Custoza Farina is an Unexpectedly Delicous Find in an Inexpensive Wine and Possibly the Best Wine in the Garden

The Grapes

For our first wine tasting this summer we chose a brand that is new to us, Italian White Blend from the Custoza region. We both really liked this wine! Possibly the best white wine we’ve tasted in years, other than Champagne of course. Spoiler alert, we will absolutely buy this again and again.

We found this exceptional wine at our hands down absolute favorite place to buy wine in Virginia, Chain Bridge Cellars. At Chain Bridge Cellars they keep track of your likes and dislikes, so our guy was sure we would like this, and he was right. Added bonus is the price. This treat, normally $14, was on sale for $10.

The wine is a blend of seven different grapes with the largest amount coming from the Garganega grape (40%), which is fermented first before the other grapes are added. Aged in steel gives the wine a purity because it does not absorb any flavor from the barrel, unlike aging in oak barrels. It also means I didn’t get a headache or a stuffy nose. It’s also lower in alcohol at 12.5%, so we were able to enjoy the wine without needing a nap after.

Chain Bridge Cellar’s has a lovely description of both the region in which this wine is made and how it is made. Here is a link to their page with the description.

The Flavor

White is meant to be served cold, which not only makes it refreshing on a warm day but brings out it’s layers of flavor. We found this blend to be full bodied without being too dense or cloyingly sweet. It is balanced with a delicious mineralization and soft aroma. Not too sweet, not too tart, not too thin, it’s just right. It is delicious from the first sip to the last. The flavor does not change. It is also lower in alcohol at 12.5% For me this means not only can I skip the antihistamine as it’s not aged in Oak, and no added sulfites, but I can enjoy a second glass. We recommend this wine for an alternative to a sweet Chardonnay, a crisp Pinot Grigio, or any light Rose’.

The Glasses

If it was up to me, I would use whichever glass suits my mood. Mae however, has done all the homework on which glass to use for what wine and why it works. She’s our wine glass whisperer. For kicks and giggles, I talked her into putting a theory or two to test so we used this wine tasting to test glasses as well. I pulled out a few of my favorites, what I thought were white wine glasses, with smaller bowls and smaller stems. Mae’s theory was that the different shaped bowls would effect the flavor of white wine, like it does for red wine. I we chose four different glasses.

These two crystal glasses are by Mikasa. Both have flared bowls, but the one on the left has a much wider flare, creating a very wide opening. The more air in the bowl, the more the wine can breath and that’s not what you want with white wine. Unlike a big bowl which lets the air circulate in your red wine so the flavor can expand, a smaller bowl is used for the white because you don’t want the flavor to expand. An added benefit is the layered design on the base of the bowls, where your warm hand holds the glass, insulating the glass and helping your wine to stay cold to the last drop.

Drum roll please – our results found there to be no change in flavor between the larger opening and the smaller, but the wine did stay cold longer with the smaller glass on the right. This is likely because it is not only smaller, but also because it has thicker overlay on the base of the bowl. Colder white wine does taste better.

These next two glasses I chose because they’re really pretty, and with their gold trim, I think they’ve got a glitzy retro vibe. Mae liked them because they are heavier crystal with shorter stems, which keeps the wine colder longer. Also, she said the shorter glass means you don’t lose flavor. Both of these glasses kept the wine equally cold and delicious to the last drop. The slight flare didn’t effect the flavor at all. So, if you like a little flare, go for it. You can find these glasses in our shop.

and Finally . . . The Snacks

Mae is also our go to expert on what to eat with our wine. Raiding my cabinets she chose certain foods to bring out the flavor of the wine or compliment the wine. Spicy compliments sweet wine. It cuts the sweetness even as the sweetness softens the heat in spicy food. Cheese also pairs well with white wine, especially this wine. As this wine is a blend, it didn’t lean to far in any direction. So the cheese rules for wine are flexible for this one. The fat and flavor in an aged sharp cheddar works great here.

As our afternoon wine time was impromptu, we had to work with what we found in the cabinet that was spicy and/or cheesy. We had fiery hot Hu crackers – dry, thin and full of kick. Jalapeno cheese puffs and a spicy cheesy Eliote spread. We also tried some fresh made Tzatziki on a whim. Everything is made with natural ingredients so there was no confusing where the flavor was coming from. The winner here was the Jalapeno cheese puffs, the loser was the Tzatziki. The fiery crackers were too hot and because they were dry and they needed one of the dips. They tasted better with the Tzatziki which made them not right for the wine. We couldn’t let the Eliote go to waste so we dipped our cheese puffs in it. That paired perfectly with our blended cold white wine on a warm summer afternoon.

Enjoy the warm days with a cool glass. Cheers!

Delicious wine, a beautiful view, and my fabulous sis.

Almost Homemade Gluten Free Blueberry Lemon Muffins

Recipe for almost homemade Gluten Free blueberry lemon muffins

This is an easy semi homemade gluten free muffin recipe I adapted using a gluten free muffin mix from King Arthur Baking Company. This recipe is for those who don’t want to create their own GF flour blend, but are not sure what mix to use. They are not all created equal. The type of flours in the mix is key to the desired texture for whatever it is you’re baking. Potato starch and rice blends are the softest and sweetest. Blends that include other grains like millet, or beans and lentils, are for heartier bakes.

Even the potato rice blends still need a little tweak to enhance the flavor and texture. After much trial and error, including bakes I just tossed right in the trash, this is the recipe that works! It saves time, money, and cabinet space (no need to store different flours, xanthan gum, cellulose, etc.) Using lemons and blueberries, make these muffins moist, sweet and tender. I use blueberries in this recipe because they are in season right now by us in Oak Lawn, Illinois. In season, fresh berries have no rival for flavor. They are deliriously delicious. The acid from the lemons tweaks the texture, adds moisture, and gives a tart balance to the sweet flours and blueberries.

