Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Thing of Beauty

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder....

On a cloudy, almost raining day, I gazed out my family room window and realized that on days like today - overcast, rain threatening (again!), unseasonably cool, those little things in life seem even more glorious than ever.  I realized that on beautiful summer days, the sky blue, the sun shining, I tend to overlook some of the more dramatically beautiful things in my own back yard...

Like future pesto.....

And THRIVING cilantro, the photo of which came out blurry as I was shedding tears of joy at my triumph...

"You like me! You really, REALLY like me!!!"

The first baby summer squash.....
Mmmm...grow fast, little one! So I may sliced you up, drizzle you with olive oil and saute' you for dinner.....

Piles of marigold flowers...standing one by one, sure, they're pretty, but after being plucked (without permission) by a four year old and piled on the patio table, the colors are truly astounding...

Cool Coleus!
My mother-in-law, while she adored flowers, was always appreciative of foliage - this was one of her favorites.

And THIS is one of my favorites...

My favorite color is the one that you're not sure if it's blue...or purple.  I love this color!

And in that oh-so neglected corner of the yard, where weeds run rampant and some grow to eight feet tall, a surprise sprouted sometime over the past few weeks....
Which is why I rarely weed....you never know what you might be destroying.

Close up, it's even more beautiful...
I do remember planting this, but it was several yards away...ah, the mystery of backyard life!

And further on down the yard is a rose bush.  I remember planting it, then forgot about it.  This year we dug up and handed to a neighbor an overgrown wisteria that never did take well in our shady yard.  Without that, and without our giant maple, I came upon this....

And what would an essay on beauty be without mentioning Bubbles...
(which, by the way, was Daddy's nickname for her as an infant, when she was constantly blowing cute little spit bubbles...)

...And of course, Best Friends!

And perhaps the most astonishingly beautiful thing I have seen...

The Quilt Square (?)
Complete with oil-slick trimming along the coast...and state borders.  (Huh?  If it's so plentiful, then why am I paying $2.65 a gallon???)  I ditched the birds.  They scared me.  The square came out fine.  Not what I had in mind - I tend to have big ideas that don't fit on a 9" x 9" square of cloth...but I feel I redeemed myself by putting a recipe for Boston Cream Pie on my "Memory Book" page....a recipe that I think shall make an appearance on this blog....some day....SOON!

And because I like people to walk away from my blog with a smile, I leave you with this.....

(No, it's actually straight...I cock my head and say "Aw!" every time I see this photo, so THAT's why it's crooked!)

Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

That's It! We're MOVING!!!!

Can you guess what those two red blobs are?
I'll give you a hint:  They make me want to move to New Mexico.  Or maybe Kansas.  Someplace with clean-cut, smooth borders.

They're supposed to be Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.  And as I was trying in vain to cut them out, I said words that rhyme with "Nantucket".... A LOT.

Why I even bothered to cut these tiny fragments of fabric out is beyond me....I could have simply used a drop or two of my blood...

Anyone wanna buy an island?

Well, I suppose I'm joking!

This is pretty much my "New England" quilt square:

And despite the fact that Martha and her Vineyard tried to kill me, despite the fact that my original Maine - after going cross-eyed cutting out that rocky coastline - was, um...backwards!  And that's not meant to be an insult to my friends and relatives in Maine...that's more like a "tsk tsk" to one not-so-bright marvelously mundane woman in Massachusetts who (duh!) traced her Maine template incorrectly, and despite the fact that my original Connecticut's fabric was too similar to my background fabric...

Despite all those things, I think I'll stay.

It needs some embellishment, but I'm not sure where to go with that just yet.

I did pick up these feathered friends...

Massachusetts and at least one other New England state lists the Black-capped Chickadee as their official state bird.  The one on the right looks like he's ready to swoop down and gobble up my Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, though, so I might save them for another use!

I think I'll be making a second quilt block...and this one involved no swearing at all...

Well, except during childbirth nearly four years ago! :)

This photo is one of my favorites of my little "Punkin", and was my Allrecipes avatar for a year or so, so I think it would be a good contribution to the quilt.  I may let Punkin decorate that one.

I'm still nursing my wounds! :)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My New Allrecipes Favorite...

This was dinner tonight...

Honestly, pasta and roasted vegetables are one of my favorite combinations.

And not only was this my new favorite Allrecipes discovery, but the bonus was I had pasta for the first time in about 3 weeks!  Course, it was Dreamfields low-glycemic something or other, but it tasted sooooo good.  Especially alongside this...

