Escape from Smog Lake Valley

Forecast: Widespread Haze. Widespread Haze. Widespread Haze. Day, after day, after day, after day. It's not a pretty sight. Or smell, for that matter.

Whether you call it haze, inversion, or smog, Salt Lake City has had an awful year for pollution. Of greatest concern are PM 2.5 particles, which "pose a health concern because they can be inhaled into and accumulate in the respiratory system." (Source)  With 42 "Orange" air quality days and 14 "Red" air quality days for particle pollution (source), Salt Lake City lands itself a spot at #5 in the American Lung Association's most polluted cities by short-term particle pollution.  Most of the "solution" relies on voluntary action and unenforced mandatory action. People are advised to drive less, use public transportation, and stay indoors on these days. Wood fires are prohibited, and industry is asked to "optimize operating conditions to minimize air pollution." 

Air pollution can cause eye and throat irritation; chromosomal damage to fetuses; exacerbate asthma, heart, and lung disease; and causes similar lung damage as smoking. Children and the elderly are at the highest risk, but we all wonder what the air is doing to us. 

Numerous state-sponsored studies put most of the blame on vehicles. And the air is noticeably clearer on holidays - when people don't have to drive to work. But there's more to it than that.It turns out that most PM 2.5 is created by a chemical reaction between sunlight and precursor gases in the air, and it's difficult to identify the sources of those gases, though wood burning is thought to contribute more than other sources. (Source) Nevertheless, Utah policymakers seem happy to blame the drivers - who need to be able to move quickly about a spread-out suburban community - and award permits for increased emissions to industrial polluters. 

Added to the physical health threats of the air quality is the psychological threat. How depressing is it to look out at this landscape every day? To worry about your health every second that you're outside? To dart from the car to the (hopefully) cleaner indoor air?

Not surprisingly, many people hop in their cars to get away from the smog. With its short days and cold temperatures, winter is depressing enough without being told that it's unhealthy to go outside. And during these inversions, all we crave is some fresh air.

Last weekend, as our Christmas/New Year's trip, we did just that. We packed a picnic cooler with enough food to last us two days, and headed down to Palisades, Colorado. Odie came too, and was thrilled to find a doggy park/trail right by the river. If he'd had his way, we would have stayed there the whole time!

But the real destination was the wine - Palisades has quite a few vineyards and fruit orchards, so we decided to tour wine country in the off-season. We saw this great license plate on the back of a pickup truck at one winery...

And saw some grapes left on the vine...

And a pretty sunset over a vineyard...

On Sunday, we had another nature walk with Odie...

But he was more interested in the frisbee!

On our way out, we saw this cute sculpture, titled "Rusty's Dream."

Palisades and its neighbor, Grand Junction, also suffer from inversions in the wintertime, but are less densely populated and don't have nearly the same levels of pollution as Utah's mountain communities. When we drove back to Salt Lake City, we were saddened to see that the smog hadn't dissipated - it had gotten worse.  I haven't lived here long, but I've gathered that the smog is usually at its worst in January. As we look forward to the New Year and the rest of the winter, I hope to see the state take a hard look at the real sources of pollution, stop finger-pointing, and take some real action to clean up the air.

In Love with a Mediterranean Climate: Succulents Everywhere!

When we went to Italy, the first thing I noticed was plants. They were everywhere! Spilling from balconies, planted in public parks, growing out of walls, on restaurant patios. Everywhere I looked,there were plants. Each week, I’m sharing a different aspect of the plants I saw in Italy. Last week it was plants growing among the ruins. This week, I’m sharing just a few of the succulents I saw!

I love succulents. When I caught the gardening bug, succulents were the only thing that didn't die on my dim windowsill. Now my only barrier to keeping them alive is Odie, who seems to love to tear them to shreds. When a succulent starts to send off new shoots at my house, I have a little party. But that's nothing compared to the succulents spilling out of their pots in Italy!

Some were modest and symmetrically arranged with other plants like the ever-present cyclamen.

Others were squeezed into every available space on the balcony.

This building had an identical pot of Thanksgiving cactus in full bloom, just like this. The effect was lovely.

But mostly, succulents spilled over the balcony like this, reminding me that a Mediterranean climate is what makes them go wild.

P.S. Hope your Christmas was wonderful, and Happy Boxing Day!

Merry Christmas!

I hope your Christmas is all things beautiful and bright. Winter Solstice was this weekend, meaning the days will only get brighter from here. It's decidedly a white Christmas here.

