sandyOur dog Sandy is guilty. Guilty of robbing the ‘hood.

Just after midnight, I can hear his tail banging against my mother’s bed. His long, caramel-colored body starts doing a snake dance. It doesn’t matter if there is a full moon, a quarter moon, or no moon; he is raring to go.

Simply put, Sandy steals from the rich of bone and bauble, and gives to…himself. And us. He always shares his finds. As far as I know, he doesn’t bury them. He drops them with a clunk at the front door or smuggles them into the house, clenched in his jaws.

The stash of bones gathers in a corner beneath the stairs, or under the radiator, with the dust bunnies. We have a running joke that we never have to buy Sandy bones because, under the cover of darkness, he collects them from the neighbors’ dogs.

After one nighttime raid, about a year ago, I heard Sandy’s gentle scratch at the screen door. In he came. But what was that on the mat? A purple bottle of liqueur?

I brought the mysterious object inside, leaving it on the terrazzo floor. It looked like an upside-down purple mushroom, with the heft of a bowling ball. It was clearly no bottle of booze.

I went back to bed. My head on the pillow, the demons awoke. “Maybe it is an IED. What does IED stand for anyway? Improvised Explosive Device. It’s too big for a grenade. It could be an IED. I got up, walked down the hall, picked up the damn thing and put it outside again.

Daylight brings such clarity.

Turns out Sandy found a BusyBuddy, at least that’s what was imprinted on the surface. I typed b-u-s-y-b-u-d-d-y into my computer and found it is some kind of plastic dog toy. The owner hides treats inside to amuse the nose of the dog, even though the pooch can never reach the nugget without human help.4-pt

That weekend, Sandy’s puppy cousin Tulla came for a visit. Tulla took one look at the abandoned BusyBuddy and started knocking it around the wood floor. The BusyBuddy crashed into table legs and crushed bare toes as it was batted between Tulla’s paws. Long story short, the BusyBuddy went home with Tulla (named after an Irish whiskey named Tullamore Dew) to Connecticut.

I’ve known that Sandy is worth his weight in gold, trademark of the first name of his breed: Golden. It has taken a while, but it finally occurs to me that his thieving ways are also the result of nature, and his second name: Retriever. Laurie Lynch

pumpkin-displayFast forward to this week: Around midnight I heard Sandy’s familiar rumbling. I let him outside and took a snooze on the living room couch. There was a whine at the door. Sandy. With a gift. Just in time for Halloween. A deer skull, teeth intact, below a crown of antlers—a four-point rack. Another mystery to solve.

Fast forward to yesterday: I snapped a few photos and took my laptop to Café Lemont to bask in the sun, have lunch, and write this piece. I got home around 3 p.m. The skull and antlers were gone.


We pass fields of bleached cornstalks, swales of goldenrod, and horse-drawn buggies. The afternoon’s soft September light peeks through barn boards. Display cloths are adorned with fleur-de-lis. Pecks of produce. Bins of bread. Jars of honey. A handful of pullet eggs.

A trickle of nostalgia seeps into my heart.


Fine Barn Dining

No, this is not Maxatawny Township. It is Central Pennsylvania—The Barn at The Hummingbird Room. The formal address is 4188 Penns Valley Road, Spring Mills, but as you travel east on Route 45, about 20 minutes from State College, you pass a sign that says Village of Penn Hall. Then you’ll see a stately brick home with turquoise shutters on the right. Just past that, you turn at the tall, globed lamppost into a gravel parking lot. The barn is tucked behind the house.

Eric and Claudia Sarnow bought the place 21 years ago. He was a trained chef who had worked for three years at two five-star restaurants in the Loire Valley of France and six years at Le Be Fin in Philadelphia. After their son Evan was born, the Sarnows decided to move to the country. The couple brought a taste of French cuisine to Central Pennsylvania with The Hummingbird Room. But after a dozen years, running a restaurant full-time wore thin. It was time to change course. Eric spent the next nine years as a chef on private yacht, cruising and cooking on the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas, with Claudia and Evan joining him at foreign ports.

