Register for Home Gardening Lectures in March


The Kent County Extension Office will begin its seventeenth annual Horticulture Lecture Series for the home gardener on Friday, March 6, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. The programs will be held at the Kent County Public Library, 408 High Street, Chestertown, MD 21620.

Pre-registration is required. Call 410-778-1661. These events are free of charge. All sessions run from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

The schedule is as follows:

March 6, 2015, “Food Gardening Fun – For Pollinators To People”, lecture by Laura Sanford, Land Protection Specialist with the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy

March 13, 2015, “Straw Bale Gardening”, presentation and panel discussion with Kent & Queen Anne’s County Master Gardeners.

March 20, 2015, “Simply Orchids” by Roger Cole, Owner/Operator of Arvec Orchids, Queen Anne, MD.

March 27, 2015, “How To Save Seeds From Your Favorite Plants”, by Sabine Harvey, UME Kent Program Assistant, Horticulture.

Special Event: Saturday, March 7, 2015, “Seed Swap” at the Kent County Public Library, 408 High St., Chestertown, MD, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Do not need to register. Open to all. Free.

The University of Maryland, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources programs are open to all and will not discriminate against anyone because of race, age, sex, color, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, religion, ancestry, or national origin, marital status, genetic information, or political affiliation, or gender identity and expression.

Defy Winter at Tracy’s Smoothies Place

Tracy Davenport

Tracy Davenport

You might not be thinking about a blueberry or Chunky Monkey smoothie in January, but Tracy Davenport would like to convince you otherwise. Give her five minutes, try a sample, and it won’t matter if a blizzard is on or high summer is wilting your daffodils.  You’ll be ordering one, and planning to return for more.

It all happens at Tracy’s Smoothie Place, 503 Washington Avenue.

Davenport loves a good challenge. Combined with an ongoing quest for understanding dietary health issues—she has a Ph.D in Human Development and a Master’s in Psych.—she sees her smoothies business as a way to offer opportunities for others to learn about dietary health while enjoying some delicious and healthy smoothies and frozen yogurts.

“I hope these smoothies—made without sugar or high fructose corn syrup—give people a chance to learn more about what they eat,” she says. But Davenport doesn’t proselytize, she engages. “To each his or her own about what they want to eat, but I think that information can be powerful and help us to identify options.”

It all started with her second child Ben, born in 2003 with a lifelong gastroesophageal reflux disease that requires ongoing dietary vigilance. Not only was it a painful struggle for the infant, but it impacted the whole family. And the ever inquisitive Davenport was not happy with the medical advice she received.

“There was a dismissive quality with some of the health care providers who treated my son, and I wasn’t getting the answers and information I needed to help him,” she says.  “So I decided to study it myself and I suggest that anyone who has a child with the same disorder do some research and talk to those who are experiencing the same issues.”

At that point, Davenport, inspired by her need to understand how the healthcare field  worked, enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Delaware and began her journey to learn about human development and healthcare. Already she’d started to read food ingredient labels carefully to protect her son from allergic reactions.

In her third year at U of Delaware, she also began as a contributor to the online where she started a series about Digestive Health but has since broadened her health topics. One recent article addressed the benefits of swimming as part of one’s whole body winter workout.

Co-authoring with her husband, Mike, an athletic  coach At Washington College, Davenport wrote a book about gastroesophageal reflux disease hoping to help others avoid some of the pitfalls she endured. “Acid Reflux in Infants and Children” is billed as “a practical guide for parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers” and offers firsthand experience framed by her own research.

“I’m also planning a ‘Clean Eating Day,” Davenport says. “I’ve done it with some of my students in the past—she taught Psychology for four years at Chesapeake Community College—and it’s a fun way to learn about what we actually eat.”

Participants simply write down the ingredient labels to everything they eat for a 12 hour period, bring it into Tracy’s Smoothies and find out about each ingredient.  “It’s not about putting anybody down for their choices. It’s about discovery and learning. It’s fun. Keep up with us on our Facebook page for more information and announcements.”
While Davenport’s mission is to continue teaching about diet and health, one look at the list of smoothies on the blackboard will quickly dispel any idea that healthy food can’t be delicious, even slightly whimsical and decadent,

Try, for instance, Tracy’s  Chunky Monkey, with peanut butter, banana and nonfat Greek yogurt to Coach Jonnie’s Recovery with blueberries, bananas, peanut butter and protein powder, to freshly blended frozen yogurt—strawberry, peach, pineapple-mango—and you’re beginning to realize that Tracy’s Smoothies Place is another great addition to Chestertown’s growing assortment of fun places to eat.

