A Busy Peachy Day

Yesterday was a real old fashioned summer day, a day for lounging and not getting dressed, filled with reading and knitting and decompressing, I so needed it.  I got caught up with the Olympics and finally got to watch the opening ceremonies that everyone's been talking about.  The Queen!  Isn't she fabulous?  What a sport!  I thought she looked beautiful in her soft pink and she is a very lucky queen indeed to have Mr. Bond as her escort.  I loved the fireworks and everyone singing Sir Paul's na na na anthem.  Was I seeing things, or did it look like he was missing a molar?  Oh, don't mind me, I'm tired today.

We have a tomato tasting every day.  FUN!  The bottom is Black Krim, my favorite on the plate, nice and tart.  The orange Persimmon was my husband's favorite, it's a bit sweet.   The top red was German Johnson, well, that one was just great too.  We love them all, and taste tests are kind of meaningless since they are all great.

Harvest is coming on strong in our little garden patch.  That means a lot of work for me, trying to figure out what to do with it.  Today was busy, I made 8 quarts of tomato sauce with about 35 pounds of tomatoes we picked this morning.  I prepared green beans and put them in the freezer, made 4 quarts of roasted eggplant soup and 2 pans of eggplant lasagna which was so good, I'll going to post the recipe tomorrow.

Today I answered the door and it was my neighbor giving me these beautiful peaches from her tree!    She would not take any veggies as a thank you in return, not even one cucumber, something about her going away next day or something like that.  Hmmm, very suspicious.   I did, however take a big bag of them to the knit store today, they seemed very happy to get them.  Nice to know this little bit of info.

So for the peaches, since I was immersed in the kitchen all day anyway, I thought of making a peach tart, but felt too frazzled for pastry and thought we (I) might be too fat for that anyway because I've been eating leftover cupcakes on the sly.  A better choice was to make a non fat peach sorbet.  Here's what I did:  Popped the peaches in boiling water to remove the skin, whirled them in the processor with 3 big spoons of sugar, 1/2 cup non fat Greek yogurt, juice and zest from 1 lemon and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.  At this point I refrigerated the mixture, it's much better if it goes in the ice cream freezer very cold.  It took less than 1/2 hour in the machine, then fresh peach sorbet appeared, so good, so summer good.  My husband gave it a "ten".  He likes to rate my kitchen endeavors, I let him do that because he always gives me a nine or ten.  And that blob of white on my husband's sorbet?  It's Cool Whip, he loves that stuff and makes no excuses about it.  So now you're thinking, this guy is rating food?

I finished two books I haven't told you about.  Unfamiliar Fishes, a history of Hawaii since the arrival of the missionaries.  I love Hawaiian history, maybe because I visit Hawaii often and have so many friends there.  One of my friends is a descendent of one of the missionary families and her family is all over this book.  While I feel the author did her research and I learned quite a bit and thought it was interesting enough, I got fed up with her constant dismissive wise cracking about Christianity.  I put it down half way through and read another book, then picked it up again and finished it.  The second half was much better, more facts, less snarky, but still quite a lot snarky, just less of it.  I've read better Hawaiian history books.

The other book was Up From Orchard Street by Eleanor Widmer, a memoir of tenement life in New York's Lower East Side of the 20s and 30s.  I enjoyed it so much.  I love social history and really got swept away with the memorable characters of the author's youth.  Highly recommended!  Next time I go to New York, which is hardly ever unfortunately, I must visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

I've just started Gone Girl and so far I love it.

Let's Party!

This weekend my husband and I hosted a party for my Monday morning knitting group and their husbands.  Here's a little history of how this group started.  About 15 years ago, 4 of us played doubles tennis every Monday morning and then would stop for coffee.  I brought my knitting and the girls wanted to learn.  Next week we bought yarn and I gave lessons and we all made little American Girl doll sweaters over the next few weeks.   Thus, new knitters and a knitting group was born.  Soon, another friend wanted to join.  Then another.  Then another.  Now we are 10 friends meeting every Monday morning to knit and chat but there is no tennis anymore, (now it's golf!).  So let's have a party and celebrate this friendship.

