Embracing the Summer Harvest

It’s not that cold here, thank goodness.  In fact, it’s still warm enough to enjoy fresh tomatoes and fresh basil, sun-warmed out of the garden.  After purchasing 30 pounds of tomatoes last weekend and putting most of them up hot-packed, I still had a dutch oven full of peeled, quartered tomatoes.  What was going to be more hot-packed tomatoes ended up turning into the most fabulous tomato soup I’ve ever had.  After tormenting my Facebook friends with pictures of our dinner Saturday night, I thought it’d be only kind to share my recipes with them and with you.

First up, my homemade Tomato Basil Bisque.


2 T. Butter or Margarine

1 medium onion, chopped (about ½ cup)

3 small carrots, grated (about 1 cup)

2 T. all-purpose flour

1 cup half-and-half

1 jar (26 oz.) chunky tomato pasta sauce

1 can (14.5 ozs.) diced tomatoes, undrained

¼ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

Additional basil for garnish (optional)


  1. In 3 qt. saucepan, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add onion and carrots, cooking 3-4 minutes or until soft.  Add flour; cook and stir until moistened.  Gradually add half-and-half, cooking and stirring about 2 minutes until smooth.
  2. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover; cook for 15 minutes just until coming to a boil, stirring frequently.
  3. If desired, top with additional fresh basil leaves

Serves 4.

Can use 2% milk.  When I made this, I made my own tomato sauce from cooked down tomatoes, adding 1 tsp. salt to that.  I also used fresh tomatoes instead of canned.  I added ½ tsp. salt and 1 T. of Italian seasoning to the soup.  It was a tad too salty, though, so I recommend adding only 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the homemade sauce.  I found a pouch of this Italian seasoning blend in the pantry that I’m going to use next time.

Homemade tomato basil bisque
Homemade tomato basil bisque

I made that bisque to accompany these Chicken and Cheese Stuffed Shells.  These feature my homemade pesto, made from basil I harvested from our garden.  I still have at least 6 thriving basil plants and 6 plastic pint containers of pesto in the freezer.  It’s going to taste like summer all winter!

Chicken & Cheese-Stuffed Shells with Pesto


24 ounces chicken, cooked and diced

1 cup Italian-blend cheese, divided

16 ounces pesto

½ box jumbo pasta shells


Cook shells according to package directions; drain.

While the pasta is cooking, combine 1/3 cup cheese, all the chicken, and ¼ cup pesto in a bowl.

Fill cooked shells with chicken mixture and place in a 9”x9” or 11”x7” pan.  Top with remaining cheese.

Bake for 5 minutes at 350o, or just until cheese is melted.  After removing pan from oven, cover shells with pesto.  Let sit for 5 minutes to warm the pesto.

Serves 4.

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Chicken & Cheese-Stuffed Shells with Pesto

When we’re not making soap, we really love to experiment in the kitchen, trying out delicious, easy, inexpensive dishes that are well-suited to our busy life.  I’m hoping to make up some of that bisque (minus the milk) to can for the winter.

Just Chill!

One woman, many hats.  CEO.  Teacher.  Home manager.  Wife.  Minister.  That’s a lot for one person, and the potential for me to get super stressed out is high.  Obviously, stress is neither good for myself or for the girls, so I have to find ways to reduce stress in ways that don’t involve eating copious amounts of chocolate.  At the same time, I want to do things that are good for my brain, good for my body, and somewhat productive.  But not soap.  Ninety-eight percent of the time, making soap is for business, though I do enjoy playing with it occasionally.  I choose activities that can stand separate from soap.

For my body, I’ve been doing some resistance exercises daily, and in the past week or so, the girls have been joining me, so we can count that as part of school as we learn about how our muscles work and how these exercises help us.  I started out with planking, wanting to strengthen my arms and tone my core.  Then I decided to add push-ups to the routine so I can get rid of annoying upper arm dimples and tone the muscles there.  Next, I got this wild hair about doing crunches.   Like that’s not enough, a friend posted on Instagram a brief video of her doing roll ups.  If crunches are like a street gang’s tag artist, roll ups are Al Capone.  Yep, that much more evil.  Supposedly, each roll up is comparable to four crunches.  This is what they look like.