Two years ago, the family returned to their home and opened The Hummingbird Room for weddings, celebrations, and cooking classes. “Miss Ruby” sends out email invitations for Supper Club dinners in the elegant dining rooms of the 1847 mansion: Christmas in Paris, Miss Ruby’s New Year’s Eve Speakeasy, a seven-course Cupid’s Dart Dinner. Although these events were intriguing, they have been too pricey and over-the-top for my current lifestyle.


The Hummingbird Room

Last fall, we did go to their holiday open house for gourmet gifts like strawberry-basil syrup, caramel chipotle sauce, and smoked salmon mousse to fill holiday baskets and tables. This month, an email suggesting a drive in the country and a visit to The Barn at The Hummingbird Room for Gourmet-To-Go (Or Stay) Weekends made not one, but two, Sundays very special.

There were French baguettes and olive bread loaves to carry home, tastes of thin slices of wild Pacific Salmon that Eric smokes over apple wood at the farm, and an array of desserts such as Plum Torte and Lavender Shortbreads to sample.



The mouthwatering menu included Charred Penns Valley Sweet Corn Salad, Chesapeake Crab Cakes, Mojo Marinated Grilled Cuban Pork, Garden Tomato Basil Salad and Massaged Kale Salad.

I had heard about Massaged Kale Salad but had never tasted it. “Massaged Kale” is just what it says, kneading bits of kale, stripped from the stem, in a bowl with a splash of olive oil, sprinkle of sea salt, and a teaspoon of lemon juice for about three minutes. This process breaks down the rough leaves of the kale and makes it easier to digest. It also turns the kale a vibrant green and gives it a softer, chewy texture.

Claudia’s version had a light, lemony dressing with Craisins, chopped, dried apricots and sunflower seeds. In my version, a few days later, I substituted quartered fresh figs for the apricots. For the dressing, I used the juice of one lemon (minus the teaspoon used for massaging), 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and 2 teaspoons of The Barn at The Hummingbird Room’s honey. Salad heaven! Laurie Lynch

Written on Slate: “September showed up right on schedule and lasted a whole month.” Jenny Wingfield




The poster caught my attention: The words Bug Appetit with a drawing of a giant grasshopper.

I was looking forward to a Penn State version of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Free University of Brussels) tackling the United Nations’ proposal that we Westerners start thinking of insects as protein-packed food. Last school year, the VUB cafeteria offered worm burgers to adventurous students.

The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization 2013 book Edible Insects: future prospects for food and feed security reports that 2 billion people eat insects regularly, cooked or raw, and they are packed with protein, fiber, good fats, and minerals. Of the 1,900 edible insect species, hundreds are part of the diet in many countries; it’s only in Western nations where the “ick” factor bars them from the dinner table.


Ant Lollipops

But what I found at Bug Appetit was a watered-down, candy-coated attempt of making eating insects “cute” with a Pestaurant that offered chocolate-covered insects, sugar-dipped crickets, and ant-crystalized lollipops.

All was not lost. My mother loved the cockroach races. We stood there for a good 15 minutes, watching the youngsters as they opened the lids on the cockroach containers, dumping the critters down a chute and into the PVC racetracks. Off they went! And who could resist the Monarch Tent where you walk with the butterflies as they flitter and flutter past your eyelashes.


Writing with oak gall ink

For me, the magic of the PSU Department of Entomology’s Great Insect Fair event was the gall table.  I’ve known that wasps or other insects feed or lay eggs on the leaves, stems, or twigs of plants, causing deformities. The plant cells respond to the chemicals from the insects by going crazy, enlarging and surrounding the egg or larva with some strange looking galls. Sometimes, galls look like raised warts (of assorted colors) on a leaf. On a rose cane, galls look like tumors. On oaks, galls can look like tan Ping-Pong balls or “oak apples” on twigs and branches. These oak galls are rich in tannic acid.

What amazed me was learning that from the 4th Century through the Renaissance and up until the middle of the 20th century, oak galls, created by wasps on oak trees, were THE source of ink for the written word. The Magna Carta and well as our Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and Constitution were all written using iron gall ink. It was so easy to make, and it was permanent and water-resistant. As recently as 1945, the U.S. imported 550,000 pounds of oak galls from Turkey to make ink. But also around that time, chemically produced inks (and ballpoint pens) were invented, and the use of oak gall ink fell by the wayside.

