Friday, June 20, 2014

June's Ramblings - Pirates of Penzance, Irish Cheese, New Treasures

As spring winds down, and we get ready to officially welcome summer this Saturday, I thought I would share some of the fun things we've been up to. One of the most exciting things we got to do as a family was head to downtown Portland and enjoy an evening at the opera. When we had heard about one of our most favorite musical coming to town, we knew it was a must that we attend. The Pirates of Penzance movie from the 1980's was one of my favorites, and I used to play it for Sarah and Joe when they were little and they would watch it all the time. The music is wonderful, and the movie is hilarious, I would highly recommend it. So when we saw the commercial for the opera we where so excited to attend.

The play was wonderful, the music was great, it was funny, and all around very entertaining. The opera is always memorable, and even more so when it is one of our favorites. If Pirates of Penzance comes to your neck of the woods I would highly recommend it!

For a small town, our grocery store has a pretty nice selection of cheeses, a little while back I decided it would be fun for us all to sample some of the Kerrygold Irish Cheese. I picked out three varieties, a Reserve Cheddar aged over 2 years, Skellig a sweet cheddar, and Blarney Castle a smooth and mild gouda style cheese.

I cut up pieces of each variety for all of us to sample. They were all very different and all tasted delicious, the Skellig was my favorite all around, but each cheese was delicious for its own reason. It was fun to try out different flavors, and we will definitely buy this cheese again. Delicious with grapes and apples and would be fun to bring on a summer picnic with an assortment of crackers or breads.

Since we had some left, we shredded the rest of the cheese up, and turned it into a very rich and delicious macaroni and cheese. I made a simple white sauce flavored with a clove of garlic and melted the cheese into it. Folded the sauce into some cooked macaroni, poured it into a pan sprayed casserole dish, and topped it with my new favorite casserole topper, crushed Ritz crackers mixed with a couple tablespoons of butter, and baked until topping was browned, delicious!

A few weekends back we had a fun time shopping at New Seasons, a grocery store with lots of organic and natural food offerings as well as a nice selection of whimsical goodies. We had fun picking out some nice groceries for the week, including milk, cream, and chocolate milk from a local dairy, the chocolate milk was amazing and we all agreed it tasted as good as a milkshake. The selection of foods were really interesting and we are looking forward to making another trip. While we were there I found a few fun trinkets to add to the kitchen.

I found these absolutely darling little dinosaur milk and cream dispensers, I could not pass them up, I knew they would fit right in to my whimsical decor, and they make me smile every time I see them!

They are quite happy hanging out with the little elephant creamers I have had for years. :)

I also found some very well priced new towels for the kitchen. Of course I couldn't pass up this cute fox towel!

They also had a selection of vintage 1950's style towels, I loved this log cabin design!

I also found a towel with a vintage travel map print of Oregon, which I thought was fun. Overall a very fun little grocery shopping outing!

I am looking forward to welcoming summer this weekend, and have a fun summer meal planned for the family that I look forward to posting about. Hope everyone has a great week!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Chicken Corn Chowder and Mid June Garden Journal

This past week has been pretty busy with school wrapping up for the summer and my nephew's graduation ceremony. School is out now, and we have been enjoying slightly later mornings, and getting into the summer schedule. I am looking forward to catching up on my blog posts as well as starting some new projects this summer.

Last week I made a soup that I had been wanting to try making for quite some time, Chicken Corn Chowder. We all love chowders around here, and sweet corn is one of my husband's favorites, so I had a feeling it would be well received, and it was. Here is my recipe for Chicken Corn Chowder.

Chicken Corn Chowder

1 carton chicken broth (32 oz) (or use your own)
frozen boneless skinless chicken (8 tenderloins or 4 breasts) (or any leftover chicken meat)
1 bunch celery chopped
1-2 medium onions chopped
2-3 cups frozen crinkle cut carrots
2 cans sweet corn (15.25 oz. cans)
about 8-10 (depending on size) mostly peeled red potatoes cubed
1-2 cups instant unflavored mashed potatoes
2 cups whole milk
water, salt, pepper, garlic powder, butter

