the most wonderful time of the year.

Hello, and happy summer to all of you!  It’s a delightfully sunny Monday morning, and the cool breeze feels like an unexpected gift, reaching me even as I write you from my screened porch.  I’m celebrating today!  Why?  Well, because today marks the fifth year of me being a free agent.  Early this morning, all of my former teaching colleagues (many still dear friends of mine) headed back to the land of school.  It’s Teacher Work Week already, although it’s still JULY, and the kids will be back with shiny shoes, pointy pencils, and big expectations on August 4th.

For five years in a row now, I’ve gotten to skip that Opening Day 6am wake-up call and all the anxiety-provoking hoopla that comes with it, to spend the day working for yours truly.  I say this not at all in a “Nanny nanny boo boo” kind of way.  Lawd knows we need talented, passionate teachers who can rise up against the red tape and stressful workload to inspire and guide our children, as I could not continue to do.  But, more honestly, I say it in a way that honors my personal triumph to stay afloat as a local small business owner, a personal chef, and a female entrepreneur in a touch-and-go economy.  I am extraordinarily thankful that, with the help of my incredibly supportive husband, I’ve been able to carve out a different path for myself; one in which I can be creative with my mind and my hands, flexible with my time, and deliberately helpful to those who may be super busy and need assistance to make a healthy dinner appear on the table, or those experiencing loss, or those grappling with something larger than themselves.  My goal in life has certainly always been to help others, but somehow, over the last couple of years, the way in which I’ve been able to bring comfort or happiness to other people through food has been moving for me- and beyond rewarding.

So, I’m elated to be here to share my thoughts with you on this celebratory day, during this most wonderful time of the year.

sea of tomatoes

carrots

tomatoes garlic

onions

peaches in a box

peppers galore

cantaloupe

It’s that time again- you know the one- when you don’t even have to go to the regular grocery store except for grabbing TP, dish soap, and other sundries.  Fruits and vegetables of every color and shape are here, harvested locally, for the express pleasure of our eyes, our taste buds, our bellies, and our health.  Add that to the abundance of eggs,

eggs

butter, breads, honey, ginger syrups,

ginger syrup

herbs, cheeses,

IMAG1951

meats, and fresh fish and seafood

gulf tuna from Finn Direct

that we have access to – and it’s kind of mind-blowing.  It really makes me giddy.  In our town, we are insanely spoiled with local goodness, making it quite easy to serve our bodies well.

As an added bonus, nearly everything that Mother Nature provides for us during this season is quick-cooking.  Lucky for us, M.N. thought ahead so we don’t have to spend lots of time in a hot kitchen when it’s a billion degrees of sticky humidity out there.

While I haven’t had many chances to sit and write over the last several months, I do try to keep y’all posted via the new-fangled social media avenues, so you can see what I’m cooking on the regular.  You can follow me on Instagram: @plantoplate and “Like” my page on the Facebooker at https://www.facebook.com/Plan.to.Plate if you want to be taunted by photos of things like this

cheese dip with fresh tomatoes

or this.

bbq chicken and squash cakes

Often, folks will ask me for recipes, and I can sometimes post them to my Facebook page or sometimes send a quick email.  But here’s a recipe that my former housemate asked me to pass along: a simple summery tomato sauce.

easy tomato sauce

The beauty of a basic recipe like this is that you can tweak the flavor profile minimally to create a Cajun Tomato Sauce or an Indian inspired sauce by adding a few spices and/ or veggies like celery, jalapenos, cayenne, thyme and mustard or, for the latter- ginger, curry spices, cilantro and coconut milk.  Anyway, I hope this easy take on tomato sauce can help you utilize some of season’s greatest gifts.

Simple Tomato Sauce

1 yellow onion, diced (or a couple small onions)

1 green bell pepper, diced (or you can use banana peppers here)

6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

6 – 8 medium to large tomatoes, peeled and diced*

Pinch of dried Italian seasoning (or basil, parsley, oregano)

juice of half a lemon

1 T tomato paste (optional)

Squeeze of honey

salt and pepper

handful of each fresh basil, oregano, and parsley chopped last minute (or any of the three)

Heat a heavy pot with a good drizzle of olive oil to medium heat.  Add your onions and a pinch of salt and cook about 5 minutes, until the onions are soft.  Then add your green pepper and cook another minute or two.  Stir in your garlic and cook for about 30 seconds to a minute.  Stir in the tomatoes, seasoning, lemon juice, tomato paste, and honey.  Season with a few good pinches of salt and pepper.  Bring it up to a quick bubble over medium high, then turn down to a simmer.  Allow the sauce to simmer over medium low heat for about 15 – 20 minutes, taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.  If you prefer, you can use an immersion blender or a food processor to puree the sauce.

Add fresh herbs to the sauce and serve it up any way you like.  This sauce is light, bright, and bursting with the flavor of real, peak-time tomatoes.

calzone with sauce

*To peel the tomatoes, you can…

1.   Make an “X” in each tomato, then place in boiling water until the skin splits well.  Then, move the split tomatoes to a bowl of ice water, drain, cool and peel.

2.  Make an “X” in each tomato and place on a sheet pan.  Drizzle with a touch of olive oil so they don’t stick to the pan.  Then roast at 400◦ for about 15 – 20 minutes, until the skins split.  Then cool and peel.

3.  Use a serrated peeler to peel the skin like you would an apple.  This works if the tomatoes aren’t too soft and your peeler is sharp.  Be very careful- those peelers love to take blood.

Voila!  And here’s one more super simple summertime recipe to help you embrace the mountains of zucchini that are coming out of the ground right now.

zucchini noodles marinated

Marinated Zucchini “Noodles”

little zukes

1 large or a couple of smaller zucchini, cut into “zoodles” carefully on a mandolin.  (You can work from the outside in and discard the pulpy middle if you like.)

1 Zest and juice of one lemon

1 clove of garlic, pressed

squeeze of honey

2 T or a good drizzle of olive oil

good pinch of salt and pepper

Use a spoon or a fork to combine the ingredients above.

zest

Simply add your zoodles to the lemon vinaigrette and toss to coat.  Place the zoodles in the fridge for about 15 minutes or longer before serving.

marinated zucchini

This makes a super refreshing and light side dish for any summery meal.  You could definitely add fresh herbs if you wanted to ramp it up a notch.  I found it to be perfect just as is.  I half expected the leftovers to be way too watery to love, but, that was not the case at all.  Most delicious on day two as well.

That’s all for now, my friends.  I hope this post finds you well.  I dream that you are soaking up every moment of life with an exuberance to beat the band, as I strive to do each day that I am given.

Sending you so much love and light.

Happy cooking and eating to you,

ashli

 

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