Christmas in July Salad

Who doesn’t like the thought of gifts? Pretty much no one. Especially at Christmas. But there is a whole different kind of gift we are given in the summer. That gift is produce. Fruits and veggies burst forth from the earth like a descriptor I feel a little uncomfortable describing… Anyway. This is the best gift I could be given. Those who know me are pretty well acquainted with the fact that I don’t really like giving or receiving gifts. I feel a little awkward about the exchange. It’s never really even at Christmas, and unexpected gifts just make me feel confused and awkward, albeit thankful and loved. The only gifts I enjoy without stigma is the birthday gift. Except that people remember what they got for you and then you are expected to reciprocate…. Oy, all of this is giving me a headache.

Let’s leave it to the simple fact that produce is my favorite gift. Without exception. So, every summer, every farmer’s market, every trip to the fresh section of the grocery store feels like a holiday to me. I’m not really exaggerating, either.

Today, in my quest for food, I stumbled upon making this. It is what I will call Christmas in July Salad. Partially for its beautiful color, partially for the joy that comes from finally digging into this gift of produce.

Christmas in July Salad

1/2 head Romaine lettuce, torn

1/3 C. Long Grain Rice + 2/3 C. Water to prepare

1 Roma Tomato, diced

2 Strawberries, hulled and diced

1 Lemon, zest and juice

1 T. Chives, minced

1 T. Rosemary, minced

2 T. Olive Oil

1 t. Sesame Oil

Salt and Pepper

1. Heat a saucepan with a little olive oil and the sesame oil. Pour in the rice and stir until all the grains are coated. Add water, boil, reduce heat, cover, cook until fluffy. When rice is finished, salt and pepper to taste and put in refrigerator to take the steam off. Cool until whatever temperature you desire. I like my rice still a touch warm. It wilts the lettuce just enough to be silky.

2. Prepare a bed of lettuce by tearing the lettuce into manageable pieces. Toss with some olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and some salt and pepper.

3. Toss together tomato, strawberries, lemon zest, rosemary, and chives in a bowl.

4. Put it all together by layering the rice atop the lettuce. Make a well in the center of the rice for the red fruits to rest in. Slice a lemon to garnish. Enjoy.

Happy eating!

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Potato Corn Salad

We have briefly spoken about my love for all things pasta salad. Potato salad is a different story for me, though. I love a simple food. For some reason, I have this idea that potato salad looks simple in form, but is indeed very difficult in compilation. Too many moving parts and pieces. BUT. That’s not really true. It’s just a cop-out.

Truth is, I only partially like it. Potatoes are fine, but not usually my starch of choice. The problem for me lies in the dressing.

Yes, I know. Most potato salad lovers could bathe in the dressing. It’s what they love most. I just can’t get behind it, however. I generally find it to be too bland or too tangy or too thick or…. you get the idea.

Earlier today I planted my herb garden and did some trimming back to ensure greater success. So, I had some lovely herbs to use right away. And one potato. And an ear of corn that needed to find a dish before it found the trash. I sucked up my slight potato salad diversion and did something so completely different that I may never feel wishy-washy about potato salad again. Here are the goods from the garden:

I began by formulating a dressing I would love. I enjoy a mustard-based dressing. I’m not so wild about a mayonnaise-based one. I find it to have a strange mouth feel and generally boring flavor. However, I know that mustard dressing can have its own flaws. It can be too sharp and tangy and kill the salad. The beauty of any salad is that it is many flavors layered atop each other. These layered flavors should complement each other with ease and grace and leave you wanting more. And you can eat more. Because it is salad. And usually good for you.

Potato Corn Salad

1-2 Potatoes depending upon size and how many you want to feed

1 Ear of Corn

2-3 T. Chives, chopped

2-3 T. Basil, torn

2-3 T. Cilantro, torn

Handful of lettuce, use something light. I used butter lettuce.

Dressing:

3 T. Yellow mustard

1 T. Honey

1 T. Deli/brown mustard

3 T-1/4 C. Olive Oil

1 Small clove of garlic, minced into paste

Pinch of salt, pepper, cumin

1. Cut potatoes into even sized pieces, whatever you desire. Cook them until soft, with a bite. This is not as far as you want to cook them for mashed potatoes. Or that is what you will have. Drain potatoes and put in freezer or fridge to cool.

