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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Whole Foods Experience

The staff were so nice to me, and that was a relief. Sometimes, when I go into a speciality store the service is rather cool. They were friendly and helpful at Whole Foods. My checkout person even gave me a shopping bag that used to be a plastic bottle, because it was my first time in the store. The store smells fishy in the produce section, but it was rather late at night, so I imagine they were changing out all the ice. I thought the cooked foods looked a bit overdone, but Whole Foods has a wonderful selection of foods ready to be cooked that I would try. It is like a gourmet, Health Food, Organic, Local Market all in one. I will definitely return when I have more time to compare prices. It seems that they have everything you could ever need for a recipe from the Silver Palate Cookbook, which, incidentally, I Love! If one has dietary restrictions, there are tons of choices, no gluten, no carbs, no wheat, all organic, etc. The frozen foods section was not as big as I hoped, but I was literally running through the store and didn't get much time to really look at it. I need to see if they make any more sauces than the ones I saw in their frozen pasta section. They had Fra Diavlo and White Clam, but I can already make those. I am looking for new ideas or sauces I do not make everyday, like marsala. They had Double Devon Cream and gruyere goat cheese, so it all looks promising.

Here

Making tomato sauce from scratch

How to Make Homemade Tomato Sauce
Use Those Fresh Romas from the Garden
By Michelle Wendt
As published on Associated Content


This year my family planted cherry and grape tomatoes. It was our first year gardening after a three-year hiatus; we were just planting for household eating and not for canning or freezing purposes. Having no room to plant melons is always a disappointment, but the gentleman around the corner grows them and he typically sells them to us. Stopping by to get the melons, we found out that he was flush with ripe, Roma tomatoes and selling them for a $1 per half-bushel container. I told him that I already had enough tomatoes, but he was stressed that they would go bad before he could sell them and he argued with us in his Italian accent, " Take them home, make up some sauce, it's good eating. They gonna go bad here."
Well, we are not the type to let down a little old man, especially a neighbor, so we bought a bushel and prepared about 8 quarts of sauce from them. My thirteen-year-old daughter Haley, who is learning how to cook, practiced blanching the tomatoes in boiling water for two minutes. Then we let the hot tomatoes cool for a few minutes and sliced them in half. By grasping the ends of the tomatoes we pulled the skins right off. It was so easy. We had a bit of trouble with a few of the stem ends so we kept a small paring knife handy to assist us with the more unruly skins. My sister Pinky informed me today that if I had scored the skins before blanching, I would not have had this problem. According to her, this method also works well when skinning peppers. Haley had a great time skinning them and kept pushing me out of her way, I was stuck just slicing them in half.
After peeling the tomatoes we put extra virgin olive oil in the bottom of our stock pot and dumped in the pulpy fruit. My friend Belinda used to give the tomatoes a squeeze to get out any stray seeds before she cooked them down, but Haley and I decided to skip this step; Roma tomatoes do not have many seeds at all, so it is not usually a problem for me. We added fresh oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary and marjoram from the garden, and dried parsley and red pepper flakes from the pantry. Each one of the fresh spices grows very well and I am always delighted to utilize our abundant herb garden. We picked, washed, minced, and added the Italian spices a bit at a time as the tomatoes cooked down. Belinda used to say that if we just added the spices at the beginning, they would not be as aromatic or tasty as they would be if we kept adding some during the cooking process.
Simmering the tomatoes for an hour and half, we started to get a bit impatient that they weren't "cooking down" as fast as we wanted them to. Haley used the immersion blender to break up the more stubborn pulp and I added whole garlic cloves and minced garlic. I like to remove and use the cooked whole cloves and some butter to mash on Italian bread later. It is delicious! After pre-cooking our sweet Italian sausage in the frying pan, we added it and the juices to a portion of the sauce and allowed the meat sauce to simmer some more. The reason we reserved some of the sauce was to have an ample supply of both marinara and meat sauce on hand during the winter.
The sauce was finally done and we had to think about storage options. I save all the quart containers from the deli and Chinese food takeout, and I do not mind writing on them a bit. They fit well in the freezer door and are an invaluable resource to us as we make huge batches of soup all year long. After putting sauce up in the containers, we cleaned up our little mess and the rest of the family pitched in at this point. My husband explained how he would take care of the pots just like he had when he was young. He grabbed some of the Italian bread and took over the stockpot. Soon, my whole family was standing over the pots with slices of bread and scooping out the remains. It was the perfect end to a wonderful afternoon and I will remember the happiness of cooking with my daughter as we use each quart of sauce this winter on our pizzas, linguini, and parmesan.

