Protect Your Vote 101

Good citizens actively participate in the voting process. The reality is that it is YOUR responsibility to vote and take action to make sure your vote counts. There will be threats, accusations of fraud, gerrymandering, interference, obstruction, distractions, public safety issues, technical problems, staffing shortages, location issues, and personal inconveniences. Here is how you need to prepare:

1. Keep your eyes and ears turned to a reliable local news source so that you will know where your voting location is, the hours during which you can place your vote (or get in line to vote), and whether or not the voting site changes before election day.

2. Pay attention to the weather, the surrounding traffic (road construction or closures), public transportation, parking availability at voting sites–anything that might hinder you from getting to the polls in time to vote.

3. If you vote by mail, be aware that the risk of fraud is lower than the latest news cycle indicates. Vote by mail has long been in place and effectively used by most states. In the 2016 national election, 1 out of every four votes cast was cast by mail (information sourced from the Associated Press 7/30/2020). Voting by mail is not risky, but it is not without issues. You must understand your role in the process: read the directions that come with the ballot. Please complete it and place it in the envelope and seal and sign it as instructed. Then get it in the mail on time. The United States Postal Service recommends you allow at least a full seven days for your mail-in ballot to be processed and delivered to the appropriate location. If the undermining of USPS and threat to their support continues—pay attention and get your vote in the mail even sooner.

4. Or hand-deliver your mail-in ballot to the elections office yourself. I had not planned to do so until I learned that another threat to my vote exists: water. My mail-in ballot arrived wet after a soaking rain. As a result, the glue on the enclosed envelope sealed it shut. When your ballot arrives in the mail, inspect it! Please don’t wait until the deadline to get it in the mail.

If you receive a damaged voting packet, call the Supervisor of Elections office and ask what their policy and process is for replacing the ballot or the mailing envelope. Here in Polk County, I was required to present my ballot, the damaged envelope, my voter’s ID card, and my photo ID. While I was there, I took advantage of the secure ballot drop-off box and dropped my ballot in the slot. Yes, I made sure I signed and sealed the outer envelope first.

I hope we have a record voter turnout on November 3rd. We may not be united in the results we desire from this election cycle. Still, we can work together to ensure everyone exercises their right—and their responsibility—to vote.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Vote! Vote! Vote!

Eggs Migas: A Humble Food Offering, still sheltering June 4, 2020

If Ferran Adrià’s of El Bulli restaurant fame can publish his Eggs and Potato Chip Tortilla recipe in a cookbook, I can certainly write about Eggs Migas in this blog. The dish is famous in my family only because I never made it for anyone before a few years ago. Yet I have been preparing this “tortilla hash” since the 1970s. Only decades later did I learn there was a name for it in Mexican cuisine: Migas, with as many variations as there are households or cooks.

My guilty late-night-comfort-food came about in the typical “what’s in my fridge” way of many recipes. If you search the internet, my method may seem both simplified (I don’t go overboard on a variety of ingredients), and fussy (how I handle the tortillas separately before combining them with the eggs). I have some basic tenets upon which I base my choices.

1. If you have never eaten a warm, freshly prepared corn tortilla spread with soft, salted butter—then you won’t understand why I insist on using both olive oil and butter in my pan.

2. I did not grow up eating authentic Mexican cheeses. They did not sell them at the military commissary. I discovered Monterey Jack cheese when my sister married a marine officer and moved to San Diego. I am never giving it up!

3. Soft-scrambled eggs hold a higher culinary standing than any other food in my home. They can’t be greasy. They can’t be tough or show any browning. They MUST be soft.

4. I limit my toppings so I can taste the tortillas, the eggs, and the cheese. Such a lovely combination of textures and flavors, why complicate it?

5. I am very picky about my salsa or taco sauce. As you have every right to be about yours. But here’s the thing, it needs to have a fresh, uncomplicated flavor. Too many ingredients, see above. And too spicy, see above as well.

6. I am one of the unfortunate 4 or 5 percent of the population for whom fresh cilantro tastes like someone slathered my tongue with soap. It’s a real thing. No cilantro for me. Feel free to shower your version with it.