And why wait for warmer weather? Tracy offers Frozen Hot Chocolate for the daring and regular hot chocolate for the shivering.
Check out Tracy’s Smoothie Place Facebook page.

(410) 778-2203
Open 9am-4pm, Monday – Saturday

Food Friday: Simply Chicken Potpie


I have been out of town this week, so here is a merry little stroll back in time, in our own Spy Tardis:

On a recent dark and stormy night I was about to go through the motions of whipping up an uninspired stir fry of chicken, peas, onions, carrots and some celery for crunch, but it didn’t seem like a warm, inviting meal for a raw winter day. It’s not that I harbor any illusions that coming home to our house every night is a journey to Martha-in-Wonderland, but sometimes I like to pretend that Mrs. Cleaver lives here. Even though I do not wear the high heels and the starched shirtwaist dress, I am wearing pearls along with the scarf, the sweater and the turtleneck. I bet even Mrs. Cleaver would be wearing woolies this week! And clad in her double-thick black leggings, Mrs. Cleaver would use these same ingredients to bake an amazing chicken potpie.

Here is something to keep in your freezer at all times of the year – a package of puff pastry. This is essential, Home Ec 101 information. Write it down. In cursive! Or tell Siri to remind you the next time you go to the Food Lion: “Buy puff pastry.”

I have used store-bought pie shells in the past because I am hopeless at home made. Everyone would politely shovel the chicken concoctions into their hungry little mouths. But the puff pastry made this pie an occasion! It was spectacular! It was as if Jiffy Pop Pop Corn had waved a magic wand over my chicken pie ordinaire, and puffed it upward and outward with importance and historical significance. Well, it looked very pretty when it came out of the oven, and was warmer and more comforting than that pedestrian chicken stir fry would have been.

I used the same ingredients that would have gone into the stir fry, with the addition of the puff pastry, and some chicken broth. And a little flour. I’ll trot out some other recipes for you later – but you need to keep it simple, for your own sanity. I read one recipe that wanted me to weave strips of pastry into a latticework on top of the pie. That was sheer foolishness. The pastry rises and looms like ocean cliffs – do not diminish that drama by getting all crafty. Use that time you would have been weaving pastry strips (like those long ago potholders) wisely. Dig out the latest Garden & Gun Magazine and plan your Mardi Gras strategy instead.

I boiled a boneless chicken breast, although if you have a leftover roasted chicken, you can pull off enough meat for a pie for two people. After boiling the breast, I chopped it up and shredded it – the howling cat was very grateful that my knife skills need some polishing, as some shreds flew off the cutting board into her KP area. I chopped up a couple of carrots, some celery, and half an onion, and tossed them into a frying pan with some butter for a few minutes. The onion should be translucent and fragrant. Then I added a handful of flour and 2 cups of chicken broth and the chicken. (Sometimes I skip the flour and the broth and just add Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup and a little milk.) After everything heated up and bubbled along nicely, I poured the mixture into my cute little Le Creuset baking dish. But a pie pan works just as well. (Remember, I am waiting for Mr. Cleaver, and want to make a favorable impression. Sometimes Ward has had a rough day down at the insurance office, or wherever it is that he works…)

Roll the thawed dough out on a floured surface, just to take out the creases. Then lay it on top of your pan, and with kitchen sheers, or even your office Fiskars, trim the excess dough, leaving about half an inch hanging over the edge of the pan, for drama.

Whisk an egg with a little water, and then brush it across the pastry. It will add color and a shiny surface to the pastry. Then remember to cut a few slits in the dough to let steam escape during the baking process.

Put the pastry-topped pan on top of a cookie sheet, and pop in a 375°F oven for about 30 to 35 minutes. See – you didn’t need to waste your time basket weaving at all. And now there is a little extra time to read a The Goldfinch, or chill the wine, or to watch last night’s Daily Show. Ward wouldn’t have enjoyed the spectacle of woven pastry as much as he is going to enjoy this huge, flying buttress of a chicken potpie.

