Summer vegetables

I have a deep appreciation for summer and all it’s ‘stuff’ – the green grass, the leaves on the trees, the hot weather, the sunshine, being barefoot, warm sand between my toes…flowers, vegetables, Maine fruit, picnics…one layer of clothing – even at times, just a bathing suit!! All of it – except for the mosquitos and ticks – those I could do without…

But overall, summer is my favorite season – hands down.

So while we are in the final days of my most favorite season, I thought I’d take advantage of some local vegetables (still) being harvested in Maine;

Zucchini, corn, onions, kale and mushrooms are just a few…

Why not just chop/dice/slice and saute?

Amounts depend on how many people you are cooking for and if you like left-overs or not. Personally, I like left-overs. They make sense to me. It saves time and energy prepping a little ‘extra. And if you don’t want to eat the ‘same thing’ the next day, then just freeze it.

(Freezing left-overs makes a lot of sense too. Even it’s a small amount – freeze it anyway.  You’ll be amazed how easily it is to utilize left-overs – even in small portions. More on that in another post…)

Anyway, let’s get back to the recipe. (:

Chop – one or more zucchini – or any squash – into whatever shape/thickness you like.

Dice -one small onion – or scallions – or a shallot (whatever kind of onion you have)

Cook and scrape – an ear or two of cooked corn kernels – or a cup of frozen corn kernals if fresh isn’t on hand…

Cut – a few mushrooms (whatever type you have) or not if you don’t.

Chop and add – a good handful or two of chopped/ribboned kale or swiss chard, spinach – use what you have on hand.

Mince – a clove or two of garlic

A drizzle or more – olive oil

salt + pepper

and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. If you don’t have a lemon, try a lime, and if you don’t have either of those, a splash of apple cider vinegar will do.. (:

Heat up olive oil – enough to coat the fry pan – add the chopped onion and saute until the onion begins to brown.

Add in garlic and cook a few more minutes – enough to soften the garlic without browning it.

Then add in the mushrooms and saute until mushrooms begin to release their juices, soften and brown.

Now add in your kale (or green of choice)

Cook enough to soften, slightly.

Then add in the sliced zucchini and corn.

Saute until zucchini is of the texture you like – I like mine a little firm, so I don’t cook it for too long – but if you like soft, cook it until it softens…

And finally, add a few good pinches of course sea salt, some fresh cracked black pepper – toss and and finish with a squeeze of citrus.

 

Enjoy as is or use in a multitude of ways…here’s a few simple suggestions.

Add some fresh herbs if you have any (think parsley or sage), toss it all together with pasta, then top with freshly grated cheese and a drizzle more of olive oil.

OR

enjoy as a pizza topper.

OR

finish with a drizzle of tamari and serve with jasmine rice.

OR

add it to some chicken stock or vegetable stock and you’ll have a lovely soup.

OR

add it to cooked risotto and finish with a drizzle more of olive oil, fresh grated cheese.

OR

enjoy it as is.

Plain and simple.

Fresh summertime veggies filled with the loveliness of the season – in every bite.

What’s your favorite summer vegetable? How do you like to eat it?

Be well.

Stay safe.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Potatoes

Who doesn’t love them?

Let me count thy ways…

Fried, baked, mashed…boiled, grilled or shredded –

Breakfast, lunch or dinner… the simple spud always saves the day.

These tasty taters (above) were cut, then sliced, then sauteed in olive oil, over a low heat – slowly…

Slowly, slowly I let them cook – adding a little more olive oil as needed, without drenching/drowning in oil of course – while keeping the fry pan covered, with a lid.

I like to put a lid on the cast iron fry pan while these beauties slowly soften. The lid helps keep in the heat without drying them out. They soften while they cook due to the moisture, but the lid does need to be lifted every now and again to allow the steam to escape and while they are uncovered, be sure to toss them, gently, so each piece cooks evenly…cover again for a little while longer and stir a few more times.