Feed a crowd or just your own in-need-of-comfort self. You deserve it!

Eggs Migas

(serves two)


4 eggs at room temperature

2 TB heavy cream

3-4 corn tortillas, cut each tortilla in half and then into 1 inch wide strips (Do not use thick, homemade tortillas or dried out tortillas. They should still be fresh enough to be pliable.)

Olive oil, as needed

Butter, as needed (if you use salted butter, then adjust how much salt you use in the rest of the dish)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ cup (combined) or more freshly grated Monterey Jack and medium sharp cheddar cheese (do not use pre-grated, packaged, cheese blend, and please resist anything marked “Mexican cheese blend” or “taco cheese blend.”)

Toppings: sour cream and salsa or taco sauce of your choice


  1. Melt 1 TB butter in 1 TB olive oil in an 8-10 inch non-stick skillet until the butter begins to bubble, but not brown. Add tortillas strips and cook (adjust heat as needed) until they absorb most of the butter and oil and get a little chewy, but not brown or crisp. Sprinkle the tortillas with a bit of salt and pepper. Remove the tortillas from pan and wipe out excess butter and oil. Set tortillas aside for adding back later.
  2. Break eggs into a bowl and whisk with cream until light in color and well combined. Add a pinch of salt and some black pepper.
  3. Melt 1 TB butter in 1 TB olive oil until butter is melted and bubbly, but not browning (turn down the heat once it reaches the bubbly point). Add eggs and swirl and lift and flip with a rubber spatula so that the eggs stay light and airy. Keep them moving so they don’t brown or become flat and firm. When eggs are about halfway cooked, stir in the tortillas, lifting and turning gently. When eggs are mostly cooked, turn off the heat and add the cheese, lifting and folding gently. Let eggs sit in the pan while the cheese melts.
  4. Serve in shallow bowls and garnish with sour cream and salsa or taco sauce and any other garnishes of your choosing.

Cooking My Way Through Quarantine: the Lamb Patty Episode, May 20, 2020

As several fellow foodie-friends will attest, lamb offers comfort, unctuousness, and versatility when you are seeking solace in food. Some of us are not so fortunate to have a Whole Foods or Wegmans grocery store nearby. No chops or leg-of-lamb roasts for those of us who live in a small town or almost-rural America. During the pandemic, if you are lucky enough to find a pound of good, pasture-raised, well-marbled ground lamb on the meat department shelves, you have reason to celebrate. Thomas Farms Lamb, Ground, Grass Fed

At the beginning of the pandemic, we made our family favorite: Lamb and Spinach Pie. When I scored another pound of ground lamb recently, we decided to work on our Lamb Patty recipe. The results proved delicious. I hope you will give the recipe below a try, and read through the yield notes and serving suggestions. You’ll want to add this versatile item to your repertoire.

If lamb is not your thing, rethink what you do with any other ground red or pink or white meat, just be aware that you may need to add something a bit fatty to the mix to provide needed moisture—or use our trick and add more binder (maybe another slice of bread soaked with some heavy cream) and more ice water.

If you have not tried lamb in a while, this recipe may open up a previously closed culinary door for you.

As they say in Greece, Kalí óreksi! Bon appetit!

Versatile and Delicious Lamb Patties


1 lb ground lamb (preferably free-range/organic) –it should be well-marbled to provide flavor and moisture

2 slices stale-but-not-dried white sandwich bread (English muffin or Brioche/Challah work well), torn into large pieces

1 scallion, coarsely chopped

¼ cup fresh parsley

¼ cup mint leaves

1 TB fresh oregano leaves

¼ cup red bell pepper, coarsely chopped

1 garlic clove, smashed to a paste with a little Kosher salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten

¾ cup rinsed and crumbled good quality Feta cheese–you want small lumps that will be distinguishable, but not overpower a bite of burger. Also, larger chunks of feta might make the burger fall apart as it cooks.

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

½ to 1 tsp ground Aleppo pepper (the more you cook with this wonderful spice, the more you will want to use!)

Optional: Add ½ to 1 tsp ground Sumac if you have it. See the note above!

