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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Hot Weather Foods

I love the summer. I love the trips to the beach, the outdoor concerts, the walks along the river after dinner. But I have to admit, I find preparing healthy, tasty meals a little more challenging in the hot weather. Somehow, my crockpot doesn't seem all that enticing in this kind of weather. Gone are the days when a steamy pot of risotto or a corn pudding drew me into the kitchen and drew my family straight to the table.
In this weather we are drawn more to cold foods, salads, soups, and sandwiches, it seems. And without some caution, those can quickly turn into mayonaise-laden, sloppy diet bombs. I've been working hard on making nutritious, cool meals that don't make me look like a greasy, drippy mess and don't pack on the pounds. A few of my current favorites:
--- cucumber and celery salad with feta and mint. I'll confess. I had this earlier this summer at a party and I could not get over how wonderful it was. I've tinkered with the recipie ever so slightly and I love it. I just chop up the ingredients and add a wee bit of vingear (really!! a WEE bit) and its ready to go.
--- Watermelon and mint salad. I'm really appreciating my mint patch this summer. I add something crunchy to this, like water chestnuts or hearts of palm and its ready to go. Just a tiny splash of basalmic vinegar on it. Yum
--- shrimp and tomato salad -- That's it. Just cooked, cold shrimp and cool, ripe tomatoes.
--- Gazpacho -- I'm trying all different recipies right now. I have couple that are quite good, but I'm still looking for the perfect gazpacho. I had it once in southern Spain, on the beach. It remains the icon of gazpacho for me.
---Cold cucumber soup --- this is my food processor favorite. Everything goes into the food processor -- and soup comes out.
--- Strawberry and Yogurt soup. I'll admit it, I purchase this one from a market nearby. It comes in a quart container and is absolutely yummy. We love it with toast for dinner.
--- Seviche -- this is a real treat at our house. We don't have it often because it is a bit expensive. Seviche is essentially seafood bits marinated in lime juice to "cook" them and then served cold.
--- Torellini salad with pesto and peas. I got this idea from one of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. Hers is a little more complicated than this (and I don't find her recipies complicated at all) I just cook the torellini ahead of time. Stir in about a half a cup of prepared pesto (Don't use the jarred stuff, its very vinegary. Look for fresh pesto in the produce section. My local market makes a really good version of this. Later, it my basil ever matures in this wet weather, I'll make my own) Add one can of drained LeSeur baby peas. Stir it all together and chill for a few hours. Add shaved parmesan cheese when you serve it. Mmmmmm.
None of these have mayonaise or are dripping with oil. None of these are sloppy and drip down your chin as you eat them. None of these makes you look like a cow (either while you're eating or after!). Summer IS good.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Designer Set: I Think Not

This past weekend I received oodles of compliments on our porch and patio. Most of those commenting clearly assumed that I had purchased a "designer set". Obviously, they don't know me all that well. But in reflecting on it, I realized how many places in my life that I do precisely what I did with the porch and patio. I build my own chic, elegant look for far, far less than any designer set would ever be. And it looks terrific.
Last summer I needed cushions for the wicker set on the front porch. At this point, I should clarify that our "wicker set" is not a set at all. The loveseat if mine from my college days (I'm not admitting to how many years ago that was!!). One chair came from a tag sale. The other chair came from a damage sale at an odd lot store. It had a big black smear on it and some chipped paint. The coffee table came from the end of summer super-duper clearance at KMart. We dragged them all together and my husband gave them all a coat of glossy white paint. Voila! -- a wicker set. I shopped hard for the cushions for them. I was absolutely opposed to the lurid florals that seemed to be everywhere. I wanted something very clean looking. I finally found cushions in a striped pattern that I bought in July. Although the stripes are of all different colors, at a glance oranges and greens dominate the pattern. I brought them home and put them on the wicker. Then I began collecting coordinating items as I saw them.
Nothing truly matches, they just all have the stripey look to them in the bold colors that are in the cushions. Everything looks clean and crisp and chic together on the porch and the adjoining patio.
---two striped cachepots from the dollar store. These are now home to two citronella plants and sit on the wicker coffee table.
---a striped melamine tray from the oddlot store
---a set of four orange and yellow striped placemats from HomeGoods on the patio table for dining.
---striped candles in a variety of colors from an oddlot store. If only these were citronella, they would be utterly perfect.
---a striped fabric "box" basket. This moves around alot. Sometimes its on the patio table holding flatware for a meal, sometimes its on the porch with napkins or pens and pencils in it. Its very versatile. This came from the dollar store, I think.
---two lime green throw pillows from Goodwill. These look super on the wicker loveseat and if they don't make it through the summer, I won't be too sad about it.
---bamboo placemats with orange and green striped edging. These are my alternate placemats for outside. They are understated, but still coordinated with the rest of the porch and patio.
--- my latest find is a large ceramic pitcher in the stripey pattern. This will be terrific for lemonade on hot summer afternoons.

I've added some citronella lanterns, an afghan for cool evenings, and my usual assortment of potted plants and the entire thing looks fantastic. I certainly didn't spend a fortune doing it, but apparently everyone seeing it thinks I did. I love it.