Decorah Iowa Feature Image

Foodventurous: Decorah, Iowa

It’s pretty common for people to travel the country, and even the world, but miss out on the unique experiences that exist right under their noses. It’s the whole reason “staycations” have become popular: stay at home but actually DO the cool stuff in your area. After 10-15 years of saying we should spend some time exploring northeast Iowa, we finally went to see what Decorah had waiting for us.

 

What’s a Decorah foodventure without food?

Luna Valley farms

Luna Valley Farms Pizza Decorah Iowa

Every Friday night, May through October, Luna Valley Farm is open to the public for homemade, wood-fired pizza. The toppings change from week to week in order to feature fresh, local produce. The pizza pictured above was called “Cherry Pie”: cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella and we added sausage. Several local craft beers and ciders are available as well as wine from small farms in Italy, France and Spain.

Luna Valley Farms Pizza Decorah Iowa

The pizza is outstanding. Maren and Tom are as gracious and friendly as can be. A trip to their farm must be considered an experience. Bring your blanket or chairs and be ready to kick back, listen to the cows bellowing in the distance, watch kids play and take it the beauty of the countryside. There are nights where 250 pizzas are made in that oven! On a gorgeous night like we had, you won’t mind waiting one bit.

Luna Valley Farms Pizza Decorah Iowa

 

Magpie Coffeehouse

French Toast at Magpie Coffeehouse Decorah Iowa

My ideal foodventure involves a yummy, late breakfast, a unique, relaxing dinner with a mid-afternoon treat … and maybe a bedtime snack. Trying as many different restaurants as possible is always a goal; however, we found Magpie Cafe & Coffeehouse on our first morning and returned for breakfast the second morning just so I could try more of their menu! This French toast was my favorite and, if you look in the background, you can see Marty’s breakfast burrito (also note his crossed arms as he patiently waits for me to get a picture … what a guy!).

Magpie Coffeehouse Decorah Iowa

The staff is as warm and inviting as the interior and I can’t wait to return and try their lunch menu!

 

impact coffee

Impact Coffee in Decorah Iowa

Before we left town on Sunday, I had to check out the new digs for Impact Coffee which had been recommended to us by a couple we chatted with at Luna Valley Farm. If I lived in this area, you would regularly find me in one of their comfy seating areas, sipping on a Miel (a personal favorite that I don’t often find), typing away on my laptop.

Scones and coffee from Impact Coffee in Decorah Iowa

Wait … add munching a scone to that description! So Good!

 

sugar bowl ice cream company

Ice Cream Flight from Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Company in Decorah Iowa

Remember what I said about that mid-afternoon treat? Does it get any better than finding an ice cream shop that offers FLIGHTS???? Seriously! Four or six scoops of your choice of flavors served up on an impressive board by Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Parlor in downtown Decorah. I shouldn’t have to say this but Marty and I DID share this flight. You know me well enough to assume I could polish it off by myself … but I didn’t.

Restraint is a virtue.

Next time I’m all in on their Donut Sundae! So much for “restraint”.

 

topPling goliath brewery

Topling Goliath Brewery Decorah Iowa

Speaking of “flights” … here’s a more traditional one. Decorah is home to Toppling Goliath Brewery, named the “Second-Best Brewery in the World” by Beer Advocate! Even though we didn’t try the food, we enjoyed a “bed-time snack” of beer samples as the sun set. Check out that “Mornin’ Latte” … an Imperial Coffee Milk Stout that just might accompany me to the next tailgate!

 

courtyard and cellar

Courtyard and Cellar Decorah Iowa Live Music Patio Bar

We drove by this place several times. On the outside, a beautiful, old corner building. Inside? A hidden gem. Built in 1915, this building has been home to an implement store, seed store, car dealership, restaurants, soft drink bottling plant, an Army Reserve Center and even a mini-mall. Currently, while other parts of the building are being renovated, a BBQ restaurant is open as well as The Courtyard and Cellar. With an open-air space between this building and the next, the perfect patio area was made to accommodate live music and plenty of tables! The lower-level of the building is a bar with architectural charm and a “rare, fine whiskey collection”.

Courtyard and Cellar Decorah Iowa Live Music Patio Bar

 

— and food-related activities

seed savers exchange

Seed Savers Exchange Decorah Iowa | Garden History Hiking

From a collection of rare whiskeys to a collection of rare seeds, Decorah is home to some pretty remarkable businesses. The mission of the Seed Savers Exchange is to preserve heirloom varieties  and share them with other gardeners. It all started with a morning glory flower and a tomato variety brought to the US by the founders grandparents in the 1870’s. As they have collected more varieties, they have collected the stories of how the seeds came to be family heirlooms.

Seed Savers Exchange Decorah Iowa | Garden History Hiking

Not only can you walk the gardens and visit the gift shop (hello new tomato cages), you are free to wander/hike the trails leading through 890 acres of land or fish in the trout streams.

Periodically the farm will host special events like Tomato Tastings or the Harvest Festival. Go to their website or follow them on Facebook to see more.

Seed Savers Exchange Decorah Iowa | Garden History Hiking

 

fly fishing

Guided Fly Fishing Decorah Iowa

He makes it look easy, doesn’t he?

Because we were unfamiliar with the trout streams of the area, we booked a guide to show us where the public access streams are and help us improve our skills. For Marty, that was tips and tricks to make his experiences more successful and enjoyable. For me, it was having someone to show me what to do, show me what to do again, free my fly from the rock bed or tree I had snagged and then show me what to do at least two more times! Kent from Bear Creek Anglers was personable, patient and knowledgeable and celebrates each fish bite. When I was struggling with my backcast, he put it in “mom” terms: get behind me and straighten out! Oh yeah … he’s good.

Fly Fishing near Decorah Iowa
Photo Credit: Kent Kleckner, Bear Creek Anglers
Fly Fishing near Decorah Iowa
Photo Credit: Kent Kleckner, Bear Creek Anglers

Marty’s fish looks bigger than mine but I think he’s just holding it closer to the camera … wink wink.

 

— and exercise!

The scenic beauty of this part of Iowa will take your breath away long before your workout is complete. A simple (or not so simple) walk or hike feels like just another part of the experience. Every close-to-home vacation should include the exploration of the state and local parks.

phelps park

Phelps Park Decorah Iowa

 

Phelps Park was recommended to us as a place for a scenic, moderate hike. When we pulled into the park on the southeast edge of Decorah, we could see a very pretty city park (picnic tables, shelters, playgrounds, etc.) but nothing resembling a trail. It was time to ask for help and help came in the form of a woman with a small child in a stroller. She pointed to a small opening on the other side of the street. A few steps onto the trail and the beauty of this bluff country was opened to us.