We're taking it easy this year, more or less. We've done so much traveling for the wedding, that it's nice to curl up on the couch with Odie at our feet and not worry whether the snow will close the airport. 

But just because we're not going anywhere, doesn't mean that we're not celebrating. There are flowers all over the house. Cut flowers, cyclamen, an amaryllis, and paperwhites being forced in the basement. And I love holiday food. The week before spent making pies, fudge, mac and cheese, all the comfort food we ration throughout the year, all piled up on the table to enjoy all at once.  Just for kicks, here's this year's Christmas menu:

  • Deviled Eggs

Main Course:

Side Dishes:


Shhh! It's a Super-Secret Ginger Snap Recipe!

Happy Christmas Eve! In the spirit of Christmas, I'm sharing my "secret" ginger cookie recipe. It plays a big part in the holiday season, as I like to give them away, bring them to holiday parties, and even use them to make pie crusts for sweet potato pie. 

When I was a kid, I loved gingerbread from Colonial Williamsburg. The gingerbread was the size of a large biscuit (the Southern kind, not a British biscuit which is really a cookie), and dense. Denser than pound cake, and dry, like it had so much flour packed into it. Wanting to replicate those cookies, I tried a couple of recipes, and ended up with a molasses-based ginger cookie instead. Folks seemed to think it was better than the real thing. I made them all the time as gifts, as a church fundraiser, and just for the fun of it.

Fast forward ten years, and I started hankering for a gluten-free version. Just for the heck of it, I figured, I'd come up with my own. Well. Mike liked them so much he insisted that I make them as wedding favors. Let's just say, this recipe has been tested out the wazoo. And there weren't any left over from the wedding.

So, this recipe will just be our little secret, okay? Don't be daunted by the number of ingredients - it's really pretty simple. I promise.

You start with some melted butter. Normally this would freak me out, but it's okay, because it makes the whole thing easier to stir, and we're going to chill the dough anyways. 

To the butter, we'll add some sugar and brown sugar.

Then add molasses by weight so you don't have to get frustrated when it doesn't all come out of the measuring cup, and an egg and some vanilla, and stir it all together.

In a separate bowl, weigh out the flour, measure out the spices, and then whisk them all together.

Mix about a third of the flour mixture into the liquids by hand with a wooden spoon (this is the part where we're glad we melted the butter). Lather, rinse, repeat, until you've used up all the flour.

It'll look something like this. Maybe a little darker or lighter, depending on the kind of molasses you use.

Now the hard part. Refrigerate the dough overnight. Not an hour. Not two hours. Overnight.

Once that dough is nice and cold, roll it into one-inch balls.

Roll each ball in some sugar. Keep 'em cold until they're ready to go in the oven. I often put them on a plate and stick them in the fridge until it's time to put them in the oven.

Place about two inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment, and bake at 325 degrees for 11 minutes. Yep, 11 minutes. Not 10. Not 12. Eleven is the magic number for these cookies. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before moving them to a cooling rack.

Now you have some delicious, chewy molasses ginger cookies. If you prefer ginger snaps, you can put them back on a cookie sheet (they don't need to be spaced out, just a single layer is fine), turn off the heat, and let them harden overnight. 

Ginger Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

  • 3.2 ounces each teff flour, millet flour, and sorghum flour
  • 1 tablespoon psyllium husks
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 heaping tablespoon ground ginger
  • 2 heaping teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 scant teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1/3 cup molasses (3.5 ounces, if measuring by weight)
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium sized bowl, weigh out the flours, then whisk with the baking soda, spices, and salt. Set aside.

In another medium or large bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar,  and 1/3 cup of the granulated sugar. Add in the molasses, egg, and vanilla, stirring until well combined.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in a third of the flour mixture until well combined. Repeat, using about a third of the flour mixture at a time. When all the flour has been incorporated, cover the dough and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. 

Roll the dough out into 1-inch balls, then roll each ball in the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar. Keep the dough cold until the cookies are ready to go into the oven.

Place each ball about 2 inches apart on a lined cookie sheet. Bake for 11 minutes.

Allow the cookies to cool about five minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire cooling rack.

If you want ginger snaps instead of chewy cookies, bake all the cookie dough first. Then, arrange the cookies in a single layer (they don't have to have any space between them) on several baking sheets, then return to the oven. Turn off the heat immediately, and leave them to cool and harden several hours or overnight. Ginger snaps like this make an excellent sweet pie crust.

