Author Archives: Patsy Bell

Darwin Tulips. They’re back!

You remember the beautiful giant tulips, I planted? A different color display every year?

Last fall, for the first time in a long time, I simply did not have the energy to make the massive planting. Multiple sclerosis and fatigue ruled my world. No more tulips.


Darwin tulips dancing in the sun. PBH

So this morning, my heart soared to see these few tulips in bloom. They are Darwin Tulips a few from last year and a few from the year before. The blooms are half their original size.

Daffodils just go where ever they want. The tulips are right where I planted them. PBH

Not what they used to be, but stubborn and still around. Now that’s a blooming blessing, don’t cha think?

Late and long-lasting,Thalia daffodil tries to steal the show. Tulips are blooming from last springs display.

I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers. ~Claude Monet

Homemade Vegetable Broth Two Ways

Double the flavor and nutrition by making homemade vegetable soup with your own vegetable broth. PBH

Vegetable broth is easy to make, vitamin-rich and flavorful. Veggie broth at my kitchen turns out a little different every time, depending on what kitchen scraps are available. For example there are no tomatoes in the broth this time of year but plenty long-storing aromatics like onion, garlic, carrots and celery.

Flavorful vegetable broth can start with a garden bursting at the seems. As you process veggies for canning and freezing save the peelings, food scraps and leftovers to make a rich broth. PBH

Make it you own, adding what you like to eat. Start with what you have and take advantage of reduced-price and overstocked grocery store vegetables. I always have onion and garlic root tips and tops, the leaves and base of a celery stalk, carrot stubs, parsley and mushroom stems.

I always add some dried herbs, pepper flakes or peppercorns and a bit of salt. Or, leave out the salt and add a piece of nori. Wait until you using the  broth in a recipe to adjust the salt, herbs and spices.

Add sautéed or roasted vegetables to a quart or two of water. Chopped and simmering produce will release its flavors and vitamins into the water creating a simple soothing broth. PBH

Make Vegetable Stock from Vegetable Scraps

As you prep vegetables, freeze the vegetable scraps. I keep a big zip-lock bag in the freezer and place all vegetable trimmings in the bag as you prepare meals. Peelings and tough stem  are loaded with nutrients.

Use the tough stems and ribs of asparagus, kale, chard, and herbs. Root vegetable peels like onions, potatoes, and parsnips go in the bag. Use green onions, carrots, green beans, celery tops and tips.

Include those neglected veggies in the crisper.  Adding onion skins and mushroom stems will create a darker, richer colored broth.

Cook vegetables in a large dutch oven until softened, about 5 – 10 minutes, stirring often. Add 8-10 cups of water, frozen vegetable scraps, bay leaves, whole herb springs, parsley, and garlic cloves, even nori or miso if you like. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partly covered, for 45 minutes to an hour. 

Pour the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large heat-proof bowl or pot; discard solids. Let cooked vegetables slowly drain, but do not mash the vegetables, if you want a clear broth.

Strain cooked herbs vegetables out of the soup pot.Taste and adjust the seasoning. PBH

Use Fresh Whole Vegetables to Make Broth

If you are starting with fresh vegetables, scrub everything. Chop in consistent sizes, like one inch chunks. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Spread over a parchment lined cookie sheet and roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Stir vegetables, add whole cloves of unpeeled garlic and whole springs of herbs such as thyme or rosemary. Roast a total of 25 to 30 minutes. Stirring once or twice during cooking. If the vegetables are not roasted and fork tender, stir again and place in the oven for five-minute intervals until vegetables are soft.

Take care not to burn vegetables. The goal is to caramelize the vegetables. Caramelization brings out a nutty flavor and sweet, golden brown color.

Add vegetables to a large soup pot or dutch oven. Pour in 8-10 cups of cold water, bay leaves, whole springs of parsley, thyme and oregano (your choice). Bring to just boiling.

Reduce heat to slowly simmer, partly covered, for 45 minutes.  Turn off heat. Allow the broth to cool until you can safely handle the next steps.

The strained broth is clear and golden. Dried mushrooms, onion peels, a teaspoon of miso or a bit of nori will bring the broth another layer of flavor.

