Loving: a new bike!

I finally upgraded from a hybrid bike to a road bike, and I’m so happy I did. I didn’t need a commuting bike anymore, I needed one for longer rides on paved trails, so it was time for a change. I didn’t need anything fancy, though, so I went with Trek’s least expensive model (I like to call it the “entry level” model), the 1.1.

Not only is it a pretty nice lookin’ bike, it’s much lighter than my hybrid, and helps me keep a little bit faster pace.

My neighbor’s dog, Titus, was not impressed. He pretty much always has the same expression, which says, “Why are you still here?”

Other reasons to smile today? Mike picked up these strawberries at the farmers market. Swoon.

Rhubarb lemonade

I sure hope you’re not sick of rhubarb yet, because I have one more recipe for you. A few years ago, when I was new to rhubarb, Mike made this lemonade recipe, and it was just fantastic. We’ve made it a few time since then, including last night when we spiked it with rum and took it to a party. I suggest you do the same, if you get a chance!

Rhubarb lemonade

8 stalks rhubarb, chopped
8 cups water
1 cup sugar (or more to taste)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Bring water and rhubarb to a boil in a big pot. Let it simmer for about half an hour, then turn of the pot and let it sit until cool. Strain out the rhubarb. Add lemon juice and sugar and stir to combine.

Serve over ice cubes with a sprig of fresh mint. You can also add carbonated water to make it fizzy.

Happiness is…

Pink roses, freshly picked from the side garden,

an egg with an electric yellow center,

and new candle packaging (with apricot and grapefruit scents filling my house).

Peanut butter pasta with veggies

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? But really this is kind of like a quick version of pad thai. Since it uses asparagus I thought it was perfect to make this time of year.

Peanut butter pasta with veggies
adapted from Cooking Light’s Super Fast Suppers

1 pound asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
1/2 a red onion, thinly sliced
8 ounces of angel hair pasta
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
chopped peanuts (optional)

*To make this vegan, just sub veggie broth for the milk. This would be great with sauteed tofu, too.

Heat the oil in a big skillet over medium to medium-high heat and saute your veggies until they are soft and starting to get brown on the edges. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile heat your pasta water to boiling and drop in your pasta. Since 8 ounces is roughly half a box, I use the highly scientific method of removing enough from the box until it looks halfway empty. Cook the pasta according to package directions.

Set your veggies aside and drain your pasta. Then you can use the veggie pan to warm up your sauce. Drop in the soy sauce, peanut butter, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, milk, and red pepper flakes. Whisk that all together and add to the past and veggies in a bowl.

Toss to combine.

On a funny/ridiculous note I recently realized my camera has an auto white balance feature, so I don’t have to keep switching back and forth when I’m in the kitchen (half the time I’m under a yellowish light, the other half next to a sunny window). It actually works pretty well.

Lost without ‘Lost’?

I was a little late to the game watching “Lost.” I had all the episodes in my Netflix queue for the longest time because I knew that once I started watching I would be hooked and have to see the whole thing. But I finally gave in a few months ago, not realizing at the time that the show was ending. Needless to say, I watched so many episodes that I felt like it started to become real, and I was really anticipating last night’s finale.

For me it was a little disappointing. I thought they would answer more of the unanswered questions. But overall, I thought it was an amazing show. Now what am I gonna watch?

Also, have you seen these Dharma Initiative labels? I foresee them popping up again around Halloween.

Reggie says…

“I got your back.”

Thought this one of Sadie was cute, too.

Rhubarb muffins

I bought an obscene amount of rhubarb at the farmers market this weekend, so I wanted to start using it right away.

I tried to buy bunches that were especially red, and these were just beautiful (from a local berry farm). Last weekend I couldn’t find rhubarb at the store, but I think it was a blessing in disguise. It’s much cheaper and better quality at the market.

First up, muffins. I have written about these before, but didn’t provide the recipe, so here it is.

Mike and I were so happy with how these turned out. They are muffin perfection, if I do say so myself. Even though rhubarb is a little tart, I think I prefer it to berries in a muffin just because it doesn’t overpower the rest of the taste. And with a little crunchy cinnamon-sugar on top, you feel like you’re getting a bit of a treat (though they’re made with some whole wheat flour, too).

Rhubarb muffins
adapted from Simply in Season, my fave

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups rhubarb, diced
1/2 cups chopped nuts (your choice, I used pecans)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon flour

Maybe I have said this before, but I find it funny that baking powder has a shaker option on the lid. What do you shake baking powder on? Is it a cleaner, too?

Also, I had never tried the trick of using a slice of bread to bring back your brown sugar from a hardened state, but it totally works!

