Friday, June 30, 2017

Fresh Spaghetti Sauce

Coming from an Italian heritage, with real homegrown, canned gravy (Italians call red pasta sauce gravy), I am a bit choosy about what I put on top of pasta. Each year I plant the herbs and veggies I intend to use for my homemade sauce. This is a more traditional red sauce, that once cooked down, I freeze until ready to use.

Since pasta is a staple meal in our home, I usually run out of frozen sauce long before my own garden produce is ready. This Fresh Spaghetti Sauce fills in the gap.

Fresh Sauce is best when made about an hour before you intend to use it. This provides some time for the flavors to mingle together, and it cuts down on the zap from the garlic. You can whip it up while you're waiting for your pasta water to boil though, if you are short on time.

Fresh herbs are the best to use, but if there is no fresh to be found, you can substitute dried. You can also adjust the quantities to taste.

Fresh Spaghetti Sauce

4-5 Roma Tomatoes, skinned and diced (I never bother with skinning my tomatoes and no one has noticed! You can use a beefier, juicier tomato also)
2 cloves Garlic, minced (I use a garlic press)
3/4 can of whole Black Olives, chopped
3/4-1 c. Olive Oil
Oregano, or 3-4 bunches, minced (use about 1-2 tsp. dried, or to taste)
Sweet Basil, 4-5 very large leaves, minced (use about 1-2 tsp dried, or to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
                                                                 Optional: Fresh Fennel Leaf; Balsamic Vinegar (2 T.) for cold salad

Place all prepared herbs and veggies in a bowl. Pour olive oil over the top. Mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste. That's it! Once your spaghetti has finished cooking, stir the sauce again and then spoon over the top of your pasta. The warmth from the pasta will help release the flavors of the sauce.

This recipe, plus 1 pound of spaghetti feeds my family of 3 dinner, plus leftovers. We prefer this as a hot pasta dish, but it can be made ahead and used as a cold pasta salad with the addition of the Balsamic Vinegar, just prior to the olive oil, and changing to Rotini. Chill and serve.

I have been asked about the quantities provided. This recipe is essentially just a guideline. Adjusting it does not really affect anything other than flavor and quantity of sauce. A beefier tomato will provide more juice and may require more frequent stirring to prevent separation from the oil. I tend to use less olive oil, as I just don't think it needs that much. (Of course, I also don't use a recipe anymore when I make this!)

You can leave out the salt if you are on a low-sodium diet, and increase the amount of herbs. You can add in a tiny bit of fresh fennel leaf for a truer traditional red sauce flavor. You could even mince up some fresh spinach leaves and toss them in! The kids will never know!

Towards the end of our summer growing season, this is also a great recipe for those last few garden veggies you have. Occasionally during the winter months I will make some just for a taste of fresh vegetables since the grocery store always has fresh veggies.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Fresh Pineapple Mango Salsa Salad

When the garden begins to produce all those lovely veggies we hoped for, we have to find something to do with the abundance. Often it seems that everything needs harvesting at the exact same time!

Our grocery store has a small greenhouse they set up every year. We don't purchase any of our garden veggies there, BUT, the other day they had them reduced to just 50¢! So we had to grab a few things. I didn't plant any varieties of hot peppers this year, as I still have bags of frozen jalapenos from a few years ago, but with the price I thought I might as well. They had some hot banana pepper plants, so I grabbed the 4 pack that had tiny little banana peppers already started.

Of course, the peppers had to come off so the plants would grow bigger than 2 inches tall. But what to do with 3 bitty peppers? Fresh Pineapple Mango Salsa Salad it would be! Why a salsa salad? Salsa and chutney refer to sauces made of veggies or fruit, that are cooked. We aren't cooking this, and it's not a sauce. You could however cook this down, and you would indeed have a salsa since the ingredients are basically the same.