I started with where I was then, even though my counts were pitifully low.  However, I’ve steadily increased my counts, my seconds planking, and my strength.  It feels awesome!  My first goal?  Get these arms toned to look great with my red sleeveless dress before attending a wedding next weekend and the abs smoother so I won’t have to wear a body shaper under it.  My second and long-range goal is overall fitness and tone.

For my brain and body, I’ve been spending time knitting.  Studies have shown that knitting is good for the brain, as well as stress levels which positively impacts the heart as well.  I’ll knit about anything, and I’m constantly pushing myself to learning new patterns and techniques.  Last week I finished a long-term project – my first lace shawl.

Lace scarf made of a black wool-blend yarn spangled with multicolored sequins
Lace scarf made of a black wool-blend yarn spangled with multicolored sequins
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A close-up of the lace, both body and edge

Pair the relaxation of knitting with the absolute peace that comes from having a cat curled up next to you asleep, and that’s the way I end many of my days.  I’m so chill by that point that I can barely make it upstairs to bed.  This leads to a sound night’s sleep and a refreshed awakening, which is a great way to combat stress!

What do you do to just chill?

How to Get Me to Vend Your Event

You have a spectacular event.  It’s well-planned, scheduled at just the right time of year, and you are expecting some crazy-good crowds,  You have tripped over my website or heard of me through the show grapevine, and you send me an application in the mail.  What will make me say, “Oh my gosh, I will simply perish if I can’t vend this event” and part with a chunk of my hard-earned money?  Well, barring a scheduling conflict, here are some things I look for before I sign my name on the line and mail in my booth fee.

One, how long has this event been going on?  I’m more likely to toss my hat in the ring for an established event that already has a following.  I might consider a first-time event.

Two, What sort of advertising are you doing?  If you’re so committed to your event to invest in billboards, TV ads, and radio spots, then I know this is a huge big deal to you.  Your striving for success tells me I have a chance to be successful, too.

Three, What other vendors do you have?  If you’re an artisan-only show, then I expect vendors to be well-juried to weed out multi-level marketing companies.  I promise you, those sellers/representatives are not artisans selling artisan products.  If you’re allowing commercial vendors, then what’s your ratio?  As an artisan, I personally have no desire to compete against a commercial vendor selling inferior soaps made in some overseas sweatshop in upscale packaging for $3.00 a bar.

Along with that, how many other artisan soap vendors will be joining me?  Some competition is great, and I enjoy meeting other soapers.  Plus, we might sell different products that appeal to different customer bases, which is cool.  However, four soapmakers out of around a hundred vendors, all selling about the same type of product, is a bit much, don’t you think?  Yes, that has happened.

Four, what sort of crowds are you expecting?  You could be planning a small, cozy event with maybe 200 attendees who will spend lots, or a humongous event with a projected 40,000 attendees who may or may not spend much at all.  I have a good reason for asking.  My first show was a 4-day event, 44 hours across those 4 days.  The event coordinator said that on one day, there could be 20,000 coming through in a few hours’ time period.  The “surge” I was expecting was a mere trickle.  A veteran vendor said at the end of the night, “I estimate we had 10,000 all day.”

Five, How can I get more information about your event?  I would look for things like a Facebook page, reviews of past events by other vendors who’ve done it, or a website.  A current Twitter or Instagram feed shows me you tend to be active about keeping your followers up-to-date and are likely to post right before and during the event to draw interest and generate excitement.

Six, Is your booth fee realistic for the duration of the event?  Two separate events, same month.  One is essentially a one-day event; the other, 3-day weekend.  The booth fee for the weekend is just $20 more than the booth fee for the one-day event.  Considering other expenses, it’s important for me to determine if your event is cost-effective for my business.  Some argue, “But it’s contact.  It’s exposure.”  Sure it is, but if nothing comes of that exposure, then I’ve wasted a good deal of time and money.  I’d rather invest that same amount of time in building and strengthening relationships with my customers.

I love events, speaking to customers face-to-face, seeing their expressions when they smell particular soaps (a little Perfect Man, anyone?), and teaching them about the amazing benefits of artisan soaps.  As my business has grown and I’ve matured as its owner, I have learned to be more picky about the events I do.  No more selling myself short or cheap chasing after the almighty dollar.

What things do you look for in events you would do?

The Joy of Saying No, pt. 1

The Joy of Saying No, pt. 2