I grew up in a city but we had a garden. Next to our garage, there was a five foot wide strip of land. My father planted tomatoes and lettuce – maybe there were other things like peppers. But tomatoes grew there abundantly. The very best tomatoes cannot be had at a grocery store – at least not the grocery stores that I remember. My Dad was the original Yoda but, rather than riddles he offered guidance in the form of brief statements that had the force of incontrovertible truths. And this was one of those truths: You can’t buy good tomatoes in a grocery store.

The other great small garden that I knew well belonged to my grandmother. She grew tomatoes and strawberries. As if it were yesterday, I remember hulling the berries at the kitchen sink. Of course, as in any really good memory, there was sun streaming in the window. She never really talked a lot so we worked in silence until the bowl was full.

In those small garden plots, gardening became a part of the life. You might even say that gardening was woven into the everyday of living as a warp thread. No matter how small that spot, something good will grow.

How I Became a Compulsive Gardener

I was a small time gardener until I started writing a dissertation and finally had a large spot to grow things. The garden spot was on a steep slope in the hills. Rocky. Steep. Impossible clay soil. It was a slow going. I started with a compost bin which was absolutely necessary to enrich the spoil. The compost bin was located on that steep slope. The second time that I slipped and fell on my way to that bin, I decided I needed to make some steps. It took awhile but I finally figured out how to build steps – one step at a time!

The first steps were the hardest!
The first steps were the hardest!

Ultimately, the building of the steps taught me how to write a dissertation – As I would take my shovel and dig into that hard clay, I understood that as in everything we do in life, it is one shovelful of clay, one step or one paragraph. By the time the dissertation was complete, the steps were complete and the garden was well on its way!


As the garden grew, I found that I had more and more ideas that required a much larger knowledge base than I learned in the city. Seed catalogs and gardening books provided inspiration for me – as they have since the very first printing of drawing of a garden. Medieval Health Guides included illustrations of plants in gardens – many of these are now online like this illustration of sage.

Hyssop from Acuinum Sanitatis
Hyssop from Acuinum Sanitatis

This week we added many new titles to our ever increasing collection of gardening books with books from a garden club in Worthington! They are readily identified by the bookplate – flowers of course! The best news is that our price for most of our books is well below the cost of a new paperback.  One of our new finds is very hard to put down because of the format – questions and answers that are organized so well that the book flows.  . .

F. F. Rockwell, 10,000 Garden Questions. Answered by Experts. (Doubleday, 1944, revised 1959).  I appreciate the title – it is accurately descriptive! Weighing in at a hefty 1390 pages, the coverage is encyclopedic. Even though there is only a brief article on organic gardening, there is a wealth of information,  so it is a good place to look when you have a question.

Speaking of organic, we have many books, both vintage and recent about organic gardening published by Rodale Press.

One of my favorite gardening books is The Landscape Gardening Book by Grace Tabor (1911). She begins this beautiful book with “Gardens do not happen. A Garden is as much the expression of an idea as a poem, or a symphony . . . But ordinarily we fail to recognize this until the actual work of evolving a garden lies before us.”  Soon after I built my first few steps, I realized that the most important element in the garden is structure that is guided by our plot of earth. The biggest strength of this book comes from her idea that every garden, no matter how small, needs a place for us to rest, to sit, to meditate . . . as she writes, there is a spirit in the garden. This is truly a lovely book!

The Landscape Gardening Book
The Landscape Gardening Book

More later . . . I can no longer ignore the laundry. It evolves.



Cookbooks in the Internet Age


I am a historian and so, I truly understand that the internet is the greatest tool for any kind of research – including recipes. I was delighted to actually find a recipe for authentic Italian Roast Beef á la Marnell’s (Chicago Heights, Illinois). Italian Roast Beef is such an extraordinary culinary treat that an Italian grocer in Little Italy (Cleveland) had tears in his eyes when he informed me that it was no longer imported in Cleveland! (If you have more information, please let me know, instantly). So, I began to look for recipes on the net – and I found one! As it turns out, the secret ingredient is Juniper Berries and the slow cooking. It was marvelous. A few years later, I found the recipe for a Italian Cassata that approached the birthday cakes from the Italian Bakery from my old neighborhood.

