My new favorite salad. Plus a perfect summer supper.

Dear friends,

This is one post where the food takes center stage.

Or in which I was more interested in eating my supper than taking photographs for my blog.

You decide, but either way you’ll have to trust me when I say this is a supper you’ll want to make . . . even without the obligatory photographs of mouth-watering food on a beautiful table to tempt you.

Here’s my token shot of beautiful food — then we’ll move on to the recipes:

salad

Interested now?

I thought so.

Here’s the line up:

  • Grilled flank steak
  • Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Yogurt Dressing
  • Turkish Potatoes

First — the steak. It couldn’t be simpler and here’s the recipe. I’ve made it several times with a tri-tip, but I tried it last night with a flank steak and achieved similarly spectacular results.  Give it a try and let me know what you think. I predict you’ll think it’s a go-to recipe that will significantly improve your life at the grill, but I’d like to hear it from you.

Second — the salad. Mr. Mom and I had dinner at a friend’s house Saturday night and she served this salad. It’s one of those dishes that the first time you eat it, you immediately begin planning the next time you’ll eat it. In our case, that meant the very next evening. I might have it two or three more times this week because it’s that good.

The salad is my friend’s concoction. The dressing is a recipe she modified from one in Southern Living. In total, it’s simply a plate layered with slices of yellow and red tomato, cucumber, shelled edamame, and white onion rings, then drizzled with fresh yogurt dressing. You can easily use less or more of each salad ingredient depending on your own taste and the number of people to be served.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad

  • 1 large yellow tomato, sliced thinly
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, sliced thinly
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, split in half lengthwise, then sliced
  • 1 small white onion, sliced into rings
  • Half of a 1-lb bag of shelled edamame, thawed

Arrange all ingredients on a platter in a layered fashion. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for two hours. Serves 4.

Yogurt Dressing

  • 1 4-oz container of plain nonfat Greek Yogurt
  • 1/2 cup of mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Optional: 1/4 cup blue cheese crumbles

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Stir well. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours so flavors can meld. Optional: Serve the dressing with blue cheese crumbles on the side. Makes about 1.5 cups of dressing.

Now for the potatoes. They are also a gift from a friend. Because Dilek and her family are from Turkey, I call them simply “Dilek’s Turkish Potatoes.” When I make them, they taste fabulous but never look as good as hers. I can’t figure out why, but since taste rules, I’m okay with it.

Turkish Potatoes

  • 5-6 medium potatoes (I used Idaho)
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1 bunch parsley, chopped
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (or a little less, depending on your taste)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: lemon juice

Scrub and boil the potatoes in salted water until just tender. Drain and let cool to the touch. When cool, the peelings should easily come off the cooked potatoes with your fingers. After peeling the potatoes, shred them with a box grater. Add the chopped herbs to the potatoes, along with salt and pepper to taste, then toss. Drizzle the potatoes with the olive oil — and, if desired, the juice of half a lemon — then gently stir to combine. Serves 6.

I love these potatoes because of their simple, fresh flavor. I also love these potatoes because they taste just as good warm, room temperature, or chilled. I often make them early in the day and let them sit on the kitchen counter until dinner. (They’re great for getting a jump-start on meal time.) Sometimes I re-heat them in the microwave, but trust me when I tell you they are just as good served at room temperature. For some reason, my potatoes never hold their shredded shape and look a bit crumbled. My friend’s potatoes were perfect and I can’t help but wonder if I have managed to overcook them every time. I’ve also wondered if it would improve the texture if I cooked them several hours in advance and chilled them before shredding. I have no idea, but I do know that even if you overcook your potatoes and they crumble instead of shred, they’ll still taste fabulous.

Here’s one final shot that I managed to snap with my iPhone before our family devoured the entire meal.

plate

With gratitude {for a perfect summer supper thanks to friends},

Joan, who wishes she could claim she eats this fresh and healthy every day, but has a pantry full of snacks that tell the real truth

Feeling blue.