2. Boil ear of corn just until color starts to brighten. Raw corn is perfectly fine to eat and you want a bit of bite and a bit of sweetness simultaneously. This is achieved by not cooking corn to doneness. Cut the corn off the ear and toss with the cooled potatoes.

3. The dressing is easy. Mostly. If you have ever tried to make hollandaise, mayonnaise or vinaigrette, you have come to compete with the laws of nature. These kinds of dressings are known as Emulsions. There are a few different types. They are easy to “break”. Some do not come back from the broken state, like hollandaise. The key is to whisk quickly while pouring slowly. In this case, start with the yellow mustard and pour the olive oil into it while whisking. This mixture will be your base. Once it has come together and added a bit of volume, you are free to add any other ingredients and begin to season. Any ratio of mustard to oil works, as long as you like the flavor and follow the rules of emulsifying.

The left is obviously broken. But the one on the right is lovely. I saved some because it will be a lovely honey mustard dipping sauce in the future.

4. Toss the potato and corn with the dressing. Taste and season for salt. Add the herbs and toss. Taste once more for a balanced palate. Serve atop the lovely bed of greens you prepared earlier.

Happy creating!

The Herb Garden

Okay, so it’s not a garden. It’s a window box with options.

3 days ago I watched a documentary that I cannot stop talking about. No. I mean, really. My friends and family are probably ready for me to shut up about it. But, tough luck.

The film Ingredients inspired me to a level that I haven’t been inspired in a while. There are things I have been interested in and have even been a natural part of my growing up process, but I have never considered them to be a “life path”. These things I would be speaking of are in the general “gardening, eating local, farmer’s market” genre. If you can’t tell that I’m that sort by the way this blog is shaping up, well…I don’t know what to tell you.

ANYWAY, Ingredients was all about farming and the local community. It was about teaching kids to garden and eat the vegetables they’ve grown. It was about our health and well-being as individuals and as a society. It was about a new way of living that is, in fact, a very old way of living. It was about the way things SHOULD be done and what some very fantastic (albeit few and far between) people are doing about it.

There are so many things I could say about the particulars of how it inspired me, but I think the post would go on far too long to keep your attention. Let’s say the inspiration went from a very large, hopeful, thought-provoked pile of long-term ideas all the way down to right now, today, this minute. And what I could do with today.

What I did with “today” was plant an herb garden. I have grown a few herbs in the past, but I didn’t really know what I should be growing and what I would actually use. I didn’t know the best way to take care of them. Then I moved. I started over with Basil and Cilantro but my Cilantro didn’t do so well. Now that my Basil has turned into a lovely and hearty plant, I thought it an appropriate time to start afresh.

Here’s my picture book:

After a little hesitation, I decided to add my Basil in with the bunch. I was afraid of crowding them. However, it worked out well because I had barely enough soil, even with the Basil. I will also be moving again soon, so having them all in one container makes for easier transportation.

Herbs are so inexpensive and great for adding a little bit of organic flavor to anything you are whipping up in the kitchen. Go buy some and let that green thumb of yours have a little fun!

Happy planting!

Green & White Pasta Salad

I am a bit of an odd duck. I’m okay with this. I know this. It does not surprise me when I do something others find to be…different. To this end, it is also why I am brilliant. (I’m not that brilliant, but for the sake of blogging and the fact that you don’t know me, let’s pretend I am.) So, I constantly find myself in the kitchen saying “what can I do with…?” and naming off anywhere between 3-17 random ingredients, which is how this all began…

Today I was the recipient of some very fresh, wonderfully delightful mint. I also grow basil at home. I was trying to think of how to use my herbs to the best of their ability when I remembered I had an untouched cucumber in the fridge. 10 minutes later, I was thinking, whisking, concocting, seasoning, and in the end, enjoying a lovely new summer salad.

I imagine this would be great with dill instead of mint, or fennel instead of onion, or lemon instead of lime juice, etc. That is THE THING I love most about pasta salad. It’s simplicity and versatility keeps me coming back.

Green & White Pasta Salad

2 C. Pasta – my preference was a basic egg noodle

1 Cucumber

1/4 C. Onion

For the dressing:

3 T. Lime Juice

1/4 C. Olive Oil

2-3 T. Mint, minced

2-3 T. Basil, minced

1 t. Honey

Pinch of salt and pepper

Optional: a few drops/dollops of… (I added all 3)

  • Green Tabasco
  • Sesame Oil
  • Horseradish

1. Cook your pasta properly. That means bringing your water all the way up to a boil before you drop in your pasta and using a healthy amount of salt (about  1 T per cup of pasta…yes, that much).