These tiny peppers still packed a huge amount of zing! When working with hot peppers, I always suggest using gloves while preparing them. If the oil from the peppers gets on your fingers, everything you touch will feel the burn of pepper, so make sure to wash your hands thoroughly (longer than you think you need to) with soap and warm water, and still use caution when touching your eyes! I washed twice, and still managed to have some stuck under a finger nail, which I noticed when I tried to eat a plain piece of pineapple!

I happened to have frozen mango in my freezer, and had just purchased some pineapple chunks for another recipe. You could use fresh of both, but honestly, I found it far easier to just chop up the frozen mango and canned pineapple, then try to peel, core, etc…
Fresh Pineapple Mango Salsa Salad    

1/2 can (20oz) pineapple chunks (about 1/2 cup), drained, cut in half
1/2 cup frozen mango chunks - cut these into smaller pieces
3 tiny banana peppers OR 1/4 to 1/2 of a whole banana pepper, minced
1 clove garlic
3 pinches of dried cilantro OR 3 T. fresh, minced
Salt & pepper to taste.

Mix all ingredients together in serving dish. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit for 1 hour, or longer, for flavors to meld. Stir and serve! This is great with chips, or you can spoon it over the top of chicken, pork or fish during the last 15 minutes of cooking.

I usually leave this covered in the refrigerator overnight, stirring at least twice more. I also will add some pineapple juice if it seems too dry, or if it's too spicy.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Studio Garden

I am so excited about my (sort of) new project! Years ago while in 4-H I took a project called Flowering Arranging. It was so fun!! As I worked through it, it suggested using dried flowers, and provided examples of flowers you could grow and dry yourself.

That led to my experimenting, and doing more research on flowers to grow. Which led to my discovery of dried herbs, which led to my passion for herbs, which led to learning about essential oils and aromatherapy, which led to a retail store and a passion to pursue natural health, which led to today.

I've been growing and using herbs for over 25 years now. This year, after a season of hard things, healing, and a ton of growth personally, I realized that I am so passionate about so many things it would be hard to choose something specific to focus on as the 'what I want to be when I grow up' mission. Since my daughter graduated, I am no longer a homeschooling mom, which means I now have free time to pursue whatever my heart desires!

With that knowledge, the art side of the Studio moving forward, God providing me with many open doors to walk through, and a deeper understanding of who I am…. I have created 'The Studio Garden', bringing back my passion for 'all things herbal' which was my tag line from my retail store.

The Studio Garden is a place filled with fragrance, beauty, usefulness, and a constant reminder of how amazing it is to be able to grow the very things we use! I've put a ton of work into the herb garden, moved plants, added new, and plan to continue working on creating a space I adore. This garden has existed for just over 16 years, so it has undergone a number of changes. I'm sure I will make many more still this year!

We just added additional patio stones for the table, and have some comfrey being added to the garden

Recipes are being worked on (some of which you have, and will, see this week in my blog), classes and workshops are being planned, unique plants have been added to the gardens, tea time in the herb garden will begin, and all my fave things will be brought out!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Lavender Mint Scones

The Studio garden is filled with an abundance of herbs, and most are thinking they need to flower right now. Once an herb goes to flower, it loses its lush abundance of leaves, and you end up with a leggy, stemmy, plant that wants to reproduce. This does not make for an abundant harvest!

To keep this from happening the plants pruned and flowers removed. But what to do with all these fresh tops? Why use them of course!! I usually dry the majority of them, but this year has been a strange growing year, so I have been using as much of the fresh as I can.

This is a quick and easy recipe that is sure to please everyone in your household and will definitely get your friends talking. My family happens to enjoy lavender flavor, but they are used to eating herbs. You can substitute any herbs or spices you have on hand. I had added some Lemon Balm to these as well, but not quite enough so they were missing the zing of lemon I had hoped for.

My family usually eats a bunch of these when they come out of the oven, slicing and adding butter. They are just as tasty the next day, so one batch does not last long at my house. I store them in an airtight container, unless glazed. If I glaze them, I will leave them on a platter with plastic wrap over them. They get eating quickly enough they don't dry out to much.

