Easy Lunch: Sweet Potato & Salad

What to do when you don’t want a sandwich for lunch, but you don’t want to put in any more effort than that? You need something hot and that doesn’t require a lot of time actively preparing. What could be easier to make than a baked potato? 

For a little more flavor and even more nutritious goodness, I like to have a baked sweet potato. Stick it with a fork, wrap it in aluminum foil, and put it in the oven until it’s squishy. Don’t worry- you would have to leave it in the oven an awfully long time before it would burn! It takes a while – mine was in the oven for an hour and a half – but you can go about your business and it’ll cook itself.

I like to top mine with butter, cinnamon and ground ginger. A lot of people like to use butter and brown sugar, but given the option I generally go the savory route.

There are lots of things that pair wonderfully with sweet potatoes, especially of the green variety. Green beans, macaroni and cheese, and a sweet potato forms the ultimate triumverate in my book, but since we’re keeping things easy today, how about a nice salad?

Confession time: I’ve never been a huge fan of the raw-vegetables-and-ranch style salad. Vegetables are for cooking and ranch is for party platters. Give me a good old vinegarette any day! I also love to use fruits on salads instead of the vegetables. 

The good news is that you can’t really go wrong here. Just look into your fridge and see what’s there! I had apples and avocados, so that’s what I’m having. Bonus points for the avocado: it’s replacing the cheese that would have been here in its place otherwise.

Salads with fruit are even better with nuts, so I’m adding some walnuts as well. 

And there you have it! Easy, delicious, and healthy. In addition to that, if you left off the butter, this could easily be both vegan and gluten free, which I can’t often say about my food, due to my love affair with bread and cheese.

Apple Cheese Sandwich


Let’s face it – for most of us, sandwiches are a part of life. However much we may dream about sitting down every day to a delicious, beautiful, and decadent yet healthy meal prepared by our own personal chef, chances are it’s not in the cards.

Now that I’ve gotten the bad news out of the way, let’s move on to the good news. Sandwiches don’t have to be boring! It’s time to break out of that deli-turkey-and-swiss rut and embrace the joys of creative sandwiching. As a child, the definitive sandwich was probably peanut butter and jelly on Bunny Bread; maybe you got crafty like Mr. Rogers taught you and made faces out of banana slices and raisins on peanut butter. Maybe that doesn’t sound so great now, but the key is to channel that same sandwich excitement that you had then and bring it to the lunch table now.

For this sandwich, I started off with the old staple (for me, at least) of a cheese sandwich. This has sort of become my new PB&J recently: fast, easy, and tasty with some good potato chips. I decided it could use a little something different, though. My solution not only lightens it up a little, but updates the humble cheese sandwich for fall.

I started off my new sandwich adventure with some great, flavorful bread. The cranberry walnut wheat bread that I used gave a nice blend of sweet and tart and some good nutty depth. I got my bread at Earth Fare, but whatever bakery or grocery store with a bakery that is near you should have options that will work. I switched out the usual mayonnaise and mustard for some honey mustard sauce, which is nothing but a mixture of mayonnaise, mustard, and honey.

The extra sharp cheddar that is the basis of the sandwich stays the same, but I added slices of apple to it. It gives it a satisfying crunch, refreshing juiciness, and a nice blend of sweet and tart. I used honeycrisp apples for mine, but you can substitute any you would like. I suggest a variety that has plenty of flavor somewhere between sweet and tart, but if you are a devotee of the golden delicious or granny smith apple, go ahead and give it a shot!

So there you have it: an absolutely delicious sandwich that is no trouble at all to make, but will liven up your lunch in no time! If you want a little more to eat, pair this sandwich with some butternut squash soup for a rich autumn feast.

Busy Little… Spider?

This is Charlotte. Charlotte is a garden spider (Argiope aurantia) who annually makes our home her home. Though of course it isn’t the same spider year to year, we always call her Charlotte. She used to always make her web on or beside the back porch, but she has moved to a sunny spot in a corner over the past couple of years.


Each year, female garden spiders lay eggs, which they enclose in durable webbing sacs to protect them through the winter. Then, in the spring, these eggs hatch, and tiny spider hatchlings come out to make their own webs or fly away on bits of thread to find new homes – just like at the end of Charlotte’s Web.

