July 28, 2010

Think Happy Thoughts!

It's been so hot! Stepping outside feels like you're instantly covered in a steaming, heavy blanket. But, we are blessed with air conditioning and so we stay inside a lot and think happy thoughts! Thoughts of autumn, cool nights, ahhhhh... I love summer for many reasons, but I've been a girl that hides out from the heat since I was very little - I think it's the Irish blood in me!


First happy thought - these cupcakes that we made for Father's Day. I promised a Maine friend that I would post the recipe and I've finally gotten around to figuring out how I combined and altered two recipes to get a new recipe for these. The recipe for these Lovely Lemon-filled Coconut Cupcakes is on the recipe page. Click the link here, or click the tab up-top.



Second happy thought - finding a recipe for cinnamon rolls that taste like the ones you get in the mall! But these are made in the bread machine and are much less complicated because of that. The recipe comes from a site called "Tasty Kitchen" and it's a great recipe source. This photo is obviously the uncooked rolls, and I thought they were so appealing even at this stage! The recipe also includes instructions for doing these by hand if you don't have a bread machine. They have lots of cinnamon in them and the frosting recipe is quite good, and in my DH's words - "better than just a blob of sugar on top".



Third happy thought - we continue to discover more ways to make wonderful burger toppings! These are made with our grass-feed beef and had fresh oregano added (our only thriving herb at this point - bah!), plus some Romano cheese and crushed fennel seed. The pepper and onion topping was particularly good since it involved reducing some balsamic vinegar.

I reduced about a 1/3 C of balsamic vinegar by heating it gently for around 5 minutes. It starts to look glossy on the sides of the pan when it's ready. It will thicken quite a bit once it's cooled. I ended up with about 2 Tbs. of reduced vinegar in the end. This process intensifies the flavor very nicely and also won't add unwanted liquid to the food your cooking. BTW, if the heat is too high, this will easily scorch.

Then I added the reduced balsamic to this wonderful mess of yellow peppers and red onions and heated it through for another couple of minutes. Very happy meal!




Fourth happy thought - there are more ways to eat fresh corn than just off the cob. In fact there are some really wonderful, simple salads like this one, that are fantastic. This has minced red onion, fresh basil, apple cider vinegar, oil, and S&P - that's it and it was great! I'm sure you could make these salads with frozen or canned corn but it wouldn't be the same as the creamy, sweet flavor of fresh corn. Fresh corn is definitely one of those things I DO like about summer!

Fifth and final happy thought - we have plans t to have lunch on Saturday with my grandmother, my dad and my stepmom! Grandma is 100 and spending time with her is pretty amazing, and my dad and stepmom are visiting from Colorado. Our pastor always speaks some very enriching words during his introduction of communion each Sunday. This past week he told us to look around and realize that God had given us to each other as gifts. I certainly feel that way about my family as well, and I cherish these gifts each day. Happy thoughts for sure!

July 24, 2010

Abundance

We've been on a mission over the past several years to use organic, local, sustainable food as much as possible. It can be a real challenge to find this kind of food, but it's very worth the effort. Lately it's been amazing how many doors have opened for us in this area. We have about 6 reliable sources as of now and that's very exciting to us! And I have to say it's not just the knowledge that the food comes from a better source, the taste difference and quality is often markedly obvious. Here are some examples of what we've been enjoying lately:

What to do with a zucchini? I'm always surprised by this question since you can go in so many directions with it. Above are two extremes - a dark chocolate zucchini cake made from zucchini purchased at our little local farmer's market, and some grilled zucchini using a golden zucchini purchased from the same market. For grilled zucchini, we simply brush on some olive oil, sprinkle on some balsamic vinegar, season with salt and pepper and grill - love it, love it! You can also use zucchini cut in this way (thin, long planks) in place of lasagna noodles for a low carb version of lasagna. Just bake it until a fork easily pierces through the zucchini "noodles", which might be just a smidge longer than you'd bake lasagna with regular noodles.


