Summer Squash and Corn Chowder {light}

There are few meals in life more comforting than soup.

(I would count intravenous sugar and chocolate fudge among those few – and yes, I realize I referred to these as “meals”).

That’s just the truth.

And a soup that starts and ends with bacon?

I don’t even need to say it. Continue reading

Week 30 – Glennon Says, “It’s Already All Right.”

It’s been a tiring week.

I don’t really feel in the mood to write.

My baby girl is sitting on the couch watching her second Tinkerbell movie of the day, and it’s only 9am, but she’s already been through five rounds of puking, two sets of clothes, two thorough wipe downs, and three couch-beddy blanket changes this morning.

We had one week of reprieve between now, and the last round of stomach bug that traveled through everyone age 10 and under.

I’m sure you understand.

I’d rather read someone else’s writing today, and laugh a little.

Because laughing right now, would feel really, really good.

So I went here, and read about one of Glennon’s random fall weekends, and giggled and cried a little. And things are feeling a little better.

Maybe you’d like it too.

Click the red title to read Glennon’s post, “For Tisha. . . To Remind Her That It’s Going to be All Right. In Fact, It Already Is.”

Indian Summer Martini

I have a blog friend who tends to be on an eerily similar food wavelength a lot of the time.

Like when I opened up the blog this morning and saw her comment on my peach simple syrup post:

“Oooh. I want a bottle of that in my fridge for some Indian summer mojitos!” – Danguole, 10th Kitchen

I actually laughed out loud. Yes, Danguole. Me too. Except I am not a gin girl. I prefer vodka.

And it’s a done deal. Continue reading

Peach Simple Syrup

Sometimes the thing we need to do is slow down.

Not everything needs to be intricate or fancy.

Isn’t that sort of what summer is about?

Really, isn’t a simple life the life that brings us all a breath of relief?

Somewhere along the last few weeks I think I lost sight of that a little.

Three layer cakes and muffins that take three steps of preparation.

I needed to dial it back a notch.

Continue reading

Week 29 – Drink. Sleep. Reflect.


My dear Friends –

I keep going back and forth in my head over what I might say today. I can’t find either of my sources, so I’ll just lay it all out there – Tim the Tool Man style. (Do you remember that? Home Improvement – where Tim would go out to the backyard and peer over the fence at his neighbor, Wilson and proceed to completely misquote something to him? I’m not completely misquoting, but it’s certainly not word for word either.)

Drink more, sleep more, reflect.

There. I said it.

Continue reading

Oh yeah, that holiday stuff I said I would do. . . .

So here we are, a couple of weeks later, and this is what I have for you:

Save your jars (and lids), so we can be Earth-friendly, and economical at the same time – and make gifts that have character. Save all shapes and sizes – they’re great for packaging granola, cookies-in-a-jar, pickled veggies, jams, spices, and more. In particular, I’m saving little Starbucks frappuccino bottles and their 4-pack carrying cases. Any excuse to buy Starbucks is a good one. . . . We’re getting afternoon pick-me-ups, and Christmas present packaging for the price of the 3 PM jolt. We’ll clean ’em up, like this little tutorial shows us here.

More on how we’re going to fill those jars later.

Start thinking hard about your loved ones and what they mean to you. A beautiful gift that costs close to nothing? A Box of Sundays, or a stack of ribbon-tied cards. The Box of Sundays is a gift my sisters and I made for my parents a couple of years back: one envelope per week of the year, filled with childhood memories, stories from our grandparents, and memories our parents had of each other (I interviewed them separately and convinced them it was a gift for the other), and sometimes even a crossword puzzle or word search the grandkids put together.  Each Sunday, they opened one envelope and read it to each other. They have told us several times over that this is one of the best gifts they have ever received – so much so that they made one for their parents the following year!

Do you know Michael’s is on our same wave-length? They have a holiday planning tool you can use to get yourself all set up to craft your little heart out on a time line. Thanks to my Sis for the heads-up!