I wanted to have a party when our garden was at it's prettiest.

The veggie garden was bursting, after all, it's July in California.

All the girls love to cook and all entertain beautifully, so I thought, what could I do to make this party a little different from any thing else we've done as a group?   I know, a from-the-garden-only party, our little patch of garden only.   I like things to be as easy, fresh, tasty, healthy and as pretty as possible.  I'd like all that and the appearance of a unicorn too!  I knew my husband and I could do all (most) of it with some careful planning.  Planning a party maybe isn't quite the scale and precision of military strategy, but darn near!

A plan of attack started with a poke around to check out what we're harvesting now:  all herbs, tomatoes, oranges, cucumbers, eggplant, chard, beets, lettuce, green beans, patty pan squash and green onions.

We chose a night when most of the girls and their husbands could attend.  We were 17 and so set 3 tables on the patio next to the vegetable garden, the celebrity of the evening.  I used my Le Jacquard linens in my brightest colors to match the flowers.

I worried that the evening would be too cold but the weather was beautiful!

The buffet table in the dining room was ready.

We set up the drinks table with wine and champagne, sparkly water, scotch and beer.  I figured that takes care of about everyone's wishes.

I do all the prep work in the morning and leave only the cooking of the hot dishes for the last.  I have a young woman help me out who knows my kitchen and my style of entertaining.  She and her helper came 1/2 hour before my guests and helped with drinks, last minute cooking, serving and clean up.  Without their help, I would have been too busy to enjoy my own party.  I try to hire someone if I have over 12 people, not always, but I never regret having help.

We started with these Caprese Bites I saw on Pinterest.  A little dot of balsamic reduction on each tiny jewel made each little mouthful perfection.  The reduction is so easy to make, a nice new addition to my recipe repertoire.  We also served smoked salmon and dill on cucumber slices.  Beautiful.

Next, I made a bit of a production of serving cold cucumber soup in little glass coffee cups.  People loved it and asked for seconds.

Main course was marinated grilled chicken breasts and thighs, with the skin and bone left on for flavor.  Marinade for 24 pieces of chicken was 2 cups olive oil, 1 cup fresh lemon juice, 1/2 small jar lemon chipotle prepared mustard, 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup fresh rosemary.  Marinate in zip-lock bags overnight.  I grilled in the oven for about 1/2 hour turning half way through, and right before it was done, I basted it with the remaining half jar of mustard and 1 jar lemon chutney and grilled another 5 minutes until it was shiny and glazed.


My side dishes were the stars.  A large platter of sliced tomatoes with pesto, a platter of cold roasted beets and oranges with tarragon vinaigrette, stir fried green beans with slivered almonds.

Also scalloped potatoes, peeled and sliced, baked with half and half and gruyere.  (OK, so this was a bit of cheating, I don't have potatoes in the garden right now, but my husband really insisted on a potato dish)  But everything else was fresh from the garden that day and I can't tell you how proud I am of that.

The beautiful evening ended with chocolate cupcakes and coconut cupcakes.  I am really glad that I decided on cupcakes which I set out right before the guests arrived.  After dinner, I announced dessert was ready by simply lighting the candles on the dessert table and letting the guests find their way in to help themselves to something sweet.  So easy!  I used The Barefoot Contessa cupcake mixes. and do love her baking mixes when I am in a bit of a squish for time.  Or not.  They are just that good.  (I've made the coconut cupcakes from scratch, here's the recipe, but really, you can't tell the difference between the two.)

Whoa there.  There is a party favor to take home.  No excuses.  No really, you must.  I insist.

It was a super fun party.  People stayed late which is always a good measure that the party went well.  We really feel blessed that we have the nicest friends.

Please come back soon.  I'm working on a vineyard/bottling party/luncheon-under-the-arbor post that I think you will enjoy and also an actual knitting post with actual FO.

xoxo Kristen

Mr. Big

For breakfast this morning, this beautiful Pineapple Tomato.  Every gardener wants to grow 2 pounders and this one weighed in at 1 lb. 7 oz.  Close.  We are getting close.