Fully Loaded Cornbread Muffins

Some folks might just think this is sacrilege. After all, cornbread in its purest form is just cornmeal , salt, baking soda, egg, buttermilk, and oil. That's the way cornbread was when I was a kid, and frankly, I was only interested in it if it was drenched in butter and honey. Not a bad way to go, but do indulge me here. I like to have fun. 

And I think you'll have fun with this recipe, too. The whole corn kernels give a nice juicy pop when you bite into them, the caramelized onion accents the sweetness of the corn, and the jalapeno gives it a  nice little kick to keep you on your toes. And the cheese. Of course there's cheese. The individual muffin size makes everything more fun, plus it's perfect for popping into a bread basket and passing around the dinner table - if they make it that far! So dig in, get your hands a little dirty, step off the beaten path, and give these cornbread muffins a try!

Fully Loaded Cornbread Muffins

  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup gluten-free flour blend
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup onions, caramelized
  • 1/2 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup corn
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup +1 tablespoon butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour about a half teaspoon of vegetable oil into the bottom of each depression in your muffin tin. Place the muffin tin in the oven while it preheats. 

Sift together the cornmeal, gluten-free flour blend, salt, baking soda, and sugar. Stir in the onions, jalapeno, corn and chives. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, butter, and egg. Stir this mixture into the cornmeal mixture. Spoon into the muffin tins, then top with the cheddar cheese.

Bake 15-17 minutes.

Makes about 12 muffins. Serve with BBQ & coleslaw, Brunswick stew, or just enjoy as you would any old dinner roll - except these are anything but ordinary!

In Love with a Mediterranean Climate: Plants Growing out of the Walls!

When we went to Italy, the first thing I noticed was plants. They were everywhere! Spilling from balconies, planted in public parks, growing out of walls, on restaurant patios. Everywhere I looked,there were plants. Each week, I’m sharing a different aspect of the plants I saw in Italy. Last week it was landscapes. This week, I’m sharing the plants that literally grew in and out of the walls!

I'm no stranger to seeing plants growing out of cracks in sidewalks, or even cracks in the side of a mountain. That's just what they do. It gets me every time. When we visited Italy, there were plants everywhere -even when someone hadn't planned on putting them there.

There was grass and moss growing in the ruins of the Colosseum.

Moss growing on ancient steps - so flat it looked like part of the step itself.

Ivy growing around ancient, fallen columns.

And even plants finding their way into newly excavated ruins.

Some places, like the Circo Massimo, just look like a huge sunken lawn.

And, wherever they can find a spot to hang on, there are plants growing out of the walls.

Italy was Cold! A Honeymoon Hat and Mittens

I know I've been going on and on about how much I love the Mediterranean climate - and I do! But after a couple of days in Italy, the weather turned chilly. Last week I shared the sweater I wore all over Italy. This week I'm sharing my hat and mittens!

When I bought the yarn for the sweater, I bought a lot extra. Just in case. And because it's my favorite yarn. And I wanted to fill a bathtub up with it, and just sleep there. Or knit with it all winter. Or both. 

Anyways, it's always better to have more yarn than not quite enough. These hat and mittens were great stashbusting projects, and easy plane knitting to boot. I made the hat from this pattern while on the plane to our wedding, blocked it in our hotel, then wore it all over Italy. Ravelry project page here.

I made the mittens from this pattern - slightly altered to fit my preferences, and was done halfway to Italy.

 I'm so glad I decided to make them fingerless instead of making real mittens - I took thousands of photos, so it was great to have my fingers free. And it was really just cold enough that I needed something to keep my fingers from getting chilly, but not cold enough for full-on mittens. Ravelry project page here.

If you were wondering, I also knit the scarves, way back in the day! Ravelry project pages here and here.

Kale & Herb Ricotta Cheese

Kale & Herb Ricotta sounds so pretentious, doesn't it? Well, hold up a minute, because this is amazing. And there's really not that much to it. Plus, you can use it on anything...

Spread on toasted gluten-free English muffins...

As ravioli filling...

Or just eaten out of the jar whenever the urge for a snack hits you. (Not that I would do that...)

You can definitely use store-bought ricotta here, but I used this recipe to make my own because I felt like playing around in the kitchen. Either way. Just be sure you try it out!

Kale and Herb Ricotta Cheese

This little recipe was inspired by some gluten-free chard and ricotta cannelloni I had while in Italy. I usually don't care much for chard, but ordered it anyway to be an adventurous eater. Anyways, the chard was chopped up into such tiny pieces I didn't mind it at all - in fact, I enjoyed it! You could certainly use a chard leaf or other dark green here. Let your imagination run wild!


