Carrot muffins

Have I mentioned one or two or a million times how much I love my Simply in Season cookbook? It came through again with this great recipe for carrot muffins. Not only did I get to use the fresh carrots from our garden, but I felt pretty good about eating muffins that use only 1 cup of flour (half of that whole wheat), plus oats and milled flax seed.

I altered the recipe a little to reflect what I like to have in muffins (less cooked fruit, more nuts), so here’s what I ended up with:

Carrot muffins

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups shredded carrot
1 cup milled flax seed
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange liners in a muffin tin. Combine first eight ingredients in a big bowl.

Add carrots, flax seed and nuts and mix well. Make a little well in the center.

In a separate bowl, combine slightly beaten eggs, milk and oil. Pour into the well and combine wet and dry ingredients, just until moistened.

I used a 1/4 cup measuring cup to fill the muffin tins about 3/4 full. You should be able to get 18 muffins out of the recipe.

(Ask the dogs for help. Get no response.)

Bake 18-20 minutes. Cool, and enjoy. They bake up into small, dense muffins.

I can’t say these were the most beautiful muffins I ever made, but they were the perfect accompaniment to a cup of morning coffee. Not too sweet, and just a little crunch from the nuts.

Fresh cucumber salsa

I realized the other day that I have never made salsa before. Mike used to make a delish black bean salsa in the summertime, but since he’s been super busy, tomato duty has fallen to me. So, I dug out a recipe I took from the Boulder farmers market back in 2005 and adapted it to what I had in the kitchen.

I had some tomatoes and a green pepper from our garden and a cucumber from the farmers market, plus a few other things.

The recipe made the freshest, most vibrant, colorful salsa I could have imagined. And it tasted really good, especially when you got a little bit of the marinated tomato juice in the bottom in your bite. I had gotten out my spice blend to add to it, but realized it didn’t even need that. I stuck with a sprinkling of salt and pepper for seasoning, just like I would on a sliced tomato.

Fresh cucumber salsa

4 medium tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1/2 a lime
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a big bowl. That’s it!

My guide to bargain hunting

Perhaps Stacy and Clinton would not agree with this approach, but then again nobody’s handing me a card with $5,000 on it and telling me to shop my heart out.

I am also no fashionista. I own more black pants/shorts/skirts and Gap favorite tees than anything else. But I think I have a pretty good grasp on flattering shapes, fit and structure. And I do love to shop.

When my mom and I shop together, we’re looking for bargains. Her favorite place to shop is NBC – Name Brand Clothes, where everything is half of half of the original price. And sometimes less. This store is not for the faint of heart. You have to dig through racks for hours. You have to examine everything for holes, droopy buttons, stains, wrong sizes etc. And some days you may go home with nothing, because they just don’t have a good selection. But every once in a while you hit the motherlode, and it is so much fun.

That’s what happened last week, when we went to an NBC store in Kansas. The store was brimming with cast-offs from department stores all over the country. They even had stuff from White House Black Market. We were supposed to be looking for clothes for my rail-thin sister, but while my mom and her friend scoured the racks for Megan I started grabbing things for myself. Mwahahahaha.

I really hit the jackpot on these dresses. Considering I go to 3 or 4 weddings every summer now, I was more than happy to take them home. Each one was only $15 or $20, including one from Nine West that still had its original $134 price tag.

I also got this adorable 3/4 sleeve jacket.

And some strappy Bandolinos to go with my dresses.

The grand total for all of this, plus a ruffled cardigan and a stretchy athletic top was less than $100. If you added up everything I got plus everything Megan and my mom got, it would still be less than what I paid for one dress and one capelet at White House Black Market the last time I shopped there. Score!

There are definite limitations to the bargain shopping, though, so I thought I’d put together my list of rules I try to stick to when buying clothes at a place like this:

Don’t go in looking for very specific things. If you need a pair of skinny jeans in a certain size and color, you’re probably better off going to the Gap and paying full or maybe somewhat discounted price. A better goal would be something like “dresses” or “long-sleeved tops”.

Don’t shop only in the size you wear. At outlet stores, items may be slightly off-size, which is why they didn’t sell. So if you wear medium, you might take a run down the small or large aisle, just in case.

Try on everything. You can literally shop with a cart at NBC, so throw in anything and everything you think you might like and try it on. Many things I tried on fit surprisingly well, and some things that looked perfect on the racks turned out to be all wrong. Don’t waste time over something that doesn’t fit. Just move on to the next item.