Pour the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large heat-proof bowl. Discard solids. Let cooked vegetables drain, but do not mash them, if you want a clear broth. Pressing the vegetables into the strainer will result in cloudy broth.

For the clearest broth, stain again using a colander lined with cheese cloth or coffee filters.

Using and Storing Vegetable Broth

• Add flavor and nutrients to any dish buy cooking with vegetable broth instead of water. Broth is an excellent soup base. Use it to cook risotto, couscous, or to simmer vegetables.

• Substitute broth for water in casseroles, baked rice, or pasta dishes. It is great for rehydrating vetetables, sun-dried tomatoes or dried mushrooms.

• Get Well. This nutrient dense flavor booster is just right if you have a sore throat during cold and flu season. Add the juice of a half lemon. As you begin to eat foods again, simmer a few noodles or favorite vegetables in the broth.

Keep broth refrigerated for up to 2 days, or freeze it. I freeze veggie broth in 1 cup or 2 cup portions and  even freeze plastic quart containers of broth for soup base. Measure broth into individual containers and freeze. Remember, liquid expands when it freezes. After the cup size containers of broth are frozen, pop the broth blocks out of the container and store in a zip-lock freezer bag.

If you are feeling lucky, store in quart size zip-lock freezer bags. Be sure to leave room for expansion when the broth freezes. It boosts my confidence to put the filled quart zip-lock into a larger one gallon bag just until it freezes solid.

It costs nothing to make food taste richer. Vegetable broth is free flavor.

Vegetarians Are Growing

Vegetarians and vegans are sprouting up everywhere this spring!

Pansies and lettuce. Grow edible flowers and spring greens together. Photo pbh.

As a lifetime gardener and resent vegan, I want to share my growing enthusiasm. Grab a package or two of seed and let’s get growing. Now is the perfect time to start salad greens, kale, radishes.

Seeds Want to Grow

Start seedling indoors to transplant in the spring garden in a few weeks.

Even if you don’t have a garden, many of us can find space on  porch steps, a window sill, or a five gallon pickle bucket by the driveway. All you need is a sunny spot. Access to water is handy.

Give them a little soil in a sunny spot and seeds will grow.  A 4′ x 4′ raised bed is ideal but any container or an abandoned leaky bucket will grow a few green sprouts. Containers don’t have to be fancy. Just make sure there is a drainage hole in the bottom.

 Seedlings need light and well-drained soil

Thinned baby Napa cabbages growing in toilet paper roll planters. Photo pbh.

Grab some seed, it’s easy to find this time of year, and plant something, anything. Cool season crops, are vegetable plants that grow best in the spring. You can grow and harvest these early greens well before it’s warm enough to plant tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.

Grow your own salad.  Try lettuce, spinach, radish. Plant a few seed and wait to plant a few more seed in a couple of weeks to stretch out your harvest. It’s OK if you plant to closely, just thin out the seedlings and eat them.

Now is a good time to start cool season herbs, like chervil. These fragile greens are hard to find and expensive to buy. They are the gourmet privilege of home gardeners.

Sow Many Seeds

As you thin peas and onions to proper spacing, add the thinned seedlings to the salad bowl or stir-fry. Photo pbh

There are lots of seeds in a packet. Plant a few and wait to plant a few more seed every two weeks all through the spring. Add those thinings to your salad bowl, they are loaded with nutrients.

Spring greens will tell you when it’s time to stop planting.  Cool season crops bolt (go to seed) and turn bitter when it gets too hot. Save any remaining seed for a fall crop.

Seed Sources

I can’t resist the cheap seeds in the grocery and drug stores. Still, I buy most of my seed online from trusted seed companies with high germination rates.

Renee’s Garden : Chervil, cilantro, baby pak choi, a variety of lettuces, and several types of radish.

Sun, water, seeds. It’s all you need. Any container will do. I’m growing flowers in a couple of leaky watering cans.

What did you grow for dinner?

Aren’t you glad you grew this?

Sun Gold sweet tangerine-orange hybrid cherry tomatoes.

Cherry tomatoes are the first to ripen in the garden. When the full size tomatoes, start to ripen, the little cherries and pears continue to prolifically produce all summer until first frost.

