Croque Monsieur – French bar food

Croque Monsieur – French bar food

Croque Monsieur is just a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a little extra love. It’s quick enough for a weeknight dinner and way better than your boring ham and cheese sandwich. You make it using white bread: either a crusty French-style loaf or good old Pepperidge Farm hearty white. You want to stay away from whole wheat and sourdough, since the bread flavor will cover the delicate flavor of the sandwich itself.  Using good French bread will result in crusty sandwiches, with a bit of crunch: that is what croque means!

The whole secret of this sandwich is the simple bechamel sauce you spread on the bread. It is particularly helpful if you are making these sandwiches from left-over baked ham, which may have dried out a bit. The bechamel brings it back to life!

You can make these sandwiches in a sandwich grill, a griddle, or a cast iron frying pan: use whatever works best for you.

  • 1 Tb unsalted butter
  • 1 Tb flour
  • ¾ cup milk
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 slices country white bread
  • 4 thin slices of ham
  • 2 thin slices Gruyere cheese
  • 4 Tb melted unsalted butter

The bechamel sauce

  1. Melt the 1 Tb of butter in a saucepan until it’s bubbling but not browing.
  2. Stir in the 1 Tb flour and cook for a minute.
  3. Add the milk and stir with a wire whisk.
  4. Cook it down until the bechamel thickens.
  5. Add a dash of sea salt and a pinch of fresh nutmeg.

The sandwiches

  1. Spread two slices of the bread with the bechamel.
  2. Add two slices of ham to each slice of bread.
  3. Add cheese to cover the ham.
  4. Top the sandwich with the other slices of bread.
  5. Melt the 4 Tb of butter in a microwave at 50% power for about 1 minute.
  6. Brush the ham sides with the melted butter and put the buttered side down on the grill or griddle. Brush butter on the top sides, as well, and close the sandwich grill, or cook on the griddle and flip the cook the second side.
  7. Cook until the cheese is melted and serve at once.


Some people like to spread the bechamel on the top of the sandwich, and sprinkle it with grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese, and brown the sandwich under a broiler. This is delicious as well, and since the sauce and cheese are browned, it is not particularly messy to eat.  Make me another one, please!

A chemist reads “Lessons in Chemistry”

A chemist reads “Lessons in Chemistry”

Bonnie Garmus’s novel Lessons in Chemistry has been wildly popular since its 2022 publication, and praised by nearly everybody. The story of Elizabeth Zott, a Master’s student at UCLA who was attacked and raped by her research supervisor makes quite a tale. In this story, she is denied permission to continue for her Ph.D. and essentially expelled, for defending herself from this attack. Sadly, it is all too believable.

The story is essentially a charming fantasy where Elizabeth leaves the research institute where she took a job to become a TV cooking show host, where she emphasizes the chemistry in the recipes she describes. I call it a “fantasy” because of her dog Six-thirty with a 1000-word vocabulary, who apparently can read Proust, and her preposterously precocious daughter, who is reading Dickens around age 4. The story over all is a lot of fun: especially in the first two acts. The third act is a deus ex machina ending that seemed a bit much, and more worthy of Gilbert and Sullivan.

But, let me interject that I was a chemistry graduate student about the same time as her story, graduating from Oberlin College in 1964 and getting my Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Ohio State in 1969. And Garmus and her editors simply did not take a lot of care in describing the chemistry and the labs of those days, and these clinkers spoiled the elegance of her beguiling tale. I note that female Ph.D. scientist Ricki Lewis has somewhat similar views you should read as well. The following contains spoilers.

One event Garmus comes back to several times, is that women in the lab are so uncommon that everyone assumes they must be secretaries, even in graduate school where there are sure to be female students. The fallacy, of course, is that secretaries dress professionally, while student researchers wear lab attire: sweatshirts and jeans are common, or grubby lab coats. I still have one of mine.

