August 30, 2010

tomato two cents

The great upside down tomato experiment of 2010 is officially a success. Having tried every tomato cage/stake/spiral/string tie up mess known to man, this year we decided to stop trying to defy gravity and hung all our tomatoes upside down in the greenhouse. We are now reaping the rewards with more tomatoes than we can even think about eating.

Since I am apparently under the impression that someone out there might not be able to pick a favorite tomato without input from me, I thought I'd give you my tomato taste test two cents.

The initial reason behind this post actually has nothing to do with taste, but with the appearance of the Yellow Pear, our first contestant in the tomato contest. She is curvy and cute, and I was *this close* to finding some sort of little flower to put on her head as a hat. The only thing that stopped me was a flashback to this post, and the fact that I am still feeling remorseful for the time I spent arranging and then photographing my clothes. Dressing up a fruit falls loosely into that same how to waste valuable time category, and I am proud of the fact that I restrained myself on this occasion. I am now able to devote the precious time I saved to writing a post about dressing up a fruit instead.

Baby steps.

So, back to the show.

Yellow Pear.

She definitely wins in the beauty portion of the contest what with her flippy, sassy hairstyle and all, but in my opinion, lacks a bit in the taste department. Compared to the competition, she's just not a standout in the juicy or flavorful category.

But she's cute. Did I mention that she's cute?

Contestant number two, and our second runner up, Supersweet 100.

For a long time, Sweet 100 seemed to be the end all be all cherry tomato, but times have changed and now Supersweet 100 and Sweet Million are heavy competitors in this category as well. While we've tried them all, this year we opted for Supersweet 100 and she's good, but....

Here we have Sugary, our first runner up.

This is the first time I've grown this variety and I love it. Very sweet and flavorful. She's even worth the extra work it took to prop her up for her photo shoot. I used a nut out of the miscellaneous nut and bolt jar. In a beauty contest, it's as much about what you don't see as what you do see.

Finally, our hands down winner, Sunsugar.

It's really no contest at all. She's the winner by a mile. Sweet, juicy and flavor packed, this beauty has it all. I use her for everything. In BLTA's, Panzanella, Paula's Cracker Salad (very weird but very good recipe - if you try it, don't use anywhere near that much mayo). The only bomb was homemade salsa. She's actually too sweet for traditional salsa - it just didn't taste right, but I can only imagine what she'd taste like in Mango or Pineapple salsa. I must give that a try.

We are also growing Lemon Boy, Big Boy and Roma, but it didn't seem appropriate to mix the boys in with the girls, although I'm sure that day isn't very far off in the real pageant world.

So, that's my humble, somewhat ridiculous tomato opinion, but I'd love to hear yours.

Who tops your tomato list?

August 27, 2010

dream garden

For the life of me, I can't quite figure out why I have avoided putting together a garden post this summer.

When I started blogging last fall, I was sure this would turn into a gardening blog. I couldn't wait till summer, when I'd have so many beautiful flowers to take photos of, a first year greenhouse to journal about, and a vegetable garden to make Mr. McGregor jealous.

But....this was a very strange year for my garden. A very wet, cold spring put everything into lock down mode, perennials played it safe, and my annuals didn't even consider kicking it into gear until August.

I just wasn't feeling the garden love like usual.

I was snapped out of my garden apathy yesterday, when I awoke to temperatures in the thirties. Unbeknownst to me, there had been a frost warning the night before, and once I realized my flowery little friends had dodged an icy bullet, I had a whole new appreciation for them and the crazy year they've endured.

A frost warning.

In August.

So, with a fresh reminder that their days are numbered, I will remember those cold, dreary, winter days spent dreaming of color and petals and stems.

I will remember that they are more than a chore.

More than a duty.

They are the stuff my winter dreams are made of.

And that dream is now.

August 23, 2010

with friends like these

Preparing for the photography workshops I hosted this summer was a big job. A job that I could not have done on my own. Not only did my family pitch in and work harder than ever both before and during the workshops, I also had a group of friends that pitched in to help make the job much easier and fun.

Friends that found me oodles of models, friends whose children were the models and friends who spruced up my garden prettier than it's ever been or ever will be again.

I wanted to thank them in some special way for all the help they gave, and last week we were able to get together for a little thank you lunch by the pond. It was a beautiful, warm day and we ate and visited and ate some more. A perfect day in my book.

It's always such a let down when a party is over and I wasn't quite ready to put everything away, so I raided my kitchen of linens and place settings and played with my food for a while after everyone left. That explains to the party guests why some of the above pictures really don't look anything like the lunch they attended!

We had a trio of chick-food salads, summer pie, fresh blueberries and chocolate mousse for dessert.

So, to follow the old is short, give the dessert recipe first.

This is my sister's recipe and it's relatively easy and ridiculously delicious.

Chocolate Mousse

4 oz. milk chocolate
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (chocolate chips)
1/4 cup strong coffee
3/4 stick butter
3 eggs, separated
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup whipping cream, whipped

Melt chocolates with coffee in the microwave. Stir till smooth and then stir in butter and egg yolks. Cool slightly.
Beat egg whites, and when soft peaks form, sprinkle sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Fold into chocolate mixture. Fold in whipped cream and spoon into individual dishes. Chill several hours.

Even though I know the entire world has this broccoli salad recipe, I will share it anyway. It's one of my very favorites ever.

Broccoli Salad

Five cups broccoli, cut into small pieces - I probably used six cups
1 cup raisins or dried cranberries
2/3 cup diced sweet white or red onion
10 strips of crumbled bacon
1 cup sunflower seeds - I use dry roasted
3 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

It's a keeper.