Suddenly you have more tomatoes than you can eat. Time to get out the dehydrator. Halved cherries  make great “sun-dried” tomatoes. The sweet, dried essence of these fruits is a gourmet garden bonus.

Dinner tonight is a Mediterranean style pasta dish made with homegrown sun-dried tomatoes, and colorful bell peppers.

It’s cold outside. My abandoned garden patch looks stark and lonely out there in the single digit weather.

Inside the warm kitchen, I’m cooking up some of the fruits of my labor. Thank heavens I dried the overabundance of cherry tomatoes. They are a gourmet treat too expensive for my budget.

You can grow that! And now is the time. Order seeds for tomato plants. The sun-dried cherry tomatoes make every dish richer, even canned tomato soup.

I ordered Tricolor Cherry Tomatoes, Garden Candy and Heirloom Mini Tomatoes Red & Yellow Pear from Renee’s Garden 

In my zone 6b garden in southeast Missouri, I’ll start tomato and pepper seed in mid March. Start seed 6 to 8 weeks before planting out doors. I start tomatoes under grow lights, Grandmother started seeds in a Dixie cup on the window sill.

To find your plant hardiness zone, simply type in a ZIP Code at the USDA Plant Hardiness web page.

Mini tomatoes are the first to ripen. They will be your first homegrown tomato this summer. As the full size tomatoes come on, begin dehydrating the cherries and pears.

The intense tomato flavor of dried tomatoes is a flavor boost to pizza, salad dressings, and soups.

Tonight’s dinner will have tomatoes and peppers from last summer’s garden.

Pasta salad served hot or cold.

Recipe: Mediterranean Pasta Salad

Main: cooked pasta   (2 ounces dry pasta per person)

Add sun-dried tomatoes, bell pepper, mixed olives. (1 cup of each vegetable)

Dress with Lemon juice and olive oil, you favorite salad dressing, or balsamic vinegar.

Garnish with a handful of fresh, chopped herbs and a tablespoon or two  of toasted nuts or seeds.

Make it your own –  Add meats and cheeses, if you like. Anything you would find on an antipasto plate, could be added. Salami, mini mozzarella cheese balls, canned tuna, giardiniera.

It’s still Christmas, for Christ’s sake!

Christmas is not over.  Any woman who just gave birth knows that. This is just the beginning.

I don’t get why you shut down, turned off and boxed up Christmas. I choose to keep Christmas just a little longer. It’s now the 12 days of Christmas.

If you go to a Catholic church, you know Christmas is really the beginning. It’s the Grand Opening of the holiday, not the grand finale. Christmas hymns, we are just getting started.

It took days, weeks, maybe even months, of wrapping, baking and planning. There are still wishes to grant, prayer lists to be prayed, lonely folks to be called.

Think of all those gifts made, ordered, mailed, hidden, wrapped, returned, eaten. Sit down and write a thank you note or two. Even if a gift is not involved, say thanks to a helpful person, thoughtful neighbor, exhausted pizza delivery girl.


I’m still looking for that perfect Christmas gift I hid somewhere so I would never forget and that Jeff would never find.


Now, I hope he finds it.


You don’t just box up the nativity set, blow out the candles, fold up the tree and walk away. The star of the show just arrived. It’s still Christmas, for Christ’s sake!

If you are one of those Keep Christ in Christmas folks, do that now. Charities are still accepting donations, folks are still homeless, hungry, cold, and someone you know is thinking about committing suicide tonight.


A Black Beauty by any other name

Sweet Bell Pepper Finale

The name of this pepper is Purple Beauty. But I think it should be named Black Beauty. They are so pretty, I’ve left them on the plant until the last-minute. Growing profusely, bell peppers love the cooler days at the end of summer,

The sturdy stemmed plant grew to about 2 1/2′ tall with plenty of leaves to shade the peppers from the sun.

This bell pepper grows on compact plants producing blocky, deep-purple peppers. The mild, sweet flavored peppers are loaded with vitamins C, A and beta carotene.

Purple beauty matures to bright red.

I grew one plant of several varieties this year, including red,  yellow and chocolate-colored bell peppers. The purple beauty was the most prolific. Plant production really picked up after the temperatures cooled.

Bell peppers don’t have to be staked. The stakes are just a precaution because a sudden wind storm can snap a loaded pepper plant.