To jump to the printable recipe, click on the Jump to Recipe button here . . .

Jump to Recipe

If you would like a more detailed instruction with photos for each step, follow the Recipe here.


Ingredient List and Substitutions

  • One King Arthur Gluten Free Muffin Mix
  • 3 Eggs – I used Happy Egg Co.
  • 6 TBS of grapeseed oil
  • 1 Cup Buttermilk
  • 2 large organic lemons (organic because you will be using the zest)
  • 1 Tbs of pure Vanilla Extract, Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla is the best if you can find it.
  • 1 1/2 cups of fresh blueberries. Blueberries are in season here, so they are fresh and full of flavor.

The substitutions and additions to the list on the back of the box are – – –

  • The box mix calls for 1 cup of cow’s milk. Regular cow’s milk doesn’t agree with me but I can tolerate some buttermilk because of the fermentation. Buttermilk also gives the muffins a little extra fluff and rise. I have also used both Oat Milk and Almond Milk inthis recipe. The Oat Milk works better because it has oil added to it giving it a creamy texture. Almond milk usually does not. The recipe needs the extra bit of fat and protein for flavor and texture. Also for that reason, if you use cow’s milk, I do not recommend skim milk.
  • I used Grapeseed oil because it is light in color and flavor and tolerates high heat. Also because as yummy as butter is, it doesn’t like me very much.
  • Pure vanilla adds flavor depth and balances the sweet flour blend.
  • The acid from the lemon zest and juice creates a softer texture and adds a tartness to balance the sweet flours and blueberries.
  • Fresh Blueberries add texture to the soft muffins and in season, they are very sweet and juicy. Here we use Michigan blueberries from the farmers market. It’s hard not to eat them all on the way home. They smell so good.

Step-by-Step Instructions with Photos

First – preheat your oven to 375 F and grease your muffin tins. This recipe makes 15 average sized muffins when filled just to the rim with 4 Tbs of batter in well. If you don’t have 2 muffin tins, you can put more batter in each well. This means it will take a little longer for the muffins to bake.

Second – Zest the two lemons, removing all the yellow skin. The long tool in this photo is the zester. You can use any grater that suits you though.

Third – Squeeze all the juice you can out of both lemons, using either the citrus juicer or your hands, making sure to keep the seeds out. Once you’ve done that, take a fork and scrape some pulp out too.

Fourth – Beat the eggs. To the beaten eggs add the oil, vanilla, buttermilk, lemon zest and juice. Mix just until blended.

Fifth – Dump the box mix of dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add your bowl of wet ingredients into the dry, mixing just until blended. Don’t over mix or you will have dry muffins. Then fold in your blueberries, also just until blended.

Sixth – Fill the greased muffin tins just to the rim with about 4 Tbs of batter in each well. Let the filled tins sit for 10 minutes before putting them in your pre-heated oven. If you want extra sweetness, you can sprinkle granulated sugar on top of the batter before you put them in the oven. I didn’t add the sugar. The fruit combo made them sweet enough for us.

Seventh – Bake for 18-22 minutes, more if you have filled your tins more than 4Tbs. They’re done when a toothpick or knife comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the muffin. Let them rest 5 minutes before taking them out of the tins. Then resist the urge to eat them while warm. Gluten free bakery needs to cool before your eat it, otherwise the texture is gluey. Letting them cool also lets the flavor of the blueberries and lemon come through.

Now Serve your Muffins with Style

These muffins are light, sweet, with a lemony finish. I dare you to eat just one. Serve them on our restaurant style vintage ironstone by Syracuse in the Mayflower Roxbury Pattern. You can find this set in our shop.

Share the fruits of your labor with good company. Set the table with unique dishes, add some flowers from the garden, and now you’re in your happy place.

Gluten Free Blueberry Lemon Muffins

Laurine Byrne
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 22 minutes
Course Snack
Cuisine American
Servings 15
Calories 220 kcal


  • 1 Mix King Arthur Gluten Free Muffin Mix This is the best GF pre-mixed blend that I have tested. Easy to adapt, and tasty.
  • 1 cup Buttermilk The box mix calls for cow's milk. I have used Oat Milk, Almond Milk, and Buttermilk. Oat Milk has oil added which makes it richer than Almond Milk. Buttermilk helps with the rise and texture. I don't tolerate cow's milk but I can tolerate some buttermilk. You may want to consider this info. before choosing which of these to use. I used buttermilk for this batch.
  • 6 Tbs Grapeseed Oil The box says to use butter or oil. Grapeseed oil is relatively clear and nearly flavorless, so it works well in bakery. It also holds it's structure in high heat.
  • 3 Lg eggs I used Happy Egg Co. eggs. They have gorgeous yellow yolks, because of what the hens are fed. They're delicious and add some nice color to the muffins too.
  • 2 Lg lemons for both zest and juice
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries freshest is straight from the farmers market or your garden
  • 1 Tbs pure Vanilla Extract not imitation, Madagascar Bourbon if you can find it.
  • 1 Tbs butter – for greasing the muffin tins Paper muffin cups stick to the muffins. Greasing the tins also helps the muffins to brown. If you don't want to use butter, I recommend the grapeseed oil.