Monday, August 18, 2008

How to Make Homemade Tomato Sauce

Use Those Fresh Romas from the Garden
By Michelle Wendt
As Published on Associated Content
This year my family planted cherry and grape tomatoes. It was our first year gardening after a three-year hiatus; we were just planting for household eating and not for canning or freezing purposes. Having no room to plant melons is always a disappointment, but the gentleman around the corner grows them and he typically sells them to us. Stopping by to get the melons, we found out that he was flush with ripe, Roma tomatoes and selling them for a $1 per half-bushel container. I told him that I already had enough tomatoes, but he was stressed that they would go bad before he could sell them and he argued with us in his Italian accent, " Take them home, make up some sauce, it's good eating. They gonna go bad here."

Well, we are not the type to let down a little old man, especially a neighbor, so we bought a bushel and prepared about 8 quarts of sauce from them. My thirteen-year-old daughter Haley, who is learning how to cook, practiced blanching the tomatoes in boiling water for two minutes. Then we let the hot tomatoes cool for a few minutes and sliced them in half. By grasping the ends of the tomatoes we pulled the skins right off. It was so easy. We had a bit of trouble with a few of the stem ends so we kept a small paring knife handy to assist us with the more unruly skins. My sister Pinky informed me today that if I had scored the skins before blanching, I would not have had this problem. According to her, this method also works well when skinning peppers. Haley had a great time skinning them and kept pushing me out of her way, I was stuck just slicing them in half.

After peeling the tomatoes we put extra virgin olive oil in the bottom of our stock pot and dumped in the pulpy fruit. My friend Belinda used to give the tomatoes a squeeze to get out any stray seeds before she cooked them down, but Haley and I decided to skip this step; Roma tomatoes do not have many seeds at all, so it is not usually a problem for me. We added fresh oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary and marjoram from the garden, and dried parsley and red pepper flakes from the pantry. Each one of the fresh spices grows very well and I am always delighted to utilize our abundant herb garden. We picked, washed, minced, and added the Italian spices a bit at a time as the tomatoes cooked down. Belinda used to say that if we just added the spices at the beginning, they would not be as aromatic or tasty as they would be if we kept adding some during the cooking process.

Simmering the tomatoes for an hour and half, we started to get a bit impatient that they weren't "cooking down" as fast as we wanted them to. Haley used the immersion blender to break up the more stubborn pulp and I added whole garlic cloves and minced garlic. I like to remove and use the cooked whole cloves and some butter to mash on Italian bread later. It is delicious! After pre-cooking our sweet Italian sausage in the frying pan, we added it and the juices to a portion of the sauce and allowed the meat sauce to simmer some more. The reason we reserved some of the sauce was to have an ample supply of both marinara and meat sauce on hand during the winter.

Likely Page Break
The sauce was finally done and we had to think about storage options. I save all the quart containers from the deli and Chinese food takeout, and I do not mind writing on them a bit. They fit well in the freezer door and are an invaluable resource to us as we make huge batches of soup all year long. After putting sauce up in the containers, we cleaned up our little mess and the rest of the family pitched in at this point. My husband explained how he would take care of the pots just like he had when he was young. He grabbed some of the Italian bread and took over the stockpot. Soon, my whole family was standing over the pots with slices of bread and scooping out the remains. It was the perfect end to a wonderful afternoon and I will remember the happiness of cooking with my daughter as we use each quart of sauce this winter on our pizzas, linguini, and parmesan.

Stargazing Party Brings Summer Back Home

The Best Evenings Are Right Outside Your Door

As published on Associated Content

We were recently invited to a bonfire to celebrate the end of my daughter's musical theatre program. This was the third cast party we had attended and we enjoyed it so thoroughly because of what it didn't have that all the others did. There were no tiki torches, and there wasn't a pool or hot tub surrounded with themed lighting. There was no fenced-in yard with a swing set or bar full of Sangria. What there was, was a sky full of stars above a wide-open field, a homemade swing that sat three, a crackling fire, and great companionship. The guests were each instructed to bring our own camp chairs and favorite snack, and to wear shoes that would not keep us from the games.

We arrived and played football for a while until it was too dark to see, and then the game of jailbreak commenced. Outside of the fire circle were the shadows of our children chasing each other around and giggling as they each were caught. The best entertainment was in the night sky. We oohed and aahed as each parent discovered planets and constellations, shooting stars and satellites flying across the sky, and even some wayward meteorites that my husband swears were merely fireworks. We argued over the position of some of the constellations and searched in vain for the Little Dipper. One couple laughed over the winking stars that were really fireflies. At one point a flashing light swung quickly across the sky and the kids all got excited thinking it might be a UFO. I thought it was a military object, my husband said it was a helicopter, but whatever it was, we spent the rest of the evening with our eyes trained upon the heavens looking for whatever we could find.