2. Peel, de-seed, and halve the cucumber. Slice both cucumber and onion paper-thin. Toss with the pasta and refrigerate.

3. For the dressing, combine everything in a mortar and pestle. My measurements are guesstimates since I just made it up. Season to taste, toss with pasta mixture and refrigerate.

Remember, if it’s “missing something”, chances are, you need to up the salt content. There’s no need to go overboard with salt, but it is also easy to forego, thinking that it’s not important. However, salt balances the palate and brings flavors to life.

Happy eating!

Recycle, Damn It!

Today I went for a stroll around my sometimes lovely, sometimes seedy, neighborhood. While I was out, I grabbed an iced tea from a local place. It made me wonder why more “to go” cups aren’t labeled with a “Please Recycle” reminder.

At least this is one thing Starbucks has going for them; they do what they can to make their waste as earth-friendly as possible (by instilling the 3-bin system). Then I wondered, why aren’t paper and plastic cups a little more demanding? “Recycle, damn it!” is what I would choose. Obviously, this is not your poor recyclable cup’s fault. We can look to big business here. Actually, big or small, choosing cups with a simple reminder cannot be that much more expensive. Or can it?

Then again, I wonder if a printed reminder really helps at all. Those who recycle do not need a reminder, and those who don’t need a swift kick in the ass probably won’t. However, there are a few in the crossroads who may be persuaded by this friendly printed reminder. So, perhaps, this post is actually just a reminder, to those of us who care about the cause, to be a little bit louder (notice that I did not say “obnoxious”…) to our friends in the crossroads about the reasons that recycling really matters.

Happy recycling!

Listen

No matter where and what you choose to create with your energy, I notice there are two kinds of people. There are Music Listeners and Music Forgetters. Music Listeners don’t do anything without a steady stream of tunes within earshot. Music Forgetters, however, get moving in a direction and then suddenly it dawns on them that they are without any kind of listening stimulation. This is where I fall. I would guess that you would be hard pressed to find anyone who does not at least remotely like music. So, it is not that we, the Music Forgetters of the world, dislike music. It is usually much more complicated. Usually we have so much information or so many thoughts going on that, truthfully, we don’t notice the lack of music until we have slowed down a bit. This is not a bad thing.

No matter where you find yourself, I would encourage you to switch it up while you are creating. If you listen to music instinctively, take time to be quiet and let whatever comes to the surface guide you. And if you tend to forget the music, turn it up intentionally. Maybe you’ll find it frees your mind a little bit to get lost in the music instead of your thoughts.

I just stumbled upon this song today thanks to She Blogs About Music:

Happy listening!

Trail Mix/Everything Cookie

Let’s be really honest here. We all “sort of” like trail mix. There is always the thing you like better than the other thing, even though you don’t actually dislike the other thing at all. You just really, really, really like the first thing. And you eat it all. The entire bag of trail mix is picked through so you can guarantee that you have found every last morsel of the thing you really, really like. Probably for most of us, it’s the chocolate. But there are a select few who actually the prefer the raisins and the nuts and the whatever else you threw in there.

And then, what do you do with the bag of trail mix? If you are me, this is how it goes:

1. I get bored with snacking on everything else, so I make some rad trail mix. 

2. I get an intense chocolate craving and realize I have none in the house. Except…in my one baggie of trail mix…

3. The now chocolate-less trail mix sits for days, being passed over time and again for a more, um, interesting snack. 

Exactly. It sits for days, all lonely and sad. And you won’t add more chocolate to it because, really, you learned your lesson. Until the next bag of trail mix you choose to create.

But the other day, I was, again, looking for something sweet. And something to create. (You will see these are themes in my life.) I had no chocolate in the house, but I did have the leftover trail mix. And the Trail Mix Cookie was born.

