Green Thumbs Up!

Gardening in the City

One of my favorite parts of summer in West Michigan is the farmer’s market. Many inspirations for cooking ideas are generated with just a stroll through the market. The best part about the farmer’s market is the seasonal change. At the beginning of the season in Michigan, options are limited and a lot of the produce is from out of state. Most of the vendors don’t set up until it gets warmer. As the season progresses, the prime vendors show up fill their displays with a medley of colors. Garlic scapes are the popular item this time of year. Later in the summer, the bell peppers and hot peppers start showing up. That’s when it’s time to get excited to make salsa!

Living in the city, going to the farmer’s market is one way for you to get your hands on fresh picked vegetables. The problem for me is the markets are only open a couple days a week. Saturdays are the only day I can go. How do I get fresh veggies throughout the week without overloading at the farmer’s market? One way to achieve that is by planting your own garden.

What?!? Who has time to tend a garden? Will it fit in my small yard? How do I even get started? Isn’t it hard? It’s quite the contrary. If a guy like me, who has never attempted to build a garden in any yard, can do it, it’s definitely possible. It starts with a vision.

To give you an example, my yard is 44′ wide and 90′ deep. It may seem plenty big enough to plant a garden. It is. Keep in mind that there’s an 1100 sq. ft. house in the middle of that property and a driveway that takes up any possibility of having a side yard. With such a small yard, there’s always a delicate balance. Add in a couple of dogs and the yard gets smaller, as the dogs require room to run. If you think by now that there’s no way you can fit a garden in that small amount of space, you’d be surprised.

Even the neighbor’s dog wants to see the action.

Remember that delicate balance mentioned earlier? This is where we learn to incorporate that balance. Evaluate your property. Is there room on the side of the house? What about the corners of your yard? Is there anything in the way such as trees or shrubbery, or is it grass and dirt to the corner of the property? If you have a fenced-in yard, there’s even more space than you think.

Fences are a blessing in a small garden. Take advantage of the vertical space they give you. The internet is full of thousands of ideas for DIY hanging herb gardens and other styles of vertical gardens. Research what may best suit your yard. Another way to get ideas is to take pictures of the area in your backyard that you intend to turn into your garden. Stop in at the local hardware store and talk to people in their gardening sections. Show them your pictures and see what they have to help you in your design.

It’s time to put together my garden. My small city lot has room in the back corner between the shed and the fence. This location is ideal for me because it is tucked away in the corner and does not impede my yard or the running room for the dogs. More importantly with the dogs is keeping them out of the garden. A good bit of fencing will do the trick.

Who wants to look at a boring garden? Give your garden a theme! For my garden, I chose to a play on Aesop’s Fable, “The Hare and the Tortoise.” All the forest creatures gathered in the garden, instead of the forest, to watch the two race.

Since there isn’t a lot of room in the yard, I decided that my first ever garden should be set up as a salsa garden. Basically, the garden consists of roma tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, bell peppers, and cilantro. These are some, but not all of the ingredients to make my homemade salsa, which is a staple condiment in my household.

So… if you decide to build a garden in the city, build it in a way that suits your eating habits. Learn how to not only build a garden , but to also maintain it. Building the garden is just the beginning. If you take care of your garden, it will surely pay you back with healthy fruits and vegetables for as long as the growing season allows.

Green Thumbs Up!

Mind Your Own Beeswax, Honey!

Melody Bee Farms was kind enough to bring me out to one of the hives. I couldn’t get too close, because I am allergic.

“Mind your own beeswax!” It’s a saying that takes me back to when I was a kid. Whenever somebody was getting too nosy in your business or gave an opinion you didn’t ask for, you’d kindly reply to them to mind their own beeswax. Many tall tales of the origin of the phrase are out there.

““Beeswax” is an intentional mispronunciation of “business,” probably meant to sound cute and soften the blow of telling someone to buzz off. Google Books first documents it in 1939. A related expression, “That’s none of your beeswax,” shows up in a 1929 children’s book.” (Herman, 2014)

Beeswax has far more uses than just a silly childhood phrase. One often overlooked use is as a lip balm. Just about every gas station and pharmacy store carries some brand or another of lip balm. So, it’s apparent that it aids with chapped lips. What about other uses?