Having missed her chance at a Ph.D. (at least at UCLA) Zott takes a job at Hastings Institute, a sort of Nevermore Academy for second string scientists. But among them is Calvin Evans, an up-and-coming scientific wunderkind who is carrying out research on abiogenesis, the conversion of common chemicals into components found in living organisms. Of course, the book makes no mention of Wohler’s synthesis of urea from inorganic materials in 1828  or the Miller and Urey experiment in 1952 that started with a flask of gases (water, methane, ammonia and hydrogen) likely to have been in existence before life began. After applying an electric arc inside the closed system, Miller found that several essential amino acids had been formed. (Lewis mentions this as well.)

The initial confrontation between Zott and Evans comes about when her lab needs beakers, and she learns that he has boxes of them. Beakers? What the heck would she want beakers for? They are essentially glass vessels open to the air and, I might note, easily spilled. If she is doing biochemistry related to her own interest in abiogenesis, she’d be doing it in small, closed flasks under nitrogen or argon.

Needless to say, these two socially inept scientists are quickly attracted to each other and soon move in together. While they are attracted by their scientific discussions, Garmus can’t reproduce them very well. She quotes them arguing about the number of covalent bonds in some compound: basically, an introductory high school or freshman chemistry topic. In fact, we have no idea what either of them are actually working on.

Bunsen burners

The book mentions Bunsen burners throughout, as if they are part of the standard research lab. But they are not. Open flames in an organic chem lab are an invitation to bench fires. I never saw a Bunsen burner after I left undergraduate school, and when I visited a couple of years later, they had all been replaced with electric appliances.

Heating mantle
Hot plate with magnetic stirrer

Basically, chemists use hot plates and heating mantles, which wrap the round-bottom flasks they use in carrying out reactions. And many hotplates have a second control knob that controlled a spinning magnet under the heating surface. Then you put a small Teflon covered magnetic bar in the flask, and used the rotating magnet to spin the stirring bar and keep the solution stirred.

Cooking is Chemistry

One of the principal ideas we are to get from Zott’s abilities as an excellent cook is that “cooking is chemistry.” And it is indeed, but Garmus’s examples are not that persuasive.  While living with Evans, Zott does most of their cooking, and makes notes like

@200˚ C/35min = loss of one mol. H2O per molecule sucrose, total 4 in 55 minutes = C24H36O18.

The reason why this is utter nonsense is that there are probably hundreds of compounds with that compressed empirical formula. It tells us absolutely nothing about what the compound is or what is actually going on!

In a later scene, after she has set up a lab where her kitchen was, she has a sack meaninglessly labeled C8H10N4O2. Since she uses it to make coffee for her neighbor, we are to infer that the label refers to a formula for caffeine. But it would have been more correct and almost simpler to have simply sketched the molecular structure instead:


After her first show, she makes out a shopping list, including CH3COOH, which no one recognizes as acetic acid (or vinegar). If she’s not trying hard to be obscure, she could have written “vinegar” in the same number of characters, or HOAc, the usual abbreviation. In that abbreviation “Ac” stands for the acyl group, CH3C=O and the H attached to the oxygen is the acidic proton. Concentrated (glacial) acetic acid is nasty stuff, and not suitable for salads. Vinegar is about 4% acetic acid, and she should say so.

She also keeps saying “sodium chloride” for salt, but chemists would usually just say “table salt” to distinguish it from other salts in the lab. Or, they might say “NaCl,” which is shorter, still.

During one of her shows she takes questions from the audience and one woman confessed she had really wanted to be an open-heart surgeon. Zott asks her the molecular weight of barium chloride, and she quickly answers “208.23,” so Zott assures her that she is ready for work towards a medical degree. I don’t know a single chemist who could answer that off the top of her head. We’d look at the periodic table and find the atomic weight of barium and of chlorine (137.327 and 35.453) and knowing that the formula is BaCl2, we’d calculate the atomic weight and come up with the same answer. But answering that immediately is just a parlor trick for a few people with photographic memories who are super-calculators. It doesn’t say much about her knowledge of science. (OK, maybe this was a joke, but it didn’t land that way.)

