The Great Pepper Taste Test…

Top Chef, Chopped, Guy’s Grocery Games, Spring Baking Championship, Sugar Rush, The Great British Bake-Off
…if it’s a food competition program, I’ve probably watched it.  And, chances are good that I’ve convinced my daughter or husband (or both) to watch with me.  I don’t have to twist Emma’s arm, she likes most of the cooking shows.  Sean, however, is much more discerning, and will only watch certain ones.

The program we all watch faithfully is Top Chef.  Thanks to quarantine and Hulu, we’ve seen all episodes of all seasons.  One our favorite challenges on Top Chef is when the contestants have to identify ingredients while blindfolded. Our Great Pepper Taste Test (GPTT) was loosely based on a Top Chef challenge. 

I believe it all started with a family conversation about bell peppers.  After that, Emma posted an Instagram poll to see what color bell pepper people prefer. Her unscientific results showed red as the clear winner, and green as the clear loser.  That poll and its results sparked yet another family conversation about bell peppers.  We wondered if you can really taste much difference among all colors of peppers.  The GPTT was born!

To satisfy our curiosity, we did a blindfolded taste test of four colors of bell peppers.  What we found was probably not news to any of us, but interesting.  We all identified green correctly.  We found the flavor was intense, and two of us described it as “grassy.”  The red, orange and yellow peppers proved to be more difficult for some of us to distinguish.  Of course, Emma’s young, but developed palate helped her identify all colors correctly. We found that the red, orange and yellow all tasted very similar, but had varying levels of flavor intensity. The yellow and orange tasted \”fruitier\” than the red pepper.  I could see using the orange and yellow interchangeably in dishes because to me the difference was negligible.  I think the real reason to use the yellow and orange peppers in recipes is their fantastic color.  They look great in salsas, stir fries and salads.  

Speaking of salsa, here is a delicious recipe from Weight Watchers.  Make it now while nectarines are still in season!

Nectarine – Bell Pepper Salsa

From: Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook, 2011

Serves 6

3 small nectarines, pitted and diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon lime juice

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper 

Combine all ingredients in small bowl.

Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Use within one day.

The Great part about the GPTT was the fun.  We really enjoyed it, and will certainly do more family taste tests in the future.  The tastiest part of the GPTT was the dinner–fajitas we made with all four colors of bell peppers. 


I planned on a 45 minute walk today, but when the British guy on my phone said “Foity fiiive minutes thuty seconds,” I wanted to keep going.  I wanted to continue to enjoy the 65-degree air.  I wanted to keep experiencing the feeling I had deep within me.  Hope. 

The overnight temperature started it all. With windows open, the din of the air conditioning unit was replaced with a chorus of crickets.   A sunny, brisk morning followed.  As soon as I stepped out of the door for my daily walk, I felt like I could breathe again, taking in a fresh, cool breeze, rather than being struck by a wall of heavy, hot air.     

Balloons to welcome pre-schoolers.

The first thing I noticed today was the new drop-off for the church pre-school across the street.  Balloons marked the entrance to welcome children back to something that represents school for now.  Today is also the first day of virtual learning in our school district.  I loved the first days of the school year.  New Weejuns loafers, new uniforms, new books, new teachers, new fall TV shows like, The Monkees, and of course a new start. The first days of school brought hope.  Even though it’s not what we all want today, the semblance of school and the dedication of the teachers brings hope to me.  I wish that for the students too

There was a good showing of strollers this morning around the neighborhood.  Babies and little ones are the epitome of hope.  They are too young to have specific memories of this trying time, but their parents will tell them. They will pass on what they learned about love, dedication, and resiliency. 


My neighbors have a gigantic Biden sign on their fence.  When I look at it from my driveway, I see the sign, their fence, then gigantic sunflowers peeking over from their neighbor’s yard.  The blooms are enormous-the size of dinner plates.  Somehow seeing the political sign with the glorious flowers behind it made me think of better times ahead.   Republican John Kasich spoke at the Democratic National Convention.  Just that gave me hope that both sides will see the importance of working together to solve some of the most daunting issues of our lifetimes.  I know I’m a dreamer, but I’m allowed to hope.

At noon today, I will cheer on the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Yes, watching hockey has given me hope.  Sounds silly.  I’m not even a huge hockey fan.  But seeing successful Bubble Basketball, Bubble Hockey, and F1 Racing, allows me to look forward.  Seeing sports has added back a welcome touch of normalcy in our household. It’s also added hope.  It’s not just that I’m finally sitting in my living room watching the Blue Jackets rather than competition shows on Netflix, but that these organizations pulled something off that most people doubted could happen.  I think there must be lessons learned here.  Can we replicate any of these strategies in safely returning us to normal?