There are health benefits to beeswax as well. Beeswax has been used many ways from relieving psoriasis and eczema symptoms to relieving stress by burning a beeswax candle.

Pure Raw Honey from Melody Bee Farms in Ada, MI

Bees contribute much more than just beeswax. Most notably, honey is an excellent source of flavoring and sweetening. Honey is sold in various ways from raw honey to processed honey. Be careful when at the supermarket or wherever you buy honey. If it’s a processed product, it may contain fillers like high fructose corn syrup or other types of sugars and sweeteners.

In order to get the story about beekeeping and honey production, I wanted to go straight to the source. At the farmer’s market today, I ran into a stand that was selling honey and beeswax, as well as other products. The stand was run by Melody Bee Farms. To better answer my questions, I was advised to contact the owners. The young gal at the stand gave me their business card with their contact information and website.

What to do on a sunny Saturday afternoon? ROAD TRIP!!! The best way to get answers was to go to the farm. Their website indicated the main farm and store weren’t too far away and they were open on Saturday. This reminded me of my foraging excursion a while back, as I had to go down some back country roads to find the farm. It didn’t bother me a bit. It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon. We have been very sun deprived in the month of June here in Michigan. It was time to head out with the windows down and good tunes streaming from the speakers.

At the farm, I was greeted by Josh Nobel. Josh and his wife, Melody, own the farm. He seemed to enjoy my questions about the farm and the bees. As Josh gave me the buzz on the bees, he invited me to see more of the farm. Much to my pleasure, I was introduced to these well landscaped gardens full of all types of fruits and vegetables. In the back were large barns for their livestock. With sustainable growing practices, humane livestock practices and non-GMO products, it brought me back to the bees. The bees were the one thing I wanted to see, but I did not see any hives.

I asked Josh about the hives. “Where are the bees?” “They’re not on site,” Josh replied. The bees were kept at multiple other locations, far enough away that they did not interfere with the everyday practices on the farm. Josh was kind enough to take me over to one of the hives. On the way there, he told me there were several types of bees involved with the hives. The Italian Honey Bee(Apis Mellifera Ligustica), the Carniolan Honey Bee(Apis Mellifera Carnica) and the Russian Honey Bee(Apis Mellifera) are the three primary honey bees used for production. Once we were at one of the hives, I had to be careful. I am allergic to bee stings. It was rather warm for the first time in a while. The sun was out. This meant the bees were going to be active. Fortunately, I was able to get close enough to get a couple of pictures. Zoom was a very nice feature in this situation.

My time at the farm had to come to a close. It was time to go home. The sun was still plenty high in the sky. It was time to go use some of that fresh honey to make dinner.


Article: “10 Wacky Whoppers About the Origins of Popular 18th Century Phrases” written by Judith Herman. Posted on April 9, 2014 on

Green Thumbs Up!

Put a Lid on it and Can it

Giardiniera on the left and bread and butter pickles on the right.

The very first time ever canning anything, I was bound and determined to make one of my favorite snacks, dill pickles. This was an entirely new concept to me, so it had to be done right. The brine was ready. The pickle chips were sliced and loaded into the jars. Let’s go! Bring on the water bath. It’s time to do some canning.

The first batch was done and placed on a towel on the table. Time to let the rest of the magic happen on its own. Twenty minutes later, that ear pleasing metallic “PING” filled the air one jar at a time. It’s the sound that tells you the airtight seal process is done. Who knew you could get so excited to hear that sound? It was music to my ears!

