Friday, July 4, 2014

heirloom tomato, grilled corn and black bean salad

     After being out of town for over a week, I was anxious to return to some form of familiar routine. I adore the excitement and discovery of traveling, but there really is no place so sweet as your very own homestead. So as luck would have it, we returned home the evening before our weekly farmers' market.
     One of my FAB market finds was four plump heirloom tomatoes... locally grown, vine-ripened and full of promise. My brother-in-law stopped by with a sack overflowing with sweet bi-color corn and a bunch of cilantro. We grilled the corn for dinner last night, seasoned simply with butter, salt, pepper, garlic powder and fresh chopped cilantro. Five ears remained. Armed with an abundance of lovely veggies, I came up with this salad.
     Patriotic red tomatoes, vivid green cilantro, soft, buttery yellow corn, coal-colored beans and whitish-pink onions with charred tips show off the bold colors of summer produce. Grilled and raw veggies tossed together in the simplest of vinaigrettes allows all textures and flavors to shine.
Ingredients
5 ears fresh corn, still in husk
butter
garlic powder
1 medium onion, sliced
1 shallot, sliced
1 t. olive oil
a few pinches of salt
a few pinches of pepper
4 large heirloom tomatoes, cut into large chunks
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
juice of half a lime
juice of half an orange
1 t. sweet wine vinegar, such as balsamic
1 t. red wine vinegar
1 t. sugar
3 T. good, rich olive oil
Directions
Preheat charcoal or gas grill.
An easy way to speed up cooking your corn on the cob and make it easier to shuck, is to place an un-shucked ear in the microwave and cook it for one to one and a half minutes, depending on the size. Do this with all five ears. Allow to cool for a minute, so you can handle them, then slide the husk and silks right off. Now, wasn't that easy?
Next, cut five small pieces of aluminum foil, just large enough to securely wrap each ear. Smear a thin stripe of softened butter down the center of each piece of foil, then generously sprinkle the butter stripe with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Place an ear of corn on each and roll up tightly. Place corn on grill over low heat. If using charcoal, you can push the coals to one side and place the corn over the opposite side, creating an indirect heat source. When corn has been on grill for around 20 minutes, pull one off and check to see it it is beginning to char. If so, remove them all and cool. Otherwise leave it a few minutes longer.
Toss onion and shallot with oil, salt and pepper. Grill over direct heat until softened and charred. (I do this to intensify the flavors and reduce the gassy effects of raw onion.) Remove and allow to cool.
While the corn and onions are on the grill, cut the four large tomatoes and place into a large salad bowl. Drain and rinse the beans. Add them and the chopped cilantro to the tomatoes. Salt and pepper everything well, then toss about with a large spoon.
Mix the two fruit juices, vinegars, oil, sugar and a couple pinches of salt and pepper in a small bowl & whisk to blend. After tasting to correct seasonings, pour over tomato bean mixture.
When corn is cool enough to handle, stand an ear over a cutting board and run a sharp knife down one side to remove the kernels. Repeat, moving cob in a circular fashion until it is completely stripped. Repeat with remaining ears. Add corn and cooled onion/ shallots to salad bowl. Taste again for seasoning. Add more olive oil, salt, pepper or sugar if needed. Allow to chill in refrigerator until ready to serve. Can be served at room temperature.
     We thoroughly enjoyed it for lunch today, served it with a bit of leftover grilled chicken, thinly sliced and perched on top. Since the recipe made enough to feed the entire neighborhood, we will probably get a few more meals out of it. I'm okay with that. Burgers, steaks, grilled fish or even ribs... All would be just fine to pair with the leftovers.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

daddy's girl

     Tomorrow is Fathers' Day. My dad is having a much better day than the rest of us. He gets to celebrate with our Heavenly Father... The Number One Dad Himself! Daddy has spent the past twelve years that way. He passed away one June day, just before Fathers' Day. (That kind of ruined it for me.)
     In the grand scheme of things, I think God's plan was for a dad to be a child's first glimpse of the unconditional love God has for each of us. Some guys are a really good example and others, not so much. My dad did a fine job of mirroring His characteristics. The four of us were SO blessed. 
     Daddy was my mom's one true love. He and Mommy were kind of like a fifties sitcom couple, always holding hands... right up to the very last moment. My parents, both with a great sense of humor, kept us laughing. It taught me not to take myself too seriously and always look on the bright side.
     He took us to church every Sunday. He modeled by example how to make a commitment to a group of people with similar beliefs. I learned to keep my eyes fixed on God, since other flawed humans, (like ourselves,) can let you down. He showed me what having integrity looks like.
     He encouraged me to start over and try again when I completely messed things up. He believed in endless second chances for people, cars and houses. He was never too busy to help someone out and never met a stranger. I learned that there always is someone out there who has it much worse, so don't whine. Get up, look around and do what you can for another.
     He taught me to fish. He often burned whatever he put on the grill. He had no use for cats. He loved telling really corny jokes. He could fix, make or build just about anything. I learned not to be in a hurry to toss something aside and that learning never, ever ends.
     I am forever grateful that the Lord saw fit to send him my way. I am thankful I got to call him Daddy. And each Fathers' Day, I will miss him forever... until we meet on that beautiful shore.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

