Thursday, July 31, 2014

So Many Ways with Tomatoes

Really, we practically eat fresh tomatoes three meals a day in summer.  They are just so good, fast, and versatile.

Here are some old favorites and new discoveries.

Panzanella, Italian bread salad.  I had heard of this before, but Jane made it look totally accessible and delicious.  I didn't even bother to write down her recipe, but just tasted as I went along.  To make sure the bread has a sturdy texture,  I usually toast it a bit before I chop it.  The flavors of this salad remind me strongly of bruschetta, another summer favorite.

Here's a retro favorite:  tomato slices with dollops of mayonnaise and a sprinkle of sugar and salt (and I hotted it up with freshly ground pepper).

on the porch at the beach cottage
Sliced tomatoes with eggs and toast, an interesting discussion we had a few years back.

Another old favorite with a new twist: caprese salad.  But this time, I just used a mild white cheese because I didn't have any mozzarella.  Still wonderful.

More from the archives:

my version of redeye gravy
fabulous tomato gravy
lettuce-tomato with beef
10-minute all-in-one supper (and don't forget its cold cousin, tomato sandwiches:  good bread, mayo, salt, pepper, and tomato slices)

How are you eating tomatoes these days?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Oh, Jeni

You have changed my dessert life.  Well, probably my whole flavor life.  I never knew that basil ice cream could be so perfect.  Or that corn on the cob needed to be in ice cream.  Oh, Jeni.  You are a genius with flavors.  Every time I doubt, you prove me wrong.  I love looking at the flavor pairings you suggest.  Of course an olive oil cake and a Parmesan tuile sounds perfect with sweet basil ice cream studded with pine nut pralines.  Of course!  Absolutely I should eat baked rhubarb frozen yogurt with Champagne. But I would never think of these things on my own.

sweet corn with black raspberry sauce on the left, sweet basil with pine nuts on the right

And your ice cream recipes give such a luscious texture.  Truly, I think your ice cream recipes make the best ice cream ever and I'm not biased because it's home food that I made.  I really think you are a genius.  One of these days I am going to drive through Ohio in search of a Jeni's shop so I can see if what I make in my kitchen is just like yours. But in the meantime, I am so very satisfied with black coffee ice cream, the Buckeye State ice cream, Bangkok peanut, and why have I not tried the beet ice cream yet?  It has mascarpone, orange zest, and poppy seeds in it -  I know I can trust you.

My friend Christy and I spent a long time discussing your recipes recently.  Christy had family over for an ice cream parlor experience with four of your flavors and pretzels.  Isn't that fun?

 I'm taking your book to a friend soon, and I can think of about three more friends that I should buy it for.  Thank you, Jeni, for generously sharing your knowledge with the rest of us.


Monday, July 28, 2014

A Cottage Clothespin Bag

The clothespins at the beach cottage were in a Ziploc bag.  Not only very unattractive, but not easy to maneuver with a clothesline and wet towels.  I proposed to my mother-in-law that I make a clothespin bag.  It was pure fun. To make it cottage-sized, I used a child's plastic hanger.   I limited myself to my small-scraps box to piece the exterior.  For fun, I used a decorative machine stitch in aqua on several seams.

 Might have to make some hotpads in those delicious sherbet colors. . . 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The July Garden

First, you must understand that I have only photographed the nice things that are growing, okay?  I'm going to tell you about the bad parts, but I can't bear to take pictures of them.

bay tree

mint in old pot courtesy of Genevieve
First, the bad:

A number of tomato plants, volunteer and commercially grown, have wilted dramatically in what I assume is blight.  It's definitely not a watering issue.  I have carefully pulled out the offenders as soon as possible and bagged them up for the trash.  The blight spores can fly through the air and poison other tomato plants, so it's important to be a golden-rule gardener.  I also read (too late!) that soil that has been contaminated by blighted tomatoes should not be used to grow tomatoes for two years.  I've been growing tomatoes in the same spots for several years now.  Whoops.

growing. . . for now

Now my pretty little French melon vine has wilted dramatically, too.  No sign of powdery mildew, so apparently, Rebecca says it's probably squash-borers.  I really can't bear to speak about this more - let's change the subject. . . .

to my struggling herbs in their too-wet bed, and my stunted raspberries in their too-shallow bed.  Here's some hope:  I'm going to switch their beds this fall!