Trail MIx Cookie

1 1/4 C. All-Purpose Flour

1 C. Whole Wheat Flour

1 1/2 t. Salt

1 t. Baking Soda

1/2 t. Nutmeg (optional)

1/4 C. Olive oil*

1 t. Vanilla Bean Paste**

3/4 C. White Sugar

3/4 C. Brown Sugar***

2 Eggs

1 C. Trail Mix leftovers****

I’m going to assume you’ve made cookies before and not tell you every last detail of how to mix the cookie. But it’s basically like this:

1. Dry ingredients -separate bowl. Sift (I whisk).

2. Wet ingredients – mixer. Then eggs one by one.

3. Dry into wet alternately. Then add trail mix.

4. Un-greased baking sheet. Bake at 375F for 12-15 minutes.

I use a metal portion scoop that is all purpose for me. It’s a size 24, which means it is large enough to scoop ice cream but small enough for baked goods. (M/L Cookie = 1 scoop, L Muffin = 1.5 scoops) If you don’t have a portion scoop, use a heaping tablespoon to measure out.

* You may have noticed these cookies use olive oil. I am intentionally moving away from using butter and now bake all my cookies with olive oil. I love it. The cookies end up kind of crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. They over-bake quickly, though. Keep an eye on them and take them out when they are slightly set on top. I recommend (carefully) moving them to a cooling rack pretty quickly because they can become difficult to remove after cooling. 

** If you have never heard of or used Vanilla Bean Paste, go find some. It is interchangeable with extract and bean on a 1-to-1 ratio. I could probably write an entire post on why I love it. But I won’t. 

*** I don’t buy brown sugar because it is just as easy, and less expensive, to make when you need it. I found that about a tablespoon of molasses per cup of sugar works for light brown sugar. But you can adjust it as you like it. 

****For trail mix leftovers, use anything you can imagine. Experiment here. That is the beauty of this cookie. My trail mix happened to have peanuts, pistachios, raisins, currants, grape nuts, and cinnamon. Keep in mind that if your trail mix is fairly salty, you may want to cut down the salt in the recipe accordingly. Also, I don’t like huge chunks in my cookies, so I ran mine through a food processor until they were a size I liked.

Happy creating!

love the earth.

I am a fan of using things until the last drop. I am also a fan of using things that are left over in creative ways to make something new. This is how I try not to waste. A long time ago the phrase “Haste makes waste” popped into my head. I’m not sure if it was original or stolen from someone else. The point is, it is true. The more often we slow down, the more there is left over. I find this concept to be true whether I am eating (fast eaters tend to consume more food in less time) or just truly waiting until everything in the jam jar or shampoo bottle really is gone before throwing it away and buying another or even taking an extra minute to clean out a recyclable instead of throwing it into the trash. What’s interesting about this is that I am not an environment freak. Up until about 3 or 4 years ago, I barely even thought about recycling. Well, except when I was a kid learning to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.

In 2008, I lived overseas in a community (with a bunch of other Americans, primarily). We were from all over the states and a few from the country I lived in. But they all had different experiences with things like composting and recycling. There was one girl who was avid about the cause and it leaked into our community in the best possible way. Since then, it has become a natural part of my thinking. And as of about a year ago, when I moved to a much more environmentally focused city, I began my own practice of recycling. I also began working in the food industry and was basically disgusted to see how much food was unnecessarily thrown away because it was just for knife skills practice or wasn’t made exactly correctly. And it went in the trash.

While I was growing up, I was told to try everything at least once. I appreciate this now. When I was eating Three Bean Salad at age 10, not so much. But I digress. I was also told that I had to finish everything on my plate. As an adult, I realized there were many things about these seemingly small mealtime rules that formed many things in me. On the negative side, I became an over-eater whose eyes were bigger than my stomach. But on the positive side, I learned to become an open-minded eater who also, over time, learned to take a little less. I could come back for more if I wanted.

These experiences are culminating into something now. They are re-creating me into someone who cares about the end result. I was thinking earlier that humans are wired to want ‘more’. We are drawn like a magnet to money. When we can’t pay our bills, we look towards the time when we will make more money so that we can meet our needs. When we finally get there, we want more so that we can entertain ourselves. And it grows and grows from there until we lose it all or die. Or, for the fortunate few, until we finally want ‘less’ because we know that too much may eventually ruin us. I wonder when we will finally look around at what we have and think “it is enough”.

I think this is where I am going. Learning to be content even when it may feel as though I don’t have enough yet. I think this is the basis for loving the earth. We don’t need Hummers and extra portions of cow on our plates and throwing away the shampoo bottle with 5 washes left in the bottle because you want a new kind. I am not going to say what kind of way you should live. Except to say that we should all be trying our best to live rightly, love the earth and be content to say that “it is enough”.