Phelps Park Decorah Iowa

So many parks, so little time! On our next trip, we will be sure to visit the highly recommended Dunning Springs and we hope to kayak the Upper Iowa River!

 

— a place to rest

Dry run cabin – decorah

Dry Run Cabin Decorah Iowa Airbnb

The whole Airbnb concept is right up my alley: a unique stay with the ability to choose your experience and flexibility to prepare your own meals. By the time we decided to take this mini-vaca, a lot of the smaller houses/cabins were already booked. I kept coming back to the listing of this beautiful home.

Dry Run Cabin Decorah Iowa Airbnb

I think it was this deck that I couldn’t resist! Dry Run Cabin was MUCH too big for the two of us (6 beds) but we were also looking for a place where our family might meet us in the future. Located about a mile from Decorah, we could easily get to all the places we wanted to visit.

Dry Run Cabin Decorah Iowa Airbnb

With a kitchen like this, can you believe I didn’t cook … at all?!?! There’s always next time!

Full Disclosure: In exchange for sharing this home in my social media
and blog posts, we received a discounted rate from the owner. 

 

save a little time for church

(or save time for a little church)

World's Smallest Church

Country churches have my heart. I love seeing the steeple and cross standing so tall against a bright sky. Not even sure how we came to hear about this one but if you say “World’s Smallest Church” to me, I am going to go see it!

We left Decorah midmorning on Sunday, right about the time we would normally be in church. About 15 miles and just outside the town of Festina, Iowa, down an appropriately named gravel road, we found it: St. Anthony of Padua Chapel.

World's Smallest Church

Seating 8 people, this church is 14’x20′ was built in 1885. The sign out front says the chapel was built to fulfill a vow by Johann Gaertner’s mother “should her son, who was drafted into the French army and served under Napoleon, return safely from the Russian campaign.”

After saying a prayer thanking God for all the people who built churches and started congregations as our state was formed, we returned to the road and to our home.

We’re already planning our next weekend in Decorah. Marty has declared it to be a fishing weekend which means Casey’s doughnuts and breakfast burritos at McDonald’s. And that’s just fine with me …

After all, it’s not like I can’t drive myself!

decorah, Iowa

Visit Decorah Iowa Foodventure

To read about more of my foodventures, click here!

Potluck Picnic with Summer Edamame Salad

 

Welcome to my Potluck Picnic … a weekly newsletter containing an assortment of
recipes, tips, humor and
stories to inspire you to appreciate, cook, eat and share good food.
So pull up a chair and join the conversation!

 

quote of the week

Brave Quote

 

on the foodie trail

Red Pepper Threads

Are you following me on social media? Last week I shared a lot of pics of my trip to see my niece and one-year-old great-niece in New Jersey. We found a lot of cool food-related places to visit, including a stop at a Korean grocery store. While roaming the aisles, I found this jar of red pepper threads. The pepper pictured on the label looked like a spicy one and my curiosity won. I might be the only person who views a grocery store as a tourist trap! At home a few days later, I sprinkled a few of these on top of some tuna “cakes” and it added a subtle amount of heat and a pop of color.

What else needs some heat and color? Rice, pasta, salads, sandwiches, deviled eggs … stay tuned!

 

this week’s recipe: summer edamame salad

Print Recipe
Summer Edamame Salad
Not your typical bean salad, this combination of edamame, sweet corn, peppers and onions in a light Asian dressing is a flavor bomb of protein and vitamins! Try this recipe ASAP!
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Passive Time 4 hours
Servings
1 quarts
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 12 ounce package frozen edamame thawed
  • 2 cups sweet corn kernels
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 cup diced red onions
  • 1 cup diced red pepper
  • fresh Thai basil leaves optional
  • 3 green onions, sliced optional
Asian Dressing
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha or Tabasco sauce
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Passive Time 4 hours
Servings
1 quarts
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 12 ounce package frozen edamame thawed
  • 2 cups sweet corn kernels
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 cup diced red onions
  • 1 cup diced red pepper
  • fresh Thai basil leaves optional
  • 3 green onions, sliced optional
Asian Dressing
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha or Tabasco sauce
Instructions
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon sesame oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add thawed edamame and sweet corn kernels to pan and stir to coat with oils. Sprinkle with salt and saute until lightly browned, stirring only occasionally. Remove from heat.
  2. Combine onions and peppers in a bowl. Add edamame and corn when no longer hot.
  3. Combine all dressing ingredients and whisk to combine (or use a canning jar and shake well). Pour over vegetables and stir to coat.
  4. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
  5. Serve with Thai basil (optional) and/or sliced green onions.
Recipe Notes

This salad would be a great side dish for Lemon-Yogurt Salmon or grilled chicken with teriyaki sauce.

Mexican Version: Substitute avocado oil for the olive oil and omit sesame oil. Replace rice vinegar with apple cider vinegar, soy sauce with lime juice, and Sriracha sauce with one teaspoon of cumin. Adding some avocado or mango would be delicious too!

 

 

if you haven’t tried this one yet …

Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Ground Pork

Stuffed Poblano Peppers

Are you a fan of stuffed peppers? Of Mexican food? This recipe uses poblano peppers as the shell for a mixture of rice, corn, ground pork (ground chicken or turkey are options too), black beans, tomatoes and, of course, cheese! Leftovers? Freeze for another day or chop up and add to scrambled eggs!

 

what can you bring to the next potluck picnic?

Comment below in the “LEAVE A REPLY” box to share:
1. What’s the one spice in your cupboard you can’t live without?
2. Have you ever heard of Stuffed Pepper Soup?

 

Don’t miss a single Potluck Picnic … add your e-mail address to my list and you’ll
receive your personal invitation to each weekly newsletter right in your inbox.
Just click on the “Join The Picnic” button at the bottom-right of this screen.

Potluck Picnic with Chilled Gazpacho

Welcome to my Potluck Picnic … a weekly newsletter containing an assortment of
recipes, tips, humor and stories to inspire you to appreciate, cook, eat and share good food.
So pull up a chair and join the conversation!

 

quote of the week

JOY: gladness not based on circumstance

 

on the foodie trail

The Jersey Summer Sour

I shutter to even share this picture (get it … shutter?). The picture is nice enough but it isn’t nice enough. This cocktail deserves a better photographer and a second round.

