Summer Tomato Salad

Did you miss posts from me last week?! It was my one week each year off of work, and I started it off by forgetting my Chromebook at my grandparents house 30 miles away from home. I use the Chromebook for my blogging and photo editing, so I took this as my sign that I needed to take a vacation from all work, not just my 9-5 (okay, or 7:30-4:30) work. No blog posts went up last week, but since it was my first blogging break of 2019, I forgive myself!

What did I do instead? Well I finally tackled the basement dungeon that I’ve been avoiding – it is now all cleaned up and organized, and even the laundry is caught up! I cleaned all of my windows inside and out and I steam cleaned the grout on my tile floors. I also got some sun on my porcelain skin, celebrated a friend’s birthday, took a one day trip with Michael, and did some fun cooking…from which Michael was most definitely the largest beneficiary. He loves to eat, and I love to cook, so you could say we’re a match made in culinary heaven! I’m pretty sure he would not argue on that last point.

For the grand finale, Mia (his daughter) and I planned a Father’s Day picnic at a park downtown, where I could also get some family pictures of him and his kids that he’s been wanting (a little collage of some of them is below). I put together a spread of antipasto kabobs, BLT and PBJ skewers (basically just BLT’s and PBJ’s cut into quarters and pierced with a toothpick), strawberry and dark chocolate turnovers (I might be sharing this recipe soon as well), some cheez-it’s for Gabriel, and the subject of today’s post – a tomato salad!

I got the idea from an episode of Barefoot Contessa that I watched a couple of months ago where she had a picnic with her husband and served various types of salads, including a tomato salad. Michael loves tomatoes, so I decided to come up with a tomato salad just for him. It turned out so good, I had to share this one on the blog with all of you! So here goes…

Summer Tomato Salad



  • 1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes (I used an heirloom variety container from Aldi)
  • 1 TBS fresh chopped basil
  • 1 tsp fresh chopped oregano
  • 1-2 sliced of cooked bacon, crumbled (leave out for plant-based)
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onions, pickled in apple cider vinegar
  • 1-2 TBS olive oil
  • 1-2 TBS white balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. First things first – the onions! To do these, I thinly sliced about 1/4 of a cup of red onions, then cut the rings into halves. I put them in a glass jar with a lid, poured in apple cider vinegar until the onions were just covered, put on the lid, then popped them into the fridge while I made the rest of the picnic foods. I would allow them to pickle for at least half an hour before using.
  2. On to the rest of the recipe! Start by frying the bacon, then setting aside. While this is cooling, slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise and add to a bowl. Remove the onions from the vinegar and spread these into the bowl with the tomatoes. Add the basil, oregano, salt and pepper, then toss ingredients of the bowl together.
  3. Crumble the bacon and sprinkle on top, then drizzle on the olive oil and the white balsamic. We picked up a bottle of white balsamic from a little shop in downtown Columbia, Missouri called Boone Olive Oil Co., and it has an incredible flavor!
  4. My friends, that is it! Your tomato salad is ready to serve. How simple is that?! Incredible flavor with minimal effort. You could easily add a little crumbled goat cheese to this dish as well, and if I hadn’t had lots of cheese in the antipasto kabobs already, I probably would’ve.
  5. This recipe makes about 4 servings (or 2 if your name is Michael!), but can easily be doubled if you need it for a larger gathering.

Coming up later this week I will have a garden update. The weekend before my vacation week, we (and by we I mean mostly Michael, with Logan as an assistant, and a bit of help from myself and my mom) built the enclosure for my tomato bed to keep out the squirrels and it turned out so good! I can’t wait to share it with you, so stay tuned for that post hopefully on Thursday!

Bell Pepper Quinoa Salad

What a divinely beautiful weekend it turned out to be! Forecasters predicted Armageddon for Saturday, but it turned out to be a quick lunchtime thunderstorm, followed by sunshine and upper 60’s for the afternoon. I spent my late morning and lunch hour holed up in a local coffee shop, working on book writing and discussing film and books with a couple of the regulars. Then I took to the patio at a downtown microbrewery with friends for the afternoon.

The first hints of spring always arouse feelings of newness and anticipation, brought to the surface from the place deep inside where they hibernate during the gloom of winter. Dreams of budding trees, blooming flowers, and the summer garden give way to plans and action.