And, so is Toys R Us! Christmas in July, folks! I never like to buy anything this early for my own kids because I feel like they change their minds too much by the time Christmas actually rolls around, but this is a great way to stock up on gifts for nieces, nephews, friends and neighbors! I admit, I don’t know much yet about shopping for girls, but I can tell you that for boys ages 4-10, Nerf and Legos totally do the trick!

It’s college season – stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Bed Bath and Beyond are throwing sales for items that jive with anyone in the tween to young adult crowd. Look for gifts like iPod speakers, ear buds, coffee makers, electric kettles (great for dorm room soup-in-a-cup!), hot air popcorn poppers, duffel bags and luggage, alarm clock speakers, etc.

Here are a few goodies I found at Bed Bath and Beyond – use their 20% off coupon, and free shipping, and you might just be all set!

Ahhhhh. I love gifts like these. An affordable blue tooth capable speaker. Unisex, great for kids all the way on up to adults. The list of recipients could be endless!

HMDX Audio® HX-P230 Jam Bluetooth Wireless Speaker

An indoor/outdoor blanket. Great for football game bound college students, but also good for soccer moms, a picnicking couple (maybe throw in a bottle of wine), a family headed to the park, or to keep in the trunk of a car for unlimited purposes.

Indoor/Outdoor Travel Blanket - Chocolate

An electric tea kettle – great for a dorm room, or a the well-oiled kitchen of a family. Hot water without having to turn on the oven or muss up yet another pot.

Proctor Silex® Cordless 1.7-Liter Electric Kettle

An air popper. I have a soft spot in my heart for these. I received one as a high school graduate and still have it today. It’s one of my favorite kitchen mini-machines. It’s a fun gift for an individual headed off to live on their own for the first time, but it’s also a fantastic idea for a family – throw in a board game or a movie, and you’ve just given them some quality time together too!

Orville Redenbacher's™ Gourmet® Hot Air Popper by Presto®

A great little gadget spanning a wide age gap, this useful on-the-go vault is perfect for athletic kids and adults too:

Go Vault™ Personal Portable Vaults

And what about these plates? My son made one of these as a class project in pre-school and it’s held up solidly. I’ve always thought I’d like to reverse the process though, and I’d design one for each of my kids. They’re also a fun thing to make for grandparents or cousins who are far away. You can add photos too! Get a jump-start to have it done in time.

Creations by You Plateworks Design Your Own Plate

Makit Products Inc. Make A Plate

And lastly, check out office supply stores right now, during back-to-school season – especially for teacher gifts and little artistes. For kids, think markers, drawing pads, magnetic boards.

Sharpie Fine Point Permanent Markers, 24 Assorted Markers

Crayola Washable Pip-Squeaks Telescoping Marker Tower

For teachers, think planners, lunch boxes, pens, post-it notes:

Who are we kidding? I want one of these too! For under $11, it’s an adorable gift – throw in some cookies (or one giant one!) and you’re good to go!

Post-it(R) Pop-up Notes Dispenser for 3" x 3" Notes, Pebble Collection by Karim

A flash drive – teachers only? No way – any kid 4th grade and up can use this these days, and this particular one is on super sale. Regularly $19.99, it’s $7.99 at Office Max online today. Super handy gift for male and female teachers alike!

Kingston DataTraveler 8GB USB Flash Drive

Oh yes. Can you tell I’m a Sharpie lover?? These are on sale at Office Max right now too!

Sharpie Accent Liquid Pen-Style Highlighters, 10 Assorted Highlighters

That’s it for now, folks! Hopefully you’re inspired to get some holiday goodness taken care of now, so you can enjoy your time later!

Roasted Cherry Walnut Muffins

It might appear to some that I am on the berry-roasting bandwagon.

It’s OK. Those somebodies are right.

Something sort of magical happens to berries when you roast them. The sweetness blooms, the formerly light juices darken and intensify – all for some fairly easy hands-off effort.