  1. Start with fresh blueberries (I told you this picture wasn’t perfect) … or as they say in Jersey, “bloobs”.
  2. Vodka is next and, in this case, something called “Jersey Lightening” (got your attention there, didn’t I?).
  3. Add more vodka, this time something called “Summer Amaro”. Yes, I had to Google this one and as far as I can tell, it is a vodka that has been sweetened and infused with the herbs, spices and fruits of summer. Each description I found had different ingredients. If you know anything, anything at all, about Amaro, please share!
  4. Pine. That’s all it said on the menu. I am guessing that is the line of sprinkles on top of the drink. Maybe it is grated juniper berries? Makes me want to try that on my next gin and tonic!
  5. Frothy egg whites top it off! They remind me of the moment you take a sip of hot cocoa and the  foam at the top gives you a mustache? Only in the middle of summer!

This beverage revelation comes to you courtesy of my favorite Jersey-girl/niece, Khristine, and a place called “The Farm and Fisherman Tavern” in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. I’ve just returned from a long weekend of eating, laughing and making memories with this gal and her sweet daughter. My nephew is deployed for a year with the Army National Guard and I hope our time together helped to fill a little of their time apart. Can’t wait till we are all together again!

 

what’s up in the garden

Everything is not “coming up roses” in my garden. I like to post pretty pictures of all that is thriving and pretty but there are struggles too. Blight and bugs are wreaking havoc on my cucumber vines, tomato plants and even my beautiful Red Malabar Spinach.

I trimmed a lot of branches and leaves off of my tomato plants to try and prevent the blight from spreading. That effort reduced the shade on the tomatoes themselves and now they have sunburn. I feel like I forgot to put sunscreen on my kids!

I want you to know that I believe in moderation, in gardening, in eating (most of the time), in life. Therefore, I am not a certified organic gardener. I do not easily jump to chemical applications. Trying age-old remedies (like water, baking soda and dish soap) are not excluded. I just want to avoid making mistakes that damage the fruits of my labor (again with the puns … apologies).

If you have any suggestions/tips/tricks/advice, I would be most grateful if you would share. Remember, this is a potluck picnic: I value your input!

 

this week’s recipe: Gazpacho

I first discovered gazpacho in a very lovely setting: a table next to the ocean in Key West surrounded by my mom, two aunts and one of my cousins. That was over 10 years ago and I’ve been thinking about it and trying to replicate it ever since. I’ve had a few good attempts along the way but nothing has ever come close to giving me that oh-my-goodness-you-have-to-try-this taste. Until now.

I found a recipe and, as always, tweaked it a bit and here it is! I’m not eating it next to the ocean but it sure brings back great memories with amazing ladies.

Print Recipe
Gazpacho: Chilled Summer Vegetable Soup
This chilled, vegetable soup is the perfect way to use fresh summer vegetables. No cooking required! Serve it as a first course with tortilla chips or crusty garlic bread or as a main dish with a grilled cheese or a BLT.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 6-8 hours
Servings
2 quarts
Ingredients
  • 4 cups tomato juice see note
  • 4 cups diced fresh tomatoes see note
  • 2 cups peeled and diced cucumber
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 1 diced red pepper
  • 1 diced jalapeño see note
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 limes zested and juiced
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano crushed
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Fresh cilantro
  • plain greek yogurt
Prep Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 6-8 hours
Servings
2 quarts
Ingredients
  • 4 cups tomato juice see note
  • 4 cups diced fresh tomatoes see note
  • 2 cups peeled and diced cucumber
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 1 diced red pepper
  • 1 diced jalapeño see note
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 limes zested and juiced
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano crushed
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Fresh cilantro
  • plain greek yogurt
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, combine tomato juice and diced tomatoes.
  2. Pulse the cucumbers, red onion, red pepper, jalapeño and garlic, individually (see note) in a food processor until finely chopped. Add to tomato mixture.
  3. Add olive oil, zest of one lime, lime juice, white balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire Sauce, cumin and oregano. Stir.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 6-8 hours or overnight.
  5. Stir again and taste. Add salt (1/2 teaspoon at a time) and pepper (1/4 teaspoon at a time) to taste.
  6. Serve with fresh cilantro and a dollop of plain greek yogurt.
Recipe Notes

If you are lucky enough to have an abundance of fresh tomatoes, use them for the "juice", as well as the "fresh", in this recipe. To make 4 cups of "juice", you will need 6-7 cups of peeled and cut fresh tomatoes. Use a hot-water-bath method to peel the tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes into pieces and place in a stock pot with one teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes. The "liquid" will rise to the top and the "solids" will sink to the bottom when the tomatoes are thoroughly cooked. Remove from heat and use an immersion blender to puree. A blender will also work but cool the tomatoes first and work in smaller batches. Cool completely and chill before adding other ingredients.

Dice the fresh tomatoes as small as possible. Tomatoes can also be pulsed in a food processor.

Remove the seeds and membranes from the jalapeño for less heat.

If you put all of the vegetables into the food processor at the same time, the vibrant colors will blend into a very dull and unappetizing shade of brown.

 

if you haven’t tried this one yet …

Gyro Meatball Salad

If you’ve been following along for a while, you know I love meatballs. This recipe for gyro meatballs has become a family favorite. There are enough meatballs to not only fill your pita bread or create this salad, but also to freeze some for a quick meal another day!

Gyro Salad with Meatballs

what can you bring to the next potluck picnic?

Comment below in the “LEAVE A REPLY” box to share:

  1. name a song that brings you joy? one that makes you chair-dance wherever you are?
  2. what is your favorite summer beverage?
  3. any suggestions/tips/tricks/advice for my garden probs??

 

Don’t miss a single Potluck Picnic … add your e-mail address to my list and you’ll
receive your personal invitation to each weekly newsletter right in your inbox.
Just click on the “Join The Picnic” button at the bottom-right of this screen.

Creamy Cucumber Salad

Potluck Picnic with Creamy Cucumber Salad

Welcome to my Potluck Picnic … a weekly newsletter containing an assortment of
recipes, tips, humor and stories to inspire you to appreciate, cook, eat and share good food.
So pull up a chair and join the conversation!

quote of the week

God be with you til we meet again
By his counsels guide, uphold you
With his sheep securely fold you
God be with you til we meet again.

God be with you til we meet again
Neath his wings securely hide you
Daily manna still provide you
God be with you til we meet again.

God be with you til we meet again
When life’s perils thick confound you
Put his arms unfailing round you
God be with you til we meet again.

God be with you til we meet again
Keep love’s banner floating o’er you
Smite death’s threatening wave before you
God be with you til we meet again.

Til we meet, til we meet
Til we meet, at Jesus’ feet.
Til we meet, til we meet
God be with you til we meet again.

Lyrics by: Jeremiah Rankin
Composed by: William Tomer

Of books, music, movies and podcasts

There are a few things that are expected at our family reunion: ridiculous amounts of food, raucous laughter and a hymn sing. The lyrics above are from the last song we sing each year. I have memories of my grandmother leading us in songs with the “voice that God gave me”: not strong, not on pitch, but full of gratitude.