Yesterday I cleared the last of the limbs from the tree cut down last August, cleaned up the leaves lingering in my back yard, and set my new raised bed and filled it with soil. My bench cushions and pillows returned to their home and the hammock was given a good wash. Many are the days that will be spent in that hammock, and on that bench, reading and writing and drawing my time away. I wish I could bottle this feeling and store it up on a shelf, so I could take a sip any time I’m feeling blue.

Something about the warming air always sets me to craving fresh veggies. This weekend I came up with something new! I had bell peppers that were intended for stuffed peppers that I failed to get around to making. So instead, I turned them into a delicious side dish that will pair beautifully with any style of chicken or fish. You could even throw in a little ground turkey and swap out the quinoa for brown rice to make it into a simple one-dish meal. Sort of a stuffed pepper skillet–a much healthy version of hamburger helper!



  • 1 cup quinoa
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • 3 medium-to-large bell peppers, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 purple onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 of an 8oz can of tomato sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cook quinoa according to package instructions, then set aside
  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add peppers and onion and sauté, stirring often. When onion begins to turn translucent, add garlic, salt and pepper and continue to sauté until peppers begin to soften.
  3. Add tomato sauce and quinoa, and stir to combine. Add more salt and pepper at this point if needed.
  4. Transfer to a bowl and enjoy!

Honestly–it doesn’t get any easier than that! Eating your veggies can be much more simple and fast than people realize. I did my quinoa in a microwavable steamer bowl, so it cooked in about five minutes while I had my peppers and onions sautéing. The whole thing, including chopping the vegetables, was ready to eat in about 15 minutes start to finish!

If you try it, please leave a comment to let me know what you think. Happy eating!

Oven Roasted Vegetables

It’s Thanksgiving week, and you can’t think of Thanksgiving without thinking about food! Perfectly browned turkey, creamy mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, buttery rolls…and my grandmothers tangy vinegar cole slaw! I’m ready to spend a whole day cozy and warm in the kitchen with my family, sipping a glass of wine (or two!) and stuffing my belly full.

The perfect compliment to the beginning of the holiday season, is anything roasted until lightly-crisp in the oven. Mmmmm, good! This weekend I got a hankering for some brussels sprouts. I had a steamable bag of brussles in the fridge, about a quarter of a bag of baby carrots, and an unopened bunch of asparagus. Perfect for roasting!

For the first batch of roasted veggies, I paired the brussles sprouts and carrots together. I popped the Brussels sprouts in the microwave, in their steamable bag, for three minutes–just long enough to lightly steam them and soften them a bit. I then dumped them onto a cutting board and cut each brussels sprout in half lengthwise.

I set the oven to 400 degrees, then sprayed a cookie sheet with olive oil spray. I spread the brussels sprout halves evenly on the sheet, then distributed the rest of the bag of baby carrots among them. I sprayed the veggies with some more olive oil spray, then sprinkled with salt and pepper.

To roast: pop cookie sheet in the oven for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees, sprinkle some minced garlic on top of the veggies, and roast for an additional 10 minutes.


The roasted brussles and carrots turned out perfectly! They were just starting to brown on the edges, but were still a little soft in the middle from being lightly steamed before going into the oven. Some diced potatoes would have also gone wonderfully with this combination, or even some sweet potatoes or parsnips!

To roast the asparagus, I used the exact same method, except I didn’t steam the spears at all prior to roasting. Asparagus has a pretty good water content on its own, so it roasts well without needing to be steamed or softened beforehand.

I trimmed the hard ends from the asparagus, sprayed the same cookie sheet with olive oil spray, then spread the spears out on the sheet evenly. I sprayed them with some more olive oil spray, then sprinkled with salt and pepper.

Just like the brussels, I roasted the asparagus at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, turned the oven down to 350, sprinkled some minced garlic on top of the asparagus, then roasted for an additional 10 minutes.


Really…is there anything more beautiful than boldly colored, freshly cooked vegetables?! Just looking at them makes my mouth water! If you weren’t ready for Thanksgiving before…I bet you are now!

Gobble gobble, my friends…enjoy your friends, family, and lots of sweet and savory treats!