  • Preheat oven to 375F and grease your muffin tins. Adding the blueberries, lemons and vanilla gives you 15 regular sized muffins when the wells are filled just to the rim. I used butter instead of paper liners because the liners always sticks to the muffins. The butter also helps the muffins to brown. If you're using oil instead of butter, use the grapeseed oil, applying sparingly with a pastry brush.
  • Zest the two lemons
  • Using your hands, or a the citrus squeezer, juice both lemons. Get as much juice as you can and then scrape some of the pulp out of the lemons as well.
  • Beat the 3 eggs. Add the milk, oil and vanilla to the eggs, lemon juice and zest. Mix well.
  • Dump the box ingredients in a large bowl. Add all the wet ingredients. Mix just until blended. Some lumps are ok. You do not want to over mix muffin batter.
  • Fold in the blueberries just until blended. Do not stir.
  • Grease your muffin tin and then fill each well with 4 Tbs of batter. This will fill them to just below the rim. Let them sit for 10 minutes before putting them in the oven.
  • Bake for 18 to 22 minutes. The time will depend on your oven and how much you have filled the muffin wells. They are done when a toothpick or slim sharp knife inserted in the center of the muffins comes out clean. Let cool in the tin for 5 minutes, giving time for them to set. Once you take the muffins out, resist the urge to eat them right away. Warm Gluten Free bakery can be gluey or glumpy. Letting it cool off, will bring the flavors out and lighten up the texture.

Spring Brings a Bounty of Beautiful Blooming Bulbs

Best Blooming Bulbs Ever!

I still get excited every Spring to see the bulb blooms poking through the snow and the crusty leaves in our gardens. It’s a joyous feeling to see what you planted return the favor by cheering up a grey winter day. With just a little effort in the fall, you too can have a garden filled with colorful blooms every Spring.



The first to poke through even snow are the Crocus. Crocus is part of the Iridaceae family (Iris). These low growing beauties will thrive in just about any soil type, in both sun and part shade. They have upright cup shaped flowers on underground stems with relatively large blooms from late winter to early spring, in shades of white, purple, orange and yellow. Bold purple and gold blooms create a pop of bright color against the snow. They’re easy to naturalize, which means planting many bulbs in the same area so they look like Mother Nature put them there herself. This technique actually makes your job easier, which I will explain in the How To section below.

The Glory-of-the-Snow, Chionodoxa, blooms close behind the Crocus, sometimes also popping through the snow. They will quickly self sow, filling the bed with more blooms each spring. They’re tiny bulbs, like the Crocus, so very little digging is needed to plant them.

Next are the Muscari “Grape Hyacinths, the small purple blooms in the photos below. They have a long bloom time, for at least a month. I have planted masses of them in nearly every bed, creating a beautiful compliment to both the early and late blooming Daffodils and Tulips. They’re fabulous planted under a spring blooming tree like a Redbud or Serviceberry.


I started planting Daffodils with our son Daniel when he was 4 years old. We called them Danny’s Daffodils because he helped me plant 60 bulbs all over the front yard with me, patiently adding bone meal to each hole, covering up each bulb with dirt and watering. He brought the first blooms in to me every Spring. 20 years later he’s grown up and out but his Daffodils still bloom for me every year.

TULIPS come in so many different colors and color combinations, from deep purple to white. There are varieties in more than one color, striped, fringed and double petals too. Mix and match them with each other and other spring flowers to create color combinations. If you’re not sure where to start, just start with your favorite colors and go from there. You can add more each fall.

The first two photos are the early blooming variety. The taller red tulips are late blooming. The orange Tulip is a random find which means it was probably moved there by a squirrel. Not sure if they’re critical of my design skills or just playing with me. Either way, I kinda like what they did here.

These soft pink Tulips are also late bloomers. You can see how much taller they are. The “Grape Hyacinths” are at the feet of the pale pink Tulips with some later blooming yellow Daffodils coming up behind them both.

This last photo is a bright yellow Daffodil growing straight through low growing rose bushes. They’re tough, ignoring the thick thorny bush to get time in the sun. I didn’t plant this Daffodil in the middle of a rose bush, a squirrel did. I think they just like moving things around when they’re bored, but I’m cool with the result. It looks really cool.


Growing Spring blooming bulbs is seriously easy. They require little care once planted other than watering. They do not need to be fussed with at all once established.

Planting Guide:

1 – Plant the bulbs when the temperatures reach 40 to 50 F, nose (pointy) side up, 2 to 3 times deep as the bulb is tall. Each bag of bulbs you purchase will have the recommended planting depth and distance on the back.

2 – If you’re removing grass to create a new bed, add compost (mushroom, worm, or your own) and peat moss to bring the bed back to level height. Do not till or turn over the existing soil or add top soil. Each will compact the soil in the bed, destroying the health of the soil. The same rule goes for adding bulbs to an existing bed. There is no need to turn over or til the soil.

3 – You can plant more than one type of bulb in the same bed by placing the largest bulbs first and deepest, followed by the next size, with the smallest last as those need less soil covering them.

4 – Add a bit (about a tablespoon) of bone meal to each hole, under the bulb roots. This will feed the bulb until the plant emerges through the soil next Spring. Then the new green leaves and stems will feed the bulbs. If your soil has a lot of clay or is dry and compacted, I recommend adding a handful of peat moss to the bone meal in each hole and then mix some peat moss and compost covering the bulb bed. This will greatly improve the condition of the soil.

20 years ago our soil was mostly clay. We used only compost, bone meal and peat moss when we planted our beds and then covered the new beds with mulch. That’s it. No extra fertilizer. By the next Spring, the soil had already improved, becoming a rich black loam within 2 years.

5 – Cover the bulb bed with 2 -3 inches of mulch (this can be a combo of peat and compost instead of traditional wood mulch) and thoroughly water. Planting them in the fall should mean that Mother Nature will water the beds weekly for you, but she can be fickle sometimes. So take notice if you have a dry week and then be sure to water your newly planted bulbs. You will not need to do this the following years as the bulbs should be well established.


There is little care needed once the plants have emerged. They’re very hardy, bouncing back from even a late spring snow. Some gardening sites recommend fertilizing each spring before bloom, however, if you have added peat moss and compost, covered them beds with mulch, and watered them the first months you have planted them, then you won’t need to add any additional fertilizer ever. The green parts of the plant make their own bulb food using the sunshine.

