July 30, 2010

Summer Salads

One of my favorite things to eat in the summer is salads made of whatever is fresh from the garden right now. Then I often add something from the fridge that needs to be used up, or some other local goodies.

Greens plus steamed asparagus, walnuts, and hard-boiled eggs with local dressing

Greens plus fresh herbs, carrots, radishes, olives, asparagus, celery, and crumbled goat cheese

Leftover salad from above plus local cheddar and local bread with goat cheese and slow-fried garlic cloves

Spinach plus asparagus, broccoli, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs (done like this so they are still a bit soft) dressed with oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper

What's your favorite summer thing to eat?

July 29, 2010

Fresh Blueberry Pie

As promised...and with folks gently reminding me...below is the scrumptious and easy Fresh Blueberry Pie recipe.
I don't have a photo of mine and can't seem to link to any photos online (lots of photos available of double-crusted blueberry pies but this one is open-faced. For a glimpse look at the one at Open-Faced Blueberry Pie...although the recipe there deviates from my easier version).

Pastry for Single-Crust Pie

1 cup fresh blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup cold water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup water

** 1 8-ounce package, cream cheese softened
2 tablespoons milk
3 cups fresh blueberries

(**I often substitute approx. 6-7 ounces of neufchatel cheese -- similar to cream cheese with lower fat content) 

Prepare single pie crust -- from scratch or store-bought
(I've even served this pie made with a store-bought graham cracker crust -- got great reviews but I think the taste is better with a pastry crust)

Stir together 1 cup blueberries, the sugar, and 3/4 cup water in a medium saucepan.
Bring to boiling, stirring occasionally.
Cook uncovered about 2 minutes or till the berries begin to pop.
Combine cornstarch and 1/4 cup water; add to saucepan.
Cook and stir till thickened and bubbly; cook and stir 2 minutes more.
Transfer to a bowl; cover with plastic wrap.
Cool for 1 hour without stirring.

Stir together cream (or neufchatel) cheese and milk in a small bowl.
Spread in the bottom of the (cooled) pie crust.
Add half of the 3 cups blueberries followed by half of the blueberry sauce; repeat layers.
Cover and chill at least 2 hours.

Serve all by itself but it's even more delicious with ice cream or whipped cream. Enjoy!

Summertime Musings

(SUMMER PHOTOS -- Top, Veggies from our Garden; Bottom, Wonderful color hydrangeas spotted on our recent trip to CT)

I try not to grasp at summer...lamenting its fleeting nature... to enjoy it thoroughly while remembering that certain activities have their windows of opportunity, windows of varying size. I may be able to partake in some activities for months – bicycling or gardening – and yet enjoy others only on certain days or weeks – like eating the last of the asparagus harvest (usually stop picking it by July 4th) or go to local events like the Afton Craft Fair or Unadilla Days. There are only a few days each summer that the weather is perfect for kayaking and swimming at Sharon’s place on Gerry Lake on one of my days off. There are certain weeks I have to notice the hummingbirds or the fireflies or to grill freshly picked zucchini or snip cilantro, when it is full yet before it flowers, to add to a corn-black bean salad.

I hear the anxieties and regrets of others. August is starting...the fall horizon is not so distant...school will start in countable days and they haven’t yet read a beach-book or scrapbooked last summer’s vacation. Stressing starts early. And the line between leisurely preparation and pressure seems so thin – like those prancing or rushing to get to shop when the displays are new and the most choices of colorful towels and bedding for college dorms are available. Or for me to just sit and smell the roses without looking for the pruner to cut back the bush.