I like The Pioneer Woman website. She has a droll sense of humor. I could imagine spending a little quality time with her out on the prairie. Although I do not have turmeric – so I will never know exactly what her pie tastes like:

Here’s Martha’s take, although she spends quality time worrying about the crust. “Pshaw!” I say! Worry about your time with young Theo Decker instead!

“Promises and pie-crust are made to be broken.”
-Jonathan Swift

Chestertown Garden Club Goes Batty


Are you afraid of bats? Did you know that bats are very helpful in controlling the insect population, reseeding cut forests, providing food for humans, and have even taught us about sonar? Not having the correct information regarding bats has resulted in harm to bats and myths about them that are incorrect.

The Chestertown Garden Club will increase your knowledge about bats with a program Tuesday, February 3. Elizabeth (Beth) Hill will be our speaker and will enlighten us about the World of Bats and the part they play in our world and gardens. Elizabeth is the Faculty Extension Assistant and since 1996, has taken over the program for 4-H Youth Development at the University of MarylandExtension for Kent County. Through the 4-H

Through the 4-H program she develops and teaches programs for youth and adults on the Eastern Shore in the area of youth development, entomology, environmental and agricultural sciences, animal science, team building and other programs. Beth grew up in Lancaster County, raising Black Swallowtail butterflies and Cecropia moths. A graduate of the University of Delaware with a BS in Entomology Applied Ecology, Beth interned at the Delaware Nature Society and then began working for the University of MD Extension.

Please join us at our next meeting on February 3rd, where Beth’s program will broaden our environmental knowledge, provide horticultural alternatives for our gardens and eliminate “old wives tales” about bats. Through learning more about bats, we hope you will like, respect and help protect these endangered species. The meeting will be held at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 101 North Cross Street, Chestertown, MD at 11:00 am.

Winter In and Out by Bobbie Brittingham


It is amazing how much time and energy plus money that it takes to pull off the Christmas Holidays. Heaving all the decorations out of the attic, garage, basement or from under the bed is only the mere start of this annual hectic time. The amount of strategy and planning is not something that is in my daily routine. Trying to keep some of the hallowed family traditions alive is demoralizing. Some have grudgingly made their way to my memory’s historical archives of Christmases past. I have to utilize every brain cell I have to get only the most important and reverent of treasured traditions accomplished. Then within an a few days it all has to be untangled, re-wrapped, re-boxed, repaired, and restored or rather re-stuffed back in its obscure hiding place.

Now that Christmas is packed away, and the house is in some state of normal caucus it may seem a little uninteresting or lacking some visual interest. It will be a long time until spring brings some color to the garden for you to bring into the house. The outside landscape which now is a depressing gray and tan and brown. Lovely for the spirit. The solution is to bring something living into the house. Of the animal, vegetable, and mineral choices, the vegetable seems a less complicated choice. Many of the garden centers, if open, will have a selection of green or blooming houseplants for that touch of life in the winter home. Unless you received one as a gift or bought the traditional poinsettia. To me, poinsettias are a plant for a two weeks and then can go to the heavily endowed plant heaven. Trying to keep and bring them to an adequate blooming phase next year is not worth the extreme effort required to do so. MUCH easier and better results to purchase a new one next year. If you want to try something more fun and rewarding, just go to the vegetable bin. There you can find many items that can be seduced into growing inside the house during the winter. A sweet potato suspended in or just touching some water will send roots into the water and then a vine will begin to grow, and it will not stop for a long time. The pretty purpled leaves love the sun and will continue to ramble where you lead them. A regular white potato will give some good results, but I prefer the color of the sweet potato. If you use a glass container then, you can keep an eye on the water level, and children will delight in watching the roots growing.

Another vegetable is an avocado pit. Arrange three or four toothpicks around the side of the pit and suspend over water. It will sprout, and a green tree trunk will start to grow. It can be potted in soil after it has developed several leaves. I know some people who have kept these going for years. I am not sure if they have had a harvest yet, but just the fun of growing it is enough reward. I have heard onions, carrots, and even a pineapple can all be handled in similar manners. These are fun activities to help bring a little life into the home. Somehow just adding some living green or color to your inside spaces will lift and brighten the internal spirit.