Dear friends,

There inevitably comes a time in every vacation when the “Sunday night blues” set in. For me and my recent long stretch of time off, it started yesterday. I had four days left and I made the mistake of reading a few work-related emails. All of a sudden, my free-and-easy mindset evaporated and I started feeling edgy and glum.

I figured there was no better solution than to a tackle a project. Checking a box on my to-do list usually lifts my mood so I went blue-on-blue in an effort to shake my doldrums.

Here’s what I started with:

chair

I have eight of these chairs surrounding my dining room table. I recovered the seats in a silk fabric featuring red, gold, and camel stripes not long after I purchased them from an antiques dealer seven years ago.  They’ve seen plenty of wear as you can tell from the stains. I should have recovered them as soon as we moved, but you know how that goes. Plus, I could never make up my mind on a fabric choice.

Earlier this week, I received a shipment of fabric intended for a quilt. Turns out, I didn’t like a couple of my choices for a quilt project, but one was perfect for my chairs. Now they look like this:

chairs

How’s that for perked up?

I’m loving how well they (unintentionally) coordinate with my drapes and my new rug.

When we purchased this house two years ago, I spent a fair amount of time deriding the former owner’s proclivity for shades of blue. (I’d always been a green girl.) I immediately banished her blue Formica counter-tops but decided to live for a while with her high-end, blue shades in two rooms. Over time, I realized my green and her blue are awfully close together on the color wheel and can peacefully cohabitate.

bluehouse Collage

So I’m still feeling blue, but I’m no longer gloomy.

With gratitude {for pick-me-up projects done fast and cheap},

Joan, who welcomed a renter this week to her favorite house still for sale back home and is thrilled there’s a family living in the big white house in Mayberry

nowatahouseatnight2

A kitchen-counter supper.

Dear friends,

Despite my well-known evangelism regarding family suppers, especially those served on “properly set” tables, I thought you ought to know our household regularly shares informal meals around the kitchen island.

To wit, here’s a spread from earlier this week:

counter

There’s marinated, grilled chicken legs; deviled egg pasta salad; sauteed medley of mushrooms, spinach and yellow bell peppers; chocolate-banana cake; and a new dish of my own imagination I’m calling cauliflower panzanella.

Our kitchen island seats four — a bit of kismet since we are a family of the same number — so on nights where we don’t bother to set the table, we plop down around the island, sans linens and flowers, and dig in.

You know I’m unusually devoted to the rituals surrounding family meals. For me, the act of setting the table reflects the value I place on thoughtfully preparing and arranging our sustenance, which is also our best opportunity to connect and share with each other. Still, there’s usually no more than a couple of occasions each week where we gather around a dressed table, no matter how simple, so I also try to be thoughtful about our casual meals.

For me, that includes things like keeping the island clear (just because we’re eating in the kitchen doesn’t mean we have to do so amidst the prep mess); turning off the television (which I tend to watch while cooking) in order to nurture conversation; and maintaining a commitment to culinary variety.

Mr. Mom tends to believe 1 protein + 1 starch = a meal. Me? I like to see no fewer than three dishes, preferably four or five, on our menu. Some might see this as a conflict. I view it as a perfect example of the yin-yang alchemy of our marriage. When he cooks, he gets his way. When I cook, I get mine. As a result, we all get a little variety of both approaches and preparations.

In the end, there are no rules for family meals. But I like to think there are a few standards worth upholding. (Rules are imposed from an outside authority, whereas standards are embraced by choice. I think life could be made a whole lot better by fewer rules and more standards.) My standards include:

  1. Cooking a meal at home, no matter your definition of cooking. Don’t spend an ounce of energy on the argument between “from scratch” cooking and the “meals in a box” variety. Do what you enjoy and have time for, otherwise the whole point is lost in aggravation — and family meals are supposed to ease irritation.
  2. Sitting around a table or a counter together. Don’t be tempted to sit in the living room/den/television viewing area as it kills the opportunity for conversation and decompression. And by all means, don’t watch the news!
  3. Expressing interest in and gratitude for the food on your table and the person who prepared it. It’s just good manners and you might learn something along the way, as well as cultivate a greater understanding of nutrition.

