A half century birthday calls for a serious bouquet – and notice the handle wrapped in a hosta leaf.  Except for the peonies which were chilling in the fridge, here’s what’s I picked for the birthday bouquet – yellow foxglove, foxtail lily, bellflowers, yarrow, heliopsis, and hosta.    My talented sister Deb arranged them; she first arranged them in a plastic florist bucket which we then set  inside the metal bucket.

Happy 50th Shelly!

It’s a mystery.   For years I’ve tried to grow this clustered bell flower for cutting, and regardless of where I moved it or what care I showered upon it, as far as a cut flower – it was a failure for me.  Then a few summers ago as I was strolling through a friends garden, I halted in amazement as I stood before an enormous bunch of purple clustered bell flowers.  The funny thing was, she didn’t even know what they were, just ‘some plant’ she got as a gift from her kids.  I begged a few starts from her, and this summer they are just as stunning in my own cut flower gardens.  A few years ago I wouldn’t have recommended this plant, but as the photos show, you can grow some stunning clustered bell flower for cutting – some as large as the palm of your hand!

Growing information:

Hardiness – zone 3 – 8

Height – 20 inches

Bloom time – early summer

Light requirements – Full sun to part sun

Isn’t it fun hanging out with a famous funny author?  Well, I sure thought so yesterday – while laughing myself silly listening to Lorna Landvik tell us about her life, her books and the characters we have come to know and love through her novels.  Recently, when our local library announced it was hosting an authors visit by Lorna Landvik, I could hardly believe I had the chance to meet a famous author of whose every book I have devoured and thoroughly enjoyed.

Oh was she a hoot!  Before she was a writer, she was a comedian, which came out full force as she told us her story, often delivered with a thick Scandinavian brogue that made us feel right at home.  And now that it’s the next day, I have a few questions for her that I could not think of for the life of me during her Question & Answer time interval yesterday, which could have earned me a piece of chocolate.  Yes – she throws chocolate candy at you if you ask her a question.  And I still couldn’t think.  A Chocolate Block.  Today I would love to ask her who are some of her favorite authors, and what if you have an idea for a book but the characters won’t come forth and introduce themselves like her characters do for her? That could have earned me TWO chocolates yesterday.

Lorna Landvik will be busy this week finishing a new book, which of course she couldn’t divulge any information about except that it is almost done.   And I will be busy doing tax work (of which I am months behind); guess who will be having the most fun?   Maybe I should throw myself a chocolate every time I have a question.

My favorite books by Lorna Landvik are ‘Welcome to the Great Mysterious’, and ‘Patty Jane’s House of Curl’.  What are your favorite Lorna Landvik novels? And what question would you ask Lorna so she could throw a piece of chocolate at you?

Winter reading

January 27, 2011

Winter is the time when I catch up on my reading and here are some of my favorites so far this season:

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

The first book in a trilogy that documents the life of Teddy Roosevelt.  Though it was 700 plus pages long, it was fascinating to read such an extensive documentary about Teddy.  This man was like a freight train going at high speed – in everything he did and everywhere he went.  No wonder his likeness is on Mount Rushmore; I can hardly wait to start the next book!


Fruitless Fall by Rowan Jacobsen

A very well documented book about the Colony Collapse Disorder that is affecting honeybees worldwide.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone considering beekeeping.


Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

A very intriguing read that centers around food and secrets.  By the author of CHOCOLAT!


The Emperors of Chocolate by Joel Glenn Brenner

A fascinating read about the chocolate giants Hershey and Mars.  The stories of two empires built on chocolate, not to mention sweat and tears, by two different men with two different philosophies.  The revolution of chocolate  itself is amazing, likewise the lives of the two founders who revolutionized the world’s most magical and sought after substance, and made chocolate into a household product.

What has been your favorite read this winter?

Recently my granddaughter Elise was looking for a ‘Christmas Store’ project for her class room; each student makes things to sell (items must be hand made), then the classroom is set up like a store, and the public is invited to come shop one day.  The class then takes a field trip to a local grocery store and uses all the money earned to purchase food for the local food shelf.  Warms your heart doesn’t it?

Shortly after Elise asked me if I had any ideas for her project, I came upon this recipe and remembered making these about 20 years ago with her mother and sisters.   I thought about all the fun scrap booking embellishments that could be used to decorate the ornaments (not available 20 years ago); the possibilities, options, and fun were endless!  Elise approved the idea and we were in business!