*the time here depends on the type of potato you are using as well as the overall thickness and size of each cut piece

*Once they begin to soften (you’ll notice the potatoes firm consistency changing – softening with each turn…) it’s time to brown them, while crisping them up.

Add a little salt and pepper at this point + maybe a little drizzle of olive oil to help them brown and crisp nicely. Here is where you need to walk the fine line of just enough moisture (to prevent sticking to the pan) and not too much, thus preventing the perfect amount of browning/crisping…keep the heat a little higher at this point – but not so high that you risk burning them…while also keeping the lid off. Let that steam out! (:

Remember to toss them in the fry pan now and again to prevent burning and sticking…

This is also the time to add in some finely chopped onions (the amount depends on the quantity of potatoes – use your judgement – if unsure, go light on the onions) If the onions are added too soon – they burn. Add them too late, and well, they don’t have time to caramelize…

So, at this point the potatoes should be nice and browned and crispy. Let those onions cook just the right amount of time, about five minutes or so.

Remember to toss the onions with the potatoes over medium heat a few times for the perfect match – crispy homefries with caramelized/browned onions.

Finish with whatever fresh herb you have. Parsley, thyme, sage, scallions or chives are a few to consider.

Or skip the herbs if you don’t have any and just add a dollop of ketchup and call it delicious!

Enjoy.

Stay well. Be well.

What’s your favorite way to eat potatoes?

(:

Zinnias

I love Zinnias.

They are easy to start from seed. They grow slow and steady, and they make great cut flowers – what’s not to love?

One plant yields quite a few flowers over the course of the summer – cut them and they keep coming back until colder nights settle in…

Start them in mid spring and transplant out once warm enough…around here it’s usually June to mid-June.

They start to flower in early August and are perfect for bringing indoors.

I hope you are able to bring a little of the outdoors, in.

(:

Stay well.  Be well.

I hope you plant some next spring.

Enjoy.

2020

Wow. 2020.

There is a lot going on right now.

Actually, I think that’s an understatement.

So much to consider, to think about, to question, to worry over…the future feels very  uncertain. On. So. Many. Levels… 

Granted, life is never certain. 

Well, except for death. That is certain. The timing of your death and your whole life preceding it, is of course – uncertain. 

Though right now, we are at an unprecedented level of ‘uncertainty.’   

Well, at least that’s how I’m feeling. 

How about you? 

For the past three years I had been focused on working, saving money, raising my son, working on my business, working on myself, paying bills, organizing my family, etc…life stuff.

Things were going along. I had plans. 

2020 was going to be ‘the year’. 

‘The year’ I turned fifty. The year I did so many of the things I had been wanting to do. Trying to do…

I planned on visiting friends (across the country), having friends come and stay with me, treat myself to a luxurious day at the spa (it’s been over a decade since I’ve had a ‘proper spa day’), buy something pretty for myself and plan a fabulous 50th. birthday party…

I booked tickets to visit a dear friend in Arizona. I was going by myself. I was envisioning being on the plane, by myself, enjoying a cocktail – mid flight – then landing, stepping off the plane and seeing my friend.

 Giving her a big squeeze, then off we go. Just two grown women. 

Able to talk, uninterrupted. Able to go wherever we want – without question or coercion, able to just ‘be’ without parenting…

The joy this brought me was immeasurable.

This was going to be my first trip – ALONE – since becoming a parent, (I became a parent over ten years ago), needless to say, I was r-e-a-d-y.

I had plans.

I’d been saving money for the past few years – specifically for my (month’s long) ’50th’  celebration!

If you’ve followed me in the past, then you know I love to save money.

(That was and is the whole point of this blog – to share ideas about saving money and living well…anyway – it’s been awhile since I’ve posted (years) but recently I’ve needed to get ‘back here’).

My months long celebration was going to start in April.

As I mentioned earlier – I was going to Arizona. 

I had the plane tickets (free from my credit card points), spending money (from my diligent saving), time off work (from my planning), my friend had taken time off, we already had a few restaurants in mind (research) …I was going to a new place. To spend time with a friend.