These two items came from our food coop, IFC. Both of these are from local Iowa farms and both are fantastic. One is an old fashioned bologna ring - not related in any way to Oscar Mayer! The Griffieon Family Farm that produces this antibiotic-free, hormone-free beef bologna has been farming together since 1868. The other is soft, spreadable goat cheese or chevre, flavored with Herbs de Provence, from a goat farm called Northern Prairie Chevre, where the goats are treated like loved children! Their cheese is so rich and flavorful that you only need a little!


The variety of organic, or nearly organic meats that we can get through our coop is another marvelous thing that's hit our kitchen. We made Mediterranean Burgers with ground lamb from Prairie Hill Farm, and feta cheese, again from Northern Prairie Chevre. You can see a little piece of this incredible cheese in the top of the burger. I made them almost according to the recipe that I linked above. You can see the yogurt sauce under the tomatoes and it was made with a cucumber from our farmer's market. We chose fresh tomatoes instead of sun-dried and these too are locally grown on a hydroponic farm called Graddy's, that is pesticide free. Not a completely perfect sub for homegrown organic heirlooms, but a darn site better than something from Mexico!

And here are the VERY local buns that my DH baked for the lamb burgers. They were fresh and steamy in the bread bags when I took this photo, and they were great!


Our last IFC order included these juicy Iowa Chops, which are thick enough to stuff with plenty of corn bread stuffing. This cut of chop is very popular in this pork-loving state, and the flavor of these was amazing. Maybe it's because the people that raised this hog on Crooked Gap Farm believe that pigs should be allowed to graze, root, and wallow rather than being kept in a stinking hog confinement! It doesn't take much imagination to realize that this would have a big impact on the taste.

Those wonderful chops were served with this wonderful corn! Again this year we're blessed with produce that my aunt and uncle share from their big garden here in our town. This was corn that they warned was nearly overripe and might not be quite as good as it should be - are you kidding me????!!!! It was out of this world.


They also shared these lovely red onions from their garden, and these two ended up on a homemade pizza. The flavor of an onion that you pull from the ground and use in short order, is hard to compare to anything else!


Sunrise producers is part of IFC, and they grow this elephant garlic. The nice packaging is a clue about how good it's going to be! I was volunteering at the pick-up site the day this was brought in and I loved how proud this grower was of his garlic. He truly loves what he does and it shows in the way he operates. Elephant garlic is not a true garlic, but part of the onion family. It has a distinct, mild garlic flavor that is so appealing. The clove pictured here was the size of a walnut before I sliced it in half. It becomes almost sweet when it's roasted or sauteed.


These lemon, rosemary potatoes included some of that elephant garlic as well as some of the onions from my aunt and uncle. I got this dish ready for the grill by placing the sliced garlic and onions on a large piece of parchment paper, then layered on the sliced potatoes. They were seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon zest, fresh rosemary (the bit that survived our storm!), and then a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice was poured over the top. The parchment packet was surrounded with a foil pouch and onto the grill - absolutely delicious!


This last bit of abundance we can do without! No wonder we're losing the deer vs. landscape and garden battle - the critters are being born in threes now!!

We've seen mamas with twins several times, but triplets?! Have MERCY - we don't stand a chance!

July 22, 2010

Under and Over the Weather

I've been suffering with a little summer crud for the past couple of days, hence no posts lately. Once I'm caught up in the kitchen - specifically getting some bread made - I'll post some pictures of the wonderful garden eating we've been doing lately and I'll post some recipes on the recipe page.

I think one of the reasons that I came down with the crud is the fact that we have been very sleep deprived lately, thanks to our ridiculous weather pattern! We are over it completely. We've had inches and inches of rain, and no less than three nights over the past week we've been jolted out of our sleep numerous times by our weather radio. We don't dare turn it off however, since we can't be sure of hearing tornado sirens from town. And we've also seen the truth of the statement put out by the National Weather Service - "these strong thunderstorms are capable of producing tornadoes with little or no warning" - so we leave the radio on and try to deal with it. One of those nights we were awakened repeatedly from 12:30AM to 3:30AM, and the end result was a run for the basement! We were told that our town had straight-line winds , but as I read the description at this link, and compared it to what happened on our porch and the huge trees that were again destroyed in town, I really wonder about whether or not we had more of a small tornado - I think the science of making this determination is a little lacking.

