Kale Chronicles

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

kale

Earlier in the summer, I planted 3 kale plants. Several people questioned me about this.

“Isn’t it too hot here for kale?”

“Isn’t it really hard to grow?”

“How are you going to get that to work?”

Well, here we are mid-July and my tomatoes are over 7’ tall and producing next to nothing, my cucumbers are producing nothing but flowers, my zucchini is just toying with me as it slowly commits suicide, and the poblanos just flower away and laugh at the thought of actually putting out a pepper. But, my little kale plants just keep growing and growing and growing!

A few days ago, it was time to harvest again and from those three little plants, I got a gracious helping of fresh kale. Usually I just make kale chips for myself because every other time I’ve tried a dish involving kale, the husband and little one reject it. I’d pretty much just resigned myself to the belief that I am the sole kale consumer in this house. However, I stood there gazing at this beautiful, tender, fresh home-grown loveliness and thought, “How crazy is this? One of planet Earth’s superfoods and I’m the only one eating it? Not today.”

I’ve written before about one of the most awesome cookbooks in my collection, “How to Cook Without a Book” by Pam Anderson. I can’t remember where I found this book, but I truly love it and I recommend it highly. As you have surely gathered from the title, the point is to teach some basic recipes and techniques so that you can incorporate these standards into your regular life without having to put much thought into it. I often go here for inspiration and fresh ideas. On this day, I pulled the book out because Ms. Anderson has included numerous variations to the theme for each of her basic recipes. So for lunch, I turned our kale harvest into a simple pasta with leafy greens, bacon and crushed red pepper. I told no one what the greens were. I simply said, “Here honey, have some pasta” and down the hatch it went! I have been on a conscious quest to get more dark leafies into our household diet, so this was a big win.

If you don’t know much about kale, I’ll say this: it’s really, insanely good for you. If you’re like me and want to eat more of it and its other dark leafy cousins, you can get all the info you want online. Or, here’s another of my favorite cookbooks you may wish to seek out, “Leafy Greens” by Mark Bittman.

Elizabeth Akre is the author of “Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef)”. Read, comment & be merry!  You can also follow on Twitter and Facebook.

Presto! I Mean, Pesto.

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

If you enjoy growing plants, then you know how rewarding herbs can be. They grow fast and are easy to care for. Of all the culinary herbs, basil is probably the best known and can easily be crowned King. It’s ridiculously easy to grow, it’s packed to the gills with flavor and everyone likes it. You don’t really need a thumb of any shade of green to grow it. All you need to know is how to cut it back properly so that it will continue to produce all summer.

Fresh basilWe have a small kitchen garden this year. We have a beefsteak tomato, an heirloom “Mr. Stripey” tomato, cucumbers, zucchini, poblanos, jalapenos, habeneros, green beans, kale, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and of course, the basil. We both go out at least once a day to scrutinize the garden to see what has changed since our last inspection. About a week ago, my husband came in and asked me about cutting the basil. I was like, “yeah, yeah, I’ll go get some.” He kept on. He kept saying things like “Well, you better cut it before it goes to waste,” and “I think those leaves look pretty big; don’t want them to go to waste,” and “Don’t you think we should make pesto or something so that basil doesn’t go bad?” Finally, I turned to him and asked, “Why are you obsessing about the basil all of a sudden?”

Fresh BasilYou know how crazy it is that you can live with someone for (going on) 20 years and still learn something new about him? He proceeded to tell me that he’d never had fresh pesto until he met me. He loves it and just can’t bear the thought of the basil being right there in the yard and not in the form of yummy pesto (or anything else for that matter). Years ago, I taught him that when I have a good crop of basil, I make pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays so that when summer is gone, I still have fresh tasting basil to add to any dishes I want in the doldrums of winter. Apparently, it registered and he hasn’t forgotten it.