I intend to not grasp summer. And I’ll try not to complain when it is SO hot and humid...to remember that this summer weather is what I crave when months later I’ll complain about icy winter roads. But now I want to get outdoors to breathe in the summer air, to pick a few weeds out of the garden, to pluck a few berries off a backyard bush to top my cereal, to read on the back deck. Summertime...the living is easy...the time is now.
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July 26, 2010

Blueberry Picking

These photos were taken at Stone Hill Blueberry Farm, our favorite u-pick place. The two blue buckets that Alan is carrying each hold 8 quarts of berries. We picked them in under two hours. And since this was our second trip there this season, we've frozen over 30 quarts of berries so far.
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The Blueberry Time of Year

Berry-picking is one of my favorite summer activities. Of course, I love to eat the berries, all kinds of the summer gems, and also preserve them in various ways so we can taste summer in the winter –like when we open a jar of strawberry jam or warm up some frozen blueberries to add to our breakfast cereal in December.

In addition to a prolific strawberry bed, some very tasty black raspberries, and some dying old and thorny wild blackberries, we also have a number of cultivated blueberry bushes in our backyard. Alan planted the first ones in 1981, the year we moved in. They were a pre-Mother’s Day gift while I was still childless but pregnant. So those bushes have both sentimental and aesthetic value – they plus others added over the years form a lovely hedge at the bottom of our garden fence.

Yet when I want lots of sweet blueberries, I drive out of town to Stone Hill Blueberry Farm,
a wonderful organic u-pick place about five miles from our house.

Here’s their own website description:
Organic is better! Come to Stone Hill Blueberry Farm and pick some delicious Blueberries on south sloping farm with 2000+ blueberry bushes! Early, mid-season, and late varieties of blueberries available. The bushes are fertilized with soybean meal, mulched with sawdust and rows are mowed weekly. The Picking season runs from mid-July to at least the end of August, and sometimes into early September each year.

We park our car and walk to the carport attached to a trailer (at certain times of day you can hear from inside it, the small dog barking and the TV in the background) and pick up some plastic buckets. The smaller ones have a rope through the handle to be worn around your neck to leave both hands free for picking. Ambitious pickers like us also take a larger 8 quart bucket to pour our berries into as they get heavier around our necks. In the photo, Alan is carrying the two 8 quart buckets we filled in less than two hours.

Depending on the week, which varieties are ripe, and the capriciousness of nature – the amount of rain and sun the bushes have gotten -- some seasons, some days, the berries are small or plump, sweet or tart. Sometimes the picking is so easy – using two hands to milk whole clusters of berries into my basket – and other times really having to reach in and choose the one or two berries in the bunch that are ripe. And berries can fool you – the top might look lushly blue but once you’ve pulled them from the bush their undersides may still be reddish.

And although I try to stay in the moment, and just enjoy the beauty of the fields, the tartly-sweet pop of a berry on my tongue, and the rhythm of the picking, the reverie begins... I experience a torrent of thoughts and ideas, memories, and reactions. On some excursions I am quiet and reflective, grateful for the abundance and the serenity, for the opportunities of the natural world that I didn’t experience growing up. Other days I feel rushed, already planning the dinner that will accompany the blueberry pie I’ll be making later that day, and internally complaining about the people talking on their cellphones as they pick. I feel territorial when another picker gets too close to me in the row I am harvesting.

Berry picking is such a simple reminder that what is important is how I do whatever it is I am doing. When I return home, when I cook and eat and share those berries, I will vaguely recall the mood I brought to the fruit picking. The berries are flavored by my perspective. 

Blueberry recipes anyone? I'll post the recipe for the best fresh blueberry pie ever; it always gets rave reviews and is so easy to make. Do you have any favorites?

July 23, 2010

Inspiration and Intention - Bike Riding

Since I got back from Spain, I have been riding my bike quite a bit, mainly just to get from one place to another without using my car. I intend to continue using my bike as much as possible for commuting, errands, and general getting around purposes. I also would like to ride a bit more for fun and try to encourage others to ride more too.

I used to hate riding my bike anywhere with cars and other vehicles around. I am just starting to get more comfortable with it, and I thought I'd share some of the strategies that have helped me out for those who are interested.