These muffins, on the other hand, do require some work – but they’ve stolen my heart, and they’re so worth it; kind of like my less-than-two year old niece: her energy level requires all hands on deck, but Good Golly – she’s worth every second!

The muffins don’t smile adorably at me, call me, “Yara” and make me want to bear-hug them, but they do tickle my nose with the light scent of cinnamon and whet my whistle at the thought of the smooth, almost creamy crumb laced with cherry goodness.

So before you dive in to make these, just be forewarned – they require some time. You can do it in steps though, and that makes it all seem less daunting.

I roasted the cherries the day before,  pureed them in their own juices while they were still warm, then shoved them into the fridge until I was ready to use them.

On baking day, I browned the butter while I was making coffee, and set it aside to use a little later. While that was melting and browning, I made the crumble topping and put it in the fridge.

Then I went about some morning business and came back to the kitchen. The extra multi-step stuff was completed, so then throwing the muffins together didn’t seem quite so labor-intensive.

You’ll enjoy them. Really, you will.

And they’re purple!

Maybe we can invite a unicorn and some fairies to breakfast too.

 

Roasted Cherry Walnut Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 pound cherries, rinsed, dried, stems removed, and pitted (a little more than 2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • for the topping:
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup old fashioned oats
  • 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • for the muffins:
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, browned
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup roasted cherries, pureed
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Directions

To prepare the cherries:

Place rinsed, stemmed, pitted cherries in a baking 9"x9" baking dish with orange juice and sugar. Toss together. Roast at 400 degrees F for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Puree in a food processor or blender. At this point, you can store them in the fridge, or set them aside and continue on with the muffins.

To prepare the topping:

In a medium bowl, combine flour, oats, walnuts, granulated sugar, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla. Mix thoroughly. Add cubes of cold butter and pinch mixture and butter together with your fingers until small crumbs form. Some bits will be larger than others, but try to make it as even as possible, without overworking the butter. Store in the fridge until ready to use. Keep in mind you will probably have extra topping and may not use all of it.

To prepare the muffins:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper liners. (You may have extra batter, so line a mini-muffin tin with a few liners, or a 6 muffin pan with a couple extras)

In a small saucepan, add butter. Cook over medium-low heat. Watch it closely as it melts. The oils and solids will separate, then the solids will begin to brown. When you see this happen, remove the pan from the heat, watch it till the solids are golden, then pour it into another dish to cool. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the pan clean. You must remove it from the pan, or it will burn. Set aside and allow to cool while you prepare the batter.

In a medium bowl, combine sour cream, egg and egg yolk, vanilla extract, and cooled cherry puree.

In another medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and chopped walnuts.

When the butter is cooler, slowly add it to the sour cream and egg mixture, stirring with a whisk or fork the entire time.

Once the butter is incorporated into the wet mixture, add the wet mixture all at once to the dry mixture. Stir with a fork until just mixed.

Divide the batter evenly between muffin cups. Remove crumble topping from fridge and sprinkle it evenly over muffins.

Bake for 16-20 minutes, or until crumble is golden and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the pan, on a wire rack for two minutes. Then remove muffins from the pan and allow to cool completely on the rack.

Send e-vites to friends, unicorns and fairies.

Source

Adapted from Joy the Baker

http://www.wherethecookiesare.com/2012/07/19/roasted-cherry-walnut-muffins/

 

 

Veggie Stuffed Shells

Let’s explore some things that are all shoved full-up with goodness:

Letters from long-lost friends.

Time capsules.

Tacos.

Our favorite magazines.

Breakfast muffins.

The giant bag of fresh produce on grocery day.

The dryer load full of fresh, warm blankets.

The cooler on beach day.

Your son’s hands when they reach out and hold yours (when you thought he thought he was too old to do that anymore).

A nice long phone call with another woman, because we are the only ones who truly understand one another. That’s just Truth.