As usual, I did put a little twist on the recipe - using a nice assortment of veggies - and let me say this is one delicious meal!  Even without the pasta!  I can't wait for my garden to start producing, because I have most of these ingredients growing there.

Here's a quick rundown of what I did....

Cast of Characters:
 Shredded parmesan, mozzarella, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, garlic, spinach, white mushrooms, chopped marinated artichokes, portabella mushroom caps.

Salt, pepper, oregano and garlic powder were extras.

First, use a spoon to gently scrape the gills from the mushroom.  I also cut off the stems.
In a small bowl combine about a tablespoon of balsamic, tablespoon of olive oil, clove of garlic and some pepper.
Mix it up and hand your sous chef a pastry brush, instructing her to paint the tops of the mushroom caps.
In a baking dish, drizzle a bit of olive oil, then place the balsamic painted mushroom caps, top down, in the dish.  The original recipe calls for marinating them, but I like just the touch of balsamic flavor that a quick brushing provides.  They "marinate" long enough while you prepare the other ingredients.

Tell your sous chef to quit slacking and peel and chop a little eggplant, as well as chop a few spare white mushrooms.
My sweetie trained at the Play-Doh academy, so her butter knife skills are well-honed.

Heat some oil in a skillet and add the mushrooms and eggplant.

Before I knew it, mini-me had deftly sliced and diced some zucchini and summer squash.
(Um, no, I'm kidding.  I did most of the work!)

Add them to the eggplant and mushrooms in the skillet - I added a bit of a salt, pepper and dried oregano, too.

Oh, and by the way, I feel this recipe is a perfect one to experiment with a "little of this, little of that" technique.   A little more or less of anything - except maybe overdosing on the balsamic - won't ruin this one!  Such a versatile recipe...you could stick with one or two veggies, or go a little crazy like me.

Rip up some fresh spinach, discarding any tough stems like we found in here.
Rinse it and add to the skillet....
...and fold into the other vegetables until the spinach is pretty wilted, but not totally cooked.
Mmmm.  I could make a meal out of that!

But instead, I wisely opted to fill the mushroom caps with the mixture.  (and I sprinkled a little garlic powder on the inside of the caps before stuffing them...just because)
Top with a little mozzarella - you could use more, but I'm counting calories and just started adding some dairy back into my diet, so let's not get carried away!
Chop a couple tomatoes - you can seed or not seed.  I've also used canned in this recipe.  I opted to seed them this time.

Wait a minute.  I could have sworn there was another tomato wedge there a minute ago...
What are you doing?
Silly girl!

Take WHAT'S LEFT OF the tomatoes, chop them and divide between the mushroom caps, then do the same with some chopped arthichokes.

Sprinkle with parmesan.

Bake at 350F for 15 to 20-ish minutes, depending on the thickness of your mushrooms.  You're really just heating them through a bit.

This is the finished product....
You can serve as is, or with a little side of angel hair pasta - I scooped up some of the "fallen" veggies and topped the pasta with them and some more parmesan.

My assistant was too exhausted to eat...or too full of tomatoes! ;)

Thank you Allrecipes!!! 

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A New England Tradition

I was beginning to panic as I started to see all those quilt block photos being posted over on Allrecipes.   

If you don't know what I'm talking about, the AR Community is putting together a quilt - anyone who wants to can chip in a quilt block or two, and in the end there will be a drawing to select who gets the finished product.  Might even be a traveling quilt, which I think would be cool!

While I love quilts, have a friend that sews and quilts beautifully, and have even lent her a hand on occasion, my talents involving needle and thread are still in their infancy.  My original plan was to cross-stitch, something I'm MUCH more comfortable with, some pretty lilac (sigh!) pattern, as the subject of my block.  I found a gorgeous pattern on-line, ordered it, skipped into the house from the mailbox...and then realized I would have to come up with something else.  While it's a gorgeous pattern, it will take me about 6 years to complete, it is so intricately detailed.  This I know to be true.

So it was back to the drawing board.  What could I do that represents me or where I'm from?  I've lived in Massachusetts all my life, and I always will.  I started thinking about Massachusetts and my favorite things about where I live...

"Pumpkins, cranberries and fall apple-picking!  
Cape Cod, and clam bakes, and Sox when they're winning!
Soft serve with jimmies (you call them sprinkles).
These are a few of my favorite things!

Homemade clam chowdah, and pahking my caaaahhhh..."

I hate when I lose my R's....