By m-y-s-e-l-f. 

BEYOND excited to say the least…it was happening!! 

You see, before I became a parent, I loved traveling.

Traveling by myself. Traveling with my partner…

My partner and I had traveled and lived abroad for years before starting our business and having our son, but I hadn’t traveled on my own, since having our son…

Well, our son is ten years old now.

Needless to say, 

I was ready.

I was ready for a lot. 

I was ready for change. 

I was ready to be kinder to myself. 

I was ready to make the next fifty years better than the past fifty…

I was envisioning my trip to Arizona to be a reminder of what it feels like to wake up without immediately having to take care of someone else’s needs, answer questions, make a plan for the day, not think about what’s for dinner…not be responsible for someone else’s needs…except my own.

Two free days.

To remember myself…

Pure bliss. 

It felt like a dream. I had the money to make it happen. And I was going to make it happen…I deserved it. I was turning 50 and had worked my ass off saving money to do all these lovely things for myself…

Turns out the dream never happened. 

In December (while online scrolling), I noticed an article about a ‘new virus’ surfacing in China. 

My stomach did that ’churny thing’ – that thing that makes you wake up and listen your instinct.

A new virus? Oh dear. What if it spreads? 

It’s only in China (right now).

Don’t panic.

Just keep an eye out for information regarding it’s spread…

Well, we all know what happened next. 

It spread.

It spread before anyone knew it was spreading…

Anyway – I had to cancel my flight. I lost my job. My child has been out of school since March 15 and my business is teetering on extinction…

So, ‘my year’ isn’t quite as I had planned. 

Granted – it’s like that for the entire human race right now…

Better for some. Worse for others.

Luckily I’m very resourceful…

I did take my trip, but it wasn’t as I originally envisioned…instead of flying across the country, I drove across my state – for nine hours – along nearly the entire coast…

I saw parts of Maine I had never seen and it was b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l.

I didn’t have to answer one question or be badgered with ‘how much longer??

I could just drive…and drive and drive…

So that’s what I did.

It was divine (despite the covid restrictions)…

Just me, myself and I – in my home state…

Happy Birthday to me.

I kept my promise to myself.

I traveled to a new place. Stayed in a new space, looked at things with new eyes and was grateful for where I was…

I turned 50. How did that happen?

Now onto the next ‘big plan’;  learning how to homeschool while updating my resume…

How are you adjusting to this ‘new world?’

Be well.

Stay safe.

Until next time…

(: 

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White bean, kale and potato soup

Now here’s a versatile soup that can be made utilizing a few basic ingredients;

Kale, onions, potatoes, white beans, veg./chicken stock, corn kernels, salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice, garlic, olive oil.

It can be made vegan or not. No white beans? Substitute navy beans.

No kale? Substitute spinach.

No potatoes? No worries.

No fresh corn kernels (who does in winter?) – use frozen.

Choose between vegetable stock or chicken stock (or bone broth).

Add sauteed mushrooms or not.

It’s truly a ‘use what you have’ soup!

Jennifer Wurst - Potato, kale, white bean soup

Half of one small onion – chopped.

One or two heads of garlic – chopped.

One good handful of kale – chopped.

5-6 peeled and chopped potatoes (depends on size of potato)

I.5 cups of white beans (or one can – rinsed)

4 cups of stock – veg./chicken.

1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernals.

Juice of one lemon.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Olive oil.

First take out your heavy bottom soup pot. Drizzle in some olive oil.

Add the chopped onion and saute until slightly browned. Add garlic. Saute a bit more…

Add in kale and maybe a little more olive oil – if needed.

Saute together until the kale softens. Add in potatoes. Give it all a good stir…and then add in the stock.

Add a few good pinches of salt. Freshly cracked pepper. Stir again.

Bring to a slow simmer, then continue simmering until potatoes are cooked through. About 20 minutes – give or take a few minutes …

Add in corn and lemon juice.

Taste for and add more salt/pepper if need be.