So, I went outside, cut the basil and whipped up a small batch of pesto for him.  For Fresh Pestothose of you who are unfamiliar with making it yourself, let me assure you that it is the easiest concoction ever invented. You probably always have parmesan in your fridge, right? Garlic and olive oil should be in every house all the time. I keep pine nuts in the freezer. So, when you cut your basil, you just toss all these ingredients into the food processor, give it a couple of spins and there you go: pesto. It couldn’t be faster or easier.

So what can you do with it? The first and most obvious is to use it as a pasta sauce.  It’s great mixed into mayo for sandwiches or pasta salad. If you freeze into ice cubes, you can pop a cube into pasta sauce or minestrone to add that fresh basil flavor. It’s also wonderful to add dollops of pesto to a pizza. Or, make a simple béchamel sauce with pesto and serve with grilled tuna, salmon or gnocchi. Mix into some softened butter to serve over grilled steak or with fresh, crusty bread. I guess you’re getting my drift that you can do just about anything with pesto. It is the quintessential taste of summer, in my opinion. Herbal, fresh, light and invigorating. And that’s just pesto. Don’t forget Thai food, Caprese salads, drying basil for later use…

Since we’re moving into July, it may be difficult to find plants at Lowe’s or wherever you usually buy your annuals. But, don’t despair. A lot of grocery stores actually have potted basil plants in the produce section. It’s also super easy to grow from seed.  You could start seeds in peat pots and then just transfer to the garden or to a container on your patio. And, with our growing season like it is, you could have basil well into October.

mangiare bere e divertirsi!

Elizabeth writes “Gastronomy (by a Wanna-Be Chef).”  Please read, comment and be merry! You can also follow on Facebook & Twitter.

Cauliflower Alfredo – How’s THAT for Change?

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

A few weeks ago, my boss and I were coming back from a lunch meeting when he chimed in about change.

“Nobody wants change. They all want to keep doing things the way they’ve always done them,” he said. “I give you credit for changing from an iPhone to an Android, but you don’t much like change either.”

Hold the phone! Granted, my boss only sees me at work, but I would say that I, especially over the past few years, have embraced change. I’ve changed my entire lifestyle to add early and regular exercise to my life. I’ve all but given up processed and fast food, and I’ve learned how to cook clean and healthy. And even now that I’ve “taken the leap,” I continue to experiment with new foods, recipes and healthy changes.

Caulfredo

Speaking of change, this weekend I tried a great new recipe from one of my favorite blogs Oh She Glows: Vegan Cauli-Power Fettuccine Alfredo. The base of the sauce is cauliflower, and it was delicious. I highly recommend it! Its a change you’ll love to try!

Please Pass the Magic Eight Ball

By: Lara Winburn

Recently, a friend said that she hated deciding what her family was going to eat for dinner. I concurred that when I win the lottery that is the first order of business- someone to make that decision every day. (Yes, I said when because, well you know, decision makingpower of positive thinking.) Anyway, I started thinking about why I hated this part my day so much. My family is not picky and they do not have high expectations…here’s to setting the bar low.

I hate this decision because it is the 9,742,303rd decision of the day.

I am exhausted by these decisions we are faced with from the time we get up to the time our decision-making, weary eyes finally shut. All of this decision-making is my least favorite part of being a grown-up…that and putting away laundry. (I mean, I am totally fine with washing and folding but why is there never room for it in my drawers?)

For me, decision number one starts with what my daughter is going to wear to school that pleases the fashion sense of a three-year-old and meets the weather predictions of the day. These decisions continue until those precious minutes at night when all is quiet and I must decide whether I should do a little joy reading or throw in a load of never ending laundry. This may sound small, but it is taxing all the same. I want to make the right decisions as an employee, wife, daughter, mom and heck, even a productive member of society. Should I work through lunch at work? Is it better to spend some time at the gym? Or should I just go ahead and make my way over to the grocery store to try to avoid that “hardest” decision at the end of the day? Is a chicken nugget bad for kids if it means we get more play time? Does the baby need to go to the doctor or is that rash going to go away before I make an appointment? Trying to make many decisions and all the while, just trying to cause the least damage to my family, my job and anything else in my decision wake.