Anyway, it's not really just Massachusetts I love.   We have pure maple syrup....mine usually comes from Vermont.  And blueberries grow wild everywhere here....but I drive four hours into Maine to get wild Maine blueberries in season.  From where I live in central Massachusetts, the other New England states are between a 20 minute to two hour drive away, and while they all have their own specialties and their own claims to fame, they all feel like home to me.  Kind of like in your house you have a kitchen, a living room, a dining room, a bedroom or two, a porch...well, I've got six states.

So that's my plan for my quilt block - New England.  If all goes well (or not, because you know how I love to laugh at myself!) I'll post a pic soon.  Meanwhile, my excitement over my New England theme got me reminiscing about my childhood, family gatherings, summer vacations at the beach...and since my husband was working tonight, and tomorrow is Father's Day, my gift to him was for me to make this for dinner...

I'll give you a hint:  It's something he would never, ever, EVER eat.

And here is the most important ingredient:

Johhnycakes, you say?  Nope. But that is a Rhode Island thing, like celery salt on your hot dogs.

Here's a couple more clues:

Buttah.  Gahlic.  Cheap Beer. (The "r" is silent in beer, by the way.)
(Tomatoes are just for show.  And Cabot butter and cheese from Vermont is one other reason to love New England.)

Give up?  
OK, this is the final clue.

They're called clams!  Although, when I went to the fish market today I didn't buy "clams", I bought steamers.  (Again, the "r" is silent).  Growing up, THIS is the only kind of clam I knew.  I suppose you'd call them soft-shell clams, although they're not soft and may cut you if you step in a broken one barefoot.  

Now, I know some folks won't be into this.  I've grossed out a few visitors or dining companions before, so I'll tell you when to close your eyes.  Don't worry, I have yet to gather the courage to try sushi or cow tongue yet, so I feel your pain.

First things first, when you buy your clams you want to rush them home, place them in a big pan or baking dish and cover with water - ocean water, if you're near the beach, but I use fresh water.  Sprinkle a fair amount of corn meal over them.  Trust me.  Gritty clams are like nails on a chalkboard to me.  They are alive and will ingest the cornmeal which will"clean them out".  (I told you it was important!)

Are you grossed out yet?  Oh, it gets better, my darlings!

Stick the pan in the refrigerator for at least two hours...we've done it as long as 24 hours, and I think I heard if you use ocean water you can keep them there up to 48 hours, but you might want to Google that to confirm...like I said, I use fresh water.

First things first, clams take like five minutes to cook, so start melting your Cabot butter. 
Meanwhile, in a large stockpot, pour in enough water to cover the clams by about an inch, then add your beer...
Then the rinsed clams...
And a somewhat smashed clove of garlic...one big one or two normal sized ones.
Now, there may be some dispute here...some people bring the water to a boil, then dump the clams in.  My Uncle Jim always started them in cool water, poured in the beer, let the clams mellow out a bit, then gradually turn up the heat.  So that's what I do.  And don't waste your Guinness on this, folks.  Traditionally, we used Schaefer or Schlitz.  The water:beer ratio is probably going to be 4:1 anyway, so pick a beer that Canadiens laugh at.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Boil for about 4 or 5 minutes.  

WARNING!!! WARNING!!!  Scroll down slowly in case you're not ready for this....

This is them done - you can tell, because the shells are open.  If you have any that are still closed up, toss 'em.  They're no good.  

Remove from heat, BUT DO NOT STRAIN THEM! Transfer the clams to a large serving dish with a slotted spoon.  Then, through a coffee filter (or for larger batches, paper towel lined) strainer, strain the broth.
(Or not.  Uncle Jim didn't)
I'm flying solo tonight, so I just used about a cup and a half or so.

Pour your melted butter into small dipping bowls - everyone usually has their own bowl of broth and their own bowl of butter. 

To eat a steamer, first you remove them from the shell.

If only I knew Photoshop well, I could have applied a nice French manicure action.   But of course, if you're "ew"-ing right now, it's probably not due to my lack of manicure!


Next step, you'll want to peel off the membrane  (yes, I said membrane).  You'll know it when you see it.

Then, dip the clam into the broth, then into the butter, and enjoy!

 If you dare....

And if it makes you feel any better, I was kind of grossed out tonight too.    While my husband couldn't stand to be in the same room as someone eating steamers, I did make his favorite cake for him for Father's Day....

How I married a man who doesn't like homemade cake is beyond me.  :)

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there!