Check for flaws. Many times we’ve gotten home with our bargains and found a broken zipper or a tiny tear. This is the risk you take with outlets, so be careful. At the same time, if you find a fabulous jacket and it’s missing a button but has an extra one, it just might be worth a 5-minute fix at home.

Find out which night of the week they restock, and shop the next day when they have the best selection.

Be ready to shop out-of-season. I might not have a chance to wear all of my summer dresses before summer ends, but that’s OK. There has to be some give-and-take in saving 75% of the price.

Don’t buy something just because it’s cheap. Some items, and probably a majority of the store, are there because they’re just a little bit too trendy. Take a run-through of everything you like before you buy it and ask yourself if you’re really going to wear it. It’s not a bargain if you spend the money and let clothes sit in your closet all year.

So, go forth and bargain hunt. And please tell me if you have anything to add to my list.

More garage sale finds

So when I said I was going to give myself a vacation, I didn’t realize how disconnected I was going to get. From the Internets, that is. I didn’t check my blog, my etsy, my reader, and only my emails a couple times. It was like I forgot they existed, I was having such a good time. I didn’t even read the book I brought or work on my blanket. But man did I sleep good every night. It seems I needed a break.

But what I did do was spend some quality time with a lot of people I don’t get to see enough. Both of my grandmas, good friends from high school and college, my parents, my sister. Good stuff.

Oh, and then there was a little garage sale-ing, of course. My mom and I went out twice, and then I sorted through some stuff that my dad and Bonnie were going to sell in their garage sale, and “shopped” in my mom’s house.

You can see a LOT of it in my Etsy shop. I’m taking a stab at selling some of the vintage Pyrex, Fire King and Temporama dishes I found, among other things.

Then I kept a few things for myself. Thought this stripey juice glass would be perfect in the bathroom.

And this shelf will be great for displaying items at craft shows.

It just needs some new pulls and a little cleaning spray. At first I thought it was white, but it’s really light green. Real sturdy wood for only $5!

My mom wasn’t able to sell this adorable Fire King dish, so I took it for myself…

She was going to put this thing in her ’70s display at the antique mall, but I just died laughing over it and then I took it for my kitchen.

I thought these mugs would be good for morning coffee or photography purposes. Love the colors.

I also took a giant ornate mirror that I’m going to transform into a sign for craft fairs, but I think I will share that when I’m all finished with it.

Considering my budget was nil, I still managed to have a blast spending only a few dollars on these things. It’s the thrill of the hunt!

Maybe in another post I’ll show you what we got digging through bargains at an NBC store. Do you know about NBCs? (not the TV station). It’s like Filene’s Basement but even crazier, and only the strong survive all the racks. Since department stores are probably struggling more in this economy, there are more bargains than ever to be found. We found some. Of course. More later.

Loving: purple cherokees

These are my favorite tomatoes, so it’s really exciting to get to eat them every day. They are definitely the kind that I’d rather eat plain with a little salt and pepper than cook and put in a dish. Caprese anyone?

Practice makes perfect

As my own boss, I decided to give myself a mini vacation this week. My sister was planning to be home in Kansas for a few days so I thought I would go home, too. Other than the holidays it’s pretty rare for the whole fam to be in the same place at once anymore. So, I’m off. And there will be garage sales and pedicures and general debauchery, I’m sure.

I am, however, taking a little work with me. Because I’ve been scheduled to teach my first Nia class!

It’s Sept. 2, and that is going to be here before you know it. I finally sat down to try to come up with a system of teaching myself all the moves, and it was…not so easy. Honestly, I think just doing the routine over and over is as good a lesson as anything. So that’s what I’ll be doing for the next two weeks. Some of you may be called to practice with me…

Any words of wisdom regarding the teaching of a class for the first time is appreciated.

Fresh tomato sauce

It’s taken a while for me to get this recipe down, but I think I finally have it. Last night we had this sauce over whole wheat fettucine with some roasted zucchini on the side, and it was absolutely wonderful. I didn’t add any sugar to the tomato sauce, but because I used all garden fresh tomatoes they made it super sweet. And with green peppers and basil also from our backyard it was fresh, fresh, fresh. Love it.

Anyway, I have found some kitchen gadgets that make saucemaking so much easier for me. It’s still a pretty messy and involved process, but it can be simplified.

Top left you have a soft peeler. Even though you are going to blanch the tomatoes to get the skins off, you’re bound to have a few stubborn pieces. This device peels them right off. And if you wanted to save time or dishes to clean by just straight peeling them, this is what you should use.

Top right is a cutting board with a built-in strainer. This is great for cutting tomatoes because you can push the juice and seeds into the strainer instead of watching them run down the sides and onto your cabinets, which always seems to happen to me.