Now, on the other hand, if you have started to force some daffodil, tulip or amaryllis bulbs you have those to look forward to bloom inside. Or, just buy a handsome new green or blooming (favorite – orchid) houseplant that are readily available at many stores. Many don’t cost too much and can give months of pleasure. In the summer, you can move the houseplants to your outside living spaces. In any event to brighten your public and private living spaces that can become forlorn after the bright and sparkly decorations of Christmas are removed add a fresh lovely houseplant or a blooming plant They will instantly make you realize that spring will come even if the weather outside is frightful.

I often walk in the garden during the somewhat warmer days of winter looking for a little life of some form that will show me the garden has not gone to bed forever. This is a good time to look at your garden and ask questions. Questions that help achieve the look you want. If you don’t know what look you want then, it might be the time to decide. Even the most beautiful natural garden has had a little bit of help to get it there. Sometimes mother nature gets a little carried away and needs to be reined in. With any good garden, there need to be some architectural structure. These are called the backbones or BONES of the garden. They give the garden a solid feeling. They are supporting the rest of the plants in a visual pleasing, balanced way. These features can be manmade such as a fence, columns, arbor, gate, a large urn or pot, a bird bath, anything that will give the eye something solid to look at. The bones can be of plant material such as evergreens, ornamental grasses that have been left with their blossoms on and even the trunks of trees and shrubs can add that visual interest with their structure and bark texture. These can all add visual interest when the winter season clamps down and not much else is in the landscape.

So now is a good time to take stock of your garden’s bones. If you don’t see these bones/visual interest it will present an opportunity to explore some solutions. The many nursery and garden catalogues that have started to arrive with their enticing pictures and descriptions should enable you to find some answers. They are always filled with ideas for containers, border designs, problem area solutions and plant companions. I caution not to be combined into think that your garden will look like the pictures. Seldom does anyone’s garden look like the picture. Not even the garden the picture was taken in looks like the picture. They are all Photoshopped. But the catalogues can offer many different and exciting ideas that you can adapt to your own situation. Dreaming about how you would love your garden to look is a wonderful way to spend the afternoon in a sunny spot looking out the window at your picture perfect garden.


Spy Report: New Molly Mason’s an Unexpectedly Upscale Hit in Kennedyville


Chestertown’s emerging restaurant scene is simmering nicely on the front burner this year.

The Kitchen at the Imperial Hotel, Café Sado in the former Brooks Tavern, the Black Burro Taco truck, Luisa’s new, upgraded location are now joined by a newly minted Molly Mason’s—and it’s attracting some well-deserved attention.

Now under the direction of young impresario in chef Matt Whitehair, Molly Mason’s, on Rt. 213 near Kennedyville, is steering the restaurant from “down home” to seriously upscale cuisine.

But don’t let the term scare you. While the meals are gourmet prepared—with sides like sweet potato gnocchi and beurre noir—and artistically presented over whispy swashes of pureed vegetables and delicious sauces, this reboot of Molly’s offers regional favorites like duck, venison, filet mignon, and crab cakes.

Matt Whitehair

Matt Whitehair

Take for instance Whitehair’s Small Plate offering of Duck Confit with pickled cherry and walnut hummus or a Large Plate special salmon with sweet potato gnocchi, arugula, house cured bacon and pearl onions—it shouldn’t take more than a bite to convince you that these dishes have been crafted with care and creative flair.

One recent sampling offered pan-seared scallops with an herb emulsion and petals of Jerusalem artichoke, a sweet and spicy apricot glazed octopus, pan-seared duck breast on a carrot emulsion and black vinegar and venison osso bucco with tomato jus on a splash of parmesan polenta.

These meal descriptions might have you believe that Whitehair just arrived from the Le Cordon Bleu, but in fact the young chef is home grown and first discovered his love for cooking while attending Kent County High School.

“I took a class in Home Ec taught by John Keller and got hooked,” Whitehair says. “John pointed me in the right direction and I started working locally in kitchens at Riley’s on the River (before Fish Whistle), Osprey Point Inn and the Imperial Hotel before I went up to Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia.”

