Planting Thoughts

March 25, 2016


I grew up in Iowa where agriculture reigns supreme. I have often wondered why don’t I have the “Mr. Green Jeans” gene that other Iowans have. Why can’t I grow a garden of vegetables or a patch of petunias? I have parched the life out of every houseplant I have ever owned. I call it plantamnesia. I cannot remember to give the poor things a simple drink of water. Throughout the plant kingdom the word is out that plants should never ever set root in my House of Horror-ticulture.

My friend, Sara Brayton, gave me the cutest little potted pansy a few years ago. I named her Rootie because she had such a fighting spirit, and I vowed that I would keep our perky little plant partnership going strong. I was photographically documenting our life together, when things started to go downhill. It broke my heart when her bright little self just wilted away. Rootie I hope you have forgiven my unintentional neglect, and I still think of you fondly whenever I see a compost pile.

Well-watered Rootie.
Dehydrated Rootie.
Recycled Rootie.
Rootie Residue.

Now, back to the roots of how I became a serial killer of plants. Bob and I were married during our junior year of college. For our last summer at Iowa State, I wanted to show Bob my domestic side by growing a garden of vegetables. I had no experience, but being an Iowa girl, I was certain that green thumbs came naturally to those of us with an agrarian heritage. I was ready to tie on a gingham sunbonnet, grab a hoe, and work from sun up to sun down until I produced a bountiful crop. I would preserve the provender in Mason jars arranged in perfect rows in our larder in preparation for the long hard winter to come. (I just love “prairie talk,” don’t you?)


From the start, Bob refused to be a partner in my project, and I assured him that I did not require his help. With newly purchased seeds, tomato plants, bug dust, and tools in hand, I headed out to the back yard and proceeded to spend hours digging several little holes in the compacted, weedy dirt. Dripping in sweat, I went back inside and informed Bob, who was trying to study, that this gardening business was way too hard, and I was giving up. He took a controlled breath, walked over to the window, and looked out. He said, “Well, I thought you knew that you cannot just go out and dig random holes in the yard! You do know that you have to work the soil first. Right?” Work the soil? I didn’t even know what that meant. I told him he would have to do it because I didn’t know how, and I was already bored with the whole thing anyway. He said, “I think you should just return that stuff to the store.” I told him I couldn’t because I had already opened everything.

In the interest of time, I’ll not cover our “discussion”, but let’s just say that Bob ended up “working the soil” for several hours until it was in a crumbly and plant-able condition.


The next morning, I had my mojo back as I headed outside. When I grabbed the trowel, I realized that I was staring down at earth worms, beetles, larvae and other creepy crawlers in that soft black soil. Lots of them! Back inside, I announced that I was definitely done with gardening. Bob said calmly, “But you’ve already bought all of those seeds and fertilizers and equipment and blah, blah, blah, and now I’ve spent blah blah blah hours out there working the soil and blah, blah, blah ….” We arrived at a compromise. If Bob would plant everything, I would water it, fertilize it, pull weeds, and then finally pick the fruits of our labor. (I always thought I would have made a great seasonal worker on a truck farm because it’s the “picking” aspect of growing things that I adore.)



After Bob planted everything, we realized that there was no outside spigot for the garden hose. Mr. Know-It-All said, “Well you’d better go buy a watering can because that’s how you’re going to have to water all this stuff.” Do you know how long it takes to water a garden with a watering can? After a week of that nonsense, I began dumping buckets of water on everything. I must say that it was thrilling to see a few of the spunkier little sprouts rise up from the mud and try to exist. We did harvest a few baby radishes (even though we don’t really like radishes) and a few leaves of lettuce before the rabbits discovered our free salad buffet. The tomato plants grew tall and fell over, and soon everything except the weeds turned brown from neglect and too much water.


Bob and I never spoke of gardens again. If I want to have flowers planted, he handles it. If I want fresh garden vegetables, I go to the farmers’ market (or my dear friend and gardener, Lynn McCollum, shares with me). I’m not permitted to go near a trowel, spade, or bucket of water. Understandably, serial plant killers are not allowed to hold dangerous tools in their murderous little hands.


Whether you’re entertaining for a spring occasion or an Easter dinner, you may be looking for a festive new appetizer. How about Spicy Roasted Carrot Shooters! They beautifully showcase the flavor and color of carrots. You can buy inexpensive shooter glasses at World Market, Pier 1, or Amazon.

Spicy Roasted Carrot Shooters


Spicy Roasted Carrot Shooters

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

For Roasted Carrots

  • 1 pound package peeled baby carrots
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Fresh, ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 cup chicken broth

Put all ingredients (except chicken broth) in a bowl and stir to coat well. Spread on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. When cooled, place carrots in blender with chicken broth and purée until smooth. (Leave in blender temporarily.)

For “Shooter” Soup

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium yellow bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half

Pour olive oil into a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, crushed red pepper, and salt. Sauté for 10 minutes. Add 1 cup of the chicken broth and cook for 20 minutes or until the peppers are tender. Cool a few minutes and then add to the blender (with the puréed carrots) and blend until smooth. Return mixture to saucepan, add remaining 2 cups of chicken broth and heat until boiling. Reduce to to simmer and stir in the half-and-half. Remove from heat. Cool. (Can be made a day or two ahead.)

When ready to serve, carefully pour soup into shooter glasses. Top each with a piece of roasted kale. (Recipe below.) Shooters should be served either slightly warm or at room temperature.

For Roasted Kale

  • 1/2 of a 10-ounce bag of washed, trimmed, cut kale (large stems removed with a kitchen shears) (I buy my kale at Trader Joe’s.)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or a bit less) (Sometimes I use garlic salt instead.)

