Portobello and Beans Vegetarian Chili, Meatless Friday

IMGP7275The Garden Society at St. Francis Retreat Center in DeWitt, Michigan, had many volunteers and a core group of five women. The society began in 2005 and continues to this day. I retired from the group in 2013, leaving it in the competent hands of the dedicated Master Gardener, Ann.

The garden society’s goal was (and still is) to build and maintain gardens of prayer and memorial on the 95 acre site. One of the first memorial gardens established in 2006 was the Stella Smythe Ornamental Grass Garden. The Smythe family donated time and money, and daughter Claudia—a key garden society volunteer and my right hand for years—with husband David assisted with the design and installation. The garden is landscaped with fourteen species of ornamental grasses, including the 14 foot tall Erianthus ravennae…aka Hardy Pampas Grass.

Throughout the year Claudia with another memorial garden donor and volunteer extraordinaire, Kathy, and I would meet on Wednesday mornings, and usually were joined by other volunteers. All of us would weed, prune, water, and plant. Our labor of love was in service to Our Lord to help bring souls to God. We wanted to offer an outdoor space where people could pray. We trusted the Holy Spirit to do the rest.

At the end of the gardening season there was the traditional pot luck. All the volunteers, their families and friends were invited. Claudia and Kathy usually coordinated those meals, and some were epic! You can bet that throughout the years a lot of recipes were shared. From those gatherings this recipe came. It is one of Claudia’s favorites. She and David often ate vegetarian, and it’s good for Friday’s fasting too. I’ve modified it only slightly from its original form.

Portobello & Beans Vegetarian Chili

2 cups chopped sweet Vidalia onion

1 cup peeled and chopped carrots

4 cups Portobello mushroom caps, chopped

1 tbl. olive oil

14-15 oz. can diced tomatoes,

1 ½ cup vegetable broth (or chicken if preferred)

1 tbl. Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. ground coriander

1 tbl. maple syrup (the real thing!)

15 oz. can black soy beans, or black beans, drained and rinsed

15 oz. can white kidney beans, or navy beans, drained and rinsed

15 oz. can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

½ tsp salt, or to taste

½ tsp. freshly ground pepper, or to taste

¾ cup scallions, green and white portions, chopped

Fresh chopped cilantro for garnish

Grated pepper jack cheese (soy or dairy) for garnish

In soup kettle heat oil and add onions and carrots, cook until tender, stirring often. Add mushrooms and simmer another 4-5 minutes. Add tomatoes, broth, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, coriander, and maple syrup. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook uncovered for about five minutes. Add beans, salt and pepper and simmer for another five minutes. Add scallions and remove from heat. Serve garnished with cheese and chopped cilantro.

If you’re not going vegan with this chili, and using chicken stock, I have added leftover roasted chicken—skin removed and dice into small bite-sized pieces—near the end of sautéing vegetables.

(Image by Seeman, courtesy morguefile.com)

Irises in the Garden, Practical Gardening Series

Image morguefile.com.

Irises have been a favorite perennial since childhood. They began my gardening and were there when I retired from working the grounds at St. Francis Retreat Center.

Over the years I have come to love the wide assortment of Iris germanica. From the earliest blooming dwarfs  to the big boys late in the season. Bearded Irises are long lived, sturdy, fairly drought tolerant and easy to grow, requiring little maintenance. Usually planted in late spring or early summer, they prefer full sun (6-8 hours) but will tolerate light shade; too much shade and they will not bloom. Grow in well drained garden soil. They will falter in heavy clay, an area that remains wet, or when the rhizomes are covered with mulch.

Irises grow from thick fleshy rhizomes that must be partially exposed to the sun. One end of the rhizome has the leaves and it is from this end that they spread. When planting, face this end into the garden to prevent its growing into edging or other areas.

When planting a bare-root rhizome the division end must be dried over to prevent bacterial rot. Dig a shallow donut-like trench with a mound in the middle. Place the rhizome on the top of the mound so that 1/3 of the rhizome will be above soil level and exposed to the sun. Spread the thick roots inside the trench and back-fill with soil.

If you buy Irises from a greenhouse make sure they are properly potted with 1/3 of the rhizome exposed. Plant the same as any other potted flower making sure the rhizome is slightly above the rest of the garden soil. Because Irises have thick roots, don’t be surprised if the potting mix falls away when you remove the plant.

To encourage a nice set of blooms, keep the soil moist but not wet just prior to flowering. To encourage Reblooming Iris to re-flower they should be watered as needed throughout the growing season. The rebloomers do much better in a garden that is watered regularly whereas single season bloomers are excellent in dryer areas.

Deadhead flowers singly from the main stalk, removing the spent flowering stalk by cutting it a couple of inches above the rhizome. In the fall cut the leaves back to 6-8” in an inverted-V.

