Sunday, October 31, 2010

from the garden to the table : : winter pesto

Sadly, the garden is coming to an end for this season. We’ve gotten to eat many great meals this summer from ingredients we’ve grown, which has been satisfying both because we grew them and because produce is far better when freshly picked at optimum ripeness. But, with winter approaching, it is time to start preparing the garden for winter, which includes about 3-4 feet of snow (a bit more than a meter) and temperatures that generally range from 5 to 25 degrees (-15 to -4). Basil, however, begins to die with temperatures far warmer than that. Anything below 50 (10) will begin to leave black spots on the leaves that look like frost damage. So, with nights now well below 50, the basil had to go.
Pesto is the answer to the very lovely and large basil plant in the backyard. While there are many recipes, Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone had a fabulous recipe that I follow. It is a classic with basil, parmesan, pecorino romano, pine-nuts, olive oil, salt and butter.
To save it for the winter, put it into an ice cube tray and freeze it. When you want to remember the tastes of summer, all you need to do is toss a pesto cube with some pasta or gnocchi and you’re set for a simple dinner.  

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

from the garden to the table : : stuffed banana peppers

Our Banana Pepper plant was the one pepper plant that did really well this summer―we had about 16 peppers on it by the beginning of October! So, I decided to make some stuffed peppers.

First, make some Mexican style rice: rice cooked pilaf-style with bouillon, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, and chili powder. Then, mix the rice with cilantro (coriander), finely chopped onions, a bit of ricotta cheese and queso fresco (although mozzarella, colby-jack or even a mild tasty cheese for those in Australia would work).

After cutting the peppers and seeding them, simply stuff the rice filling in and bake at 350 (180) for about 20 minutes. They are great served on a bed of refried beans―homemade are best but a tin will work, just add some milk, butter, chopped onion and a dash of garlic and let the beans cook on the stove for 30 minutes to help improve the flavor!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

our home is a zoo... please adopt an abandoned kitten!

This morning, I took our 7 month old Great Dane, Ziva, and little Abi on a walk... I have several set walks that I usually go on, but today I thought I would try a new route...

We were walking through the woods north of our house towards a road, I had stopped to call Ziva and get her back on her leash, when 3 kittens ran from the woods to greet us. The little kittens had been abandoned...

So with a Great Dane leading the way, a new born strapped to my chest, 2 kittens in one hand and 1 kitten in the other we walked home... after something to drink, a quick trip to the pet store for some kitten food, a bath, and a sleep... the 3 kittens are doing well...

But we cannot keep them... (the mother-n-law wouldn't be happy!)
so South Benders, we need some people to adopt a kitten into a good home...
AND please spread the word...

View kitten portraits & more details:

Thursday, September 02, 2010

from the garden to the table : : fried green tomatoes

My grandfather was born in 1929 and raised in Kentucky. He often speaks about eating fried green tomatoes, reminiscing about just how tasty they were. The history of the dish is most likely lost amid the pots and pans of many a small farm kitchen but, according to food historian Robert F. Moss, the dish is not exclusively southern (as most people believe) and recipes for making the tomatoes can be found in old newspapers from the midwestern and northern parts of America between 1900 and 1920, as well as in some Jewish cookbooks from the early part of the 20th century. My own instinct is that the dishes origins come from the backyard garden―early in the season, we had a green tomato pull of the vine when tying one of the plants to the fence. Not wanting to waste it, I sliced and fried it. My guess is, people with gardens have always had the odd green tomato come off the vine, or needed an early summer meal before the tomatoes were ripe, or had tomatoes left as the midwestern winter arrived early and, not wanting to waste the fruit, found ways of cooking the hard, green tomatoes.