Anxiously, I waited as each day passed. An unopened jar was placed in the refrigerator to make the pickles nice and cold. A few hours later, it was time to taste the finished product… The anticipation up to this point led to utter disappointment. The flavor was there, but the pickles were mushy. What went wrong? The chips were too thin. But why? There weren’t any issues like that when I made them as refrigerator dills. Well, heat is why. The major change was the water bath. The cooking process reduced them down beyond any texture they could provide. Okay… so let’s cut them thicker. They were originally ⅛” thick. Using ¼” thick slices, it was back at it the following weekend. The same process was followed. The only difference was the chips were sliced twice as thick as the first failed batch. Success! I now had delicious, crisp and crunchy pickles.

Now that I’m getting ready to graduate from culinary school, my approach to this subject of pickling and canning has changed. Research has become more of a focus rather than experimenting. After researching pickling and canning processes, it turned up other tips to keep the pickles crisper during and after the canning process. The main reason for doing more research than experimenting is for food safety reasons.

Clostridium botulinum is a form of bacteria that can live and grow in low oxygen environments. Also known as C. botulinum, this bacteria is responsible for a disease known as botulism. This is why food safety is so important. When the well being of our customers or dinner guests is at stake, it doesn’t matter if you are a food professional or a home cook. It’s for your own good as well.

“You do not need to know the pH of a food, but you must use a tested canning recipe based on the pH value of a food and other factors.”

Source quoted from:

Since the importance of food safety has been stressed, let’s start thinking about making some pickles. Because it is important to always try new things, let’s start with bread and butter pickles. Growing up, all I ever had as a reference to bread and butter pickles was something in a jar sold at the grocery store. I hated bread and butter pickles back then. It wasn’t until I was introduced to homemade bread and butter pickles that my opinion changed for the better. Now it’s time to make them for the first time.

Bread and butter pickles found their name in the early 1920’s when Omar and Cora Fanning used pickles from their farm to barter with grocery stores for staple items such as bread and butter.


Since making bread and butter pickles is new to me, I need to follow a trusted recipe. The internet turned up tons of recipes. Which one is right? Most recipes online are pretty good, so read the reviews. One recipe that stood out was from This one particular took the time to describe how to make a nice pickling spice by measuring it out in the ingredients list. The only change that was made to the recipe was the use of sea salt in place of canning/pickling salt. The sea salt used listed sea salt as the only ingredient. There were no anti-caking agents in the salt. Here is the link to the recipe I followed:

Next on the docket is a Chicago favorite that has roots in Italy. It’s a pickled mix of carrots, celery, bell peppers, hot peppers, cauliflower, and onion called giardiniera. It’s pronounced “jar-din-air-ah.” There are many variations of this recipe. Some call for the use of olives and olive oil and others don’t.

“Though impossible to know the exact date, giardiniera undoubtedly appeared in Chicago along with the wave of Italian immigration that came to the city in the late 19th century.”(Kindelsperger, 2017)

This delicious condiment has long been a favorite of mine. There’s something to the tangy and spicy pickle on the vegetables that make a delicious topping on many dishes from an Italian beef sandwich to pizza. My favorite thing to do is eat it straight out of the jar. You may wonder how a Michigan guy like me came across giardiniera. It comes from the influx of Chicago area residents who have cottages on or near Lake Michigan. This area of West Michigan is special. There’s a divide on which sports teams you should follow. Many of the native Chicago residents have influenced the area into following Chicago sports teams, but many of the locals are still die hard Detroit sports fans. The beauty of living in West Michigan is having that influence of food from two major cities as well.

For this giardiniera recipe, I will be sharing my own. It is a simple one that I developed years ago. This is something near and dear to my heart, so I worked hard to get this one to be delicious. My hopes are that you will find the same. Keep in mind, this is the mild recipe. Additional peppers can be added to increase the heat level.


For the brine:

2 cups white distilled vinegar

2 cups water

1 TBSP salt (you can use canning/pickling salt or salt with no anti-caking agents)

1 TBSP sugar

(Optional addition: add 2 additional cloves smashed garlic and a small amount of the jalapeno slices from the vegetable mix to induce more flavor and heat.)


