April 28, 2011

greek bread salad

I go to Bible study on Thursdays.

Well, not last Thursday.

Or today, for that matter, but generally speaking I do go to Bible study on most Thursdays.

(These photos have absolutely nothing to do with this post. In the editing process, I realized I ended up rambling quite a bit, and large chunks of rambling text without pictures to distract you from the rambling nature of the text makes me uncomfortable. Hence, we now have distractionary pretty pictures from my archives for your viewing pleasure.)

I've been to a lot of Bible studies in my day, but this one is far and away my favorite. Ever.

Why is it my favorite you ask? Three reasons.

A Bible Study Trifecta, of sorts.

First off, there is the study itself. It's been a great one. Really, really good.

Part two is...the people.

As I said, the study itself is wonderful, but the interaction between the participants and what I've learned from each of them is truly the highlight of the study for me.

What started out many months ago as a very diverse group of ladies, some of whom were perfect strangers, has ended up as one of the closest knit groups I have ever been a part of. Each and every lady there now permanently owns a pretty large chunk of my heart.

I love these ladies.

Part two of the trifecta actually has its own two parts.
A. The aforementioned lovely ladies.
B. One of my very favorite short and smushy people on the planet, Baby Tyler.

Baby Tyler is not a little baby anymore, he's a Big Baby. Immediately after his very first photo shoot last summer, I invited myself to become his honorary Auntie Teresa. I didn't really even ask his mom or grandma if that was okay with them, I just used the assumed sale approach and so far it seems to be working.

If it's not working, mom and grandma are too nice to tell me so.

I've been a shameless baby hog during every single study, and as such I got to enjoy one of my very favorite pastimes ever.....giving a sleepy baby his pre-nap bottle.

Baby Tyler and his mama Jess aren't going to be able to come on Thursdays anymore, and they will be missed in a very big way. It just won't be the same without them. My lap will be empty, the seat next to me on the couch will be empty, and no one will be trying to rip my Bible study book to shreds.

At least I don't think anyone else will try to shred my book. A couple of these ladies do look like they've got a little wild side hiding under the surface, so I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

In an attempt to fill the hole left by Tyler and Jessica's absence, I will now move on to the third Bible Study Trifecta factor.

The food.

Oh, the food.

When we started meeting way back when, I'm pretty sure the food was supposed to be on the snacky side. But, very quickly it evolved into full on lunch, and not just typical lunch....fabulous lunch.

The last time we met up, it was my friend Delia's (Tyler's grandma) turn to wow us with her culinary skills. She did not disappoint. Among other delicious things, Delia made a Greek pita bread salad, and I found myself going back for seconds, thirds and fourths.

Delia shared the recipe, so I made a batch the next week and proceeded to eat the entire thing in two days.

I made another batch yesterday, and this time I had the good sense to take some pictures before it vaporized before my very eyes.

This is one of the few recipes without cream cheese that I've deemed worthy to share on this blog. It is delicious, and when you go to the store to buy the ingredients, make sure you buy enough to make more than one batch because I guarantee you'll be making this more than once.

Greek Bread Salad

1/4 cup chopped jarred pepperoncini, plus 1-1/2 tablespoons pepperoncini brine
1-1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano - I didn't have any oregano
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved - I used Campari tomatoes from Costco
1 (16-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
cucumber, peeled and sliced. I didn't peel mine. Lazy.
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
3/4 cup sliced kalamata olives - I think Delia used black olives and it was equally delicious
1/2 small red onion, halved and sliced thin - I left this out

2 (10-inch) pita breads, (not pockets), torn into 1-inch pieces
1 garlic clove, minced - I left this out
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley - I left this out, too
Salt and pepper

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Combine pepperoncini brine, vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon oregano, and mustard in medium bowl. Slowly whisk 5 tablespoons oil into vinegar mixture. Add tomatoes, chickpeas, cucumber, feta, olives, onion, and pepperoncini and toss to combine. Let sit 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss pita, remaining oil, garlic, and remaining oregano in medium bowl.
Bake pita on rimmed baking sheet until golden brown, about 10 minutes, stirring halfway through baking.
*The second time around I baked my pita at 350 and stirred them every four minutes. They got away from me the first time:(
I also cut up all six pitas in the package and just tossed them in olive oil and sprinkled them with Kosher salt. Why toast two pitas at a time when you know you're going to make the salad at least fourteen more times.