Iron Gall Ink Recipe

6 oz. powdered oak gall

6 oz. ferric chloride

4 oz. gum Arabic

6 pints water

Mix ingredients and use a quill pen to write your own Magna Carta. Laurie Lynch

Written In Iron Gall Ink: “I’m obsessed with insects, particularly insect flight. I think the evolution of insect flight is perhaps one of the most important events in the history of life. Without insects, there’d be no flowering plants. Without flowering plants, there would be no clever, fruit-eating primates giving TED Talks.” –Michael Dickinson


Last year this time, after dehydrating 30 bulbs of garlic (roughly 200 cloves) and processing the batch into a quart of garlic powder, I questioned whether I would do it again.

  1. I didn’t know if I would use that much garlic powder.
  2. Although I love the fragrance of the stinking rose, the dehydrating process overwhelmed the air quality of the house for a long weekend.

Well, this is August 2016. I did it again, and then some.

  1. Richard arrived in February to an almost-full quart of garlic powder. By the time he left in early July, there was only dust on the bottom of the jar. He used the garlic powder in omelets, sprinkled it on meat and stir-fry, and scooped it into soups and sauces.
  2. I got a call from one of the fellows who suggested making garlic powder in the first place. He had a garlic question, and, as garlic growers often find, one question led to a long, garlicky conversation.   When we touched on the dehydration process, I mentioned that it stank up the house. “Oh, my wife would never let me do it in the house. I just set up my work station in the garage.”

Thank goodness for wives with limits.

For this year’s garlic powder process, I started with 60 bulbs (342 cloves). The grueling part of the job is peeling the papery skins off each of those 342 cloves. But after that was done, the drying and processing seemed to take less time than last year. What a difference it made moving the dehydrator into the garage. The aroma of drying garlic took the edge off the stale gasoline-motor oil odor, and there is nothing like an open garage door for ventilation. Nineteen hours later I was sifting garlic powder into jars.

Some moms send care packages of chocolate chip cookies. Some send brownies. I’ll be mailing my kids containers of homemade garlic powder. Laurie Lynch

Ahoy Skype: Daughter Marina and I have this uncanny tendency to cook or crave certain foods simultaneously even though we live on different continents. Part of it is seasonal, such as baking pumpkin pies when pumpkins ripen in the garden or making pesto pasta when the first basil plants billow with fragrant green leaves. But other times, it might be as simple as, “I made the best Caesar salad last night,” with the other replying, “So did I!”

On Sunday, we were Skyping when Marina held up a large yellow zucchini, “Dinner.”

“Oh, you can make zucchini boats! I just made them for the first time this week. They are so easy and fun. I don’t know why I never made them when you kids were growing up. I guess I was so busy selling the small ones that I never let them get big.”

So, we chatted as Marina prepared her yellow boats. First, I explained, slice the large zucchini in half, lengthwise. Then, scoop out the flesh, leaving about a half inch of flesh as the shell. Cut up the flesh, and add chopped onions or garlic, fresh or canned beans, diced peppers, corn from the cob, cherry tomatoes, whatever you have.   Saute with ground turkey, beef, or sausage, or go meat-less. Stir in grated cheese. Fill each boat with the mixture and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. We said our good-byes between the chopping and sautéing, but I’m sure dinner was delicious.

Written in Cross-Stitch: “Gardeners get to stay in their beds all day.” (A gift from a BFF.)


Every growing season I like to try something new.

This year, I didn’t even have to think about it. My friend Chris handed me three “Kalettes” plants and I immediately gave them a prime spot in my garden.

They grew to be statuesque, waist-high, dusky green plants with purple stems. Real beauties.