Cinnamon Applesauce Ornament Recipe

1 cup cinnamon
1 T. ground cloves
1 T. nutmeg
¾ cup applesauce
2 T. Tacky craft glue

Combine cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg; mix in applesauce and glue.  Knead well; dough should be smooth and stick together – if too crumbly add more applesauce, if too sticky add more cinnamon.  Roll dough on tin foil to 1/4 inch thickness; cut with cookie cutters.  Use a straw or toothpick to make a hole for hanging.  Let air dry for 4 to 5 days or more, turning twice daily.  Makes about 2-3 dozen, depending on size of cookie cutters.  Decorate!  (Ornaments shrink somewhat as they dry.)

Dry and ready to decorate

All my life I have loved cooking and baking; what I don’t like are flops or blah recipes.  I realized long ago that premium ingredients gave me better results, and that using whole grains gave me healthier results.  In January I will be offering a whole grains,  REAL-FOOD approach to a healthier diet, sharing some delicious and easy recipes and methods for healthier cooking and baking.

The class will be held at Little Red Hen in Dassel, Minnesota, and class participants are welcome to browse the shop for after-Christmas deals.

Class info:


Really Good Real Food

Scrumptious, easy-peasy recipes that will introduce more healthy whole grains, nuts, and seeds into your diet.  Cheryl will demonstrate some delicious recipes while explaining the health benefits of using wholesome and premium ingredients.  From what you learn here, you will be able to go home and modify any of your own favorite recipes into a healthier version.  Ever wonder what the difference is between pure cane sugar, raw cane sugar, and beet sugar?  Or canola oil, olive oil, or coconut oil?  Come and find out.

Come prepared for a delicious sampling of:

Almond Fruited Chicken Salad made with whole grain pasta
Fresh whole grain Quick Mix Bread Sticks
Fruit Smoothies
Hearty Oats & Honey Granola
Bogus Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chip cookies

Each participant will receive recipes, helpful handouts, and granola to take home.

January 10th, Monday        6:30 – 8:30 p.m.        Cost – $16.00

Register for this class at Little Red Hen during the December sale (December 9 – 11), or call Cheryl Niemela at 320-286-5384.

Email me with questions – amazingvase@hotmail.com

More wedding photos

November 20, 2010

Scott and Becca

Scott and Becca

Bridal Party

fun pic

Becca’s family

Our whole gang

Storm watching



Decorating the car

just married

Just Married

scott becca

Happy couple


After reading ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ by Barbara Kingsolver last Spring, I rushed to order the La Ratte fingerling potatoes she raves about in the book.  Now we are harvesting them, and let me tell you, it is quite a prolific harvest!  One plant had 20 fingerlings, though the average was probably about 8 or 9; anyway, we have filled many boxes with just this one variety.

The La Ratte fingerling potato is described as having a nutty flavor, making it extremely desirable by chefs and cooks serious about their food.  I have cooked them for a few meals, and I’ll have to be honest and say that so far they haven’t tasted any more flavorful than any other potato varieties we’ve harvested this year.  What I do like about them is the fact that a quick scrub is all it takes to prepare them for cooking, which is right up my alley – I quit peeling potatoes years ago when I discovered skin-on mashed potatoes; well, except for Thanksgiving, gotta have white mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving.

I’m glad I gave these a try, but I’m not sure yet if I’ll plant them again – perhaps they will get nuttier tasting as they age and sway my viewpoint, but for now the jury is still out.

July 16th, 2010

Flower prep the day before the wedding – sister Deb made six hand held  bouquets,  40 or so tabletop mason jar arrangements, two pulpit arrangements and the flower girls basket – all with flowers from my garden except for a few dozen roses that we ordered.  We used hundreds of peonies that had been sleeping in my fridge since May and June!

Florist designer - sister Deb

sorting peonies for the wedding

Scott and Becca’s wedding – July 17th, 201o

Storm watching before the wedding

Scott and Becca's rainbow

Funnel cloud over the church after the wedding

Becca's bridal bouqet

Handheld bouqets all in a row

mason jar arrangement

Made with love

Family pictures to follow soon!

8 cups blended tomatoes
1 large red pepper, chopped
1/2 cup minced onion
4 stalks of celery, diced
1 tsp. salt
1 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons real butter
¼ cup water
¼ cup flour

Combine tomato, pepper, onion, celery and salt in large pot.  Bring to boil and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisply tender – about 30 minutes.  In a 5 cup blender container, blend 2 cups of mixture at a time (no more), until smooth; return to pan.  Combine water and flour, slowly add to soup.  Add sugar and butter, cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil, boil 1 minute.  Milk or cream may be added right before serving, if desired.

For canning:  once soup is completely done and simmering, fill clean jars with hot soup and attach clean lids.  Process in boiling water bath:  35 minutes for quarts, 30 minutes for pints.  Time is counted when water is at a full boiling roll.  Do not add milk before canning.

Makes 8-9 cups of soup