A Summer of Reds

My favorite summer foods are all red: tomatoes, strawberries and watermelon. Yum.

Recipes from yesterday’s post:
Phyllo Tomato Feta Tart
1 package of frozen phyllo dough, thawed
1/2 cup of breadcrumbs
3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
3-4 large tomatoes finely sliced, variety of your choice
1/2 cup of feta cheese
1 tablespoon of bay leaves
1 teaspoon of coarse salt

Line a standard size cookie sheet with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Carefully unroll your phyllo dough, taking care to separate the layers. I took 5 layers (or so) at a time and placed them on the cookie sheet. In between each of these sets of 5 layers, I used a pastry brush to coat the top layer with olive oil. Then I spread a fine layer of bread crumbs. Then I added the next 5 layers until the tart was the size I was looking for. Then I very carefully turned back the edges of each side of the tart, creating a lip like a pie crust. I dabbed these edges with more olive oil to hold them securely. Then I added my sliced tomatoes, feta, bay leaves, salt on top. I baked the tart for 10 minutes, turned the pan and then baked it for another 10 minutes. Remove from parchment paper and place on a cutting board or other serving dish. Yummy served cold or warm.

Spicy Cornbread Muffins
2 boxes of Jiffy Cornbread Mix (or you can use a good standard cornbread recipe)
1/8 cup of cayenne pepper (I like food a touch spicy!)
2 tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Make the cornbread mix as directed, but add cayenne, tomatoes and additional cornmeal. I like my cornbread dense and a bit gritty — hence the extra. If you like it otherwise, omit this. Fill cupcake tins 2/3 full. Sprinkle cheese on top. Bake 10-12 minutes. Enjoy!

What is your favorite summer food?

Living In Between

summer cooking

I had a chance to catch up with myself this weekend. I went for a long morning ride through Ahwatukee Saturday morning, managing to return to do the hills a second time through for good measure. Just like running, it always takes me 20 minutes to find my groove. My muscles stretch out a bit, my cadence falls into the right place and my shoulders relax. The first morning light is my favorite time to be swimming, riding or running. There is such potential to a new day that starts with a heart-pounding workout while watching the sun rise.

tomato feta tart

I found some time in the kitchen too, which was also long overdue. A girlfriend decided to throw a tomato-themed dinner party. Her husband’s garden was overflowing with tomatoes and they didn’t know how they’d use all of them. I could have suggested making and freezing the best marinara recipe on earth, but instead I graciously accepted the invite and brought along a few tomato creations of my own:

phyllo dough tart

Phyllo tomato and feta tart

cheese, tomato corn muffins

Spicy cornbread muffins with diced tomatoes and cheddar cheese

Several of you have asked how I am feeling post-trip, and honestly — I’m doing great. There was some initial shock to my system, which is par for the course after two weeks in Africa. I’ll never be able to reconcile that the biggest news in Mozambique is poor families dying of HIV and the biggest news in the United States (in the same week, mind you) is Paris Hilton going to jail, being released from jail, and oh wait! There is the CNN helicopter again. She’s returned to jail.
Rather than throw my hands up and cry over such foolishness, instead I chose to celebrate the good. I took two friends to Mozambique who’d never been to Africa before. I know without a doubt, their friends and families are more connected to the issues of the poor abroad than ever before (as are mine).
As for those “stars” who can’t seem to get their DUI butts out of trouble, I highly recommend mandatory hard labor in an African orphanage (although I’m not sure I’d really want them around the kids.)

So, I’m not living in poverty. And I’m not returning to rehab for the third time before my 20th birthday. Life in this in between world is pretty darned good.


That’s What You Get for Owning Designer Makeup. Love, the Universe

I’m battling a wicked eye infection this week, which I thought was pink eye yesterday. Today? Not so sure. I have some lovely photos of my eyes that would make yours instantly burn with empathy. My biggest woe is that I’m going to have to throw away my $45 Christian Dior mascara, which was a gift that I’ve been using sparingly and loving. And of course, I used it Sunday just before the first symptoms glued my peepers shut.

