feelin’ the blues

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It’s nigh on blueberry season.

Smile.

There’s bushels of nutrition benefits in this bluesy fruit,  and these summer superstars are so versatile in all sorts of recipes from summer salads to muffins, crisps, pies and buckles. They’re a colorful staple in fruit salads and smoothies, and just plain pop in your mouth good – right after a good rinse.

I’m the first to admit, I find the work of picking a tad tedious, and you’re more likely to find me wandering among the bushes with my camera than my bucket. Still, I love these friendly, little berries and try to make the most of their time in season.

Since one of my summer goals is to eat more fruits and veggies, I’m thinking more about eating this year’s blueberries raw,  tart, and fresh and less about just-baked and juicy.

So what about these salad combinations?

Use blueberries and either baby spinach or spring mix as your base and mix in:

  • mandarin oranges, feta cheese, and slivered almonds
  • raw chunks of summer squash and zuchinni, red onion, turkey, and cheddar cubes
  • shelled peas, cherry tomato halves, carrot sticks, and freshly-shredded parmesan cheese
  • pick just about any other fruit to sidekick with your blues in a salad: strawberries, honeydew melon balls, watermelon, grapes, pineapple, or dried cranberries
  • other healthy toppings: walnuts, pine nuts, flax seed, sunflower seeds or a sprinkle or two of shaved coconut

This blueberry vinaigrette recipie looks luscious

You can also visit the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council for creative recipes as well as freezing, jamming, and canning tips.

Really. They’re a rough and tumble bunch of berries and ready for just about anything.

Go blue!

 

 

hospitality

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Our family houseguests arrived late yesterday afternoon.

Before their arrival, there were the usual preparations: the tidying, of course, and the laundering of linens.

I also spent a lot of time thinking about how to make our guests most comfortable, and that trail of thought led me to Vermont and the inns we’ve been fortunate enough to guest in.  Hospitality experts, all … and great role models for helping people feel at home away from home.

How do they do it?

I think it’s all about the breakfast.

Every single innkeeper welcomes you to their breakfast table with pretty table linens, fresh flowers – probably plucked from the gardens on the grounds – and hefty mugs of coffee.

Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but at home – it’s the meal we make the least amount of time for.  I don’t know about you, but for us, breakfast feels catch as catch can … a little random, almost always hurried, and grab and go – if eaten at all.  We never eat at a table, on plates, with conversation, and a tall glass of orange juice.

So here’s a sampler of where we’ve stayed and our breakfast inns-piration:

The Inn at Manchester 

A regular point of conversation between my husband and I – weeks now after our last visit: What do you think Frank is making for breakfast today? It’s fun to speculate on the innkeeper’s specialties. Cottage cakes? Scrambled eggs with Vermont cheddar? Waffles?

Hill Farm Inn

We visited Hill Farm Inn years ago, but I still remember the basket of mini muffins we’d wake to every morning.

Crisanver House 

We were first-time visitors to this Yankee Magazine recognized inn last month. Every morning’s breakfast began with colorful, fresh fruit piled high and luscious.

So our guests will wake this morning to these peanut butter, banana, and chocolate chip mini-muffins. This amazing granola. Some yogurt. And piles of fresh strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries we picked ourselves. There’s coneflowers on the table and the prettiest summer tablecloth.

What’s on tomorrow’s menu?

Frank’s cottage cakes – of course

Hot Cross Buns

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Good morning from the other side of winter storm Stella!

With upwards of a foot of snow predicted, school was cancelled before the storm even started. Snow day! A snow day sometimes feels like a gift, an unexpected (and much-needed) opportunity to slow down a bit and rest.

So I did plenty of that.

But I also puttered around the kitchen. As you’ve read before, nothing centers me quite like baking, and I’ve been looking forward to experimenting with hot cross buns for Lent. I honestly don’t much care for currents or other dried fruit typically found in these breakfast buns, so I tossed some cranberries in the dough to see how they’d turn out.

It was an adventure.

First, I almost broke our hand-held mixer. I really, truly thought I could get the dough to a semi-mixed consistency and hand mix the rest,  but it got too thick , too quickly. It was almost a disaster for that ancient mixer of ours.

Next, I think I added too many cranberries. By following the recipe, I added as many cups of dried cranberries as the recipe called for raisins and other dried fruit. Personally, I think it was a bit too much. Maybe cut the amount by a fourth.

After that, it was all Stella who stole the show because her drama-filled high winds knocked our power out just as I set the buns for their final rise.

Power resumed about two hours later, and by that time, I was ready for bed.

I did what I could to save the dough by refrigerating over night and baked this morning.

Stella’s gone now … and I think these buns are soon to follow suit.

Here’s the link to King Arthur Flour’s recipe for Easy Hot Cross Buns. Follow as is, or try the cranberries for something a little different. Enjoy for Lent … or any random Tuesday morning.

Snowstorm optional.

A Breakfast, A Dinner … and Dessert

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We’ve been enjoying more family dinners lately.

Getting three guys over the age of 21 in one place – much less around one table – is nothing short of ah – ma – zing!

And I’m not sure if it’s because we’ve been stranded at home with so many snowy days, or if it’s because I’ve been more creatively cooking, but either way, it’s pretty special to spend so much time with our children.