Normally, you see one big brown egg sac on Charlotte’s web every fall. This year she’s been especially busy, however. Not one, not two, but three egg sacs adorn Charlotte’s web. We may have a whole family of Charlottes next spring!


Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun

The light is getting that mellow, golden quality, the smell of dry leaves fills the air, the weather gets cooler (some days)… And the dogs want to go outside and gallop around playing. Of course Jake couldn’t resist joining in. Florence is even getting into the fall spirit with a festive bandana!


May Day

Today is one of my favorite holidays: May Day! Beloved of the cavalier poets, I always think of May Day as a time to revel in nature and seize the joys of life. I always make sure that I spend part of May first outdoors every year, feeling the sunshine (or wind, or rain) on my face, and reading some of my favorite carpe diem poems. Their message – live life to its fullest, because sooner or later death comes to us all – is a great reminder to make time for the pleasures in life, and, though bad things are often unavoidable, not let them obscure everything else.

So go outside, take a deep breath, and remember to look for the beauty all around you. Maybe even take a few minutes to read some Herrick!

Snow Days

Over the past week some much-publicized snow storms have blown across the country, bringing thick blankets of fluffy white snow to cover the land. Here, we were at the outskirts of the storms coming across Kentucky and Tennessee, so we missed the majority of the snow, but still got enough to leave us snowed in for a couple of days.

Walter, of course, loved having everyone shut up in the house with him for much of the week. He thrives on companionship and, given the choice, would require it at all times, with the possible exception of during his late morning-noontime nap. He was perfectly content to just look out the window; the couple of times he was given the opportunity to get out in the snow, he was actually afraid of it, and turned tail and ran back inside as soon as he got the chance.


There was certainly plenty to see outside, though. The snow and cold brought out all manner of wildlife. The bird feeders are always popular, but during the snow they were absolutely covered. Though they are less immediately recognizable in their winter plumage, the goldfinches were out in full force. I don’t think I have ever seen so many in any one place at one time. That’s right: all of those round beige splotches in the tree will soon be gloriously dressed in bright yellow.


Even though it isn’t much snow volume wise, it was enough to make roads icy and close schools. I almost slid down twice in one trip walking the dogs, and Florence actually did slip and fall on her walk. Needless to say, there isn’t a whole lot to do besides stay inside. We’ve perfected the art of relaxing; it’s going to be a shock when the world starts going again.



Ghosts of Thanksgivings Past

Back in the day, my grandmother was the grand hostess of Thanksgiving. She cooked a huge meal attended by all seven of her children, her many grandchildren, and later even great-grandchildren. Though her daughters helped, the majority of the work was done by Granny. When I got a bit older, I started frying the ham out on the enclosed porch; it was really a tiny drop in the ocean of everything there was to be done, but it made me feel like an important part of the event to help out even in that small way.

The group that gathered for Thanksgiving was large enough that it filled three tables. The dining room had the most formal place settings, and was the unofficial men’s room, filled in with the oldest daughters and wives. The second table was in the kitchen, where the daughters and oldest granddaughters sat. The children’s table was a card table out on the enclosed porch off of the kitchen. Out there we sat in some old ladder back chairs, which had an unfortunate tendency to flip over backward if you tried to sit back in the chair and lean against the backrest.

My first associations with Thanksgiving will probably always include those tippy ladder back chairs (which still show up occasionally if we have a big Thanksgiving crowd) and sitting at that old oak table, backed up against the house plants on the window sill. We are making a new set of Thanksgiving memories, however, with Thanksgiving dinner in a new location. My mother, the only family member who has thus far managed to replicate Granny’s rolls, is the obvious heir to the throne of Thanksgiving hostess, and we do our best to make it continue to be a special time for our family every year.

We’re a smaller group than we used to be, and we sit at different tables and eat off of different plates, but at the heart of it, we enjoy the same things about Thanksgiving that we always did: the reunion with family members that we don’t see as often as we’d like, the traditional foods that make Thanksgiving dinner so happy and comforting (turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce, green beans, sweet potatoes – and of course rolls and pecan pie!), and even some little family heirlooms that remind us of all of those wonderful Thanksgivings at Granny’s house.

As much as I’d like to travel back in time for another Thanksgiving at Granny’s, I know that we can’t turn back time, and we have to make the best of what we have. I am thankful for the Thanksgivings I was able to share with my family in that dear old house, and that I am able to share them with my family now in my own home.