Mediterranean Monday: Greek Pasta with Farmer’s Market Veggies

Hello Friends,

It’s Mediterranean Monday, one week off schedule! Last week I was out of town, and that means no cooking and no blogging until I returned home. After I got back, I stopped by a local produce stand and stocked up on fresh veggies. I was itching for a dish that allowed me to use several of those veggies, and my fresh herbs, together. I love experimenting with mixing ingredients and combining flavors!

I took my boys on a short three mile hike yesterday to Little Grand Canyon in Pomona, Illinois. The descent into the canyon, and the ascent back up, both took place in a steep and rocky creek bed. The hike was short, but it was a lot of work and we all worked up a serious appetite. We packed a picnic lunch to eat when we got off the trail, but by the time we made it back home we were all hungry again and had to have a snack. Then I took them back to their dad’s, a four hour drive, and I was absolutely ravenous by the time I made it home. So I decided I needed something with some carbs to stave off my relentless hiking-induced appetite.

I had some tofu left that needed used up, so this recipe is vegetarian friendly…but it could easily be made using chicken or shrimp, or any other protein you prefer. It can also be made vegan simply by skipping the parmesan cheese at the end.

Greek Pasta with Farmer’s Market Veggies

447 calories per serving, 1-dish meal
Serves 2


  1. 1 whole, fresh zucchini
  2. 4-5 asparagus spears
  3. 1/2 of a white onion
  4. 1/2 of a green pepper
  5. 6 oz. extra firm tofu (or protein of your choice)
  6. 10 kalamata olives
  7. 2 oz. whole wheat spaghetti
  8. 1 Tbsp olive oil
  9. Fresh-cut basil, oregano, thyme and rosemary, as much or little as you prefer
  10. 2 tsp ground cumin
  11. 2 tsp chili powder
  12. 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  13. salt and pepper to taste
  14. crushed red pepper flakes if you like a little spice, as much as you like
  15. 1 oz. fresh grated parmesan cheese


  1. Set spaghetti to boil in a pot over high heat, turning down to medium once water starts to boil
  2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet
  3. Add onion and green pepper to skillet and let brown
  4. Meanwhile, dice the zucchini and asparagus, then add to the skillet
  5. Chop the herbs up fine, add to skillet, and stir to combine
  6. Pour in 1-2 Tbsp of water to help soften vegetables, then cover
  7. While this is simmering, dice tomato and tofu, and slice the olives in half
  8. once zucchini and asparagus begin to feel soft, add the tomatoes, olives and tofu and stir
  9. Add salt, pepper, garlic, cumin, chili powder and red pepper flakes
  10. Turn heat down low and simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until tomatoes soften and start to break down
  11. While this is simmering, drain spaghetti
  12. Turn off heat, add spaghetti to skillet, and combine well
  13. Divide into two plates (or one plate and one storage container, which is what I did so I could take the other half to work for lunch the next day)
  14. Top with 1/2 oz. of the parmesan cheese per serving
  15. Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy!

This makes perfect leftovers, because the whole wheat pasta doesn’t swell and get soggy like refined white pasta. And, the flavors of the vegetables and herbs marinate overnight and make this dish even better the next day! I placed the second serving in a glass bowl in the refrigerator, so all I had to do the next morning was take the bowl from fridge, to lunch bag, to work.

If you try this dish with grilled chicken or shrimp, let me know how it turns out! I think both would be delicious!


Cooking with Fresh Produce: Fridge to Table in 20 Minutes!

Dear Friends,

What a super sleepy day! I obeyed my bedtime alarm last night and was in bed at 9:30, but I woke up so many times that it feels like I didn’t sleep at all. I never wake up at night once I’m out, so I have no idea what was going on — but it was definitely a struggle to make it through today. And I had to do my grocery shopping this evening (I normally do it on Wednesdays) because my kitties ran out of food last night, and battling crowded stores always wears me out. Some people can plow right through their day on little-to-no sleep, but I am definitely not one of those people!

In happier news, I just had my annual health screen yesterday and my lab results showed me in the normal range in every single category for another year! I love to have a health screen every year so I know my body is truly getting everything it needs, and I know that what I’m eating is right for my body.