1 – After their blooms have faded, you can remove them. Removing the spent blooms prevents seed pods from forming which insures energy will be directed to the bulbs instead of producing new seeds.

This is a Daffodil in our backyard ready to be dead headed. You can see where it needs to be cut, just below the seed pod, leaving the stem and leaves to soak up the sunshine.

2 – Do not cut back or remove the stems and leaves until they have faded to brown and flopped over. The stems and leaves produce the sugars that accumulate in the bulb which create your brilliant blooms next spring.

3 – Plant perennials and annuals that bloom after the bulbs which will then detract from the flopping greens. A hardy groundcover will also cover up the floppers.


Drawing inspiration from woodlands and meadows, bulbs are planted en masse, filling the space with color, creating glorious visual impact.


1 – Use bulbs that are not fussy about the soil or climate, including sun or part-shade/shade. Those include Hyacinths, Glory-of-the-Snow, Crocus, Snowdrops, Bluebells, Muscari (Grape Hyacinths), and Daffodils. Tulips can add pops of color among the mass of uniform color created with the naturalized bulbs, but they need full sun, and most of the naturalized bulbs do not. If you are adding Tulips, keep this in mind.

2 – Consider using bulbs that grow closer to the ground as a Spring ground cover underneath bushes and trees. They bloom before most trees and bushes start budding and greening, creating a mass of flowing understory color. A spot that is shady Summer to Fall, can be filled with a bright color pallet in the Spring.

3 – Create beds under trees and around bushes (understory planting) by removing the grass and creating a brand new space or planting the bulbs right in the grass. Scatter the bulbs on top of the beds, or on top of the grass around the bushes and trees. Then double back and plant each one individually. This technique helps you visualize the design. If you need to draw the bed out on paper first to give yourself a map, measure the area and include the plants that are already there or you intend to add.

4 – When you are creating the design, think about whether you want colors that compliment each other for a calming effect, or that contrast with each other for a burst of energy.

Some Color Options

Pure white Daffodils (Thalia) growing in a bed of purple Muscari is a dramatic color combination.

A shade brightening combo planted under a deciduous tree would be a bed of fragrant paperwhite Daffodils and ‘Spring Green’ (white) tulips. Add evergreen boxwood shrubs to give it structure and provide some contrast.

Combine bright yellow Daffodils with pink Hyacinths or pink Tulips with purple Muscari at their feet.

White Tulips planted with white Daffodils that have a yellow center creates a soothing creamy dream. Add low growing white Anemone to continue the white theme or punch up the color with pink Hyacinths.

The combinations are endless and well worth spending the time figuring out what you like and what works in your garden. Start with your favorite colors!

Of course, if you find the job a little tedious, it always helps to have a gardening buddy. My guy, Donny, actually liked to smell the flowers. He enjoyed the garden, no matter the weather, but he actually tip toed through the Daffodils and Tulips, like wasn’t 95 pounds. If you don’t have a live in garden buddy, no worries, the birds will keep you company and throw in a tune for free.

Zucchini Cherry Walnut Muffins made with Gluten Free Flour

If you’re like me, you had an abundance of Zucchini in your garden. We roasted them, grilled them, souped ’em and donated them. We still couldn’t keep up with the overflow. Fortunately Zucchini freezes well. Just shred or chop and freeze. I pulled out a bag of frozen shredded Zucchini to make this family favorite last week, while we still had afternoon sunshine and temps warm enough eat outside.

To skip the Step-by-Step How To instructions with photos, click the JUMP TO RECIPE button for the quick printable version.

Here’s your Instructions for making your own Gluten Free Zucchini-Cherry Muffins tea party.

SUPPLIES: You will need a small colander, 2 small bowls, 1 medium bowl, and a muffin tin for 12.


  • 2 cups of Gluten Free flour mix
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 cup of grapeseed oil or safflower oil
  • 1 Tbs pure vanilla
  • 1 cup of grated or shredded zucchini
  • 1 cup of frozen cherries, drained and chopped.
  • 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts
  • Zest and juice of one large lemon (about 1/2 cup)
  • butter to grease your tin

FIRST – Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and butter your tin really well. You don’t want to leave any bits of this delicious muffin in the tin. Rinse your frozen cherries under hot tap water to start the defrost process. Let them sit in the colander over a small bowl to drain while you’re prepping the rest of the recipe.

SECOND – Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. Mix well so that the baking powder and salt are fully incorporated in the flour.

THIRD – Beat the eggs and sugar together in a small bowl. Add the oil and vanilla and mix well.

FOURTH – Mix the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients. Mix just until blended. Over mixing will reduce the air pockets, making your muffin hard, which is tricky for any muffin mixture, especially gluten free. The mixture will be thick and that’s okay. The moisture from the zucchini combined with the moisture and acid from the lemon juice will change the texture of the batter. The batter will look and feel lighter once you add those two ingredients. Which is the next step.

FIFTH – Gently mix in the zucchini, juiced lemon and lemon zest. Again, don’t over mix. Mix just until blended.

SIXTH – Fold in the walnuts and the drained, chopped cherries very gently. Be careful not to mix/stir the cherries into the batter. This will make sure your batter stays light and airy and also won’t turn it pink from the juice of the cherries. If you’re looking to increase the protein and fiber in these muffins, add more walnuts, up to a 1/2 a cup.

SEVENTH – Fill your greased muffin tin with batter to just below the rim of each cup. Using the butter to grease your tin instead of muffin/cupcake cups helps them brown a little better and you won’t have soggy muffin bottoms that stick to the paper cups.

