Thursday, August 19, 2010

Summer Zucchini Boats

If I had planted a garden this year, I would be up to my eyeballs in zucchini right now--and just about sick of making zucchini bread. 

Zucchini boats to the rescue.

I have a fantastic recipe for these little summer delights from my Fonda San Miguel: Thirty Years of Food and Art cookbook...but, much to my dismay, I cannot find it.  So I had to improvise.

Making these little boats is so much fun.  Hollowing out each half of the zucchini makes me feel like Sacagawea, Indian Princess, watching my handsome Indian warrior husband, Runs with Wild Animals, carve out our canoe in the moonlight by the shore of the great silent lake.  And as I see his strong muscles ripple in the silver light...  Oh, sorry.  Where was I?  Oh yes.  Recipe. 

Summer Vegetable Zucchini Boats

3 medium-sized zucchini
3 tbs. olive oil
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
1 cup raw spinach
1 can (15 ounce) whole kernel corn
1/2 can creamed corn
2 ripe Roma tomatoes, diced
1/4 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3 slices mozzarella cheese, torn

Halve the zucchinis lengthwise.  Using a melon-baller (if you have it; a small spoon or sharp-edged measuring teaspoon will work as well), carve out the seeds and flesh of the zucchini, being sure not to puncture the backside.  (If you do, it's not a big deal...your filling will just leak out a bit.)  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the zucchini boats on the paper. (Perfectionist's tip:  if your boats look to be tipping one way or the other, you can trim off a thin flat strip on the bottom of the squash to make it lay flat.)

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil.   Add the onion pieces and saute them for about 3-5 minutes, until they are beginning to brown.  Add in the raw spinach, stirring constantly.  (It will shrink and shrivel in the heat--don't be shocked.)  Add in the whole can of corn and only half of the can of creamed corn.  Add the diced tomatoes, and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes (make sure it's sizzling nicely).  Add the salt.  Give it a few more thorough stirs around the pan, add the shredded mozzarella cheese, and remove from the heat. 

Fill the boats with the corn mixture.  Tear the slices of mozzarella cheese into strips and set them on top of the stuffed boats. 

Bake the boats for 20 minutes.  Then, turn on your broiler.  Position an oven rack closest to the top heating element and broil for about 3 minutes (keep checking it so it doesn't burn). 

Grab a fork and enjoy summer's gift of good veggies.

This recipe has been approved by my pickiest gourmand.

10 Years Strong

Today is a wonderful day: Chris and I are celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary.  To say that we are more in love than ever is an understatement.  He is my best friend, my earthly rock (as opposed to the Rock that God is in my life), and the best father to our boys that I could ever ask for.  He's the one who taught me to love roller coasters and backpacking and being covered head-to-toe with dirt and grime as we build our dream backyard together.  To say we haven't had our struggles would be ridiculous (and seriously - what marriage hasn't?).  But we have weathered those storms.  And we are better for it now. 

And so my heart is rejoicing with the moment that--oh my goodness--I just looked at the clock, and it is exactly 1:15--the time our wedding began 10 years ago today!  The wedding was a little late getting started, and when I entered the church to walk down the aisle, on the arm of my precious little brother, the string quartet could not find their music to "The Wedding March" and there was a terribly awkward silence.  But they found it and, although a little out of tune, I was able to walk the aisle--my Princess Moment--to my man.  I couldn't be more proud of him, of us.

Thanks for "letting" me share that.

This bit of loveliness below is a card from my dear Heather Spriggs Thompson of Gathering Spriggs.  Please take a look at her amazing blog here.  Heather is so many things to me beyond a precious, priceless jewel of a friend; we've been through a lot together (since the 6th grade!) and cannot fathom life without each other.   These are roses picked from her own Nashville garden; they survived the deluge Tennessee has received in the past week. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Drinking from the Sky"

My precious Timothy woke up early today.  He sat in the living room with me, enjoying our daily act of "watching the morning come"  (i.e. being nice and still and quiet while Mommy drinks her coffee and gazes out the window).  We were enjoying a rare cool and rainy August morning. 

Recently, while playing outside, Timothy has been in the habit of catching butterflies who are attracted to the blooming Abelia bushes.  The dear little things are fairly intoxicated by the fragrance and sweet nectar; they become unaware of the lurking danger of a four-year-old's cupped hands.  Timothy catches them and brings them to me saying, "Look, Mommy!  I caught a butterfly!"  He opens his hands and releases it with the utmost gentleness.  To see his open palms and the wide smile on his face as he watches them fly away is so beautiful. 

