The boss of me

So, it’s official. I’m a full-time freelancer. Yesterday I felt really sad. I didn’t expect to feel sad (this being such a liberating thing and all), but as I was going through three years of notes, cards, emails and contact lists I felt pretty sentimental about the whole thing. And frankly, I’d like to remember it that way. There were some very good times, and truly amazing people in those three years.

Now I just feel strange. Even though I’ve been both part-time and full-time freelance before, I hardly remember what it’s like. I recall spending most of the time wishing for a full-time job – ha!

I have so many ideas of projects I would like to try, especially when it comes to making my house feel more like a home. And blog posts and story ideas and scarves to knit and on and on. I really don’t know where to start. I think I might just lay in the grass and read a book all afternoon. Because I can. Don’t hate me.

If any of you are freelancers, I’d love to hear how you structure your day. Is it tough to stay disciplined? I’m usually good at it when I’m doing something I love.

Another yogurt berry bowl

Low-fat, low-sugar yogurt

plus fresh local strawberries

plus tangy blueberries

plus a sprinkle of crunchy granola

equals a pretty good start to a Sunday.

Cute cards

Yesterday I decided to skip the stifling heat of our outdoor arts festival and go to a smaller, indoor arts and crafts fair called Market Day. I found these adorable cards and just had to buy a few.

“I whaley love you.” Too cute!

I don’t see anything in her etsy shop right now, but I’m hoping it will be full of these cards soon.

Fiesta!

So we celebrated our engagement and my career change with some of our favorite foods. And sangria.

There are a million ways to make sangria, but basically it’s wine and fruit. I made mine with two bottles of rose, a green apple, an orange, half a pound of strawberries and fresh mint. To make it fizzy I added a bottle of club soda (not sure the size, maybe a liter?), and to sweeten it I added one batch of simple sugar (1 cup each of water and sugar heated until the sugar dissolves).

I also left it in the fridge overnight so that everything would get good and mixed together. It was wonderful!

Of course I made guacamole.

So much guacamole. Although I ended up getting full on a friend’s mango salsa instead.

Here’s the cake. Heart-shaped, of course.

I used Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Strawberry Shortcake Cake, but substituted a can of cream cheese frosting for the real stuff since we were already cooking so much.

Really, you could do this with a vanilla cake mix, too. Just bake it in two pans and stack the layers. You top each layer with mashed up strawberries that have been sitting in sugar until they start to make juice. Since the cake soaks up the fruit juice it tastes even better a day later.

So the deposit’s paid, the contract’s signed, and we are on our way to having a wedding. I’m hoping to post soon on all the sources where I’ve been finding inspiration — there are some great (free) ones out there!

Loving: whole wheat muffins

I’ve meant to post about this for a while, but I am just head over heels for these Hodgson Mill muffins. At my Hy-Vee you can get two versions – whole wheat or bran. The little box makes 6 regular size muffins. They’re great for breakfast or for a snack because they feel like a treat without massive guilt.

You just add milk, an egg and a tablespoon of oil or butter to the mix. You can also add dried fruit, but I prefer mine plain.

My only complaint is that the box isn’t bigger!

I’m enjoying my muffins with some fresh summer fruit. The Iowa Girl Eats blogger inspired me to pick up some kiwi at the store this week, and it was delish. Don’t tell the blueberries I liked it better.

Loving: red lettuce salad

The red lettuce in our garden inspired me to make this salad, and now I want to eat it everyday. To be honest, lettuce is typically my least favorite part of a salad. I prefer a ratio of lettuce to tomato of about 1 to 1. Most restaurant salads have one or two cherry tomatoes on a whole plate of lettuce, which just doesn’t cut it for me.

So I made my salad with half a bowl of lettuce, one small tomato sliced into wedges, a sprinkling of powdered parmesan cheese and my favorite dressing, Newman’s Own light balsamic. To cut the lettuce I stacked a bunch of leaves, then rolled up the stack and sliced it into 1-inch sections.