So my husband suggested a way to deal with this “decision crisis,” to possibly avoid guilt, apprehension, and second guessing. Unfortunately, he did not suggest eliminating the decisions all together. Instead, he suggested trying to determine with each choice what is the worst thing that can happen? Now this may sound pessimistic, but truly it is not. For example, if I choose that book I have been wanting to read over laundry – will everyone have clean underwear or, worst case, will we be looking at bathing bottoms as under garments? If we wear rain boots to school and it never rains, worst case scenario – we have sweaty feet but not a complex. You would not believe how liberating I have found this to be. I mean, most of these decisions will not result in ruined childhoods or therapy sessions.

As some of you know, most of the time I am trying to embrace the chaos. So in that chaos comes these grown-up decisions, some trivial and some life-changing. As I weigh my options, I will continue to think through the worst thing that can happen. Guess what? Most of time that worst thing really isn’t that bad. Who knows – it might even be one of life’s happy accidents. Or if the decision making process and the worst case scenario doesn’t work, you may just hear me say “please pass the Magic Eight Ball.”

 

What’s Your Motivation?

By: Shannon Shull

Motivation is a key to success. What motivates a lion in the wild to chase down and devour a deer? Hunger! Like a lion in the wild, we all have a hunger of some sort. Hopefully in the case of us humans, we have a hunger to succeed in some way. Since we are human, we require motivation  to pursue something. As a lover of the Arts, I am motivated to teach so that I can share this passion and the fulfillment it can bring to one’s life. To me, motivation is desire. It’s what helps us take action.

Sunflowers

Whether a case of desiring a full, satisfied belly, or in my case, teaching others about the Arts, or in the case of a student, taking action simply because they want a good grade to get their parents off their back, motivation is a powerful thing.  If you’re a smart teacher, you will use positive motivational strategies that not only motivate your students to have a desire to do what you need them to, but allow them to see the rewards of their motivation and embrace it.  In the world of the dramatic arts, we are motivated to put on an incredible show. We want to entertain our audience and want to hear their applause. Fortunately for some, that is motivation enough. But in the real world, though most may be motivated to do things for the attention, it’s not always for the right reasons.

Think about what motivates you…is your motivational strategy in life positive?  Whether with career, family, health, education, etc, are you motivated for positive reasons to bring fulfillment to your life or is your motivation really not so positive when you really look at it? Is your motivation really to hurt someone else? Is your motivation to just survive and make money to pay the bills, though you’re miserable in your job?  Is your motivation ugly in nature at its base? Check yourself and re-evaluate. Please. Your life will be fuller and happier if your motivation is deep seeded in positivity.

Can we teach others motivational strategies? YES!! In my career, I am motivated by a desire to be the best teacher that I can be. Therefore, I feel that it is my responsibility to use motivational strategies in such a way that my students can recognize the benefits not only in the moment but down the road, as they grow into adults that must stay motivated to survive this harsh, competitive world.  I consistently show my students how the Arts can benefit them in life. Whether it’s utilizing the tools in the Actor’s Toolbox or understanding that a storyboard is a communication tool, I will always try my best to show my students the purpose of a lesson, and how they should take advantage of it and allow it to motivate them to become better, more successful people.

So as human beings who really want to strive to be outstanding and utilize motivation to achieve fulfillment in our lives, we can not only lead by example but share our own personal motivational strategies. We hear incredible success stories all the time about how someone has lost enormous amounts of weight. Their motivation was to live a healthier life. To be physically fit and feel good about how they look, as well as feel good on the inside. We hear stories of amazing strength in which someone defies death because of a motivation to see their loved ones again.  I think we’ve all heard about or maybe even experienced that level of motivation.

So in an effort to be a good example and provide some motivation, I challenge you to rethink your “real” goals in life and your motivation for reaching those goals. Do you have a strategy?  Is your motivation rooted in positivity? Is motivation even present?  As they say in the acting world, “What is your motivation??”  Be brave and share with us what you’ve discovered after doing a thorough check on what really motivates you!

Looking For A Mate

By: Chaunte McClure

I saw a photo of this really cute wall plaque in my Facebook feed recently that read “Clean. Single. Looking for a mate.”