Bottom left, a wire mesh strainer will help you grab your tomatoes out of the water after you blanch them. You can find these really cheap at Asian foods stores.

And finally, a sharp paring knife. Don’t mess around with a dull knife, especially when you’re cutting tomatoes. We did for a long time, until my cousin mentioned that she got a 40 percent discount at Williams Sonoma, and we got this Wusthof beauty.

OK, so onto the recipe. I’m writing it here for 6 tomatoes because that’s what I had ripe from our garden (really 7, but some were small), but you can double, triple, or whatever you need to do for the amount you have. For saucemaking we grow Amish paste tomatoes from Seed Savers because they have lots of flesh and fewer seeds.

Fresh tomato sauce

6 medium tomatoes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 green pepper, diced
1/4 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
6 or so basil leaves, cut into ribbons

Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Later you can make the sauce in this pot. Meanwhile, cut the stems out of your tomatoes and remove any split, bruised or bad parts.

When your water starts to boil, drop in the tomatoes for about a minute or until you can begin to see this skins loosening. Drop them into an ice bath to cool off.

The skins should peel right off, but if they don’t, just remove them with the soft peeler or a knife.

Next, slice the tomatoes into chunks and remove the seeds. You probably won’t be able to get all of them, but that’s no big deal.

Don’t worry about saving the juice – you’re actually going to try to boil it off in a few minutes anyway.

Dump out your boil water and start heating the oil over medium. Drop in the onion, green pepper and garlic and saute those for a few minutes. A little zucchini might be good here, too. Sometimes we add a hot pepper.

After you’ve seeded all the tomatoes, cut them into half-inch chunks and drop them in with the rest of the veggies. Season with salt and pepper, but hold off on adding the basil until the end.

Here’s the part where it gets a bit tricky. I’m impatient and I always want to take the sauce off before it’s really done. In order to get a thick, rich sauce it’s going to have to simmer for a while. It could be 20 minutes, it could be an hour. Fresh tomatoes are very watery, and that’s no good when you go to pour the sauce over pasta. So let it reduce by about half. This only leaves you with maybe 2 cups of sauce, but a little goes a long way, and it’s so, so good.

I would say mine probably simmered somewhere in the 30-40 minute range. When it’s ready, drop in the basil and serve.

Ripple blanket – halfway there

I might actually be slightly less than halfway done with my big blanket, but I try not to think about that. Because if I imagine that I have more than the work I’ve already put into this left to do, I might explode. (Though it looks kind of long and skinny in this photo, measurements tell me it’s at a 2 x 1 ratio).

I think I calculated that by the time I’m finished I will have put something like 48 skeins of yarn into this.

But, it is really cool. Seeing it all laid out makes it worth the work, and I believe it’s something I’ll have for a long, long time. Or at least as long as we have an orange couch.

Wedding colors and paper flowers

The wedding is still about 13 months away, but I have made a little progress I can share with you. (And by the way, even if your wedding is 10 years away, you will still get bombarded by crazed bridal store employees).

I picked out some colors I really love.

I’d had my heart set on chocolate brown for bridesmaid dresses, and thankfully that color (here it’s called espresso) is still very popular and easy to find. I’m also dreaming of a white wedding dress with a brown sash or ribbon. I think there needs to be a touch of something different there.

The accent color I love is persimmon, a slightly reddish orange. Since this will be a fall wedding – or somewhere between late summer and fall – I think this combination will work perfectly.

Martha Stewart Weddings had a great spread on DIY paper flowers recently, and I absolutely love their tutorial for making tissue paper pom-poms to hang from a ceiling. They have a how-to for smaller flowers that they suggest making into napkin rings. I’m thinking I will make bunches of these in different sizes and colors (maybe pink and cream along with the orange) and create centerpieces. That could save quite a bit of money on fresh flowers.

So, last night I made a test version and it worked so well!

I absolutely love this look. You can also make the little tissue paper accordions in advance, and then unfold them when you get to the location so they don’t get squashed in transit.

More roasted veggies

In addition to pesto potatoes, I also made this dish of roasted veggies, some of which came from our garden.

So this is baby golden potatoes (quartered) and then diced carrots, chiogga beets and onions. I tossed them with a little rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper and olive oil and roasted them for about 30 minutes.

Today I ate the first tomato from our garden, and it was wonderful. The watermelon is about five inches long now, which is pretty exciting. Now I’m trying to convince Mike to make a carrot cake with those big purple carrots I picked the other day.

And by the way, thanks for your sweet comments here and on Facebook about the dogs. They have a followup appointment next Wednesday, and so far they seem to be doing well.