Originally Whitehair had been thinking about law school as a goal. “But one day— in the middle of Poly-Sci I jotted down an idea of a recipe and I knew right then that my path had changed.”

Square Root Escabeche (beet, carrot, parsnip) with alive oil powder.

Square Root Escabeche (beet, carrot, parsnip) with olive oil powder.

Whitehair said that he’d discussed the possibility of working at Molly Mason’s with owner Scott Mason but until last summer the timing hadn’t been right for either of them. When an opportunity opened, Whitehair decided to take the plunge and move back to his hometown.

“It’s been exciting for sure. I love what I’m doing and I like being back in my community to do it. A lot of my peers have understandably moved to the excitement and possibilities that a city has to offer, but I really wanted to come back and share my love for cuisine with the community that inspired me,” he says.

Some of the excitement hasn’t been all that comfortable for the 24-year old chef, however. He completely overhauled the kitchen to meet his standards and changed the menu to showcase his specialties.

Ash-cured quail with texture of carrot.

Ash-cured quail with texture of carrot.

“I changed the menu in August and the whole world freaked out,” he says. “One fellow said ‘somebody’s done gone and broke my Molly Mason’s’ after finding out that he couldn’t get his usual hot turkey sandwich.”

Whitehair finds that sort of reaction ironic. “Like a lot of my clientele, I’m an avid hunter and fisher and was raised doing both here in Kent County, spent a good part of my time wearing camo and getting to know the local terrain—I just want to inspire people to try an exciting variation of the food they already love,” he says.

Whitehair is confident that people who appreciate thoughtful cuisine will continue to discover Molly’s. Each week new diners arrive to try out the menu. Already, word of mouth has brought in new patrons.

“I look at the menu choices as core regional fundamentals and many of these meals are prepared the way they were generations ago. It’s also important for me also to have everything as absolutely fresh as possible. For instance, I don’t buy fillets, I buy the whole fish so that I absolutely know how fresh it is. And it’s all local.”

The chef entrepreneur also finds time to cater events at Crow Farm and Vineyard. One event, last Friday 17th, billed as a “Winter Wine Dinner Series I: Eastern Shore Bounty” showcases Whitehair’s expertise. He is also known to cater private gatherings and looks to the future for cultivating that part of his business.

”I’m really lucky. I get to do what I love to do every day. I have a crew I wouldn’t trade for the world, and together we make food happen.”

The Spy wishes them well.


A menu for a recent event at Crow Farm and Vineyard.

A menu for a recent event at Crow Farm and Vineyard.



Hours: 11am-9pm Monday through Thursday
7am-9pm Friday and Saturday
7am-8pm Sunday
12503 Austine Herman Hwy (Rt. 213)Kennedyville




Pet of the Month: Nicholas

Nicholas-(1)When you meet Nicholas, you’d never imagine this happy-go-lucky puppy would have been living on the end of a chain just weeks ago. When Animal Control found him, his chain was wrapped around his dog house, keeping him from reaching his water bowl. The owner admitted not having the resources to care for the pup, so Nicholas was surrendered to HSKC that day.
Under six months of age, this puppy is underweight and could benefit from gaining a few pounds. However, he is overflowing with love and kisses for everyone he meets. If he could, he would play all day long. But, when this Staffordshire Terrier mix is not romping around with toys, he’s fairly well-behaved for a puppy!
If you have the time to give this pup the attention he deserves, take a few minutes from your day and meet Nicholas at the shelter soon!.Also, learn more about  the adoptable animals at HSKC by visiting, following the organization’s Facebook Page at or by calling the shelter at410-778-3648.


Food Friday: National Pizza Week


Please accept my deepest apologies for never having recognized (or celebrated) National Pizza Week before this year. What could I have been thinking? The second week of January is a time to revel in hot cheese, good sauce, toppings (or not) and fabulous crust (thin, thick or deep dish). Pizza, like cake, is the perfect food. Long live the pizzaterians!