Lavender Mint Scones

 2 c. all-purpose flour (I use unbleached)
1/3 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. butter (you can use margarine)
1 egg
3/4 c. vanilla yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla extract (optional, I use vanilla yogurt so I rarely add this)
1 T. fresh mint, minced
                                                                 1 1/2 tsp. dried lavender buds (if you use fresh, double this, so 3 tsp.)
1) Preheat oven to 400°. Grease baking sheet.
2) In a large bowl combine all dry ingredients.
3) Cut in butter until mix resembles coarse cornmeal.
4) In a medium bowl, beat egg. Add in yogurt and herbs. Beat together. 
5) Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, stirring until a soft dough forms. (This will be very sticky!)

6) Turn dough onto a floured bread board (your counter will work, but flour WELL, as this dough is very sticky!!). Knead dough by hand 10-12 times.
7) Place kneaded dough on baking sheet, patting into an 8" circle. Cut into 8 sections with a floured knife. Do not separate sections. (I use a round biscuit cutter to cut out scones.)

8) Bake 18-20 minutes (less if your create biscuit sized rounds), or until brown on the top.
9) Cool on rack. Separate sections when ready to serve.
10 ) Once cool, store uneaten scones in tightly covered container. They will dry out quickly!

Optional: You can add a glaze by brushing top of scones with heavy cream, and then sprinkling with sugar before baking. You can also mix heavy cream and powdered sugar to create a glaze to brush on after cooling if you would prefer.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What If?

When I was little, growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, my parent's had a large cherry tree in the back yard. We only lived 1 block from a huge park, complete with pool where I took swim lessons. The street we had to cross was extremely busy though, so my dad hung a board from some rope in the tree so I could swing at home.

What joy to swing up into the tree!!! I would stand on that board and pick off cherries from the lower branches. I would lean back and try to touch them with my toes. 

At the park I could swing on a swing set, and look right into the sky. I could fly!! No matter how high I swung, I could never seem to touch the sky or the clouds with my toes. But I could soar and see the tops of some young trees. I was joyful and free!

Now when I sit on a swing set, I realize that I am a little bigger than I used to be, therefore a little less joyful and a little less capable of soaring. Adulthood kills so much joy and fun!

What if that wasn't really true? What if even as adults we could sit and swing, stretching our toes up into the sky trying to touch the clouds? What if we pretended we could fly and soar and find joy in swinging?

Worse is the fact that we live out every day the same way. We don't think we can soar anywhere. We talk ourselves out of flying, simply because, as we try to pretend, we are older and wiser. Of course we can't fly or touch the sky with our toes! We've matured beyond such silliness!

What if we didn't? What if we had that same youthful joy? What if we could have that same youthful spirit? Would we even want it?

What if I told you that you could? What if today was the day you could soar through the tree's, touch the clouds with your toes, stand on the swing and just pick cherries right out of the tree? 

This week, I've bee participating in a book club, for my friend Bonnie's new book, Whispers of Rest.  (You can still join us!!) We are only on Day 9 and already it is messing with so many ideas and notions and thoughts and beliefs!

There has not been one single 'what if' question, yet that is exactly where I find myself. What if I could recapture the joy of childhood? What if life really were less complicated than I choose it to be? What if there was a way to just sit still, or swing, and find joy?

What if we are supposed to stop worrying about being adults and responsible and what others think? What if we are supposed to run through the sprinkler, go play on a swing set, sit and pick out shapes in the clouds? What if we were meant to live lives filled with joy and wonder and simplicity? 

I don't really have an answer yet to all the what ifs. I do know that I am beginning to see a picture of life that goes against everything I ever thought. A life filled with freedom and joy despite the hard things. A life filled with smiles and picnics, despite the weather. A life that is so filled with good, that the bad looks less bad. A life in which we truly can soar!!!!!

Stuffed Mushrooms

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