In another amusing moment, she was given a can of the sponsor’s soup. She tosses it into the trash, because “it’s full of chemicals.” Well of course it is. Everything, including water, is a chemical. She then goes further suggesting products like that would eventually kill you. This may be Garmus’s opinion, but it shouldn’t be Zott’s, because there is no science behind it.   Preservatives added to canned soup are there to keep it from killing you. And there is no evidence that they are dangerous. “Full of chemicals” is just a random slogan based on ignorance and would not be Zott’s view.


Throughout the book, Garmus refers to the nonexistent magazines Chemistry Today and Science Journal. If she means Science she should have said so. It’s a major publication. Other professional journals she might have mentioned are the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Journal of Organic Chemistry, Proceedings of the National Academy and Nature. I don’t think the ACS journal Biochemistry existed yet. But for news, she should have mentioned Chem & Engineering News, which is a weekly chemistry news magazine published by the ACS.

However, if her boss Donatti copied her notes and published a paper, it would have taken him weeks or months to write that paper and probably a year for it to be refereed, edited and published. So, it appearing two months after Zott returned is just literary license.

Calvin Evans’ Death

Sadly, their loving relationship is cut short by a freak (and preposterous) accident. His original gravestone gets damaged, and when she has it remade, she included the inscription below.

She says that she is “opting for a chemical response that resulted in happiness.” This is probably the structure for oxytocin, but a more accurate structure drawing is shown below, that would be easier to engrave on stone.


Oxytocin is sometimes called “the love drug,” because it is associated with romance, sex, childbirth and lactation. She could have written it on the tombstone more succinctly as the 9 amino acid components:

Cys – Tyr – Ile – Gln – Asn – Cys – Pro – Leu – Gly – NH2

Or even more compactly in biochemist’s notation as



This is a funny and entertaining book, that would have been more authentic if they’d talked to some lab chemists about how labs really operated in 1960s. Some of us remember them quite well. Read it and enjoy it, with a grain of salt (er, sodium chloride).

Oh, and there is no conceivable reason why Elizabeth would be using a cyclotron (p. 6). They are primarily for physicists, and sometimes for radiation therapy. And finally, The Mikado dialog is not racist (p.21), and the soprano does not cause all the trouble. That job is reserved for Koko, the patter baritone!

The photo at the top of the article is from the set of “Jekyll and Hyde, the Musical,” performed at the Wilton Playshop in November, 2022.

Pressing your burgers

Pressing your burgers

With the great success of the Pressburger chain, where they cook the burgers on both sides at once, in a big press, we wondered if we could do something like that at home.

Well, we have a sandwich grill where both sides are heated, so we tried to cook our burgers on it. Our grill is a Cuisinart Griddler, but any sandwich grill will do.

We set the grill to 375˚  F, and let it heat up. Then we buttered a couple of hamburger buns and toasted their insides on the griddle, and then set them aside to keep warm.

Then we weighed out two burgers. We like our burgers at a little more than ¼ pound, so we weighed two lumps of meat to about 4.25 oz. Then we seasoned them with salt and pepper and put a little pat of butter on each one.

Then we flipped the two of them onto the griddle and closed the lid, pressing down on the meat to form it into patties. We set a timer for 1 minute and opened the grill. If you like them a little darker, 90 seconds is plenty.

We checked the interior temperature with an instant-read thermometer, finding it already about 152˚F. We put a slice of cheese on one and let it cook another 15 seconds or so and then put them both on buns.

The burgers were tender and juicy, and delicious. By cooking both sides at once, you loose less moisture and get a moister burger!

They were so good, we’ll probably continue to cook them this way.

But what if you have  a crowd?  We’d suggest toasting all your buns ahead of time and keeping them warm, while you cook the burgers 2 or 3 at a time. Since they take only a minute, you can have them all on the table before the first one comes off the gas grill!

Of course, if we’re in a hurry, we’ll still go to Pressburger!

Pressburger comes to Wilton

Pressburger comes to Wilton

Pressburger quietly opened in Wilton last week and more people are finding it every day. This is the third Pressburger in Connecticut: they also have stores in Norwalk and New Canaan. The menu is fairly simple: build-your-own burgers, a few specialty burgers, hot dogs and grilled cheese. But they are all prepared to order on the spot. They anticipate adding a few more items in the future.