This new vegetable was developed through hybridization (not genetic modification) over 15 years at the British vegetable seed house Tozer Seeds. The developers crossed kale and Brussels sprouts, both members of the Brassica oleracea family, to come up with what they call “Flower Sprouts” in the United Kingdom. Little leafy heads grow on a thick stem like Brussels sprouts but the heads are loose with frilly green and purple leaves. The result, I’ve read, is a vegetable with a taste milder than kale and easier prep than Brussels sprouts—no need to blanch or halve the heads, just simply roast, saute or even eat raw.


Remains of Kalettes

The only thing the breeders did not take into consideration when creating their delicious and nutritious Flower Sprouts/Kalettes was making them deer-proof.

That failure aside, it was a great year for garlic. My only problem was a barn full of gorgeous garlic and the thought of it going to waste. My schedule was such that I couldn’t attend the Lemont Farmers Market this month where I usually sell pounds of my hard-neck garlic. What to do?

I heard the state Master Gardener coordinator developed an attractive garlic photo board for Ag Progress Days in mid-August. I figured donating my harvest to our Master Gardener program, bagged and labeled, would be a win-win situation. It was. We sold out by the second day.

August is definitely Master Gardener month in Centre County. This past weekend we had a double-header.

At Tait Farm’s Tomato Festival, Master Gardeners sliced and sorted 60 varieties of tomatoes for the annual Tomato Taste Off. This year’s winner was White Currant, a cream-colored gem about half the size of a cherry tomato with a burst of flavor.

The festival also featured an Iron Chef Competition, with two amateur and three professional chefs who prepared tomato dishes. My favorite entry was created by amateur chef Kelly Renfrew and was awarded “Best Flavor and Texture”.

Tomato Avocado Salsa

4 plum tomatoes

2 T finely chopped onion

4 oz. crumbled feta

1 T chopped fresh parsley

3 T red wine vinegar

2 T olive oil

1/2 t oregano

1/2 t salt

2 avocados, chopped

Mix together and serve with tortilla chips

Master Gardeners also had a table at the 142nd Annual Centre County Grange Fair.  Although I hadn’t been there in 50 years, a walk through the livestock barns brought back memories of showing my pony in the 4-H Roundup…especially when a black toy spider dropped in front of my eyes.

About 15 feet away, a boy, 10 or 11, was sitting on a bale of hay holding a fishing line that was looped over the rafters.  As unsuspecting fairgoers approached, the boy released the line, letting the spooky spider scare his prey.  I think his father or grandfather was playing that trick when I was there last. Luckily, some things don’t change. Laurie Lynch

Written on Slate: “The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumour of sadness and change.” E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web


cropped PPMarina was on a mission. It was Sunday morning and she was scouring the tables at a flea market in Gent’s medieval neighborhood of Patershol.

She and Koen take their vegetable scraps to the community garden compost bin regularly but fruit flies hovering over the bucket on their apartment balcony were annoying. They needed a compost bucket with a lid.

She could have looked online. Garden Supply Company advertises leak-proof and odor-free compost pails that “match your décor.” Their top seller is a mere $39.95 plus shipping, but it’s doubtful they ship to Belgium. Besides, flea markets are so much more fun.

Marina spotted a white enamel bucket with a handle and a lid—exactly what she wanted.

“Young people are buying these again. I just sold one to another young person,” said the woman selling an assortment of goods.

Marina asked her what it was.

“A piss pot. 15 euro.”

“It will be a perfect compost bucket,” Marina said, handing her the money.

As she walked through the cobblestone streets with her prize, people kept saying, “Look, it’s a piss pot” or “She’s got a piss pot” and laughing. One elderly woman asked if piss pots were coming back in fashion. A gentleman asked how much she paid.

The proper Brits across the North Sea would refer to Marina’s find as a “chamber pot” but they are not so genteel in Belgium. Back in the days before indoor plumbing, you’d save yourself a trip to the privy in the middle of the night by relieving yourself in a portable piss pot. Marina got a real-life history lesson at the flea market, and shared her sustainability creed with the older generation: reduce, recycle, reuse, and repurpose. As an added bonus, there is not a fruit fly to be seen in her new compost bucket. Laurie Lynch

Beach visitWritten on Slate: We don’t have to live great lives, we just have to understand and survive the ones we’ve got.” Andre Dubus

Granddaughter Photo Update: Papa Richard and Tantine Marina took Lais to the beach at Oostende. With her lovey Doudou in hand, Lais ventured into the waters of the North Sea and tasted the salt spray.