EIGHTH: Bake your muffins for 25-30 minutes, until the top of the muffin top springs back when you touch it and they’re golden brown. They should come out of the tin easily if you’ve greased it well. Let the muffins cool completely before eating. Resist the urge to butter them while they’re still hot like you might do with wheat flour muffins. Gluten Free bakery is doughy or gluey while still warm. The texture is much lighter after it has cooled. My husband, who loves loves loves bread, thinks these taste like bread. It’s a richly flavored and textured treat.

They’re satisfyingly delicious on their own, but don’t let that stop you from slathering them with your favorite jam.

** You can adjust this recipe using wheat flour with these substitutions

  • Substitute the GF for 1/2 white wheat flour and 1 cup white flour, 1/4 cup almond flour, this is the combination I use when making the muffins for the family who don’t have wheat issues. It’s delicious too. If you don’t have the combo of flours, just use all white flour and add an extra 1/2 cup of walnuts to for some extra protein and fiber.
  • Substitute 2 tsp of baking powder with 1/2 tsp of baking soda and 1/2 of baking powder and 1/4 tsp of salt
  • Substitute a whole lemon with 2 Tbs of fresh squeeze lemon juice and the zest of one lemon. You’re using the lemon here for an added freshness to the flavor rather than to adjust the texture of the GF flour.
  • If looking to add more protein and/or fiber you can add an additional 1/2 cup of walnuts.

The Teapot, matching sugar bowl, cups and saucers are a vintage set by Noritake in the Lexington pattern. If you want to serve your muffins or just have lunch on this set, visit our shop at The Charmed Table on Etsy.

Roasted Orange Tomato Soup with Thai Basil

This recipe is a roasted tomato soup with a twist, or two. I grew orange Roma Tomatoes for my sister who likes a less acidic tomato, and the Thai Basil just because it is pretty. The flowers are purple, the bees love them, and they add a burst of rich color in a bed of green veggies. Both plants gave us more than we could eat or give away, so I made soup.

The orange Roma Tomatoes are just as meaty as the red. Their flavor is milder than reds, less tart more sweet. Thai Basil is sturdier and has a licorice flavor, a stronger flavor than the more commonly used sweet Basil (like Genovese Basil, which is used in pesto and spaghetti sauces). The two different flavors balance each other perfectly in this soup. The sweet enhances the spicy, like any good partnership 🙂

Garden to Table Step By Step Recipe for Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

STEP BY STEP INSTRUCTIONS WITH PHOTOS or Jump to Recipe with this link

INGREDIENT LIST : 4 pounds of Orange Roma(paste) tomatoes. Enough to fill 2 cookie sheets, or sheet pans, when cut in half.

  • 4 pounds of Orange Roma (paste) tomatoes. Enough to fill 2 cookie sheets (sheet pans) when cut in half.
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 Tbs of extra virgin olive oil (EVO)
  • 4 – 6 cloves of diced garlic. If you have small cloves, use 6, if you have medium to large, use 4 cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups of finely diced onions. I used one sweet white and one red onion. A combination of different onions creates a richer, savory flavor.
  • 1 cup of chopped fresh Purple Thai Basil, flowers and leaves.
  • 1 Tbs of fresh Thyme (if don’t have fresh use 1/2 tsp of dried Thyme)
  • 1 Tbs of Salt
  • 1 tsp White Pepper
  • 2 quarts (8 cups) of Chicken Bone Broth or Chicken Broth (or 1 quart of each). 1 quart is usually one box. Use organic if you can. Bone broth has deeper, richer flavor that simple Chicken Broth. You can see and smell the difference in the broth. If bone broth is too strong a flavor for you, try 1 quart of bone and one quart of regular broth.
  • 2 Tbs red wine vinegar

The bulk of your work will be in removing the stems and slicing your tomatoes for roasting. The rest is basic prep work for assembling your soup. It’s easier if you have a food processor and/or a good blender, but don’t worry about it if you don’t. You really only need a good knife, baking sheet pan(s), and a good soup pot.

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, 375 if you are using a convection oven.
  • Slice the tomatoes in half length wise, and cut out the stems
  • Coat each pan with a scant 1 tsp of EVO from the 1/3 cup of EVO or you can line the pan(s) with parchment paper instead of coating the pan(s).
  • Place the tomatoes cut side up and drizzle them with the rest of the 1/3 cup of EVO
  • Place your tomatoes in the oven and let them roast for 20 to 25 Minutes, until they darken, like in the photos. You can certainly roast them longer, but the flavor will be different. They will be more tart with a sharper bite to them.
  • While your tomatoes are roasting, finely dice your onions and garlic. Let them sit for at least ten minutes.
  • Coat the bottom of your soup pot with the reserved 2 Tbs of Evo. Heat on Medium
  • Add your finely chopped onions. Let them sweat for 5-8 minutes – until they’re translucent.
  • Add your tomatoes fresh out of the oven to the pot. Stir them in the oil and onions, coating them.
  • Let the tomatoes and onions cook together for 5 minutes.
  • Add the Garlic
  • Add the Broth
  • Add the salt and Pepper. Let the ingredients cook together for 10 minutes
  • Add the Basil and Thyme. Let everything cook together for another 10 minutes.
  • Blend the soup in batches, using either a standing blender or immersion blender, returning the blended soup to the pot
  • Add the red wine vinegar and let the pot cook for anther 10 minutes and Voila -you’re done!
  • Enjoy your soup right away with some crusty bread or freeze it in batches for a taste of the summer in the middle or the winter. You can store it in the refrigerator for up to a week. Our soup doesn’t last the week once our boys know we’ve made a batch.

wildflowers from the field to your garden

We used to see wildflowers in vacant lots, which we used to call Prairies as kids. Now they're easy to grow garden favorites.

You can have the same glorious color and sweet little visitors in your own gardens as our public gardens and Prairies.