When doing diet research at the first of the year, I found out that I am basically following the Mediterranean Diet, which I talked about in My Be Healthy, Keep-Away-the-Cancer Diet, Explained. This doesn’t mean that I’m only eating Greek dishes and cooking Mediterranean recipes. It means that I follow the same basic diet that those living in Mediterranean countries do. So if I were to build a food pyramid based on my diet, it would be like this:

A large quantity of vegetables would be at the bottom of the pyramid, making up the largest part of my diet. Whole grains, nuts, beans and seeds would be right on top of that. Then comes fresh fruits and healthy fats, such as avocadoes, olive oil and fish/seafood that is high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. The smallest food group for me is poultry, eggs and cheese (I don’t consume any other dairy, except the occasional sour cream or ice cream with my kiddos…I just really love cheese!). I eat sweets and pork in moderation, and I never eat red meat, save for a steak about once a year.

I borrowed this photo of a Mediterranean Food Pyramid from Mama’s Legacy Cookbooks (via Google Images), which pretty closely mirrors what I described above:

When I first changed my diet, it was in a quest to avoid processed foods. That led me to eating a lot more produce, organic foods whenever I could, and locally raised meat as much as I could. Eventually even the meat was greatly reduced or cut out altogether. It took a few years to get my diet down to an art, and while at first it seemed restrictive and difficult (change always does, doesn’t it?!), as I got the hang of it I realized how much more simple it actually is than the way I ate before.

Since I have a budget that I stick to every week, I always write out a shopping list and take it with me to the store. In order to help me make the list, I plan out at least a few meals each week that I want to make so I can be sure to get the ingredients for those. In addition to that, I always have the “staple” food items that I like to keep on hand, and some extra produce, beans, fish, rice, pasta, poultry and sandwich fixin’s on hand to whip up meals on a whim. I will do another post later detailing what these staples are! I love to have a variety of produce so I can “mix-n-match” meals and don’t get bored eating the same thing all the time. I also always keep a bowl of salad mix in the fridge that I make using a combination of romaine, iceberg lettuce and spinach.

Life Hack: Keep your salad greens submerged in a bowl of water in the fridge and they will last at least twice as long. Mine will usually last two weeks, if we don’t eat it all first! Leafy greens are a moisture-loving veggie, so the water keeps them full of life. I’ll just dip out a handful, lay it on a towel and squeeze it dry over the sink before making a salad.

I wanted to share with you the meal I made last night, because it was really quick to put together and cook, and tasted SO good! This was actually one of those “mix-n-match” meals that I tossed together with ingredients I already had on hand. It was a shrimp & squash stir-fry over brown rice.

I bought zucchini and summer squash from Aldi last week and hadn’t gotten around to using it yet, except for one of the zucchini that I used to make a chili boat over the weekend (I cut in half a zucchini, scooped out the seeds and baked it, then filled it with leftover chili and baked some more). So I started the rice in a pot on the stove, put the shrimp in a bowl of warm water in the sink to thaw, then sliced up one of the zucchini, two of the summer squash and three green onions (I always have to have these in the fridge because my boys love them), and scooped a couple of teaspoons of minced onion from the jar I keep in the fridge. Seriously…I use garlic in everything!

While the rice was cooking and the shrimp was thawing, I started the squash sautéing in some olive oil. I put a lid over it to help it soften with the steam that was naturally rising from it for about five minutes, then I tossed in the onion and garlic. I didn’t want to do the onion and garlic first because it browns pretty quickly and I was afraid it would burn before the squash got soft enough. I let it cook for about another five minutes, and by that time the shrimp was thawed and ready to go in. I laid it on a towel and blotted it dry, then tossed it in with the squash. I seasoned it with salt, pepper, parsley and Old Bay seasoning.

Shrimp only takes a few minutes to cook through, so I went ahead and drained the rice, salted it, added a little soy sauce, and scooped it onto the plates. Then I pulled the shrimp and squash from the heat and scooped it directly onto the rice in the plates. And it was ready to eat! It was about 20 minutes from the time I set the pan of rice on the burner to the time I served the plates. I often see on Pinterest these pins about 30-minute-meals. But seriously…these fresh, whole foods cooked up quicker than that with only a few ingredients and I didn’t even need to follow a recipe. It doesn’t get any easier than that!

This is just one of the things I love about cooking with fresh produce! Because heaven knows we are all too busy to spend hours in the kitchen, but still need to feed our families healthy meals. Should I do a series of meals following the Mediterranean Diet? If you would like to see more of these quick dinner ideas, please let me know and I will plan a series for the future!