Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pickled Peppers

My neighbor's garden is bulging with banana peppers and before he left for a month long trip, he offered his garden's bounty to us. Today I dropped in to see what was ripe and was amazed at the quantity of peppers! However, besides slicing them into salads, I didn't know what else to do with them. A quick Google search tuned up a recipe for pickled peppers which are supposedly tasty on subs, pizza and sandwiches. The procedure was quite easy and there were only five ingredients.
 Slice the peppers into rings. Boil 2 cups of white vinegar with 2/3 cups of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon each of mustard seeds and celery seeds and bring to a rolling boil. Fill jars with the peppers and fill with vinegar mixture (be careful not to breathe in the potent mixture!)
Voila'! We shall see how they taste! He's got a ton more peppers in his garden. If these are truly as yummy as they sound, I may be doing more.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta


That's the reaction I got to this new dish. Seriously.

I came up with it on a whim. I had read about roasting tomatoes in the winter to bring out the tomato's natural sweetness. For some strange reason that idea popped into my head today as I looked at the bowl of cherry tomatoes I had picked from my garden (before Debby rained and rained and rained and drowned my poor plants!) So I decided to something new and see how it turned out. I was well-pleased with the results!

First I washed the tomatoes, halved them and tossed them with olive oil and kosher salt. Then I pressed two garlic cloves and mixed everything together and spread it out on an oiled jelly roll pan. Popped it into a 350 degree oven and cooked them for about 30 minutes.
When they came out they were a little shriveled but tasted oh-so-sweet! When I was ready to serve dinner, I cooked a box of Barilla pasta in salted water until al dente. While the pasta was boiling I cleaned and de-stemmed a bunch of Thai basil I had left over from supper club and put it, along with another clove of garlic and some more olive oil in a mini food processor to chop everything up.
When the pasta was cooked and drained, I put it back into the cooking pot, scraped the roasted tomatoes (and the flavorful oil and tidbits) into the pot and then added the chopped basil and stirred everything, mixing well.
Of course a nice dish like this deserves a glass of vino to go along with it!
 Delizioso! I'm recording this so I can make it again, just as soon as I have more cherry tomatoes! I wonder if it will work with regular tomatoes? I just may have to give it a try!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Washington D.C. Days One and Two

The kids are off at Camp and this was going to be our relaxing week at the beach. However, Michael had a work trip he couldn’t miss, so we decided I would tag along.

Oh my did I have fun! It was a relatively short trip (compared to all the things there are to do there) but since I was going at my own pace I got to see and do a lot of things that I either enjoy, or I've never done (because others in my party might not care for it).

On Tuesday, by the time I got to the hotel (flew Delta and had to make the requisite stop in Atlanta) it was afternoon. I had just enough time to run downtown for a short trip. My plan was to see some monuments but the National Art Gallery beaconed me like a moth to a light source and I succumbed to the attraction. I wandered around, going to seek out my favorites which of course included the impressionist rooms and Winslow Homer's A Fair Wind. 
 Monet (I used to have this print in college)
 Seurat (I used to love pointillism)
It was a quick trip. Then I had to rush back to get ready for our dinner out with work people. We ate at the Liberty Tavern, THE happening place, where I had a decent pizza. Here's Chris!
The next day Michael and I went for a run (separately) along the George Washington Parkway, over the bridge into Georgetown, up a killer staircase and back. He had to go to work whereas I headed into town to hit more sights. Since the temperatures were expected to get to 100 degrees, I decided to hit the gardens first while it was not too hot.

First stop was Bartholdi Park where I got several good ideas for my backyard. First of all, a nice fountain as a focal point. This one by the French sculptor, Federic Auguste Bartholdi, who also designed the Statue of Liberty, would look nice, dontcha think?
I would also like Michael to build me an elegant tuteur like this one:
This vine-covered pergola shading a garden bench would be a pleasant place to relax and read a magazine about gardening. I even like the brick walkway and landing to keep feet dry and clean.
I headed over to the Conservatory next door to explore the different rooms. I was especially impressed by the medicinal plant room, the orchid room (now that I own one thanks to a friend's gift) and the jungle room because of the canopy walk.

Another tuteur in the children's garden. Looks like it's made with painting sticks! Michael can SO make this!
The window mechanics
Canopy walk
Once I'd had enough of the heat and humidity, I jumped on the metro and headed over to the Library of Congress.
I was surprised to find this out front! A replica of the Trevi fountain? Sure looks like it to me!
I explored the lobby, read the interactive signs, saw Thomas Jefferson's library, and gazed with longing at the main reading room from the observation deck. I would have LOVED to wander the stacks but that area was only open to researchers, not tourists. 

My tummy told me it was way past time for lunch. I considered eating in the basement of the National Gallery but I was too hungry and stopped to get a Polish dog from a food truck. I ate it in the Sculpture Gardens where I enjoyed this giant eraser: 
I had seen one like it in Seattle on our trip out there a few years ago.
I thought this was such a clever tree: concrete and steel.
But my favorite was this Lichtenstein!

Then I went to the Burger, Tap and Shake to meet my friend, Caitlin and her baby. Her husband and she used to be in our young marrieds small group. Her baby was adorable and we had a great time catching up. 

That evening we ate Thai then grabbed rental bikes and rode around the monuments by night. We met up with another friend, Ann, that Michael used to work with at the USGS. 
Lincoln Monument
Washington Monument from the WW 2 Memorial
World War 2 Memorial
It was a full, long, fun day!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Learning to drive

Now that I have one child driving and another one about to start, I've had several occasions to think back to how I learned to drive. It's a bit different than most of my friends, because you see, I learned to drive in Italy!

My dad had a teeny tiny car, a 1979 Fiat 126, black. It was stick shift. It had no power steering, no power windows. In fact, in order to crank it, you had to pull a little lever, the choke, down on the floor board, near the hand brake! Sicily is quite mountainous, especially where we lived, on the side of Mt. Etna. Before we were allowed to drive alone, we had to demonstrate to dad that we were capable of starting and stopping on the steep incline that was our driveway, without rolling back at ALL! Ahhh, the memories!

Dad just bought my mom that same car, a 1988 model, white! Here are a few pictures in case you've never seen one (they don't have them in the US).

Oh,you don't get a sense of how small it is?
How about with another car in the background? (That's a SEAT station wagon, pronounced Say-aht)
Here's one with mom standing next to it.
And one with dad, so you get the scale.
 This is the back seat. Can you believe we used to drive an hour to the beach with me and my brother in this back seat AND all our beach stuff packed up? Where, you say? In the trunk!
But wait! That's the hood! That's right folks! The hood was the trunk. We also had a luggage rack on top where we'd pile our beach stuff. And I mean PILE! (No photo of that unfortunately). 
So what's in the back you ask?
Why, the engine of course!
And here's a shot of the hand brake and choke lever. You had to raise the choke before you turned the key. Then you'd put the lever down. Kinda like starting a lawn mower. That's nothing. The old 500s had two levers: one was the choke, the other was the starter! 

Dad bought this car for mom to use around town, kinda like a scooter with walls and a roof! She says she feels like she's driving a Flintstones' car! I know what she means!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tommy's Quilt

I'm working on Tommy's quilt, the one I promised him for Christmas.

The good news is...I completed 20 log cabin blocks!
The bad news is I need 8 more!

The good news is I have the fabric to make them.

Back to the kitchen table-turned-crafting table I go!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Summer Cooking School

I am teaching a Summer Cooking School series beginning tomorrow night. The idea began when a friend of mine asked me to show her some more simple recipes. I had cooked with her one night and she subsequently has made that same recipe several times for her family and wanted to learn some more easy recipes. I thought back to how I first learned to cook. It was in college, when I was sick of eating out and frozen food. I called mamma and asked her, over the phone, "How do you make Pasta e Fagioli?" And she described the process to me while I took notes. I was used to following a recipe but she didn't give actual measurements.  [Pour a little olive oil in a pan... But mom, how MUCH olive oil? Not too much, just a little...] and so I learned, by trial and error, and began sharing my creations with my roommates, and eventually my (now, but future to me then) husband.

So when I began to hatch my plan, I thought I would invite a few friends and share some of my easy, go-to, cheap, healthy Italian favorites. I then thought I would extend it to my whole church and use our church's wonderful kitchen. I had envisioned younger gals, maybe college-age or even later high school, to young adults, maybe newly- married, or newly-mommied. I was surprised at who started registering for the class: younger, yes - but also older, and even some men! In fact I was standing in the produce section of Publix a few days ago, talking to a friend I had run into. She asked me a few questions about the class, what sorts of things we'd be cooking, etc. and I was describing some of the recipes to her. A man overheard us and asked if I was teaching a cooking class and if it was open to anyone. My husband handed him his business card and told him to email him for directions. How funny is that??

Pasta alla Puttanesca

My plan it to teach one recipe and then explain similar ones so everyone can go home and try making even more easy recipes. Since I am visual and I learn by doing, everyone will have a chance to watch how it's done, then do it themselves. Kinda like med school, right? See one, do one, teach one. We will work in groups and it should be pretty fun.

This week the theme is Quick Red Sauces, the kind of homemade sauce that you can make in the time it takes the pasta to boil (like the picture above.) When the pasta is done, so is the sauce. We will be making Spaghetti all'Amatriciana. Some variations include Penne alla Puttanesca, Penne all'Arrabbiata, Pasta Sciue' Sciue', and Aglio Olio e Peperoncino. Of course we'll get to sample what we make. Interested? Make sure you tell me you're coming! At this point I'm planning on about 20 people.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Thursday, June 7, 2012

My garden grows!

If you follow me on Facebook then you know that my garden was in pretty bad shape.
See? Basically a weed patch. But then, even though it was late in the season, and multiple people (who shall remain nameless) discouraged me, I got to work. In one day it went from BAD to THIS:
Yes, I was sore for a week, but it was worth it! I listened to a lot of Andy Stanley podcasts while I worked. It was the ultimate multi-tasking! (In case you're wondering, I did not forget that stuff in the back. That's fennel going to seed.)
After getting all the weeds pulled and ground leveled I went to Trad's Garden Center to buy some plants. Boy that place is dangerous! I had to be VERY disciplined NOT to buy more than my little plots can handle.

The plants in the above picture are now taller than the cages (about 5 weeks later). Here's what's growing. 
Cherry tomatoes:
Grape tomatoes:
San Marzano tomatoes:
And my other little plot contains eggplant and peppers. 
It won't be long before I'll be grilling eggplants!
Yes, I got a late start (end of April) and yes, these last few years my garden has ... errr ... struggled. But thank goodness we get second (and third and fourth) chances! I think this is going to be my year! Can't wait to be eating bruschetta from my own garden. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Local Fare Farm Bag

A couple of months ago I learned about Local Fare Farm Bag from my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. I had heard about CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) from a friend and had read an article about it in Country Gardens but the cost of joining one discouraged us from doing it. So when I learned about Local Fare (and no up front cost) I was hooked! Also hearing about my mother-in-law's and sister-in-law's experience gave me the courage to give it a try.

So what IS Local Fare, you wonder? It's local, seasonal fruits and vegetables delivered to my home. WHAT? Delivered? That's right. I don't have to go anywhere to pick it up. It comes straight to me, every two weeks, on Wednesdays.

What do you get for $25? Here, let me show you...

Oops, I forgot to include the loaf of bread from the French Pantry. But here's an example of what shows up on my doorstep. 5 ears of corn, Italian eggplant, yum yum peppers, zucchini,  white potatoes, spaghetti squash, watermelon, bail and cilantro and a loaf of ciabatta bread. All in this bag:
It's been fun to see what shows up in my bag each week. For those people who like to plan, you can get a head's up by going to the website. But I like to be surprised. You even get a newsletter describing what the produce is (this week we got spaghetti squash and I've NEVER bought that before!) In the newsletter, there are recipes in case you receive something you've never tried before. It's been fun, and sometimes challenging, to try new produce. It beats driving to Beaver Street to the "Farmer's Market!" Did I mention that they deliver??