And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.
William Shakespeare, As You Like It
And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.
William Shakespeare, As You Like It



monk soup

january 28, 2020

Monk Soup – Zuppa di Pasta e Fagioli

As a momma of three who has been homeschooling for twenty-five years, I discovered early on that the unit study was the best fit for my family of creatives. If WWII was the topic, we planted a few Victory Garden plants, listened to old radio shows, played the music and movies, and prepared the recipes. Immersing ourselves into the era was like time traveling! When we studied the medieval period and early church history, I pulled Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette’s cookbook Twelve Months of Monastery Soups off the shelf and researched what the brothers might enjoy on a cold night. The book features recipes that are simple and hearty, and served by Brother Victor at the monastic table at Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery in New York.

My kids chose this recipe for Zuppa di Pasta e Fagioli because of its similarity to another family-favorite Italian dish called Pasta Fagioli (fa-ZOOL). We christened our medieval selection ‘Monk Soup.’ Our version uses homemade chicken stock, but this wonderfully flexible soup can be vegetarian if you use a vegetable broth, and vegan by leaving out the Parmigiano-Reggiano. I serve the soup with rustic bread, olives, special deli cheeses like sharp cheddar and brie, speck ham, and a shallow bowl of olive oil and herbs.

You use:

1-2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped

½ c. extra virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, chopped (I use 8-ish. Italian families double the suggested amounts of garlic!)

1 28-ounce can chopped Italian tomatoes with the juice

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried or fresh rosemary, chopped

1 teaspoon dried or fresh basil, chopped

¼ c. fresh Italian parsley, chopped

4 cups (two cans) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

6 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)

1 c. dry white wine

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 box or bag of your favorite orzo, ditalini, or tortellini

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and additional olive oil

Note 1 – We use homemade chicken stock. To make a batch, save the bones from a rotisserie chicken. Place them in a pot with a quartered onion and a carrot or two, cover with water, and simmer for about two hours. Strain and use immediately or freeze for later.

Note 2 – Amounts of garlic and herbs are to your taste. Wine is optional.

Note 3 –  Cook the pasta in a separate pot, not in the soup, or the broth will become starchy and the pasta will overcook.

monk soup

You cook:

First, sauté the onion in olive oil in a large stock pot until soft, then add garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes more, stirring continuously.

Add the chopped tomatoes with their juice, bay leaf, rosemary, basil, and parsley. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the mixture attains a smooth, thick texture. Stir often.

Add the beans, stock, wine, salt, and pepper. Stir slowly and bring to a low boil. Turn down to simmer and cook 15 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf, cover the pot, and let the soup rest for another 10 minutes.

While the soup is resting, prepare the pasta in another pot according to package directions. Drain and return to its cooking pot, adding a small scoop of broth to prevent pasta from sticking together.

To serve, scoop pasta into a soup bowl and ladle soup over the pasta. Sprinkle with cheese, a pinch of chopped parsley, and drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top.

Serves 6

Download the recipe!

Cultivating Cooks – Monk Soup

First published online in The Cultivating Project, January 28, 2020.



april 15, 2020

I have two bookcases in my kitchen that are filled with cookbooks, as well as a few more shelves and stacks of culinary themes and food history and even a few etiquette books in the rest of the house. At least 100 of them are vintage-era dating back to the late 1800s through the 1960s. I find cookbooks one of the more relaxing of reads. Filled with possibilities and pretty pictures, they make no demands of me other than a visit to my local market. There is a certain charm about old recipes found between worn, food-stained covers. The notations in pencil made by the previous owner and random drips of batter and butter mark a recipe as a time-honored classic.

A few of my classics came from my mom’s kitchen. As I helped her purge the cookbook shelf in her cupboard, we filled a box of her favorite cookbooks and boxes of recipe cards to bring back to my home. One of those well-loved treasures was a soft-cover “Spin Cookery” booklet from 1966 that came with her Osterizer blender.  On a wrinkled page stained by egg yolk and milk, I found one of our favorite Sunday night treats from when I was a little girl. I remember Sunday nights as set apart from the normal weekly meals of roast and burgers. Mom would make creamed shrimp on toast or we would pull out the fondue pot and fry cubes of steak in hot oil. Her blender crepes were a spring recipe and fairly exotic compared to the regular Midwestern fare. Dad and I would go out to the garden and pick a bowl of juicy red strawberries, tiny raspberries, and dark purple blackberries. These yummy fruits would be folded into the crepes, then topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of powdered sugar. Dessert for supper? Yes!