You can also add in dried oregano, basil or parsley. If you like to cook with wine – white wine would be nice to add in after the onions are sauteed. Give a little splash before adding garlic…

Serve with warm rolls/bread/pita – whatever you have…

Add a salad and you’ve got yourself a delicious meal!

Enjoy.

(:

 

In the garden…

It blows my mind. How things change…

It was only five months ago that my garden looked like this.

Yes.

Five months ago – February 2017. Snow to the tops of the fence posts – more than thigh high snow…

And while that was going on outside – I had these beauties going on inside…

and these lovelies waiting to pop up…

(garlic).

Though before any of these seedlings could be put into the ground, the snow needed to melt, the earth needed to warm and the ground needed to prepped…

Here was April.

I turned the soil, added peat moss, seaweed (collected locally), wood ash and love… then covered with a landscape fabric to help prevent weed growth, while also warming the soil…

The mosquitos are INSANE here and harvesting is challenging enough once July comes around, let alone weeding – so to minimize being maddened with buzzing while working in the garden, I try to keep my weeding needs to a minimum.

I cover the majority of the garden with breathable fabric and then fill in with hay. Each  allows water and sunshine through, while keeping weeds at bay…

In the pic above you can see black instead of the earth – that’s the fabric covering warming the earth while suppressing weed growth.

I cut openings for each row of veggies/flowers. I simply cut a line for a specified length and then pin down each side with landscape pins and wooden row ‘tags’ on each end. I then cover seeds with hay (to help with heat and moisture retention), and water – then once seedlings/plants begin to grow and become larger, I place hay between each individual plant. Like with the garlic greens seen above, (behind the wheelbarrow full of seedlings waiting to go in)…

Amazing to think that only a few months later the same garden would look like this.

Tomatoes, basil, leeks, red onions, broccoli, cauliflower, summer squash, cucumber, beets, lettuce, green beans, peas, swiss chard, kale, potatoes, brussel sprouts and self seeded cilantro. Phew.

Most started from seed.

Months ago.

In my house.

On window sills during the day…

And at night – moved beside our woodstove…

Or sown directly into the ground as soon as the garden was ready. In the case of garlic (below), it was planted last fall…while others waited until spring or early summer.

 

Either way, much love, planning and work has gone into each plant with the hopes that each will feed us…

Planning and growing are one thing – though there’s also the watering and the harvesting…

the picking, gathering, cutting, pruning, then it’s the washing, cleaning and storing…

A lot goes into growing food – yet it’s all necessary and SO worth it!

My kitchen sink doubles as the wash station and each veggie goes into it’s own separate bag and stored in the fridge – if necessary. Some veggies, like tomatoes (which aren’t ready for a few more weeks/months) are stored best on the counter. Each vegetable has it’s own needs…

Flowers are not be forgotten in a garden either…not only are they beautiful and useful (think cutting flowers), but helpful for pollinators. (:

So plant, plant, plant, plant. And love it – even when it’s 100 degrees outside, with 100% humidity and mosquitos are swarming you! (: It’s worth it.

Hopefully you can try it someday – even if it’s simply one pot of tomatoes or cucumbers on your fire escape.

Everything tastes better with love…

Be well.

Eat well.

Enjoy.

What’s you favorite vegetable?

 

 

 

No one needs to know these are gluten and dairy free!

Brownies. Who doesn’t love them?

Since starting this blog our household has had to switch from a glutenous, dairy laden household to a gluten free, dairy free household.

Some of our old favorites have gone by the wayside (sadly), but others have found their way back into our hearts (and bellies) – one such favorite is homemade brownies!!

I came across this recipe by MakeMineCadburys and gave it a try (with a few modifications) and they came out delicious.

Chewy, rich and chocolaty goodness…you’d never know they were dairy/gluten free.

Bonus – they are super simple to prepare.