Aaaand, I should mention that I didn’t have any buttermilk, so I added a squirt of lemon juice to a cup of 1% milk that we had in the fridge and it seemed to work just fine.

OK, back to the recipe.

Combine the flours, baking powder, soda and salt in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl whisk the buttermilk, brown sugar, oil, egg and vanilla. Dump in the dry ingredients and stir just enough to combine. Then add the chopped rhubarb and nuts and stir those up.

Divide the batter evenly into your muffin pan. It will make 12 pretty huge muffins, or maybe 18 medium-sized ones.

Melt the butter in a little dish in the microwave, then stir in the cinnamon, sugar and flour. Sprinkle that over the tops of the muffins.

Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 20-24 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

I still have this much rhubarb leftover.

Mike is thinking about making his famous rhubarb lemonade…

Side garden – done!

I had to dig up some of my mulch work to finish the side garden, but it was worth the effort to cross that off my checklist.

When I walked over there yesterday I noticed that not only is the big rose bush in full bloom (this is what they look like),

but another rose bush over there has lots of buds on it. I don’t think one has ever bloomed since we’ve lived here, so I’m excited to see what it looks like.

I did end up moving some of the little pink and white flowers to fill in one of the holes, so now they form a straight line across the front of the garden.

In back I added a shasta daisy and a purple coneflower plant.

I LOVE daisies of all kinds, and I think they will look great once that other plant blooms with yellow-orange flowers.

I chose prairie-type flowers because I love them, and they are perennials that will keep coming back!

At the farmers market I bought an oregano plant and a cilantro plant to round out my herb pot garden. It’s still looking great on the front porch.

Both of our Amish paste tomato plants died in the back yard. We think perhaps they were not as able to survive cold temps as the other ones that we planted at the same time. We got some San Marzano plants to replace them, so we’ll see how those do. I suspect they like it warm, so they should be happy with our high 80s temps this week.

Happy gardening!

Salad harvest

Last night I really wanted a salad to go with dinner so I went out to the garden and picked some of our lettuces.

I can’t tell you how much fun it was to go “shopping” in the garden.

Despite the convenience factor of bagged salads, I don’t buy them anymore because they just have this taste that says … not really fresh at all.

There is one downside to picking your own greens – you have to look out for stowaways like these little pods that have been dropping off our tree into the garden.

I remember last year I found some baby slugs in with the greens!

But it’s worth it.

And have I mentioned how much I love my salad spinner?

If you have a little extra aggression to get out, just spin that puppy until you feel better. Then eat salad.

Gardening and graduation

I’ll start with the graduation part. It was awesome! My sister graduated last weekend with her master’s degree from Columbia College Chicago. The whole fam made the trek to Chicago, which was quite an adventure. But we managed to get everyone where they needed to be, and spent one lovely afternoon at the art museum, which I hadn’t seen since high school. And after my second visit I still need to go back again to see everything.

Then Sunday we attended the graduation ceremony, and it was so much better than any graduation I’ve ever attended. When we sat down there was a band playing and people singing. Not your normal hum drum ceremonial music. It was more like a gospel choir.

And throughout the whole thing Columbia’s performing arts students treated us to a bunch of performances that were American Idol-worthy. When the different majors came in they were dancing and holding up signs. Then the speaker was a stand-up comedian (I guess it helps to be near Second City.)

Anyway, the whole thing was just so unexpected, and it was a great sendoff for my sis.

When I got back to Des Moines, the sun finally decided to come out again and warm things up, so I got to work on the side garden.

I dug out a bunch of weeds and planted a little mini veggie garden with eggplants, basil, and a hot pepper plant (Wenk’s yellow hots).

I noticed while I was over there that the big rose bush actually has buds on it (yay!), which means I must have done something right when I trimmed it earlier this spring.

Then I weeded and mulched the flower section.

All the perennials have come up, but over the years they have spread into a weird configuration. I am thinking I need to move some of the pink flowers in front so that they form a straight line, and then plant some more flowers to fill in the empty hole in the back. That should be pretty easy to do.

The secret garden is going to need a lot of work, though, and after weeding one small patch and hauling six bags of mulch I am dreading doing any more work like that. But the thing about gardening is that once you do a little you want to do a little more. Or a lot more.

I also planted some more herbs in the pots on the front porch. The dill looks fantastic.

And I added some English thyme.

The mint is thriving now in its own pot. Mojitos??

In the back yard the transplants are doing a little better now, but we did lose a couple of tomato plants. Luckily we can usually find the same ones at the farmers market. We have to have our tomatoes!