French Pancakes (Also known as Bubbi’s Blender Crepes)

Makes 8 7” pancakes


3 eggs

1 ½ cup milk

1 T melted butter

1 cup sifted flour

½ tsp salt

Put all ingredients into a blender in the order listed, cover, and pulse or process on low until smooth. Heat a non-stick skillet, brush with melted butter, and pour in enough batter to cover bottom of the pan, leaving enough space to be able to flip the crepe. Tip and roll the pan if necessary in order to spread the batter thin and evenly. Brown on one side. When top is nearly set, flip pancake over. Keep warm on a pizza stone or tray in a 170 degree oven until all are made. These can also be served cooled for dessert.

Fill with fresh berries, Nutella, sliced bananas, whipped cream, fruit compote. Roll them up and sprinkle with powdered sugar.


First published online in The Cultivating Project, April 15, 2020.




april 15, 2020

Many years ago, my kids received a Star Wars cookbook that came with tiny cookie cutters shaped like Yoda, Darth, and R2D2. Clone Scones was the favorite out of all of the recipes, so this stellar army of buttery goodness appeared at every sleepover. Warm homemade scones topped with marmalade or strawberry jam and a thick swipe of Irish butter were a special treat for kids.

I found the following recipe in an old cookbook and it has always turned out perfect scones. They are quick and easy to make! The sleepovers have stopped over time, so the new tradition is surprising my grownup friends with golden scones and a jar of jam or lemon curd, lightly covered with a bright napkin and tucked in a basket.

Friendship Scones

Recipe for 12


3 cups bleached all-purpose flour

¼ cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter

¾ cup currants or other small, dried fruit (optional)

2 eggs

¾ cup milk

Egg wash: 1 egg well beaten with a pinch of salt

Baking stone (ideal) or cookie sheet (covered with baking parchment).


  1. Set the oven rack at the middle of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Cut the cold butter into 12 pieces and rub it evenly into the dry mixture until it has a cornmeal texture. (I use a pastry blender)
  4. Add dried fruit, if desired.
  5. Whisk the eggs and milk together and stir into the flour/butter mixture with a fork to form smooth dough.
  6. Remove from the bowl to a floured surface and give it a light kneading 3 or 4 times.
  7. Divide the dough into 3 pieces and pat to form thick, 5”-ish discs. Using a sharp knife, cut each disk into quarters, separating them on the stone or pan.
  8. Apply egg wash to top and sides of each scone.
  9. Bake the scones for 10-15 minutes, until they are golden and firm.

Serve with good butter, favorite jam or curd, and a pot of tea.


First published online in The Cultivating Project, April 15, 2020.




july 3, 2020

Annie Nardone

Berry season finally arrived, ushered in by bright red strawberries found in the green patches at our favorite farm. Strawberry picking has been our yearly tradition each May, a wonderful marker in our year that reminds us of warmer days ahead. We fill our cardboard flats with candy-sweet berries and nibble a few while we listen to the crowing roosters and the low moo of the cows in a nearby pasture.

Our first recipe is strawberry shortcake served after dinner that same night. There is strong debate over the correct shortcake. Some prefer angel food cake slices, others like a thick shortbread. Our old school favorite that gets the vote is a southern biscuit cut in half and piled high with sliced berries, then topped with real whipped cream. This recipe includes a touch of fresh basil in the biscuit, which compliments the sweet berries with a very subtle, savory note.

What you will need:

First: The berries.

1 quart fresh strawberries, stemmed and sliced

1 tablespoon sugar

Gently toss the sugar with the berries and set aside. You can skip the sugar, but it creates a little juice to soak into the biscuit.

Next: The biscuits.

2 cups self-rising flour

¼ cup Crisco shortening

¾ cup milk

4-6 leaves of fresh basil, chopped


Whipped cream for serving

Heat your oven to 450°. Measure flour into a large bowl. Add basil and toss to coat. Cut the shortening into the flour with a pastry blender until you have a pea-size crumb. Add milk, stirring with large fork until you have a soft dough.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Gently knead five or six times until smooth. Roll dough to ½ thickness. Cut into circles using a 2” cutter or drinking glass. Place circles on baking sheets with sides slightly touching.

Bake 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Set biscuits on cooling rack and brush with a little bit of honey. Makes 1 dozen.

Slice the biscuit through the middle and assemble the shortcakes in layers: biscuit, strawberries and their yummy juice, whipped cream, the other biscuit half, more berries, more whipped cream. This is lovely when served with tea for breakfast too!


First published online in The Cultivating Project, July 3, 2020.