I’ve also started doing what Rachael Ray does with her greens. I wash them and toss any bad parts (cutting of the bottom and separating the leaves if it’s something like a romaine heart), then run them through the spinner to dry and put them in a large plastic baggie. I include a couple paper towels to soak up any extra water. This really seems to help the leaves stay crisper longer. And it seems to taste a lot better than bagged salad, which after many, many purchases still just tastes, bagged.

What do you put on your salad? I’m also partial to sliced apple, pecans and a few goat cheese blobs.

Summer blooms

First of all, thank you to everyone who left a supportive comment or sent me an e-mail about my career change. It means a lot to me that the response has been overwhelmingly positive rather than questioning my sanity. I have 7 more days of work, and one very long to-do list after that. I can’t wait!

This weekend I’ve been trying to do a little maintenance on the garden, which has been hit pretty hard with storms lately. It’s either growing wildly out of control or wilting from the wind, hail, or scorching heat from the last few days.

We’ve lost a few flowers and herbs, but others are still hanging on. This bush of annuals we planted two years ago finally bloomed.

My zinnias are pretty happy.

And it looks like we’ll have lilies here pretty soon.

As for the garden, I’ve been eating wonderful red lettuce salads, while I wait for the beets and carrots to come up.

The zucchini is growing steadily in it’s own box. We hope the fact that it’s pretty shady over there will limit the number of zucchini baseball bats we have to give to our neighbors and co-workers.

Mike is pretty proud of his tomatoes, which are zooming upwards.

It might be hot, but I LOVE summer.

Rhubarb shortbread tart

A big bundle of rhubarb stalks had been sitting in our kitchen all week, waiting for us to do something with it. But having already made rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb muffins and eaten various combinations of rhubarb jams the last couple of seasons, I didn’t feel too inspired.

Still, I didn’t want our farmers market purchase to go to waste, so I dug through my cookbooks and online recipes for ideas. And I got pretty much the same results – crisps, pies, cobblers, jams…nothing jumped out.

Until I saw a super simple recipe for a shortbread crust that you could fill with just about any fruit filling to create a quick tart that most importantly, did not require you to make pie crust. Hallelujah.

Pie crust is awesome, but it’s more work than I felt like doing that day. And I was also out of just about everything, so I had to pick a recipe that didn’t require me to go to the store.

For the filling I chose to make my crisp filling, minus the strawberries since I didn’t have any. And I thought I should top it with something, so I followed the directions from yet another recipe for a crumb topping. And it came out great! I cooked down the rhubarb enough to take out a lot of the overwhelming tartness, and the shortbread bottom gives it a cookie-like crunch, which I love. The tart itself (I guess it’s only sort of a tart, but oh well) is also a much more manageable size than the giant pan of crisp, which goes a little easier on the thighs.

So if you’re looking for something new to do with the last rhubarb stalks of the season, try this.

Rhubarb shortbread tart
adapted from Simply in Season cookbook

1 cup flour
1/3 cup butter
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

For the crust, mix together ingredients until crumbly (a pastry cutter works great) with no pieces bigger than a pea.

Press into a 9-inch pie or tart pan.

Bake at 425 degrees until golden, 10-12 minutes. Cool. (Not the most beautiful crust ever made, but it sure tastes good.)

4 cups rhubarb, chopped
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons cornstarch

Combine rhubarb, sugar and vanilla in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat (wait long enough for the water to start coming out of the fruit), then reduce heat to medium and cook 4 more minutes, stirring frequently.

Dissolve the cornstarch in the water. I love to use a tiny whisk for this.

Add it to the rhubarb mixture and cook a couple more minutes until thickened.

1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter

Mix the oats and brown sugar. Then cut in the butter (again, the pastry cutter works well for this).

When your crust is cool, spread the filling on top. Then sprinkle the crumb topping over that. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until the crumb topping is browned.

Serve with a small scoop of ice cream or whipped cream, if you like.