there's no place like home

     I sort of feel like I haven't been home for two years. Not really. Not fully, mentally and physically  HERE. Sure, I've slept here. And cooked here. I practiced a hit-and-miss type of housecleaning and laundry. My obsession with seasonal decorating is a faded recollection. Sniff.
     Working a so-called part-time job and caring for ailing in-laws had turned my normal on it's head. I've desperately missed our little homestead.
     Metaphorically, I clicked my ruby slippers together about a week ago, when I underwent gall bladder surgery. Manditory relaxation. Doctor prescribed vacay.
     No heavy lifting for a month. My faithful staff is running the church kitchen like a well-oiled machine.
     I'm recovering nicely and feel like I belong here again. I may never leave. In case you're wondering what I've been up to during my recuperation, here's a little sampling of my activities. I've been quite productive in a moving-slow-as-a-turtle sort of way:

*After sleeping most of the first day, I've finally caught up on everything I recorded on the DVR. Let the deleting begin.

*Corrected a few grammar faux pas of FB friends.

*Commented online on a hotly contested current event... something I rarely due, since I really don't want to reply to anyone with a viewpoint different than mine. I like to avoid arguing. Especially with idiots.

*Researched how to renew my passport. The government website doesn't make it easy. No one is a bit surprised by that.

*All of the laundry is done. No really... all of it. My mom would be SO proud. (Disclaimer: this is due to the fact that I'm mainly wearing stretchy, non-binding pajama-type stuff and my husband is out of town on business. Hannah does all of her own laundry. Currently, our elderly, semi-incontinent dachshund, Lulu is creating the bulk of the wash. She's too short to reach the control panel.)

*Pioneer Woman's iced coffee syrup is cold-brewing on the counter. I'm so excited! By tomorrow, I will be enjoying a tall glass of icy, coffee goodness. Don't be jealous... make your own!

*Yesterday, since it's been a week and the groceries were dwindling and I had a slight case of cabin fever, I bravely ventured out to the Farmers' Market in town. After about forty-five minutes, I wanted someone to drive me home.
     I took a rolling shopper so I didn't have to carry anything heavy. I scored lots of amazing local produce. But... as we all know, hindsight is twenty-twenty. What the heck am I going to do with all of this stuff? I guess I'll be right here, cooking. Slowly. For short periods of time.

*This morning, I fed the porch and herb garden plants with liquid fertilizer, then noticing the herb garden's unruly, neglected appearance, attacked the thyme and Greek oregano with the garden shears.
     Using Michelle @ Restoration Spring's recipe, I will sort, clean and dry the leaves for homemade, dried Italian seasoning.
     I have a six-gallon bucket to go through. Have you ever stripped the leaves off of a thyme branch? I may be at this a while... good thing I'm not going anywhere. And I can sit down while doing it.

*Tomorrow, I'm beginning the daunting task of typing up Salt Food Ministry's (the church kitchen) recipes, in a sane and legible manner. When I cook, some would describe me as crazed... a wild look in my eyes and food in my hair. Tricia sports a pensive stare and subscribes to a cream-cheese-icing facial regime. I usually explain our manic style away by saying, We're fine. We're in the cooking zone.
     Fabulous meals are created without formal recipes, mainly using three of our five senses... taste, smell and feel. The cook and the baker... That's how we roll around here. 
     The overstuffed recipe file from my office is bordering on hilarious... stained with food, written on all manner of paper scraps including old invoices, bottoms of old emails and even a church bulletin or two. Ingredients are crossed out and recipes revised many times over. It will be fun to decode these schizophrenic cooking notes.
     It could be very important to write some of this stuff down. Someone may need it some day. We may lose our minds completely and forget how we've done it in the past. (That's actually already happened. We just re-invented the dish and moved on... hence all the scribble and hen-scratch.)

*Best thing of all... I've returned to the blog and my love of writing after a super-long hiatus. I've been working behind the scenes to clean up some messy older posts, fact checking a few of the recipes and mulling over new stuff. Yay!