Just now, in the midst of our morning snuggle, he went outside to play in the rain.  He told me as he was putting on his Crocs, "I'm getting so good at catching butterflies now that I'm going to try to catch baby birds!" and he skipped out into the morning rain in search of an unsuspecting one.  I watched him make his way into the front yard when, noticing the rain on his face, he stopped, tilted his head back and opened his mouth.  He raised his arms out to the side; that must be the natural position one assumes when drinking in the glory of fresh rain water.  Being at such a precious stage where he must share every discovery, he turned and ran back inside to me, eager for me to join him in the rain and "drink from the sky". 

And I did.

To just let go and turn my face toward Heaven, engaging in a delightful abandonment of all worries and cares did my heart and soul such good. 

May I recommend that to everyone who is schlepping around any sort of load on their shoulders?  It is good medicine, prescribed by my four-year-old "physician."

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Life Lessons from a Four-Year-Old

Timothy, after waking up from his nap:

Timothy:  "Mommy?"

Ginny:  "Hey, buddy.  I'm so glad you're awake!"

T (very serious):  "Yes, Mommy.  I'm glad, too.  Now, Mommy, I was thinking something." 

G:  "What's that?"

T:  "I think we should make a cake for our family."

G:  "A cake?"

T:  "Yes.  A cake.  You know, we can make a cake even if it isn't my birthday or your birthday or Daddy's birthday or Matthew's birthday.  We can make a cake for all our!" 

G:  "That sounds like fun."

T:  "But, Mommy?"  

Me:  "Yes, baby?"

T: "I think the cake should look just like my last birthday cake.  That would be extra fun."

Timothy's most recent birthday cake:

Today's cake will definitely be a "family" cake:  While helping me make it, Timothy sneezed in the batter (nothing gross came out, but still!), and he quadruple-dipped his "taste-testing" finger.  Ah, yes!  Family cooking at its germiest!

He also performed the most important duty of all:  licking the spoon.

Lesson learned?  Even if today isn't your birthday, celebrate your life anyway!

Home from the Market

Matthew and I ventured back out to the Farmers' Market today.  I will let the pictures tell the story.  (Except, the one thing they can't tell you is it was H-O-T.  By 10:30 AM it was already 93, but with the smothering humidity factored in, who knows what it was...just really hot.  We had a great time all the same.  It was sort of like when you're out shopping and about to faint with hunger but you walk into your favorite store and they're having a 75% off sale and somehow, your hunger just evaporates into the sale racks.  That happened as soon as I pushed Matthew's stroller up to the market;  I just embraced the heat as part of the experience and remembered how much I would miss this sweaty feeling in February.)

Her music was beyond lovely.

One of the fun things about this Farmers' Market is there is much more to choose from beyond veggies, flowers, and the ubiquitous weird wooden baskets (who buy those things?).  In addition to the violinist, there was a girl selling her gorgeous artwork.  I did ask her permission to take photos; enjoy them!  I think the hummingbirds are my favorite. 

Here are the goodies we brought home.  I can think of a lot of ways to spend $25, but I think this is my favorite:  perfectly ripe peaches, scalloped squash, corn, some sort of beautiful purple and green speckled bean, cherry tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, local honey, and a dozen fresh eggs. 

Wouldn't you agree?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Good Morning Granola

This morning, I woke up early.  I usually do, and I love it, but this morning was really early:  4:30.  I was laying in bed thinking about work (I have a major grant deadline on Thursday), about Timothy (I need to get some of those "Bob" books so he can start learning to read), about my brother & sister-in-law and their newborn baby girl (the first days home with a newborn are glorious...and really tough), and about spending more time intentionally resting.  That last thought got kicked to the curb as I quietly slid out of bed and went to start the coffee.

Does this ever happen to you, my other caffeine-addicted readers:  you start the day with a cup of coffee (or tea), intend to eat something, but instead have another cup, and then maybe another?  Before I knew it, I had been up two and a half hours with only coffee in my system.  I started feel a "bonk" coming on, and I needed to eat something fast. 

Fairly stumbling to the pantry, I perused the shelves, feeling particularly blase' about my choices:  cereal, toast...blah-bla blah, blah, blah.  In my delirium, I thought, "I need to post another food blog" and was then inspired to make some granola.  A quick scan through the cabinets confirmed that I had (most of) the ingredients (my #1 kitchen rule:  be flexible!).  The excitement of cooking and photographing the steps forced the pangs of hunger to retreat. 