{Waving my fist at the universe!}

Enough whining. While the antihistamines are still working and I’m not yet sleepy — some weekend sewing:

patchwork scarf
Jackie's patchwork scarf
ribbon detail

A scrappy scarf I whipped together for a girlfriend’s 63rd birthday Sunday. She’s traveling to Alaska this summer on vacation and I know she loves turquoise. I love using up my scraps and pairing turquoise with chocolate brown grosgrain ribbon. Voila — a bit of sass for her travels.


Mother May I

Spring order from PaperSource

Perhaps I’m taking a cue from Mother Nature, with pollen in the air and warming temperatures — I am itchy for change. My wanderlust is thankfully being fed with tickets to Africa in May and South America in August. Yet in the meantime, my daily routine could use a good spring cleaning and an enlivened push.
There’s that quote about how insanity is doing the same thing again and again while expecting different results. If I want change, I’ve got to make it happen.

Currently in focus:

— Transferring ideas for novel #2 from Moleskin to laptop. In chapter form.
{Motivation: yellow couch.}

— Following up with literary agents about novel #1. Creating plan for new query letters.
{Motivation: handing my father my first novel.}

— Learning to bead.
{Motivation: beautiful turquoise purchased in Santa Fe.}

— Joining triathlon club.
{Motivation: a new pool of cute boys. And the chance to ride Ruby with others and practice my transition skills for the upcoming race.}

— Swallowing all desires to shop.
{Motivation: Buying that ticket to Italy with cash.}

— Watching significantly less television.
{Motivation: stack of books on nightstand patiently waiting for attention.}

— Creating something daily.
{Motivation: A new stationery order from Paper Source and a few other beauties that have my eye.}

What are you working on?


Kitchen Dreaming

granola, cooling

I made one of my domestic bliss folders for a girlfriend the other day and took about an hour to go through my blog archives to find photos and recipes I’ve posted. I printed these out and when I was going through them, a thought crossed my mind: wouldn’t it be fun to make my own cookbook? I was driving to work this morning thinking about how — even better! — wouldn’t it be fun to have my own cooking show?
I would prepare healthy, quick recipes in a no fuss manner and include information on how you could add meat if so desired. I think I’d format my cookbook in the same way. Each recipe would have a small icon at the bottom of the page indicating the amount of meat to add for carnivores. I’d also had a heavy dose of quotes and statistics about how living a vegetarian lifestyle is healthier and better for the environment. While perched on my soap box, I’d include icons to show how many minutes you’d have to walk to burn off one serving of the recipe at hand. And then there would be the desserts. Oh, the desserts. Eat the veggie dinner and top it off with a large dose of sugary goodness. The five mile walk is often worth the five minutes of nirvana.
The cookbook would come packaged in a cloth tote with a small tag encouraging the owner to forgo those horrid plastic grocery bags. I’d also strongly recommend buying locally and growing your own garden. {Now stepping off said soap box.}
Until the producers of FoodTV come knocking, how about some granola?


I found some glass jars at Ikea and love them. They are cheap, reusable and pretty. I filled them with a basic homemade granola and added a piece of ribbon and stamped tag. We collectively celebrated Easter and Spring in my office with a large crunchy bowl, topped off with vanilla soy milk.

Nutty Spring Granola:
8 cups rolled oat
3 cups of extras: coconut, nuts, seeds
1 cup (or more!) of peanut butter. The chunkier the better.
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon of salt

Spread oats out on a large jelly roll pan and toast them at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Be watchful. These will need to come out of the oven after 5 minutes and be stirred or they will burn.

In a saucepan on medium heat, add your molasses, honey, peanut butter, vanilla and almond extracts and salt. Stir this until it is a wonderful gooey consistency. Remove from heat.

Place toasted oats in a large bowl. Add any or all of your extras now. I used two cups of raw coconut, a cup of peanuts and a mixed bag of toasted nuts. Pour the saucepan over your bowl, carefully mixing the ingredients. Return all of this to your jelly roll pan and into the oven for another 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.
Again, don’t leave the kitchen. This will burn if you don’t regularly mix it.
Let the granola cool (a great time to gather your jars, cards and ribbon). Spoon this into your jars and package with a small box of soy milk. Voila — a perfect Spring gift.

Easter granola

If you are looking for some kitchen inspiration today:
A great feature on brownies in The New York Times
— I’ll never be too old for grilled cheese. Even better with horseradish!
Smitten and Cookthink push me to be a better cook and photographer
— And for some vegetarian and athletic inspiration — a resource

Tonight I’ll be enjoying LOST while conducting some pinot noir research, searching for a clean apron and working out the kinks in my new banana bread/chocolate chip cookie hybrid.


