Friday, May 30, 2014

Food Friday: Side Dish Salads for the Grill Season

Last weekend’s good weather put me in a grilling mood.  Grilled burgers, chicken, and hot dog invariably means side dishes and I have a nice list of summery salads to serve with grilled food.

A favorite is Spring Salad.   I've been making this salad for over 20 years.  It’s a mix of broccoli, cauliflower, bacon, and grated cheese in a dressing that is tangy.  

This past week, I also made a dish that came my way via T.  She calls it Corn Bean Mash.  I call it delicious.  It’s best on day two and can be served as a salad, a dip for tortilla chips, or a filling for lettuce wraps.  

I also made Confetti Cole Slaw.  

This recipe is an adaptation from one my mom makes and I don’t even know the original origin.  It’s pretty on the table, comes together quickly,  and goes with most any grilled food.

- small head of red cabbage, chopped
- 1 medium tomato, chopped
- 4 green onions, sliced
- ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
- ¼ cup finely chopped cilantro

¼ cup canola oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cumin
1 clove of garlic, crushed
dash of ground pepper

Mix salad ingredients.  Combine dressing; shake and toss with slaw when ready to serve.

Finally, I mixed up some good Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad.  

Mine is an adaptation of the original Pioneer Woman recipe and it’s flexible, in that you can change up the list of ingredients.  Sometimes I add in green pepper; other times I swap it out for the red pepper and use a Vidalia onion instead of green onion.  The key is that it’s flexible and all you need to do is make sure the macaroni is cooled before you mix in the dressing.

- 4 cups of elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions, rinsed and cooled
- 1/2 cup chopped red pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped black olives
- 3-4 chopped green onions

- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoons white vinegar
- 3 teaspoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- milk to thin dressing for pouring.....usually about 1/4 cup

Cook the macaroni in lightly salted water according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water to cool. Set aside.

Mix together mayo, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. Splash in enough milk to make it pourable.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Set aside. 

Place cooled macaroni and chopped ingredients in a large bowl and pour 3/4 of the dressing. Toss and add more dressing if you'd like. (Dressing will seem a little thin, but it will thicken up as salad chills.)  Keep the extra dressing to mix in just before serving, as needed.

Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. 

These salads will turn up on the supper table at my house all summer long.  That's tasty!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rested and Ready

As is always the case in May, I burn my candles at both ends.  Come the end of the month, I am ready for a break.  This year is no exception and when I got home last Friday night I was exhausted.  I tucked into bed early.  The next day, still tired, T and I set off to secure the rest of the plants needed to complete the garden.  Once secured, we brought them home and left them on the front porch for the next day's planting.

Planting day was Sunday.  We finished the yard work by cleaning the grill and enjoying the first cookout of the season.

We spent most of Monday relaxing.  The verdant view from my back deck is one of my most favorite sites.  It invariably relaxes me.  

This morning, I am drinking my coffee outside on this very deck.  The birds are chirping and cheerful, ready to face the day.  In a few minutes, my busy days will resume.  Thank heavens for a replenishing weekend and a restful garden to help me face it all.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Showy Rhododendron

I have two rhododendron bushes in my yard; they flank the front steps with showy purple flowers.

There are plenty more in my neighborhood, some that have become quite large.  Rhododendrons come on slow in the spring but once they bloom, it is a brilliant, impressive display.   Left untrimmed, these plants can be nearly over the top.

I love the way that nature can be so garish.

When I see them in the spring, I think that rhododendrons are the garden equivalent of an eccentric old auntie in a giant floral hat.  She has strong opinions, a kind heart, and a preference for bright-colored lipstick.  It's always splendid when she comes to visit.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

In Praise of Yardwork

Just a few weeks ago, I finally got to pull out my mower and cut the grass.  I love cutting the grass and I especially love the first mows of the season.  The newly grown grass smells magnificent in those first cuttings.  The days are warm, but not yet stifling with humidity.  The light in the early evening (my favorite time to mow in the spring) is downright magical.  And when the mowing is complete, I’ve a neat and tidy lawn to show for my efforts.