So what is a Pressburger? They start with  fist sized balls of fresh ground beef,  lay them on the grill and close the lid, pressing the meat into a patty. This amounts to cooking the burger on both sides at once, and sealing in the flavor more effectively. This is shown in the pictures of the press in use and what the press looks like when they use it. That latter photo is from the Taylor Company web site.  They add the cheese shortly before they taken them off the press grill.

While the burgers are cooking, they grill the Martin’s potato rolls on the open griddle, and then ask you which toppings you want. There are about a dozen free choices  (Lettuce, Tomato, Raw Onion, Pickled Red Onion, Grilled Onion, Pickles, Pickled Cucumbers Jalapeños, Pickled Jalapeños, Dill Pickle Relish, Potato Chips, Hot Cherry Peppers, Old Bay Seasoning, Pickled Carrots) and a few specialty toppings (Thick Cut Bacon, Chili, Grilled Mushrooms, Sauerkraut, Cheese Sauce, Onion Crunch) that cost extra.

You also have a choice of quite a few free sauces (House Sauce [Chipotle Aioli], Mayo, Sriracha, Sriracha Aioli, Ketchup, Yellow Mustard, Honey Mustard, Dijon Mustard, Spicy Brown Mustard, BBQ, Smoky BBQ Aioli, Buffalo Sauce, Old Bay Seasoning, Malt Vinegar).

Then they wrap the burger and you pay and go. Or you can eat there, as a number of people were doing when we visited.

In addition to beef burgers, you can order Veggie burgers and Beyond Meat burgers, and a gluten free bun or a lettuce wrap. Hot dogs also come in beef, chicken or Veggie.

Their menu includes a house salad, kale Caesar salad and banana pudding or whoopie pies for dessert, as well as four flavors of milkshakes.   You can select from a number of specialty beverages from a chilled display or get one of the Coke products from a fountain dispenser.

So, how are these burgers? We’ve been there twice and are pretty impressed with food, service and the pleasant staff. But that’s not enough. How do they compare with the competition?

To find out, we bought a single burger from Five Guys, one from McDonalds and one from the Wilton Pressburger, all within 30 minutes and took them home to compare. We also weighed each of the three patties. Their cooked weight was

  • Pressburger — 2.36 oz
  • Five Guys –  2.01 oz
  • McDonalds – 1.13 oz

Pressburger wins. Our taste test of slices of the three burgers made it clear, that Pressburger also tasted the best.  Pricewise, Pressburgers are competitively priced, with single patties for $6.99 (plus $1.00 for cheese). A similar Five Guys is $7.89 (plus $1.10 for cheese), and the teeny McDonald’s burger is $1.49. Fries at Pressburger are $4.99 while those at Five Guys are $5.99, and at McDonalds are $2.99.

As far as fries go, McDonald’s always receives high praise, but in fact it isn’t very long before they are limp and soggy. And while Five Guys gives you enough fries to fill a Motor Home, they deteriorate in just a few minutes. The crinkle cut Pressburger fries were still warm and tasty even an hour later.

Pressburger fries are cooked on the spot from frozen crinkle cut potatoes. And as Kenji Lopez-Alt has reported, frozen fries are actually better, because the ice crystals improve the surface of the fries when they are cooked. They also offer sweet potato fries

We think that Pressburger is a winner and are happy to have one so close by in Wilton!

Haven Hot Chicken opens in Norwalk

Haven Hot Chicken opens in Norwalk

Haven Hot Chicken opened yesterday in Norwalk, at 596 Westport Ave. The store is in the left end of the store group just to the west of Whole Foods. The grand opening featured balloons and a sandwich give-away, long over when we came to get our dinner around 5:30pm. At that time, it wasn’t all that busy. This is the third Haven restaurant in Connecticut: the others are in New Haven and Orange. The first two feature Uber Eats delivery, and this new one presumably will as well once they get fully open.

