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School is out, the parties are over, the building work is done, packing for the holidays has started, but, it is time to encourage to learn to prepare things for themselves, especially First Born, who is now sixteen.  She is getting braver in the kitchen.  Last week’s contribution was a simple pasta bake, with Marinara sauce and Mozzarella cheese.  It was very good and none was wasted.  

It is often difficult for me to have the children around when I prepare meals.  Ideally, I like to make things first thing in the morning, when they are at school. I can do things very quickly and then have my afternoons free for activities. But, as our schedules vary from day to day at the moment, I find that our eating habits have changed.  Plus, the children want to learn some basics, and, of course, I want them to learn as well. 

But, a gentle reminder, food preparation, like any task, takes much longer with children hanging around.  

I have found that First Born tends to think that she cannot do things that I am certain she can do.  But, if I am in the room, she will look more at me than concentrating on her lemons and parsley.  So, I now leave her alone in the kitchen as much as possible, only coming in the room if necessary. I am pleased that she is able to see that she is able to do more than she realizes. 

Today’s task was Pasta Salad. 

After the initial panic, I explained the method, step by step. She was delighted that it is so easy, and I am happy to say  that she and Little One did a fabulous job.  It was very good. Very good indeed. 

The lovely thing about this salad is that you shop for specific things to make special, or it can simply be a reflection of what is in season, or even things that you want to use up from your fridge. It is easy, flexible, keeps well, and best of all, is very refreshing when it is hot outside. 

Once you decide on your pasta base, the rest can be different every time you make it.  The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. 

The children chose most of the ingredients for the salad tonight from our cupboard and refrigerator. They had wanted to add cucumber, but the last one had gone a bit mushy.  Never mind. 

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Pasta Salad for a Hot, Summer Evening

1 bag or box of relatively small pasta shapes, tonight we used Tubettinni.

Good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil. 

Beans, 1 can. Tonight we used cannellini, but, any bean will do. Be sure to rinse them well. 

Sweet corn, 1 can.  I prefer unsalted, but even frozen will do. (Soak frozen sweet corn in boiling water for a minute or two, then rinse, before adding to the salad. 

Onion, tonight we used 3 small, purple salad onions,  and a couple of green onions, finely chopped. 

Bell pepper, tonight we used 1 yellow, but any colour will do. 

Celery, 4 stalks, de stringed with a vegetable peeler and finely chopped. Adds crunch.

Red Cabbage, a handful, coarsely chopped. Decorative.

Fresh flat leaf parsley, 1 bunch, washed, dried, and finely chopped. 

Fresh basil leaves, 1 bunch, washed, dried, and coarsely chopped. 

Cherry tomatoes, a handful, cut into halves. 

Several lemons, depending on juiciness.  Tonight, we used three lemons, but a mild vinegar could also be used. 

Salt, pepper, and chilli flakes. 

Cook the pasta according to the packet, not forgetting to salt the water well. It makes a big difference to the flavour of the pasta to add salt to the cooking water, rather than afterwards. Drain and rinse the pasta well, cooling it down enough to handle. Once drained of its rinsing water, put the pasta into a large, mixing bowl with a generous serving spoon of olive oil, to stop it from sticking. Add the juice of one lemon and some seasoning at this point as well. 

While the pasta is cooking, assemble, wash, and begin to prepare the remaining ingredients. Be sure to rinse any canned beans and sweet corn well. 

Once the pasta is cool, add and mix all the ingredients together, carefully. I like to use the biggest bowl I have, and a very large spoon.  

When all the ingredients have been well mixed, taste the salad.  The type of pasta you use, as well as how many vegetables you’ve added will determine how much more oil and lemon juice, salt, pepper, and chilli flakes you will need.  Don’t be afraid to taste, just a little, as you go.  

This salad is best served either slightly chilled, or at room temperature. Remember, olive oil thickens significantly when it gets cold. 

 

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I went a bit mad and sprinkled a few marigold petals on mine, although the salad was colourful enough without.  

I had mine with extra basil leaves as well.  

Well done children, it was a lovely supper. 

Thank you. x 

 

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Here is one I made earlier.  A few months earlier, in fact. It is made with a base of fusilli pasta. I took two, big bunches of basil and a bunch of fresh parsley, whizzed up with pine nuts and olive oil in the food processor as a dressing, then added frozen peas, salad onions, a few cherry tomatoes, lashings of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but only a small amount of lemon. This salad had a very different nature and flavour. I sprinkled toasted pine nuts over it to serve, although it is also nice with a bit of flaked Parmesan Cheese or tiny balls of Mozzarella. As I mentioned earlier, variations are endless.

Pasta salad need never, ever be boring.

Dessert

Dessert

Mustn’t forget dessert. It is very difficult to eat too many raspberries.  

They are very good at the moment.  

Very good indeed. 

Happy Saturday, 

Myrtle.

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Our New Roof

In the short time that we have lived in our little house, our roof has leaked and leaked, despite numerous repairs.  Apparently, our roof was like a piece of toast, which has been toasted too long, curling up and the sides, getting very thin in the middle, thus letting the monsoons in. After the last deluge came through, and after a week of ringing many roofing companies, I made a decision.  The work started early Monday morning to keep the waters at bay. 

After all the excitement and parties at the end of school, we are slowing down. It is very hot already, and the children and I are planning for some summer trips. They will visit Disney World with family, and I will do other things.

The roof was finished today, thankfully. Having six men stomping around on one’s roof at 5:45 in the morning isn’t as much fun as it sounds. 

Clothes are being picked out and packed, and we are readying for our summer holiday. 

