Letting Butter Talk

Hello friends. I wanted to check in with you. Are you sad and lonely? Do you feel like Julie is neglecting you lately with her infrequent, brief posts?

You're not alone. She's been neglecting me too. After the high of having her wonderful family visit and lavish me with attention, I was in for a rude awakening last Monday when they all left. And then Conservative Boy went to work. And then Julie left too, which was strange and unusual and I didn't like it at all. Especially because she was gone all day. Then she was gone even longer on Tuesday. And the same thing happened Thursday too. (Thankfully, she was around all day Wednesday, or I would have been really distraught.)

As if that wasn't bad enough, Julie and Conservative Boy both left me—together, no less—early Friday morning and didn't return until Sunday afternoon. That's a long time for a dog like me to be without his parents, even if he does get to hang out at the Conservative Family house and play with Walker all weekend. I mean, it's fun and all, but why do they keep leaving me?

I'd like to promise you Julie will stop abandoning us soon, but I'm just not sure. She's been working all evening again and I heard her mention something about leaving bright and early in the morning. Is this going to be a regular occurrence? I sure hope not. I'll be one sad puppy.


Catching Crazies

The other day I drove past the covered wagon in L-Town and decided to stop for a photo. Only this photo wasn't just of Abe reading atop the wagon.

Because there were a couple of crazies standing in front of the wagon this time. Only they weren't really standing. They were doing this.

I have no idea who they are. Really. I've never seen them before in my life.

But I am impressed with My Mo ... er ... the woman on the right. She has quite a vertical.

(If you click on the image, you'll see a much larger version. Just in case you can help me identify who these random women are. Because, like I said, I have no clue who they are.)


Pyrex Newsflash

Shortly after I wrote the last post about my Pyrex obsession, I was wandering through the random assortment of secondhand stores and consignment shops in L-Town with My Sister, My Mom, and Auntie R. We were having a terrific time modeling random purses and scarves and purchasing treasures for bargain-basement prices.

And then My Mom and Auntie R, who are well aware of my Pyrex obsession, found these.

They're perfect—in the best condition of any Pyrex I own. I've been looking for a set like this since I began my Pyrex search, because then I can use the containers for leftovers and get rid of some of our nasty plastic storage containers.

When I saw what they were carrying toward the cash register (and learned the whole darn set cost $8), I did this.

And then Auntie R generously purchased the Pyrex dishes for me, and I gleefully sang about Pyrex all the way home.


Pyrex Love

You may have heard that I love old vintage Pyrex bowls and cookware.

It's a bit of an obsession of mine, fueled by the fact that my incredibly retro kitchen calls out for incredibly retro items to go in it.

It started with one pretty little blue bowl, and since then I'm always on the lookout for good pieces to add to my collection. This summer, I've met with success all over the country.

I snagged this adorable serving dish from Bart's, a stellar flea market in Laramie.

That's where this lovely white bowl—with a lip that makes it awesome for pouring—came from too.

Then in Madison I found this funky green piece that makes me smile every time I spot it sitting atop the fridge. (You cannot hide your Pyrex in the cupboard. That's sinful. You also must use your Pyrex—I don't believe in letting collections gather dust.)

The other day I found this set of bowls right here in L-Town. I was ecstatic, because all three cost as much as one of the smaller ones I had seen previously in Madison.

That's the other thing about my Pyrex shopping: I don't just buy every piece I see. I look for unique pieces, styles I don't have yet. And I look for bargains. Sometimes this Pyrex stuff can be pricey. But if you look in the right places, you can find some stellar deals—some of the things you saw above only cost a couple of dollars. The three bowls you just saw were my biggest purchase yet—$18 for all three.

But they're worth it. So, so worth it.


A Roma Harvest

Finally, the Romas are ready.

I harvested bowl of them from my pot out front the other day. It's a glorious site—and a rarity this summer—to see healthy red tomatoes. So I spent a good five minutes staring at these babies before I decided to do something with them.

Specifically, I whipped up a quick little tomato sauce for lunch for My Sister and I.

It's incredibly easy to make. Blanch the tomatoes and coarsely chop them. Toss them in a big saucepan with four to five tablespoons of olive oil, four to five cloves of garlic, and some salt and pepper. Simmer them on medium heat about 20 to 25 minutes or until the tomatoes have cooked down and the oil floats on top. Toss in lots of fresh basil (tear or cut it into pieces first) and add more salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot over pasta with Parmesan and crusty bread.

Then pray for more Romas so you can repeat the process.