I have never had a conversation before where I didn't look at someone's face as I spoke to him or her, but it was not a hardship; I simply could not stop watching the atmosphere. So we all chatted facing upwards and chuckled about it as we did so. I recalled how many hours I spent gazing up at the clouds and the stars when I was a child and I was contented knowing my children enjoyed the same uncomplicated pleasures. It was a simple, effortless evening, and it certainly beat watching TV, going to the movies, or playing video games.

I plan to make our own fire circle in the backyard this week and really enjoy the rest of summer and the autumn. We have lots of deadfall in the woods beyond our yard and plenty of space that we never use. The simplest pleasures of life do not require cash, fancy yard furniture, or even a ride in the car, they can be found right outside our own back doors.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Tips for Dealing with Strangers on Craigslist

Be Cautious when Getting Rid of that Eyesore in Your Yard

Tips for dealing with strangers on craigslist
by Michelle Wendt
Read This article on my Associated Content Page!
Tips for Dealing with Strangers on Craigslist
Be Cautious when Getting Rid of that Eyesore in Your Yard


Today was my first real experience using craigslist. I posted an ad for a FREE swing set, two hours later the old eyesore is gone and I have more space in my yard. This whole experience was not without it's dangers and pitfalls. With a little planning, you can get rid of your old stuff and still feel safe. Within five minutes of me posting my seven-year-old swing set, rusty pictures and all, I had eleven replies and people were begging me to pick them, strange people I didn't know. Before ever placing an ad that could bring strangers to your door, take a moment to consider if you know of someone you are already acquainted with that may be able to use your old junk. Offer them the rights of first refusal.
If you are unable to give your junk away to friends, there are a few things to consider when allowing someone you don't know to come to your house. I was a bit cautious in giving out my address, after all, who wants strangers coming to their yard? I wrote the ad specifying that I would not provide tools or access to my house to use the bathroom or for any other reason. I figured this would keep any potential freaks away. When they pulled up I looked out of the window and wrote down their license plate number. Absolutely do this whenever you are letting strangers on your property. I locked the house door behind me when I went outside to greet the couple and pointed them to the rear yard. I had my cell phone in my hand. My three mini-schnauzers were barking madly from the inside windows, but I still I kept my distance at all times. Always keep something between you and strangers, preferably something you could throw at them if necessary.
The man brought his own tools and generator, since I would not be providing electricity. Do not provide access to your house, ever. I have no outside power line and I was not going to run a line out of my house, it would mean the house would be unsecured. Yes, I am a type A personality.
I was relieved that he was prepared with an electric saw and I was all set to go back into the house when his toddler made a beeline for the swing set and started swinging. When I write beeline, I mean it, I had to ask the couple to remove the child from the set as bees had made a hive in it a few years ago and it might not be safe. I can tell you, my first thought when she sat on the swing was, "What if she gets hurt on my property?" What could I have done? I should have made sure that the child did not come on my property. I could have dragged the swing set to the front yard. In this litigious society, we cannot be too careful about who is on our property and we cannot ever let our homeowners policies lapse. When writing your own ad you can always specify that children are not permitted on your property.
How do you pick from all the replies? I wondered that myself, they all wanted my set, at least 3 repliers wanted the set immediately. I even got a few sob stories, "I am interested in the swing set and can take it apart. My kids having been bugging me for one for some time now and being in the midst of a divorce I have not had the financial ability to provide one." I continued opening the emails and thought about how to decide.
The one I hated to turn away was from a grandmother; "I really could use this for my granddaughter, who spends a lot of time with me. It would be a great diversion from having to go into the pool with her all the time."
To be fair I chose the person who got back to me the quickest. Hindsight tells me that I should have picked the one who agreed to all my type-A requests, which I did.
After packing the pieces up in their truck, the scrapping couple left, taking my eyesore and a whole lotta bees with them. I have saved myself a trip to the town dump, an uncomfortable conversation with my husband about dismantling the set, and painful bee stings, but it was an unsettling experience just the same. I actually got an email from the couple that picked up the swing set after I thanked them, "If you ever decide to sell your patio set we would be interested," Clara wrote. Okay, now I don't know if I should feel uncomfortable or not. Is this the start of an ongoing relationship, will they be back scavenging everything made of metal in my yard? Probably not, but it freaked me out. Take your ad down immediately after the item is gone from your yard and do not reply to any further inquiries.
As far as my experience with Craigslist goes, I think it is a valuable resource for everyone, but I will always be cautious with people I am not familiar with. When I sell my living room furniture in the coming weeks to make room for the new set, I will bring the furniture out of doors so we don't have any strangers in my house. The safety of my family is worth me dragging it outside.

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