Stir toasted pita and parsley into salad. Let stand 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Since I wasn't serving the entire salad at once, I added the feta and pita to the veggie mixture each time I made a bowl for myself. Soggy pita is not happy pita.

I have no doubt I will eat this salad on a very regular basis until I make myself sick and never want to see it again.

Greek Bread Salad....an entire batch every two days will do ya good.

April 22, 2011

a garden confession

I have something to tell you. There's really no way to soften the blow of what I'm about to say, so I'm just going to spit it out.

I planted my zinnia seeds last weekend.

I planted a lot of zinnia seeds last weekend.

I planted a shocking number of zinnia seeds last weekend.

Can you tell I'm stalling?

Okay, are you ready?

I planted one thousand, one hundred and ten zinnia seeds last weekend.

There, I said it.

1110 zinnias.

Eleven hundred and ten.

Eleventy ten.

I am a sick person.

I truly don't know how it happened. How can there possibly be that many seeds in those little packets? I just kept opening packets and planting seeds. I didn't count the holes in the seed trays as I was planting. I didn't even think to count the holes. About three quarters of the way through my seed packet stash, my guess was coming in around five hundred, and even that was pretty alarming, but when I did the final count (I finally did the seed tray count....seven across and fourteen down...ninety-eight per tray), I about fell off my chair. I'm using the wedding as my justification, but deep down I know I passed ridiculous a good six hundred zinnias ago.

Keep in mind the seed tray holes are very small and the zinnias will have to be transplanted into bigger pots while still in the greenhouse. Then I have to find a home for them all out in the gardens. That means I have to handle 1110 zinnias two more times.

Houston, we have a problem.

I wonder how many days it will take me to plant them all. I wonder if I have room to plant them all. June just may find me setting up a roadside zinnia stand, peddling my extras to passersby.

Actually, I think I'm going to look at it as a challenge. I'm going to find a place for each and every one of those zinnias if it's the last thing I do.

Please. Send. Help.

Truth be told, I'm a bit embarrassed by my zinnia numbers, so in an attempt to distract you from my zinnia gluttony, I'm going to totally switch gears and try to tug at your heart strings just a bit.

Just yesterday, I said my goodbyes to my middle son. He's heading off to a very hot place, very far away.

Then, last night I had a great talk with my oldest. He's getting out of the Coast Guard in three months, planning his wedding and he and his bride-to-be are mapping out the next phase of their lives as a married couple.

They're all grown up. I'm loving my grown up boys.

They are extremely cool people.

But, occasionally I miss these little fellas.

A lot.

I found these photos just a couple days ago. We had just moved into a house that had no grass, and each and every day was spent in their version of little boy heaven. They each got a hose that was turned on with a trickle of water, and they spent hours and hours playing in the mud.

Simple days and good, clean fun.

Then I found this picture and it made me laugh to see that even though it was taken five years later, the expression on my younger son's face is pretty much the same.

Of course I can't leave out my youngest....my baby. My 6'4" baby. Look at those curls and those cute little bunny teeth. Fourteen long years ago.

"Sunrise, sunset.

Sunrise, sunset.

Swiftly, fly the years.

One season following another, laden with happiness and tears."




Did it work?

Did you forget about the zinnias?

April 14, 2011

perennial favorites - redux

The Meadowbrook Farmer and I have been out working in the garden this week. We did absolutely no fall clean-up last year and so we are paying the price now. Leaves everywhere, nasty, crispy flower stalks half bent over. Weeds, weeds and more weeds. It is fun though, to see the perennials popping up here and there, knowing their gorgeous glory days are right around the corner.

I thought I'd re-post my list of favorite perennials in honor of their amazing ability to survive these very long, very cold Montana winters.

Is it cheating to re-post? I hope it's not cheating to re-post.

This was written last March when all my plants were still in full lock-down mode.

Ready? Let's dream some summertime flower dreams together.

Perennial Favorites - from March 1, 2010

Are you making your garden plans yet? I know we still have a way to go, but I have just started really thinking about what I'm going to be doing in the garden this year. Flower successes that I'll repeat again, and things I'd like to change. I'm making lists of seeds, and thinking about bare spots that need filling in the perennial bed.

Bleeding Heart is one of the very first bloomers in my garden. They are so pretty and old fashioned. Last year, we planted some white ones too, and I can't wait to see how they do this spring.

Hardy geraniums are one of my very favorites. Some varieties get huge, leggy and out of control, but this one, Birch's Double, is one of a few varieties that know how to behave.

Peonies. Good gracious, the peonies. I always want to bring bouquets inside, but mine are absolutely filled with ants. I'm always afraid I'll wake up the next morning to find the kitchen crawling with the little buggers.

Dianthus. Pinks. Whatever you call them, they are a treat. Their sweet smell is so fresh and a little bit spicy. Yum.

Black Eyed Susans are everywhere in my herb garden where pretty much anything goes as far as color. Nice because they bloom a bit later in the season after most other perennials are done.

Delphiniums are quite possibly my favorite perennial ever. They have a couple strikes against them where I live, the deer love them and the wind can topple them, but they are so worth the hassle. And usually if you're a flower in my garden you have to be able to totally fend for yourself or you're outta here. Not delphiniums though. I'm willing to coddle those baby blues a bit. They're the favorite child. Shhh. Don't tell.

I'm very torn about what to do with my hollyhock patch. When they are good, they are great, but more often than not, the foliage gets very nasty looking and the ugliness overpowers the beautiful blooms.

Last year I vowed to tear them all out, but of course now I want to give them a second chance. All of my fall tough talk is gone. The birds sing, the bee's buzz, and I am deluded once again, that this year my hollyhocks will be beautiful for more than five minutes.

Another later summer bloomer is Purple Coneflower. It took a long time for me to really start liking this plant, but it blooms till frost, and you just can't say that about your average joe perennial. That reason alone earns it a spot in my heart.

There are many, many new varieties of Coneflower, and I have tried quite a few of them. Big Sky Sundown is a great color and fades to a pretty pinky orange. Very fun.

I could ramble on forever about ye olde garden, but at some point I should probably wrap up and save some for another day. A few last favorites....

Columbine, Sidalcea and Trollius.

As you can see, the "less is more" philosophy has no place in my garden. When it comes to flowers, more is more. That's my story, and I'm stickin to it.

Every year I try at least one new thing. What are the must have perennials in your garden?

Be an enabler and share your favorites.

April 7, 2011

hello cupcake!

Okay, are ya'll ready to talk photography?

I think this time, I'll just grab some of your questions and take it from there. I've edited them down a bit, but for the most part, I think the main questions survived the cut.

Here we go.

Q. The biggest question I have during these gloomy, sunless days of winter is how to take good photos inside when it's light, yet not bright.

A. Well, first off, let's say a word of thanks that I've put off answering these questions so long that it's actually spring now instead of winter. Other than that, I try to keep my subjects as close to a window as possible. The vast majority of my indoor photos are taken in my dining room where the light is usually plentiful. Using a wide aperture is also helpful for low light situations.

Q. Thoughts on composition?

A. Composition. I have to say, I struggle with composition. I like things symmetrical, so my natural tendency is to center my subject. Sometimes that works great, but more often than not, a photo will be more interesting if you shake things up a bit composition wise.
For the most part, the cupcake photos in this post were photographed in a very standard way, but I cropped some of them in photoshop in an effort to make them more visually appealing. Google "rule of thirds" and you'll get tons of information on photography composition.
When I find a photo I fall in love with, I take note of where the subject is placed, the other elements in the photo that I like, elements I don't like and then sometimes I'll set out to create a photo that is similar in look and feel.
Also, background is a huge factor. Huge. In fact, background is almost as important as the subject. For me anyway. If I have the most awesome subject, but no good background, I don't even want to take the picture.
If at all possible, I'll change my angle until I get the very best background for the shot.

Oh, and speak of the devil. Here we have a perfectly centered, symmetrically composed cupcake photo.

This photo makes me sad. I made 24 cupcakes, but at the time that seemed a little gluttonous for just the three of us, so we gave them away to anyone who happened to stop by the house. But now they're all gone. What were we thinking?

Q. I was wondering how you post process your photos.

A. I use Photoshop CS5. I previously used Photoshop Elements, and that was a great program as well. Scott Kelby has a book for every single version of Photoshop and every version of Elements. I highly recommend that you get the book for your version.

