Category Archives: summer

Simple is Best: Caprese Salad

One of my favorite summer salads is Caprese Salad. It sounds fancier than it is. All you need to make it: fresh ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a bit of salt and pepper.

Some people marinate the tomatoes and cheese, but past experience has taught me that marinating it can make even the freshest tomatoes turn a bit mushy.

I just slice a tomato and layer it with slices of fresh mozzarella and chopped basil, then drizzle with a little olive oil, some balsamic vinegar, then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

This salad was made with fresh basil and a delicious Black Japanese Trifele Heirloom Tomato picked fresh from my tiny kitchen garden.

Admittedly, the caprese salad pictured here has a bit more cheese than tomato, but this was the last of the fresh mozzarella, so…why not?

For the super lazy cooks among us, this non-recipe recipe can be made even easier by using pre-sliced fresh mozzarella and not chopping the basil.

I’ve also seen caprese kabobs where cherry tomatoes and small balls of fresh mozzarella are skewered along with fresh basil leaves, then drizzled in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Honestly, with these ingredients, it’s impossible to go wrong.

What’s your favorite summer salad?

 

 

 

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I Scream, You Scream…

I remember when my dad bought an electric ice-cream maker, the kind with a metal canister that rotates inside a bucket filled with ice and salt. The ice cream he made was good, but the mess wasn’t. Let’s just say it wasn’t used very often. After a while he sold it at a garage sale.

Thankfully today’s ice cream makers have self-contained coolants. No ice or salt to mess with. Just pop the chilling bowl into the freezer for a day or so, and you’re ready to go.

For my birthday this year, my brother and sister-in-law gave me an ice cream maker attachment for my Kitchen Aid. Now that the summer heat is upon us, I’m experimenting. My first attempt was Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream. So good, so rich, so creamy. Then I tried slightly healthier ice milk. Decent flavor, but it had a grainy texture. My most recent attempt? Chocolate Frozen Yogurt.

I found a recipe on line, and just so happened to have all of the ingredients on hand. It used a technique similar to some ice cream and frozen custard recipes that involve cooking part of the mixture.

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I was using Greek yogurt and was able to skip the cornstarch. The mixture didn’t thicken much, but as the recipe said: don’t worry. After the mixture cooled, I transferred it to a mixing bowl (with a handy pouring spout!) and added the Greek yogurt. That’s when I worried because the yogurt didn’t stir in well, so I switched from a wooden spoon to a whisk.

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A few seconds later it was beautiful, rich, thick and creamy. It tasted good, too! I let the mixture chill a couple hours before proceeding to the fun part.

After setting up the ice cream attachment and turning the machine on, I poured the mixture in and let it run for about 25 minutes. This is seconds after I turned the machine off:

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At this point, the frozen yogurt was soft-serve consistency. Almost like a Frosty, only with that yogurt tang. (Even with all of the cocoa and chocolate, you can still taste the yogurt. Not sure if that’s due to the brand of yogurt I used, or if I need to add a little more sugar next time.)

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You can eat it fresh or freeze it for later. Trust me. It’s just as good either way.

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Have you made homemade ice cream or frozen yogurt? What are your favorite flavors or additions?

What’s buggin’ you today?

This post has nothing to do with creativity or making things, but seeing this not-so-little critter in my backyard really caught my interest:

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Here’s another angle – if it’s blurry it’s because she (?) was on the move…

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For perspective, those are 5″ laps on the siding.

I wish I’d been able to get its profile or face, but it sure looks like a brown praying mantis to me. But according to the map on that National Geographic site, this one is well north of his preferred location.

Who can tell me what might have drawn it to my yard? If you live in Northern Illinois, how often have you seen one of these insects – especially in an urban setting?

Volunteer Tomatoes

While weeding my little produce patches earlier this summer I spotted what looked liked tomato leaves popping up near where last summer’s cherry tomato plant grew. I decided to leave it alone and see what happened.

Soon it grew taller and sprouted more leaves. A couple weeks ago it began to blossom. The other day I spotted the first of several tiny green cherry tomatoes beginning to form.

See the first tiny tomato from my volunteer tomato plant?

It’s already Labor Day, so who knows if any of these volunteers will ripen before the first hard frost, but that really doesn’t matter since I can always add them to my annual batch of homemade green tomato salsa!

Happy Labor Day, everyone! (And yes, I’ll be laboring a bit today….no such thing as a paid holiday when you’re a freelancer.)

Pick A Peck of Peppers

Okay, so it’s not exactly a peck of peppers, but my one little jalapeno plant has been producing like crazy. I’ve already picked five peppers, and look how many are ready, or almost ready to pick.

I can spot the peppers amid the leaves. Can you?

(Immediately after taking the photo, I picked four more peppers.)