Energetic Entertaining

I’m having a small dinner party this weekend and am a wee bit excited. Here is my problem: I entertain rather infrequently, but love doing so. When I have people over, I tend to get a bit worked up and just plain silly. The meal is days away and yet I know what I’ll serve, how I’ll set the table, what I’ll wear, the music, the wine, etc.
Crazy — right?
Do you ever find yourself going helplessly overboard and yet not knowing how to stop? I feel myself starting to plan down to the last detail, full well knowing from the outside I must look bonkers. {Gift bags, for example. Who gives gifts at a dinner party? I have the sneaking suspicion this is too much. Then again, I don’t care. See, I have a great idea…} I feel like Bree VanDerkamp has taken over, with a prissy coif and all — although I’m nicer. I swear.

Reversible market tote, 2

I get such a kick from pulling entertaining ideas from magazines and watching them come to life. I love the idea of serving a great meal on pretty plates in a clean home with the quintessential Hollywood homemaker soundtrack playing in the background. And well, if that sounds bonkers, then so be it.

Reversible market tote

This week, my new reversible market tote will be filled with ingredients for my African-themed feast: peanut soup over rice, piri piri shrimp, banana leaves for koki, coconut, avocado and mangoes, South African reisling and Tusker. I may need two totes.

I should fall back on my mama’s wise advice: live like it doesn’t matter what others think. Life is too short to worry about spoiling your friends.


Welcome Home

Do you ever want to pinch yourself because you just feel so blessed? Lucky. Alive. I’m known for being a glass half-full sort, and lately that glass has been overflowing. {Maybe I’m channeling Dharma.} Joy is arriving in waves — not lapping, but of the tsunami variety. Giant, rolling surges of happiness that catch me off guard and make me a bit dizzy.
And even better? I love to swim. So, when I’m not blowing bubbles at schools of brightly colored fish as they swish and swirl through their nautical kingdom, I’m backstroking, watching the color of the sky change as the sun moves slowly overhead. A great place to be to watch for falling stars and consider how lucky you already are.

In childhood, I was the kid who dreamed of seeing the seven seas, carrying a passport thick with stamps and shopping in open-air markets for the catch of the day. I’ve gotten to see so much of the world already, with the possibility of adding several more countries to my list this year. I’m the world traveler who still lives 10 miles from my childhood home.

I was also the girl who dreamed of living like Nancy Drew, with a closet full of clothes just right for the task at hand, the girlfriends who were always there in a pinch, the little speedy car with the air blowing through my hair. Not to mention outwitting the bad guys. I’m so thankful for minimal villains.

I couldn’t have ever imagined the joy I’d find in a daily routine. I never thought I’d be an athlete. I never thought my brother would be one of my best friends. I never thought I’d find happiness living two states away from my parents. I never thought I’d consider taking a day off of work to spend the time at home, knee deep in cookbooks. Or jump for joy at the redesigned Martha site. Again with the aprons and pearls. Who’d have thought?

Ultimately, I’m learning joy is all around us. It is just a matter of inviting her in with a welcoming, deserving, grateful smile. {And perhaps a cup of tea and a cookie.}

banana chocolate chip oat cookies

Chocolate Banana Oat Cookies:
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1/2 Teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Teaspoon baking powder
1 Teaspoon baking soda
1 Cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 Cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 Cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons milk
2 large eggs
3 Cups old-fashioned oats

(Or one pre-mixed bag of oatmeal cookies from Betty Crocker.)

To this, add:
2 more cups of old-fashioned oats
2 bananas (the riper, the better)
1 bag of chocolate chips

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two baking sheets. Mix all ingredients in a deep, large bowl. Watch the consistency. If the cookies are too runny, add more oats. Too dry? Add a bit of soy milk. Scoop out your cookies and cook for 12-15 minutes. This should make 2-3 dozen. These are like those chocolate covered bananas at Disneyland, but oaty.


P.S Wish of the week: to attend this class. I’d make this bag in chocolate brown and pink, with a tiny passport pocket inside. In New York City. With a stop afterward at the Magnolia Bakery. What are you wishing for?