We had torrential rain, gusts of wind that made the roof creek, hail, and this mess on our deck. Our large, heavy grill was pulled away from the house, moved to the end of the deck, and spun around to face the opposite direction. The propane tank was tossed across the deck. The chair cushion tote was picked up and dumped, scattering the cushions as well, with one being out on the grass. And most regrettable, the lawn toy container was shot down the length of the deck, where it smashed into our herbs before it hit the railing. Bummer. Fortunately for us, our shelter and protection is greater than what we can achieve in our little old house!
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."
Psalm 91:1-2

July 14, 2010

Stir Crazy Day

90 Degrees at 9:00 AM this morning, and a heat index this afternoon of 108 - yuck! So the blinds have been closed and I feel like I'm in a cave. That's my excuse for making this squirrely post!

The first squirrely thing to share with you are these chicken parts that came with some of our locally produced, organic chicken, that we purchased from the food cooperative that I've been blogging about - IFC. You see here the neck, the back, and another piece that I couldn't identify, so I'll call it the "cluck"! This chicken is so good, and so clean and healthy that even the throw-away pieces are beautiful. I photographed them next to some of my roses to enhance their beauty. Instead of pitching these pieces, I went to the extra little trouble of boiling them down and ended up with a quart of wonderful stock. I pulled the meat off these pieces as well and added that to the stock, though the "cluck" didn't have much to share!


The rest of the chicken pieces were put into a marinade overnight. The marinade recipe came from a cookbook called Taste of Home's Light and Tasty Annual Recipes 2005. (It's no longer available from what I can see on the internet, but the Taste of Home site has some good recipes.) It actually calls for this Sprite as an ingredient, and I thought it was funny to have it on the counter with organic Tamari (notice to my sister - it's gluten free), and organic lemon juice. I kept hearing that Sesame Street song in my head - "Two of these things belong together, two of these things are kinda the same. Can you guess which one of these doesn't belong here?..." I guess being stir crazy makes you have odd thoughts too.


Here's the chicken all tucked up in it's marinade, just waiting to be grilled tomorrow night. I'll be gone most of tomorrow, volunteering at the IFC delivery day. I'll be checking in products as they're delivered from the producers. It will be fun to meet the farmer's and growers that provide all these wonderful things to the members!


These beautiful beets are courtesy of my aunt and uncle's garden. The swirl and the deep colors are delightful aren't they? I'll be roasting them together with some Yukon Gold potatoes tomorrow, to go with the chicken. You're welcome to join us if you can stand a little squirrely behavior on the side!

July 9, 2010

Hard Working Men

I love men who work hard, sweat, and get the job done! It shows quality of character. Here is my DH distributing 12 bales of hay over our big garden. Since we planted very little this year, hay was our solution to keeping the garden clean looking and free from the jungle of weeds that had overtaken it. This was some big job and the heat and hay rash on his arms was no picnic!


But just look how nice and neat it looks - and hopefully appealing to potential buyers one of these days. It'll be ready for the next owners to till under and plant!


He also got busy on this planting bed that's off our lower level patio. We've been meaning to plant here for a long time, but as anyone who's ever moved around knows, you end up doing things for a house sale that you should have done for yourself a long time ago - ugh! You can't see the plants very well in this shot, but there are three different varieties of 1 gallon plants in this bed. We got 9 plants since our local grocery store had them on sale - 3 for $10! There's no excuse for not making your house look nice at that price! And, yes, well... we won't dwell on the fact that the deer already ate and ripped up one of the plants - stinkin', stinkin' deer! Had we only remembered the final step to planting anything here - deer repellent spray!


Here's a very young, hard working man! He's our 13-year-old neighbor whom we've hired to mow our lawn this summer. This has saved my DH so much time, and frees him up to do the million and one other projects on his check list. It takes this young neighbor several hours to mow for us, and he is very reliable and thorough. His dad supervised the mowing the first couple of times. It's a beautiful thing to see a father teach his son how to do a quality job, and to be unafraid of hard work!