Add broth, chicken, celery, onions, carrots, and potatoes, along with enough water to cover ingredients. I add water to all of my soups throughout the cooking process as it steams away, and to stretch the soup to the size I want it to be, I never really measure, and I just adjust seasonings to make sure that the soup is flavorful. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a medium boil and then turn down to a medium low and let the veggies and chicken cook through. (To speed this soup along you can saute the onions and celery in a little butter or olive oil until they are translucent, and use precooked chicken.) When the veggies and chicken are cooked through, remove the chicken and chop it into bite sized pieces, and add it back in the pot. Drain both cans of corn and add it to the chowder. Check seasoning, and flavor, add more salt and pepper to taste, I also like to add a teaspoon of granulated garlic or press in a clove or two of fresh garlic, just enough to give it a hint of garlic. Stir in two cups of whole milk. Let simmer for at least half an hour more, and check seasoning. Then instead of thickening this soup with a thickening roux like I normally do, I decided to thicken the chowder with instant potato flakes, I started with one cup of unflavored instant potato flakes, stirred it into the soup and let the soup simmer a bit, then added more instant potatoes as needed to thicken soup to the desired thickness, let the soup simmer in between adding the potato flakes in smaller amounts so it has time to spread to the soup and thicken it, you don't want to add too much. This is a nice and easy way to thicken a chowder. Check seasoning again, perhaps add a little more salt and pepper. Once soup has been thickened you want to stir it frequently and not leave it on the heat for too long so the bottom doesn't burn.

I like to serve all of our chowders with a little pat of butter on the top- delicious! I also made up a quick batch of cheesy garlic drop biscuits, just following the directions on the Bisquick box, and they were delicious with the chowder.  You might also like to try my other chowder recipes Mushroom Chowder, and Cabbage Chowder.

Now for a quick update on the garden. Last week I decided it was warm enough to get my direct sow seeds planted, I planted a new variety of green bean, three types of summer squash, and a variety of pumpkins, as well as a few radishes. Some of the green beans have not germinated, so I will replant the spaces missing green beans. All of the squash, both the summer varieties and acorn squash and pumpkins have all germinated very well, I will thin them out early next week. I am really looking forward to having pumpkins this year, I am looking to seeing how well they do in a smaller garden. All the radishes are up and have been thinned, some little critter is nibbling on them, but I am hoping since radishes grow so fast they will grow before they have been nibbled to the ground. :) Seeds never cease to amaze me, every year, planting them and watching them pop up through the ground, always amazing!

The weather has been gray and rainy the last two days, which is good for the garden, all of the purples and blues in the garden looked beautiful out in the gray weather. The elephant garlic bulbs are about to flower (at least the two I am letting flower, they are so tall I can't wait to see them bloom), the blueberries are starting to ripen, the purple kale leaves are a pretty color, the kohlrabi is getting bigger by the day, and the lobelia and hydrangea are adding a lot of color to the garden.

The lavender is still beautiful, and blooming regularly, we have a couple of varieties in the garden right now, and of course the stand by summer day-lilies are brightening up the garden with their daily bright yellow flowers.

Thanks for stopping by! :)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Mt. Tabor Day Hike

We love to go on fun family outings, our most recent activity was a visit to one of our favorite places to go on an easy hike and explore the outdoors, Mt. Tabor park in Portland, Oregon. We live about an hour outside of Portland, but the first home we had when the kids were babies was just a few minutes away from this park. Mt. Tabor is an extinct volcano, so in addition to lots of beautiful trees, and great views of the city, you can check out the cinder cone of the old volcano. We went on a much longer hike on Mt. Tabor a couple of years back, you can read my previous post, Volcano in the City - Our Mt. Tabor Hike for more pictures.

On our drive up to the park we saw some beautiful old Portland homes, the one below had stunning landscaping and looked like a mini castle! There were also beautiful rose bushes in bloom everywhere. When we stopped to explore a set of stairs, Portland has many hidden stairways around the city, I would love to explore them all one day, anyway, when we walked up the stairs there was a chicken roaming happily though a backyard that was next to the stairway, I love chickens so I had to snap a picture. We all thought it was fun to happen upon a random chicken! :)

At the base of the stairs was a wooden post with a white board for poetry, we thought that was a fun thing to discover. The poem written on the board said "By choosing to be our most authentic and loving self we leave a trail of magic everywhere we go. - Emmanuel " We thought that was a nice thought. :)

When we got to the park we explored the cinder cone area a bit, and Sarah and Joe had fun taking their own pictures.

Sarah loves trees, she is always very happy when she is out in nature surrounded by trees. The bark on this tree was really interesting. In addition to the stunning trees throughout the park, the rhododendrons were in bloom which was a nice treat.

Then we made our way to the very long set of stairs that brings you to the top of Mt. Tabor, we had fun taking new pictures on the stairs so we could compare them to pictures from our last time at the park.

When we got to the top the views were amazing, you could see downtown Portland, and all of its interesting buildings and streets, as well as the bridges (including the new one being built which we look forward to driving over when it is finished). We found a nice area to sit and eat lunch, there were lots of people enjoying the nice weather, and lots of very cute dogs enjoying their walks, we love dogs, so it was fun to see all the different dogs walking by.

After lunch we explored a bit more, there were lots of interesting knobby trees.

Gary and Joe decided to check out a large cement cap, I got a fun picture of them mid jump!

We spent a lot of time exploring the trees and taking pictures.

Gary had fun whittling along the way. :) We found some pretty flowers hear and there, and really enjoyed a nice little day hike.