I switched from coffee (it was all gone by now!) to tea:  a delicious Lavender Earl Grey from a beautiful farm deep in the heart of Santa Barbara County, California.  My music of choice was David Nevue's (simply divine) piano hymns.  The sun was rising now, its rays playing peek-a-boo with the picket fence in the front yard.  Wow.  I really love mornings:  the freshness and newness each day brings.  I became overwhelmed with desire to share this moment with you:

Last summer, I was on a "homemade-and-organic-everything" kick. With a then-3-month old, a 3 year old, and very little sleep, that streak didn't last long.  But I did come up with a pretty good granola recipe that I still churn out from time to time. 

As this is the first recipe I've posted, I feel the need to include several disclaimers.  As I mentioned above, be flexible.  If you don't have any coconut (or if you hate it and don't want to use it at all), the recipe will still work.  The ingredient list below is a best-case scenario.  Many people forego cooking because they freak out if they don't have every single thing on the list.  Improvise!  Now, if you don't have any oatmeal...this tip might not work out so well for you (including the basic skeleton ingredients is kind of a must).  But use your imagination - you'll be surprised at the results. 

Also, using quality ingredients really makes a difference in the way your food will turn out.  But you know what?  If you don't have a $40 bottle of olive oil on hand (or can't afford it!) it's OK.  Just use what you have.   It's better than nothing! 

Good Morning Granola
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup slivered almonds (or pecans or walnuts or a combo of all three)
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons coconut oil (it's solid at room temperature); canola oil will also work well here
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed into the measuring cup
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup dried fruit (I used dried blueberries, cranberries and cherries this morning.  Dried apricots or dates are yummy in this recipe, too.)

Set the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  (Do not underestimate the power of parchment paper!  I love it.  It is one of my kitchen BFFs (best friends forever).  Cookies won't stick to it, reducing the need for nonstick sprays.  The next time you bake chicken, use it on the bottom of the dish:  you'll be thanking yourself as you clean the kitchen.  Also, it doesn't smoke when heated - a big boost for the good vibes in your kitchen:  wax paper smoke stinks.)  In a large bowl, mix the oats, coconut and almonds together.  Spread on the prepared baking sheet and bake/toast for 10 minutes.  (Don't overbake:  the almonds will take on a strange bitter taste.)

In a saucepan, melt the butter.  Add the coconut oil, the brown sugar, honey and vanilla.  Stir almost constantly and bring it to a boil (this creates such a wonderful, homey fragrance). 

Return toasted oats mixture to the large bowl.  Add the berries and toss.  Then, pour the butter & honey mixture over the oats and berries and stir. 

Return to parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.  Let it cool and then store in an air-tight container (it will retain its delicious chewiness better that way). 

You can break it up as I did in these photos, or you can bake the granola in an 8x8 baking dish and then slice it into bars after it has cooled.

But for goodness' sakes, enjoy it before you pass out from hunger!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

When It Gets Too Quiet in the House, Don't Assume the Worst

The other day, I was cleaning the kitchen after breakfast.  The boys had been playing in the living room, zooming matchbox cars around and then crashing them in the windowsills (don't even ask me how many times a year I have to repaint the trim!).  Suddenly, I noticed that it was blissfully quiet -- a "sound" that is both good and bad.  Every mother of small children craves it, yet she fears it, too.  "What in Heaven's name are the boys up to?"  I have discovered them doing many things at moments like these in the past:  Matthew's recent facination with the toilet combined with his newfound ability to open doors (oh, man!) has created no shortage of excitement.  Also, his new favorite activity:  deleting programs off of the family computer.  Timothy is getting much better now that he's older; he's also good at "alerting" me to Matthew's actions.

But I digress. 

So, with the (blessed) silence registering in my brain, I turned on my heel to go find the kids.  As I approached their room and still did not hear any sounds, I started to wonder if somehow they had escaped outside without my noticing.  I poked my head around the corner and felt my heart squeeze as I saw this:

Oh, thank you, Lord, for these precious book-loving babies!

Garden Bounty...

Take a long, hard look at it.

It will be the only produce from my garden this year.

And I didn't even plant it, this little yellow crookneck squash.  The birds did.  In March, when I should have been tilling and seeding my vegetable garden, I was overwhelmed with work and Matthew's back-to-back-to-back ear infections.  So I didn't plant a thing, except the herbs in the kitchen windowbox.  A few weeks ago, I noticed a squash plant coming up in the middle of the play area in front of my normally-designated garden site.  "What in the world?" I wondered.  We sure didn't plant it.  But I am grateful for it all the same.  It has a few siblings that I will pluck later this week (that sounds awful, like it should be accompanied by an evil "muwwwwwaaahahahaha" laugh).

So, how to prepare this darling thing?  Lightly steamed and salted?  Yes.  I do believe so. 