Wildflowers have made themselves at home in all sorts of gardens over the years, moving from the vacant lots of my youth, to carefully public gardens, and now our own yards. Our front yard growing up had big lumbering evergreen bushes. The backyard had roses, bridal wreath Viburnums, and lawn. This was the case for most yards, city and suburban. Living near Chicago we would visit the tidy, well manicured rose garden at Grant Park. The wildflowers were not welcomed, because, well they’re wild. Just not pretty enough or well mannered.

From the Field . . .

Eventually Prairie Restoration projects brought native wildflowers back to public gardens and we decided we loved because they are beautiful and we really, we all like a little wild in our life. With a well planned garden, the wild becomes a natural flowing space filled with color. Lurie Garden in Chicago, created in Millennium Park, not far at all from Grant Park, is a beautiful example of a Naturalistic style garden design. Check out their website for design details along with photos of every blooming thing at the garden.

. . . To Your Garden

When choosing what wildflowers to add to your garden, consider a couple of important items first-

  • A Site check list – How much sun does the area get and for how long? Is it a dry area or water logged? Assessing your site will help you figure out what wildflower would be happiest there, making your job much easier. Pick the right plant for the site, and you won’t have to weed, water or feed much, if at all. Once established the wildflowers won’t need your help at all actually. They will fill the space you’ve created, crowding out weeds. If you’ve chosen the right plants for your site, and I know you will, they will not need any fertilizer at all. It will adapt to the site and actually improve the soil in it’s new home.
  • Size matters – Wildflowers can be tall or short, bushy or leggy. Whether you’re adding to a new bed or an existing one, you want the taller plants in the back, medium size in front of the taller, and then shorter plants in the front. If you’re planning a circular bed, put the larger plants in the middle and then surround them with medium sized plants, and border the bed with the smaller plants.

Choosing Your Plants

You’ve done your homework and now you’re ready to pick your plants. Here are a few options. All are low-maintenance and drought tolerant, are best suited for sun but will tolerate some shade, and range in size. A few you’ll see in nearly every garden, but I’ve added a few that are just as reliable but will make your garden uniquely beautiful as they are not often found in the home garden.

Purple Coneflowers, Echinacea purpurea

These Echinacea, Purple Coneflowers are between two flowering bushes in my front yard garden bed. It’s long lasting blooms appear mid summer to fall, needs no special care and is drought tolerant. Coneflowers grow up to 3ft tall. For a fuller, rather than taller, plant, cut the buds back in early summer. 2 to 3ft tall means this is a middle or back of the bed plant. Leave the flower heads on their stems after the bloom is spent to feed the birds. Mix Purple Coneflowers with Yellow Black-Eyed Susans for stunning color contrasts.

White Indigo (Baptisia)

This graceful beauty is a White Wild Indigo, Baptisia Alba, from the wildflower fields at The Little Red Schoolhouse, Cook County Forest Preserve. They are showy plants with upright spikes of bright white flowers above the foliage, blooming in May through July. Leave their brown seed pods on the plant for winter interest in your garden. The plant grows 2 to 5 ft tall and 2 to 3 ft wide, and is best in full sun, although the white flowered type does better in part shade. Surround White Indigo with purple Coneflower and blue Bellflowers for a striking color combination.

Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)

The Black Eyed Susan, a very popular wildflower, fills fields and gardens from June to October. The “black eye” is named for their dark, brown-purple centers of the daisy-like flowers. Members of the hardy aster family, Asteraceae, they can grow to over 3ft tall, with leaves of 6 inches, stalks over 8 inches long, and flowers with a diameter of 2 to 3 inches. The original yellow is the most common color but new hybrids range from lemon yellow to rust-brown and also come in a range of sizes .

Purple Salvia, S. x superba

There are oh so many different kinds of Salvias, both annual and perennial. Whatever your zone, you will find a hybrid. The Salvia in this photo is from the pollinator beds which I designed for our community garden. It blooms from late spring to early summer. It is mid-size, 12 to 18 inches tall and 8 to 10 inches wide, which makes it a good front of the bed border plant. Cut the spent blooms off to get a second bloom from this hardy drought tolerant plant.

Coreopsis Verticullata

This perky perennial is a Threadleaf Coreopsis with delicate, dark green feathery leaves and a profusion of yellow blooms. Ranging in height from 8 inches to 18 inches, plant this beauty in or near the front of your garden bed. There are more than 80 species of coreopsis. Most have yellow flowers, but some have red or rust colors in the center, and there are some smaller Threadleaf varieties that have pink or red flowers. Many more are the Grandiflora variety with larger flowers and leaves. Part of the Aster family, they are reliably long bloomers. Shearing the plants back by about two-thirds once the initial blooming is finished will refresh the plant and set new buds for more blooms.

Butterfly Milkweed

Everyone loves butterflies and loves them even more in our yards. The Milkweed was a perennial that filled bare spaces in urban areas and fields everywhere else, but was rarely planted on purpose in our gardens. Today it’s popular in gardens because we understand that this bright beauty is a favorite of butterflies, and especially the Monarch butterfly. It has an unusual flower structure with a long lasting bloom. 2 to 3ft tall and 1 to 2ft wide, plant it among other mid-sized perennials. It takes a couple of years before it blooms, but once established it will last for years. It is prone to aphids; you can leave them for ladybugs to eat or spray the insects and foliage with soapy water.

Bleeding Heart Dicentra Spectabilis

This Bleeding heart is under our spring blooming Red Bud tree. It too is a spring bloomer, with pink or white flowers blooming May to late June. They like moist well-drained soil in shade or part-shade. The plant typically grows to 18 inches to 3 ft tall with either large leaf or fringe leafed bushy plants. They have tiny heart shaped “locket” blossoms, with up to 20 on each arching stem. By mid-summer, as the heat sets in, the foliage dies back, going dormant until the next Spring. Plant them in combination with other plants, such as Astilbe, that can fill in the space once the Bleeding Heart fades. It is an old fashioned plant that has been over looked by the contemporary gardener. Adding these beauties to your garden bed will give you unique fabulous spring color while other gardens are still waking up.