The traditional recipe is to slice the tomatoes ¼ an inch thick, salt and pepper the slices, dust them in cornmeal and then fry them in hot bacon fat. I basically follow this recipe but use butter rather than bacon fat and add a bit of flour, garlic powder and onion powder to the cornmeal for the breading.  After heating up the cast-iron skillet and browning the butter, the slices go in, frying on each side until golden brown. Because I love sauces, I mix up a light sauce of sour cream, paprika, lemon juice, a few drops of Tabasco, and finely grated cheddar cheese to spoon over the tops of the tomatoes. Served with potato salad and watermelon, you have a light and tasty Midwestern meal.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jess is blogging at

Jessica's second blog post for Wondering Fair, Green Grass Fun, is online now

If you have a question or a comment, please post it on the WF site, rather than on our blog or on Facebook.

Enjoy... that is the whole idea about this post!

You can find all of Jess' posts at:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

from the garden to the table : : roasted veggie pasta

I learned to roast veggies in Australia. For some reason, I’d never really noticed it as a way of preparing vegetables while living in America. This pasta is great because you can make it for any season with any vegetables. In this case, it was all about using the vegetables in our garden that were ripe for use.
Start by chopping up some vegetables. In this case, we’ve used summer squash, banana peppers, and orange tomato, some cherry tomatoes and some garlic (the only thing we didn’t grow)
Marinade the vegetables―I used truffle oil, olive oil, white wine, salt and freshly cracked pepper
Since it has been stinking hot here in South Bend, I put my cast iron skillet on the BBQ outside and heated it. Once it was good and hot, I put the vegetables on it and cooked them till they were nicely browned in some places (normally I cook them in the oven though).
While the veggies cook, chop up some fresh herbs: we used basil, oregano, and thyme, again all from the garden
Don’t forget to prepare the pasta. Whole wheat rotini or penne are best for this dish.
Once the pasta is cooked, toss it with more olive oil, truffle oil, wine, salt and pepper. Mix in cooked veggies and fresh herbs. 
For a nice dinner on the back deck, serve with parmesan cheese, freshly baked bread (with balsamic and oil for dipping) and a crisp white wine.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

from the garden to the table : : stuffed tomatoes and lemon-dill rice

[Jess returns to this blogosphere...] 

Our big tomatoes (Better-Boys) have looked promising all summer, growing big and green, slowly ripening through orange to red. Sadly, though, a raccoon or something like that has been getting into them at night, eating big holes in the soft, red flesh the day before they should be picked. We have managed to get to a few before the wildlife…

Stuffed tomatoes are an easy, casual meal that you can make to suit just about any cuisine. Start by halving and hollowing out a couple of large tomatoes (use the innards to make Cherry Tomato pasta). Then, in a separate bowl mix:
  • Bread crumbs
  • Fresh herbs (we used oregano, thyme, and chives from our garden)
  • Fresh garlic either crushed or chopped
  • Cheese (in this case, I used cheddar but you can use whatever you have on hand)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
Put the bread crumb mixture into the tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil. Cook uncovered in the oven or on a BBQ until the tomatoes are a bit wrinkly and the tops are golden.

While waiting for the tomatoes to cook….
I made rice to serve the tomatoes on. For this pilaf style rice, sauté the tomato innards, a banana pepper from the garden, and an onion in generous amount of butter. Add the rice and a bunch of dill, stir it around for a few minutes, and then add the normal amount of liquid for the amount of rice (I used an Amish chicken-broth). Once the rice is cooked, add some sour cream and lemon juice. 
A fresh salad and some rock melon make the meal complete (as does a cold beer…).

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

online shoppers >> $5 for you + ongoing rebates for your purchases + an iPad for me??

There seems to be lots of things on the internet that look to good to be true, and are...

Ebates is not too good to be true... 
it works and I have received US$123.72 into my PayPal account to prove it!
[please keep reading to earn $5 + ongoing rebates for the stuff you already buy online + help me win an iPad for my business]

Ebates is a website that allows you to earn a rebate for buying things online - things you would be buying anyway. I have earned rebates from 1% to 16% on purchases. What Ebates do, is take the referral commissions that e-tailers offer to content publishers and give you half of the commission.