This hymn not only sends out a blessing to everyone in attendance, but to those members of our family who were not able to attend. It reminds us that no matter what happens in the next year, we will meet again someday “at Jesus feet” along with those who have gone before us. I love this song but never really looked into it’s history.

Written in 1882, this song was created as a hymn for a church choir to sing at the close of each worship service as a good-bye song. The inspiration for the first line came when Rankin discovered the dictionary definition for the word “good-bye” was “God be with you” (source: Godtube). How did I never know this? So I went to dictionary.com and typed in “good-bye”. Should it have surprised me that definition is no longer there? Probably not. But it made me sad.

Until I scrolled down a little further on the page:

Origin Of Goodbye: First recorded in 1565-75; Contraction of God Be With Ye

Have you heard anyone say “don’t say good-bye, say I’ll see you later”? Have we changed the meaning of “good-bye”? Now that I know this piece of history, I will be intentional about actually saying “good-bye”. Maybe I’ll even get a chance to share the meaning with someone who really needs to hear it.

what’s up in the garden

Lemon Cucumber

Three years ago, Marty and I spent a week in SW Colorado. Part of the week was spent at a fly-fishing lodge called Black Canyon Anglers. Beyond fly-fishing and gorgeous scenery, this place also has an organic garden and peach orchard. The evening meals are 3-course dinners made primarily from produce grown on the property. While eating one of the salads, we were introduced to the Lemon Cucumber … appropriately named for the shape and color but also for the light citrus flavor.

The Lemon Cucumber has been a part of my garden ever since that trip and they encourage conversation as they are unfamiliar to most people. The one disadvantage to these cucumbers is the large amount of seeds. I would highly recommend either slicing these very thin, or removing the seeds and the skin and dicing the flesh. Combining traditional cucumbers with the lemon cucumbers works well too!

Want to read more about our foodventure in SW Colorado? Click here.

 

this week’s recipe: Creamy Cucumber Salad

Creamy Cucumber Salad

This past weekend, my mom’s family gathered for our annual family reunion. Along with reconnecting with my aunts, uncles and cousins, it is a great opportunity to pick up new recipes! This cucumber salad was among the buffet of salad choices. I was expecting the usual sour cream dressing but this was even better. It was in an older, green pyrex bowl and as everyone started to gather their things to leave, I was watching that bowl to see who would pick it up. No one was claiming it. Finally, someone said they thought my niece had made it but they hadn’t been able to stay. One text message later and here it is …

Print Recipe
Creamy Cucumber Salad
Fresh. Simple. Delicious. This creamy cucumber and onion salad has a light dressing made from Greek yogurt and is flavored with dill. Perfect for those summer grilling meals!
Creamy Cucumber Salad
Prep Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
8 people
Ingredients
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 1 Lemon zested and juiced
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill or 1 tablespoon dried dill weed
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 4-5 cups sliced cucumbers
Prep Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
8 people
Ingredients
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 1 Lemon zested and juiced
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill or 1 tablespoon dried dill weed
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 4-5 cups sliced cucumbers
Creamy Cucumber Salad
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, combine onion, olive oil, vinegar and oregano. Stir and allow to marinate at room temperature while preparing the salad.
  2. Combine yogurt, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, dill, salt and pepper; stir to combine. Add cucumbers and stir to coat evenly. Add the onions and the marinade, stirring to combine.
  3. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes before serving.

NOTE: The picture above has a combination of typical cucumbers and some of the lemon cucumbers from my garden. Also, do not let the less-than-awesome picture of this salad dissuade you from trying the recipe … sure wish I would have taken a picture of the salad in that green bowl! #missedopportunities

 

if you haven’t tried this one yet …

Instead of linking another recipes here, I thought you might enjoy seeing a post I wrote in 2016 about our family reunion:

The Relatives Came

what can you bring to the next potluck picnic?

Comment below in the “LEAVE A REPLY” box to share:

  1. do you have a favorite hymn?
  2. what’s one food you always hope will be at a potluck?

 

Don’t miss a single Potluck Picnic … add your e-mail address to my list and you’ll
receive your personal invitation to each weekly newsletter right in your inbox.
Just click on the “Join The Picnic” button at the bottom-right of this screen.

Potluck Picnic with Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing

Welcome to my Potluck Picnic … a weekly newsletter containing an assortment of
recipes, tips, humor and stories to inspire you to appreciate, cook, eat and share good food.
So pull up a chair and join the conversation!

quote of the week

“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
Romans 12:13

 

Of books, music, movies and podcasts

The Turquoise Table
by Kristin Schell

Ever felt like you are lacking connection?

How many of your neighbors do you know?

A fellow food-blogger-friend of mine recommended the book “The Turquoise Table” by Kristin Schell. I am half-way through the book and am loving the concept of Kristin’s picnic table painted turquoise and placed in her front yard for the purpose of giving people in her neighborhood a place to gather, talk and build friendships. There are turquoise tables popping up all over the country including an online community for the sharing of ideas and support as well as a way for people to find local tables.

Marty and I have yet to meet many of our neighbors but this book has the wheels turning. If you see my using the hashtag #frontyardpeople, this book is the source!

Highly recommend adding it to your cart.

 

what’s up in the garden

Red Malabar Spinach Leaves, Vines and Flowers

One of the great disappointments for me in gardening is when the sun gets too hot and the air too humid for spinach to thrive. If we, here in the midwest, are lucky, a cool fall will allow for a second planting. That gap though …

Let me introduce you to Red Malabar spinach. This gorgeous vining plant loves the heat and humidity, has beautiful, edible flowers and can even be grown in pots or planters! Apparently it is not at all related to spinach but the rich, deep green color of the leaves and the familiar taste led to the name. Do not fear … it still has the high nutritional values and can be used fresh or sautéed or cooked just like it’s namesake.

It’s also quite pretty in flower arrangements!

Red Malabar spinach in floral arrangements

 

table time

When the forks are down, the dishes can wait.

I am trying to change my instinct to hop up from the table, clear the dishes and wipe down the table and cupboards. Why? Italy.

Mealtime in Italy is a relaxed event. Food is enjoyed, conversation is plentiful, laughter is inevitable. If you’re anything like me, eating has become a sporting event: how fast can I woof it down with bonus points for multitasking (scrolling social media, driving a car, watching garbage on television, working, etc.). It’s not healthy behavior and we model it to our kids, no matter their age.