This is one of a number of chains featuring their take on Nashville hot chicken, which is this case is breaded chicken breast sandwiches at one of 5 degrees of spiciness:

  • Country – no spice
  • Mild – hint of spice
  • Medium – proper spice
  • Hot – will burn
  • Haven – for the Hot Head

You can just order the sandwich for $12.99, or a Combo for $3.25 more, which includes a side and a drink. We ordered a Mild and a Medium combo with fries, a Hot sandwich and additional sides of their coleslaw and banana pudding, which totaled $54.45 with tax but before tip.

The spice levels

I personally found the mild, so unspicy that you only noticed it as an aftertaste. By contrast the Medium tastes spicy on biting into it, and continues after each bite. I found the Hot sandwich only a little spicier than the Medium, although, remember this is opening day, and things may change as they settle in.

Most Nashville hot chicken recipes call for frying the chicken normally and then spreading the spicy paste on afterwards. However, it is clear that at Haven, the spice is part of the batter. The chicken breast is coated with the spicy batter and deep fried. This pretty much means that these sandwiches are cooked to order. This would be consistent with the 10-15 minute wait for them to fill your order. At the moment that clearly does not apply to the French fries, however. I would expect this may improve as they gain more experience.

The sandwiches that they call “THE Sandwich” are enormous: they have an awful lot of chicken breast in each one. If your appetite is somewhat smaller, they offer chicken tenders (Tendies in their naming scheme) separately or as a slider. Like THE Sandwich, they are topped with coleslaw, a garlic dill pickle and a bit of Rob Sauce. You can also order several sauces separately: Rob, Blue Cheese, House Ranch, and Sweet Sauce.

Finally, they also offer Chicken and Waffles: two Tendies on a Liege waffle with maple brown sugar aioli and powdered sugar. This looks like an interesting combination we’ll try on another visit. There is a side of pancake syrup available, too.


Like some other nearby emporiums, they give you quite a plethora of French fries, and you might do better to order one sandwich with fries and another with coleslaw, and share.  You can also get a Mac and Cheese side, but it costs $1.65 additional as the provided side, or $4.99 separately.

Finally, they offer just one real dessert, “Banana Puddin’,” that is sweet and huge. Two people or even three could share this hugely filling dessert. The topping at first sight appears to be whipped cream, but it isn’t exactly: its much too thick to be just cream, perhaps with gelatin or other thickeners added.

This is their first day in a new location, and I’m include to overlook their first day issues. We’ll report back to you in a  month or so. Meanwhile, Haven Hot Chicken, welcome to Norwalk.

Shrimp with lobster sauce

Shrimp with lobster sauce

Shrimp with Lobster Sauce

This recipe from Joyce Chen doesn’t actually contain any lobster: it’s just that the sauce is the same one that she served with lobster.  She called this an Americanized Chinese dish.

But it is quite simple to make, and you can have it on the table as soon as the rice is ready. This recipe calls for ground pork. Often you can find it in the supermarket, but if not, you can chop up some pork in a food processor or by hand using a large knife. For black beans, ideally you should use fermented Chinese black beans but we used Goya black beans with sea salt as a substitute.

  • 1 lb raw shrimp
  • ½ cup ground pork
  • 2 tsp dry sherry
  • 2 Tb cornstarch
  • 4 Tb cooking oil
  • 2 slices ginger root, minced
  • 1 ½ Tb black beans, minced
  • 2 cloved garlic crushed and minced
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 Tb soy sauce
  • ¼ tsp MSG
  • ¼ tsp sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  1. Rinse and shell the shrimp and remove the intestinal vein. In these pictures, we used Vietnamese red shrimp, which are not yet cooked, but come already peeled and deveind.
  2. Mix the shrimp with the sherry and ½ Tb cornstarch.
  3. Mix the remaining cornstarch into ¼ cup of water.
  4. Heat the oil in a skillet or wok to high heat and add the shrimp. Cook and stir for about 2 minutes and remove from the pan, and keep warm. Keep as much oil as possible.
  1. Reheat the oil and add the ginger root, garlic and black beans.
  1. After stirring for about 30 seconds, add the pork, salt, soy sauce, MSG, sugar and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 2 minutes.
  2. Mix in the shrimp and the stirred cornstarch mixture, after heating, stir in the beaten egg.
  1. Serve immediately over rice.
Athithi: outstanding Indian cuisine in Wilton