Here’s what you’ll need and the how to;

Ingredients

1/2 cup coconut oil*

1/2 cup cocoa

1cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup gluten free flour

1/4 tsp. salt

*if you use triple filtered coconut oil, you will not taste coconut – if you use a ‘regular’ coconut oil, the brownies will have a coconut flavor – but hey, coconut and chocolate go very well together  – I tried it both ways and both were equally delicious – but see what works for your taste buds…)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line an 8 X 8 X 2 pan with parchment paper.

Parchment paper side note – I did not grease pan or the parchment paper before adding batter. I cut a piece slightly larger than the pan, let some ‘hang over sides’ then held in place with clothes pins. Once batter was complete, I poured it in and then spread evenly with rubber spatula, removing pins before placing in oven of course. Oh, and if you think the paper is hanging over just a bit too much, then trim it down – leaving enough to allow you to lift brownies out of pan once baked…

What to do next;

Melt coconut oil over low heat. Once melted, remove from heat. Add cocoa, then sugar, mix.

Then add eggs, one at time.

Stir in vanilla, salt, then flour.

Do not overmix.

Pour into prepared pan. Bake about 20-30 minutes or until tester comes out clean…

Let cool slightly in pan. Lift out and turn over (gently – not to break) onto a cooling rack. Carefully remove parchment paper. Let fully cool before slicing…if you can wait that long. (:

Enjoy!

It’s salsa time!

Homegrown tomatoes are amazing! They are juicy, plump, packed with vitamins and actually taste like a tomato. What a difference the sun makes!

And this summer we’ve had nothing but sun, so my garden is brimming with ripe, red, juicy tomatoes screaming to be eaten…so what to do with all those lovelies? Make salsa fresco!

tomatoes

It’s super simple and takes about 15-20 minutes.

Here’s what you’ll need;

Use the freshest of tomatoes for this recipe. I like the heirloom varieties best, though they are on the pricy side if your not growing you own, so if they are out of your price range, then try to find the tomatoes that are heavy in weight, firm to hold, yet soft to the touch – hopefully that makes sense! Whatever your preference with tomatoes, go for the best and this will make all the difference between an amazingly refreshing salsa and a ho-hum one…

So, here you go;

1.5 cups tomatoes (about 2-3 medium) – seeded and finely diced. With very fresh tomatoes, the seeds practically fall out while cutting into slices. I cut tomatoes into slices (then seed), then chop.

1 good handful of chopped cilantro +/- depending on taste

1/4 of a small white onion finely chopped +/- depending on taste

1/2 of a fresh jalepeno or serrano chili (with seeds), finely chopped – or use more for a more spicy salsa…

fresh squeezed lime juice from about 2 limes. (again, use more if you like)

1-2 good pinches of kosher salt

Mix all together in a bowl and readjust seasonings to your liking.

salsa

Eat immediately or let rest for a few hours before serving. This salsa will keep for a few days refrigerated, but best to enjoy within a day or two.

Enjoy!!

end of summer bbq

Fall is here and the leaves are changing, but we had one last hurrah before the cooler temps settled in…

Ahhhh, summer barbecuing, bonfires and good friends…a great way to end an absolutely beautiful Maine summer.

grape kabobs

Let the kids help! Grape kabobs are a great first ‘skewering’ job…

Then, let them move onto the veggies.

veggie kabobs

Even though it was a casual BBQ, I decided it was a great time to utilize a few of my ‘free finds’ – fun dishes, glassware and mason jars I used for holding all the silverware. Paper can be easier, but I prefer real plates, real silverware and cloth napkins – plus, it’s less wasteful.

setting-up

I made a few salads (in addition to the kabobs) as well as cupcakes for dessert.

cupcakes

The beets were picked from my garden and roasted, then topped with goat cheese, fresh basil and an olive oil drizzle. White bean provencal salad utilized dry beans (less than canned) which I prepared a few days in advance. Potato salad was assembled on the day of the party, though the dressing, potatoes and green beans (from my garden) were prepared two days in advance. Parties are fun if you prepare as much as possible in advance…and keep it ‘outdoors.’

salads

setting up

We thought the barn would be the perfect spot to eat. The table was set with a linen tablecloth that I picked up at Brimfield a few years ago for only $12.  The white tablecloths (under the floral one), candle stick holders, vase and a few  of the chairs were all found for free from my favorite shopping stop – the dump. The fun wooden folding chairs were picked up for $2 each, the other ‘t-back’ chairs were picked up for $5 each at a local yard sale. I love a bargain!

around the table

I also served a skillet cornbread and a fabulous cocktail – again, utilizing what I had on hand…

cucumber cape codder

Entertaining doesn’t have to cost a lot.