2 TB ice water

Spray oil for coating before you grill or sauté


1. Place bread, scallion, parsley, mint, oregano, bell pepper, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until chopped and well mixed, but not pureed. Place in a medium-sized bowl.
2. Add ground lamb, pulled apart and broken up, egg, S&P, Aleppo pepper, Feta cheese, pine nuts, and ice water. Mix to combine with clean hands, being as gentle as you can so as not to overwork the mixture, which will make the burgers tough. You should have approximately 24 oz. weight after all the additions.
3. Gently shape into 6 (approx.) 4 oz patties. If I am not serving them on buns, I like to shape them into ovals.
4. Chill until you begin preparing the meal. Remove from refrigerator 15 minutes before you heat the grill or prepare them stovetop.
5. Lightly coat them with spray oil and place in a preheated iron skillet on the grill, or on the stovetop. Cook on each side for 3-4 minutes so that they remain a little pink in the center.
6. Serve immediately.


Yield options:
1. 2 patties per person for an entrée, unless you are serving them on buns and have an assortment of condiments and side dishes to go with them, then one patty is sufficient.
2. Portion them in two oz sizes for Sliders to serve on dinner sized rolls. 2-3 sliders per person. Adjust grilling time to about 2 minutes per side.
3. 1.5 oz Meatballs as an appetizer: 2 to 3 per person. For meatballs, I bake them on parchment paper in the oven at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Check for doneness and bake longer if needed.

1. Serve with a homemade cucumber and yogurt tzatziki sauce with mint and fresh dill as flavorings, adding a bit of crushed garlic, lemon juice, and hot sauce to taste. Mix up a couple of hours before you serve so the flavors mellow a bit. Use good whole milk Greek yogurt!
2. Serve with peeled, baked sweet potato fries tossed with enough neutral oil to coat. Season with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, a little garlic powder, cumin, Aleppo pepper, and smoked sweet Spanish paprika (Pimentón). Bake at 400 F on a preheated foil-lined sheet pan (lightly coated with some spray oil) until tender and beginning to brown at the edges. Flip over halfway through if you wish. About 20-30 minutes total depending on how thick you slice the potatoes and how old the potatoes are.
3. Or, serve with couscous cooked in chicken or vegetable broth and flecked with slices of kalamata olives, red bell pepper, diced cucumber, slivers of scallion, a little garlic oil, green herbs, Rinsed canned chickpeas or rinsed frozen baby peas, toasted pine nuts, and some ½ inch-diced smoked cheese (gouda or mozzarella work fine). Season with S& P and a little wine vinegar and good olive oil. Serve at room temperature.
4. Add a simple green salad with one other side dish for a well-rounded meal. Just toss good greens with a dash of wine vinegar and a little Greek olive oil and season with S&P. Lemon infused olive oil would be a nice touch.

A Market Stand Morning, Sheltering Close to Home, May 1, 2020 edition.

Good Morning! A day that starts at the McCracken family farm market stand is a happy day. As we anticipate, and worry, about re-opening closed venues and businesses, reel from the latest conspiracy theories about Communist China targeting democratic nations with Covid19 to disrupt the world’s economy, and wonder how comfortable we are leaving our inner sanctums, I chanted a mantra of positivity this morning. I intoned my dear friends Elba and Avelino Lopez’s motto: “It’s a good day to have a good day.”

Chatting with the young man who staged the mobile farm stand behind the Frostproof Post Office opened my heart ever wider. The new sun peeked over the trees, spotlighting glistening local blueberries, crisp beet greens, golden-tasseled corn fresh from the field, and firm young zucchini gritty with soil. I purchased more than we need. No regrets. Once we figure out our menus, we will let neighbors know when to expect delivery of the overflow.

My photos don’t do justice to the bounty, but I decided the still-life on our kitchen counter deserved to be shared. If you are wondering why I bought over-ripe bananas (actually they were a gift after I told the young farmer I would drop off a bag of cleaned and recycled egg cartons later today), it’s because I have a plan for them. Elba sent me her recipe for Chocolate Chip/Banana Breakfast Muffins. We don’t eat many sweets, but she tells me they are a perfect protein boost with morning coffee. Neighbors are forewarned—these will be in your care packages as well.