I hope I can attend a Jackets game next year.  I hope I can feel comfortable having coffee or dinner with friends.  I hope I can soon safely travel to see my family.  Those things still feel impossible for me right now, and it gets me down.  But on days like today when I feel full of hope, I’m thankful.

I wrote this about a week ago, but was reluctant to post it.  Somehow it felt too personal, maybe even too positive.  While I find hope in the first day of school, I’m aware of the hardships many Americans are facing.  I understand how difficult the new school year must be for countless students, families, and teachers.  I shared and posted my feelings so it might encourage someone else to look for hope.

In just a short week, much has changed for me. A family medical emergency (14 hours away by car) made me worry about when I’ll be able to safely travel.  The Jackets lost. It’s miserably hot again.  So while things aren’t so rosy, and my walk today was just awful, I know there will be another day just like last Wednesday soon!


Throwback crochet…

While I\’ve crocheted for years, I just recently decided to try doilies.  I don\’t think they\’re one of the hottest decorating must-haves, but I have found vintage patterns that can work in my retro ranch.  I used to think doilies were too intricate and complicated to crochet.  Many patterns are beyond my skill level, but there are plenty of easy ones too. Crocheting a doily can be a long-term project with lots of repetition, which appeals to me.  I find them very satisfying to complete.

My love of crocheting began when I watched my mother crochet tiny clothes for my short-haired brunette Barbie Doll. It was like magic.  She sat down with some thread, and hours later, I had a new dress for my doll.  My favorite outfit was a slinky variegated green evening gown.

When I had my daughter, Emma, I bought her a Barbie.  I also bought a wonderful book, Crochet for Barbie Doll by Nicky Epstein. The book had 75 cool outfits to crochet for my daughter’s new doll.  As a youngster, I was obsessed with my Barbies.  I spent days and days with Virginia Novak setting up elaborate houses and surrounds for our dolls.  Then we played with them for what seemed like weeks at a time. Those fond memories made me eager to get started on the new clothes for Emma\’s doll.

As children will throw surprises at you occasionally, my daughter delivered a big one. Emma had no interest in dolls. Stuffed animals like, Fat Cat, Tutter, and Miss Kitty ruled in our household.  She enjoyed looking at the Barbie pattern book, but that’s as far as it went.  I never made clothes for her Barbie.

All was fine, though.  Better than fine, actually. At an early age, Emma thought I could make ANYTHING. I was enlisted to fashion interesting, sometimes unconventional Halloween costumes for her, make clothes and furniture for her stuffed animals, and help with any of her elaborate projects du jour.  I so loved our collaborations.  I continued to crochet…just not Barbie clothes.

My most recent crochet project was a doily for my friend Vicky.  I found a huge box of vintage crochet thread at a garage sale.  The colors were beautiful. The photo shows only about half of my haul. 

For Vicky\’s doily, I chose a throwback pattern with flowers that reminded me of sunflowers.  The yellow crochet cotton I used looked warm and went well with the pattern. 

Pattern info: Filet Runner by Darma Bregoli in Magic Crochet Magazine, April, 1985.

There are great websites these days to find vintage and throwback patterns for doilies, potholders, doll clothes and more.  My favorite is 

While I was mostly self-taught with some help from my Mom and a little old Italian lady, the resources on the web today are amazing.  I find oodles of inspiration and sites to teach me new stitches and techniques.  If you have never tried crochet, now is a great time to start.


Green onions…

Today is one of those days.  I’m not very motivated.  I’ve tried to paint, but haven’t liked anything I’ve done.  Being at home so much is difficult.  For me it manifests in milling about aimlessly and bored even though there are literally 100 things I could be doing.

I usually brighten though when I go outside to check on my plants. When I was a twenty-something, I was amused by my neighbors who methodically looked over their yard each morning. One or both of them came outside toting a cup of coffee. They stopped to admire each bed. I didn\’t understand their behavior because I hadn\’t yet discovered my love of gardening. Now, I too survey my yard daily. I take my coffee sometimes. And younger neighbors probably think I\’m strange. I love being outside and find peace and satisfaction in yard work.

I’ve failed at a vegetable garden in the past, so I stick to container edibles and flowers throughout the yard.  Some would think that examining my plants each day is like watching paint dry, but there are exciting changes daily! 

A few weeks ago, I looked at my dill plants.  They had tiny caterpillars all over them.  The next day, the caterpillars had chomped so much of my dill, they had practically doubled in size!  Sadly, a few days after that the “Catch of the Day” for the neighborhood Cardinals was plump caterpillar.