I grew up in a household where going out for pizza was the supreme treat. We were even permitted to have a glass of orange soda! Of course, we only ate plain cheese pizza pie. My parents grew up in New Haven, home of Sally’s Apizza; in their hearts the home of the purest, best American pizza. They were stodgy, no nonsense New Englanders, by gum. Plain and simple pizza only, thank you; unadorned by unnecessary. What more could you possibly want or need? The slices at Pellicci’s (our hometown favorite Italian restaurant) were the size of formal dinner napkins, so my brother and I learned early on how to fold the molten lava slices into airplane shapes which fit nicely in our hungry, gaping maws. But it wasn’t until junior high and experiencing hot lunch in the cafeteria that I found out about pepperoni pizza. Holy smokes! What a revelation, and such beauteous gilding on the pizza lily!

Pizza is so very customizable. There are myriad variations on the pizza topping theme. First there are your basic Mozzarella cheese, meats, and veggies, excellent tomato sauce, a soupçon of garlic and a pinch or oregano. Other toppings may include regional favorites: barbeque, chicken, oysters, crayfish, shrimp, bacon, artichoke hearts and tuna. In Japan the favorite toppings are squid and a mayonnaise mixture of mayo, potato and bacon. A very fancy pizza was once concocted with caviar, lobster and crème fraiche. Hmm. Not up to Sally’s standards I’m afraid.

What do your pizza toppings say about you? Are you quirky, well-traveled, catholic, risk-taking and fearless? Bland, smug, uncurious, timid and hide-bound? Further trolling of the internets reveals that some people add these peculiar toppings (remember now, I am a snobby, unadventuous purist):
• Squash pizza (zucchini, summer squash and zucchini flowers)
• Macaroni and cheese (complete with breadcrumbs)
• Pesto
• BBQ sauce
• Alfredo sauce
• Bacon and egg
• Eggs Florentine
• Spinach and artichoke
• Tex-Mex pizza (pepper Jack cheese, salsa, beans and avocado
• Fig, prosciutto and chili jam
• Sweet potato and Kielbasa
• Lemon and smoke Mozzarella
• Arugula
• Ground lamb with an egg
• Prosciutto, basil and mozzarella
• Ricotta, prosciutto and mint
• Chicken and cranberry relish
• Brussels sprouts, roasted and shaved

A good idea comes from Serious Eats – try par-cooking vegetables to get eliminate some of the moisture and to intensify their flavor. Carmelized onions and peppers go a long way to making pizza a rich tapestry of woven, complimentary flavors, instead of just a slippery bunch of layers.

According to, “eating pizza once a week can reduce the risk of esophageal cancer.” But warns that “34% of the average American adult’s body fat comes from pizza.”

We still make pizza most Friday nights. When our kids were little, pizza wasn’t cause for celebration as it was in my distant youth. Their elementary school held pizza parties at the drop of every possible hat. They had it so often that it was de rigueur and not the least bit ritualistically special. They were growing accustomed to cold, cardboard-tasting (literally) Papa John’s and Domino’s pizzas. Heresy! We wanted them to know what real pizza tasted like.

It pushed our little Kenmore oven to the brink, firing it up to 500°F every Friday night for almost 20 years. We couldn’t achieve the blistering hot 600° and 800° temperatures that special wood burning or coal-fired pizza ovens reach, but we did our suburban best. And it was a great time to be spent together. They learned how to measure, how to wait for dough to rise, how to roll out circles (or amoebas) how to grate cheese, how to feed the dog indigestible pepperoni slices, how to draw pictures in flour (highly marketable art) and how to put up with their parents for a couple of hours every week. We also learned to appreciate getting blisters on the roofs of our mouths from gobbling down fresh, hot out-of-the-oven homemade pizza. No cardboard here! We never got good enough to toss the dough in the air, we still roll it out on the floured counter and we have only achieved the thin, crispy perfection of a crust a dozen or so times. Each week we hope. So many lessons learned from one dish.

This Friday we have some leftover Italian sausage, leftover meatballs and a fresh stick of pepperoni for a mélange of a meat topping. There is some basil growing on the windowsill, and we will toss a handful on top of the pizza when it emerges from the furnace of an oven. Our dough is rising in a bowl in the kitchen right this minute, waiting for pizza magic tonight. How about you?

