Food for Thought…and Belly!

posted by Monticello’s Debbie Donley and Jessica Bryars

None of us anticipated the sudden need to stay close to home and ‘self-isolate’ to varying degrees. With little time to pre-plan, we find ourselves searching for ways to fill the many hours previously spent at work and in the company of others.

Nature Journal: Food for Thought

Credit: Lara Call Gastinger

It’s crucial to challenge our brains right now. This suggestion from Flower Gardener Debbie Donley is a perfect addition to your daily walk – utilizing your senses while engaging your artistic abilities. The activity can be done by every at-home member of your household. As you record the changes spring brings on a daily basis, we encourage you to share your explorations by sending your creations electronically to family and friends. Let’s start a naturally creative movement!

Here’s what Donley learned and adapted from Lara Call Gastinger, Charlottesville’s fabulous local botanical artist.

What you’ll need:

  • a notebook or sketchbook
  • a pencil
  • watercolors, pastels or crayons – pick your favorite medium!

Find your preferred notebook or sketchbook – you’ll likely already have a selection of these at home!

For a minimum of 15 minutes each day, go outdoors. Date your entry page, draw and make notes about something in nature happening right now. This can be done completely with pencil, or you can use a second medium for drawing. Leave the flip side of the page blank for returning to the book in 2021. You’ll have a great record of seasonal progress year to year. This is great fun and a wonderful way to reduce stress and nurture your creative soul.

Sketching nature and keeping meticulous records? How much more Jeffersonian can you get?

Warm Winter Squash & Kale Salad with Maple-Lemon Vinaigrette: Food for Belly

When we’re tired of cooking the same old things and want something we know will taste amazing, Monticello employees turn to our Assistant Manager of Nursery Operations, Jessica Bryars. Here’s a Bryars favorite that can be served as a side or meal on its own. We hope the ingredients are either already in the house or readily available at your local store.

Serves 4-6 as a side or 2 as a main

Ingredients for the Salad

  • 2 cups diced (1/2” cubes) winter squash- butternut, acorn, candy-roaster, pumpkin, etc.
  • 2 Tbs olive oil, divided
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp fresh cracked black pepper
  • ¾ cup walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch kale (8-12 stems), deveined and torn into bite sized pieces
  • 6 pitted dates, diced
  • ½ cup crumbled bleu or gorgonzola cheese

Ingredients for the Dressing

  • 1/4 cup real maple syrup
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
  • ½ tsp lemon zest
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp paprika


  • Preheat your oven to 400℉ and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicon baking mat.
  • In a medium bowl, toss diced winter squash with 1 Tbs olive oil, paprika, salt, and pepper.
  • Spread the coated winter squash in an even layer on the baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes or until tender and the corners are browned.
  • While the winter squash roasts, use this time to prepare the rest of the salad.
  • In a large bowl, drizzle 1 tbs. olive oil over the torn kale and massage the kale with your hands until all pieces are oiled and tender. Set aside.
  • Lightly toast the walnuts or pecans in either a skillet on the stovetop or in a toaster oven. If using a toaster oven, arrange the nuts on the toaster pan and set the toaster to toast. If using a skillet on the stovetop, keep the nuts moving in the skillet set to medium heat. In both cases, the nuts should be toasted in 3 or 4 minutes. Be careful not to burn the nuts- if they burn, they will have a bitter flavor.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients and set aside until squash is done.
  • When the squash has finished roasting, toss together the squash, dates, and toasted nuts. Add this mixture to the prepared kale in the large bowl and gently toss.
  • Dress the salad with ½ cup (or more to taste) dressing, then sprinkle the crumbled cheese on top.
  • Serve immediately.