Purple BeautyCapsicum annuum is thick-walled, mild flavored and juicy like all bell peppers. These shiny dark peppers turn green when cooked. Close your eyes and you can’t taste the difference between green, purple or red peppers.

The purple pepper is so dark it looks black.

All the peppers, large and small must be picked before the first fall frost.

If there are more peppers than can be used fresh, chop and freeze them for winter use. I chop or cut the bells into strips and freeze.

This assortment of frozen chopped peppers are perfect to add to soup, stew, chili and casseroles. Bell pepper strips are perfect to use in fajitas and stir-fry.

I grew these black bells from Peaceful Valley organic seed.

Heaps of peppers, a rainbow of colorful bells and every Anaheim and Poblano had to brought in before the first freeze. There are several ways to quickly preserve those peppers while they are still crisp and fresh.

I canned a couple of half pint jars of roasted red peppers. Most bell peppers are chopped and frozen. Chilies are roasted, peeled, chopped and frozen into ice-cube trays.

Yellow peppers will make a tasty golden salsa.

Roasted red peppers are perfect for pasta dishes and antipasto trays. Chopped frozen peppers, can be dropped directly into pots of chili, vegetable soups and baked dishes. Roasted chili peppers will brighten winter casseroles, enchiladas, stews.



The Last Tomato

 Tomato reviews

A big green Omar’s Lebanese tomato will ripen to a juicy pink, almost red color. The last tomato of the season is also the biggest one of the year. As the green tomatoes slowly ripen, we’ll have home-grown tomatoes for at least a week.

The best of Dr. Carolyn Male’s extensive 1995 heirloom tomato trials, Omar’s Lebanese Tomato.

This is the day a gardener runs out to the garden gathering up the last vegetable remnants of the season. The kitchen counter is heaped with any tomato with a touch of color. They will ripen gradually, depending how ripe they are when picked.

Garden season is nearly done for me. There’s still sweet potatoes to dig and garlic to plant. The stars of the garden, tomatoes, herbs and peppers are finished in the garden.

Best Big Tomato

Omar’s Lebanese

Omar’s Lebanese is an heirloom variety from Omar Saab of Lebanon. This pink indeterminate grows big tomatoes on heavy vines that must be strongly supported or staked.

An heirloom grown by farmers in a Lebanese hill town, it is a juicy and meaty beefsteak type tomato. The regular leaf plant produces  irregularly shaped 1-pound+ tomatoes mid to late season.

Some of the tomatoes in my garden suffered from blight. But Omar’s Lebanese was producing hefty fruit on healthy vines right up until the freeze.

Pick all tomatoes with a hint of color. Extend the tomato season by a week or two.

It’s been a great run, home-grown tomatoes June to October.





Best Dwarf Tomato

 Bush 506 Container Tomato

Bush 506 is drought tolerant and blemish free.

Bush 506 dwarf plant, full-sized tomatoes.

The earliest tomato and one of the latest tomatoes on the deck is the Bush 506 Container Tomato. This dwarf bush tomato plant will only reach 18-24″ tall and has a medium-large sized red juicy fruits.

They are great for container growing as the plants stay compact and have thick, upright stems producing 9 oz. fruits. Bush 506 is a good choice for dwarf size plants that produces full-sized tomatoes.

Bush 506 produced the earliest and latest tomatoes of the season.

Best new cocktail tomato

Red Racer F1, cocktail tomato

Red Racer, perfect red, round, tomatoes

On June 7, I planted 3 tomato plants sent by Harris seed. I planted the Red Racer 2018 AAS Edible – Vegetable Winner. Red Racer, a cocktail size tomato, producing small, round red fruits.

Although larger than cherry or grape tomatoes, cocktail tomatoes are a smaller variety tomato. These round, red, blemish free cocktail tomatoes have a good sweet/acid balance.

The compact determinate plants produce fruit a week earlier than comparison plants. They thrived in the planter boxes on a deck in the full sun. Red Racer is a great choice for small spaces and container gardens.

Padrón, the surprise party pepper

Fun & Tasty Little Snack Peppers

Padrón Peppers (Pimientos de Padrón)

These little Spanish peppers are usually fried in oil, salted and served as tapas. I first tried them in a restaurant and soon began a search for seed. They are easy to find in many seed catalogs.