1.5 cups celery cut into ¼” slices

1.5 cups carrots cut oblique

1.5 cups cauliflower florets

1 cup sliced red bell pepper

1 cup sliced green bell pepper

4 small onions quartered

4 cloves garlic peeled and smashed

1 jalapeno pepper sliced thin

Optional tip for making the vegetables crisper: place all vegetables in a pan and soak overnight in salted water. This recipe doesn’t call for that, as the vegetables come out rather crisp anyway.

To make the brine, combine the vinegar, water, salt and sugar into a pan and bring to a boil. If following the optional addition, add to the mix before boiling. After the brine is brought to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the garlic and jalapeno slices at this time.

Mix all the vegetables in a bowl. If you followed the optional tip of soaking the vegetables in salted water, drain the water and rinse the vegetables off.

First things first, get your canning pot and water on the stove. To do the canning process, first sterilize 4 one quart jars. Place the vegetable mix in each jar, making sure to even out the distribution of each vegetable in the mix and do not pack too tight. Each jar should get one clove of garlic and equal amounts of jalapeno slices to ensure flavor consistency. After filling the sterilized jars with the vegetables, it’s time to add the brine. Fill each jar up far enough to leave a ½” gap to the top of the jar. Using your bubble remover, gouge down through the mix and force out any bubbles. Wipe off the top of the jar and place a sterilized lid and ring on top. Screw down the ring tight, but not too tight. We want air to escape in the water bath process. Place the jars in the water bath and bring to a boil for 10 minutes. Remove the jars with your canning tongs and set on the counter. The process is nearing completion. As soon as the vacuum seal is made, it is common to hear that metallic ping that I discussed at the beginning of this blog. The ping doesn’t always occur, however. To confirm the vacuum seal has been made, make sure the center of the jar is pushed in and doesn’t bounce back. If the jars do not seal, store immediately in the refrigerator. As always, date and label each jar. The mix should last approximately 3 months.


Article written by Nick Kindelsperger. Published in the Chicago Tribune on May 19, 2017

Green Thumbs Up!

Foraging for Mint, a Roadside Treasure

One of the first thoughts that comes to mind when you think of foraging in the state of Michigan may be an image of going deep in the woods and hunting for morel mushrooms or finding patches of wild berries near the many lakes and rivers the state has to offer. Sometimes, all you need to do is pull off the side of an old country road, roll down the window and follow your nose to the jackpot. It also helps when you stop and ask somebody who is out picking wild asparagus on the side of the road.

The object of this foraging expedition was wild mint. At first, it wasn’t as easy as you’d think. You’d search the river banks and creeks and surrounding areas without finding anything. Many native plants have a somewhat similar appearance, so your nose has to be your guide. There’s no mistaking that smell of fresh picked mint. Once you come across it, you look up to the heavens with joy. Who knew that that short roadside conversation with a complete stranger would lead to finding this roadside treasure? There it sat in a drainage ditch among the reeds and tall grass next to an open field on an old country dirt road in southern Allegan County, Michigan.

Fresh mint has many uses. Mint is believed to have medicinal uses such as aiding in digestion. It is noted to use caution before using in abundance without consulting your physician.

” Although many have been used by traditional healers around the world for centuries, most herbs haven’t undergone rigorous testing for safety and efficacy, especially in pregnant/nursing women, children, elders, and people with chronic illnesses.”(Boyles, 2019)

In the culinary world, it gets used to enhance flavor to many dishes. It’s used as a garnish on a dessert plate, brighten up the flavor of a salad and can be used in beverages from lemonade to tea. That’s just a start to the many uses this wild herb has to offer. I have included the recipe for one of my favorite summertime drinks, Blackberry Mint Lemonade.

Blackberry Mint Lemonade:

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups fresh blackberries
  • 8 cups water divided (2 cups to be used for simple syrup)
  • 2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 2-3 TBSP fresh chopped mint

Combine sugar and mint in a bowl. Muddle the mint into the sugar until the sugar starts to turn powdery and the mint is incorporated into the sugar. Combine mint and sugar into a pan with 2 cups of water. Heat until the sugar is dissolved and all you see is the mint leaves. Leave on medium-low heat and allow the mint to steep into the simple syrup.