I wrote here about my Rally Cry for the New Year. 

And so far, I’ve tried nine new recipes in 2017!

Last night’s was this Garlic Rosemary Monkey Bread from Real Simple Magazine. Partnered with lasagna and Caesar salad, this bread earned an “OMG” and an “unreal” from the over 21 crowd.

Also?

These Five Ingredient Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars from Cup of Jo literally rocked our world. I mean … their world – I’m on a diet, so I’d eat the tiniest little corner and sigh happily.

One more recipe for the early morning breakfast crew:  

(Which would NOT include the over 21 crowd.)

Follow this Best Granola EVER recipe for a toasty, tasty topping for your fruit and yogurt. A granola that lives up to its hype, for sure.

Yummers. 

Blue Plate Special

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A few weeks ago, one of our neighbors knocked on the front door. He carried a whole plate of delicious in one hand and a dog leash in the other. It was hard for him to juggle both, I think, but he outstretched his hand with that blue plated cake, offering our family a sweet dessert.

And a little love.

We’d had a rough stretch over here on this side of the street.  Awkward stuff to talk about, really, and we stood there he and I, neither sure what to say. So we chatted a bit instead about his dog and probably the weather, but care and kindness were there – passed from his hand to mine, neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend, family to family.

The blue plate traveled back across the street today warmed by  a 3 x 3 array of cinnamon sugar pumpkin muffins, just out of the oven.

Once upon a time ago, I learned or read or heard never to return a dish empty. For a long time, I supposed such a custom to be about good manners.

I know now it’s about gratitude.

Each tiny muffin a warm thank you from our home to theirs.

Reaching out from one side of the street to the other.

And heart to heart.

P.S.  If you’d like to bake these oh-so-moist and autumn-inspired muffins, I used a recipe from Inspired by Charm. Mine came out more muffin-like than donut-like. They sure looked cute nested in their crisp, white muffin liners!

 

 

 

Strawberry Yogurt Pie!

The farm just down the road from home is our very first stop of summer.

Strawberries!

Sometimes – like life, I suppose – the picking’s easy and the berries are plump, juicy, and just about bursting. Other years, the berries are almost picked out and we have to work hard for every single one.

Yesterday’s picking was far beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations.  These berries, dressed in all their red, ripe finery, all but jumped into our baskets one after another after another.

Maybe it was my first-day-of-vacation euphoria, but it sure did feel like a celebration!

Here’s a quick little strawberry yogurt pie I made for breakfast today.

Ingredients:

  • 5 packages cinnamon brown sugar breakfast biscuits (20 biscuits)
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 32 oz container plain non-fat Greek yogurt
  • bunches (and bunches) of fresh strawberries

Steps:

For the crust:

  1. Crush 4 packages of biscuits in a gallon bag with a rolling pin.
  2. Melt the butter.
  3. Mix both biscuits and melted butter until evenly moistened.
  4. Press mixture into 9 inch pie plate to form crust.
  5. Bake crust at 375° for 10 minutes.
  6. Cool.

For the filling:

  1. Dice as many strawberries as you’d like to (liberally) mix in the plain yogurt.This is not the time to be conservative.
  2. Spoon mixture into the crust.

For the topping:

  1. Top with even… more … berries. Artfully arranged.
  2. Crush one last package of biscuits along with a tablespoon of brown sugar.
  3. Sprinkle atop your creation.

Tangy takes turns with sweet and crunchy and … hello summer!

 

 

Comfort

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I’ve had a hankering for soup. Some kind of warm my bones, my spirits, and my heart soup. It needed tomatoes. And rice. Definitely chicken. And a sprinkling of Parmesan. Because nothing ups my downs like melted cheese.

I often find comfort in the kitchen. Cooking smells and steam and a soapy sink soothe just about whatever ails me. And sometimes, I just need to reassure myself that normalcy exists. Yesterday, I found some solid ground in the chopping of vegetables and the boiling of rice.

You should know: This is not a real recipe. It’s a use-what-you-have and add some leftovers kind of thing. Comfort Soup’s best when it’s free-flying and relaxed – all the parts simmering together into one warming and delicious whole.

So here’s what I did:

  • Soft boil some chicken in a quart of chicken stock for 30 minutes. I used boneless, skinless thighs.
  • Cover and set aside for another 30 minutes while you hunt for and gather whatever else looks good.
  • I sauteed some leftover stir-fry veggies (summer squash, broccoli, and onions) in a tablespoon of vegetable oil until just soft. I also shook a bit of oregano and garlic powder in the mix. Oh. The. Smells.
  • I found a large can of diced tomatoes and a can of corn in the pantry.
  • That’s when I noticed the box of rice pilaf. I didn’t hesitate or question this choice. I felt inspired. And may have told myself I was brilliant.  Prepare the rice according to the directions on the box.
  • Bring your chicken and stock back to the burner on low. Shred the chicken (which is oh-so-tender by now) with two dinner forks. Add about a cup and a half of water (I used the empty corn can.)
  • Here’s the fun part: in no particular order – slip all that stuff you’ve found in with the chicken and stir gently. Add some salt. Ground pepper. Heat until warm enough …

To melt the cheese you sprinkle on top.