The first cucumber is ready for picking, and a smaller one is growing a bit higher on the vine.

Cuke #1 a few days before harvest.

The cucumber plant is loaded with blossoms, but so far just two cukes. They grow quickly, so I’m hoping for more.

I’ve already mentioned how well the tomato plants are doing – I’ve already lost track of how many tomatoes I’ve picked, and those plants are still loaded. The only plant I’m concerned about is the red pepper plant.

Pretty leaves, but where are the blossoms?

It’s beautiful, but I haven’t seen a single blossom. Any idea why it’s not blooming? Last year’s red pepper plant did so well that it wasn’t until a month or two ago that I finally finished up the leftover red peppers I chopped and froze last fall.

How are your gardens growing? Which crops are doing best for you this year?

Flip Flop Flowers

The coolest thing about crocheting is once you know a few simple stitches you can create fun shapes.

When I saw a free Lion Brand pattern for Flower Flip Flops the first person I thought of was my 7-year old niece. She loves flowers, wears flip flops all summer and really seems to appreciate handmade items.

I wasn’t sure what size flip flops she would need, and figured she might even have an old pair to dress up. So I made a couple of flowers to adorn some existing or yet-t0-be-purchased flip flops. They only took a few minutes to make (the mini pompons were another story), so I made another for a hair band:

I actually had a new band that was a good match for the green part of the flower (partially obscured by the slightly too large pompons). Of course, when my niece saw it, she suggested putting that flower onto a clip.

Naturally, I just realized I forgot to give her the rest of the blue cotton yarn to wrap the flip flops with…if she doesn’t decide to use them for something else. (She can be a pretty creative kid!)

First Tomatoes of the Season

Try to ignore the weeds and half-dead hosta behind my Al Kuffa tomato plant. Zero in instead on the trio of ripe red tomatoes. They were the first of the season, and they were delicious.

I’ve since harvested a few more tomatoes from the same plant which is thriving in a large pot. The other two tomato plants are in my little garden wedges on either side of the driveway. Today I picked the first ripe tomato from the smallest plant. The third plant  is the largest, loaded with the most fruit, but none of it is ripe yet because is doesn’t get quite as much sun as the others do.

I don’t have photos to prove it, but my jalapeno plant has tons of little peppers, and yesterday I spotted the first tiny cucumbers on my potted cucumber vine. I swear they weren’t there the day before.

The only plant I’m concerned with is my red pepper plant. It’s got a strong stem and beautiful leaves, but I’ve yet to see a single blossom. Anyone know what might be wrong with it?

How are your crops doing?

Who crochets when it’s 100 degrees?

Call me crazy, but I started a major crochet project in the middle of a heatwave.

Yes, I still have the pool table pocket nets to work on, but they’re wool. Wool is hot to work with, so the pocket nets are reserved for slightly cooler days. When the mercury soars into the triple digits I want to work with cooler things like cotton or bamboo yarns.

In the back of my mind I’ve always wanted to make a cotton bedspread. I knew I didn’t want a traditional “granny square” motif, so I dug through an old stitchery book and found a versatile hexagonal motif that had a bit of motion to it – it was labeled “Paddle Wheel” but I call it a Spinning Hex, since it sort of looks like it’s turning.

Aside from using cotton, another cool thing (pun intended) about crocheted motifs is that you can usually make them as large or small as you like. Mine are small but not tiny at 5″ from point to point or 4.25″ from edge to edge. That means no bulky fabric piling up on your lap while you work.

Right now this project is all about using up scrap yarn. I haven’t figured out how many individual blocks I’ll need for the bedspread yet, but I’ll probably need to throw in some additional colors before I’m ready to start piecing things together.

To give you an idea of how the hexagons will fit together, I set some out:

That’s okay, but I want a lighter, airier look for summer, so the plan is to alternate the random colored blocks with white blocks. I don’t have any white blocks made yet, and am still toying with different arrangements. Ideally, I’d like a little more white space between the colors, but this might help show the feel I’m going for:

Now it’s getting hard to look at the hexagon tiles on the bathroom floor without mentally plotting out where I want the colors to go.

Perhaps the best thing about this bedspread is that cotton yarn is cheap. You can usually find in on sale for $1.25 or less per 120-yard skein, and each skein probably makes 5-10 blocks. (I haven’t yet used a full skein of any one color, so that’s a guess.)

What are some of your favorite ways to turn leftover materials into something new?

Unwelcome distractions

Yep. It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve posted anything. It’s not that I’ve been super busy or anything – I’ve just been overwhelmed with a bunch of unexpected distractions.

Way back on Easter my gas oven started acting glitchy. Sometimes it ignites, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it works perfectly, and sometimes it starts fine but doesn’t maintain the proper temperature. Not a big deal since I don’t bake much in warm weather. Little did I know that was merely a precursor of what was yet to come.