1. Go slow and steady
The whole experience of getting around on a bike can be pretty daunting for a beginner - getting in shape, keeping your bike upright, avoiding potholes, paying attention to traffic, not getting hit by a car,  navigating, etc. I think the best way to deal with this is to start out slow - literally riding at a slow speed, so you're not breathing hard, and also taking fairly short jaunts to start with. As you get more confident, you can gradually build up to riding longer distances and/or a faster pace.

2. Ride with others
Especially on a longer ride or a ride to a new place, I feel much more confident and enjoy myself more when I ride with a friend. Riding with one or more people also increases your visibility to motorists.

3. Don't skimp on safety
Please buy and use a helmet. Ditto for a bell, and front and rear lights if you ever ride at night. Having the right safety equipment not only keeps you safer, but in my opinion makes you more confident on the bike. It is also wise to carry a multi-tool, a spare tube or patch kit, and a pump or a CO2 cartridge. You may also want to invest in something to carry cargo on your bike instead of your person, whether that's a rear rack with a milk crate attached, or some sort of fancy basket or panniers. Keeping your bike in good working order is also essential. You can take your bike to a shop for regular or tune-ups, or pick up a book on bike maintenance and do it yourself.

A pretty and functional bike basket seen on the streets of NYC

One resource I have been inspired by lately when it comes to bikes is Let's Go Ride a Bike, a blog written by two women who make riding year round look easy, fun, and even stylish. One of them lives in Chicago and rides her bike year round! The blog features how-to instructions and videos, photos of cute bikes and cute people riding bikes in stylish outfits, and plenty of inspirational ideas for ways to have more fun riding your bike, build connections with other cyclists, and more. I recently went on a bicycle picnic excursion with a few friends, after seeing it suggested on their blog. Photos from the picnic are below. I forgot to take any with the bikes, but I swear we rode them!

July 14, 2010

Incredible Food Day

Here are a few more photos from Spain - from my last day in Spain, in a food market in Madrid.
Octopus, mussels, shrimp, bell peppers and onions, and a "short" beer.

Asparagus and other tasty treats on display - mostly slightly fancy versions of the sort of tapas you'd find in many bars in Spain (small open-face sandwiches, omelette, etc).

I tried two types of caviar at this stand. Not sure what they were though as neither my Spanish nor the vendor's English were proficient enough to communicate the nuances of fish eggs. (In fact, the only thing the vendor was able to communicate in English was "Egg. Fish. Egg fish!")

Amazing seafood stand, recommended by two gentlemen whose food I was drooling over. They shared a barnacle with me. It was salty and delicious and strangely textured.

I didn't think the food could get any better, but then I had these oysters. And then I had one more even though I was full because they were so tasty.

Though I was quite full after this incredible meal, I walked away elated. No food coma from this sort of food, more of a food high. Probably one of my top 5 meals ever.

sweet summer, back deck

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I've been back from vacation for weeks now...and the longer i haven't posted the more difficult it seems. Sometimes it's hard to find a rhythm. Also difficult to decide what to write about here. I have stories about the Alaska trip but that seems like old news already. And the summer is wonderful and I want to hold onto it....hot or wet or perfect -- whatever it is. I love this time of year and the photos show some of why I love it.

 So I am back...recommitting to writing this blog and with simple intentions.
I INTEND to write here at least weekly. 
I know that the blogs that I read and am most attracted to add new entries including photos a few times a week.
I really am INSPIRED by many people and things around me...
And I often write about them in my journal or mention them in email or facebook postings. I'll include those here.
ALSO hoping that Rebecca and I can again write about our different perspectives on a topic. Dumpster diving was a challenging but worthwhile topic -- to think and write about. 

and my random thoughts:
Finding a focus, creating a niche, catching up with myself in this aging process, friends lost and found, living this rural life, reading so much on and offline and my experiences with tech toys and my aspirations to become a techno-crone, the creative process and what i yearn for, my clinical work, my involvement in the Red Thread program (memoir writing with my old mentor Gail Straub), the impact of small changes for the environment and for ourselves, ...
This is a new beginning.