There's NO place like home and a little down time!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

when life throws a curveball, squeeze it till the lemonade flows

     As I wait quietly in a nursing facility room watching my mother-in-law doze, I read. Today's selection is a delightful memoir by author and chef Marlena di Blasi recounting her time in beautiful Venice. Here is the paragraph I'm taken with at the moment. She is speaking of her husband's plan to grow olives in Tuscany when they relocate:
     “He has planted in little plastic pots twelve eight-inch-high olive trees that he plans to transplant down the western slope of the garden. He’s calculating that his first harvest will happen, if all goes reasonably well, in twenty-five years and will yield a cup and a third of oil.”  An excerpt From: Marlena de Blasi. “A Thousand Days in Venice.” Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013-05-21. iBooks.
     Marlena, you're killing me, girl!  Just the notion of starting over is massively appealing. Her reasoning makes me laugh, as she and her husband are past middle age. Feelings of wanderlust swell somewhere deep inside, stirring envy mixed with the desire to just jump up and go... But here I sit.
     Life boldly throws curve balls whenever it chooses. It's rude like that. Life shouts at me, Hey, don't get too comfy. You don't really think you're in control, do you?
     Head and heart know only Jehovah Jireh, the Living God Who Provides, is truly in charge. He's not only large and in charge, but He totally understands my traveler's heart. (After all, He made all the magnificent things I want to see.)
     He also knows how impulsive I would choose to be.... you know, if I were in charge of the world. (Hey, isn't that a Dr. Seuss title?) I want to go, to explore, to learn more and to be someplace new. Every single day.
Lovely 'Lita, in better days. Easter Sunday 2012
     The past two years has seen drastic change. My husband's little 86- year old mother is declining in health and bed-bound. Specifically, the last seven months has seen our entire family taking turns sitting by Lita's bedside, caring for her every need, attending doctor visits and hospital stays... waiting, waiting and waiting.
      A while back, she and I reminisced about better days, discussed family history and laughed at our attempts to get her legs to work again... (a very long story.) Now she struggles to even speak. I feel her frustration... Her sharp mind and strong will crave control, but that frail, little body isn't cooperating at all. We spoke of irony... Lita's 93-year old brother, my husband's Tio Miguel is physically healthy as a horse, but Alzheimer's disease has slowly purged his mind.
Our girlies with their Abuelita. Easter 2013
     Recently, I've missed quite a few work days. I only managed fourty-two posts in 2013  and thirty-seven the year before. Ouch!  And I've read. Oh boy, have I read! My literary choices have ranged from non-fiction, cooking essays and fiction to memoirs, travel essays and Scripture.
     I've also played countless word search games. Efforts to keep my sanity while increasing my vocabulary are progressing quite nicely. Ha.
     When life comes at you with alternate plans you hoped were years away, all you can do is hold on tight and shout, WHEEEEEEEEEEE! A good attitude, hopeful spirit, compassionate nature and stubborn perseverance is what's required. And lots of prayer. And a second-hand iPad.
The Fam with 'Lita and Uncle Greg. Easter 2013
"1 The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I {ever} need.
He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3 He renews my strength, {
every single day.} He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. {
Right in front of them!} You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. {Better blessings than I could ever think up and way more than I deserve.}
Surely Your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever." 
{Amen and amen}
Psalm 23. New Living Translation, {with bracketed emphasis added my moi:}

Lita with Claire, 2012

let's review: molly macpherson's richmond hill

     We decided to go out for dinner Saturday night. BIG date night... not even leaving the Hill, we hit Dollar Tree and headed for Molly's on Highway 17 in Richmond Hill. We're just two wild and crazy kids!
fish and chips with Guinness (photo compliments of MMP)
     We've dined here several times and consider it to be the best all around restaurant in town. That's right. You aren't seeing things... I said, It is the best place in Richmond Hill, Georgia for a nice dinner. Not fancy-shmancy, but a great meal for what you pay and lovely, knowledgeable staff. Consistently good food is important to me. I know who to count on.
     I always order the same thing... Honey Thistle Chicken paired with neeps and tatties, and a freshly steamed vegetable selection. (And a crazy-good yeast roll served with honey butter. Yum!) Neeps and tatties are turnips and potatoes whipped into glorious submission. The hubs likes to mix it up and orders something different each time, so I decided to be brave and do the same this time.
     I asked if the herb-crusted salmon could be grilled instead, with the cucumber-dill sauce on the side. It is served with potato scones and the veg of the day. Oh, and the roll. I'm now brave and full... Grilled is the way to go!
     He ordered Steak and Guinness Stew. It was so good, it made me want to rush home and make some! Steak, potatoes, carrots and onions in a hearty gravy. The yeast roll perched on the side of his bowl, ready to swan dive into the rich sauce. (The plate was clean when we left.)
     We love Molly's pies. Chicken, Shepherd's, Steak and Guinness. The meatloaf is good, a huge portion large enough to share or save for a second meal. And if you fancy something sweet to end the night, go for the Sticky Toffee Pudding.
photo compliments of MMP-RH

     Stop by Molly MacPherson's in Richmond Hill, just of I-95 on Highway 17. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
 Molly MacPherson's Scottish Pub & Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

goodbye 13... a different kind of year.