Have you ever noticed, the minute someone starts removing the plates and utensils from a table, the conversation stops? It is a kind and thoughtful gesture to clear the table but we end up “clearing” the table of that time to engage. Whether eating alone or with company, take five minutes to think and/or talk about what you ate, where it came from, what you liked most/least and, most importantly, to thank God and the “chef” for providing it?

Let’s try to add a few minutes, some eye contact and more laughter to each meal … the dishes can wait.

 

on the foodie trail

While I failed to pack the perfect picnic lunch for our fishing trip last Saturday, I came through with a small town pub making some seriously delicious pizza! Pickles Pub in Kamrar, Iowa, was recommended to me months ago by the owner of Gravy Home Goods in Jewell. Small towns are the best!

Our fishing was less than productive but we all loved the pizza … especially the Pickles Pepper Pizza!

 

this week’s recipe

One day earlier this week, I picked some of the spinach described above, fresh cucumbers and an onion for a salad. The refrigerator provided a leftover chicken tender and some blackberries. None of the many bottles of dressing hanging out on the refrigerator door appealed to me. I wanted poppy seed dressing …

Print Recipe
Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing
This poppy seed dressing is light and creamy with a pop of freshness from lemon zest and juice. It is the perfect dressing for a spinach and berry salad, chicken salad, coleslaw or even fruit.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Servings
1 cup
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons diced onion
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil divided
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 tablespoons plain greek yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise/salad dressing
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • water
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
Prep Time 15 minutes
Servings
1 cup
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons diced onion
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil divided
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 tablespoons plain greek yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise/salad dressing
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • water
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
Instructions
  1. Saute onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil and the butter until tender. Remove from heat.
  2. Combine one tablespoon olive oil, greek yogurt, mayonnaise/salad dressing, vinegar, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice, salt and pepper in a food processor. Add onions (with the oil and butter) to the dressing and puree until smooth.
  3. Stir in water, one tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached.
  4. Pour dressing into a jar and add poppy seeds, stirring until evenly distributed.

if you haven’t tried this one yet …

Lemon-Yogurt Salmon with Vegetable Couscous

This Lemon-Yogurt Salmon is one of our favorite summer meals. The salmon cooks quickly on the grill, in a pan or in the oven, and the yogurt sauce provides moisture and flavor. If you are lucky enough to have leftovers … plan ahead, people … make a salad with spinach or arugula, cucumber, feta, red onion and toasted pine nuts or almonds!

what can you bring to the next potluck picnic?

Comment below in the “LEAVE A REPLY” box to share:

  1. what is your favorite salad dressing, and
  2. what is the title of the book you are reading now.

 

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receive your personal invitation to each weekly newsletter right in your inbox.
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Leftover Pork Pozole Bowl

Leftover Pork Pozole Rice Bowl

Is there anything better than preparing a hearty meal of comfort food? Maybe a meal of comfort food that provides versatile leftovers for quick meals later in the week? This Leftover Pork Pozole Rice Bowl recipe is the result of leftover pork roast and a craving for Mexican food! Here’s how it came into existence.

inspired by a craving

Pork roast with potatoes and carrots and, dare I say, gravy is high on my list of comfort meals. I always … always buy a bigger roast than needed for one meal because the extra meat will quickly turn into barbecue pulled-pork sandwiches or, my childhood favorite, “salt and pepper sandwiches” (sliced pork roast on buttered bread or buns, sprinkled with salt and pepper). Following one such pork roast meal, I just couldn’t grab that bottle of barbecue sauce. My stomach was begging for Mexican. A more complicated recipe from a magazine came to mind and, after reviewing it and making some substitutions, this recipe was born and has made regular appearances at our table ever since.

Pork Pozole Rice Bowl

Pozole? Hominy?

When you hear pozole, think soup or stew. While this dish lacks the broth or liquid of traditional pozole, the hominy is the one ingredient required to make pozole. In fact, pozole means hominy.

I like the word pozole … can you tell? It’s fun to say. Try it: pah-zoh-lay

Hominy is made from dried maize/corn kernels that have been soaked and cooked in a lye or lime solution to loosen the hull from the kernels. This process also causes the kernels to double in size. Hominy tastes like corn but with the texture of a potato. Want to learn more? Check out this article from The Spruce Eats.

NOTE: You can find hominy in the grocery store either with the canned vegetables or with the salsas and tortillas. Make sure to rinse the hominy under cold water before adding to your recipes unless otherwise stated. It can also be purchased dried like lentils and beans. I haven’t tried this yet but my Instant Pot is up for the challenge.

leftover pork – pozole – rice – bowl

Simple, plain white rice is the perfect base for this dish. A squeeze of lime juice and sprinkle of cilantro over the rice is all the extra flavor it needs.

You might want to add some pickled vegetables like the carrots, onions and radishes in the picture or these Pickled Mexican Vegetables.

Pickled Mexican Vegetables

Bowl? As mentioned earlier, this is not a soup or a stew so use a bowl, use a plate, or eat it straight out of the pan … it’s up to you!! Add a scrambled egg to it and eat it for breakfast.

Speaking of … I hope we have eggs in the fridge. I think that’s going to be breakfast tomorrow!

Print Recipe
Leftover Pork Pozole Bowl
Give leftover pork roast a complete makeover with this pozole-style rice bowl recipe. Salsa verde and hominy convert the pork's flavor and texture into a quick and satisfying Mexican meal!
Leftover Pork Pozole Bowl
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 8 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
6-8 servings
Ingredients
  • 3-4 cups leftover, shredded pork roast
  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano crushed
  • 16 ounces tomatillo salsa or salsa verde
  • 15 ounce can hominy rinsed and drained
  • fresh cilantro or chopped green onions
  • Fresh Lime Wedges
  • Fresh Jalapeno Slices optional
  • pickled or fresh radishes optional
  • sour cream optional
  • 3-4 cups prepared white rice
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 8 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
6-8 servings
Ingredients
  • 3-4 cups leftover, shredded pork roast
  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano crushed
  • 16 ounces tomatillo salsa or salsa verde
  • 15 ounce can hominy rinsed and drained
  • fresh cilantro or chopped green onions
  • Fresh Lime Wedges
  • Fresh Jalapeno Slices optional
  • pickled or fresh radishes optional
  • sour cream optional
  • 3-4 cups prepared white rice
Leftover Pork Pozole Bowl
Instructions
  1. Remove leftover shredded pork from refrigerator and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic, cumin and Mexican oregano, stirring to heat through and flavor the oil.
  3. Add the pork and hominy, gently stirring until hot.
  4. Serve over rice and squeeze fresh lime juice over the top. Garnish with additional lime wedges, cilantro or green onions, jalapeño slices and sour cream, according to personal preferences.