July 6, 2010

Summer Salad Suppers

We've been enjoying some fantastic salads this summer and I thought I'd share the pictures and recipes with my cooking-minded family and friends. One of our favorite natural grocery stores in Colorado served a three-salad plate, and that was a frequent treat for our Saturday lunch. They always had such interesting salad choices, many grain or rice based, and many vegetarian. I decided to get out some of our vegetarian style cookbooks and make those kinds of salads this summer - but I do admit that we will sometimes add some grilled chicken or shrimp to these salads! If they seem complicated at first glance, hang in there because it's worth a couple of extra steps! Under these pictures, I put a link to the recipe on the recipe page for each salad.

This is the Watermelon Salad that we had in Hawaii last year. It's from a well known restaurant, and even though I don't have their recipe, we made a list of the ingredients and got as close as we could. We love this, and even though it takes people by surprise, they have all enjoyed it.


This Pear Salad has been one of our daughter's favorite salads for some time now. We tried it out for the first time a number of years ago on some died-in-the-wool Mainers and they loved it! This photo shows the addition of fresh black raspberries, which we don't always have available, but it's a wonderful compliment if you have them. In the fall, we especially like this salad with ripe red pears - mmmmm...


This a Greek Pasta Salad that follows a basic recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special cookbook, and I made several changes and additions. Along with The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, these are two of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks. Each one is so inventive and each has excellent "from scratch" recipes. In this Greek salad, I used the olives as garnish on top, but the rich olive taste will permeate the salad more if you mix them in and let it sit for a while. With the pasta and chickpea combination, this is hearty and satisfying on it's own, but would be a good side dish as well. This is made to be served with feta cheese, which I passed separately to suit each person's preference.



Finally is this Fruited Rice and Lentil Salad with chicken. It too was inspired by a recipe in Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special cookbook. Of course, their recipe does not call for chicken! This has a fantastic dressing that pulls together the flavors of the rice and lentils with the fruit and chicken in a great way. Served with some French bread and a glass of Chardonnay, this is a complete meal and would be so easy for a sophisticated picnic!

Hope you're enjoying your summer and all the fresh fruit and veggies available!

July 4, 2010

Fine Fourth

We've had our girl home for a 4-day weekend and we've had a good deal of fun, as well as a good deal of relaxation. A neighboring town had a very nice fireworks show on Saturday, and I had fun playing with the fireworks setting on my camera - clearly we need to adjust the settings, but these "arsty" shots were still enjoyable! Click on the collage to see just how "artsy" they are - ha! Must get that instruction book out again!


We took some patriotic treats to share at our church BBQ/potluck after Sunday services.


We saw Toy Story 3 - fantastic movie! Funny and touching, and incredibly entertaining. All ages can have a good belly laugh, or two, or three at this one!



We treated ourselves to some seafood at Joe's Crab Shack, which was really good, but made us miss Maine!


And we played this very clever patriotic version of Monopoly. As you move around this board, it reminds you what a great many blessings and freedoms we enjoy!

July 2, 2010

Declaration of Independence Re-visited

We live in a time when our history is being distorted and re-written each and every day. These misrepresentations have been threatening our country and it's citizens for some time now. In order to lift our country from the muck and mire in which we now find ourselves, I believe it is imperative that we all go back to autobiographies, original documents, and the like, and begin relearning what these United States were founded upon. We cannot blindly listen to what we hear in the media or from the mouths of politicians, for they will inevitably bastardize and skew any piece of history that might suit their personal goals. Look, and read carefully for yourselves, and realize that we are a nation founded upon faith, and reliance upon God, and that our government is in place to serve YOU and ME! When you look at the following section from the Declaration of Independence, you begin to remember what our Founding Father's believed, and for what they were willing to fight. May God continue to bless this country and help us all to remember who He is, and who we are.


"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states."

***If you want to begin to study who these founders really were, here is the list of signers. Choose your reading sources wisely, and you will be blessed by learning what these men stood for and believed in, and what amazing sacrifices they made.


New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts:
John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut:
Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania:
Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware:
Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland:
Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia:
George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia:
Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton