Saturday, September 30, 2017


For me -- food is love.  And certain dishes are always associated with certain events.  In this house, Pesto is every July 8th.  Elliott's Birthday.  It's our first picking of basil...and I always, always make Pesto on that day.

I pride myself on making the best Pesto in Iowa. (I say that in confidence, because I'm the only Iowa person I know who makes it)...


First order of business -- pick the FRESH BASIL LEAVES.  I take it out on the porch, fill a bucket with water, and pick off each leaf, putting it in the bucket of water.  I lift the leaves out of the first bucket, and place them in a second bucket of clean water.  Just to be safe, rinse the leaves for a THIRD TIME...before laying them out in a single layer, on a clean bath towel.
It's important to remove all sand or dirt..and pick off the flowers and want THE LEAVES ONLY.
You must handle the leaves gently, or they'll turn black. At this point, I roll the towel, to absorb all the water. I let that sit for awhile. An hour or two won't hurt...
THAT'S THE HARD PART, PEOPLE!! Really. Picking and triple washing the basil leaves takes ABOUT THREE HOURS. Making the actual pesto sauce will take less than 30 minutes.
I know we've discussed this before. But your FOOD PROCESSOR does all the work!!
John has a bumper crop of fresh garlic It is SO MUCH BETTER than what is available in the stores. It's juicy and CRISP. I start by putting 3-4 cloves of peeled garlic in the food processor and whirring it good...
Then, I add 1/2 cup of English Walnuts...and whir it again...
At this point, I scrape the sides (it is a thick paste). Then, fill the food processor to the top with fresh, washed, dry basil leaves. Keep whirring...and scraping...and whirring...

After the basil is completely chopped up, I alternate the last two ingredients: Extra Virgin Olive oil and Parmesan Cheese. One batch takes about a cup of each. The consistency you're going for is bottled spaghetti sauce.
This giant jar of Pesto will be enough for four pounds of spaghetti.  All you need is a delicious loaf of Italian bread. YUMMO...

One of the best things about Pesto sauce is that it's better the day AFTER you make it. And it will keep at room temperature.   (Actually, putting it in the refrigerator makes the oil hard, and blackens the basil.)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Project Runway

Everybody knows Summer television's full of re-runs and reality shows like Bachelor in Paradise...ugh...

America's Got Talent saved our summer. Lilly and Warren would come for a sleepover on Friday night, and we'd watch the latest episode of AGT. (which I recorded.) I was rooting for Darcy Lynn from the start!

But now the new Fall television season is HERE -- and it's so exciting to have such wonderful choices!! THIS IS US is back!! DWTS...Chicago Fire...blackish...Vietnam on PBS....NEW JERSEY HOUSEWIVES...

AND -- even after all these years -- I look forward to a new season of Project Runway!

This year, their idea of a "twist" was to have models of all sizes...(including a PLUS size model -- who wears a size 14).
Usually, by this time, (we've seen five or six episodes)... I'd have picked a favorite designer. But I'm not a fan of this bunch. If you paid me money, I wouldn't be able to describe a single garment from this current season.

So -- why do I keep watching??


OMG...they are soooo annoying. And totally over confident, given their limited capabilities. Claire does all the actual work...but they are both equally full of themselves. What they produce is terrible...everything they make looks like a junior high home ec project done with staples and glue sticks.

But watching this train wreck is the only interesting story on this year's Project Runway -- so you can't get rid of them!! What will Claire be without Shawn??  ARE YOU KIDDING ME??

This week, it was a cliffhanger...instead of kicking off one of the twins (AND IT'S ABOUT TIME) -- Heidi told them they had to go back to the workroom and do a one hour sew-off!!

 So, now, I have to tune in again next week to see how it turns out!!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Potato Pancakes

In looking back at my blog posts about my Signature Dishes...I've come to a new understanding of why I have such a weight problem...ugh...

Hey -- POTATO PANCAKES.  This is another winner.  Another signature dish...Basic ingredients, very easy to make...AND ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS.

I love to cook and I love to sew...and most of the time I cook and/or sew something every day. I'm not a fancy cook...and I'm not a fancy sewer. I like things that are simple and practical.

Like, for example -- potato pancakes...

When it comes to cooking -- my late mother-in-law, Helen Farro, was a major influence. Her cooking was always more about "technique" than recipes.

And every time I make potato pancakes -- I think of Helen...


The ingredients are simple:

3 potatoes
1 egg
2 tbl. flour
salt to taste...

