What the Divas Did in 2003

January 2003 Subject: Re: Garden Club Breakfast!!!

Sugar: “Why don't we plan on Elsi’s at 10???”

Donna: ”Well, after grumping about time and place, I may not make it. I went to the doc yesterday and found out I have bronchitis. Lovely.
Mornings are my worst times, but I am getting better. Where is Elsi’s in case I make it?”

Buffy: “You need to take care of yourself. Bronchitis is nothing to take lightly, especially in your condition. So unless anyone totally objects let say Elsi’s at 10:00.
Looking forward to tomorrow!!!”

March 2003

It’s the end of March and we are finally having our first working day of 2003 at Karla’s. Mindy’s date should have been in February, but we’d been rained out again. The weather has been very windy here, with high gusts every day, kicking up all the pollen. Spring has been cool and dry, all our schedules have been weird, and Mindy has had to deal with several deaths. We feel bad for her, and these sad events have also made it hard for her to get together with us. We’re all just doing the best we can right now!

Karla made one of her wonderful casseroles with biscuits and fruit on the side. Pimiento cheese and cookies with pink icing appeared as a later treat. We hadn’t seen each other since the organizational meeting in January, and had a lot of catching up to do.

The day started at 8 AM, and ended at nearly 7 PM! A lot of it was spent pulling out old overgrown shrubs, digging new beds, etc. Karla likes shrubs with some grace and movement, but the brick ranch she moved into a few years back had very solid, large shiny evergreens – primarily Burford Hollies. They were overgrowing the whole front & blocking the windows. We managed to get them out, mostly in pieces, but were able to transplant one smaller holly to the far side of the front yard. Some small snakes were pretty ticked off when we cleared out the leaves that had collected under the shrubs.

After the main tasks were done, we again headed to Red Barn, wandering the aisles and buying some interesting plants. Donna is expecting a baby in a few months – she is still hanging out with us, but we don’t want her to do anything dangerous or overtaxing. We set the next meeting for two weeks later; we’re doing our best to catch up the schedule.

April 2003

Today the Divas met at Mindy’s ranchette in the Hill Country. We made rock edged beds right outside of Mindy’s entrance gates, and installed small gardens, emphasizing native plants, on either side of the drive.

A low, meandering stacked-stone wall existed when they bought this place years ago, but it is being redone. Some of the stones are being recycled into various projects. Mindy’s husband is good at welding, so he is making the iron gates himself, and many of the stones are becoming stone pillars with sections of ironwork in between. They might keep the deer out and the dogs in! Mindy has several acres in a country area, patrolled by 3 big Labradors. There are peach trees and a pond with goldfish, and a huge lawn under old live oak trees. We have been teasing her that she has good potential here for a wedding venue. The separate guest apartment could be useful as a dressing room for the bride and attendants, and lots of tables would fit under those live oak trees. The cooking is quite wonderful here too – it was a delicious pasta salad today.

May 2003

Our forces were diminished for this busy day at Sugar’s house. The day was pretty warm, with temps in the 90’s. Donna is only 2 weeks away from due date, not a good time to be working in that heat! Buffy had bronchitis and had been very ill. Mindy was entered in a half-mile swimming event in the early morning and arrived a few hours late.

The Divas' scheduled project was digging a large new flowerbed, transplanting a lot of stuff, mulching, etc. Buffy and Mindy are the strongest Divas, so Sugar, Annie, Karla and I really missed them. Luckily for us, one of Sugar’s neighbors came over for a while and worked with us. She said it was worth the labor to get some of Sugar's cooking. When we left, the garden was looking great but the Divas were a wreck!