  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 leaf lacinto kale (aka "Dino" kale), finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch onion powder
  • Pinch garlic powder
Put the kale into a medium skillet and place over medium heat, just until it starts to wilt and then sizzle. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley, salt, onion powder, and garlic powder. Let it cool, then stir into the ricotta. 

Use on pizza, toast, as pasta filling, or as a sneaky snack. Keeps in the fridge for about a week - not that it'll last that long!

Risotto alla "Bambi"

Last week, I made a shrimp risotto and utterly failed to take a decent photo of it. This week, I made some venison risotto. It was supposed to be my redemption photo shoot. Until the camera battery died. Ugh. This is as good as it's gonna get, I'm afraid:

Anyways, this is a "leftovers" meal. My brother shot the deer, and the tenderloin has been hanging out in my parents' freezer since last hunting season. When I was home last weekend for a dear friend's wedding, my dad cooked it for Sunday dinner. Which, if you're from the South, you know is just a big lunch on Sunday, but we call it dinner.

The original dish Dad cooked is a venison tenderloin, cut into 2-inch chunks, then wrapped with half a piece of bacon, and held together with a toothpick or two. It goes on the grill, turning a couple of times so the bacon gets crispy, until the venison is medium or medium-rare. The fat from the bacon helps keep the lean venison moist, and the whole thing is so delicious it'll make you swoon.

In Love with a Mediterranean Climate: Landscapes

When we went to Italy, the first thing I noticed was plants. They were everywhere! Spilling from balconies, planted in public parks, growing out of walls, on restaurant patios. Everywhere I looked, there were plants. Each week, I’m sharing a different aspect of the plants I saw in Italy. Last week it was all the places I found plants. This week, I’m sharing some spectacular landscapes!

The first stop on our trip was Rome. Italian Stone Pines (aka umbrella pines) are a dominant part of the landscape, and it's easy to see why! Some were very tall - much taller than the little ones you see below.

Some public spaces, like the Roman Forum, have been extensively landscaped, and were an absolute paradise in the middle of the city. I loved it so much, we stayed until the guards literally pushed us out at closing time!

There were also cypress trees - not just used for cemeteries! They're excellent windbreaks, good at absorbing sound, and are said to scent the air.

 In Tuscany, there were rolling hillsides that reminded us of southwestern Virginia, just older.

And the vineyards - the vines were turning yellow, making them look like the sun.

I was surprised at how gray olive trees are. But still beautiful, and they have me searching for a cold-hardy olive I can grow in Utah.

And then there were the watery landscapes of Venice's canals and lagoons that were full of life yet so relaxing...

Italy was Cold! A Wedding and Honeymoon Sweater

I can go on and on about how much I loved Italy's climate (and I do here), but after our first few days in Rome, Italy turned cold. We'd checked the weather forecasts and tried to pack light, so I figured this sweater would be plenty to keep me warm. 

The pattern is Aidez, made with Plymouth Baby Alpaca Grande, it's a pretty warm sweater, and it was warm enough most days - but I also paired it with a hat, scarf and fingerless mittens on colder days.

The cables were actually pretty easy to do. There's not as much going on as it looks like, so once I got into a rhythm it all sailed along pretty nicely. I finished all the pieces and steam blocked them before we left for our wedding, then seamed it in stolen moments between dinners, luncheons, and the like. It was easy and quick to seam, and was ready to wear for our rehearsal dinner!

As you can see above, the fronts are pretty open, which is usually how I like my cardigans. I shortened the sleeves and body since I'm short and have short arms. The sleeves hit just below my wrists, and the body of the sweater hits just below the fullest part of my hips.

The softness of the yarn makes it such a joy to knit, and also makes it a bit fuzzy, but it is still so warm and soft!

Ravelry project page here.

Gluten-Free Lip Balm

I don't know about you, but my skin is taking the brunt of this winter weather. And my lips take the worst of it. To top it all off, I can never seem to find chapstick that's free of all the things I'm allergic to. There are a few out there, but they don't seem to work too well. So the only thing to do is make my own.

This recipe was super easy. The hardest part is the double boiler, and that's really simple. Just a heatsafe bowl or pan inside another pan. The bigger of the two is filled with water and brought to a boil. Then the ingredients go into the other one to gently melt the wax and oils. Easy peasy.