Athithi: outstanding Indian cuisine in Wilton

Athithi opened in the Gateway shopping center last fall and we have found it a delightful addition to Wilton’s restaurant scene. The menu features a wide variety of classic Indian dishes and a few other regional specialties. Note that the Dine-In menu and the Takeout menus are slightly different, because not all of their dishes travel. However, the menu is extensive and everything we have tried has been excellent. The restaurant features two Michelin star experienced chefs: Executive Chef Hemant Mathur, and Chef Chandru Krishnasamy, who along with Executive Manager Prince produce an outstanding experience. The word “Athithi” means “Guest” and we assure you that they treat their guests very well.

We first visited in November, before they had their wine license, and I went last night to brough home an excellent take-out meal. They clearly have that license now, however.

If you dine there, you will start with crispy naan bread served with two dipping sauces: a green one: mint chutney and a red one (coriander chutney), that is warmly mild and spicy with notes of cinnamon. They are good on your bread and on whatever entrée you order.

We tried a couple of interesting appetizers: the salmon and crab cakes ($14) served on an elegant little dish with a suspended sauce dish of green chili aioli.  The other was Ragda Chaat ($11): potato cakes with white peas, tamarind and mint chutney. You could share the salmon-crab cakes, and you definitely can share the Ragda Chaat as it is a substantial portion.

For our main courses, we ordered Rogan Josh ($22), a lamb stew with Kashmiri red chili, and Chicken Korma ($20), chicken cooked in a rich and creamy cashew sauce. Note that for your entrees you can specify mild, medium spicy, or spicy. None of them are going to burn your mouth, though. The medium and spicy are only slightly different. In medium, you can taste the spices, and in the spicy version the spice taste lingers in your mouth between bites.

We found the Rogan Josh with tender pieces of lamb the be an excellent choice, but I’ll have to admit that my wife’s Chicken Korma in cashew sauce won the night for us. It was delightful.

Finally, the menu lists four desserts, a Mango Cheesecake, Kulfi Falooda, Shahi Tukda and Moong Dal Halwa. They are probably all delicious as one of chefs has specialized in desserts. We know what mango cheesecake would be, but Kulfi Falooda? It’s a kind of ice cream sundae, made with Indian ice cream (no eggs), sweet basil seeds, corn starch vermicelli and rose syrup. Sometimes chefs add nuts or dried fruit as well. This version was absolutely amazing and I’d order it every time, except that I know the other three desserts will be great as well.


I went back last night to try some more dishes while my wife dined elsewhere. I ordered Punjabi Samosa ($8), which is a common Indian street food, described as a crispy turnover stuffed with spiced potatoes, chick peas, and green peas. Without trying the main course, I can attest to the winning greatness of this snack.

For my main course, I order Chicken Biryani ($19) served with mint yogurt.  Indian chefs obsess of making perfect biryanis, where each grain of basmati rice should be separate. The spices may include saffron and garam masala. I ordered mine at the top level “Spiced” and found it smooth and aromatic without being overly aggressively spicy. Like everything else, at Athithi, it was excellent.

I didn’t order a dessert, because the takeout menu doesn’t include any, but there was this extra cup of something beside the mint yogurt sauce.  It was a complementary rice pudding!

Welcome to Athithi and we’ll surely come back many times!

How to make a Patty Melt sandwich

How to make a Patty Melt sandwich

A Patty Melt is the classier diner version of a cheeseburger, and you can find recipes galore. Rather then using a standard hamburger bun, the Patty Melt used bread, usually rye, and they generally use Swiss Cheese and top the burger with caramelized onions. The version published by The Seasoned Mom even suggests adding Russian dressing and sharp cheddar.

The Food Network version from Ree Drummond adds Worcestershire sauce and Simply Recipes adds apple cider vinegar and suggests mustard.