And more hope:  the green beans and peppers are growing nicely!  I sprinkled some epsom salts around all the veggies yesterday (thank you, Pinterest).  I've also been grinding up my empty egg shells and sprinkling the powder in the soil for calcium.

My front porch pots are doing famously.

a surprising coleus volunteer in the back - winter savory in the front

The back yard looks like a weedy mess if you're accustomed to manicured suburban lawns, but the front porch pots look beautiful and they supply us with herbs!  Rebecca just gave me the brilliant idea to put a few herb sprigs and a chunk of citrus or cucumber in the water pitcher for a lovely flavored water.  This is winter savory and lime.  We love it, especially the children because they can make it themselves and there's no limit on how much they can drink.

I've been drying sprigs of sage, thanks to my friend A.  She picked up the Middle Eastern custom of swishing a sage sprig in a cup of hot black tea with sugar.  It's divine.

I'm formulating a garden plan for next year:  no tomatoes, to give the soil a chance to recover, but lots of cucumbers and green beans and maybe a squash or two.  Concentrate on herbs, because I really want more sage and tarragon.  And bees - I'd love to add bees.

(linking up with pretty/happy/funny/real and hoping Leila doesn't mind that I was rather casual about the categories)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Gazpacho Discovery

We came back from vacation to a forgotten tomato and cucumber salad in the fridge.  I make variations on the theme all summer long:  sliced cucumbers, sweet onion, tomatoes, dressed with a little vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and usually a few snippets of basil.  Sometimes I use lemon instead of vinegar.  Sometimes I add bell pepper or subtract another vegetable.  Whatever.  The only problem with this salad is that it is best eaten fresh; leftovers can get mushy.

In this case, I had a sudden idea at 6 am : what if I stuck my immersion blender in the leftover salad and called the result gazpacho?  It looked reasonable when it was done, so I packed it into my honey's lunchbox.  That evening, I asked him how he liked his gazpacho and he was quite enthusiastic.  Score!  Hooray for a salad that morphs into a summer soup!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Genevieve Helps with Bread

Recently, Genevieve wandered into the kitchen while I was working the bread dough.
She wanted to help.
 I let her.

 That may sound like a straightforward request and response, but in my kitchen, that scenario is the result of scheduled cooking lessons last year.  I thought the lessons were something I would repeat this summer, but somehow, those formal lessons just unlocked the kitchen for both the children and me.

We approach cooking much more organically this summer, responding to recipe requests and spontaneous helpfulness and interest.  Genevieve found a coconut bread recipe in a book.  Ben wanted to make chocolate cake.  As supper helpers, they choose herbs, taste for salt, select condiments, and suggest menus. Genuine cooks! It's great fun to have my older kids in the kitchen.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Review: The Little Oratory

I read The Little Oratory while we were camping, cozied up in my flannel shirt next to the fire while the birds sang and the flies buzzed.  Finally, I'm getting around to posting my review, illustrated with random summer photos.

I was asked to review the book by Sophia Press, even after I told them I am a Protestant, a Mennonite to be exact.  They sent me the book in exchange for my review, so although I received the book for free, my opinions are my own.

I didn't know what a "little oratory" was before I read this book.  It is a home altar, an icon corner, a little spot of prayer at home.  I like that, although the more I read The Little Oratory, the more Mennonite I became.  From the recent fascination of Mennonites with high church practices, I know a little bit:  vespers, Lent, Advent, lectio divina, etc.  My mother and some of her sisters love to go to a Jesuit monastery for retreats and spiritual direction.  I come across this Catholic vocabulary in Leila's book and see its place in the larger setting.  But the larger setting is quite overwhelming and complex to this Mennonite.

