a starter dewlap.

Before we left the subject of dewlaps, she informed us that she found a German Men’s Health article about a double-chin-slimming workout (Gesichtsgymnastick: Das Anti-Doppelkinn-Training).

Some horse race from Saratoga was playing on the TV in the bowling alley, so my husband and I mused about the average size of the horse jockeys. What could their maximum height and weight be? 5’3″ and 100 pounds was my guess. I also remembered how my mom told me in the midst of the Monkees resurgence of the 80’s that Davy Jones had been a horse jockey before his stint in the Pre-Fab Four. My husband recalled this bit of trivia from his youth, too (btw, he was in grade school when “Daydream Believer” was a hit).

The pizza itself was unremarkable aside from its abundance and price. The sauce had bright flavor and well carmelized cheese, but the crust was average. Given the cost of this dinner, I can’t expect anything approaching perfection. All three of us dined to the border of gluttony for a little less than $20.

This was yet another pit stop in my attempt to lose my post-surgery weight, but the family bonding we had at this dinner made this falling-off-the-wagon totally worth it.

Adding on 9/2/17:

I forgot to mention that our dinner conversation included the topic of Manifest Destiny because my daughter noticed that one of the horses on the Saratoga race on TV had that name. Of course I had to mention that glorious scene in Family Guy wherein Stewie proclaims “Manifest Destiny!” in reference to their road trip from Rhode Island to San Francisco . . . which brings me to one of my favorite moments from that series. Stewie has stolen a camper during part of that transcontinental trip, and he insists that he can keep on driving straight to San Francisco because he’d taken some pills that a trucker had nicknamed West Coast Turnaround. There are so many transgressive things about that scene, and it all collides in a delightful way.

2017 Allen County Fair, Part 2

Dancing Puppets

My family had a great time yesterday during our yearly visit to the Allen County Fair. This trip is our last bit of summer revelry before the school year begins. This year’s fair was replete with the vibrant colors and irresistible smells of food trucks:

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I believe that a carnival is no place for calorie counting, so I indulged in two abominations of nutrition, deep-fried dill pickles . . .


. . . and deep fried cookie dough:

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Both were extremely tasty, but I preferred the pickles. The doughnut-tender coating on the cookie dough was exquisite, but the filling was too molten hot for me. The tray in which it was served couldn’t be carried about long enough at the fair to let this dessert cool for long.

The domestic competitions in cooking, quilting, and the like are a vital part of the fair. This year’s entries included a whimsical dog quilt:


Along with hundreds of jellies and pickles:


And this intriguing layer cake:


I’m not sure if political booths are a conventional part of county fairs, but they are present every year at our fair:


The difference in those two pictures reflects the reality of politics in Allen County. Republicans definitely have the majority here. Many people here vote a straight Republican ticket with little reflection and no irony, kind of like the guy who wore a Johnny Bench jersey to the fair. When I think of Johnny Bench, the first and only thing that comes to mind is that 70’s commercial he did for Preparation H that featured him sliding into home base with his rear dragging the ground.

Back to the topic of our evening at the fair . . . five hours slipped away before I stopped long enough to wonder what time it was. By eleven o’clock, the lines for carnival rides had grown thin, and the food trucks were shutting down for the night. As we walked back to our car in the dark, I suggested that we visit another county fair or two before fair season ends in late September. I hope we will discover that a fair is just as delightful when it’s wedged into the school year.

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A Frying Pan Full of Bacon Offers a Gift of Time


Late summer is a busy time for me. The start of school looms closer for my daughter, and I am helping to cover for vacations at work. When I’ve had time to spare, I’ve preferred to devote it to conversations with my daughter or my husband. If they would prefer time alone (because the three of us are an alliance of natural loners), I’ve indulged in some TV or light reading. For once I’m reading Father Brown stories with both of my eyes open, instead of dozing off as Chesterton zooms in on the cleric and his frequent sidekick Flambeau as they witness and anatomize yet another variety of mayhem.

Right now I have bacon frying on my stove top. I used to regret that I take so long to cook bacon. Whenever I rush the process, flavor is the sacrifice. I’ve grown to appreciate the time it affords me to slow down for a spell after work.

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