Everything else — dishes and linens and flowers and special menus — is just gravy. And as much as I love me a good gravy, we all know it’s a condiment not an entree.

With gratitude {for the grace of family meals and all they bring},

Joan, who shouted hallelujah when she discovered panzanella because bread salad? Heck yes!

PS: For the curious among you, my cauliflower panzanella was nothing more than cauliflower florets toasted with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a hearty helping of minced garlic, then roasted in a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes, then tossed with day-old Italian bread cubes, sauteed in plenty of butter in a cast-iron skillet until brown and slightly crunchy. You can eat it warm, room temperature, or cold. I’ll eat buttery bread cubes and roasted cauliflower nearly any ol’ way you can serve it, including with my fingers out of a bowl while watching late-night television (not that I did that or anything).

Postcards from the farm.

Dear friends,

We just returned from Mr. Mom’s family reunion in Iowa. It was three days of wonderful in the middle of America’s heartland, chock full of tall tales and friendly competitions and fond remembrances and happy reunions and sleepy babies and farm-fresh food and even a few fireworks.

Of the 100+ folks in attendance, I had previously met fewer than a dozen. The old-timers say it was the biggest crowd ever for a family that’s been gathering for decades. Mr. Mom thinks it’s been about 35 years since he last returned to his grandparent’s farm for an extended visit with his aunts and uncles and cousins. I’m not sure why it took us so long to make our way to the family homestead, but I’m sure glad we showed up for “the big one.”

Mr. Mom’s family is descended from German and Scottish stock. His grandparents — Allan and Della — purchased their first farm for $35 an acre in 1935. Della birthed 13 children and all but one lived into adulthood. Mr. Mom’s mother, Rita, was number five. It is an understatement to say Allan and Della and their children worked hard on the farm. The large, beautiful and productive acreage that exists today and is being farmed by their grandchildren and great-grandchildren is testament enough, I think, to Allan and Della’s legacy of hard work and self-reliance.

I could spend a thousand words telling you all about everything I saw and heard on the farm but I couldn’t begin to do it justice. Instead, I’ll share a few of my favorite photographs.

group

These are Allan and Della’s descendants — about a hundred of them in this photo alone.

By the way, I took the photo after Mr. Mom’s cousin gave me a lift (about a 25-foot lift) on his front-end loader. I snapped the photo with one hand while holding on to the platform with the other. I’m dreadfully afraid of heights (and Mr. Mom’s family could tell by my body language and facial expression, I suspect) but I really wanted a great group photo. I think I got it!

lift _Snapseed

These guys weren’t afraid at all of riding on the lift. Bunch of show-offs!

beantoss _Snapseed

Games for adults included bean bag tossing and cow chip throwing.

watermelon _Snapseed

Watermelon was plentiful. Leftovers were not.

Apple bobbing attracted the little ones . . .

wet

for both waterplay . . .

apple

and dessert.

volleyball

The agile among us tried their hand at volleyball.

For the record, I am not agile.

pond

Which explains why there’s no photo of me swinging off the rope into the pond.

teeter _Snapseed

The teeter-totter would have have been more my speed but it was occupied almost all weekend.

swinging

As was the swing-set.

wheel _Snapseed

And the hand-cranked corn sheller.

horse _Snapseed

And the pony ride.

tour

The farm equipment tour attracted young and old.

sleeping

And reunion-goers of all ages sometimes required 40 winks or more given the pace of activity.

paul2

But there were smiles all around . . .

dean

and plenty of hugs

sue

and even a height adjustment for Mr. Mom’s vertically challenged Aunt Sue.

backseat

In the end, we came home tired and sleepy, but the best kind of both, the kind where you know happy memories will linger far longer than vacation fatigue.