Q. What f-stop do you use the most?

A. Hmmm. I'm willy-nilly, here, there and everywhere with my f-stop. I would say I'm in the 2.5-3.5 range the most, but that varies so much with what I'm photographing. The following cupcake photo was shot at 2.5.

In photographing people, I would say that 3.2 is the widest I would ideally want my aperture to be, but I do open up more if I'm losing my light.

Q. Do you shoot in RAW?

A. I do not shoot RAW. We'll just pretend I have some issue in my childhood that is preventing me from shooting in RAW, because there truly is no other valid reason that I'm not shooting in RAW. I don't want to talk about it anymore.

Q. How do I take a half decent picture in my house....after it's dark?

A. I don't take pictures after dark! :) If we have a family gathering and want some photos, my hubby or kids grab their point and shoots and use the flash.

Q. What suggestions do you have for accentuating motion in photography?

A. I don't think I've ever tried to accentuate motion. I've frozen motion (trampoline shots, etc.), but never accentuated it.

Q. I have read online that you MUST MUST MUST shoot with natural light and absolutely never use a flash. But how do I get good pics of my sweet daughter or an interior project or whatever if it's cloudy out? Or what if it's just dark in my house?

A. I choose to use only natural light. But. I don't have sweet little children whose adorableness I need to capture on a moment by moment basis, so I can choose the time of day and the specific (best natural light) location in my house for what I want to photograph.

When I took these photos of Kayla, it was a gross, dark, snowy, gloomy Sunday.

But, we shot at noon and while she wasn't actually facing the light - it was coming from the side - my front room has a window that faces south, so we had enough light to make the gloomy day work for us.

Hey, she matches the cupcakes perfectly! Now I want to re-do the shot and have her eating a cupcake.

Kayla - come back!

Q. Do you always set a custom WB?

A. No. I almost always have my white balance on auto. (Cringe).

Q. Do you change your ISO settings often, or do you rely on Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority?

A. I always, always shoot in manual. I definitely change my ISO as much as I need to in order to keep my aperture and shutter speed where I want them to be.

Q. I'd love to know how to nail pictures shooting wide open (especially children). I love the look, but it always seems that I don't get everything that I want tack sharp while letting everything else fall out of focus. Also, how do you choose your aperture when dealing with multiple subjects?

A. I would suggest bumping up your f-stop a bit. I've had that same situation. I used to shoot people wide open, but not anymore. I want their whole face....eyes, nose, etc. in focus, so these days, I would say 3.2 is as low as I'd ideally like to go. (I break that self-imposed rule all the time though!!) You'll still get beautiful background blur at 3.2.
Choosing aperture for multiple subjects? I. don't. know. I try desperately not to shoot multiple subjects! I did, however, just shoot six handsome high school fellas in a group. They were on stairs, at different levels and distances, so I shot at 7.0. I knew I'd have my hands full with their .... ummm, shall we say vibrant personalities? ... and I didn't want to have to worry about my depth of field. I just crossed my fingers hoping 7.0 would be enough, and thankfully it was.

Q. I have a 28-135mm lens. I'd like one that will do macro photography - real close up. Any recommendations?

A. I have yet to take the macro plunge. One day! Macro opens up a whole different world, doesn't it?

Q. Would you say most photos are pretty good straight outta the gate, or is it best to edit them? Maybe a simple question, but I'd love to know what percentage of pictures you edit (beyond cropping) as opposed to just letting them be what they are.


Q. Can you let us know if your pics are SOOC (straight out of camera) or do you do any post-editing on them (even minor color saturation tweaks.)

A. I always, always do at least a little tweaking, and sometimes I do a lot of tweaking. At the very minimum, I bump up the contrast a little. I like to use an action called Daily Multi-Vitamin on my people shots, and I use The Pioneer Woman's Boost action on my stills and landscapes. (But never at 100%). With the exception of Daily Multi-Vitamin, I don't think I ever use any action without fiddling around with the different layers at least a little bit.

Action sets I love:

Itty Bitty Actions - from the ultra-awesome JinkyArt
Totally Rad Actions
Pioneer Woman's Actions - these are free - whoo-hoo!
Flora-Bella Collection - so, so fun. Love these. LOVE.
Kubota Image Tools

Q. Have you noticed that there is snow on the ground at your house this morning?

A. Why yes, yes I did notice that lovely little gift from mother nature.

Q. Did you, within the last 24 hours, spend a rather large amount of time looking for real estate in both Florida and Arizona?