There are over 1200 e-tailors who pay referral commissions... 
I have earned rebates back on purchases from:
  • ebay 1-3%
  • REI & REI Outlet 3%
  • Apple Store 1% (sometimes 2%)
  • MacMall 2.5% (sometimes 5%)
  • Adobe 6%
  • KitchenAid 16%
  • Moosejaw 5%
  • J&R Camera & Electronics 3%
  • Newegg electronics 1.5%
  • Endless Shoes 6%
  • Hollabird sports 4%
Sadly, Amazon does not participate...

Here's how Ebates works:
  • I find what I want to buy online.
  • Close the browser.
  • Go to ebates & log-in (usually you are alreday logged-in)
  • Select the store on Ebates and be redirected to the e-tailor's website
  • Purchase as normal from the etailor
  • Usually within 48hrs of the purchase being shipped, I get an email from Ebates saying the $ has been added to my Ebates account
  • Then every 3 months, Ebates puts $ into my PayPal account.

Help me help you, and I will be helped too...
If you sign-up to Ebates (for FREE) and make a purchase through Ebates of > $20 before 30 September, you will earn a $5 bonus (and so will I) + you will have learned how to keep getting rebates on your online purchases.
If I can get 50 people to sign-up and make a purchase, Ebates will give me an iPad, which would be cool to own, but especially great to have for my new photography business,

Please sign-up to Ebates through this link:

Monday, August 02, 2010

from the garden to the table : : cherry tomato pasta

Cherry tomatos are a winner in the backyard veggie garden! Easy to grow (all of our seedlings have produced), the tomatoes are small and so grow to size and ripen quickly and they are super-tasty!

Cherry Tomato Pasta, one of Jess' made-up recipes, has been one of our favorite meals for a while now... so it is great to get the key ingredient from our garden + a range of herbs to vary the dish...


Here's how you make it...
  • lots of garlic and olive oil in a big saucepan
  • cut & cook-down a bunch of cherry tomatoes + take the innards from a few big tomatoes and add them to the mix (keep the tomato shells for our next recipe)
  • season with salt & pepper to taste
  • add some half-cut cherry tomatoes for a few minutes at the end
  • add chopped parsley
  • a splash of white wine (in the pasta people!)
  • pine nuts are a great addition!
  • serve over angel hair spaghetti with parmesan cheese + ground pepper
  • garlic bread and salad make the meal (as well as a refreshing glass of white wine)

Friday, July 30, 2010

from the garden to the table : : margarita pizza

South Bend seems like a great place to plant a backyard veggie garden (to us first-timers at least...). The soil is rich black in color and fertile (certainly the weeds grow fast), the earth worms are huge, it is hot and humid and we get plenty of rain - all good for growing some of our own food.

Home-made pizzas are great for a night-in with a cold beer to drink and a DVD to watch. The classic margarita pizza is so easy to make when the two key ingredients come from the backyard - tomatoes & basil.

If you want to get into the home made pizza routine, I would suggest two key investments:
  1. a pizza stone & rack (between $10-$20)
  2. a good mixer (not so cheap, but a lifetime investment if you get a good one) - the best being the KitchenAid Professional 600 Series
The results are good (this is Andrew's handiwork...)!

Here's how to make it...
  • we use Deborah Madison's pizza dough recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (the only addition is to add ground pepper, chili flakes, dried basil & oregano to the dough)
  • per-heat the oven 30 mins prior to 500 F with the pizza stone in the oven on the rack
  • roll-out the dough to about 75% size of the pizza stone
  • take the VERY HOT pizza stone from the oven and place the dough on the stone, pushing the dough to the edges (this bit needs to happen quickly, so the dough hits the hot stone and seals the crust)
  • then take your time making the pizza... start with pizza sauce
  • we blend mozzarella with some parmesan and a little cheddar, and mix it through with ground black pepper and olive oil
  • add your tomato slices - cherry tomatoes sliced in thirds work great - add plenty!
  • put the pizza in the oven until the crust starts to brown
  • take the pizza out and add your ripped-up basil leaves + a sprinkling more of the cheese
  • then back into the oven for another 3 minutes or so...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Jessica is now blogging at...

