Several friends have asked me how I'm doing in this up and down weather, or how does a gardener stay excited about this hobby with so many days appearing to offer little hope of seeing sprouting pansies, tulips or daylilies popping out of the ice or snow?Mike laughs and though you'd think I should be saving money by not buying spring plants, I'm busy ordering from some of my favorite catalogs like: Burpee Seeds, Spring Hill or Brecks - from okra seeds to Iris collections or dwarf cannas. There's so much fun in the planning, as one looks forward to a pretty flowering yard once again.And speaking of colder weather, we have entertained friends and tried out some new foods we really liked such as Easy Crock-pot Beef Stew, Baked Potato Soup and my quick Oatmeal Raisin cookies.We have several Crock-pots, all different sizes and I can honestly say they're the best investment ever! There is at least one time or more per week that there is "something" cooking in the Thompson's kitchen and you can savor the smell when you walk in the front door! Or I may be out and about and know that part or all of our dinner is done.Dee Dee's Easy Crock-pot Stew• 1 1/2 pounds stew meat• 1/2 cup chopped onion• 4 medium potatoes-peeled and sliced• 2 stalks celery-diced• 2 carrots-sliced• Salt and pepper to taste• 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce• 8-ounce can tomato sauce 1. Layer ingredients in crock-pot in order given and cook on HIGH for 30 minutes. 2. Turn to LOW and cook another 6-8 hours.Mikester's Baked Potato Soup• 10 slices bacon-We like the brands that are uncured with no sodium nitrates or nitrites.• 2/3 cup butter• 2/3 cup flour• 5 or 6 baked potatoes-peeled and cubed• 5 green onions-chopped• 1 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese• 1 cup sour cream• 1 teaspoon salt• 1 teaspoon ground black pepper• 7 cups whole milk 1. Cook bacon over medium heat until browned. 2. Drain, crumble and set aside. 3. In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. 4. Whisk in flour until smooth. 5. Gradually stir in milk, whisking constantly until thickened. 6. Stir in potatoes and onions. 7. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. 8. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. 9. Mix in bacon, cheese, sour cream, salt and pepper. 10. Continue cooking stirring frequently until cheese is melted. This makes 6 servings and goes great with a slice of garlic bread and a small green salad.Our Oatmeal Easy Cookies• 1 package Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Spice cake Mix• 4 egg whites• 1 cup uncooked quick-cooking oats• 1/2 cup vegetable oil• 1/2 cup raisins• Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease or spray baking sheets 1. Combine cake mix, egg whites, oats and oil in large mixing bowl. 2. Beat at low speed with electric mixer until well blended. 3. Stir in raisins and drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets. 4. Bake at 350 degrees for 7-9 minutes or until lightly browned. 5. Cool 1 minute on baking sheets. Remove to cooling racks and cool completely before storing. This makes about 4 dozen cookies.What my Grandmother didn't teach me:If you run out of room in a small pantry, buy a rolling stainless steel cart and make that your food "annex." And that's what we have in the corner of our kitchen right now; and on the top shelf there's two Crock-pots. Tips of the day: 1. When preparing a Crock-pot roast, try cutting up all the ingredients the night before and storing them in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight. Then just dump or layer all the ingredients in the pot and begin the cooking process. By the time you go to work, be sure and reduce the heat to LOW and dinner will be ready when you come home. 2. If you shred your cheese yourself you are doing TWO good things:You're saving money AND the cheese is more moist and tastes fresher than shredded you buy in a plastic container in the market.Have a wonderful week in Parker County. I hope you are trying out a new recipe or planning to do something different or special in your yard or patio this spring. Notice, I included patios. I love planting in pots - not a weed problem and so nice to be able to move around the colors. This is a great time to start buying up pottery BEFORE the crunch of spring planting.