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garden salad

When Luke and I moved back to the US from England three years ago, the thing we agreed we were looking forward to the most about being settled for a while was, oddly enough, having a garden. It became an obsession, really. From our apartment overlooking the city of Bristol, we (fine, I) searched real-estate listings of cheap old farmsteads in rural parts of my home state. We didn’t really have any intention of buying and settling down on a farm of all places — being, as we are, slightly phobic of the word “settled” — but the idea did appeal at the time. We were coming to the end of one season — being students, living abroad, traveling, owning very little — and moving into another — marriage, work, building nests — where the thought of cozying down with someone and making a home, even for these nomads, had a certain appeal. And chief among them, was having our own garden. Hard to do when you’re living from a suitcase. salad leavesWe’ve had two somewhat successful gardens in three years, which are not bad odds, me thinks. Actually, I’m including this year’s garden as one of the two, so I hope it doesn’t go and die now that I’ve said that. Even if it does, we will have enjoyed a number of tasty salads, not to mention the countless uses we’ve found for basil, parsley and mint (Juleps, I’m looking at you).

salad tomatoesmustardsalad dressingstrawberry jamshallots

Back from vacation and not wanting to get in the car again to drive to the grocery store (I know, life is hard), it was a pleasure to be able to forage a healthy and tasty meal right from our back door. Homemade dressing could easily become my thing, y’all. This one combines the tangy, dillyness of champagne mustard with the sweetness of strawberry jam (I know, right? Brilliant!). Fresh minced shallots give it a kick and good olive oil holds it all together. Throw on some chickpeas from a can or, in our case, thawed from a hummus-ready batch in the freezer, plus some fresh mozzarella, olive and tomatoes, and you have yourself a delicious and super healthy (let’s not mention that strawberry jam) post-vacation lunch.
salad presentationWho can say how long this putting down roots business will last? There’s been talk for a while now about the next chapter — and, no, I don’t mean babies. All the more reason to enjoy the fruits of this season we’re currently in.

 

Green Garden Salad Tips (I can’t call this a recipe, can I? I mean, it’s salad.)

A handful each of spinach, baby kale, and baby swiss chard.

A combined handful of mint, Thai basil and Italian basil, to taste — herbs in salad is the secret to happiness.

Wash greens. Throw into a big salad bowl. Slice 1/2 one red onion (or to taste). Add to greens. Two tomatoes cut into eights. A few Kalmata olives. Toss all together.

Fill two plates with salad. Add a few spoonfuls of cooked, salted chickpeas. Tear a few slices of mozzarella over each salad.

Brassy Strawberry-Mustard Dressing

(“brassy” because, don’t know if you noticed but I’m obsessed with Braswell’s condiments. You guys! The empties can be used as classy European-looking drink wear.)

2 teaspoons of your favorite Dijion mustard.

1-2 teaspoons of strawberry jam

3-4 Tablespoons of olive oil (coconut would be beautiful, too)

1/2 shallot minced

black pepper to taste

Mix into a creamy (not runny) consistency. Better if allowed to sit in the fridge over night. Eat up!

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luxuryornecessity

What do you spend money on without even thinking twice? Where do you draw the line between luxury and necessity? When I was growing up, my parents were very frugal in our style of living. Going clothes shopping was a once or twice a year treat for my sister and me and we rarely bought anything that wasn’t on the sale rack. Similarly, eating out usually only happened on road trips or vacation, or for that quick Wendy’s burger after ballet practice (because it cut into our dinner hour). Otherwise, we ate at home. As for toys or high ticket items my sister and I pined for, it was a given that we’d have to wait until birthdays or Christmas.

There was one exception to my family’s frugality: media. Books, music and movies were the few luxuries my Dad (the most frugal one in the family) allowed himself and us. Growing up if there was a book we wanted to read or an CD we wanted to listen to, my Dad was usually more than happy to order it for us (from a local indie bookstore or record store, of course!). For him, media was a necessity. Which is why, now that I’m grown up and making my own financial decisions, I don’t think twice about paying full price for a book I’ve been wanting to read. I’m not extravagant by any means. I rarely buy more than two books per bookstore visit (I can’t read them that quickly anyway!), but as far as I’m concerned, a couple books a month is money well spent.

I’ve wanted to talk about the monetary value of books with you all for a while now, and finally, I’m starting a new series that will let us do just that. If you’re keen, I’d love to explore luxuries vs. necessities with you, as they weigh up against the cost of a book. We’ve all heard how important it is to support local, independent businesses, and yet, so often I talk to book loving friends who cite the cost of books as an obstacle to them buying from indie bookstores. Knowing that we all prioritize our expenses differently, I’m curious: What are those expenses that to anyone else might seem luxurious or extravagant, but to you are no-brainers? First up this week is one of my husband’s and my favorite guilty pleasures: Breakfast.

I hope you enjoy! And please, let me know what you think.Breakfastnecessity-page001IMG_5125 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_2589 breakfastIs it a luxury or a necessity that we go out for breakfast almost weekly? Obviously, it’s a luxury. The fact that I’m even asking that question says so much about our privilege here in the wealthy west. For Luke and I, we justify it this way: breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and, therefor, is possibly more of a treat than going out for dinner; not to mention, it’s the perfect way to mark a day off (“Yes, it’s Saturday! Let’s sleep in and then go eat pancakes!”); and, of all the meals, it is the cheapest one to eat out so we’re really saving money.

On average we spend between $15 and $30 per meal, which is the equivalent of one hardback book or up to two paperbacks.