A. Yes again! Wow, I don't know who you are, but it's like you're living my life right along with me! Spooky.

Okay, so there you have it. Hope this helps, and if I missed anything just give me a shout out in the comments. Remember, it's a journey. I'm in a totally different place than I was this time last year, and I certainly hope to be in a totally different place this time next year.

Have a great day, and if you happen to live in a place where it's warm and sunny today, please pick up a local real estate guide for me and pop it in the mail, okay?

April 4, 2011

the long road home

I'm not good with quiet. I have the tv on in the background - usually the news - almost all the time. When I work in the greenhouse, more often than not I take my laptop out with me and have a tv show playing to keep me company. (Gilmore Girls and Friday Night Lights are current faves.) For some strange reason though, I absolutely detest listening to people talk on the radio. Music only please. The dj saying that was 'such and such a song' from 'so and so' pushes the limits of just how much radio talk I can handle. The other day as I was driving home from a shopping trip, it just so happened that the Christian radio station I listen to was on a fundraising bender. Fundraising lends itself to an overly abundant amount of talking by anyone's standards, and for various and assorted reasons I didn't have anything in my cd player. You can see my dilemma. Silence vs. a radio station begging for money.

Silence won out.....for all of a minute.

I had a one hour drive ahead of me, and in a desperate attempt to entertain myself, I started calling members of my immediate family.

I called my hubby and told him I was bored and would he please entertain me. To his credit, he gave it a good try, but we'd already talked three previous times that day, so it was pretty slim pickings. Plus, he was actually engaged in some lame money making scheme....I think he called it working?

Work, schmork.

I'd already had a very pleasant conversation with my oldest while I was shopping earlier in the day, and my youngest was still in school where apparently they frown on phone calls during algebra class.

My future daughter in law was at work, so that wasn't an option, although I know in my heart that she would have kept me company all the way home. She's cool like that.

Time to move on to my middle child. He's getting ready to deploy, but I knew that on this particular day, he had some time on his hands.

However, it was our second phone call of the day, and all valid conversation topics had been thoroughly depleted in conversation number one. So in order to fill the awkward silence, I asked him if he knew any classified military secrets, and if he did would he tell me what they are?

He said no.

No? How can you tell your mother no? It is common knowledge that you should tell your mother absolutely anything and everything she wants to know.

So, I asked him what if I offered to pay him. Would he tell me then?

He said no again.

We then proceeded to argue over whether treason has to include a foreign government, or does selling classified government secrets to your overly bored mother qualify you for a lifelong visit to Leavenworth?

This went on for a while, I mentioned something about waterboarding, and then he laughed a lot and said he would love to see me try, and then he told me he was hanging up, which was a little on the rude side, but it was probably just as well, because by now our conversation had most likely attracted the attention of the CIA. Or the NSA. Or whoever it is who listens to all our phone conversations.

Come to think of it, this post has probably attracted the very same folks.

The upside to all this is that America can rest assured. Your national secrets are safe with my middle child. For that matter, they are also safe with my oldest child too, because we had an eerily similar conversation several years ago about Coast Guard secrets, which had the exact same end result.

I have obviously failed as a mother.

At this point, I had no choice but to call my husband again, but I won't bore you with those details except to say that the only topic we had not thoroughly exhausted was whether or not the garbage man had picked up our garbage that day. Sadly, my hubby showed absolutely no interest in popping out to the road to check, and at that exact moment, my youngest swooped in to save the day by innocently calling to ask what was for dinner.

Now, I can just hear you asking yourself why, why, why is she telling us this?
You're wondering what the moral of this rambling story is? Surely, there must be a life changing, earth shattering truth about to be revealed? Certainly, she wouldn't waste an awesome post title like "the long road home" on a story that is truly only about a long ride home?

Truth be told, I just had some sunshiny daffodil photos to share, and a raging case of writer's block. You get the benefit of the former, and the brunt of the latter.

But now that we're on the subject, I'd love to know if you enjoy a bit of silence, or are you like me and hate to be alone without some form of auditory company?

Love talk radio, or despise it with every fiber of your being?

Are you a phone talker, (like me), or a phone call avoider?

Happy Monday, everyone!