Leftover Pork Pozole Rice Bowl Pin

Spicy and Sweet Potato Salad

Potluck Picnic with Spicy and Sweet Potato Salad


Welcome to my Potluck Picnic … a weekly newsletter containing an assortment of
recipes, tips, humor and stories to inspire you to appreciate, cook, eat and share good food.
So pull up a chair and join the conversation!

quote of the week

A man can do worse than be poor. He can miss altogether the sight of the greatness of small things.
~ Robert Farrar Capon

 

table time

How does it make you feel to see this picture? Do you feel: curious? welcome? special? hungry?

Hopefully you feel all those things. Setting a table or buffet or spreading out that picnic blanket is the visual expression of love and inclusion. Family, friends and guests see that someone is prepared to feed them and spend time with them and that is a special feeling. It is a feeling that we need every single day. It doesn’t have to be china and roses and Beef Wellington. Paper plates and fun napkins for hot dogs may be the best way to welcome someone home. The fact that it was not an afterthought is perceived and appreciated immediately, even by your youngest guests. Think about what makes your table-mates happy. If it’s hot dogs, just double check that all the favorite condiments are ready and waiting too. We wouldn’t want that virtually-empty bottle of ketchup to ruin a good meal!

TRY THIS: Go the extra mile (or just an inch) when setting the table for one meal this week. If you typically set the table with all the basics, add a small arrangement of flowers. If your table is normally set for dinner, try setting it for breakfast. Add some seasonal paper napkins instead of the everyday white ones or the roll of paper towels. Even if you are setting the table and you are setting it for yourself, add something that makes you feel good. See what happens. If someone sarcastically says (and I’m thinking of you people feeding teenagers here) “What’s the occasion?”, that’s a good thing. They noticed!

And let me know … after all, this is a potluck. Your feedback is your contribution to this picnic!

on the foodie trail

Stomping Grounds Cafe Ames Iowa

When a restaurant is consistently busy despite the fact that the name of the restaurant is absent from the exterior of the building, you know it’s good! This is Stomping Grounds in Ames, Iowa. Just south of campus on Welch Avenue, this place serves up everything from pour-over coffee to wine, crepes to quiche, bison to tuna. Their weekly specials are unique, fresh and seasonal.

Adding to the amazing food and drinks, this place is embracing the university setting by decorating the inside with student artwork. It changes periodically, providing a new “look” each time. One of the few large restaurant patios in Ames now has a gorgeous pergola designed and installed by the ISU graduate students in Architecture.

Personal Recommendation: Avocado Toast or any version of the crepes!

what’s up in the garden

Watermelon in the Garden

Moving to an acreage in September of 2018 gave us the opportunity to create a much larger garden space than we had while we were living in town. This larger space has given me the chance to plant vines! We never had space for pumpkins, squash or melons. Not knowing how much space the vining plants would need, we now have a thriving jungle of spaghetti squash, butternut squash, delicata squash, pumpkins, two kinds of watermelon and two kinds of cantaloupe.

Once I found that first watermelon on the vines, I can hardly skip a day of checking on it to see how much it grew overnight! These “picnic-sized” (how appropriate, right?) watermelon will get about 8″ long. Full disclosure: this is a close-up … this melon is only about three inches long at this time.

Grow, baby, grow!

 

this week’s recipe

A few months back, I bought a small container of a prepared salad from a grocery store. This is not something I normally do but this one caught my eye and I knew Marty wouldn’t like it so a small portion was a good idea. Sweet potatoes with a variety of sweet and spicy peppers in a vinaigrette dressing … it was so good and the ingredient list was so simple, I had to try to make my own and here it is!

Spicy and Sweet Potato Salad

Print Recipe
Spicy and Sweet Potato Salad
Sweet potatoes and a mix of sweet and spicy peppers are tossed in a vinaigrette of Mexican flavors to create the ideal side dish or taco topper!
Spicy and Sweet Potato Salad
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
1 quart
Ingredients
  • 4 cups peeled and diced sweet potatoes 1/2" cubes
  • 1/2 cup diced poblano or jalapeño pepper
  • 2 tablespoons avocado or extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup finely diced green pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely diced jalapeno seeds removed for less heat
Vinaigrette
  • 1/4 cup avocado or extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar or honey
  • 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 chipotle in adobo puree
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1 garlic clove
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
1 quart
Ingredients
  • 4 cups peeled and diced sweet potatoes 1/2" cubes
  • 1/2 cup diced poblano or jalapeño pepper
  • 2 tablespoons avocado or extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup finely diced green pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely diced jalapeno seeds removed for less heat
Vinaigrette
  • 1/4 cup avocado or extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar or honey
  • 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 chipotle in adobo puree
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1 garlic clove
Spicy and Sweet Potato Salad
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400˚.
  2. Spread sweet potatoes and poblano/jalapeño pepper in a single layer on a large cookie sheet (stoneware pans work well). Drizzle with avocado or extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 10 minutes. Stir and continue roasting for an additional 5 minutes or until the edges of the potatoes begin to brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Place onion and diced peppers in a large bowl and add sweet potatoes.
  4. Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth and emulsified. Pour over vegetables and gently stir to coat.
  5. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Recipe Notes

This salad will retain its texture and flavor for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.

Serving Suggestions:

  • serve with grilled chicken or steak that has been seasoned with chili powder, lime juice, salt and pepper
  • offer as a topping for tacos or fajitas
  • combine with scrambled eggs in a breakfast burrito
  • add seasoned and browned ground beef or chicken for a one-dish meal
  • add black beans and corn for another version of this salad

if you haven’t tried this one yet …

Zucchini Breads
When it is zucchini season, one can never have too many zucchini bread recipes! Here are two that may be new to your collection: chocolate with cinnamon and a savory option with Parmesan.

 Zucchini Bread Recipes 

what can you bring to the next potluck picnic?

Comment below in the “LEAVE A REPLY” box to share:

  1. how you chose to up your table-setting game this week, and
  2. how you eat your sweet corn: side-to-side or around-the-cob. (I was going to say “typewriter-style” instead of “side-to-side” but was afraid at least half of you wouldn’t even know what that was! 🤦‍♀️)

Don’t miss a single Potluck Picnic … add your e-mail address to my list and you’ll
receive your personal invitation to each weekly newsletter right in your inbox.
Just click on the “Join The Picnic” button at the bottom-right of this screen.

Shakshuka Eggs and Tomatoes

Shakshuka: Veggies for Breakfast

Until about a year ago, my idea of veggies for breakfast would have been salsa in my breakfast burrito, fried potatoes with onions, or the tomato juice and celery in a Bloody Mary. Now … though I still love all those options … I am finding some pretty amazing ways to incorporate those good vitamins into my breakfast: smoothies with spinach or kale, avocado toast and this Shakshuka recipe.