Today, I checked on my green onions.  I am so happy with my green onions.  I grew them from scraps!  The satisfaction of eating a fresh green onion knowing that I grew it myself for free,  just makes my day.

I have no idea why it has taken so long for me to learn that you can grow all kinds of veggies from kitchen scraps. Thank goodness for the internet.  The simple idea popped up on one of my searches. I had to try it.  Here\’s how:

You save about a quarter of an inch of the bottom of the onion.  You plant it in some good potting soil, and keep it watered.  Magically, in a few days, you’ll see a new onion sprouting out of the middle of the tiny bit you planted!  You need to plant the roots, and leave a little of the white part above the dirt.  This is one of the paintings I didn’t like today, but it shows about how much onion you need. 

This has been rewarding for me.  The leek scrap I planted recently has new growth on it! You can also plant in water.  If you want to give it a go, here are a few sites with details:

Oddest inspiration for a recipe…

Among the 152 meals I’ve made since the pandemic began are several new and throwback desserts.  The family favorite dessert came about in an unusual and roundabout way…

Back in 2019, I wasn’t really a Columbus Blue Jackets fan. My husband was mildly interested because of a close friend who is a dedicated supporter.  I’m not sure why I didn’t get on the bandwagon because I LOVED to ice skate and regularly skated while attending graduate school at Ohio State.  The Chill had their practice time right after my skating classes.  My husband and I even set up a rink in our yard when our daughter was little.  She was an OSU Women’s Hockey fan and regularly attended games with her dad.  With working full time and spending countless hours in pools supporting our own high school, then college athlete, I just didn\’t think about adding another pastime.

At some point last year, I was in the living room with my husband who was watching a Jackets game.  Afterward he watched a show, Blue Jackets Conversations, with two players being interviewed at Cap City Diner in Grandview.  I was only half listening to them. I was probably knitting. One of them was Canadian, and mentioned some kind of pie.  While I didn’t absorb everything he said, I did get that there is a Canadian pie that he really likes.  I admit that I was curious about it, but didn’t listen closely enough to get any details. Again, knitting. My husband assured me that they re-air those Conversations shows regularly, and that I\’d see that episode again to listen more intently about the pie. 

I began watching the games with my hubby, and found I really enjoyed them.  (The last time I watched the NHL was in high school in Reading, Pennyslvania.  A boy I liked was a rabid Flyers fan, so I watched with him. Ewww.)  I watched the end of that Jackets season, and the playoffs. I faithfully tuned into the Blue Jacket Conversations waiting to see the episode with the Canadian player (who I now know is Pierre-Luc Dubois) talking about the pie.  Not once did they show that episode! 

At the beginning of the new season (2019/2020), I was officially a fan and continued to watch for the Conversations episode with PLD.  My daughter graduated from college and moved home and joined us in watching the games.  It became a long-standing family joke that every time we saw the Conversations show, it was with Boone Jenner or Nick Foligno.  Mostly Boone Jenner.  No sign of Pierre-Luc. Honestly we still laugh about it now. 

My daughter works at Whole Foods to squirrel away money for graduate school.  She freaked out about working with the virus out there.  One day in May she went to work worried, as usual.  I wanted to have a surprise treat ready for her when she arrived home.  I had a pie crust in the fridge left over from a chicken pot pie recipe and decided to use it.  I searched the internet for Canadian pies, and found one that sounded good and seemed to match the limited information I had about \”the pie.\”

I made it. Quebec Sugar Pie. We were all absolutely in awe of how delicious it was.  It might now be our favorite dessert.  The recipe is rather simple, especially if you use a pre-made pie crust.  It’s basically brown sugar, maple syrup, and heavy cream. The filling has a creamy light caramel flavor and a velvety texture.  We were surprised that a few uncomplicated ingredients could produce something so flavorful.  I chose to leave the top crust off, and was happy with more filling flavor than crust flavor.

I’m not sure if this is the pie Pierre-Luc was talking about, but thanks to him we have a new family fav.  You really should make this pie. Seriously. 

Here’s the recipe:

Go Jackets!


As we enjoyed a meal at one of our much-loved restaurants, Harvest Pizza, Clintonville, on Wednesday, March 11, we had no idea that we should have been savoring every moment of the experience.  Life was about to change.
With Covid 19, came dramatic changes for everyone.  In our household, it meant that I would stay home from work because I’m in a high-risk category, my husband would work from home, and our daughter would be here with us, working and deciding on graduate school. 