So, you ask: If it’s the choice between one of these outings and a new book, which would I choose? No question about it. I’ll eat granola at home in my PJs any day if there’s the option of a brand spanking new book.

And now its your turn. What are some of your luxury expenses? How do books figure into your budget and which would you choose: breakfast or a book? I’d love to hear!

royalmacandcheeseRoyalAdditionTrucklewilliamandkateTwo nights ago I was seized by a ravenous craving for mac n’ cheese. Normally a healthy eater, every so often (about once a week) I have an attack of the must-have-something-gooey-and-cheesies. Saturday night’s attack was unlike any other. There was only one thing to be done: make a mac unlike any mac I’ve made before.

Driving home from work I did a mental inventory of our refrigerator back home: Heavy cream, leftover from some dessert creation from a few nights back, a can of Black on Black beer leftover from Luke’s men’s group, plenty of butter. With God as my witness, all three would be making an appearance in my mac n’ cheese. But cheese. Cheese we were lacking.

Overly eager, I lurched into Whole Foods, my car wheels screeching into the turn. Things were about to get dangerous. Shopping here tonight was not in my budget, but then, it never is. Foreseeing the pitfalls of my plan, I beelined it for the door without so much as a glance at the shopping carts and baskets. This would be an in-and-out trip. No basket. I’d only buy what I could carry. Mac n’ cheese awaited.

At the cheese counter, I grabbed a hunk of Gouda I knew would melt perfectly into my cream sauce. Meanwhile, a familiar face appeared behind the deli counter. She saw me, smiled and reached for a half round of waxed cheese from the cooler.

“Searching for something in particular today?” she asked as she shaved off a slice and handed it to me on the end of a toothpick.

“I’m making a decadent mac n’ cheese tonight,” I said, dislodging the cheese. “I’m thinking Gouda and a strong cheddar of some sort.”

I popped the pillowy cheese into my mouth and let it melt on my tongue. It melted quickly, releasing its sugars and a mild creamy flavor.

“That’s the Royal Addition Cheddar we have on promotion in honor of the royal baby.”

Not too pungent, an ideal melting cheese, high fat content. On sale? Even better.

“It’s perfect,” I said. “I’ll take half a pound.”

Can I admit that the whole William & Kate Royal Addition part barely registered with me at this point? I had my cheese blinders on and I wasn’t going to be diverted. Which I guess speaks well of the actual cheese inside the royal crest-embossed packaging. Opportunistic marketing ploy? Definitely. Delicious cheese? Happily, yes.

You know, of course, that a good mac n’ cheese requires a minimum of one pound of cheese? That was one of my grandmother’s rules and she made the best mac n’ cheese around. (But doesn’t everyone’s grandma?) Though I diverged from my gran’s recipe this go ’round, I honored the one pound rule. 

My grandmother’s recipe is traditionally old school southern in the sense that you don’t make a cheese sauce. Rather you layer cooked noodles, grated cheese, and an egg-evaporated milk mixture. It’s flawless. Substantial, gooey, oozing baked cheese. But ever since I came into the world and experienced other (ahem, inferior) mac n’ cheeses, usually boasting a cheese sauce a la Kraft Easy Mac, I’ve entertained this heretical question: cheese sauce or baked, what’s the big deal? Why not combine the two?

And so I did.

royaladditinmacandcheeseroyalmacncheese

‘Fit for a King’ Macaroni and Cheese

You’ll need:

1 Ib good cheese, grated: any combination of Cheddar, Gouda, Gruyere, Jack will work. I used Westminster Royal Addition Cheddar and Smith’s Farmstead Gouda.

4 Tbl salted butter

4 Tbl flour

1 cup thereabouts Heavy Cream (You can substitute whole or evaporated milk, but the result will be less kingly and more civilian, if you know what I mean. Also, why?)

1/2 cup thereabouts Beer (I went with Black on Black from 21st Amendment because it’s bold and dark and rich in flavor, without being overpowering. Mellow finish, you know.

1 egg, beaten

1/3 cup Fire Roasted Red Peppers, chopped

1 16oz box Conchiglie (or pasta of your choice)

1-2 tsp mustard powder

1/2 tsp spicy paprika

Black Pepper and salt to taste

Preparation:

Cook your pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente (not as long as the box tells you). Strain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat your heavy cream on med-high until almost simmering. Remove from heat. In a heavy bottomed pan, melt your butter. Once melted and frothy, add your flour a bit at a time. Whisk constantly until sludgy and thick.

Pour in about half a cup of heavy cream, stirring constantly. Then add a bit of beer. Keep stirring. Alternate adding more of the scalded cream and then the beer. Keep stirring until the flour is absorbed and the sauce has thickened. It it’s too thick, add more cream. Once it’s the right, creamy consistency, add your mustard powder, black pepper, salt (if needed) and chopped red peppers.

Take the sauce off the heat and scoop out about 1/2 cup of the mixture and add it to the beaten egg. Mix quickly so as not to cook the egg. Then pour it slowly back into the white sauce, stirring constantly. Now add half of your grated cheese. Stir until the fully incorporated. Finally, pour the pasta into your cheese sauce and stir until coated.

Pour half of your pasta/cheese sauce combo into a buttered casserole dish. Spread it out evenly with a spoon and then sprinkle with half the remaining grated cheese. Pour the rest of pasta mixture on top. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Dust the top of your casserole with a bit of spicy paprika.

Cook in the over for about 25 minutes until golden and bubbly.

royalbabytoast

What would royal mac n’ cheese be without a little (faux) bubbly? Cheers!

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