Fresh from a nap baby cheeks.

The secret stash of jellybeans in my nightstand. (Not such a secret anymore, is it?)

The stack of novels waiting for me on my end table.

The rack of fabric scraps at Joanne’s.

Favorite cookbooks.

These pasta shells – that’s what my little guy says anyway.

He says:

1) that they’re awesome.

2) that they are “giant pasta rolls shoved up with broccoli, cheese, and mashed potatoes”.

If you are afraid of anything in the kitchen, I suggest you tackle it and conquer it sometime soon.

I feared making a bechamel, and now I don’t.

The whole process was interesting and delightful in a science-project-gone-perfect sort of way.

I feel so much smarter now.

Which brings me to another observation.

I SO would never, ever, in a million years, make it on Master Chef.

Unless I could squeak by like poor David Martinez.

If someone handed me a sea urchin and told me I had one hour to cook it, I would squawk and hide under the table.

If I had to soft boil an egg to impress Gordon Ramsey? I’d burst into tears instantly and make a bee-line sprint to the wine cooler, seeing as how I am repulsed by hard-boiled eggs so I’ve never even ventured seriously into the territory of cooking eggs in the shell – except for a couple of weeks ago when my kids claimed they wanted to try hard-boiled eggs and I had to look up how to make them.

Yes. That’s me.

Somehow though, learning how to hard boil an egg was not nearly as satisfying as making this pasta and conquering the bechamel.

I know this is very “wintry” food, but you can make summery excuses for it.

You can make it ahead and store it for later, so that when you come home from summering all day, you can just pop it in the oven.

You could use zucchini or summer squash to fill the shells.

You could serve it with sparkling white wine – very summery.

It makes enough for at least 8 people, so you could eat it outside at sunset with a big group of friends and drink sparkling white wine.

I believe those are all sufficiently summery excuses. Capisce?

Veggie Stuffed Shells

A fantastic tutorial, if you are new to bechamel, is available here, where I found the inspiration for this dish.

Ingredients

  • 1 (12 ounce) box large pasta shells
  • 5 ounces prepared pesto
  • 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated parmesan
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella, divided
  • 1 medium Yukon Gold potato, cooked and mashed
  • 2 cups broccoli, steamed, and roughly chopped
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • Cayenne pepper, a couple modest shakes
  • For the Sauce:
  • 2 cups reduced fat milk, heated
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 ounces prepared pesto
  • 1/2 cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • dash of kosher salt
  • shake of garlic powder
  • shake of cayenne pepper

Directions

Cook pasta shells according to package directions, less two minutes. When shells are finished cooking, drain and cool them on a tea towel until you are ready to stuff them.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the 5 ounces of pesto, ricotta, Parmesan, 1/2 cup of the mozzarella (reserve 1/2 cup for topping), mashed potato, chopped broccoli, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and cayenne.

Prepare either two 9"x9" baking dishes, or one 9"x13" baking dish by spraying lightly with cooking spray.

If cooking immediately, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Stuff each shell evenly with filling.

Place stuffed shells in a single layer in the baking dish(es). Set aside.

To prepare the bechamel, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Once butter is melted, add flour bit by bit, stirring with each addition until it is well incorporated. Continue to stir and cook for a couple of minutes.

Start adding hot milk a little bit at a time, mixing continuously, and not adding more until each addition has been fully incorporated.

Once all of the milk is incorporated, slowly add the pesto, then the Parmesan cheese.

Continue stirring, and cook on low until the sauce thickens.

Add in pepper, salt, garlic powder, and cayenne.

If your sauce ends up lumpy, either run it through a blender to puree and smooth it, or if you have an immersion blender, that'll do the trick as well.

Pour sauce evenly over the stuffed shells. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella over the top, and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Finish by broiling for 5 minutes, or until the cheese on top is beautifully browned.