In a separate pan, add the blackberries and cook on a medium-low heat. Use a potato masher and break down the blackberries until they are almost a liquid and combine with the simple syrup. Strain the simple syrup and blackberries into a separate container. We want to eliminate the seeds and left over mint leaves.

Add the lemon juice, blackberry simple syrup and remaining 6 cups of water into a pitcher. Stir thoroughly and refrigerate until cold. Makes about 1 gallon.

If you’d like to have a little fun with the lemonade, try your hand at making a granita. It’s a lot like shaved ice. Take a bread pan or metal pan and place it in the freezer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the pan from the freezer and pour in 4 cups of the lemonade and place back in the freezer. In an hour, pull the liquid out of the freezer and scrape up with a fork whatever has started to freeze. Set a timer for 30 minutes and repeat the scraping process every 30 minutes until the liquid has completely frozen. Makes 8 servings.

Author: Margaret Boyles article: May 29, 2019 and published in the Old Farmer’s Almanac .

Green Thumbs Up!

Award-Winning Chefs of the US Navy

With the Memorial Day holiday that recently passed and the upcoming 75th anniversary of D-Day, it seemed like a good idea to honor the brave men and women that served in our armed forces. Some of them made the ultimate sacrifice in order to protect our freedoms. To sum up the memories of all these brave soldiers in one day is truly an impossible task. Everyday that goes by is an opportunity to stop and reflect on those who protect us and allow us the liberties of living in this beautiful country of ours. To honor those whose lives were lost, we must also honor the living soldiers that continue fighting for those freedoms we hold so dear. Here are 3 cooks who made a difference throughout wartime in US history.

Credit for the picture goes to:

Doris “Dorie” Miller

(1919 – 1943)

When it comes to heroes of war, it takes a special act of courage to be recognized as a hero of war. Many brave and selfless acts of heroism have been documented throughout US Wartime history. The story of Doris Miller really stood out. Miller enlisted as Mess Attendant, Third Class in September, 1939. His final rank before his untimely death in 1943 was Cook, Third Class. It was a particular act of heroism during the attack on Pearl Harbor that earned him the distinguished award, The Navy Cross.

“Miller had arisen at 6 a.m., and was collecting laundry when the alarm for general quarters sounded. He headed for his battle station, the antiaircraft battery magazine amidship, only to discover that torpedo damage had wrecked it, so he went on deck. Because of his physical prowess, he was assigned to carry wounded fellow Sailors to places of greater safety. Then an officer ordered him to the bridge to aid the mortally wounded Captain of the ship. He subsequently manned a 50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship.”

Source quoted from:

“Despite having no training in operating the big guns, he bravely jumped into action. Miller later recounted: “It wasn’t hard. I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about fifteen minutes. I think I got one of those Japanese planes. They were diving pretty close to us.””

Source quoted from:

Doris Miller became the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross. His act of bravery was officially recognized by the US Navy in May of 1942, when he received the award on board the aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise. Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Fleet, Chester W. Nimtz, personally presented him the award.

Miller reached the rank of Ship’s Cook, Third Class and was assigned to the USS Liscome Bay. The USS Liscome Bay was an escort carrier during Operation Galvanic which took place near the Gilbert Islands.

“During that time while cruising near Butaritari Island, a single torpedo from Japanese submarine I-175 struck the escort. The aircraft bomb magazine detonated a few moments later, sinking the warship within minutes. Listed as missing following the loss of that escort carrier, Dorie Miller was officially presumed dead 25 November 1944, a year and a day after the loss of Liscome Bay.”

Source quoted from:

Defying the odds, a cook became a hero. Doris “Dorie” Miller rose to the occasion when called upon. He saved numerous lives when he manned that anti-aircraft gun. He selflessly bought his shipmates time to abandon the ship and get to safety. Now that is the way to be remembered.