Mr. Big is beautiful on the inside too!  Hot yellow-gold slices streaked with hot orange.  The taste lived up to it's Pineapple name, it was slightly sweet and fruity, yet tart too.  We're having a party this weekend and I know a large platter of sliced tomatoes will be on the buffet table.

Here are some other hot orange and yellows in the garden this morning.  Nasturtium reseeds itself among my veggies.

Pattypan squash looks so pretty with it's flower bouffant.

Graham Thomas, an exceptional repeat bloomer by David Austin.

Have a wonderful week!

Summer Dinner Party

We had a dinner party last night for 6 people, my favorite number to have at the table.  I love 6 for several reasons:  We're all in the same conversation at the table, and it's the easiest number to cook and clean for.  I like to wake up next morning to a clean house and with 6, all the dishes will fit in one dishwasher load filled that night.  I'll even spot the linens and put them in the washing machine that night.  I wake up and toss them in the dryer and unload the dishwasher and, hooray, all done!

For setting the table I started with the tablecloth.  Usually I start with the flower centerpiece, but I knew that whatever I choose from my linen stash, I would have many flower choices as my garden is exploding with beautiful blooms.  The tablecloth is a cream cotton Waverly shabby chic fabric with pinkish red morning glories with gray leaves combined with cream colored napkins.

 The flowers were a mix of roses and dahlias.  These pink/yellow dahlias are my favorite.

I chose my mother's Imperial Candlewick glass china and my aunt's delicate stemware. The table was bright and light and casual and pretty, a perfect table setting for summer.  I set everything up in the morning or even the night before if I can.  I have most, if not all of the food prepped and kitchen cleaned by noon, then I have the day to do as I please.

The evening started with appetizers of salmon-dill mousse piped onto a cucumber round.  For the mousse, I whirled in a processor:  8 oz. low calorie (or low fat, yes, there really is such a thing) cream cheese, 2 small cans excellent salmon, no skin, no bones, fresh dill.  That was it and it was very good.

And always, pink champagne for the girls!

I always plate the first course and have it on the table just before we sit.  This time I served an orange, roasted beet and tomato salad with tarragon vinaigrette.  Oh my, the colors were gorgeous and nothing beats fresh-from-the-garden for taste.  Everyone went nuts over this salad.

I like to serve the main course as a buffet on the bar that separates our dining room from the living room. Buffets are great as they allow your guests to have the choice of how much they want to serve themselves, and then seconds are right there.   I have this gigantic white platter that I use for this, Crate and Barrel years ago.  Please excuse my bad food pictures.  I barely had time to grab my camera to take a picture before it flew out of the kitchen.  My husband thinks I am nuts!

Dinner was grilled marinated chicken.  My marinade was lemon juice, olive oil, dijon mustard, fresh chopped rosemary, brown sugar and salt.  I marinated skinless boneless breasts all day.  We also had stir fried baby green beans with almonds.  It all sounds pretty simple and easy, doesn't it?  Yes, it was, that's about the only way I like to entertain these days.  Keep it simple, keep it easy and keep it fresh.

The best thing for me was being able to have the whole dinner from the garden, except for the chicken of course.  So I was really really proud of that, our little garden and all our work making such a nice dinner for our guests.

Oops, almost forgot dessert, this olallieberry jam tart!

I just finished a sweet book called Merle's Door.  (I snuck it in while I was supposed to be reading another book, do you ever do that?)  If you are a dog lover then you will absolutely adore this book.  Not sappy in any way, just a wonderful story about a very cool dog and his human dad.  Read it if you love doggies, you will thank me.  Bye for now, and I do promise to have knitting posts soon.  Honest!

The Magnolias Are In Bloom

We have a large magnolia tree in our front yard.  When it blooms,
the whole yard smells like lemon pie and I keep the windows open.

They aren't easy to pick, they are usually up too high,
but these were within my reach.