Here is the breakfast recipe from Sugar:

1 Lg. onion – chopped


2 (16oz) can tomatoes

1 can Rotel tomatoes

3(4 ½ oz) cans chopped green chilies

2 cloves garlic – minced

Oregano to taste

Ground Cumin to taste

Salt to taste

½ lb. bag tortilla chips, divided in ½

12 eggs, beaten

1 ½ lb (or less) Monterey Jack & Cheddar cheese, grated & divided

3 cups of sour cream (or less)

Green onions, chopped

Sauté onions in oil until clear. Add tomatoes, chilies, seasonings, & simmer until thick. Place a layer of half of the chips in the bottom of a 9x13 casserole dish. Add ½ of the sauce, ½ of the cheese, & all of the eggs. Top w/ remaining chips, sauce & cheese. Top w/ sour cream & sprinkle w/ green onions. Bake at 350 degrees for approx. 40-45 min’s or until eggs set. Test w/ a knife in center. Serves 8

June 2003

In spite of our January hopes, the Divas are having another one of those years – we couldn’t get a weekend that would work for most of us until now. Donna had a lovely little boy a few weeks ago. We hope to see her soon, but she is still recovering. Our original intention was to start early since the day was heading into the mid-90’s, as usual. That’s all we have seen lately – 90’s and rainless, with no relief in sight. My extended family in Illinois has been crabbing about their too-cool weather, but we wouldn't mind swapping climates for a while.

Buffy made a wonderful casserole (one of those overnight ones with lots of cheese, bacon, eggs poured over milk, refrigerated and then baked in the morning), scones, pear preserves, biscuits, clotted cream from England, blackberries, mango, raspberries, grapes, hash browns. Annie and I were there right after 8, with the others straggling in a little later. Constant interruptions from the doorbell and the phone made breakfast a little late, but we didn't care - we were happy to catch up on talking.

After trying to make a dent in the lavish breakfast, we put on our sunscreen and went out in the heat - did a lot of pruning oak trees, and weed trees, filling up recycling bags, enlarged one flower bed and got all the sod in bags, dug up another and added compost, then transplanted stuff from the back to the front. It wasn't all that arduous, just slow and thirsty work. It made a big difference in the appearance from the street. I took a couple of photos, but the roll is new, so heaven knows when they'll actually get out of the camera.

As a counterpoint to the rich breakfast, the late lunch served at 3 PM had recipes from Weight Watchers. Buffy’s gazpacho was an uncooked recipe with fresh corn, tomatoes, peppers, avocado & fat-free chicken broth, along with lime-marinated chicken salad.

We all do this kind of thing. When you cook for your girlfriends, you know you can try fun recipes and get a very positive response. This works especially well for Buffy since her guys are not too fond of innovative dishes stuffed full of vegetables and herbs. She goes all out with cooking for the Divas, and boy do we appreciate it!

September 2003

Glinda’s turn! The Divas of the Dirt were here early on Saturday morning, and once again their task involved banishing something to which I am allergic. It’s not too logical to be a gardener when one gets rashes from plants, sinus infections from mold, and allergy attacks from pollens, but who wants to give up gardening? Not me! This time the girls dug up a bunch of Copper Canyon daisies, which are large ferny, wand-like, root-hardy shrubs with yellow flowers in late fall. They are invaluable perennials for deer country, but I am now afraid of contact. The row of plants along the utility line aren't a problem, but the ones mixed in with the more civilized flowers in the other beds had gotten totally out of control. While I was avoiding them, they grew into monsters and had smothered a lot of the other plants and flowers.

Soon the bullying daisies were gone and the east front bed had some of that black rubber edging installed to slow the creeping Bermuda grass.

Mindy brought along a guest who is starting to landscape 5+ acres, needs ideas, and wanted to see how our group worked. She is thinking of starting her own landscaping co-op and stayed a few hours, working along with us.
(Before shown above)
The Divas removed turf by the front sidewalk for the new design, giving the entry some personality. They distributed the removed grass around the east side of the house, filling in the few remaining bare spots left from last year's juniper removal project. Buffy was stuck doing the stonework, as usual - large white limestone blocks. I was the last Diva to be the recipient of rocks/stones/bricks by Ms Buff... in the other six yards there are already one or more of her constructions. The blocks were combined with decomposed granite from the Natural Gardener. This makes the entry more defined and level. Now there is a perfect space to put the two new handmade hypertufa pots, made by a local craftsman. I had oleanders in the previous [terralite] pots, but our strong winds blew them over almost every day. The oleanders are lovely, scented, and double-flowered pale yellow. I ordered them from Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina a few years ago. They’ve grown beautifully and made it through some very cold winter temperatures, but they are not happy by the front entry. They can go up on the deck and get more sun. For this lightly shaded area, Donna offered me some of her extra container plants - a couple of potted boxwoods, which are hopefully deer resistant. The boxwoods look very cool in the new hypertufa containers.