Source

inspired by, and adapted from Manu's Menu

http://www.wherethecookiesare.com/2012/07/17/veggie-stuffed-shells/

Week 28 – Japanese Tea Ceremony

Nestled in a book I had been reading was this:

Japanese Tea Ceremony: a way of honoring oneself by putting another’s needs first, the joy that could be found in intimate service. [This was a] conversation [my husband and I’d] had one night on the way home from a movie.  I remembered how that night he’d put toothpaste on my brush before his own, then bowed.  I’d smiled, but I’d understood too that such small gifts were one seed that blossomed in two hearts.

– Elizabeth Berg, The Year of Pleasures

 

I stopped and thought for a moment.

I need to do more of this.

I have a longing in my heart to be of service to others, but when I daydream about the service I want to give, it tends to be large-scale and quixotic.

I want to help hungry people on the street.

I want to hug homeless children and pass love straight from my full, steady heart into their famished, skittery ones.

I want to hold a desperate mother’s hand and transfer a tiny bit of solace through the skin of our fingers.

I want to spark a fire of hope in the hopeless.

But as of this moment, I have yet to find the path to this service.

The reason is several fold, but I know it is a large part fear of the unknown.

Right now, I’m just trusting that I’ll get there by the route that was intended for me. My way will find me.

When I read this bit in the book though, I stopped for a moment and reread it.

Why does service need to be capacious and earth-shattering?

It doesn’t.

The spirit of service starts small.

It starts at home.

It starts with those with whom we are closest.

To sacrifice a tiny bit of our own desire for the happiness of our spouse, our son or daughter, our mother, father, brother, sister – these small acts of kindness plant seeds in the individual hearts of our family members, but also in the heart of our family as a unit.

So I will try.

I will strive to build a family with a large, thumping heart of service.

And we will start by serving each other.

Then we’ll serve friends and neighbors.

Then we’ll serve strangers.

Then, when the timing is right, it will happen; we will be holding hands with a fellow human being who needs our service like he needs air.

The gift of our sacrifice will blossom in the hearts of us all, and we won’t be able to tell who received the greater gift.

*******

Photo Credit: Original Tea Ceremony Image found here.

Pesto-mole Crostini

At first, I didn’t know what to call this green mash – that is, until my husband called it “pesto-mole”, and I kinda liked the idea.

Before he dubbed it that, I was thinking, “smashed peas and avocado with basil, garlic, and parmesan”.

His name has a better ring to it.

I could call it, “Mom’s Quick Escape” dinner. . . .

Because that’s where the whole idea was born – my Grandma and the dinner she would lay out for her four kids, decades ago, as she hustled around the house readying herself for a night out dancing with Grandpa.

I’ve heard my mom talk about these dinners. It takes close to all the self control she can muster to keep herself from gagging as she recalls the most popular item on the quick-escape menu: smashed cream peas on toast, with a side of mac and cheese.

The main dish involved smashed canned peas and canned cream of something soup.

What didn’t involve canned things in those days? It was the Nineteen Fifties.

I can’t point any judging fingers at Grandma.

I can feel her desire to breeze out that front door on a Friday night to find herself, within minutes, being whisked across a dance floor, quick-stepping her slight little self into the world of grown-ups.

I totally get her willingness to smash brown-ish canned foods together to make a meatless edible-spreadable that counts as dinner.

I can feel her giddiness in the morning as she rolled her long glossy hair into tight curlers and wore them around in anticipation all day long.

I can feel her resolve as her kids might have bickered and complained and stomped around the house at the unfairness of having to do chores, or homework, or shovel snow.

I can imagine the aloof, “Go ahead and pout kiddos – I’m fine with that, because in a few short hours, I will be happily dancing my feet off with a beautiful bouncy coif.”

I can see the kids’ eyebrows raise as they admire their pretty Mamma when she emerges from her room that night in a straight little pencil skirt and a fancy top that only made it out on date-nights.

The table was set, and dinner was served.