Sadly, not doing much cooking at the moment. 

As soon as I do, I will let you know. 

Keep cool and dry. 

Myrtle.

P.S. Tried one of the Dilly Beans today, very spicy and good.

The homemade bread and butters barely lasted two days.  Too good, in my opinion. 

M.

Sweet Sixteen

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Happy Birthday.  

Has it been sixteen years, already? 

I’m very proud of you. 

Love, 

Mummy x x x 

This was Little One’s favourite for a very long time in England. I brought it home from Sainsbury’s in Truro one day, just to give it a try. It was gobbled up in a flash. For years I couldn’t pass Sainsbury’s without calling in, to get her Special Salad. In England it is called Moroccan Cous Cous Salad. It has heat from chilli oil, but coolness from feta cheese. A great combination.  

Once we moved to America, poor Little One had to go without, until I was able to reproduce it, as closely as possible.  

This toasted cous cous is from Israel, but is the same product. I found it in the Kosher aisle. 

Here is what I’ve come up with.

Israeli Couscous

Israeli Couscous

 

Little One’s Toasted Cous Cous Salad with Chilli Oil and Feta Cheese


1 packet of Isreali Toasted Cous Cous

1 tin of Chick Peas, (Garbanzo Beans), rinsed

1-2 bunches Green Onions, washed, trimmed, and finely chopped or Purple Salad Onions. We like a lot of fresh onion. 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Chilli Oil or Chilli Flakes

Fresh Lemon Juice

1 bunch Flat Leaf Parsley, washed, destemmed, and finely chopped

1 handful Mint, finely chopped

1 small block of Feta Cheese, cut into small cubes, not crumbled. Use more or less according to personal taste

Salt and Pepper 

Soak the cous cous in boiling water, cover, and let stand. It doesn’t need to be cooked. Add less water than recommended as you will want the cous cous to be a bit dry, as you will be adding lemon juice and oil later on.  

Once the water has been absorbed, and the cous cous has cooled, add the chick peas, 2 serving spoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, lemon juice to taste, onions, chopped parsley and mint, salt and pepper.

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Drizzle a tiny bit of chilli oil, but go slowly, as it is very potent. Taste for seasoning. This salad absorbs quite a bit of oil and lemon juice, so don’t be afraid, be generous. 

Lastly, add the chopped feta, mixing carefully, so as not to break up the cheese too much.  

Let it stand to allow the flavours to develop, for at least half an hour.  

It is delicious either cold or at room temperature. 

Toasted Cous Cous Salad with Pomegranate Seeds

Toasted Cous Cous Salad with Pomegranate Seeds

I have vegetarian friends who don’t eat diary, so for dinner one night, I made the salad, leaving out the chilli oil and feta cheese, substituting pomegranate seeds.  It looked, and tasted beautiful and is a great, vegan alternative. 

 

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This is another family favourite that doesn’t hang around for long. I ate mine with the golden beets that I brought home from the Farmers’ Market on Saturday. 

Delicious. Easy. Lovely for hot days, summer lunches, and picnics. 

Happy Memorial Day, 

Hug a Veteran, 

Myrtle.

Aimee’s Wisdom

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I agree with the little girl who once said,

“The whole point of camping is make us appreciate our nice, comfy beds.”

I love the outdoors, so long as I come back in when I’ve had enough.

Myrtle.  

Striped Tulips

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Red and Yellow.  

Two of my favourite colours. 

M.

Fiddle Dee Dee

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Ostrich Fern Fiddlehead (Matteuccia struthiopteris)

 Although I haven’t done much cooking this week, it has been fun to go food shopping lately.  The other day I happened upon these fiddleheads, and couldn’t leave the market without them.  They are a classic Spring Wild Food, good for you and very tasty.  It has been years since I’ve had any. 

It is important to get your fiddleheads from a reputable seller, or, if you are gathering them yourself, make sure that you bring along an identification guide with photos.  I only say this as Ostrich Fern fiddleheads and Bracken Fern fiddleheads look very similar, but Bracken Ferns are not edible.  

I cleaned them and stored them, but just didn’t have the time to cook them with anything special, so I decided to steam them and have them as nibbles.  I also nibble steamed green beans and asparagus the same way, as they have a similar, crisp texture and fresh taste. They can be served in any dish that would be suitable for asparagus or green beans. Fiddleheads should not be eaten raw, as they do have a slightly bitter taste, which goes with a touch of cooking. Raw fiddleheads can give you an upset stomach as well. 

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They look fabulous. 

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I simply popped fiddleheads into a silicone steamer.  I only steamed them for a couple of minutes. Please, please, please, don’t over cook them.  Light steaming keeps the crunch, and loses the bitterness. 

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The second they are done, pull them away from the heat, and plunge them into ice water. This stops the cooking process, and helps to keep the colour bright. 

Once cooked, they will keep for several days, although it is best to eat them as soon as possible, as with any green vegetable. Although I love them plain, are are very good with a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a squeeze of lemon, or a dash of basalmic vinegar.

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This was my delicious snack this afternoon.

Fresh fiddleheads, fresh bread, and fresh goat’s cheese from the Barn Goddess stand at the Phoenix Farmers’ Market. 

 

The fiddlehead season is short, as once the ferns start to unfurl, they are no longer edible.  So, keep your eyes peeled the next time you are at your local market.  They won’t be around for long. 

Happy eating. 

Myrtle. 

 

P.S. Here is a useful website with information about wild foods and fiddleheads – http://www.wild-harvest.com/pages/fiddlehead.htm