When Donna came to this meeting she had her darling, nursing baby in tow; Karla worked even though her foot was in a cast; we had one spot with terrible Bermuda grass that had to be pulled; several of the Divas had run-ins with some insect they were calling a no-see-um, and in the afternoon, Sugar started rashing up... maybe the daisies or the no-see-ums? She ended up in the shower, which helped the itching.
A few weeks ago, several Divas had urged me to give them a bigger job this time, since the 2002 juniper project had not been challenging enough for them. They sure earned their breakfast today!

My hormonally distressed brain forgot that Savory Cheese pie had been last year’s menu, and I served it again. Here’s the recipe as it has evolved over the years:


Oven 350 degrees F

1 frozen pie shell, Marie Callendar if you can find it

10 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated and tossed with

2 Tablespoons flour and a little pepper

3 Tbls. Fleischmann's unsalted margarine)

2 large onions (or one really giant Texas sweet one)

1 tablespoon chopped basil (fresh off the plants on the deck!)

2 large firm tomatoes, or four Romas, sliced

3 eggs [I use free-range eggs]

3/4 cup half-and-half

Melt the butter in a large skillet, slice the onions thin and sauté them very slowly and gently until they turn golden. This takes about a half hour, but it is critical to the taste.

Meanwhile, grate the cheese and toss it with the flour. Beat the eggs and cream. When the onions are transparent and golden, turn on the oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle a third of the grated cheese over the uncooked piecrust, then arrange the onions in a layer on top of the cheese.

In the still buttery onion pan, gently heat the tomato slices with the chopped basil for a minute or two. Arrange the tomato slices over the onions, then cover with the remaining cheese.

Pour the egg mixture over the cheese. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 40 - 50 minutes, until the top browns nicely and a knife blade comes out clean.

For lunch we had Chips and salsa, and a chicken salad with fresh basil that I have been making forever. I also used a recaptured recipe from my mom’s childhood, called Burnt Sugar Cake, which my grandmother made back in the 20's and 30's. My mom knew what the caramelizing
procedure should look like, and had a good idea of the ingredients, but no one ever found a written recipe after my grandmother died. I looked through libraries for years with no luck, but one day Google turned up a winner that matches my mom’s memories.


Burnt-sugar syrup:

¾ cup regular sugar

¾ cup boiling water


2/3 cup butter, softened (I use Fleischman’s unsalted margarine)

1 cup regular sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs, separated

3 cups cake flour, sifted with 3 teaspoons baking powder and a dash of salt

¾ cup milk

½ cup of the above burnt sugar syrup

Burnt-sugar Frosting:

1/3cup butter or margarine

1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted with a dash of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Reserved burnt-sugar syrup

Pecan halves, for garnish

Burnt-sugar syrup: In small heavy skillet or saucepan, heat 3/4 cup sugar, stirring, until a brown syrup forms and mixture begins to smoke. [They really mean this, so have your exhaust fan runnin' on high!] Very gradually stir in 3/4 cup boiling water and remove from heat. Cool thoroughly.

Cake: Cream butter and sugar until light. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup burnt-sugar syrup. (Reserve the reminder for the frosting.) Add vanilla, then egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with milk, beating until smooth. Fold in stiffly
beaten egg whites.

Pour into two 9-inch layer pans lined on the bottom with waxed paper. Bake in moderate oven (375 F) about 25 minutes. Cool and frost. Top with nut halves if desired. [I always desire pecans on everything, how about you? I put them on in a nice spoke pattern all over the top and sides, and had no complaints whatsoever.]

Burnt-sugar Frosting: Cream butter or margarine. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, salt, vanilla, reserved burnt-sugar syrup and enough cream for spreading consistency.

Google source: Alberta Ruthrauff/ Woman’s Day Cookbook (1950s)
After we were done, Buffy, Sugar, Annie and I drove over to an area that was having their twice-yearly 'bulky pick-up'... meaning anything can be thrown out for no extra trash removal charge. The local sport of dumpster diving was in season. Two years ago Buffy scooped a vintage metal porch table that was being pitched out. No such luck this year, but I got some linking metal plant supports, and the other girls found a ton of those zinc plant labels on wires. It was more of an excuse for conversation and checking out other houses for landscaping, anyway!
The boxwoods are still in their plastic containers, hidden inside of the new hypertufa ones. That way, if the deer find boxwood irresistible, I can move them to the fenced deck. I hope they are indigestible and can stay in front!