Invite good people. Ask everyone to bring something to share. Provide inexpensive (but lovely) salads, prepare as much as possible without buying a lot of pre-made foods, utilize what you have on hand and don’t forget the flowers. It’s the little things that make a difference…

And if you can, why not end the night with a bonfire under the stars…complete with blankets, pillows and marshmallows…

around the fire

Enjoy.

cucumber in a glass

This is my first post about a cocktail.

Anyone who knows me, knows I enjoy them, so I’m surprised that it’s taken me so long to write about one.

Perhaps it’s because I usually keep things simple;

Martini.

Bloody Mary.

Gin and tonic.

Margarita.

Vodka and homemade lemonade.

You get the picture.

Not much to write about…

Though, a few weeks ago I decided to have a little dinner party/BBQ and thought, why not serve a fun cocktail? One that can be pre-made and utilize what I have…

So I did a little research (with cucumbers in mind) – I had a lot of cucumbers (they are prolific this year!!) and came across this recipe (see below).

cucumber cape codder

I’m not fond of its’ given name…so I’ll just call it – Summer – for now…

It’s cucumber simple syrup, unsweetened cranberry juice, lime juice, vodka and I added a little bubbly with a splash of seltzer..

It’s not difficult and only requires a few hours – of which most time is the ‘steeping’ of the shredded/grated cucumber (in the simple syrup); this requires nothing of you except patience…

First you need to make the simple syrup.

There’s a reason it’s called ‘simple’ – it is.

Mix one cup water with one cup organic sugar (or whatever sugar you have on hand) in a small pot, bring to boil. Reduce heat, simmer and stir until sugar is dissolved.

Now, the original recipe calls for one English cucumber, but I didn’t have an English cucumber…so I improvised.

I know there is a difference between homegrown pickling cucumbers (the type I had on hand) and English cucumbers – but since I didn’t have English cucumbers, I used what I had – makes sense, right? In this case it worked.

I figured the expense of the sugar, my time, and my cucumbers would be less than driving 40 miles to buy an English cucumber…and it worked out just fine.

Granted I’ve never tasted this cocktail with English Cucumbers, but I do know it tasted damn delicious with my homegrown ones…so try a batch of each and let me know what you think.

Back to the recipe;

I used two peeled medium sized homegrown pickling cucumbers, instead of one English cucumber.

Size does matter here. The bigger the cuc, the fewer you will need. Use an average sized English cucumber (in your mind of course if you don’t actually have one) for comparison…

Grate them, don’t worry about the seeds being mixed in.

Measure two cups worth of this cucumber mix and add to simple syrup.

Pour carefully into a wide mouthed jar and let cool.

cucumber in syrup

Let rest, overnight, in the fridge.

top view - cucumber in syrup

Strain and collect simple syrup – discard solids.

strained syrup

You should end up with about two cups cucumber simple syrup.

Mix this (cucumber simple syrup), with the rest of the ingredients below and serve over ice with a cucumber wheel on the lip.

cucumber cape codder

enjoy!

  • 9 ounces vodka, chilled
  • 12 ounces cranberry juice (no sugar added)
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice (from about 4 limes)
  • Ice, for serving
  • Splash of seltzer

What do you think this drink should be named?

Do you prefer English cucumbers?

If you enjoy cocktails, do try this one. It’s refreshing, light and packs a punch. It’s also the epitome of summer…

Enjoy.