I always joke that the reason I love to cut the grass is because of the quiet involved.  It’s not quiet, of course, but it is time to myself.  I do a lot of good thinking behind the mower and that I get to do it outside is part of the charm.  Even when the summer heat is upon me, it’s a task I don’t regard as a chore at all.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Real Life Conversations with JT: Middle School Humor edition

The backstory:  Like all good liberals, I listen to a lot of NPR.  Since JT is my frequent companion, he also listens to a lot of NPR.  Over the years, I’ve noticed that he has actually come to enjoy the various shows to which we listen.  Sometimes, he’s riding in the car with his headphone on but with the iPod turned to low so that he can hear the stories.  So it was that on Thursday evening, we were listening to a Marketplace and a story about the sale of Ragu pasta sauce

Radio: Blah, blah, marketshare, blah.

And then the radio introduced a man who is an expert in food brands.  His name?  

Radio:  According to market expert Harry Balser…..

We didn’t hear the rest of the story because we were laughing so loud.  And then JT made an important fact perfectly clear.

JT: If you named me that, I would never speak to you again.

Good to know.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

May Front Porch

Spring’s official arrival in March resulted in unreasonable expectations for me.  Cold as the winter had been, I was ready for some warmth and color.  I knew enough to pause my enthusiasm and wait for April to buy some flowers for the front porch.  But even April wasn’t warm enough to risk flowers outdoors.  So all my April front porch dreams were placed on hold.  My Easter egg wreath provided some very necessary cheer.  But for flowers I waited.

The early Mother’s Day celebration was the reward for all my patience.  The front porch is looking cheerful and charming for the month of May, complete with a May Day banner.

The table has a floral oilcloth tablecloth with pots of plants and flowers on top.  The white pot has coral geraniums and a sneaky squirrel.  The polka dotted tin has a pink begonia.   The ivy plants are happy to cast aside the indoors and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine.

The shefflura plant is equally happy to be outdoors and has a new friend in the form of a pot of pink begonias.  Two baskets of purple New Guinea impatiens hang from the hooks on either side of the front steps.

The front door wreath has a green striped ribbon.

The porch is a cheerful greeting when we come home each day.  That’s happy!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Operation Cardinal

Between the second and third grade, JT discovered baseball.  They’ve been together ever since.  He watches and analyzes the game, reads about it, pours over apps with game stats, and thinks about the strategy of the national pastime.  In season, his first conversation with me each morning is about the night’s previous games.  In and out of season, it’s a frequent reason he needs to call his Grandpa and talk things through.  In fact, it is Grandpa who introduced him to his favorite teams.

In this regard, the boy has been a lucky baseball fan.   His favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals, and his runner-up team, the San Francisco Giants, have had some very good years.  He’s been to see the Giants in their home stadium and he’s seen the Cardinals in both Philadelphia and Washington DC.  With Grandpa, he saw the Cardinals in a Florida Spring Training game.  But he’d never seen the Cardinals at home.

That changed this weekend, when T, JT, and I rolled into St. Louis to see his team at home.  The trip was a treat to celebrate JT’s mighty hard work in the 8th grade and an opportunity to ensure that the boy experienced the most holiest of baseball venues: Busch Stadium, home of the best fans in baseball.  We got to the stadium early so the boy could experience it all.

He soaked it in and we exchanged a few jokes about the fact that every time he sees St. Louis in person, the Cardinals lose.  This game’s pitcher was Shelby Miller, a young phenom who has been known to give us some anxious moments this season.  But on Saturday, Miller was terrific and the Cardinals delivered a win.  The boy was most happy.

Though there were some Atlanta Braves fans in attendance, most of the 40,000 plus people at the game were rooting for the hometown, in jerseys and t-shirts that showed the depth of their affection.   JT opted for his Cardinals Hall of Fame t-shirt and T and I were in appropriate shades of red.