Pan of Shakshuka

what is shakshuka?

Shakshuka recipes originate from Israel, the Middle East and North Africa. Served any time of day, this hearty meal of eggs poached in a stewed tomato, onion, garlic and pepper base is as impressive as it is delicious. Cumin is an integral part of the flavor and a sprinkle of goat (or feta) cheese and olives top off the dish perfectly.

why shakshuka?

After recently seeing Shakshuka recipes featured in food magazines, Instagram posts and on my favorite Food Network show, Chopped, curiosity had me cornered. Then, I went on a tour of an egg farm here in Iowa with the Iowa Food and Family Project. Also on the tour was my friend, Shannon Latham, who asked if I’d like to write a newsletter article for her family’s business, Latham Hi-Tech Seeds. She wanted to include an egg recipe that was unique. I don’t believe in coincidences. It was time to investigate Shakshuka.

Me? runny eggs?

As you may or may not (yet) know, I am not a fan of runny eggs. In fact, I’m not a fan of any egg dish where the white and the yolk are separate. I hate this. I want to enjoy every single food as much as everyone else, so I’m working on it. It is important to me to keep trying different versions, different recipes, that will maybe help me overcome my aversions (i.e. hatred).

Progress is being made. This recipe is a good step in the right direction. Once I get past the actual breaking of the egg and chop that baby up and mix it into those spiced tomatoes, I can actually enjoy it!

Whether you love runny eggs or, like me, run from them (no pun intended), this recipe is worth a try. Did I mention you should eat it with warm naan or a crusty loaf of bread?

I got you now, don’t I?

Print Recipe
Shakshuka
Start your day with this healthy, veggie-packed egg recipe. Tomatoes, onions and peppers stewed with warm spices create a base for poached eggs. Serve it with toast or warm naan bread for a hearty meal any time of day!
Shakshuka Eggs and Tomatoes
Prep Time 5-10 minutes
Cook Time 30-40 minutes
Servings
6 people
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup onion diced
  • 1 cup green or red bell pepper diced
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 28-ounce can stewed or diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup sliced olives optional
  • 6 large eggs
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Feta or goat cheese optional
  • Fresh cilantro or parsley or both
  • Fresh lemon wedges optional
  • Warm pita naan or other favorite bread
Prep Time 5-10 minutes
Cook Time 30-40 minutes
Servings
6 people
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup onion diced
  • 1 cup green or red bell pepper diced
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 28-ounce can stewed or diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup sliced olives optional
  • 6 large eggs
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Feta or goat cheese optional
  • Fresh cilantro or parsley or both
  • Fresh lemon wedges optional
  • Warm pita naan or other favorite bread
Shakshuka Eggs and Tomatoes
Instructions
  1. In a large skillet, sauté onions and peppers in olive oil over medium heat until soft (6-8 minutes). Add garlic and spices and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add tomatoes and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until sauce reached a thick consistency. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as needed.
  2. While the sauce is cooking, crack each egg into its own small bowl. When sauce is thick and hot, use a large spoon or ladle to make indents, or “wells”, in the sauce and pour one egg in each well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover the pan and continue cooking for 5-8 minutes or until the eggs are cooked as desired (less time for soft egg yolks and more for firm yolks).
    Eggs simmering in Shakshuka Base
  3. Remove from heat and serve with fresh herbs, cheese, lemon wedges and warm bread.
    Shakshuka Serving Suggestion
Recipe Notes

If using canned whole tomatoes, either puree before adding to vegetables or break into bite-sized pieces as they simmer.

 

Shakshuka Recipe Pin

Traditional May Day Baskets

May Day Baskets

Popcorn, pretzels, cheese puffs, suckers, hard candy, bubble gum, licorice … snacks and treats layered into disposable cups outfitted with a pipe cleaner handle and, possibly, some stickers or a ribbon on the outside creates a May basket. Simple and generous, this gift, delivered to the door of friends and neighbors, celebrates the arrival of Spring and rejuvenation. It is as much about the gesture as it is the contents.

Traditional May Day Baskets

My First May Basket

The first May Day basket I remember receiving was not a typical basket. This was not a cup or small container of treats. This particular “basket” was made from a shoe box and it was delivered for me by our sweet neighbor, Muriel. Muriel and her husband, Wilbur, lived on a farm just a quarter-mile from ours and they were the sweetest couple. Having lost their only daughter as a teenager, they loved seeing kids riding bikes past their home. They encouraged me to stop and pet their horses and watch their fancy chickens in the yard. Muriel had a heart full of kindness and took advantage of simple holidays like May Day to spoil us. The shoe box basket was decorated with crepe paper and filled with treats. I don’t really remember exactly how it looked or what the treats inside were but I do remember that it was big, made specifically for me, and it made me feel special.

My brothers remember one year when she gave them each a blue toy truck with treats filling the truck bed. This was no small toy either. It was at least a foot long. My mom recently found those trucks, had them cleaned and repaired and gave them back to my brothers, along with that memory.

May Basket Supplies

May Baskets down memory lane

I called my mom today to ask her what she remembered about May Day. What started off as a discussion about candy and popcorn, soon evolved into story after story. She first reminded me how we would use whatever we had to create our “baskets”: shoe boxes, 2-quart milk boxes, any carton or container that could be cut down, decorated and filled. What I didn’t remember was that we would make baskets for entire families and that it wasn’t as much about one day as it was the whole month! You just never knew when friends and neighbors would make a delivery. It was always simple, never expensive and given in person.

Soon, Mom’s stories turned to those from her childhood. A neighbor who would add a big box of candy, an uncommon treat, to the top of her baskets. Mom laughed as she told me about the people who would try to deliver the basket without being seen. In particular, one man who would yell out after leaving the basket and go hide in a barrel while the kids tried to find him. He would throw his voice out of the barrel in different directions to confuse their search.

May Basket 1

the tradition continues

Fast-forward to 1996. Marty and I bought our first home. Our boys were young (a 5-year-old and a 8-month-old). We could not have asked for a better neighborhood for them: lots of young kids, little traffic, kind people and a hearty love for even the smallest of holidays. We learned quickly that delivering May baskets was a sport. The old tradition of delivering a basket without being “caught” was alive and well in this community. The doorbell would ring … and often some loud knocking too … and everyone would run to the door or the nearest window to try and catch a glimpse of the giver. Whether or not you saw them or chased them or missed them completely, a cup of treats was your reward.