Gazpacho is one of those dishes that screams summer to me. It's all about fresh-from-the-garden veggies, about a touch of spicy in a cool summer soup.

One of my old standbys is a recipe I pulled from Real Simply years ago. It's a quick and easy version with corn and tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers that you don't cook. Yum yum yum.

I've also been contemplating The Pioneer Woman's gazpacho recipe. It looks pretty darn tasty. But then again, so does everything on her blog. That's why I'm obsessed. Duh.

Last time I made gazpacho, however, I tried a new recipe I spotted in a recent issue of Better Homes & Gardens: Chilly Chile Pepper Gazpacho. There isn't any method to my recipe-picking, in case you're wondering. I spot something with ingredients I like, I spot something that looks good, so I tear the recipe out and vow to make it someday.

(The recipe stockpile in my cupboard, by the way, drew an exclamation of surprise from My Sister when she started snooping through the kitchen last night. "Girl, you need a binder for these," she said. I suppose I do. I'll put that on the list, which means I'll get it next January or February.)

Anyhow, so this BHG recipe involves a bit more work than my old standby. But I was drawn to it because it has a kick to it, and that's somewhat of a prerequisite if Conservative Boy is going to try it.

First you roast six large tomatoes (cored, halved, and seeded), one medium onion, and four cloves garlic in a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Then, place the tomatoes in the food processor (or, in my case, the blender). Process the tomatoes until smooth, then remove them from the processor and transfer them to a bowl.

Now add the onion, garlic, one medium cucumber (peeled, seeded, chopped), one medium sweet pepper (seeded and cut up), and four medium jalapeno peppers (seeded and cut up) to the food processor. Cover and pulse with on/off turns until they're chopped.

Add the processed vegetables, 2 11.5-ounce cans hot vegetable juice, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, two tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper to the tomatoes.

Cover and chill at least four hours or up to 24 hours. (Shh ... don't mention I'm repeating the pic from above. I decided the others weren't satisfactory and reserve the right not to post them.)

Serve with flaked, canned crab meat and chopped fresh chives if you like (although I found both unnecessary). Enjoy.


A Peek in the Containers

While I was busy snapping a few photos for my most recent Natural Home blog post, I thought I'd take a few extras to share with you. It has been a while since I've updated you on the front-yard garden progress, and I'm sure you've just been biting your nails in suspense.

Take a peek at the giant stone planter attached to our house right now and you'll see it has been taken over by more basil than I can keep up with (but I'm not complaining ... I loooove basil).

And thyme, which I apparently don't cook with often enough and have let go to flower. Oops. Pretty though, and still very fragrant.

Nearby in pots, you'll spot some Romas that are getting nice and red—which means I need to pick them and make some sauce. Perhaps tomorrow, after my lovely sister arrives and I get her situated nearby with a glass of wine.

My jalapeno plant is going bonkers, despite the fact that I have it rigged up off the ground with a piece of leash Butter chewed apart. That's really trashy of me to admit, but I haven't gotten around to figuring out where I put my string yet, so the leash is a temporary solution.

The cherry tomato plant is producing little red babies lickety-split, which is exciting considering that the big tomato plants in these here parts are stubborn as heck and not turning. But goodness gracious these cherry tomatoes aren't even cherry size. They're blueberry size. I think I'll call them blueberry tomatoes from now on, and thoroughly confuse anyone who tries one.

The heirloom tomato plants I rescued late in the season and planted in big buckets are looking nice and healthy too. They're finally flowering and showing signs of heirloom tomato love.

These babies, at least, have an excuse for being such late bloomers—but the other ones in the ground at my other garden? They should be ashamed of themselves.



Without ever realizing I would one day be writing for magazines, I used to devour My Mom's women's magazines from cover to cover (along with My Dad's news magazines and my Sports Illustrated issues, but that's a story for another day).

In one of those women's magazines, I came across a story about keeping a gratitude journal. It seemed like a good thing to do, and so, for a few years while I was still in middle and high school, I wrote from time to time about things I was grateful for. I can't recall now what things I wrote, but I'm sure they were really important, like how grateful I was for good grades and good rounds of golf and good friends.

For some reason, that gratitude journal popped into my head. And so I thought I would share a few of the random things that have made me happy today.

The petite vase full of freshly cut flowers for my desk, which you saw above.

And another little vase of flowers—some from my garden, some from Conservative Mom's—for the living room (in a lovely little 99 cent vase, no less).

Finally hanging a piece of art in the kitchen.