Geranium Brookside

There are hundreds of perennial Geranium cultivars. This one is my favorite, planted in the front of our front yard garden bed. It has a well mounded, compact growth habit at 2ft tall x 2ft wide, on large, deeply cut, rich green leaves. Prolific blue flowers grow on long stems with many blooms to a stem. They will fade slightly as they mature. Once the blooms are spent, cut the stems all the way back to the leaves, a good hard cut. This will leave a green mound of interesting, textured leaves which will turn a gorgeous burgundy red in the fall. There are larger and much smaller cultivars in shades of pink, purple, blue and white, that grow in sun and part-shade. They are all very easy to grow.

A Little Wild Goes a Long Way

Planting just a few wild flowers adds more than color to your garden. Wildflowers do not require fertilizer or pest control. Once established, usually after just a few months, they do not need extra watering. They adapt quickly, growing deep roots fast, which improves your soil quality by attracting beneficial bugs and microrhizomes, and they prevent soil erosion. They attract all kinds of pollinators, from bees to birds to butterflies. Create a bed just for your wildflowers or add one to a bed that needs that something extra you can’t put your finger on. You won’t regret it. If you need any more convincing, here’s a few more photos. I have taken every one of these photos from our gardens or gardens I have designed and installed, with a few of the “out of the ordinary” wild flowers photos taken by me at the spectacular prairie fields at the Little Red Schoolhouse in the Cook County Forest Preserves the past June. From the prairie to your yard, they really are that easy to grow and they will be just as beautiful in your own yard, front or back.

Gardening with Herbs

Herbs in the garden are magical to me. They certainly give more than they take because they’re so very easy to grow. They attract pollinators, which increases the bounty in your veggie garden. Their aromas and oils attract beneficial bugs to the garden, repel the damaging insects, and can even add flavor to vegetables that are planted next to them, like basil to tomatoes.  Here are just two – Chamomile and Lavender 


German Chamomile Flowers

Many of us know Camomile (Chamomile) as an herbal tea sold in abundance nearly everywhere but actually coming from some imagined far away place. It’s so ridiculously easy to grow the far away place can be just a few steps out your door.

There are two types of camomile, both members of the daisy family, but the German, or wild, camomile, (Matricaria chamomilla) is stems ahead of the Roman (C. nobile). It is sweeter in taste and scent. It can grow anywhere, from 6 to 24 inches tall, with soft little feathery leaves and bright little flowers. The Roman looks similar but is shorter, is bitter and less soothing to your body. Chamomile has been grown for its medicinal properties for centuries, mentioned as far back 1652 in Culpepers’ English Physician. It is used to soothe any number of aches and pains, including stomach aches and cramps. Chamomile tea can help ease you into sweet slumber. For a bit more info on what Chamomile tea can do for your body, I recommend visiting, where you can see what modern 3research has found that Chamomile can do for your body.

In the Garden

Chamomile likes light sandy loam with good drainage. It grows very quickly by seed, making it a very affordable quick reward for your labor. These perky dairylike flowers enjoy a crowded space and it easily self-sows everywhere. Which explains why it pops up in every crack in the patio, the driveway, between stepping stones, and every open space in the garden. It likes a party and if it can’t find one it will start one. Start it from seed in the early spring, in a pot or in a garden bed. It grows taller faster in cooler temps. The heat can stunt it’s growth. It does not require fertilization, nor does it need a lot of water.

Chamomile is an excellent companion plant to cabbages and onions, contributing to their flavor and growth. Ours decided every plant was a worthy companion. You can see in these photos that our Chamomile grew in and along every bed, getting particularly up close and personal with the zucchini. It also tried to make friends with the pots of flowers by our front door, growing in the smallest of cracks. The flowers are beautiful and they are one of the first to bloom in Spring. I let these beauties roam around until I need the space for something else.

Harvest your Chamomile in the peak of their bloom, every 7-10 days. I recommend harvesting early in the day when it is cooler as the blooms will degrade quickly piled on top of each other in the heat. Just like us, plants generally do not like to be messed with in the heat. The various methods for drying your freshly harvested herbs are the same for all of them, so I have dedicated the last paragraph of this post for the instructions.


I grow Lavender for it’s beautiful color and scent. It adds structure to my flower garden with the added benefit of a flower I can harvest for my kitchen. I use it for tea and bakery. It adds a lovely subtle flavor to cakes. It’s sold in sachets to use under your pillow for sweet slumber or to add scent to your closet. Lavender steeped as a tea has a very calming effect. Chamomile soothes your muscles, and Lavender soothes your mind, creating a mellow mood. Its medicinal uses too have been widely known for centuries, also mentioned in Culpepers’ English Physician.

In the Garden

Lavender grows in nearly every climate, from the hot dry Mediterranean to cold damp British Isles and even colder Norway. The key is of course to grow the right type of Lavender for your climate. Here in Zone 5 in USA, we grow a hybrid of the hearty Lavadula angustifolia which can withstand frost. I find that my Lavender will come back in a pot as well as long as it is protected from the wind. The English Lavender variety is hearty in cold temps and does much better than the other varieties in a pot. English Lavender varieties that do well in our zone include Munstead and Hidcote. Growing Lavender by seed is certainly possible, but it will take a few seasons for it to grow to a small to medium bush. If you have the patience, go for it. Otherwise you can by a one quart size for immediate, but affordable, gratification.