Last month my lone window air conditioner broke. Because the house has unconventional windows that won’t accommodate window units like traditional double hung windows do, the AC was permanently built into an opening where a canopy window used to be. (That’s in the addition, so bungalow purists can rest assured that no original windows were sacrificed for the sake of my comfort.) As if the idea of replacing it wasn’t ordeal enough, it broke just as my property taxes and second-quarter income taxes were coming due (on the same day, no less – the joys of self-employment), which meant replacing the AC had to wait, despite a couple of nasty heatwaves.

About ten days ago – as soon as I started seriously shopping around for a new air conditioner – my 2-year old refrigerator decided to break. That’s one repair that couldn’t be put off.

The first thing the refrigerator repairman said was, “Oh, this is one of those Whirlpool Maytags.” My response: “That’s explains it! First the Whirlpool range, then the Whirlpool AC, now you tell me my Maytag is a Whirlpool too? I should have known!”

According to the repairman the freezer hadn’t been defrosting. At all. When he removed the back panel inside the freezer there was a thick sheet of ice encasing the all of the working parts. It took him over 45 minutes and a heat gun just to melt enough ice away so he could assess the problem. He said it was a faulty thermostat – apparently thermostats aren’t supposed to rattle.

The upside of the service call was the repairman diagnosed the problem with the oven just from my description of its (literally) off-and-on problem. He’d already been there two full hours, and an extra hour of labor plus the new part would have almost doubled the price of the already longer-than-expected service call so I didn’t have him fix it while he was here. With a heatwave and a broken AC it’s not as if I were planning on baking anytime soon.

The saga doesn’t end there. A box fan I’d set near some windows to bring “cool” air into the house in the early mornings and late evenings died. I can’t say that was entirely unexpected, since the fan originally belonged to my Grandma who passed away in 1991.

As soon as the refrigerator was fixed my TV started acting up, too – about 80% of the time there’s sort of a vertical kink in the picture, and it no longer wants to shut off properly. I almost wish the same were true of my DVD player – a few days after the TV began refusing to turn off the DVD player actually shut itself off while I was using it.

Want more? The very day I realized the refrigerator wasn’t cooling properly, I was outside watering my plants and the metal watering can fell apart while I was using it. When the spout fell off it nearly killed my cucumber plant.

Disclaimer: this photo was staged after the fact.

Wait. There’s more. The other day I noticed a petunia in one of my window boxes was missing. Squirrels and cats sometimes get into the window boxes and make a mess digging and throwing dirt around, but if they dig up a plant they typically leave it. This time there was no mess and no sign of the petunia. I looked under the hostas and around the corner of the house. It was gone.

As annoying and frustrating as this string of incidents has been, I’m thankful than only things have broken. Sure, the refrigerator needed immediate attention, but it’s possible to live without an oven and AC for a while. If the TV dies, I have a little 13″ TV I can hook up to the cable in a pinch. Old milk jugs and juice pitchers work well enough for watering plants. The petunia was practically free, anyway, given the bargain I got on my flowers this year.

Even so, having so many things go wrong at the same time is a bit overwhelming. The little things just added insult to injury.

The good news is the refrigerator seems to be working well again, and I had a new AC installed a few days ago. The old one was in so well it took the handyman longer to remove it than he thought the entire job would take. It’s in just in time for the 100-degree temperatures local forecasters are predicting for later this week (I really hope they’re wrong).

It might not be the prettiest thing in the world, but I love my new air conditioner. Doggie Lily – who’s a very furry Husky, Collie, Keeshond blend – likes it even more than I do.

Lily chillin’ in her favorite spot: under my desk

The handyman came back a day after installing the AC to insulate and weatherproof it from the outside.  When a neighbor familiar with my recent run of luck saw his van here again she called and said, “Well, what’s broken now?”

Luckily nothing else. So far.

Public knitting

If you’re going about your business this weekend and notice a lot of people sitting around knitting despite soaring summer temperatures, don’t assume they’re crazy. Saturday June 9 is the start of Worldwide Knit in Public Day, which apparently lasts a solid week this year. Crocheters are welcomed to participate, too.

While there are organized events around the world, all you really need to do to mark the occasion is let strangers see you knit. That’s simple enough.

I’m such a naughty knitter – I probably won’t even be knitting this weekend. I don’t have anything on the needles right now because I’m trying to get over a recent bout of eczema on my hands. (First bad one in a couple of years, so I can’t complain.) Trust me when I say yarn and eczema are not a good combination. If my hands are markedly better by Saturday I might try to knock out a dishcloth or some other quick little cotton piece.

Have you ever dared to knit in public? Will you be celebrating WWKIPD – if so, what are you working on?

If you’re curious about the origins of WWKIPD, click here .

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