Sounds like a personal ad on a dating site, right? Well, I chuckled when I read it because one, I could relate and two, it had nothing to do with a bachelor or bachelorette in search of a companion.

Most women should probably at least consider owning one of these plaques, or some variation of it, regardless of their marital status, because the sign is referring to socks. Yes, socks!

Laundry

It happens to most of us on laundry day. We sort, wash, dry, fold, and stuff. But one of the most frustrating parts of doing the laundry for me is when I pick up the same sock two or three times in hopes of finding a match for the one in my other hand.

Why is it that when we do laundry, we always end up with socks that don’t have a mate? Do they get trapped in the washer or dryer? Where do they go? Perhaps only one sock makes it to the hamper? I don’t know, maybe you can help me solve this mystery. I have a wad of single socks stuffed into a mateless sock, hoping, like a lot of single ladies, one day they’ll meet their match.

If you don’t have this issue with socks when you do laundry, please tell the rest of us how you keep them together.

Cranberry Pecan Shortbread Cookies

By: Brady Evans

I’ve got a cookie monster of a husband. For a while I gladly made him cookies. I made him chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, nut-filled cookies. He requested chocolate chip cookies most often, though. It didn’t take long before I was tired of using my precious cooking time to make the same boring recipe over and over again.

So I began purchasing him cookies at the grocery store and generally only bought whatever was on sale. One week shortbread cookies were on sale and he fell in love with the sweet, slightly salty, crumbly texture. I began to brainstorm about making these cookies here at home. I could add a variety of mix-ins and no eggs were required, making them really easy to whip up regardless of the grocery situation!

I added a total of 1 cup of mix-ins to Ina Garten’s shortbread recipe so I encourage you to either make my recipe adaptation or come up with a new concoction of your own!

Cranberry Pecan Shortbread Cookies

Cranberry Pecan Shortbread Cookies (adapted from Ina Garten)

Ingredients

  • 3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together.  Add in nuts and dried cranberries and mix on low until thoroughly combined.
  3. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into 2 cookie logs, 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  5. Cut 1/2 inch cookies with a sharp knife.
  6. Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Humble

By: Sherree Thompson

I went to the grocery yesterday to grab a few to get us through the week. I had both kids in tow, so I knew I had to be quick. A meltdown was inevitable; we were in the grocery, after all. I scooted through the produce section and then made my way down to the meat department. I skimmed the prices, hmm’d and haa’d and bocked at the prices, and  then finally made a small selection. Whoohoo! We made it out with no major issues.

Later in the evening I mentioned the prices to my hubs in disbelief. I complained about the value – or lack of – compared to few years ago and simply just grumbled at the wgeneralcost of food. Shortly after that conversation I got the most paralyzing headache and had to go lay down. And that is where I stayed until early this morning.

I was recapping my evening, thinking about those prices, when I suddenly remembered my walk one morning. It was the first walk I’d taken around the neighborhood. Pushing the double jogging stroller, I had entered a street just two down from my own. What I saw made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Not because of ethnicity, age or even gender, but because it was all too familiar; it was poor. Real poor. Not the “I don’t want to pay $200 for an electric bill,” but the “I have to make this one meal become two” kind of poor. Now let me just say that I don’t know this family I’m writing about. I don’t know if they are having trouble putting food on the table or paying their electric bill. I am simply saying that seeing them made me recall situations from my own childhood and some of the struggles my mom had.

Grocery shoppingI stood there washing dishes thinking about this family and my grumbles about the cost of food. I was humbled and then grateful. I have said too many times lately “There’s just not enough,” “How are people making it?” and “What are we doing wrong?”  You see, there is enough. It’s all in the way I was looking at it. I was replacing needs for wants. What I “need” is to shut my trap and be very, very grateful for the blessings I’ve been given. So what that I can’t go buy or spend whatever I want? Neither can most of the world.

So I present this challenge: Buy an extra bag of groceries, drive down a road you wouldn’t normally and drop it at a house you think might need it. Being grateful for what you do have isn’t always easy in a world that is reminding you of what you don’t have.