Put all ingredients into a bowl and stir well to coat. On same baking sheet used to roast the carrots, spread the kale. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 minutes or until kale just starts to brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Top each shooter with a piece of kale. (There will be plenty of leftover pieces, which are deliciously addictive. In fact, I roast the entire bag of kale [in two batches] because this crunchy treat is gobbled up quickly.Who would have believed that kale could be so tasty!)

Recipe from

Last Bites


It seems as though all Easter candies and decorations come in only pastel colors. I’ve always preferred to celebrate the season with the more assertive colors of the carrot. Those orange hues just seem to work better with my home decor than the pale pastels. I enjoy making “carrot” sugar cookies and shaping colored marzipan into “carrots”. I buy the Lindt carrot-shaped chocolates, and I like to decorate with real carrots that still have the green tops on them. Once, I even had an amazing idea to hold an Easter Carrot Hunt for our children and their friends! Then, reason grabbed hold of me and shook me back to reality. Those kids would have rioted. That hunt would have put them in a healthy-eating hell of fresh carrots for many days. I do believe that my idea might have inspired nutritionists or maybe a natural-and-crunchy vegetarian organization to nominate me for Mother of the Year, but it just wasn’t worth a cranky-kid uprising. (So, my trophy cabinet remains empty, except for the third-place ribbon I got in the backstroke back in junior high.)

I don’t know about you, but as soon as Easter is over, I’m done with carrots.

I made carrots from marzipan to decorate the top of a carrot cake loaf.

Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you enjoy your spring holidays and celebrations with families and friends. My next post will be published on April 8. (I post every other Friday.) Please stop by again soon!—Tracy Mullen




23 thoughts on “Planting Thoughts

  1. Another night I cannot sleep but have tears running down my face at 3 am catching up on your blog Tracy. Thank you for the laughter and the yummy recipes!


    1. So great to hear from you Sue! And how nice that you would think of my blog on a sleepless night! Hope you finally got to sleep. Thank you so much for your very nice comments!


  2. I always enjoy your carrot sugar cookies. They are so beautiful and the color is so right. I would like to eat one right now and imagine I am eating a healthy carrot while I consume it. Your pictures are amazing, too. I took an entire semester of Photography in college, and I still can’t produce anything of such beauty. You are a constant surprise. Keep up the good work. Love the blog. Kris


  3. As an English teacher (kind of), I am totally envious of your writing ability and style. I can recognize marvelous writing; I just can’t produce it. Thanks for the entertainment!


    1. Well, Joyce Johnson, your comment has made me so happy I could tap dance like Ginger Rogers on top of my kitchen counter — if it weren’t stacked with dirty dishes from experimenting with recipes for the blog. Bob has wondered if people really are interested in reading about the minutiae of life (along with a few recipes and pictures thrown in), but those are the topics that I feel most comfortable with. So your affirmation that perhaps I’m not boring my readers to death means so much to me. Thank you so much!! :o)


  4. Makes me just want to go out and buy seeds to plant a garden! But instead I will free load off of Meredith’s garden when she offers her poor mom her fresh vegetables. I too am “garden challenged”. Love your posts.


  5. Tracy,
    I was laughing so hard I cried, reading your post in the car heading home from Florida. I wasn’t driving! You always amaze me with your pictures and great ideas! Happy Easter 🌷🐰


  6. I love starting my day with you!! I remember Rootie well and still honor her short life with you!! Two things I didn’t know about you: you wore a gingham hat and you won a swimming trophy! You never cease to amaze, my friend!!


    1. Well … perhaps I did exaggerate about the gingham hat, but I definitely came in third in the backstroke and I was mighty proud of that white ribbon. Thank you for remembering Rootie, too. What a pansey!


  7. I LOVE Mullen it over, what a perfect start to a Friday. Happy Easter, Katie

    P.S. Plants (even flowers) totally stress me out. The only living things I enjoy taking care of are humans and our dog 🙂

    Sent from my iPhone



  8. LOVED your planting thoughts, Tracy! Your experience is not unlike my 4-H gardening experience when I signed up to do a vegetable garden for one of my annual projects. Alas, I totally forgot there would be a county-wide tour of all gardens before the county fair. How mortified I was to show my weed-filled patch to a group whose visit came unexpectedly to me and who had taken their projects much more seriously than I had. That may be the “root” of my obsession to record everything going on in my day! And I, too, received a white ribbon that year!


  9. Just had to send you my daughters planting story. She decided to have a beautiful display of tulips, daffodils etc for sons graduation in May. She purchased 300 bulbs and diligently had her family plant them in the fall. I asked if she reminded her family to place the bulbs root side down. She replied WHAT?? Needless to say the spring display was pretty inconsistent
    (This was not the daughter of mine that you know)


    1. Hi Karen! I’m so glad to know that you got your email address changed on my blog! I loved your story! (Naturally, I would not have known this important bulb-planting fact either, but then, I won’t be going near any bulbs anyway!) This is one of those stories, where it’s hilarious hearing about it a few years later … but at the time I’ll bet your daughter was so upset! Thank you for sharing! :o)


  10. When did you take all these pictures? If my memory serves me, you weren’t all that great with a camera!? Hope I am the first to read your blog this morning. You are amazing.


    1. The best thing to ever happen to me picture-wise, was to have the iPhone with its very decent camera. It’s so easy to use and to edit pictures and to get them into my computer. Don’t you agree? There are still plenty areas of improvement to work on, of course. Yes, as usual you were the very first reader of the new post. I hope you always will be, my early-bird friend! :o)
      Thank you!


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