October 2003

This Divas' meeting was at Annie’s house - lots of fun, and a nice project. There was a delicious biscuit, eggs and Swiss cheese sauce dish for breakfast, along with plums and white peaches. Annie made a few Martha Stewart recipes for lunch, too - Summer Corn Chowder & Angel Food

Annie always finds interesting plants. One of the flowers she planted was a gorgeous blue-flowering sort of shrub called a clerodendron. Some shrubs & trees in her garden are a Desert Willow, crape myrtles, a camellia, Chaste tree (Vitex), Abelia and Rose of Sharon.

Mindy was out of town with her family, Karla’s broken foot was better, but Buffy’s knee was swollen and she was on painkillers, Sugar had broken toes and had her foot in a walking cast, Donna had to leave after a few hours because she was leaking milk, and I was alternately okay or having that allergy cough. In spite of these ailments we still dug two new beds,

( front before)

(front after)...filled 4 yard bags plus another can of junk and weeds, emptied an old container of soil that smelled pretty rank, hauled compost and mulch around and planted lots of cool new stuff. After we finished the garden work, I bailed and went home for allergy medicine, but the four remaining Divas had the stamina to go check out some wheels at a car dealer and visit one of Annie’s local plant vendors.(Ed: above is the trellis from 2002)

Our tribulations inspired Annie to send this poetic note:

“Thank you Divas one and all,
Your contributions were BIG certainly not small!
With a broken toe, arthritis, allergies, back pains, lactation, and STINKY dirt too,
YOU didn't quit until we were through.
My yard looks amazing
My gratitude to you!! “

December 2003

Donna’s chance for a project was lost to pregnancy and bad weather this year, but she was gracious enough to volunteer to be the hostess for the annual Christmas event. We were all charmed by her 6-month old baby, and Hudson (the cuddly cocker spaniel) was delighted to have so much female attention.

Annie started the feast with a crab dip and a prosciutto & cheese roll up, both on crackers. Donna’s mother-in-law had given her a fabulous recipe for the pork roast sizzling in the oven. Karla brought green beans in an amazing sauce; Mindy’s delightful side dish was roasted caramelized vegetables - baby carrots, baby beets, fennel bulbs & mushrooms. Glinda made a creamy potato casserole with lots of marjoram, dill & savory. Sugar had been requested to produce our annual amaretto pudding.

We sat around drinking poinsettias and waiting for Buffy. Not wanting the pork to be ruined, we began to eat without her, just a few minutes before she flew in with a lovely mixed green salad with marinated orange segments & pomegranate seeds. We decided to serve the salad after the main course, as in Europe, and this was a good idea. The traditional amaretto bread pudding tasted even better after our palates had been cleansed!

Here is Donna’s rather terse recipe for the pork roast:


“Frozen box of spinach,

Salt & pepper,


pine nuts or pecans

a pork loin

olive oil

boursin cheese

Microwave spinach to get warm. Squeeze out water. Mix with boursin cheese, pecans, and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Cut pork in half lengthwise. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper- add stuffing. Tie together with baking string. Then cook 20-30 minutes per pound at 350.

Yummy!”The grab bag items were fun: a collection of gardeners’ toiletries; a metal tuteur for training vines or holding Christmas lights; a rosemary topiary in a ceramic pot; a fanciful tote shaped like a watering can; Smith & Hawken gloves & trowel; a clay dish with bird décor, which could be either bird feeder or bird bath; imported oil & balsamic vinegar.

We went upstairs to tour the baby’s room, which had been stenciled with vines, dotted with leaves, bees, butterflies, dragonflies and other insects, and had little frogs perched around the windowsills and door frame. While we were cooing and awwwing, the unchaperoned Hudson saw his chance and devoured the ham & cheese. A later lapse in attention on our part allowed him a portion of amaretto bread pudding. According to Donna, he had to be sequestered in an uncarpeted area on the following day, but we were all still smiling from our lovely Holi-Diva-Day.

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