One of our neighbors, Lori, loved this tradition so much, she would make baskets for the kids long after her girls had transitioned to baby-sitting, rather than playing with, the younger kids. Lori started adding sidewalk chalk, bubbles and even kites to the baskets. She had more fun watching the kids run and play and would wave to everyone as they opened their doors to catch the door-ringers.

It never occurred to me until I wrote this down that Lori and Muriel would have been great friends.

more may basket ideas

There are two recipes that I would highly recommend for filling baskets:

Seasoned Pretzels for May Baskets

Stick-A-Rounds

These seasoned pretzels take the traditional popcorn and pretzel element of any May basket to the next level. You might as well include the recipe, because you will be asked for it every time! They are simple to make (no oven needed) and can be made ahead and frozen to maintain freshness and, therefore, are ready to grab whenever needed.

May Day Basket with Almonds

Lori’s Sugar & Spice Pecans

A small bag of these delicious pecans … or in the case of the picture above, almonds, will leave a big, happy impression. Imagine one of these on each place-setting at a May brunch or wedding shower!

The beauty of these recipes is that they can be made ahead and frozen.

When leaving May baskets, it is always a good idea to have the treats contained in some way. It is sad when a basket is ruined by a brief rain shower or a wandering pet; however, even then the spirit of the gift remains.

May Day Basket on Door

it’s time to meet the neighbors

We moved from that home to an acreage this past year and have only met a few of the many neighbors around us. I’m grateful my mom told me about giving May baskets all through the month because it is the perfect way to meet them!

Do you know your neighbors? Maybe a May basket is in order? A loaf of sweet bread or a bag of cookies would do the trick. If you don’t want to give food, consider a small bouquet of flowers or a garden plant.

Remember, keep it simple and fill it with kindness. Happy May Day, every day!

The Tradition of May Day Baskets

 

 

 

 

Layered Lettuce Salad with Deviled Egg

Overnight Layered Lettuce Salad

Do you know how to determine if a recipe is worth trying? Some version of it appears in almost every church cookbook you can find. This is one of those recipes. Why? It is easy to make and uses simple ingredients, it can be made in advance and it hits all the flavor profiles (sweet and savory, crunchy and smooth, rich and healthy). As mason jar salads dominate my Pinterest feed, I just had to share this Layered Lettuce Salad with some ideas for variations to keep it interesting!

Layered Lettuce Salad Jars

the basic layered lettuce salad

It just doesn’t get any easier than pulling a salad out of the refrigerator that you assembled the previous night. Even the ingredients are common and easy to find year-round: iceberg lettuce, carrots, frozen peas, green onions, bacon, shredded cheddar cheese and, if you like, nuts. On many occasions, I will choose romaine over iceberg but for this particular salad, I prefer iceberg.

The single-most important key to success with this salad is making sure the lettuce is dry before assembling. It needs to be washed well and the cold water keeps it crisp; however, if it is not dried well, the water will continue to drain and collect in the bottom of the pan. This will add too much moisture to the salad while it rests overnight and make it very messy to serve. Salad spinners help remove a lot of the excess water but I still drain the lettuce on paper towels while chopping the other ingredients.

serving suggestions

The 9″x13″ glass pan is the standard vessel for this recipe. It is perfect for potlucks, buffets and larger group meals. When I prepare for a smaller family dinner, I like to reduce the number of dishes that have to be passed. I also like to find ways to “decorate” the table with the food itself. That is how I came up with this idea.

Layered Lettuce Salad with Deviled Egg

These are half-pint, wide-mouth canning jars. Instead of putting all the ingredients in one pan, they are divided evenly among 12 jars but assembled in the same way. The lids and rings are used to cover the salad while it is in the refrigerator. For this dinner, I added a few sprouts and nestled a deviled egg on top. It’s inviting and convenient and it never hurts to have a few extras in the refrigerator in case someone wants seconds!

Even if a sit-down dinner doesn’t fit into your schedule, these jars are the perfect solution for lunch boxes, ball games, picnics and dinner served in shifts.

variations on the original

Be creative with this recipe. My mind is full of variations to try …

  • add crumbled or sliced hard boiled eggs
  • slices of fresh radish and/or celery
  • substitute ranch dressing and a little Tabasco for the salad dressing/mayonnaise and add crumbled blue cheese for a hot wing side dish
  • greek yogurt and feta cheese with some cucumber, tomato and red onion

My only advice on substitutions is to think about the consistency of the ingredients. Veggies like cucumber and tomato have a lot of moisture which may result in the “soggy” texture described earlier in this post. I would add these right before serving just to avoid this problem.

Ready to give it a try?

Print Recipe
Overnight Layered Lettuce Salad
This fresh salad is a delicious blend of crisp lettuce, peas, onions, bacon, cheese and a little dressing. It can be made a day in advance and served in one pan or in individual jars or bowls.
Overnight Layered Lettuce Salad
Prep Time 20 minutes
Passive Time 12 hours
Servings
10-12 people
Ingredients
  • 1 head iceberg lettuce
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded carrots divided
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen peas divided
  • 1 1/2 cups diced green onion divided
  • 1-1 1/2 cups salad dressing or mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup crumbled cooked bacon
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts or sunflower seeds optional
Prep Time 20 minutes
Passive Time 12 hours
Servings
10-12 people
Ingredients
  • 1 head iceberg lettuce
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded carrots divided
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen peas divided
  • 1 1/2 cups diced green onion divided
  • 1-1 1/2 cups salad dressing or mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup crumbled cooked bacon
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts or sunflower seeds optional
Overnight Layered Lettuce Salad
Instructions
  1. Remove core from the head of iceberg lettuce and discard. Chop the lettuce into small pieces (about 1"). Wash well in cold water and drain very well on paper towels. Excess moisture on the lettuce will result in a very sloppy salad.
  2. When lettuce is well-drained, place it all in a 9"x13" glass pan or distribute evenly in individual serving cups.
  3. Sprinkle 1 cup of the shredded carrots evenly over the lettuce.
  4. Sprinkle 1 cup of the onions and 1 cup of the peas evenly over the carrots and lettuce. Note that the peas do not need to be defrosted.
  5. Starting with 1 cup, drop tablespoons of the salad dressing or mayonnaise on top of the salad. Use a knife or spatula to gently spread it out, making an even layer over the salad. Use additional salad dressing or mayonnaise if needed.
  6. Sprinkle the sugar and black pepper over the top.
  7. Evenly distribute the remaining carrots, peas and onions, as well as the cheese and bacon, on top of the sugar/pepper layer.
  8. Cover with plastic wrap (or canning lids if using jars) and refrigerate at least two hours or overnight.
  9. Before serving, sprinkle the toasted pine nuts or sunflower seeds over the top.

Mason Jar Layered Lettuce Salad