But the one I really liked the best is the Serious Eats version by Kenji Lopez-Alt. In his version, he adds American Cheese as well as Swiss, both made up of a number of torn up slices of cheese.

Our recipe is a small variation on Lopez-Alt’s recipe, where we speed things up by using our electric griddle. Lopez-Alt suggest just using a cast-iron frying pan, but this limits you to one sandwich at a time, where on a griddle you could make 4,6 or even 8 sandwiches at a time! And making the caramelized onions is way easier on the griddle.

Ingredients for 2 sandwiches

  • 2 hamburger patties (about 4.5 oz)
  • 6 Tb butter
  • 4 slices rye bread (swirled)
  • 3-4 slices Swiss cheese torn into pieces
  • 3-4 slices American cheese torn into pieces
  • 1 medium to large yellow onion, sliced
  • 4 oz water

The whole trick to making these sandwiches is grilling the inside of the bread on the griddle to keep the bread from becoming soggy.

  1. Heat the griddle to hot (375˚ F)
  2. Melt 1-2 Tb of butter and place the 4 slices face down in the butter until they are brown, Don’t toast the other side yet. Remove the bread to a warm plate.
  3. Make two somewhat oblong patties, weighing bit more than 4 oz. (This is  a great use for a little kitchen scale.)
  4. Melt 2 oz of butter, and cook the patties until they are brown. Add more butter and flip the burgers and let them brown until the patties are at about 140˚ F inside. Remove the patties and keep them warm. Leave and meet juices or residue on the griddle.
  5. Add 2 more oz of butter and add the sliced onion. Cook the onions until they soften. Add an ounce or two of water and cook them down. This will aid  in browning, and incorporate any meat residue with the onions.
  6. When that water cooks down, add another ounce or two and cook the onions down again, until the are soft, brown and caramelized.
  1. Lay out the 4 bread slices, browned side up, and add pieces of torn up Swiss cheese to two of the slices, and pieces of torn up American cheese to the other two
  1. Place the burger on the American cheese and the browned onions on the Swiss cheese.
  2. Carefully close the sandwiches, and add about 1 Tb butter to the griddle. Toast the sandwiches on that side, and remove them.
  3. Add another Tb of butter and toast the other side of  the sandwiches on the griddle in this new butters.
  4. Remove, cut each sandwich in half and serve at once.

You will have melty American cheese and softly melted Swiss surrounding your delicious burger. Serve with French fries.

Seven Layer Cookies

Seven Layer Cookies

Seven layer cookies

You can make these simple cookies in little more than half an hour, and the ingredients are pretty easy to find. Note that when we say “Eagle Brand” condensed milk, we mean the thick, sweetened condensed milk that Borden’s has made for years, not the thin unsweetened evaporated milk you might use in sauces.

And, while you can use any butterscotch chips you can find, the Nestle ones taste pretty artificial. Trader Joes and Whole Foods and other specialty grocers have better varieties. You can also order them from King Arthur Flour. This time, we discovered that you can buy crumbled Butterfinger candy, and we used that for the “butterscotch” layer..

  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick) melted
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips (here we used Butterfinger crumbles)
  • 1can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F
  2. In an 10 x 13” pan, arrange the ingredients as follows
  3. Pour the melted butter into the pan, and tip to see to covers the entire pan bottom.
  4. Sprinkle in the graham cracker crumbs, distributing them with spatula or spoon if need be.
  5. Add the coconut, chocolate chips and butterscotch chips one after another.
  6. Pour the Eagle Brand condensed milk  over the entire surface.
  7. Add the chopped nuts.
  8. Bake for about 25 minutes and cool.
  9. Cut into bars or squares once cool, and store in a sealed container.

Not only are these bars delicious, so are the little pieces left over after carving, which invariably are snarfed up  by the cook!

Terra Fresh: our tomato tests

Terra Fresh: our tomato tests

In the above photo the right hand tomato was from a Terra Fresh treated plant, but it was picked a but later than the redder one on the left.

If you read much online gardening social media, you probably were bombarded with ads for Terra Fresh. This product claims to prevent tomato diseases and increase you yields of tomatoes by as much as a factor of two.