There are very few pest and disease issues with this sturdy perennial. Bacterial soft rot, crown rot, fungal leaf spots, and Iris borer may occasionally become problematic. To reduce the occurrence of leaf spots and borers, remove and destroy any old leaves, stems, and plant debris. With bacterial and crown rots, remove all infected plant parts (do not compost) to avoid the spread of these diseases.

After 4-5 years divide the Irises. This is usually done 4-6 weeks after flowering. Cut leaves down to one-third their length, dig up the clump and remove soil by sloshing in a bucket of water. Snap or cut the rhizomes apart so each section has at least one healthy fan of leaves, a firm rhizome and white roots. Allow the cut end of rhizome to dry for 48 hours before replanting.

With very little care Bearded Iris will live on for generations.

A Walk through the Garden

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

This is one of my favorite pictures of a woodland statue, at the foot of Mary.







Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

There was a heavy frost last night… a cardinal fluffed-up in the pine.


Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

And its November, queue white Schlumbergera (Christmas Cactus).

Blooms of Mary’s Sword

Artist, Cindy Evans, “Power and Strength,” 2013

I remember as a child the sweet fragrance and stunning colors of the species Iris germanica, commonly known as bearded iris or Mary’s Sword. I can still recall my first encounter with them. Walking home from kindergarten, I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, inhaled a wave of fragrance, and, sniffing the air, followed my nose.

Just a few houses up grew a garden filled with fans of blue-green leaves topped with a rainbow of sturdy flowering stalks. The surprised woman, whose garden I’d just invaded, told me they were bearded iris and showed me the fluffy beard on the petals. She then gave me a stalk—almost as long as I was tall—of deep purple blooms that smelled like grape bubblegum. I was hooked!

The hook was not only for irises, but gardens as well. Our family’s business was greenhousing, having an acre under glass. Not until that day did it occur to me that the plants that grew on the benches made their way into gardens. The seed of realization took root and I grew up with a love of plants.

For over 50 years the things of life were experienced in a garden. Joys and sorrows, growth and decline, prosperity or lean were all worked through with pant legs wet and hands muddied. The years included creating gardens for others, and since 2003 I’d worked the grounds at St. Francis Retreat Center.

This week my efforts as a gardener there drew to a close and I retired as the Garden Society Coordinator. I was drawn to this facility in response to God’s call to build gardens of visible prayer—not something one does alone. I had to come out of my private world, and once out, lead others to follow the vision. I told God I would do my part if he did his, and of course he did.

With the hands of those friends, thirteen gardens of prayer and memorial were built. Eventually the society moved from creating gardens into the phase of maintenance. And I had moved into decline—becoming more disabled by trauma-induced spinal arthritis. The effort to heft a thirty-five pound bag of fertilizer was now matched to a gallon of milk.

Resignation is never easy when giving up something you love. It was hard to walk away, but it was time to let it go into the competent hands of another gardener following God’s call, Anne Davich.

The other night at dinner—surrounded in prayers that I remain at peace and not get all weepy—I said good-bye. At table I sat near the groundskeeper, Tim Simon, who had shared the vision of gardens and beside whom I had worked for eleven years. He didn’t seem to mind that throughout the dinner I would pat his arm—it kept me calm and affirmed what we had accomplished.

After Fr.Larry Delaney thanked me, I stood and thanked the volunteers for helping to bring souls to God through our gardens. I had not seen the artist of our society, Cindy Evans, leave the table, but I did see her return with a large framed painting. I knew immediately what they all had gifted—her iris painting!

It was one of her cruci-florals paintings (in which a cross is incorporated in the image of the flowers).  I’d seen its beginning in the basement studio at the retreat center. It was from a tied and tea-stained canvas that Cindy saw irises emerging: three flowers reminiscent of the Trinity, lance shaped leaves representing the swords of sorrow that pierced Mary’s heart, and the purple stalks of blooms representing power and strength—and title of her watercolor. I gasped in delight when I first saw the tan mottled canvas with pencil traced outlines of the blooms. We agreed that I would be the first one offered to buy it once completed. There at the party was her finished work, a gift from all.

The painting Power and Strength is hung in my oratory to the right of the altar and Divine Mercy image. I don’t know what God’s plans are for me as his gardener, but in the words of St. Faustina, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

It was the Iris that ignited gardening in my heart, and here they were again, at the end of my journey. What a perfect gift to conclude a gardening life spent on knees, touching earth.





(Pssst…go to my earlier post, if you want to know how to grow them!)

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

A Walk through the Gardens

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

These pictures are from St. Francis Retreat and Conference Center in DeWitt, Michigan.

It is the week of Your Word is my Delight Catholic Writers Retreat.

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

The retreat is wonderful, and productive! And the 95 acres luminous.












Hope you can  join us for the next writers retreat in 2015…




Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.