     I noticed a few blog posts with an end of year wrap-up as theme. So, here's my take on 2013... Whew, I'm glad that's over and we all survived.
     It has been at times both good and bad. Simple one minute and difficult the next. And guess what it is called... LIFE. That's it, just life. Crazy, wonderful, happy, sad.
     My computer's photo-log tells a visual story of our year. 2013 began with sadness as we said goodbye in January to one of our faithful companions, the favorite canine of many... our sweet Sophie girl.
     February saw one daughter get her first real, grown-up job and move away from our little nest to a shining metropolis miles away. And my little baby turned twenty-one!
     I've sure done a lot of cooking... surprise, surprise. I've really been a hit and run blogger in 2013. As you've seen from the lack of posts, I've been flitting between work and home with little time for lighting on a chair to write. That's a fact I don't love.
    It's been a year filled with a bit of travel, a smidge of renovation and a ton of food. Spending time with friends and family is always my favorite part... and I'm so blessed to be surrounded. People you love just make everything better, don't they?
     All in all, God has remained faithful... whether or not I take time to stop and pray. If I remember to thank him or if I don't. Even when I miss church services on Sunday for weeks at a time due to an illness in the family... He still calls me His child.
     I celebrate that every day. It's not about me... I'm thankfully not in charge of anything but my own attitude. I'm called to love God and love people like Christ loved the church. Period. The end.
     He gave His life for every single one of us, (whether we believe in Him or not,) when we deserve absolutely nothing. We're not called to judge. Or hate. Or change people... just to love.
     My world is crazy and filled with drama and I'm sure many of you can relate! Health issues and situations have changed in the blink of an eye. People move in and out of our presence when we least expect it... So hey, don't get too comfy. Change is inevitable. And still, God is our one constant..." Draw near to Him and He will come near to you." James 4:8.
     Here are a few of my favorite 2013 images:
Happy New Year! Thanks for staying connected.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

toscana rustica revision

      It is nasty and cold outside... all of a sudden! The weather has gone from yesterday's rain and muggy temps to cold, gray and blustery, overnight. The kitchen smells like Thanksgiving. I'm one happy chick!
     While trying to keep everyone's fingers out of the Thanksgiving pie, I threw together one of my faves... This hearty soup will hit the spot tonight. All I need now is a roaring fire!
     I used Publix Greenwise chicken Italian sausage this time, but have also made it with turkey or traditional pork Italian sausage. If you're a spicy person, try the hot Italian, but omit the red pepper flakes until you taste the soup. It still has a bit of heat the way it is written. Proceed at your own risk!
     I love, love those itty-bitty, golden potatoes they sell in most food stores. Have you found them? I roast them in the oven quite a bit, but decided to try them in soup. I cut them in half to speed up the cooking time. If you can't find little potatoes, use about five regular-sized bakers. I didn't peel the babies, but you might want to peel large, thicker skinned potatoes.
     I bought the kale that was already chopped, washed and ready to cook. It really saves time, but you could wash and chop your own bunch, if that's how you roll. Kale is one of the most popular greens these days. I've even seen baby kale among the salad fixings. It is very, very good for you and unobtrusive in a soup... Give it a try!
Ingredients
5 chicken Italian sausage links, casings removed, hot or mild
1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced
2 slices bacon, cut up
1 tsp red pepper flakes (you can omit if you used hot sausage)
3 cans fat free chicken broth or 6 c. homemade stock
2 c. Dutch Baby gold potatoes, halved
2 t. salt
1 t. pepper 

2 cans of evaporated milk, (I used fat free)

4 c. Kale, chopped and ready to serve
Directions
In a large, deep pot on medium heat, brown sausage and bacon with onion, garlic and red pepper flakes. Break up the sausage chunks as it cooks. When onion is translucent and meat is cooked through add a splash of broth and scrape the browned bit off the bottom of pot.
Add remaining broth and potatoes, salt and pepper. Cook on medium low for  about 20 minutes until potatoes are tender. Add evaporated milk and simmer for another few minutes. Toss in the kale. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Let cook another 10 minutes on a low simmer.
Serving idea: Serve along-side a salad made of sliced tomatoes, basil leaves and fresh skim mozzarella drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette.
Weight Watchers Points plus value: 4 per 1 c. serving. Makes 10-12 servings.