With gratitude {for summer road trips and kids who’ll still tag along with their parents},

Joan, who’s always wondered how life would have been different if she had been born into a big family, but thinks marrying into one is a nice substitute

Home by phone.

Dear friends,

Of late, I’ve been fascinated with the quality and variety of photos that people I know have shot and edited with their phones. A couple of the very ordinary friends I follow on Instagram have posted photos that are anything but. Some of the photos that have regularly appeared in my feed are mini works of art, captured images of objects and moments that surprise and delight me.  It’s a trend that has made me lazy with my expensive DSLR and profligate with cheap and easy phone apps.

In our former home, which I affectionately referred to as Magpie Manor, I spent hours and hours photographing every room of our house.  Despite trying really hard to learn as much as I could about lighting and metering and photo staging, I never got very good at it. Still, I enjoyed the pursuit, especially all the photos I took of our meals and tables, and I treasure the photo archive I’ve amassed (and that I hope my children and grand-childen will someday appreciate and enjoy).

I haven’t really photographed much beyond the food in our new house — mostly because I’ve been lazy. So yesterday, with time on my hands thanks to a rainy afternoon, I grabbed my phone and started snapping. In less than 30 minutes, I had photographed nearly every corner of our house. The photos are heavily edited because I’m like a kid in a candy store when it comes to app features.  Less may be more in style, but more is more in cheap phone apps.

Thus, I present, my home by phone.

living

The living room.

U

A vignette in the entry.

(Longtime reader and friend Maridel will recognize the vintage sign letter. I purchased it in her company. It’s one of my all-time favorite flea-market finds.)

buddha

The mantle.

fern

One of a matched pair of ferns by my front door.

dine

The dining room.

koran

An ottoman, a tray, a book.

library

The den.

counter

A vignette in the kitchen.

jadite

My beloved Jadite.

cart

A favorite — the vintage wood cart in the kitchen.

keeping

The keeping room.

hall

The back hall.

mud

The mud room.

bar

The bar, aka the pre-Gunsmoke cocktail station.

bedroom

The master.

vanity

My vanity in the bathroom.

(Yeah, it’s cluttered. I like all my most important stuff within reach.)

angel

The angel in my bathroom.

(I know. It’s kinda weird to have an angel in your bathroom. But I find her to be a calming presence during long, hot soaks in the bathtub.)

turtle

The turtle in my driveway.

(It’s not weird at all to have a turtle in your driveway. It is, however, unusual to find one undisturbed with two rowdy dogs in the yard.)

patiodoor

The view from my patio door.

plant

Flowers by the patio door.

(Because I can see them from my living room and they make me happy.)

With gratitude {for homey things from Angels to Zigzag rugs that make me happy},

Joan, the photographer formerly known as the Mayberry Magpie, now the Missouri Magpie, with credit to the iPhone 5, Instagram, and Snapseed

It’s in the bag.

Dear friends,

I spent the first Monday of my vacation sewing up a quartet of travel bags that I recently spied on one of my favorite craft blogs.

The drawstring bags couldn’t be simpler to make. I spent far more time choosing the fabric at my favorite quilt store than actually sewing the bags.

Here’s a close-up view of the set. I love the fabrics — a medley of blues and pinks with a faint Asian flair.

bagcu

Each bag is gusseted so it stands neatly when filled.

bagstandup

When I travel, I like using bags like these to hold jewelry, accessories, undergarments, shoes or anything else I wish to contain in my suitcase. I have a couple that were giveaways from higher-end retailers (with logos prominently placed, of course), so it will be nice to have a set that I sewed for myself.

Of course, that will have to come on another day, because the set pictured above is slated for a friend. I have far more desire to sew interesting and new things than I have a need for new things — so it’s been fun sending packages in the mail to surprise recipients.

In case you’re interested in trying your hand at this very simple sewing project, you can find the tutorial here. I give it high marks for clarity. Many tutorials frustrate me because I think the instructions don’t make sense or I wish there were more photos to illustrate the process. But the Purl Bee got this one right.