I’ve heard from several friends and relatives that they are taking more conscious care to wash their fruits and vegetables during this scary time. Although we don’t know if the virus can likely be transmitted via raw foodstuffs, washing your vegetables has many benefits. Among them, eliminating the wax coatings often put on foods to protect them or increase their cold-storage longevity. And, of course, getting rid of pests and grit, ensuring a more pleasant finished product. You may have noticed the tools I use to process my produce: a brush for scrubbing when necessary, Trader Joe’s fruit and vegetable wash (search the internet for make-your-own recipes), and white vinegar. Almost forty years ago, a local organic gardener who supplied our restaurant with flowers and produce instructed me to add vinegar to the soaking/washing water to clean vegetables. Did you know that vinegar reverses the clinging properties of sandy soil? No grit or sand has ruined a salad or stir-fry since!

I wonder what’s in your vegetable plans this first day of May? Feel free to share. And have a good day.

Our first day in Paris, memories of Notre Dame, 2013

Bleachers rise up from the sandstone plaza in front of Notre Dame, viewing stands or resting places or vantage points for tourists or foot weary street hawkers or gypsies searching for their next shill.  The police drive slowly in and out of the plaza in their electric cars, discouraging pickpockets and dispersing crowds.  An iron gate cordons off the verdant walkway above the river, a dog-free zone where parents allow their toddlers to roll on the grass and grannies and grandkids alike exclaim over the fresh green of the raised gardens: lime-hued flowers—bells of Ireland, massive spider mums, lacy ferns—interspersed with shocks of blue delphinium and tiny bachelor buttons, and the occasional column of white snapdragon.

We leave the living gardens through more iron walls to cross the river.  All the wire mesh fencing along the bridges here are woven into tapestries of metal, padlocks of all make and sizes hooked and latched to the grids of wire, like hearts carved in ancient trees. “Alicia loves Patrice” reads one. “Alphonse and Magritte, 2010” reads another, brass and chrome and iron proclaiming allegiance to l’amour.

On the far side of the river, in the shade beyond the Bato-boat entry steps, two panhandlers rest after the day’s exertions. They share a can of beer, slick with condensation, and chortle sweet entreatments to their pets. One man cradles a small brown and white rabbit in his lap. Collar and leash seem superfluous as we observe the creature gazing up into its’ master’s face. An equally enrapt guinea pig nestles in the lap of the second gentleman of the street. Perhaps one of the locks on the bridge bears the names of these pets and their protectors?  David wonders if we should ask to take a photo and how much do I think they will demand as a fee?  But the moment passes. We stroll on in search of a friendly cafe, a glass of chilled vin blanc, and a carafe of much-needed water.  Will we cradle our hands across the table on our first night in Paris where even rabbits wear the look of love?

Oxygen: I breathe, you breathe, we all breathe. Living the virus life, April 24, 2020 edition.

If you have a recent model Samsung cell phone with advanced features, be sure to download the “Samsung Health” app. Yes, it will force you to be tracked in a “big data” pool, sorry. However, the benefit is that you will be able to verify your oxygen levels, just like those oxygen finger monitors that are now being used to check people for potential Covid19 infection–and identifying risk levels. By monitoring your oxygen levels, rather than just looking for more outward manifestations of symptoms, you can detect your need for treatment earlier and improve your chances of survival. I don’t know at this time how reliable or accurate the device and application are, but better than nothing, right?

I confess to not yet doing the research on iPhones or other devices but thought I would get the information out there for others to consider. This was my process once I learned the function might exist on my phone:

1. First, make sure you have the Samsung Health app installed. It usually comes pre-installed on most new models.

Health app logo

2. Open the app and navigate through the categories. Oxygen monitor is part of the “stress measurement” function. Press the “measure” bar to begin.

3. Identify the scanning lens on your phone. It will be the small top square of glass that is third from the right.

4. Center the pad of your index finger over the lens, being sure not to press too hard. It should trigger a red light. You can verify it is running a monitor to analyze your oxygen level by peaking around to the front of the screen and you will see one of those jagged-line/stat monitors taking a reading.