Wondering Fair seeks to… gather a worldwide community of people discussing matters of life and faith under an informal, relational atmosphere.... We bring a Christian perspective on things to the table, with the aim to also hear others and talk about the things that matter most. Wondering Fair is your online corner to take a break and think about life.
The blog was launched a month ago by a friend from Regent College, with a bunch of other friends/Regent alums as writers. 
Jess will post monthly - all of her posts can be found at:
Check-out Jess’ first post on Giving and Hospitality
Make a comment or ask a question via the WF comments.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Basement Renovated! Finished pics...

Our basement has been "finished"... (well, almost - I still need to install the door). Just-in-time too for our first guests to arrive and stay - it is great that the room has been used for one of its intended purposes so quickly after we finished the DIY renovation...

A BIG THANK YOU has to go to Matt (Jess' brother) for his hard 18 days of work - without Matt this project would not have been finished! Thank you also to Steve & Linda (Jess' parents), while not present to help - they were super supportive from afar - offering advice & ideas, having the foresight and generosity to fly Matt out to help us, and making sure we were able to eat a true tradie diet whilst working the hard and long days. Thanks also to Amanda and H. Ross for chipping-in at the end to get this project home. And to Jessica, who helped me prior to Matt's arrival with the windows, and with everything after we got the drywall in place - a great effort for a first time pregnant lady with only 6 weeks to go...

Now that we really do have space for guests, please come and stay...

From start-to-finish,
view the transformation...

Matt & Maria's wedding

After finishing the basement on Thursday evening, on Friday we moved in our guest beds just in time for two more Regent friends, Sarah & Kristin, to arrive on Friday afternoon to join H. Ross and us. It is great to have finished the basement and immediately have it used for one of its intended purposes, a guest room.

Then on Saturday morning, the 5 of us drove to Grand Rapids Michigan to witness the coming together of tow Regent friends in marriage. Then it was onto a spectacular venue for the reception - a cottage on Lake Michigan. The weather was perfect, the beers were exotic and plentiful, the company of Regent friends delightful and the celebrations for Matt & Maria joyous.

Check-out the wedding pics at:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Basement Reno - in goes the flooring...

The flooring is in! We have put a similar floor in before (a click-in laminate), but in a much smaller room (our kitchen)... our basement is a big room, and this job took forever! Jess was such a trooper, 7.5 months pregnant, getting up and down so many times... we were both really glad to be done with it!

We couldn't have done it with out some help from Amanda laying several rows with us, and H. Ross who helped with some of the final cuts - thank you!!

Baseboards and quarter-round this afternoon...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Basement Reno - (a bump) in the flooring...

Yesterday we began the flooring... We started with the existing concrete floor - it is in good condition, but could certainly use some paint.

Like the precautions we took with the walls, we also need a temperature & moisture control barrier for the floor. We used a layer that promises to be The Warm & Dry Floor System.

We started to lay the laminate flooring, but when we read the instructions, we realized that the flooring needs to be stored in the same place as it will be laid for 24 hours or so to acclimatize to the conditions, so it won't expand or contract. A bump in our plans... we had to put the flooring on ice until today.

This is the look we are going for...

It's not all hard work... there's time for some puppy play along the way...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Basement Reno - window transformation

This whole basement renovation project is about transformation... which is what made us so interested in doing all the DIY work. We get to take a cold, dark, dirty and unusable space, and transform it into a bright, clean, inviting space - that is cool in the summer and hopefully warm in the winter - a space that can be used by us, by our child on the way, and as a hospitable space for guests.

Hopefully the transformative nature of the project is evident in all the photos, but I think it is particularly evident in the windows... see the transformation from start to finish...

1. remove the old windows

2. mortar in glass block windows

3. frame around the windows to create a window box support

4. cut wallboard out to reveal the window 

5. add wood panels to create a window box

6. add trim to the wall

7. putty and paint the trim and window box, cork next to window - DONE!

We finished the window boxes and the trim on the 3 windows last night. Now we move-on to flooring...

Color note: we have not painted the top-half of the walls lime green... that lime green color is a color cast from an incorrect white balance. Picture #7 above shows the truer green, the same color we used in our kitchen.