After the game, we headed across the street to the Cardinals own Hall of Fame, a new museum with a history of the team.  JT soaked that in as well and even took the opportunity for an at-bat with Allen Craig’s bat.

He watched highlights from previous Cardinals World Series win, taking the time to watch the 2011 collection twice because, as he explained, “I still get chills when I watch highlights of the 2011 World Series.”

T and I spent the weekend exchanging high fives to celebrate the fact that we pulled this surprise trip off.  One of the best parts of being a parent is watching your child develop a passion for something.  This weekend is one I will remember forever.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Gateway to the West

Before we caught the Cardinals game (more on that later), we strolled on down to the Big Muddy and had a look at the Arch.  Some people think it's okay to fool around at national monuments.
That might explain why I love them so damned much.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Real Life Conversations with JT: Cardinals edition

The backstory:  The boy is a baseball fan and his favorite team is the St. Louis Cardinals, an enthusiasm he inherited from his grandfather.  Every morning, he gives me the baseball report from the night before.  This morning he woke to the reminder that he would be seeing the Cardinals in person at Busch Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

JT:  Tomorrow we’ll be seeing the young phenom, 3-2 pitcher Shelby Miller!

Me:  Sir, you have a future at ESPN.

Internet, T and I have planned an awesome treat for the boy. It’s gonna be a hell of a weekend.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

On Enthusiasm

Teaching Middle School after years of teaching older students has been an epiphany for me.  While it is new and the comparisons are fresh in my mind, I’m making note of some of the biggest distinctions between middle schoolers and older high schoolers.  These thoughts of mine are sometimes open-ended; I don’t have any big answers.  But I do have plenty to mentally chew upon and I intend to do so.  Today’s topic is the end of the school year.

When I began teaching 6th graders, I was charmed by their easy enthusiasm for learning.  It’s not that 11th and 12th graders aren’t enthusiastic, it’s that a teacher must earn it.  And some days, no matter how good the classroom culture is, teenagers are simply exhausted and overwhelmed.  A day like that can drag.  The end of the year is typically the most obvious example of this experience.  As the end of the school year approaches, 11th and 12th graders are school-weary.  This is especially true for 12th graders, for whom college acceptances have been received.  They really are checking out come the end of the year and it shows in class, no matter how terrific the kids are.  As a teacher, this is a challenge.

Contrast this with the 6th grade, where enthusiasm abounds.  At the start of the year, if I asked a question to get our lesson going, nearly every hand went up.  It’s the same in May, and I find their energy and boundless curiosity inspiring.  Today is our last quiz of the year and the students will begin to construct their final projects tomorrow.  They are excited about this and can’t wait to receive the assignment and get started.  That’s really the charm of middle schoolers ——— they expect that school, like much of the rest of life, should mostly be fun.  They are determined that it will be.  As I planned their final project, which places them in the position of organizing a time travel tour of history, I was aware of their mindset and kept thinking about how much fun they would find this assignment.

I think that high school can and should take a page from middle school and do more to nurse along the natural enthusiasm of kids.  Among other things, this would mean less high-pressure exams and more creative project-based writing assignments.  I know that the obvious objection is the usual canard about high school needing to prepare students for the pressure and reality of college entrance exams, college applications, and college itself.  But I think that is a poor excuse.  Learning happens most successfully at the intersection of interest and excitement.  Curiosity is a terrible thing to waste.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother’s Day

JT typically spends the weekend of Mother’s Day with his other mother, so we celebrated early.  As is my custom, I requested a trip to the garden shop for flowers.  T and JT were good sports as I walked the rows of flowers.  Two baskets of New Guinea impatiens, 3 geraniums, and a flat of pink begonias later, I headed home quite pleased with my floral collection.  There were charming cards and we had a lovely lunch.  And there is the lingering pleasure of flowers to make me smile.
Happy Mother's Day, y'all!