The selling on the website is very aggressive: once you access the site, it makes it hard to leave because of “Wait, don’t go” pop-ups. The first thing they show you is “Lifelong Gardener” Lex Case. He tells you that this is an “All natural blend of plant extracts that wildly increases the microbial population around your plant.” Other places, they refer to these as “phytochemicals,” which also means “plant extracts.“ Whatever you do, don’t click on “CC,” the closed caption options, because it appears to be nonsense from another plane; “…Express love with me in breathe easy social operation…”

Other than that you can’t look anywhere for more information, because has only one main page and no menu. You can, of course order bottles of Terra Fresh, but there is no more information about what the bottles contain.

The ingredients are not “organic,” (which is only a marketing term) but are “all Natural (which doesn’t mean anything either.)

A single 16oz bottle costs $29.95, but there seem to be discounts of 10% you can apply. If you try to order just 1, you’ll get an Email urging you to order at least 3.

We bought just one. You get a 16oz bottle with about 1 oz of brown liquid in it, to which you add 15 oz of “purified water,” whatever that means. Then for each plant, you dissolve ¼ tsp of this solution in 1 pint of water and pour it around the roots.  They suggest every 2-3 weeks: we actually did it more like once a week.

We planted 14 tomato plants in our garden this year, and among them were 3 Amish Paste tomatoes, grafted to stronger stems to make them more disease resistant, and sold by Totally Tomatoes or Vermont Bean Seed (these are the same company). We decided to treat one of the three Amish Paste plants. We also grew 3 large tomato plants of the variety “BW,” produced by Prof Harry Klee’s lab at the University for Florida. His group has developed tomato varieties with excellent flavor, based on extensive consumer panel testing. We also treated one of the BW plants with one pint of the Terra Fresh solution weekly.

Tomato diseases

We followed instructions from several gardening experts, and removed the bottom leaves from each plant, and any that would touch the ground. Since the season was so dry, we saw no evidence of early or late blight on any plants, but of course Septoria Leaf Spot showed up about the time the plants set fruit. Treatment with Daconil helped somewhat, but we mostly just removed each leaf the developed spots as soon as we “spotted” it. The first plant to develop leaf spot was #4, which in fact was one being treated with Terra Fresh.


This was a difficult season for gardening in Connecticut because we had a very dry summer, with only about 0.5 inches of rain in August, which slowed down ripening. In addition, even though our garden plot is fortified on all sides, including roof netting, thirsty raccoons began attacking the plants in late August. It is now the last week of September, and while there are still plenty of green tomatoes on most plants, ripening is much slower., as we decided to cut off the experiment in report the results.

Amish Paste

For the Amish Paste tomatoes our 3 plants had the following yields:

  • Amish #2 – 17 tomatoes, 125 oz
  • Amish #4 – 13 tomatoes, 77.5 oz *
  • Amish #6 – 10 tomatoes, 71 oz.

The plant marked with the asterisk(*) was treated with Terra Fresh and was far from the winner.

BW large tomatoes

  • BW #1 – 11 tomatoes, 136 oz
  • BW #13 – 9 tomatoes, 114 oz *
  • BW #12 – 4 tomatoes, 40.6 oz (partial shade)

Again, the Terra Fresh plant(*) was not the winner, but somewhat closer to the winner than the Amish Paste plant was.

So despite Lex Case’s extensive and aggressive advertising, this product doesn’t seem to do much positive. It may actually have retarded the growth a bit.

BW1 – not treated
BW 13 treated with Terra Fresh

And finally, among the paragraphs of nonsense on their sell-page, you will find:

One of our founders lost his son to cancer a few years ago. We are convinced that he got sick to begin with due to the chemicals we are bombarded with every day. We started Terra Fresh to be a part of the solution to that problem.

Terra Fresh

This is an appeal to emotion and gullibility, since he never identifies any actual causality in the unfortunate young man. It is just nonsense, much that we may feel for the unnamed “founder.”

So we still have most of the bottle if someone wants it. We don’t think the experimental results were very positive, though.