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).

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.