We will savor the birds' gift.  I suppose it was their sign of gratitude to us for providing them with the "gourmet" birdseed during the winter.  Cheeky little beggars.

Living with Elmo...What?

Why the title for this blog?

Yesterday morning, I went to our local Farmer's Market, held on the heart-warming square of a nearby town, with a dear friend. She and I pushed Matthew around in his stroller - amidst a happy sea of kids, parents, grandparents, and dogs - and perused the lovely wares. The stands connect all the way around the square, and in the center, a shady, grassy common area - complete with a beautiful fountain - hosts those who cannot wait one more second to sample that perfectly ripe plum.

So...back to the blog title...I bought all sorts of yummies: perfectly fresh local peaches (so ripe that the juice dripped from my elbows when I ate one), yellow tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, a fragrant cantalope, and some scalloped squash. Just walking around, my mind was swirling with possible variations and recipes. I decided on a tomato salad, baked chicken, homemade biscuits, and a peach cobbler. When I returned home, Chris and Timothy were building the SkyFort (a wonderfully generous gift from's almost complete!). I made a quick pizza for lunch, put the boys down for a nap, gave the dogs haircuts and baths, and then - finally - turned to preparing dinner. And at this point, I wasn't even thinking about reviving the blog. I was just floating on air with anticipation of cooking with beautiful, fresh ingredients.

I sliced the tomatoes, drizzled some olive oil over them, added a pinch of sea salt and a few cranks of fresh pepper, opened my kitchen window and pinched a few leaves of sweet basil out of the windowbox (oh, be still my beating heart!!) and tossed them in. The colors just popped. So gorgeous. I put some chicken thighs (that looks so gross written out) in a large bowl, drenched them with Italian dressing and a few other ingredients, and set them in the fridge to marinate. Turning to the peaches, I peeled and sliced and mixed with brown sugar, cinnamon, corn starch, a few grates of fresh nutmeg, and some lemon juice and set those to macerate, also in the fridge.

Please venture with me down one more background-sharing bunny trail. Music is an inherent part of me. I've played the piano since I was 6. My mother loves classical music, and gratefully instilled this love in my own heart. While my piano-playing may be a bit rusty right now, two of my favorite pieces to play are Debussy's "Claire de Lune" and Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." Back in the day, before children and jobs and real-life responsibilities, I had those boogers memorized. Today, there's not room in my brain for 15 pages of sheet music, but someday...someday...I do plan to play them beautifully again.

So when I am in the kitchen cooking, I almost always have music playing. It is usually streaming out of my iPod docking station. What a wide variety of music is on that thing, from "Baby Got Back" (you cannot deny it's a great workout & house-cleaning tune!) to "Ave Maria" performed by Sarah Brightman to Ella Fitzgerald's "Dancin' Cheek to Cheek". But, my all-time favorite piece is Chopin's Nocturne in E minor, Op. 72, No. 1. It's beautifully mournful strains pierce my heart. And I love it. When it is playing, I feel more acutely aware of sights, sounds, colors, it is the perfect kitchen soundtrack. Now that I am fairly addicted to Pandora Radio, Mr. Chopin and I spend a lot of time together. So, five paragraphs later, there is the reasoning behind the first phrase of my blog title.

And living with Elmo? Well, lest anyone have false visions of my life and think that I am able to spend uninterrupted time in the kitchen (or anywhere else, for that matter), I thought I should add a description to let it be known that while I appreciate cooking and fine music, I also have two small children and no shortage of kid-stuff strewn about the house. And yes, my countertops may occasionally be dotted with jewels of peach cobblers and heirloom tomato salads, but more often you will find matchbox race cars, pacifiers, a partially transformed Transformer, and a dripping sippy cup.

Yesterday evening, after I had prepared the above-described meal, I was inspired by its gorgeousness and started taking photos. It was during this process that I decided to revive the blog. Not because I want to brag or show off, but because I want to SHARE. Share my heart, my dreams, my enthusiam for all things yummy and beautiful. And the realities (and hilarity) of life with small children.

Buttermilk Biscuits

Plated Deliciousness: Heirloom Tomato Salad, Baked Chicken and Buttermilk Biscuits

Let me just zoom out a little for you here, so you can see what was really going on as I snapped these photos.

That's our Matthew (16 months old). A few seconds before I took this, he had his right knee on the table and his left hand on the wine glass. And that was after he pulled the newspapers off of the chair and spilled the dog's water.

And a little more real-life for you: here's what I had to add to my beautiful dinner to ensure the boys would actually eat something.
That's right. Disgusting, rubbery, microwaved Easy-Mac.

Sigh. Life is so beautiful!