5. Keep your finger in place until it finishes the analysis–the light will go off, and you can see the updated information in the app. Per the CDC, you want your oxygen level above 90%. 95% is a positive benchmark.

There are helpful suggestions with tools to help bring down your stress.

This is just a commentary on my personal journey of searching for resources to help ourselves and others. I have no political or philosophical agenda here. Feel free to add to the knowledge base. I just discovered this function a few days ago and welcome helpful information for other types of devices.

Ode to One-Pot Meals, April 23, 2020

Sometimes one-pot meals beat all else when it comes to the whole being-better-than-the-parts. We started with the requisite shallots and garlic spiked with a bit of crushed red pepper. Building flavor with a couple of almost forgotten links of kielbasa from Texas, we added chopped curly kale, a scattering of leftover fingerling potatoes, a slug of dry vermouth, and a can of Great Northern beans. This formed the base for the dish, finishing it with the main event: two boxes of Publix brand frozen mussels in the shell. Most satisfying. Oh, and no more bread for me this week. That French baguette rescued from the freezer, toasted with garlic oil and parmesan, sopped up the broth nicely!

We decided we can throwback this Thursday night dinner any old time. Feel free to share your favorite quarantine foraging here.

Ode to Sheet-pan Suppers, April 19, 2020

I have a profound love and respect for our native tongue: English. My husband possesses an equal depth of love for mangling said language to get my goat. So when we introduced our daughter and her fiance this week to the vast flexibility of the Sheet-pan Supper, David immediately advised me that we had a wealth of “snausages” in the freezer to use for the protein component. That’s right, Spell-Check, have at it. The letter “N” is not a typo.

A few days after our family arrived, we made our weekly venture out for some fresh foods and learned that Ella’s Market was still open. After scoring some lovely vegetables, I happily observed the glass and acrylic barrier across the sales counter. The owner reported business has been great. Yay for everyone buying local and practicing safety measures.

As I demonstrated variations on the theme of assembling suppers on a sheet pan, I recommended some useful strategies for constant cooking in your own space during a pandemic. Keep a flavor-infused oil on hand. I make garlic oil and cook it just until the minced or grated garlic starts to simmer in the oil, but take it off-heat before it browns. If your kitchen is air-conditioned, you can keep the oil in a jar or covered at room temperature. Otherwise, you might want to keep it in the fridge, but I promise you, you will use it up so quickly that it will probably not be necessary. Drizzle over your meats, toss it with your vegetables, brush it on bread before you toast it, slather it over that pizza dough before you sauce it (don’t forget to add kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to that pizza topping!). You will never meet an uneaten pizza crust again. I promise. Feel free to add an herb to the flavor base of the oil, or crushed red pepper. I add the additional seasoning to the individual food item. So, while the Hasselback sausage (if you don’t know that technique, wait for the pictures to follow. Be sure to click on them for a better view.) received a light brushing of the garlic oil alone, the carrots and cauliflower earned some thyme (sorry), and chopped fresh rosemary anointed the apples, onions, and Brussel sprouts.

Note: We planned our meal to feed six people and provide plenty of leftovers. Therefore, we prepared three sheet pans. And, always eager for new ideas, our daughter introduced us to roasted kale. Okay, you may be over kale. And you may not think much of kale chips (I don’t), but partially roasted, with edges just beginning to crisp, and seasoned with Aleppo pepper and sea salt—a revelation! And no, I am not asking you to massage the kale for three minutes first to tenderize it.

Accept the Sheet Pan Supper Challenge if you haven’t already done so. Dive into your refrigerator or pantry and innovate. A little acid at the end never hurts: we added a slight citrus tinge to the apples and sprouts, and some excellent sauvignon blanc vinegar to the carrots and cauliflower after they left the oven. Toast that stale bread with a little garlic oil and a hit of shaved parmesan. Happiness awaits.

I think of supper on a sheet pan as the Stone Soup meal plan for sheltering in place. Feel free to share yours here!