Credit for the picture goes to:

Chef Martin C.J. Mongiello

(1965 – present)

If you are looking for ways to sneak healthier foods into your diet or the diets of your loved ones, look no further than Chef Martin Mongiello. Here is a chef that tricked former President Bill Clinton into eating healthier foods.(Heil, 2013)

In June of 1983, Martin Mongiello enlisted in the US Navy. It was a decision that proved to be positively life-changing. “He has the distinction of being one of the most decorated Chefs in the history of the Navy, was knighted in 2002 in Brussels, Belgium, holds several prestigious awards including a Presidential Service Badge, numerous world culinary medals, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Badge, five Navy Achievement Medals, two Joint Meritorious Unit Commendation ribbons with Oak Leaf Clusters, three Commendation Medals and the NJ Distinguished Service Medal.”

Source quoted from:

It came time to retire from the US Navy. Now a disabled veteran, Mongiello retired in September, 2004 at the age of 39. He served active duty for 21 years and held Senior Chief Petty Officer(SCPO) rank E-8.

Information acquired from:

While still enlisted, Chef Mongiello was blessed with the experience of cooking for the Clintons as the Executive Chef to the White House.(1993-1996). During the same time of his tenure as White House Executive Chef, Mongiello also managed Camp David, the country retreat for the Presidents of the United States.

During his time as the Executive Chef to the White House, Chef Mongiello created a vegetarian dish called Spicy Arkansas Chili specifically for the Clintons. The recipe is featured in a cookbook called, “Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish.”(Ornish, 1996)

This recipe features a delicious spicy chili over a bed of rice. When combined, the rice and the spicy chili create textural appeal with each bite.

Credit for the picture goes to:

Master Chief Derrick D. Davenport

(1975 – present)

Flavor comes in all forms. Sometimes you get assigned secret ingredients in the form of rabbit and other times you get squab and frog legs. Sounds like a bummer if you don’t like to eat those things. What do you turn those ingredients into? If you’re Master Chief Derrick D. Davenport, you turn it into the American Culinary Federation’s Chef of the Year Award for 2015. This achievement made him the first military culinarian to ever receive the award.

Winning awards wasn’t all that Master Chief Davenport excelled at. He also made a name for himself training the Afghan National Army.

“Senior Chief Davenport volunteered for a 14-month Individual Augmentation as an Embedded Training Team member for Coalition Joint Task Force Phoenix V& VI in Herat, Afghanistan.  During his tour he trained fifty Afghan National Army Soldiers in foodservice and was awarded “Best Dining Facility (DFAC)” in the Afghan National Army.”

Source quoted from:

When it comes to feeding an Army, Master Chief Davenport may as well write his own book about it. He was featured in a Parade Magazine article after winning Armed Forces Chef of the Year contest in 2013.(DiGregorio, 2013)

Master Chief Davenport also shared some of his summertime favorite recipes. Shown here is jicama salad. Jicama lends an almost fruity taste with its texture similar to a potato. When combined with the spicier arugula and the hint of the honey and lime dressing, this salad definitely dances on your taste buds.

Jicama Salad recipe courtesy of:

Next up on the summertime favorites is Jerk Chicken with Mango and Pineapple Salsa. If you’re looking for a delicious taste of the Caribbean, look no further. The charcoal grilled chicken provides a subtle spice from the habanero peppers with floral notes brought out by fresh thyme in the jerk marinade. The combination of sweet and tangy from the salsa pairs wonderfully with the jerk chicken to please your palate.

Jerk Chicken With Mango and Pineapple Salsa recipe courtesy of:

The Jicama Salad also makes for a great accompaniment with the Jerk Chicken with Mango and Pineapple Salsa to make a whole meal.


Martin C.J. Mongiello

“Meet the Cheesecake that fooled Bill Clinton” – published in the Washington Post by Emily Heil August 21, 2013

Recipe for Spicy Arkansas Chili found in the book “Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish” Author: Dean Ornish, M.D. Publisher: Harper Collins (January 1, 1996)

Derrick D. Davenport

“How Do You Feed an Army” – published in Parade Magazine by Sarah DiGregorio May 18, 2013.