lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

photo of the day

There’s an effort by a group in our neighborhood to help increase the number of bluebirds in our area. We’ve spotted them on rare occasions over the years, so 2 years ago we put up a house to attract them, which they’ve pointedly ignored both years, This year, I’m happy to say, it looks like they are nesting in our yard. Not in the house we bought for them, of course, but in holes drilled by a woodpecker in an old birch tree in our front yard.


Beautiful little guy, isn’t he?

Happy spring, everyone!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

hello March

Hallelujah, it’s finally March. It’s still snowing here in Northern Illinois but March is here and with it the knowledge that spring is just around the corner. I admit that I tend to hibernate a bit in the cold winter months but now, as the days grow a little longer and the sun shines a little brighter, I can feel my energy level rising.

Also rising are all of my seedlings that I planted in early February. This was the earliest I could start them this year, due to an incredible birthday trip to the French Quarter that my husband surprised me with for my birthday.

Though I used to try and start a number of plants indoors, now I just start tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. New this year, I also started some Imperial Star artichokes, which I’m really hoping gives us some of my favorite veggies this summer. We didn’t have much luck with these the last time we tried, but this time we got an early start. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Here’s one of my beautiful tomato plants:


That’s just a little piece of heaven in my book. A lot of my seeds this year are from Sustainable Seed Company and they germinated quite nicely. I don’t usually start my seeds in Jiffy pots but my mom gave me a bunch of them and I think we all know how I hate for things to go to waste. So this year, I’m back to Jiffy pots and everything is looking good.

Here’s a shot of one of my artichoke plants:


I also started some purple Violetta artichokes, which I ordered from Reimer Seeds, but the first batch failed to sprout so I just planted my second round. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for those.

If you’ve not seen any of my previous posts on seed starting, I plant mine in pots with a base of potting soil and then a 2-inch topping of seed starter. This way, the seed starter is light enough to help the seeds sprout well but the base gives the roots something to really latch onto as they grow.

Also, I have a smallish, portable 3-shelf greenhouse with a cover that I use for starting my seeds. This helps hold in the heat and moisture until everything has sprouted. Lastly, I’m very lucky to have tons of windows to provide lots of sunshine and warmth for my seedlings.

It won’t be long now before we’re tilling up the garden and planting leeks – these will be another “first attempt”, so wish me luck. Man, I love leeks! Then come radishes, beets, peas, lettuce, greens and onions – I ordered some cool black radishes this year that I’m very excited about. Finally, typically in mid-May, everything else will go in – tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, beans, fennel, carrots, etc.

I can’t wait! Are you growing veggies this year? What’s on your garden planner? I’d love to talk veggies, flowers, herbs and dirt…let me know what you’re looking forward to the most.

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

please excuse my mess

If you’ve been a previous visitor to my site, then you can see I’ve made some big changes recently. With a desire to have more control over my content and design, I decided to make the move to a self-hosted site and, with that decision, have thrown my site into a bit of upheaval in the past few days.

I just want to say a big “Thank You” to all my friends and followers for putting up with these changes and I hope you’ll stick with me as I redesign and configure my new “home” here.

I also want to wish you all a very Happy Holiday, no matter what holiday it is you celebrate. I celebrate Christmas and am looking forward to a wonderful time spent with family and friends. Our Christmas tree is up, our lights are out, our home is decorated (well, as much as I decorate anyway) and my fridge and pantry are packed to the gills. I’m truly blessed.

sidecar cocktail lola rugula


Thanks for being a part of my journey here. Cheers!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

reading material

My husband bought me a Kindle as an anniversary gift years ago, when they first came out, and I truly love it. The ability to have an almost-endless variety of books at my disposal 24 hours a day is a dream come true for me.

I bought the much-upgraded Kindle Paperwhite for my mom’s birthday last year and she loves hers, too. I admit I love the touch functions and backlighting on hers, but I’m hard-pressed to give up my original, because I’m terribly sentimental that way.

I’m not always the first to read a best-seller, but my hands-down favorite this year was the Pulitzer Prize winning “The Goldfinch“.

The goldfinch by donna tart.png

Here’s the description from Amazon:

“The Goldfinch is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind….Donna Tartt has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction.”–Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review

Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love–and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

The Goldfinch is a mesmerizing, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.

This book truly enthralled me and made me lose more than a few night’s sleep because I simply couldn’t put it down. I browsed through some of the reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble before posting this and was surprised at the number of people who disliked this book immensely. The most common complaints seems to be that it’s too long, too wordy, and/or too depressing.

With 784 pages, it is without a doubt a long read. Though I didn’t anticipate the dark areas that this novel delves into, I still found it riveting. Life is not always sunshine and roses and neither is this book.

Have you read The Goldfinch? Did you love it or hate it?

Do you own a Kindle? I’m curious to hear what version you have and what you like or don’t like about it. Though I’m still contemplating upgrading mine, for now I’m pretty darned happy with the one I have.

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

preparing for the summer garden

Well, the tomatoes and peppers for my summer garden are on their way. I started my seeds about 2 weeks ago and just thinned them down to 2 plants per pot. I like to start mine in 3 to 4 inch pots  because, in my personal experience, transplanting the seedlings only stunts their growth.


I start them in pots with a base of potting soil, topped off with a good 2 inches of seed starter mix. Seed Starter is a lighter soil mix that’s perfect for starting seeds. I have a little 4-level greenhouse with a zipper cover that I place the trays of pots in and place them by one of our huge sets of sunny windows.