Peel the potatoes and grate into a bowl of salted ice water. (I use the food processor). Let them stand for at least 30 minutes...(or several hours -- depending on how your day is going)...This soaking pulls the starch out.

Then -- pour the shredded potatoes in a colander. Rinse well, press the water out and layer the potatoes on a clean kitchen towel to dry COMPLETELY.

Heat 1/2" of oil (375 degrees for my electric skillet).

Mix shredded potatoes with the egg, flour and salt. Using a long handled spoon, gently drop potato mixture into the hot oil -- flatten to form 5" pancakes (1/2" thick).

Fry on both sides until CRISP AND BROWN.

SO DELICIOUS...I like to eat them with a little sour cream smeared on top. If you have leftovers (don't count on it) -- keep them in the frig, and reheat in the toaster.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Spaghetti Carbonara

This week, I'm posting a combination of old and new...because I've been distracted by the Missouri Star Quilting Company!!

I've decided to revisit some of my SIGNATURE dishes.  Of course, I began this stroll down memory lane with POPOVERS...and now, another one of my GO-TO suppers:
Spaghetti Carbonara

You just NEVER KNOW when you might have to feed some hungry people in a hurry...and the quickest and most delicious thing is spaghetti!!

For one thing -- I ALWAYS have it on hand...and for another thing, right now, with the garden winding down, you have some tomatoes to use up, maybe some onions, basil or parsley...

A few of my hungry men...Cory, Dean and Ross.
First -- put a pot of water on to get it boiling -- then look in the frig. My go-to-pasta dish is Carbonara, using leftovers. (If you are a REAL Italian -- you might want to stop reading right now...)

Great carbonara is more technique than recipe. Here's my version:

As I boil the whole box of spaghetti -- I fry off 4 strips of bacon -- very crispy. Set it aside..(you could also crisp up some salami, ham, or leftover breakfast sausage).

chop up whatever you have in the frig -- and saute it in some of the bacon drippings:

4 green onions (tops and all) -- or any kind of onion...
1/2 c. leftover broccoli (or green beans or peas)
some sliced black olives
some green olives
2 garlic cloves, minced

When the spaghetti is cooked -- drain it. Put a little olive oil into the hot spaghetti pot...dump the hot spaghetti back into the pot, along with the sauteed leftovers. Beat 4 eggs with 1/2 c. of milk (or cream). Toss the spaghetti with the egg mixture, and add 1 cup of Parmesan cheese.

At the last minute, toss the spaghetti with the crispy bacon...and if you have it -- some fresh parsley, some diced fresh tomatoes or sliced cherry tomatoes.


And I swear to you -- it took me longer to write about it than it will take you to actually COOK IT.

In less than 20 minutes, you can have a large, colorful bowl of delicious food on the table...and it's a little bit different every time.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

My Day with Anne

You know how I like my life...every single day of the week has it's own job or activity: Monday, Cleaning, Tuesday, TMBC...etc.

Thursday is often my DAY OFF. I try to make that my Weekly Special Day. I am FREE TO DO whatever I want...and that often means hooking up with a friend, making a day trip, or spending the entire day in my basement, listening to a book on tape and SEWING...

Last week, I had one of my favorite Day's Off.  I went to Iowa City to meet my young friend, Anne...We meet at the Goodwill Store, just off I-80.   That way, no matter who arrives first, there is no boring waiting..(it was at our second stop where I found my new POPOVER PAN)..
Some of the treasures we find become a permanent part of our lives (NOT these pants!)
Soooo true, eh?
This piece of original art says, Í'VE DECIDED TO BE HAPPY"...and I love it, love it, love's had a place of honor on my living room wall since the day I brought it home four years ago.
I always think of Anne when I see that bird art on my wall.  She could have it as her life motto...
Last year, during Mary's visit, we hooked up with Anne and her daughter Sarah. Fast forward -- Sarah is in high school now, and her friends are coming to her house to try on dresses for Homecoming. This one will be snatched up in a hurry!! (There are worse things than having a box full of formal dresses in your closet)..
Last week, Anne found several more dressy dresses (SO MUCH FUN -- and only $5 each.!!)...and I had an entire trunk full of treasure. (there was a large picture frame, a popover pan, three jackets for Nancy H., four puzzles, a Land's End coat...well, you get the idea...)

Today -- do yourself a favor -- PLAN A DAY TRIP with a girl friend.  And, if you can, try to find one who's much "younger" than you....!! 

Monday, September 25, 2017


Last week, I spent a day in Iowa City with Anne...and I FOUND A POPOVER PAN FOR $1.50.
I'm telling you -- NOBODY should ever pass up a bargain like that.