Adding ‘Business Owner’ To My Resume

By: Sydney Yarbrough

I never thought at age 23 I would own my own business. However, at the beginning of this year, I found myself filing for a retail license, and soon after that, filling wholesale orders.

What started as a part-time crafting hobby was quickly growing into a larger-amount-of-time business, and I have loved every minute of it. I love the aspect of getting orders and forming relationships with my customers.

So what do I make? Jewelry. Well, mostly bracelets right now, but I have plans to grow the line into other types of jewelry in the coming months. Mostly I sell on Etsy. My jewelry is carried in a few boutiques, and I hope to expand into more!

Sydney Elle Designs

Custom orders are my favorite. I love designing for bridal showers, baby showers, or even individual customers who are going to events. I get a lot of requests from those who have troubles fitting standard bangles, some too small, others too big. I’m happy to do custom sizes!

Sydney Elle Designs

Everything is still in the beginning stages, but starting this business led to me figure out dreams that I never knew I had. The unknown is scary, sometimes, but also exhilarating. I get to meet new people and make beautiful things every day! What more could I ask for?

Sydney Elle Designs

You can find my jewelry on Etsy at https://www.etsy.com/shop/SydneyElleDesigns.

Sydney Elle Designs

I’m constantly adding new things! So make sure to follow my store. I’m also on Instagram @SydneyElleDesigns.

 

Sydney Elle Designs

Feel free to email me at SydneyElleDesigns@Gmail.Com with questions!

So Simple Yet So Super

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

I like to think of myself as a pretty resourceful person. Especially in the kitchen. Tonight was one of those nights when I was hungry and I wanted something really robust but I didn’t want to spend all evening cooking. And, I’m in one of my clean out the refrigerator modes. So, I looked around tonight and came up with a winner: a quick, kick-something Chicken Tortilla Soup. If it weren’t for packing my daughter a lunch tomorrow, I’d have eaten the rest of it myself!

As I looked around, I found that I had a bag of cooked, shredded chicken breast. I had fresh corn, onion, corn tortillas in the fridge. That got the idea cooking. Since I’m a cookbook and recipe junkie, I constantly peruse different versions of dishes. Over time, I think an amalgam of information ends up brewing in my head. I tend to take sombrerothe parts of one that I like, combine it with an idea from another, add something in from that one. So after seeing chicken, corn and tortillas in the kitchen, I just got this craving for a Mexican themed soup.

Even though it was in the 90’s today, don’t let that deter you from soup. Soup is highly UNDER-rated. It’s one of the world’s most perfect foods, really. It can contain proteins, all kinds of veggies, pasta, rice, even fruit. And I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who just finished a bowl of soup and wasn’t feeling all full, toasty and good on the inside. And there are the added benefits of freezing it for later, taking to a sick friend, using it in lunchbox thermoses and being able to have a giant crockpot of it waiting for you at the end of the day.

Our tortilla soup tonight was, in a word, FANDANGOTASTIC. I combined 2 cups of the shredded chicken with:

  • 32 oz chicken broth (one of the big rectangular cartons)
  • 1 cup of fresh corn kernels
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove minced fresh garlic
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup chunky salsa (I used Herdez)

I brought all of this to a boil, then turned it down and simmered, covered for about 30 minutes. Remember that my chicken was already cooked when I started this. If you have raw chicken, cook it before adding to the other ingredients. At dinner, I offered crispy corn tortilla strips, sour cream, cheddar and sliced green onions to garnish. Some avocado would have been choice, if only I’d had one on hand!

All three of us devoured our soup and managed to save just enough for my daughter to take to day camp tomorrow for lunch. As an added bonus, our house smells divine! I keep walking out onto the patio just so I can come back in and smell my house! And, all of this, start to finish (with some chopping) took 40 minutes. Perfect for a weeknight dinner.

Elizabeth writes Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef). Please read, follow and comment. You can also find her culinary musings on Facebook and occasionally on Twitter.