Finding the one cookbook I've been searching for at used bookstores and second-hand stores (The Joy of Cooking). It's the tome that was missing from my little collection on the countertop.

A juicer—the exact same one I almost bought for $20 recently—for $2.99 at Mission Mart.

My faithful sidekick, who's always up for an adventure with me.

And you, friends and family. Of course I'm grateful for you too!


The Derby

I played golf last Sunday. That's not really a big revelation or an uncommon occurrence, but what was uncommon was the type of golf I played.

You see, I was in a competition called "The Derby." This derby I speak of involves ten teams. Each team is comprised of one man and one woman who have been randomly paired together. The teams play nine holes of golf (alternating shots, so if the woman tees off the man hits the next shot, and so on), and on each hole one team (the one with the highest score) is eliminated.

Sounds relatively simple, right?

Except I forgot to add a few details. Like the fact that people in 20+ other golf carts follow along for the entire event, hooting and hollering and drinking and even honking their cart horns if they happen to have one. And a fellow with a bullhorn is there too, announcing who's up to hit and making random comments and witty asides in each person's backswing.

Then there's the fact that you never know when you'll be faced with a random challenge—like playing one hole with a tennis racket and tennis ball or having a dance-off on the green. (The winner off the dance-off got to move their ball two club lengths closer to the hole, so I whipped out the shopping cart and a few key 80s moves. But alas, we got second, so our ball didn't move until we putted it).

Intrigued yet? I was, which was why I agreed to give it a try when asked. Lucky for me, I was paired with one of Conservative Boy's best friends, A.F., who had never played in the derby either. So we knew we'd have fun, even if we didn't win.

We managed to make it through the 16th hole (we played the back nine), which means we got fourth. But man oh man did we have to scramble to get fourth. A.F. was nervous and I wasn't hitting very well, so we managed to get ourselves into trouble on pretty much every hole. We were among the worst scorers on nearly every hole—on a couple, we tied for last and had to have a playoff to stay in the game. That's how we went out on number 16, because my playoff putt was six inches too short. Boo. Hiss. (Have I mentioned I'm a bit competitive?)

Even though we didn't come away with the big W, it was fun. Very fun. As long as you can handle a bit of harassment and people yelling "the Wyoming Wonderrrrr" every time you get up to swing. Which, you know, is pretty much like every other day on the course, right?


Lemon Zucchini Berry Muffins

You know what stinks? Writing a long, rambling, recipe-filled post about lemon zucchini berry muffins and then clicking the wrong tab closed and losing the whole darn thing right as you finish it. Please don't try it at home. You can just take my word for it: It stinks.

Rather than re-create the whole darn thing, complete with ingredients and step-by-step instructions, this time around I'm giving you the Spark Notes version. I hope you don't mind. I need to get through this quickly so I can go punish myself. I think I'll make myself vacuum.

First of all, I'd like to state that this recipe came to me thanks to a generous friend, who knew I was desperate for something new to do with the five pounds—five pounds!—of zucchini I gathered from the Conservative Family garden after I returned from Georgia. This was in addition to what I still had in my fridge from before my trip, because apparently Conservative Boy wasn't in the mood to consume massive quantities of green produce while I was gone—shocking, I know.

So this kind friend—without whom I may have collapsed in a heap in the middle of the kitchen with my zucchini—saved the day by directing me to a lovely blog called maya*made and a terrific-looking recipe for lemon zucchini berry muffins.

So as soon as I could, I set to work. First I combined the wet ingredients. (Make sure you have enough maple syrup before you start—I didn't and ended up having to improvise. I think it's best you go ahead and not improvise if you can help it, unless you're much better at it than I am.)

Then, in a separate bowl, I combined the dry ingredients.

Then I mixed the two together.

And gently stirred in blueberries (wishing all the while I had been able to find tiny, sweet local berries—but alas, there were none, so I settled for bigger, tart grocery store berries).

Then I poured the batter into my greased muffin tin. Only I have a very small muffin tin (a bigger one is on the kitchen wish list, along with a garlic press, a food processor, and a manual can opener that actually works), so half the batter went into a loaf pan instead.

Then the muffins baked. And came out beautifully.

I ate them, and Conservative Boy did too. Even though he couldn't understand why the heck I'd put zucchini in blueberry muffins and kept asking where the streusel was. I had no answers for him, and for this I apologized.

(I won't tell him I later learned you can swap out the blueberries for chocolate chips and the lemon zest for orange. That would have made him even happier, I think. Heck, it would make me even happier.)

Now, off to vacuum.