Clearly -- It's time for a Popover update.


I will never forget the first time I ate one of these delicious concoctions. Served up in a little metal pan at the very beautiful St. James Hotel in downtown Chicago.

I COULD NOT BELIEVE I'd never eaten one before.
Marion and I were spending a few wonderful days at the James Hotel in downtown Chicago -- and their Popovers were INCREDIBLE..!!
Reproducing those James Hotel Popovers became a mission for me....and there were some early failures I barely remember. Because I'VE GOT IT DOWN NOW...and I'm gonna make some today. They are WAY easier than you think...and it's more of a technique than a recipe...and, at this point, I am happy to report that Popovers are my Signature Dish.  YIPPEE KAYEE...
The recipe is on the opening page of this blog -- ALWAYS -- so I'm not going to type it in here. It makes a thin batter...
The important thing is to preheat your oven to a scorching 425 degrees
AND you must also preheat your popover pan...this is my new mini-popover pan!!
This picture was taken through the window, after 20 minutes...
Be sure to stab each popover as soon as you get them out of the oven -- to release the steam -- so they don't collapse...
IT JUST DOESN'T GET ANY BETTER THAN THIS. Holy Cow. DELICIOUS. In my humble opinion, hot popovers turn an ordinary meal into a special event!!

You cannot make popovers in a cupcake pan, people. JUST BUY THE DAMN PAN. Amazon will deliver it to your door by the end of the week...c'mon -- you're worth it!!

The last time I made popovers, I split them in half -- and filled it with my favorite pudding. (cream 4 oz. cream cheese, alternate package of jello instant vanilla pudding, 2 c. milk)...

In the last picture, you can see my quarter pound of butter...a MUST HAVE, of course....real butter...

Margarine on a popover would be a ketchup on Prime Rib...or having a brand new $3000 mattress, then using polyester sheets.....getting a brand new top of the line sewing machine, then using an old spool of $1 thread...

Depending on the size, a small Popover has 68 calories, and a large one has 110.  I'm not counting the butter, of course...
MMWI: 230.2  Yeah...I feel pretty stuck at this here plateau.  MAYBE I NEED TO GO BACK TO FAT CAMP, EH??

Saturday, September 23, 2017

My New Carry-On

Next week, TMBC is taking their SHOW ON THE ROAD!!Four of us are getting on a bus (at 5:00 AM) to head down to Hamilton, Missouri.
Sandy, me, Linda K and Linda P...OFF WE GO!!

For this special occasion -- I'm decorating a new carry-on suitcase.
Of course, it starts with my personal color palette.  Yellow, pink, orange and teal...
I mod-podged the areas I intended to paint.  Then, I gave everything a base coat of WHITE.
It took two coats of white paint to cover.  Then, I made some lines with a Sharpie.
And I started to add what I thought looked like quilt designs (Yes, my name is Rita Farro and I AM NOT A QUILTER.)
I have boxes and buckets full of paint, brushes, marking pens...
But some are not as vibrant as I'd I need to go over them one more time...
The next time you see this bag, it'll be getting on a bus.

Jenny Doan -- HERE WE COME!!
P.S.  You won't recognize me -- I've lost 70 pounds since last summer!!

Friday, September 22, 2017

City Chicken

I didn't know it when I was a kid -- but our Iowa diet was very meat-and-potatoes. Salt and pepper were our only "spices", and jello puddings were considered "salads".

One of the biggest changes in my life happened when I married John and embraced my mother-in-law's cooking.  Helen Farro was an excellent cook, and she made many delicious things I'd never heard of -- like CITY CHICKEN!!

In Pottsville, Pennsylvania -- you can buy City Chicken in the grocery store -- all prepared and ready to cook.  Which is a huge time-saver, because, believe me -- preparing City Chicken is A LOT OF WORK...

Like so many things Helen made, City Chicken is more of a technique than a recipe.  But here's how she did it...
John put pieces of cut up pork and beef on to skewers.
Then you roll it in flour...
Then, an egg wash....
Then, breadcrumbs...
OF COURSE you fry them!!
But the end result really is delicious.  TOTALLY worth it!!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Painted Suitcases/Embroidered Luggage

WOW.  I had to go all the way back to 2012 to find this post...

Yes, I paint my luggage...

Actually, it's one of my FAVORITE THINGS TO DO...
Other people watch the dozens of black bags go around and around the airport carousel... wondering which one is theirs...because THEY ALL LOOK ALIKE...