Once the seeds have sprouted and reached about 2 inches in height, I thin them them down to 2-3 plants per pot. Once they’ve really reached a size and strength I’m comfortable with, then I thin them down to 1.  I also then unzip the cover and let them get regular air, as this helps strengthen the plants.

I admit I tend to do a mix of heirloom plants and hybrid plants since we live in a pretty wooded area and sometimes my plants need a little more stability than just the heirloom varieties provide.  As much as I’d love to do all heirloom plants, I’ve discovered through many years of gardening, a mix usually provides me with the best results. I do, however, try and make sure that the seeds I purchase are non-GMO. I try not to support Monsanto whenever possible.

When the springtime finally arrives and, believe me, I can’t wait, I take the entire greenhouse outside and, leaving the cover on, but unzipped, let it sit for another week or two. Then, I remover the cover and let it sit another 2 weeks before finally transplanting into the ground. This process is called “hardening off” and helps make your plants more resilient to real elements they’re going to encounter outside.

Just a side note – make sure you always put a marker with the plant name in your pots so, if one or more of them doesn’t sprout, you know what you need to re-plant. Also, I do recycle a lot of my old pots, but only after washing them really well and then letting them soak, fully immersed, in a solution of bleach and water. You have to be really careful when reusing pots, as you can transfer diseases to your newly-sprouted plants.

Is anyone else starting their garden seeds? I also have some peppers, eggplants and herbs going. This time of year always gets me excited for my summer gardens.

Have I mentioned how much I love digging in the dirt?

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

abreo restaurant rockford, il

Happy New Year 2014!

My husband & I celebrated New Year’s Eve at Abreo Restaurant, in downtown Rockford and it was amazing, just as we knew it would be.

We’re big fans of Abreo, who catered our wedding, and this is our first time there since their remodel. We don’t make it down there as often as we’d like, but we always enjoy our experience there, when we do.

Our dinner reservation was for 8:30, but we arrived at 7:30 to enjoy a cocktail at the bar. The new bar area is beautiful, though the fireplace is gone, which I kind of missed. As my husband noted, it was most likely taking up prime real estate, as far as seating goes, and I have to agree on that point.

We waited only about 40 minutes before they seated us (we were an hour early, remember) and I can’t say I love their new dining area. It may have been a set up strictly for New Year’s Eve, but it’s not nearly as intimate and unique as it used to be.

We were well prepared for the menu offerings for the evening, since I’m a smart cookie and subscribe to their e-newsletter. They offered 2 menus: a three-course for $50 and a five-course for $75. Of course, we opted for the five-course and It didn’t take us long to decide what each of us would be ordering. We agreed to each order something different than the other, so that we could taste a wider variety of things.


Here are the selections that we chose:

First Course:

  • Me: Vodka-cured hamachi, toasted crepes, cream fraiche, chive oil, osetra caviar and pickled fennel
  • Husband: Foie gras torchon, micro herbs, fig, sourdough toast and pickled apple

Second Course:

  • Me: Yellow fin tuna sticky roll, with jicama, mint, cilantro, sesame lemon vinaigrette, wasabi caviar and cucumber
  • Husband: Pork belly with a slow-poached egg, poblano potato mash, frisee, sweet & sour croutons and pickled onion

Third Course:

  • Me: Lobster cocktail, with horseradish brulee, peas, tomato gelee, preserved lemon and micro greens
  • Husband: Roasted beets with frisee and arugula, dijon, aged gouda, red wine vinegar and sunchoke chips

Fourth Course:

  • Me: Coffee-cured beef tenderloin with balsamic jus, roasted mushroom, asparagus and hazzard farm polenta
  • Husband: Elk prime rib with parsnip mash, dried cherries, port wine, roasted brussels sprouts and bacon

Fifth Course:

  • Me: Chocolates – chili, miso, dried cherry, salted caramel and orange lavender
  • Husband: Chambord crepes with raspberry and vanilla

Overall, the shining star was the pork belly dish – my husband & I could have devoured about 6 of them alone and been blissfully happy.

His elk and my tenderloin were the next favorites and temped beautifully. Both were very flavorful and I absolutely loved the coffee flavoring on my tenderloin. We weren’t served steak knives with these, which struck me as odd, especially when I saw other diners with them, but we happily didn’t need them – that’s how tender these cuts of meat were. We each had a glass of Cabernet with our dinner and it was a perfect accompaniment to both of these meats.

The hamachi and caviar where delicious, and I loved the tuna rolls, with its fresh herbs and lemon. The foie gras was good, though it didn’t bowl us over, but we loved the roasted beet dish.

My chocolate dish was pure chocolate overload and could have been split between the two of us. 5 pieces of chocolate was a lot to digest at that point, but my favorites were the chili and the miso, with the caramel a close third.

Sadly, continuing snowfall made for inclement weather and cut our evening a bit shorter than planned.  After enjoying some coffee, we headed back out into the snow, and slowly made our way home.

I hope that if you live in the area and haven’t had a chance to experience Abreo, that you’ll get there in 2014. Service is always friendly and helpful (thank you Melissa and Debbie) and the food is always fabulous. Paul, the owner, splits his time between Abreo and  Social, another fantastic downtown Rockford restaurant; both are worth the trip.

Happy New Year to all my friends and family. Thank you to everyone who helped make my blog a success in 2013 and I hope we’re all blessed in the year to come.