peanut butter bars
Peanut butter bars.

Each year at this time, my basket of subjects to address begins to overflow. Today is no exception, and I wonder, “Why was it such a strange summer and where did it go?” I happen to love everything about summer, and when the beauty of autumn edges, it always leaves a bittersweet taste because I’m never quite ready to let go of something that hasn’t yet quenched my thirst. At first, I thought this summer’s brief stay had something to do with being a year older, but it seems that everyone else, despite their age, shares the same feeling.

My next concern is whether all the cookie jars in town are kept full for children who return home from school… hungry. As a child, if you were treated to quick picks before the door slammed behind you, it’s only natural to hope everyone else has established the same tradition in their kitchen. Warm banana bread cooling on a rack, cold fresh veggies in the refrigerator, an orange, an apple, or favorites that filled the tummy of my Smiley the Pig cookie jar still paint a sentimental smile on my face. Cookies and milk. What could be finer at 4 o’clock in the afternoon?

Other subjects on my mind this time of year include the black rot plaguing my grapes, only two cucumbers on my vine, zucchini blossoms that drop off leaving nothing behind, deer from Warner Park feasting on my rose bushes and green beans called Kentucky Wonders.

I don’t think of myself as a procrastinator, yet the past two springs I’ve waited a day too long to find a single package of tender Blue Lake pole green beans in neighborhood shops. So, for the second summer in a row, in desperation, the Wonder beans were planted in two separate gardens and at the moment, resemble a lightweight version of something Jack might have planted.

Unlike his thick beanstalks that climbed beyond the clouds, these skinny stems grow to unimaginable lengths by wrapping around tomatoes and other plants, denying them the sunshine they need. To make matters worse, there are few of these 9-inch Wonders to pick. And they are tough. After this summer, there will be no more Wonders growing in my garden. I’ll rely, instead, on tender green beans grown elsewhere in the community.

Long ago, before the Northside Farmers Market blessed the community with fresh produce and other treasures on Sunday mornings, homegrown produce was proudly offered at Mottier’s, a fruit and vegetable stand on Northport Drive near a small narrow viaduct. It was, in essence, the humble seed that grew into 25 acres of community gardens tended by 330 families a bit further down the road.

Operating under the auspices of non-profit Community GroundWorks, Troy Gardens should be visited for many reasons. Each year, Marge Pitts, who is described as being “up to her elbows” in Troy Gardens, manages, among other things, to compile a fundraising Savor the Summer Cookbook featuring recipes collected from the community. Available for $6 at the Sunday market, as well Frugal Muse and other East Side businesses, this colorful 70-page book offers an original children’s garden story, pictures to color, garden tips and a delicious collection of recipes you won’t find in any other cookbook. One of those recipes is parsnips delicately seasoned with maple syrup, submitted by Steve Ackerman, and Anne Pryor, a member of the Board of Directors of CGW.

Maple Syrup Parsnips

Cut parsnips and celery into matchsticks, preparing twice as many parsnips as celery. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan. Add vegetables and sauté until soft. Drizzle with maple syrup and serve.

As for filling the cookie jar with favorite cookies, here is a recipe for what is destined to become a favorite at your house any time of the year. Thanks to reader Nancy Sallstrom — who recently enjoyed the treat at a catered event — and Trish Rentner, director of sales and marketing at Queen Anne’s Catering.

Peanut Butter Bars

1 cup butter, melted

5 cups flour

2 cups brown sugar

4 cups peanut butter

1 ½ pounds chocolate chips

¾ cup water

Cream butter and sugar together; add flour and press into pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Spread peanut butter evenly over crusts. Cool. Melt chocolate chips and water; spread over peanut butter. Cool and cut in any desired sizes.

Queen Anne’s has been voted “Best of Madison Caterer” annually since 2003. Offering a multitude of delicious choices and menus that promise you’ll be back for more, Queen Anne’s is the astute mother in the kitchen who makes sure everything is perfect for weddings, holiday parties, ethnic celebrations, family gatherings, tailgating and more — including pig roasts with meat that falls off the bone. And don’t forget their great Sunday brunches and Friday night fish fries at The West Side Club.

For more information about Queen Anne’s Catering, call 844-0404, or check their website at

Shortly after this column first began in 1993, a request arrived for the Mashawa soup served at Kabul Restaurant on State Street. The recipe was generously shared by Ghafoor Zarai, a charming man and owner whose offerings treat Madisonians to delectable Middle Eastern cuisine.

Last May, Linda Smulke asked for the soup recipe served at Maza restaurant across from Kabul. Though the restaurant is no longer in business, the recipe is the same as Kabul’s Mashawa, minus the rice.

Maza’s (and Kabul’s) Mashawa Soup

1 large onion, diced

8 ounces chopped lamb (leg of lamb, fatless)

8 ounces chopped chicken breast

1 cup dry garbanzo beans

1 cup dry light kidney beans

½ cup green split peas

½ cup yellow split peas

2 tablespoons crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon dill weed

3/4 tablespoon cayenne pepper

½ tablespoon black pepper

½ tablespoon dried cilantro

2 ounces chicken stock

1 cup cooked rice, optional

Brown onion in vegetable oil, add lamb and chicken and sauté. In separate kettle, put all beans and peas, cover with water and boil for one hour. To the lamb and chicken mixture, add the remaining ingredients except the rice, then add ½ gallon of water. Bring to boil, simmer for 2 hours. When finished, pour both mixtures together. Add rice, if desired.

Note: Top Mashawa soup with a tablespoon of yogurt sauce and serve with Afghani flat bread.

Yogurt Sauce

8 ounces plain yogurt

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 teaspoon ground mint

Mix together ingredients. Put a tablespoon of yogurt sauce on top of each soup serving.

Recent requests: “Small, delicious burgers with onions available many years ago at an old railroad car on East Washington Avenue” and an apple crisp recipe from Emerson School from 1968 to 1973.

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI 53708, or by e-mail to