Hello World! Sheltering among the flour and the flowers, April 18, 2020

This week, I offered up flowers, soft pretzels, and stories of playing Mexican Train on the porch on a rainy afternoon. Yes, we continue to work on the mask project, but in fits-and-starts. Now the hospital supplies most of the materials needed, and the masks go to their surgical units. But cooking remains the sustenance for our body and our spirits. My hands kneading impossibly silky dough, playing tag-team with the ingredients and the participants: who wants to grate the cheese? Slice the meats? Chop the garlic? The result? Three lovely, flaky rounds: Eggplant with roasted peppers; Pineapple with pepperoncini (an inspired choice! the pineapple first roasted with a little sea salt and Aleppo pepper), and the standard—Pepperoni, sausage, and mushroom. Our innovation—cooking the mushrooms in a hot oven beforehand, so the juices are sealed in, and they don’t dry out when the pizza bakes.

The salad definitely took a village. Nancy Silverton’s Chopped Salad should have inspired us to break out the opera music, but we didn’t. OH. Mackenzie put in the whole tablespoon of oregano the recipe called for, and I promise to never be that coward again! We forgot to put Dino on Pandora, so the soundtrack of Little Italy pizza parlors never emerged over the dining room speakers. Still, we slurped and chewed with comments of “Bellisimo” and “Delicioso” and, “Are you going to eat that crust?”

The next morning, with cold-pizza-for-breakfast in hand as I dead-headed the roses, the multi-colored “Pinata” climber called out for taco night. The House of Garlic goes for round two.


Sandwich Sheltering: Between the Employed and the Unemployed, April 12, 2020

My desk sits facing east, an antique cupboard forming a barrier to the open adjoining dining room, a wall of windows to my right, looking southward over the water toward the orange groves that crown the hill above Lake Reedy in Frostproof, Florida. Behind me, and tucked into the office nook, my husband works at his sit-or-stand desk, four monitors stacked before him, headphone perched atop his forehead or strung around his neck, our world’s essential listen-or-speak apparatus. If he leans to his left, he too has a long lake view.

Our son sits on the other side of the cupboard, hunched and intent before a single, massive screen, the super-sized gaming computer at his feet, and, occasionally, a bird-cage or two by his side. When the birds call too loudly for his attention, he appeases them by wheeling them into our shared office, their chirps and chitters soon modulated by the tap-tap of fingers on keyboards. He quit his job in December to return to school, joining us here when everything shut down. Thankfully, his program restarted two weeks ago in an online delivery format.

Occasionally, my husband quietly announces, “I’m starting a conference call in five minutes.” Any urge to converse thwarted, a perfect time to get up and move.

I often begin my days pre-dawn, enjoying quiet solitude. Ironic, because there are three of us in this house, sheltering alone, our interaction buffered by technology. We spend hours so, cubicles of our isolation.

We gather for meals. Mostly, I cook. They eat.

This new reality sounds bleak, but it is not. We share joys: a message from a workmate about her son’s recovery from a long illness, news that two small local companies partner to make hand sanitizer, yet another funny bird meme. We debate over Pandora channels to broadcast, review the everlasting “to-do” list of household projects, discuss articles to read or movies to watch that evening. We are blessed with a full pantry and freezer when many are not. And we have space–a large yard in which to safely wander, separate rooms in which we can shelter alone, and birds to watch inside and out. Our cat alternates from lurking beneath the cages and stalking lizards on the screened porch outside.

We will be delivering devilled eggs and plates of Easter lunch to neighbors later today (with safety precautions in place). Maybe I’ll get back to mask-making after lunch, so many people still need them.

Joyfully, our daughter and her fiancé arrive tomorrow. Both unemployed service industry workers, after sheltering three weeks at home in Charlotte, NC, they determined it is safe to venture down to visit us. We hope they can make the trip with only one stop to gas up the car. We will tuck-in with a full house, the employed, the unemployed, the student, the cat, and the birds.

There will be enough people to play Mölkky in the carport, new competition for Mexican Train and Travel Rummy, new hands to knead bread, or mix cocktails. And indeed, more laughter.

Happy Passover. Happy Easter. Shelter safely. Call us if you need anything.