Padrón Peppers are picked when about 1 1/2″ long.

They are cone-shaped and picked when very small, at about 1″ or 1 1/2″ long. They are pictured here with medium-sized red bell peppers for size comparison.






Playing with your food

Eating these snack peppers is a great garden party game. It’s “Spanish roulette,”  nine out of ten peppers are mildly flavored. One in ten is a taste explosion in you mouth.

Size is not an indicator of heat.

You won’t know until you eat the pepper whether it is hot or mild. The look or size of the Padrón peppers offer no clues. The weather or time of the growing season is not a heat indicator.

I grew Padrón peppers on the deck in 5-gallon buckets and in the garden along side other hot and sweet peppers. Next year, I’ll grow more plants because I love the taste of these tiny peppers.




Blistered Padrón Peppers

1/2 pound of Padrón peppers

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Course sea salt

Heat a large skillet over high heat, add oil.  Add peppers to the hot oil, tossing to stir. Cook for about 3 or 4 minutes or, until skins are blistered and peppers are softened. Transfer to a bowl, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat.


Sizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with salt, the flavor of these delicious peppers is down right tasty. Course salt will add not only flavor but also some texture to this simple summer appetizer.


Padrón Peppers (Pimientos de Padrón) Ready to serve in 4 minutes.






Today’s Harvest Basket 10/19

Basket of Gold

Pineapple tomatoes, eggplant, golden bell peppers.

The harvest basket is loaded with end-of-the-season vegetables. Four of the tomatoes hover just around the one-pound mark.

One of my favorite heirloom tomatoes. The beautiful yellow fruit with red marbling through the flesh. The flavor is very sweet and fruity; good yields!

Simply replace red tomatoes with yellow in your favorite recipe.

One slice of these big tomatoes will cover a slice of bread. Tomato sandwiches, BLT’s and fresh eating are where these tomatoes shine. The late glut of 1-pound globes will also make a small batch of golden salsa.






About the Seed

I purchased the original Pineapple tomato seed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. This year, I am going to save seed. These are beautiful tomatoes, though not always high yielding. Try them.

These are big plants that need heavy staking. Pineapple tomatoes are late season producers, sometimes weighing as much as 2 pounds. While some tomato plants succumbed to blight, this plant remained healthy all season.

Also grown from seed:

Long yellow eggplant is a mild, prolific Asian eggplant. The peppers are sweet Golden Cal Wonder Peppers.







Today’s Harvest Basket 10/17

Tomatoes in October

Tomatoes weighing a pound to and ounce fill the basket. Makings for the last garden fresh ratatouille and gazpacho are in this basket.

October 2017 tomato, pepper and eggplant harvest is the biggest all year. Everyday from now on is borrowed time. Green tomatoes just a few days from ripening can be picked just before that first frost warning.

The dehydrator is filled with tomatoes. Some will be made into tomato powder. It will thicken and enrich soups and sauces. Plus, this dehydrated bounty takes up very little room. A good thing since the pantry and freezer are loaded.

All the tomatoes and peppers that the family will eat from now till next summer, are canned, dried or frozen. I bought some of the produce at the farmers market, including onions, corn and green beans. I know where this food came from and how it is grown.

True homesteading isn’t possible in our case. But eating locally grown, tomatoes all year is possible. That includes fresh tomatoes for 5 or 6 months, plus, all the salsa, pasta sauce, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato soup we will eat for one year.

The canned, dried or frozen tomatoes will go into, chili, soups, stew, enchiladas, and casseroles. It’s comforting to know that we won’t have to buy any tasteless mass market tomatoes or imported peppers all year.

Tomato soup made fresh from scratch.

Whole paste tomatoes are frozen. On a cold snowy day the full bag will simmer on the stove top into something “tomatoey”. Maybe a dark, thick tomato sauce simmered low and slow, or vegetable soup.

These fresh picked heirloom tomatoes will be savored fresh as insalata Caprese, ratatouille, gazpacho and in salads.

There are a few more tomatoes, peppers, eggplant. The only other produce left in the garden are herbs and sweet potatoes. Butternut squash is curing on the covered porch.






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