But my suitcases are always VERY EASY TO FIND -- and I'm the first person out on the curb, looking for my ride...
My bags have been to many, many airports over the years...including Memphis...

Reno, Cincinnati, Seattle, Chantilly, Kansas City...

NO AIRLINE could ever lose my bags...there simply is no excuse...I have the AIRPORT CODE painted right on the bag...

Here are the steps:

  1. Mod Podge any part of the bag you intend to paint. It seals the luggage fabric, otherwise, the paint just soaks in, and it won't be vibrant.  Let it dry overnight.
  2. Add your paint in layers.  I often paint a big area WHITE, then let it dry, and go in with some designs later, with other colors.  I use any kind of paint -- just those cheapo little bottles of craft paint.  
  3. Use PERMANENT felt tip markers to do the writing.  (I prefer a Sharpie, with a chisel point).
  4. When your design is complete -- use a foam brush to add two more coats of ModPodge.  (let it dry between coats).
 Believe me -- this paint job will last MUCH LONGER THAN THE BAG ITSELF..

Optional: If you want to add EMBROIDERY to your bag, you still should Mod Podge the area you are decorating. Embroider the words you want on the fabric, then cut it to fit into a specific area. Use Peel n'Stick to apply the embroidered fabric piece to your suitcase -- Then two coats of Mod Podge to protect the embroidery.

THIS SUITCASE was written up in Designs in Machine Embroidery magazine! I did all the embroidery on fabric, then cut it to fit the shapes needed for the luggage...

Sadly, last year, two of these bags were destroyed by the rough handling. Ugh. One had the handle ripped off...another lost a wheel...

Treating them with the respect they deserve, like a worn out American Flag, or a treasured Lazy Boy recliner -- I had a little funeral and burned them...


I'm working on a NEW painted carry-on bag right now, even as we speak. The first step is done (I painted on the Mod Podge as a base coat).

When it's finished, I'll tell you WHERE IT SENT ON IT'S VIRGIN TRIP!!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

the perfect week

If you're doing it right -- every day of the week has something you look forward to. I am really, really good at this. Structuring my life so that each day becomes it's own special gift. I think about it, my life has taken on it's very own "Seven Days A Week" Dishtowel philosophy. Remember those?

  • Monday/Laundry:
  • Tuesday/Ironing:
  • Wednesday/Sewing:
  • Thursday/Shopping:
  • Friday/Cleaning:
  • Saturday/Baking:
  • Sunday/Rest
Anybody who knows me knows that Monday is my CLEANING DAY. And the reason I love it so much is because CARRIE COMES.

For me, this is the kick-off to a wonderful week. I GET HELP...For a few hours every Monday, I have a somebody come to my house who's sole purpose is to HELP ME.

And I am a pig. I live a big, messy life that requires constant picking up after. There is always a mountain of laundry, and kids' toys, and sewing and projects and books...and Carrie is magic. Show just KNOWS what needs to be done...and she is the hardest working young woman I know. Really. She goes through my house like Grant through Richmond....
For special occasions, she brings cupcakes.
She also helps me with special projects. Like -- painting the ceiling? REALLY...!!
Last week, my refrigerator was not working right. I asked Carrie to clean it out -- and throw everything away that had an expiration date...(it would be better for me if I did not see these two bags that went into the garbage)...
OMG. I can't believe I found this picture. Her daughter Elizabeth just had her 10th birthday!
And here's the thing. Although I never would have written about it as it was happening, Carrie's son, Dylan, was diagnosed with cancer. He is fine now, but it was a harrowing, terrifying time.  Weeks in the hospital, chemo, radiation, surgery.  As much as you'd like to help -- you just don't know what to do for somebody when they are fighting a battle like that...

I decorated a "hospital bag" for Dylan. I bought a wheeled suitcase at a thrift store, and painted it...with his name, kind of a race car motif....(he was 11 at the time)...There was always LOTS OF STUFF to be carted into the hospital. His medications, extra clothes, books, games, etc. I cannot tell you how many times Carrie thanked me for this bag. When I gave it to her, it was filled with snacks...small bags of Pringles, peanut butter crackers, chips, granola bars, instant oatmeal...that bag became known as the place Dylan kept treats for the nurses, etc.
My cousin Kim, holding Dylan's bag. This is the only picture I have of the bag...(Kim is Carrie's Mom -- Dylan's Grandma).
I don't know if I have ever made a better gift for anybody. And the reason I started to write this blog was because I got an email the other day asking about how to paint luggage...

So -- now I have to go back to my archives...I know I've written that up before...