“But magic is like pizza: even when it’s bad, it’s pretty good.”
― Neil Patrick Harris

And your pizza is nothing without good dough. Our friends at Food52 have many suggestions, but we like this recipe:

And if you want to adapt a pizza theme for every meal possible, visit this site:,454?ref=,

Food Friday: Oh My Darling Clementine!


The Doctor Who Christmas special, Last Christmas, caused a lively debate here: what is the difference between Clementines and tangerines? Maybe we had a little too much vacation down time and togetherness, plus we were avoiding the inevitability and disappointment of dismantling the Christmas decorations. Still – inquiring minds want to know.

In Doctor Who, Santa’s trademark gift is a tangerine in every stocking; a sweet, juicy orange jewel, the symbol of innocence. The Doctor scoffs at that gesture, declaring, “Nobody likes tangerines!” I remember growing up that we did have oranges in our stockings a few times, but never consistently. And Santa never left oranges or tangerines for my children. (Especially this year when we forgot to leave him Christmas cookies and milk! Payback!) Instead he tucked small books, and dolls, and toys, and tiny boxes of Legos, and candy canes (gasp!), and other quiet diversions into their capacious stockings, which would temporarily distract and charm the early rising children, so that the poor beleaguered parents could sleep a wee bit longer.

It seems to me that I had oranges in my lunch quite a lot as a child. I know tangerines were substituted a few times, but tangerines had more seeds than most oranges, and so I registered a few complaints. Did you ever believe that swallowing watermelon seeds would eventually result in catastrophe? I think we swallowed them only when dared, and suffered no consequences, and otherwise tried to enjoy a legit opportunity for spitting. And that was only in the summertime, sitting on the back porch, with an available sibling sitting nearby. No seed spitting was tolerated in our school cafeteria. Alas.

We did not have Clementines when I was a child. I don’t know if they are more fashionable, or more readily available, but they seem ubiquitous now. Maybe they were exotic and hideously expensive in New England back in the day. The packaging is very appealing, so much more so than a plastic sack o’oranges. I’ll haul home a small crate of Clementines with the idea that I can recycle it, fill it with potting soil and use it to start spring and get a jump on my summer garden. That has never happened, but I can assure you that I enjoy the fantasy every time.

Both the tangerines and the Clementines are varietals of the mandarin orange, which is slightly smaller than a standard orange. Nutritionally tangerines and Clementines are very similar – a 100-gram tangerine has 53 calories and a 100-gram Clementine has 47. There is more Vitamin C and Potassium in a Clementine, but more Magnesium and Calcium in a tangerine. I think the Clementine tastes sweeter – more like an orange than the watery tangerine. But both are easy to peel. The Clementine is seedless, however, which gives it the advantage. I can remember trying to peel oranges, and how hard it seemed sometimes, even if my mother scored the peel with a knife before tossing it in my lunchbox.

So listen up Santa, could you make the Clementine your signature gift now? The Doctor will approve: sweeter, no seeds and very easy to peel. Perfect for Tardis travel.

(McDonald’s has jumped on the Clementine bandwagon, and will be offering Clementines in Happy Meals now, on a seasonal basis.!)

Here is a nifty sounding recipe for an orange cake. I need to rethink my whole approach to baking, and get some metric scales and so I can start to bake the Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood way. They are the professional cooks and judges on a delightful BBC import on PBS on Sunday nights, just before Downton Abbey: The Great British Baking Show. It is deeelightful! This is my new guilty pleasure. Butter, cream, chocolate, English accents, bad teeth and crazy baking. Everyone is sweet, and determined, and thoughtful of others as they compete to become the Best Amateur Baker in Britain. I have never watched TV reality shows, but this is just wonderful. I got this first recipe from Mary Berry:

Who would have thought of boiling a whole orange for an hour? We would have gone to the fridge and poured out some orange juice. But Mary is thrifty. She once commented that you should be economical, and save the leftover lemon wedge for a gin and tonic! Our kind of baker!

You can catch up on the first couple of episodes here:

Clementine Cake from Nigella:

“we went into a market—they call it a grocery—and you can’t imagine. fruit brilliant as magazine photos. all kinds of different oranges, grapefruits, mandarins, some tiny clementines with a blue sticker—Morocco—they’ve come so far…”