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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?

Summer Knitting (and Crocheting)

Just because the weather heats up doesn’t mean the knitting has to stop. I usually switch to making smaller things with lighter weight yarns.

Over the years I’ve crocheted a lot of different dishcloths. But my hands temp to cramp up if I crochet too much, so I looked around for interesting knitted patterns and found The Hive Knitted Dishcloth at BeingSpiffy.com, a site that has a different dishcloth pattern for every week of the year. It was a quick project, but turned out a little smaller than I’d expected:

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I love the honeycomb texture. I’ll try it again on slightly larger needles, but worst case scenario I’ll just add one pattern repeat to the width and length.

Another dishcloth design I couldn’t resist making is this fun (and sometimes frustrating) new crochet pattern I found called Sailor’s Knot Dishcloth (free registration required to download the pattern):

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Some patterns are available in both knit and crochet versions, but I couldn’t find knitting instructions for this one. The blue, green and variegated one above was my first attempt. I used different colors to better see how the pieces are woven together. Now I’ll show you how a Sailor’s Knot Dishcloth is assembled:

Start with the square loop...

Start with a square loop…

Then make two oblong loops...

Then make two oblong pieces.

Weave one oblong piece over and under the square loop as illustrated in the pattern.

Weave one oblong piece over and under the square loop as illustrated in the pattern.

Follow the same steps with the second oblong piece, and….

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…you have a large, thick dishcloth that looks more complicated than it really is. The great thing is the designer planned it out so the ends of the oblong pieces join right where they meet the cross pieces, so the seams are nearly invisible.

The dishcloth is reversible.

Here’s the flip side. The dishcloth is reversible.

Since the guys do dishes in my family (at least for family gatherings), I couldn’t resist making this for my Canadian brother-in-law:

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From the front or back, this clever pattern looks like a red and white striped square. But viewed at an angle, like above, you see the maple leaf. The colors are reversed on the flip side. The illusion is created with strategically placed knit and purl stitches.

Dishcloths are great projects to test new stitches and learn knitting and crochet skills, but they also make doing dishes a little more fun.

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!)

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?

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 .

A Blooming Bargain

Not every house has window boxes, so if you’re lucky enough to have window boxes you really ought to use them. Don’t you think there’s something sad about empty window boxes during the growing season?

Until the other day mine were sad and empty, but that’s because I’m slowly slogging away at painting the exterior trim (whenever weather and time allow) and wanted to paint the window boxes, too.

For some reason, the brackets supporting the boxes were painted brown to match the siding, so while I had the paint out I painted the brackets white, too. I think it makes the window boxes stand out a bit more. (This is when I wish I’d thought to take before & after shots.)

It was also time to replace most of the potting mix in the boxes (I only remove about 2/3 of the soil since the old dry dirt and bits of broken clay pots help with drainage), so I bought two 16-qt bags of potting mix at $4.99 each along with flowers for the boxes and three flower pots:

  • 3 white Geraniums – 88¢ each
  • 1 flat (half flat?) of 12 plum-ish Petunias – $7.99
  • 2 6-packs of white Impatiens – $1.58 each
  • 2 6-packs of mixed Portulaca – $1.58 each

Last year the portulaca did really well in the gorgeous strawberry jars my brother’s family gave  me, but I’m down to one now, so I moved that to side of the porch that gets the afternoon sun. I put the rest of the portulaca and geraniums in terracotta pots and set those on each side of the stoop where the strawberry jars were last summer. Here’s the strawberry jar, but the other pots look scraggly so no photo of those until they fill in:

Hey – check out how great Mark’s new porch rail looks with a couple coats of brown paint!

Best part of all? With a $15 store rebate on the paint and $9.17 worth of unused, unopened merchandise I returned, the grand total – tax and all – was just $3.74.  Don’t you love a bargain like that?

If  you’re lucky enough to have window boxes, too, what did you plant in yours this year? If not, what are some of your favorite summer flowers?

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