My family doesn't have a prayer corner.  We sometimes read a Bible story book and sing together after supper. We usually pray before meals. Every night, I lay my hands on my children and bless them at bedtime.  And that's it.  We could benefit from some more spiritual practices, for sure.

The Little Oratory is quite encouraging for Catholics.  There is Leila's friendly, commonsense tone speaking directly to the reader (it's written in second person, "you").  I love the details of beeswax polish on page 33 and the actual order of the objects in the prayer corner on page 27.  I think I need to start a prayer intention journal, such as the one described on page 44.

I'm impressed with the clear (to this Mennonite) explanations of theology and the underpinnings for the little oratory.  Leila and her co-author, David Clayton, do not take the easy way of assuming that all their readers understand the need and genesis for a little oratory.  They go back to the essentials of a relationship with God and start from there.

An editorial quibble: I am not fond of the generic examples using "he" and "mankind" as I think this kind of language forms our ideas about who we are.  If a singular pronoun must be used, I would prefer to switch back and forth between genders and use "people" instead of "mankind."

I am a major fan of Leila's blog, Like Mother, Like Daughter.  I love the natural warmth and frank talk over there.  It's so hopeful to be cheered on by someone who admits she doesn't know what to do with a weedy yard or a dark kitchen or a house to clean.  There's the same cheering-on in The Little Oratory.  I'm sure Catholic readers will find it quite a blessing.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Best Method for Hard-Cooked Eggs

I tried pricking a hole in fresh eggs and putting baking soda in the water to make fresh eggs easy to peel after hard-boiling.  But Rebecca came across the best, simplest method:  steam the eggs.
my grandmother's steamer, curled up in its nest of bowls

 Just put the eggs over cold water in a metal basket or other steamer, cover, and bring a boil.  Boil for 15 minutes.  Place eggs in cold water until cool enough to peel.

The shells practically slide off and the yolk is a gorgeous yellow with no olive-green ring (a sign of overcooking). I love that this method also uses less water.  

Lots of eggs in the fridge right now from generous farmer friends! I'm thinking of mustard eggs or dill eggs.  Or just simply adding them to any summer vegetable meal.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Supper Helpers

(I have been absent here as I struggle with my new laptop (and then lounge on the beach for a bit). But I have persevered with the laptop and I'm convinced I will never get Alzheimer's because of all the new computer things I forced myself to tackle. But I'm back!  Blogging from a new laptop with photos!)

There were a number of times during the school year that I lost my temper because not a single child in this house could manage to set the table without my endless prompting and cajoling and (then) yelling.  We all felt bad.

I had the idea to call a child to set the table before I started cooking dinner, but I kept getting deep into supper prep before remembering this plan.

Vietnam fried rice
Then I had another idea:  a supper helper.  This child would enter the kitchen with me when I started cooking supper.  This child would fetch and carry and do any simple job in supper prep and somewhere in the process, set the table.  The children would take turns doing this.  I wrote it on the wipe-off sheet on the fridge so everyone could check who was the supper helper.

Ben prepares the snow peas
It has been working beautifully.  Perhaps it's the individual attention or the addition of kitchen prep jobs to the setting table job, but the children have positive attitudes about being supper helpers.  And they are truly helpful.  They find things in the fridge and pantry for me, fill pots with water, wash vegetables, run out to the yard for some herb sprigs, or take the bunny his vegetable scraps.  And glory-be they set the table without a fuss.

I love that they are learning first-hand the work and pleasure of getting meals on the table. I've been far more casual about cooking lessons because they often take on a cooking task as a supper helper.

Here's Genevieve making guacamole to go on black bean bowls. Wasn't she proud to ask her daddy how he liked the quacamole tonight?