Next up, Pea Salad. I don't usually see this one on the circuit, so maybe it will be new to some of you.

Pea Salad

1 32 oz. pkg frozen petite peas, thawed
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
Crumbled bacon - I don't have an amount listed, but seriously, could you have too much bacon?
Shredded cheddar cheese - see bacon above
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream

Yes, bacon and mayo played a prominent role in this luncheon.

And last but not least, Rice Artichoke Salad.

I found it impossible to snap an appetizing photo of this salad, so don't let the picture scare you away. It's very different and another of my favorites.

Rice Artichoke Salad

1 package chicken Rice-a-Roni, prepared and cooled. I use a tiny bit less water than called for on the box.
1 jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped, with liquid reserved
1/2 cup diced green pepper
2 green onions, sliced
The following have no amounts....sorry. I just add whatever looks good!
sliced green olives
toasted slivered almonds - a must in my book
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
artichoke liquid
I feel this is too much dressing, so add it slowly to your taste.

I love the background flavor of curry, the bite of the green olives and the crunch of the almonds.

Good stuff, my friends, good stuff.

So, there you have it - all the makings for a summer lunch. Just add a group of your best girls, and you're good to go.

And, if you have a favorite lady lunch food of your own, I'd love to hear about it.

August 19, 2010

the homefront

When I moved to Montana ten years ago, it took me a while to get up the gumption to make new friends. I'd left some amazing girls behind when we moved, and I must admit to having a bit of an extended pity party over the five hundred mile distance that now separated us.

As is always the case, the pity party bloom eventually came off the pity party rose, and when I finally gave myself a much needed kick in the pity party pants, Tamsen was one of the very first friends I made. She was funny and fun and had an extremely cool name, and even though she was the busiest mom I had ever met, we still found time to form a friendship. Eventually, her oldest and my youngest became buddies as well and along the way, her whole family has become very special to me.

On Friday, Tamsen's family will start a new chapter in their life. A chapter thousands of other American families are writing right along with them, but a challenging new chapter all the same.

Tomorrow, Tamsen's husband Chris leaves for a year long deployment to Afghanistan.

Chris, the soldier, is excited to go. Excited to do the valuable job he's been trained to do. Excited to serve his country.

Chris, the husband and father, will miss his family more and more as each day goes by. Tamsen has awesome family and friends behind her and will do a fine job holding down the homefront while Chris is gone, but there will certainly be difficult days along the way.

We thought it would be fun to do family pictures before Chris leaves. Just a little something for all of them to hold onto during the next year.

By the way, it was hilarious to watch both the building and the tearing down process of the family pyramid. Very entertaining, but quite painful for the participants - don't let their smiles fool you!

Dear Chris, Tamsen, Kayla, Emily, Zachary and Gracie,
You are a snapshot of all the wonderful families that have willingly offered their service to our country. I don't take lightly the sacrifices your family will make over this next year and I want you to know I appreciate it. I know are my friends, but I extend that thanks to all the American families I don't know that are walking in your same shoes. Families like yours are a huge part of what I love about my country.
And Chris, I want you to know I will be doing my part by keeping Tamsen company as she indulges in shopping and girls lunch out therapy to get her through this challenging time. That's just the kind of friend I am.

August 16, 2010

little boy blue

Meet Baby Greyson.

Meet Baby Greyson's gorgeous blue eyes.

This handsome little fella is the first workshop model to come back and have a playdate with me.

At eight months old, he is at one of my very favorite baby stages..... so fun to play with, but not yet crawling a hundred miles an hour.

Come to think of it, pretty much every baby stage is my favorite baby stage!

Greyson's mama let me know that he enjoys bath time, so we got out my latest antiquing find, a double galvanized (leaky) wash tub.

What a cutie!

Thanks for coming over for a visit, Greyson. I had so much fun taking your picture!

August 13, 2010

summer pie

In a wholehearted effort to use the word "summer" as much as possible while I still can, I have officially renamed my very favorite summertime recipe.

Tomato Basil Pie is now Summer Pie.

Mom? I hope you're okay with that. It is your recipe, after all. Historically, the baby of the family, (that would be me), gets away with pretty much whatever they want, so I think I'm in the clear.

This recipe combines everything that makes summer the fabulous season that it is.....vine ripened tomatoes, garden fresh basil and my all season favorite food, cheese.

10 inch baked pie shell - I under bake mine just a bit
1 1/2 cup shredded Swiss - can use mozzarella
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup chopped basil
tomatoes - the recipe calls for 5-6 chopped Romas, but I used a combination of cherry tomatoes, halved and laid out like so.....

I was thinking perhaps the topping would melt down a bit more and my tomato mosaic would show through in the finished product, but alas, it was not to be.

It tasted pretty, though.

In your baked pie crust, sprinkle 1/2 cup of the shredded Swiss.
Layer on tomatoes, artfully or not.
Combine remaining ingredients and spread over the tomatoes.
Bake at 375* for 30-35 minutes.

I prefer it cold - refrigerator cold, but of course you can eat it warm if you'd like.

Summer Pie.....I love you.

August 6, 2010

summer afternoon

A porch swing....

A magazine....sometimes a book....

The reading material varies, but what comes next never does.

I tell myself, every single time, that I'm just going to rest my eyes for a minute or two.

And every single time, I believe I can do it - rest my eyes, that is - without falling asleep.

And every single time, I'm wrong.

The next thing I know.....I see this.


Sit up.....

Sweep the cobwebs from the corners of my mind, and carry on with my day.

"Summer afternoon - summer afternoon.....the two most beautiful words in the English language."
~Henry James