Before virus (BV), we ate out…often.  Going to restaurants was our favorite form of family entertainment.  After virus (AV), we eat at home. That means, my contribution to the well-being of the family is cooking. 

BV – I cooked several times a week.  That consisted of dinners and at least one big breakfast on the weekend.
AV – I cook on average 7.6 times per week.  That includes some dinners, some lunches and breakfasts.  In the 140 days since the hammer dropped, I’ve cooked at least 152 meals.
BV – We ate out or had takeout two to three times a week. Many more if you include Starbucks runs.
AV – As a family we’ve chosen to be pretty careful, and have only gotten takeout food about 10 times. (Yes, Harvest has been at least  three of them!)
To cook that many meals for my family, and more importantly, to keep the menu interesting, I’ve had to find plenty of inspiration.  Some of my sources for inspiration are surprising, but according to my family, I’ve found a way to keep it interesting.
With no job, I’m able to devote lots of time to menu planning and organizing.  My husband shops for the weekly grocery order because I’m limiting my time in public.  I organize the list according to the aisles in the store to make it easier for him. It\’s all time-consuming, but worth it for us.  There are no, \”what should we cook for dinner,\” or \”what takeout should we order,\” circular conversations.  It\’s all planned and simple throughout the week.  I do ask for input from the fam when I make the menu.  But they largely leave the decisions to me.  This system isn\’t for everyone, but it works for my family.

While we have some regular favorite meals, I try to make new recipes regularly.  I’ve also tried not to repeat recipes too often. There are 22 meals that have been good enough to repeat.  Three of those meals were so well-liked, I\’ve cooked them four times during the past four months.
BV, I thought I was a pretty good meal planner and a decent cook.  AV, I am a much better cook, and I am so much more organized!  Because this is the one thing I can do for the family, I’ve tried to do it well.  Our fruit and veg consumption has doubled, and I’ve incorporated meatless meals.  I have to shout out to Cooking Light. I subscribed to the magazine years ago, and still receive a quarterly publication.  Between those recipes and the Cooking Light website, I’ve found most of my meal ideas.
Here are three meals that we’ve repeated four times!
Green Curry Fritters with Cabbage Slaw – This is a light, flavorful meal that we love.  The fritters are made of ground chicken breast and the slaw is great with them. I generally don’t serve a starch with this combo, but rice or slider buns for the fritters might be good. It\’s a Cooking Light Recipe at:
Garlic-Miso Pork Noodle Bowl – This is another Cooking Light recipe that’s become a favorite in our home.  Find it at:
Miso-Butter Chicken is a Blue Apron recipe.  If you’ve never tried this meal delivery service, it might be worth a trial.  We used it for a while when it was fairly new.  While we LOVED the food, they still hadn’t worked out some of the delivery issues at the time.  For our lifestyle (both working, some odd hours), it worked beautifully.  It was convenient and the quality of the ingredients was amazing.  You can find this recipe on the Blue Apron website:

I have several posts in the works covering a variety of topics like sweets during the pandemic, gardening, throwback recipes and crafts.

Welcome to Cia\'s Garden Shed!

Starting a blog was not something I ever thought I would do, but lately, I’ve felt the urge to write. There have been so many changes in our lives, and some days I don\’t feel like I\’m adjusting well.  Other days, I\’m very excited about a project or meal.  In either case, I find comfort in writing about it. 
My name is Cecilia, but I named myself Cia for my blog and Etsy store.  I always wanted a cute nickname.  I grew up known as \”Ceily,\” which sounds like Sealy of the posturepedic mattress variety.  I never liked it.  In my twenties, I met another gal named Cecilia, and everyone called her, “Cia!”  What a lovely nickname. It didn\’t remind people of a mattress. I was envious.  So, as a twenty-something, I dumped Ceily for Cecilia, and today adopted Cia.
The blog is named after the old white shed in the shade of our back yard.  I like to think of this e-space as a collection of thoughts, ideas, projects, and recipes…kind of like the old shed with its collections. 
I had been working retail for the last several years.  It was sort of a new thing after working in education.  The virus came along and changed my way of life.  I’ve decided not to return to work because I’m in a higher risk category, so I\’m staying home for a while.

Being at home full time is an adjustment.  I stayed at home with my daughter until she was in fourth grade.  But it\’s a different situation today.  My daughter is 22 and at home, my husband works from the dining room table eight hours daily.   While I try to stay busy with cleaning, painting, cooking, gardening, and crafts, I still struggle with being at home for the foreseeable future.  
My goal for this blog is to find some normalcy for myself in the routine of writing regularly.  The bonus of this blog would be if it inspires, moves, comforts or makes a reader laugh.

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