(Remember you can get the full recipe here.)


More Natural Home Blogging

Just posted over at Natural Home: Green wall art on the cheap

I suggest you check it out—you'll get a sneak peek at what I'm doing with those frames I painted recently. And maybe within the next two weeks they'll actually make it onto the wall and I can show you the final result ... maybe.

Happy Friday!

The First Tomato

Tomato season is woefully behind here. And, as much as Conservative Boy wishes to blame it on me, it isn't my fault. I swear.

It's the cooler, rainier Illinois summer that has slowed everyone's tomato plants down by as much as a month.

That's why we didn't get to taste the flavors of the first tomato (from my garden down the street) until right before I went to Georgia.

But perhaps the wait is worth it. It was deeelicious. Divine. There's nothing that compares to a warm tomato fresh off the vine.

Sadly, it could be a while yet before we have that experience again. The thirty-plus tomatoes I counted on the vines earlier this week are nowhere near turning pink, let alone full-on red.

But hey, at least there are tomatoes there to count. That's a start.


Adventures in Illinois

Remember when I mentioned that other website where I spend so much of my time? It's called Illinois Adventures, and I post a couple of new stories each week about great places and events in Central Illinois.

This isn't a shameless pitch for the website. But I realized the other day that because I post all of those Illinois adventures over at illinois-adventures.com, I don't fill in those of you dear readers who just hang out with me on this site on what I've been trying around Central Illinois. And trust me, I've been trying plenty of things. So from time to time, I'll share the highlights here with you, just in case you don't religiously read every story I post at Illinois Adventures.

Let's see. Where to begin?

I've been exploring lots of Lincoln sites around the state, including:

The watermelon statue right here in L-Town (Lincoln christened the town with a watermelon near where the statue now stands)

Postville Courthouse, where Lincoln did his lawyering (it's also in L-Town)

And the Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield (it's terrific).

In addition, I've been eating a lot, including world-famous Cozy Dogs at the Cozy Dog Drive-In in Springfield,

plus steak and sweet potato fries at Ted's Garage in Clinton, to-die-for pizza (and more) in Mason City, and Italian at family-owned Guzzardo's here in L-Town.

I even convinced Conservative Boy to tag along with me to the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Bloomington, where we picnicked on the lawn outside this lovely mansion and listened to Madrigal singers in period costume.

C.B. even serenaded me with madrigal versions of "Back that A** Up" and Warren G's "Regulate" before we went into the theater and watched an impressive performance of Richard III under the stars. Isn't he romantic?

There's been a bit of kitsch too, from the giant Paul Bunyan statue nearby in Atlanta

to the world's largest covered wagon here in L-Town.

(Now you really want to come visit me, don't you?)


Chilled Peach Pie

Remember my two failed attempts at making (Not So) Conservative Grandmom's chilled strawberry pie? First, there was this. Then this.

Yesterday, Conservative Mom and I tackled the Georgia peach version of the pie, in an attempt to figure out why the heck I failed so miserably at a pretty darn easy recipe.

The peach pie turned out beautifully.

And the only thing we can figure out is that I have a bad box of cornstarch. The second time I tried to make the pie, I ended up adding more than 6 tablespoons of cornstarch into the strawberry mixture to get it to thicken up. And it didn't at all. (This horrified Conservative Mom, who said that much cornstarch should have made it disgustingly, difficult-to-stir thick.)

In other words, it's not my fault. And I'll gladly admit if it's my fault, which is why I share blender explosions and failed recipes regularly.

But anyway, that's all in the past. Let's talk about the present. Specifically, the peach pie in the fridge just a few feet away from me right now.

First, you cook one cup water and about a cup of cut-up peaches until they're soft.

Then, you whir the mixture in the blender. Or, if you're at your vacation home and don't have a blender, just smush those peaches with a fork. It's effective.

Add a cup of sugar and 2-plus tablespoons cornstarch and stir until thick. Make sure you use cornstarch that hasn't been destroyed by age or moisture (not sure which is the culprit with mine ... I plan to investigate when I get home).

Boil and stir until the mixture gets nice and thick (and rejoice when it actually does get thick).

Chill in the refrigerator, stirring occasionally, for about half an hour.

Meanwhile, blanch the peaches and peel their skins.

Spread a bit of the peach mixture on a baked crust.

Slice the peaches and fill the crust with them.

Top with the rest of the peach mixture.

Chill. Enjoy. And celebrate the fact that you are capable of making this recipe after all. (Oh wait, that's just me ...)