By the way, if you’re the kind of person who likes to store your veggies in cloth bags rather than plastic, it would be fun to sew some of these up in vegetable-themed fabric. I’ve never tried it, but I know people who swear by cloth bags for keeping produce fresh.

The cloth bags could also serve as an easy gift-wrap solution. I’m thinking a set would make a nice present for a busy woman — who may not need travel bags but would really appreciate keeping them on hand for last-minute gifts of all sizes. Come to think of it, I may just have to sew up a few sets for myself for that purpose. It’s a win-win: I don’t have to mess with wrapping paper and I still get to enjoy giving them away!

With gratitude {for cool craft projects and the luxury of time off},

Joan, who also thinks the bags would make a unique baby shower gift for mothers who like to keep endless categories of toys neatly organized

PS: After writing and photographing this post, I had enough time to make three more sets of bags. The last set featured two-toned bags with top-stitching (because I can never leave well enough alone). I think my modified version turned out super cute.

bagredblue

Mesmerized by the food.

Dear friends,

bisuits

Remember in my last post when I said nothing makes Mama happier than being in the kitchen? Holy smokes — I put that thought to the test after I spent three hours Saturday and five hours Sunday preparing a single meal.

The test results:

Mama cooking = happy camper.

Mama surveying the mess after =UGH.

Here’s a slice of happy:

foodbanner

Here’s a hunk of UGH:

dirtykitchen2

I shouldn’t complain too much.  Mr. Mom helped with some of the prep and he and Kate did most of the dish washing. It clearly takes a village to prep, cook and clean up after a meal for eight hungry souls and a menu that features:

  • Baked ham
  • Fried chicken tenders
  • Classic Parmesan risotto
  • Pasta salad
  • Buttered new potatoes
  • Roast medley of broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts
  • Green salad with homemade bacon bits, croutons and blue cheese dressing
  • Sweet and sour radishes
  • Jalapeno deviled eggs
  • Buttermilk biscuits
  • Blueberry bundt cake with lemon glaze
  • Sweet iced tea

Kate recorded our elaborate spread in a Vine video, which she labeled “Feist for 8.” When I tweeted a jab for her spelling, she replied “Not my fault! I was mesmerized by the food!”

Which, I figure, is as lovely a compliment as a chef can get.

With gratitude {for my favorite Sunday ritual, aka cooking up loads of love},

Joan, who can’t understand why radishes are so under-appreciated among Millennials, particularly when sliced and marinated in vinegar and sugar

PS: In case you’re curious, most of the recipes were mine, except the cake (from Lisa at The Cutting Edge of Ordinary), the potatoes (from Rebecca at Foodie with Family) and the blue cheese dressing (from My Baking Addiction). Take my word for it: make the cake, like now; stop buying bottled dressing and you can thank me later; once you make these potatoes, you’ll be addicted.

Yay, yay, vacay.

Dear friends,

Joan, living it up on vacation, circa 1974

Joan, living it up on vacation, circa 1974

This morning, I began an 18-day stretch of uninterrupted vacation time. I haven’t had this much time off, EVER, and I know exactly what to do with myself.

In no particular order, I’m going to:

  • Bike ride (with Mr. Mom, including a picnic outing later today).
  • Watch fireworks (also tonight, at our annual Lion’s Club Carnival, for which the entire county turns out).
  • Take naps.
  • Quilt. (Got a trip to St. Louis planned for Saturday to stock up on fabric).
  • Take a quilting class. (July 16th! Can’t wait! And what a novel idea . . . learning by instruction rather than trial and error.)
  • Take a family vacation to rural Iowa, where we will commune with nearly 100 members of Mr. Mom’s extended family, and where the planned activities include a hay ride, pond swimming, barn dance, horseshoes, watermelon seed spitting contest, pig roast, agronomy lesson, family farm tour, corn shucking, scavenger hunt, and lots of eating and story telling.
  • Luxuriate in the company of those I love most.
  • Have lunch with a girlfriend or two.
  • Clean my closet (in a single nod to productivity).
  • Cook, cook, and cook some more ’cause nothing makes Mama happier than being in the kitchen.
  • Chill.
  • Watch Gunsmoke, because Mr. Mom and I love the old episodes on the Encore Westerns Channel and enjoy our nightly ritual of viewing them together with a cocktail. (Yes, we’re weird that way. But never underestimate the power of kooky shared rituals to keep a marriage happy.)
  • Maybe write a little if the muse visits me.
  • Breathe, love, and laugh in full measure, every day, because isn’t that the essence of gratitude?

With gratitude {for the great good fortune of paid vacation, the 20th Century’s greatest invention},

Joan, who loves her some summer, especially the Missouri variety where the temps are moderate

A few thoughts on gardening. Of the metaphorical variety.

Dear friends,

selfie

A few years ago, I heard a colleague say “It’s always a good idea to re-pot yourself every now and then.”

He was talking about professional transitions and the benefits of new jobs, new perspectives and new challenges. About that same time, I was planning to re-pot myself in the fertile soil of Missouri and another colleague warned it would take two years for me to feel fully adjusted and properly rooted. I remember the comment gave me pause. “Two years?” I thought. “I hope not.”

Turns out, both colleagues were right.

My re-potting was a great move on many levels. Though I was originally the one who instigated our transition, I think it’s fair to say all my family members now agree that the change of scenery did us good. I can confidently say we are happily settled.

So much so that Saturday night — when Mr. Mom and I hosted some newcomers for a friendly tennis match and dinner at our home — we played the roles of natives rather than transplants.

The couple has only been in town 11 months. The husband travels frequently for his new job and I could tell that the move combined with frequent spousal separations meant both he and his wife were missing their east-coast hometown terribly. I told them all the things we had come to appreciate about the community and urged them to reserve judgement for two full years.

The husband seemed surprised. “Two years?” he asked, unable to conceal the concern in his voice.

“I know,” I said. “I reacted the same way. But truth be told, if you would have asked me at the one-year mark, or the 18-month mark if I felt settled, I would have said no. And I might have sounded wistful about home. But now, at the 26-month mark, I truly feel like this is our home. We have friends. We feel connected. We belong.”

Our new friend expressed more surprise. “But don’t you miss home?”

“Sure I do,” I said. “But I miss it in a different way. Home will always be home because it’s such a comfortable place to be. And I’m a long ways away from lifelong friends, as well as professional relationships that spanned decades. But as much as I miss my old friends, I don’t feel homesick and I don’t miss living there anymore. I don’t rush at every opportunity to visit home. And that’s how I know I’m rooted here.”

I started thinking about the necklace I was wearing — a pendant of my home state that I purchased recently to support the relief fund for the devastating tornado in Moore, Okla. I’ve worried that my Missouri friends might view it around my neck and consider it a symbol of homesickness or discontent when, in fact, I feel more comfortable and settled than ever. I finally have a dear circle of friends who have heard my stories and I’ve heard many of theirs, which means not every conversation requires a set-up. I am a long ways from knowing everybody — like some who have lived and worked here “forever” — but I’m no longer the kind of lonely foreigner who has to actively seek out social opportunities, or ask for referrals for doctors or plumbers, or ask “Who’s that?” every time someone outside my family and co-workers are mentioned. And I’ve finally learned the short cuts and back roads to many of my favorite destinations, which is a sure sign that I’ve transitioned from outsider to local.

So I like to think of my Okie pendant as a talisman, suspended near the heart of an ex-pat who’s successfully transplanted and throwing out roots in all directions of her lovely new garden.

With gratitude {for the perennial sunny spot in which I always seem to find myself},

Joan, who can only claim success in metaphorical gardening and has the dead or struggling plants to prove it