Smoke TreeWhen Richard was visiting, his cousin Nick often showed up around dinnertime.

One night, we were planning a simple summer meal—BLTs: bacon, garden lettuce and heirloom tomatoes with Belgian mayonnaise on toast. When Richard said, “Can Nick come for dinner?” I automatically said, “Sure,” but then wondered how I was going to make the menu stretch to fill not one but two young men—without a trip to the grocery store.

The refrigerator was looking pretty sparse, but there was an eggplant. The wheels started turning. I sliced the eggplant lengthwise, interspersed the slices with the bacon strips, put the trays into the oven, and baked them at 400 degrees. The bacon fat started melting, sizzling into the eggplant. When it was time to flip the bacon, I flipped the eggplant too.

It was a perfect marriage: Crisp bacon, melt-in-your-mouth eggplant, tender lettuce, and juicy tomatoes. Nick even came up with a catchy name…a “Belt Sandwich.” At first, I didn’t get it. Then he said, “Bacon Eggplant Lettuce and Tomato, B-E-L-T.”

When I was a child, the one vegetable I wouldn’t eat was beetroot, as in Grammy Wrobleski’s pickled beets. Luckily, I grew out of that aversion.

It all started in the garden, well, actually, the garden seed catalog. The red and white rings of the Chioggia beet looked so beautiful in the catalog that I couldn’t resist. I branched out to Bull’s Blood, then Golden. Along the way, I boiled beets, roasted beets, sliced and chopped cooked and chilled beets, pickled raw beets and other vegetables, and tossed beet greens into salads. My daughter Marina even made a chocolate mint beet mousse pie. I’m one of those obnoxious converts—I love beets.

Early this summer, I was chatting with a gardening buddy and the conversation, as it often does, slid from the soil to the kitchen. I was detailing the steps of some beet recipe when Sharon said, “My favorite way to eat beets is to grate them raw into a salad.”

“You just eat them raw? You don’t cook them or anything?”

“Yes, I just grate them. Raw, like a carrot.”

Simple. It was so simple. Why hadn’t I ever thought of it?

Well, this summer I’ve been making up for lost time. I wash the fresh beet. If it has brown, sunburned shoulders I trim that skin off, but other than that, I just slide the beet down the grater until I have a haystack of ruby, peppermint striped, or golden beets. Next, I chop a Poona Kheera cucumber and put a layer on each salad plate. Then, I scoop a generous portion of the grated beets and place it on top of the bed of cucumber. I drizzle with salad dressing or just a splash of vinegar and a crackle of pepper. Simple, elegant, and oh, so healthy.

I made the raw beet-cucumber salad for my sister Lee Ann when she came for a weekend. She liked it so much that she shared her favorite sandwich recipe. The other night I tried it, and I must say it is another simple summer meal that will become a standard.

Bleu Portabella Burgers

Onions or shallots

1 Portabella Mushroom Cap per person

Blue Cheese

Salad Leaf Basil or Lettuce

Toasted Bread or Roll

Caramelize chopped shallots in olive oil. Remove from pan. Add a little more olive oil and place the Portabella mushroom in the pan, smooth side up. Cook for a few minutes; then flip. Place shallots in the “cup” of the mushroom, top with blue cheese, cover, and cook until tender.

Slide mushroom onto a slice of toast, add several Salad Leaf Basil leaves, and top with another slice of toast. Perfect with an ear or two of sweet corn on the cob.

Keep it simple. Laurie Lynch

Written in Slate: Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder. –Rumi

Fleur-de-Up: The photo accompanying this blog is of a home I pass while riding through Lemont. The color of the floral panicles on the smoketrees echo the trim of the dormer window. Stunning. Cotinus obovatus is native to the United States and has brilliant fall foliage.

Fleur-de-Down: I bought a watermelon over the weekend at our local Amish farmers market. When I got it home, I saw the tiny sticker that said: Product of the EU. Are you kidding me?