I made a gorgeous arrangement in my beautiful Arte Italica pewter soup terrine,
with Shasta daisies, roses and nicotiana.

Now I'm going to sneak in my thoughts on breakfast.  For the last ten years we have added more veggies to our diet, a health choice, but since we were already eating so many, the only way we could bring more in was to include them in our breakfast.  So we thought, why not?  If we like certain foods for lunch and dinner, why wouldn't we like them for breakfast too?   It does take a bit of getting used to, but we love it now and rarely go back to a traditional American breakfast.

I make breakfast stir fries a lot, with chopped up vegetables that are in the garden or fridge, with just a tiny bit of olive oil and salt and a dash of chopped herbs.  We have salads too, also lentils and vegetables, but mostly we have vegetable soup and I also juice. 

Beet tops and all go in.

I juice almost every morning, or maybe half the time.  This is pretty typical of what will go in the juicer and will make two glasses.  I don't peel anything, just wash and toss it in.  I'm sad if I don't have a lemon or two or an inch or two of ginger root.  Both add a snap of flavor that we love.  I will juice anything and everything but some concoctions taste better than others.  I have learned to never juice green beans (what was I thinking?).  If you are new to juicing, it may be good to add an apple the first few times to make it sweet.  Juice only what you will consume in the next 10 minutes, the nutritional benefits don't have a long shelf life.  My exception is when the apples come in.  Once a year I juice apple/carrot/lemon/ginger juice and freeze about a dozen quarts and we enjoy it all winter.

Juicers are not created equally and I think the Juiceman brand is by far the best.  Everything goes in the dishwasher except the motor and it does the best job of extracting the juice as the pulp comes out very dry.  The big con to juicing is that you don't get the fiber of the vegetables, but you do get the concentrated fresh nutrients and that is hard to beat.  We get our fiber in other ways.  By the way, juicers only last for me about 2-3 years.

Now is the time for me to come clean and tell you about our morning soup.  My friends and family think we are a bit cracked, but we love this.  I use a Magic Bullet and it has lasted for YEARS.   Almost every morning I stuff it with leftover veggies from the night before if any, and add fresh ones.  This morning I picked green beans and Swiss chard and stuffed that in and then had two slices of tomato left from last night and added a garlic clove.  Add a bit of water and into the microwave it goes for 5 minutes or so.

After cooking it will sink down a bit and there is just enough room to
add a dash of salt and any other spice or herb that seems right,
and then a good dollop of non fat Greek style yogurt.

Then you screw on this blade thing and turn it upside down onto the motorized base and whirl it into a cream soup.  If I have any leftover chicken or meat from the night before I'll chop it up and put it in the bowl for texture and more protein.

We also love carrot, ginger and red bell pepper soup, celery and spinach soup, squash and corn soup, the possibilities are endless and it's always seasonal.

That is usually enough for us. We will change things up a bit and have oatmeal and fruit or yogurt with fruit or an egg. And like I said, we love salads, stir-fries and lentils too. Occasionally I will make green smoothies.

I found these vintage Pyrex individual soups with lids at a garage sale.

When the kids come to visit, they know what we do, they see what we do, but they have no interest in sharing what we eat in the morning.  They think it's too strange.  We still love a big old breakfast and when the kids come my husband likes to make fried eggs and bacon, or sausage and pancakes, French toast, so all that's good too!  But our everyday routine, is mostly, well, soup.

As a footnote, we do get our blood sugar checked when we get our checkups and we are good with all that.  My husband takes vitamin supplements, I never have.  My husband has slight heath problems with his heart and high blood pressure and cholesterol and I have food allergies and sensitivities and I hope our diet enhances our wellness.  I don't get on a soap box, still people ask me if I'm trying to live to 100, but that's missing the point, I just want to feel better while I'm here.

I'd like to know what you think, maybe you do something similar to create a healthier diet?  I'd love to know and hope you'll comment.  Thank you so much for reading.  I'm really not a health nut, just the food planner and chief chef of an empty-nest couple trying to do our best!