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Math is Fun

At supper the other night, JT announced that math was his favorite class.  The announcement was confirmation of the progress that I have seen all year, but it was so very good to hear that JT himself understands this fact.

A few years ago, JT lost his confidence in math.  The decline wasn’t abrupt but it was painful to see and even harder to remedy.  We spent a few years simply holding the line, working to undo the damage to his math confidence.  The value of statistics in baseball, his enduring obsession in life, meant that math must be useful.  But it took quite some time for that realization to truly take hold in JT’s imagination.  This year, we’ve turned a corner and I know it because math class has gone from being the class he must endure each day to the class he enjoys the most.  

The reason is, of course, a teacher.  It’s a teacher with a wicked smart sense of humor who comes to class each day convinced that the first period class will get things done.  For Mr. S.,  they do rise to the challenge.  Homework is complete, questions are asked, and a daily work ethic has been established.  When the going gets hard, JT gathers up his practice problems and his math book and marches right into to Mr. S’s classroom, convinced that Mr. S. will work his magic.  He always does.

This week, JT reported to me that he wants to take Mr. S with him to the Upper School, where he would like Mr. S to teach, “a class on life.”  Fact is, Mr. S has been teaching that class on life all year long —— try your best, believe in yourself, ask for help.  Repeat every day.  When you do this, math is fun, as Mr. S has been telling us all long.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Cinco de Mayo

When I was in elementary school, the school marked Cinco de Mayo by having the local high school’s Mariachi dancers come to visit.  They wore colorful clothes and danced and sang Mexican songs.  The festivities would be topped off by taco day in the cafeteria.  Let me note for the record that tacos at Weldon Elementary School in Clovis were worth your time.  I remember the day as a celebration of Latino culture and the the diversity of my home state.

These days I live on the East Coast and Cinco de Mayo is more of a bar holiday than it is an actual celebration of cultural diversity.  But in my world, it still features tacos.   Mine are chicken tacos (I use a Diana Kennedy recipe)  and I add some homemade salsa and guacamole.  JT put 7 tacos into his hungry belly and announced that it’s a good thing to have a mama from California.


Real Life Conversations with JT: Inappropriate Lyrics edition

The backstory: Driving somewhere, JT consented to listen to my music.  A song he’s heard many times, The Commodores singing Brick House, attracted new attention and he turned to me to ask a question.

JT:  I feel like “brick house” has some sort of alternative meaning that I don’t know.

I explained the reference.  He was horrified, whether by the fact that I knew what a “brick house” was or by the sexism of the song, I can’t be sure.  I do know that the next time I turned on the car, he forwarded over that song.  The kid make me laugh.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Flower Friday

The cheerful daffodils of early spring have begun to fade, but they’ve been replaced by some beautiful tulips.  These bloomed along the line of hostas in my backyard.

Alongside them, the apple tree has some pretty, pink blooms of its own.

There are more pink tulips in the front yard.

May Day’s twilight was warm and lovely, casting the fresh, lush green plants in a pleasing light that is one of the very best things about Spring.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

May 1st: Dogwood Report

The last few days seem to have confirmed that old adage that April showers bring May flowers.  In the last 24 hours, we had 5 inches of cold, heavy rain with resulting flooding nearly everywhere I turn.  Had I made a picture of the dogwood this morning, it would have been a sad and soggy display.  But as the day went on, it emerged as quite glorious, with a bright blue sky and warm sunshine, as if New Jersey had been scoured clean.  The state cleans up well and if the latter half of this day is any indication, May might very well be glorious.  The dogwood is slowly coming along.

There are small green leaves and a few of the flowers have emerged.  

This the slowest Spring I can recall in New Jersey, but with May at the doorstep I have to believe that warm days will follow.

That’s happy!

Lakeside Property

My regular 1st of the month post will resume shortly but this morning, after buckets and buckets of rain, I've got a picture of my backyard which confirms the virtues of a basement pump.  Once again, I am reminded that much of New Jersey lives right on the water table.  And in my case, these days I live below it.