The plant itself looks like a small 2×2 softly rounded bush with blue-green leaves/stems. Lavender is an excellent size for a pot in a sunny spot and for a perennial garden. If you like harmony in your color scheme, plant Lavender with pinks for soft relaxing vibe. If you like contrast, plant it with yellows for eye catching boldness.

Harvest your Lavender early in it’s bloom cycle. Pick a bouquet first thing in the morning, if possible. Later in the day the heat will dissipate some of the oils and fragrance with it. Harvesting your Lavender early in it’s bloom cycle encourages the plant to produce more shoots and then more flowers. To dry your Lavender, tie the stems together and hang it upside down in a cool dry area.

Plant these herbs and you will be rewarded with a beautiful view and scent.

A Walk in the Woods

This past December and early January my family met at the Morton Arboretum for a Covid safe hike. We met in Mother Nature’s family room where we didn’t have to worry about how many of us could hangout without adding air purifiers. It was a peaceful blessedly happy respite for all of us, three generations from 3 different parts of our family.

The Spruce Plot

We hiked the path through The Spruce Plot each time we met.

The Morton Arboretum has so many different gardens to explore. You can drive through naturalized groves or park and hike the paths through them. The Spruce Plot, where I took these photos, is spectacular. Morton Arboretum’s website describes it as “The quiet mystery of the spruce plot at The Morton Arboretum will make you feel as if you were hiking in the forests of Norway and Romania. Do you feel a temperature difference as you enter? The spruce plot creates a cool, dark environment unlike anything else at the Arboretum. Look towards the sky to see the impressive height of these trees.”

Here is the view from our car

Hiking the woods in the middle of winter has it’s own unique pleasures, and hiking The Spruce Plot brings it all home. The stillness you experience walking through the majestic trees is broken occasionally by the creaking sound the trees make as they sway in the wind. It sounds to me like they’re talking to each other, maybe to us as well, welcoming us as guests in their home. The sound inside is softened, the air still. You’re protected from the wind in the winter and the heat in the summer. You are surrounded by the trunks as the green needles grow mainly up top, reaching for the sun, creating a picture of familial strength, with the tree trunks standing tall right next to each other.

Every view at the Arboretum is beautiful, but the winter brings with it a serenity. The stillness creates a different experience. The colors are subdued, and there are no flowers competing for your attention. The quiet beauty creates space for a mindful experience. You may notice the structure of the trees, like a cool gnarled or peeling trunk, artfully twisted branches, or the odd leaf still clinging to a branch. A grey winter day can be more colorful if you can spend it with the trees.

Roasted Orange Tomato and Thai Basil Soup

[lt_recipe name=”Roasted Orange Tomato and Thai Basil Soup” servings=”8 cups” prep_time=”45M” cook_time=”45M” total_time=”1H30M” difficulty=”Easy ” summary=”The bulk of your work will be slicing your tomatoes for roasting. The rest is basic prep work for assembling your soup. ” print=”yes” ingredients=”4lbs of Yellow Roma (Paste) Tomatoes – enough to fill two cookie sheets (or do you say Sheet Pan);1 cup of finely chopped purple Thai Basil leaves;1 tsp of fresh Thyme, or 1/4 tsp of ground Thyme;1 large shallot;1 large leek, white part only;1 medium yellow onion;1/3 cup plus 2 Tbs of Olive Oil;6 cloves of finely chopped garlic;2 Tbs of red wine vinegar;3 tsp salt;1 tsp white pepper;ground black pepper to taste;2 Quarts (8 cups) of chicken bone broth;;” ]Preheat oven to 400 degrees.;;Cut the stems out of the tomatoes and slice them in half. Lay them cut side up on the cookie sheets. I used parchment paper to cover the bottom of the cookie sheets for easier clean-up. Brush, or drizzle, the 1/3 cup of olive oil over the tomatoes. Roast for 25 minutes. If you are using a convection oven, reduce the heat to 375 and 20 minutes. ;;Next cover the bottom of your pot with 2 Tbs of olive oil. Heat the oil and add your onions, sweating them for 5 minutes. A note on the onions – you need 1 1/2 cup of a variety of onions. If you don’t have leeks or shallots, use whatever you have. A variety of onions for richer flaver is the best way to go. Then add the garlic and cook for just another minute. ;;Now add your freshly roasted tomatoes, the herbs, salt and pepper. and all the broth. Cook for 15 minutes, then add the red wine vinegar. Cook for another 10 minutes. When your soup is done cooking, put it in your blender in batches, or use an immersion blender, to make it smooth and creamy. ;[/lt_recipe]


This year we grew orange Roma tomatoes with our red romas. This was the fist time I ordered seeds instead of buying them here. By the time I sat UHY7down to order, all the &a[In March I thought I was actually The Frankly these were the only seeds I could order this year. It turned out to be a good choice, even if I didn’t have a choice. The these orange tomatoes are so so sweet, have lots of pulp, and produce prolific fruit. In fact we had many more orange tomatoes than the red Roma‘s. That alone was the reason for making my soup. I need to use a bother orange to meet us. The Thai basil it’s so pretty and very disease resistant. The flowers are beautiful but just as important the scent and flavor is just as beautiful. And purple and orange look great together.


1 cup of finely diced Thai Basil

1 tsp fresh thyme, or 1/4 tsp ground thyme

1 large shallot and one leek (white part only)

1/3 plus 2Tbs of olive oil

6 cloves of finely chopped garlic

2 Tbs of red wine vinegar

1 Tbs of salt

1 tsp white pepper

4 cups of Chicken Bone Broth *

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Cut the stems off the tomatoes and slice them in half. Lay them cut side up on cookie sheets. Using the 1/3 cup of olive oil, lightly coat the pans and then drizzle the remainder over the tomatoes. Roast your tomatoes at 350 for 25-30 minutes.