BUT, to learn technique or to really gather information about cooking; a book is still the best. And it is true, many recipes from the standard  cookbooks are still not available on the internet even though they are close or maybe “improved.” AND most importantly, it is still much more comforting to curl up with a good book. If I am in cooking slump, I cannot but help get inspired – and before I know it, there I am in the kitchen with flour flying and dishes piled high. The aroma of fresh baked bread cures all ailments especially the doldrums of a winter that just won’t end!

But first I will warn you of my bias reflected in my collection (covered with chocolate, olive oil and lacking covers after years of use!) that includes the books that have become our family classics. The list of Shearer Classics includes (in no particular order):

  • Anna Thomas, Vegetarian EpicureVolumes 1 and 2
  • Alan Hooker, Vegetarian Gourmet Cookery (1972)
  • Barbara Friedlander, Earth Wind Fire Air (1972)
  • Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking and The Way to Cook
  • The Joy of Cooking
  • The Silver Palette, Volumes 1 and 2


One Shearer Classic dinner is Cheese and Potato Pie with a salad. It is simple and satisfying. We had six children and a busy busy schedule so fast and easy was very important some nights.

This recipe is from Earth Wind Fire Air.


  • 4 Idaho potatoes (peeled and cut in fourths)
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley (fresh)
  • salt, pepper (we liked to add garlic)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs (seasoned or not)
  • 1/2 pound mozzarella, cut in slices
  • 1/2 cup parmesan


  1. Preheat Oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Boil potatoes, drain and mash with cream and butter.
  3.  Beat egg yolk and mix with potato mixture.
  4. Whip egg white stiff with pinch of salt then add to potatoes.
  5. Butter pie plate and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Layer potato mixture and mozzarella starting with potatoes.
  6. Top with parmesan and dot with butter.
  7. Bake for 45 minutes until top is golden and a little puffy.

I always wonder how something so simple can taste so good  –  so good that our children have added this to their own repertoires!

Back to new books and inspiration.

James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, Outlet, 1990.

This reprint of the “got to” book for  many cooks retains all of the information from the first printing. There is a compendium at the end that includes useful terms and basic information. There are line drawings throughout to illustrate method that are useful. The collection of recipes reflects the Beard’s taste and style as always – eclectic and varied as is American Cuisine.

More new books: Mark Bittman, Fannie Farmer (1996 reprint),  The Romagnoli’s Table, Jeni Wright and Le Cordon Bleu Classics.


From the Amy Vanderbuilt Series, “Success Program for Women” Serving Food Attractively (Doubleday, 1966).

History is interesting . . . a look at style . . .  like sprinkling paprika on cottage cheese . . . and parsley on your plate.

This copy is signed by Amy Vanderbilt – in red ink!


PS  In da heights, there is still a Marnell’s but it is not the same – new owners and new menus. Alas, the Italian Roast Beef served there as of five years ago was only an imitation.  Little did I know that the Italian Roast Beef Sandwich is such an art form that it has merited a food blog! Not surprisingly, the writer shared my sentiments.






eclipse company town

We had been thinking of a storefront for awhile; well actually, since the first time that the barn leaked. Or maybe, it was the moment that I realized that critters like to eat cardboard. Two years later, we finally found a place that just seemed just right . . . restaurants, the bike path, plenty of parking and a peaceful but lively country vibe.

We had a history of good times at Eclipse – watching Eliot and Ezra work in the kitchen at Zoe’s (well, mainly they washed dishes) but they loved (and hated) their work! A little later, a family friend tried the restaurant business – we loved the food – but turned to a different career.  Eliot and Katie celebrated their wedding (after stopping to help with a car accident on Route 33) at the newly renovated Company Store.

Best of all for our vintage storefront, Eclipse Company Town is a fine example of historic preservation. We admired the vision – and fortitude – of the owners who restored the old buildings (ca. 1900). And they rose to the challenge after a tornado devastated the building that we call home!

Perhaps, most importantly, we liked our neighbors – both private residents and our business neighbors. For reservations and special events follow their links here:  Rickshaw Thai and Kiser’s Barbecue.

A Historic Moment - Beer Comes to the Barbecue.
A Historic Moment – Beer Comes to the Barbecue.

Last but not least, the Hockhocking Adena Bike Path is amazing . . . we are an easy ride from Athens!

Bike Path Near Eclipse
Bike Path Near Eclipse

We are happy to be here!

Ride your bike or drive your car – stop by and check us out! We can’t wait to meet you!

For a brief article about the Hocking Valley Coal Company see The Post.

Article about Hockhocking Adena Bike Path is here.