Young Gram and Gramp sailed out the door.

My mom’s biggest brother sat smugly in Grandpa’s chair at the dining table, as biggest siblings often do when left in charge.

Her biggest sister sat equally as smug across from him – as second-older siblings often do when left second in charge.

The next younger brother and my mom sat sandwiched between smug older siblings, across from each other.

When that front door closed behind Grandma and Grandpa, the kids watched their parents through the picture window as they picked a safe way through the falling snow to their car. . . and something changed the smugness in big brother’s eyes to mischief.

He plopped a dab of smashed peas on his spoon, delicately balanced it perpendicular on his knife, counted down, and launched it across the room.

It splattered on the wall.

The siblings sat with wide deer-eyes, gaping at the assailed wall and the offending supposedly-in-charge brother.

Silence.

And then, frantically, they all loaded their spoons and flung smooshed peas and cooked macaroni everywhere, EVERYWHERE, in a macaroni and split pea firing frenzy that left them breathless and ogling three walls, a picture window, and a whole ceiling blasted with brownish-green mash and sticky pasta.

Then, all at once, the barrage was over. The ammo was gone. Their dinner was spent and decorating the room. They giggled and sighed, wiping tears away from their laughing eyes and sat back to admire their work – all at once realizing they had to clean it.

They wiped and scrubbed and cleaned and scurried till it was all gone.

No evidence.

And settled in to sleep for the night.

Not a boo was said about it.

Gram and Gramp never noticed. . . until it was time for spring cleaning, that is.

My mom and her sister were on hands and knees in the kitchen, peeling wax off the linoleum floor. Grandma was on tiptoe on top of the dining room table, reaching up to clean the hanging light in the center of the room. If they tried, they could all see each other through a half-wall that separated the two rooms, but they weren’t trying.

They could hear each other. The sisters worked silently, eyes on the floor, building up a sweat and sore arms as they scraped at the wax.

Then they heard Grandma.

“What on earth?”

The girls stop and look at each other.

Grandma continued, “How did this get here?? Maccaroni in the light?!” not a bit of anger in her voice, just pure, baffled wondering.

Big sister silently motioned with wide eyes to Little Sis, “Not a word!!” she said with her sharp finger to her lips. My mom clamped her mouth shut and scrubbed harder.

All three ladies continued working – the months-old macaroni in the dining room light fixture forever a mystery to my grandma.

*****

So this bright green fresh mash of peas and avocado is an ode to my mom. To give her a meal of toast and smashed peas that tempts growling tummies and whets taste buds instead of tripping the gag reflex.

It’s fresh and bright, sweet and salty, and there is no canned soup involved.

Have it as lunch, an appetizer, or add a salad and make it a light summertime dinner – but please, just don’t fling it on the wall.

Pesto-Mole

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe, but firm, avocado - peeled, pitted, and sliced in quarters
  • 1/4 cup fresh, or frozen and thawed, sweet peas
  • 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan (plus extra for garnish)
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (plus extra for optional drizzling)
  • a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh, chopped basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, divided in half
  • Toasted baguette slices and extra slices of Parmesan for serving

Directions

In a medium bowl, combine avocado, peas, Parmesan, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Mash with a potato masher or fork to desired consistency. Fold in basil and 2 tablespoons walnuts.

Toast baguette slices.

Top each slice of toasted baguette with a generous helping of avocado mixture, sprinkle with some of the remaining walnuts and add some extra Parmesan slices. Drizzle with extra olive oil and sprinkle with fresh ground pepper, if desired.

Source

Sara

http://www.wherethecookiesare.com/2012/07/12/pesto-mole-crostini/

Oh! And PS – I almost forgot – this is a fantastic way to store your pesto-mole, or guacamole so it doesn’t go brown. Seal it up tight by rolling it in plastic wrap,  carefully eliminating air bubbles. When you’re ready to use it, just unfold one end, and squeeze it out – like toothpaste (except tastier).