After we were done at the park we drove around some of the interesting neighborhoods in Portland, it is interesting to see all of the different older homes and gardens, we also saw a lot of different restaurants and food trucks that we hope to come back and check out this summer. One thing I spotted was really neat, and something I have been wanting to do for awhile now, A Little Free Library! We ended up spotting another one a few blocks over as well but couldn't stop for a picture. I think the idea of a a little library in my front yard is wonderful! Gary and I hope to sketch out some plans and get one built this summer! :) You can read about it at

So that was our fun day at Mt. Tabor park, we are looking forward to a summer of fun day trips.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sausage Kale and Mushroom Pizza and a Garden Journal Update

Time for a Garden Journal Update of my early June garden. Right now the garden is lush with colors of green everywhere. The spring flowers are starting to be replaced by summer blooms, and the veggie garden is off to a good start.

One of the most prevalent plants in my garden are the succulents. I have been growing succulents for years, my first home was an old house built around 1920 and it was planted with a very beautiful and mature garden, one of my favorite plants at my old house were the hens and chicks that had grown for years along a rock garden. Ever since then I have included hens and chicks, along with any other succulents I can find, in all of my gardens over the years.  

My back garden was designed as stone raised beds with gravel paths, to avoid the very soggy grass garden most of my neighbors contend with. My succulents have been right at home among the stones, rocks, and gravel paths. I have hens and chicks, multiple varieties of sedum, including lots of baby tears sedum. Here are some of the patches growing throughout the garden.

Everywhere that I want ground cover I plant succulents, it does a nice job keeping the weeds down, and intermingles nicely with my other ground covers, like my moss garden and my creeping jenny. It also makes a nice plant for my Easter Island head planter. :) Succulents are so easy to grow, and after they take hold you will find them spreading nicely throughout the garden. They do well in the hot sun, and also seem to tolerate our wet pacific northwest weather, all around a wonderful plant to add to the garden!

The goldfinch are regular visitors to the garden, and I love watching them visit the bird dripper, they land on top of the dripper and take little sips of water from the spout, it is very fun to watch. Adding a dripper to your birdbath is a wonderful way to increase the birds visiting your garden, I found mine at The Backyard Bird Shop in Clackamas, Oregon, it has lasted now for more than five years and is still in wonderful shape, it's a must for backyard habitats. :)

My hydrangea that I put in last year is doing wonderfully, and is just starting to bloom, it really looks beautiful in the back corner of my side garden. In my veggie garden the cilantro is looking beautiful and bright green, I am really looking forward to cooking with it this summer. The leeks that took more than a year to grow, but never got big enough to use, have sent up flower heads. I have heard this makes the leek too tough to use, I may still try one anyway since I waited so long for them to grow. Otherwise I will let them flower, and collect the seed and perhaps try again. The Elephant garlic has also sent up its flower and they are taller than me! I cut two of the flowers off, and left two on to see if it makes a difference in bulb size.

The Kale and Kohlrabi plants are doing great. The kohlrabi as starting to form its round stem, and the kale almost looks big enough to start picking some. Kale is my new favorite veggie and I have been serving it for dinner at least once a week lately.

Last week I made Sausage Kale and Mushroom pizza, and it was delicious! Not sure the kids were completely convinced about Kale on pizza, but I loved it! I used thin crust refrigerated pizza dough, you could make your own dough though. Before assembling the pizza I cooked a pound of sausage, drained it and set it aside, sauteed the Kale in a little olive oil, and sauteed the mushrooms in a little olive oil with Italian herbs. I also heated some olive oil, about 1/3 cup in a sauce pan with three cloves of garlic pressed through the garlic press. I pre-baked the crust according to package directions for about five minutes I baked the crust on a parchment lined baking sheet, then using a pastry brush spread half the garlic oil on the crust ( I made two pizzas so use the other half for the second pizza) then I sliced up some mozzarella, like 1/4 inch slices, and tore them up into good size chunks to place around the crust, then I added half the sausage and mushrooms, and then half the Kale, then topped with more mozzarella.  Bake until crust is cooked through and cheese has melted, like 10 minutes or so. While the first pizza was baking I made the second pizza. I love making pizzas like this in the summer, they are fairly quick to make and you can use some of the garden veggies. Last summer I made a Garden Fresh Pizza with fresh basil and zucchini. Here's how the Sausage Kale and Mushroom pizza looked.

Sausage Kale and Mushrooms is one of my most favorite flavor combinations, you might also like my Sausage and Kale Hand Pies recipe, or my Sausage and Kale and Mushroom Alfredo.

Anyone else growing Kale in your gardens? How do you like to use Kale?

For those of you wondering about Meal Planning Monday Recipe Link-Up, I have decided to change it up a bit, I should have it ready to go within a week or two. :)