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“A flash of harmless lightning.  A mist of rainbow dyes, the burnished sunbeam brightening from flower to flower he flies.”

John Banister Tabb

When my children were little, we would often sit quietly at dusk waiting to see if a hummingbird would alight on one of our flowers. If we were rewarded to see one hover nearby, our hearts would fill with wonder and joy.  Many years later, I still count seeing a hummingbird as one of life’s greatest privileges.  My garden is filled with brightly colored flowers known to attract these beautiful birds:  columbines, foxgloves, daylilies, impatiens, petunias, phlox, coral bells, penstemmon to name a few.  But my garden’s star attraction to hummingbirds is the little known perennial, blackberry lily(Iris domestica), which grows just outside my kitchen window.  Also known as leopard flower, leopard lily or the fun “freckle face” for obvious reasons, this hardy perennial grows in zones 5-10.
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Maple Glazed Apple-Oatmeal Cookies

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“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” Martin Luther

When I came across this cookie in the September issue of Family Circle Magazine, I knew I would be trying it out.  Oatmeal and apple?  Count me in!  With less than a cup of flour, 3 cups of rolled oats, egg whites, no leavening agent and chock full of chopped apples, it was a pretty healthy version of a classic oatmeal cookie.  The recipe called for jumbo sizes but I made them regular-sized and got twice as many cookies.  The texture is a bit granola-like with big soft chunks of apple  and a nice spicy note.   The maple glaze puts these over the top!   Turn them into a fall ice cream sandwhich by pressing a scoop of maple-walnut ice cream between 2 cookies.  A delicious back-to-school lunch box cookie with a big dose of fiber and fruit.  A+

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Skinny Dipping: Individual 7-Layer Mediterranean Dip

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Love Greek salad?  Hummus?  Need a fresh way to enjoy summer tomatoes, cucumbers and red peppers?  Look no further!  You don’t usually think low-cal, healthy when thinking of dips but this knock-out gorgeous dip really is!  To make it, layer your favorite hummus in the bottom of a pretty glass.  Top with all the fixins’ of Greek salad:  diced cucumber, sliced Kalamata olives, chopped roasted red peppers, crumbled feta and a handful of quartered cherry heirloom tomatoes and diced red onion. Let the tomatoes drain a bit before assembly to reduce their moisture content.   I added different toppings to mine:  fresh oregano leaves, toasted pine nuts, diced avocado, a few turns of the pepper mill.  I offered lemon wedges on the side.  I served mine with grilled sourdough bread that we brushed with olive oil on both sides, then toasted over a hot grill for about a minute and a half, turning often.  Finish it with a sprinkle of sea salt and cut into triangles.   I found it handled the weight of the dip ingredients better than pita.  This dip is so easy, you don’t need a recipe. Dig in!  Clothing optional.  Continue reading

Goat Cheese Stuffed Hisbiscus Flowers

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My friend Anca is the finest of hostesses.  When she received our Italian conversation group, one of the appetizers she served elicited a lot of intrigue and delight.  It was a small little amuse-gueule, with a star-like shape which held a tiny ball of goat cheese.   Anca revealed it was a hibiscus flower imported from Australia, (available on Amazon),  sold in a simple syrup.  I promptly ordered a jar and served them on a cheese platter at a dinner I hosted. No one could guess what they were but we had fun trying!image

Because the hibiscus flowers are packed thightly, I found it was best to turn them upside down on a paper towel to “open” the flowers and drain off the syrup, before stuffing them.  I used less than half a teaspoon of herbed chèvre rolled in my hand to form a ball of the right size to stuff each flower.  A single chive across the top finished this easy appetizer sure to be a conversation starter at your next party!

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The flowers fancy up a champagne cocktail in the most beautiful way.  Simply drop a bloom in the bottom of the glass along with a tablespoon of the syrup they are sold in, and top with champagne.  A very pretty pale pink cocktail that is also delicious.   Cheers!

 

Blueberry-Basil Hand Pies

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The chief recipe taster in my kitchen calls these fruit empanatas.  Also known as turnovers, hand pies are personal pies. Tidier to eat and serve, they are perfect for picnics and potlucks or to enjoy on the go.  With plump, sweet and juicy berries in season, hand pies showcase the bounty in a tasty little parcel of goodness.  Hiding inside my blueberry hand pies is a layer of lemon curd to add some zing to the berries.  I love contrasting sweet notes with earthy herbs and this filling features fresh basil.  You could substitute lemon balm or leave it out completely.  Just make sure to toss your filling together just before filling the pastry so the berries don’t have a chance to weep and make the pastry soggy.  The hand pies can be made in any shape desired and could be fancied up with a special cut out on the top such as a star or heart.  Mine are a classic half round shape with 3 vent slits.  Whatever you want to call them, just call these flaky mini pies delicious!

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Blueberry-Basil Hand Pies

  • 2-9 inch rounds of pie dough
  • 2 c blueberries
  • 2 T corn starch
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 4 T chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 4 T lemon curd, optional
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • sanding sugar(mine was yellow in color)
  1. Preheat oven to 400F and line a baking sheet wiht parchment paper.
  2. On a floured surface, roll out your dough.  Using a 5″ in diameter inverted bowl, press down on your dough to mark 6 circles.  Use a knife to go over the marks and release the forms.
  3. On one half of the dough, brush on a layer of lemon curd if using.  If not, you can substitute some lemon zest to your berries.
  4. Brush all connecting edges of the dough with a thin layer of egg wash.
  5. Mix the blueberries with the corn starch, sugar and basil.  Mound about  3 tablespoons of fruit over the lemon curd.  Fold over the dough, using a fork to push in the fruit as you seal the pastry pocket.  Use the fork to crimp the pastry edges. You will have some left over filling and ends of pie crust.  Feel free to join the dough ends and reroll to create a free form tart with the extra filling.
  6. Brush the pastry with thin egg wash.  Sprinkle liberally with the sanding sugar. Cut a few venting slits on the top of the pies.
  7. Bake in the center of the oven for about 20 minutes, until golden.  Cool 10 minutes before eating.

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“You ought to have seen what I saw on my way
To the village, through Mortenson’s pasture to-day:
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!”
Robert Frost
Blueberries

6 Wine Crate Centerpieces

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“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
― Ernest Hemingway

Wine crates are one of my favorite containers for displaying flowers.  They are available for free from most wine stores and come in many different sizes.  They can be painted or stained if desired to coordinate with a décor theme.  Because of their generous size, they make an imposing centerpiece once filled with flowers.

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This wine crate was filled with pots of annual flowers.  I ran a string of whimsical dragonfly lights through the flowers to light up the centerpiece for an evening party.  Magical!  For detailed instructions on how-to, please click here. Continue reading

Tomato-White Bean Galette with Pesto Swirl and Feta

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Although my own garden tomatoes are still green on the vine, the markets are bursting with plump, juicy seasonal tomatoes.  This galette showcases heirloom tomatoes layered on top of a protein-rich white bean purée drizzled with fragrant pesto, topped with tangy feta and enveloped in flaky pastry.  It was a perfect summer meal and so good, I’m making another one tonight!  If in a rush, you can use ready made white bean hummus and pesto.image

Tomato-White Bean Galette with Pesto Swirl and Feta

  • 1 prepared 9-inch pie crust
  • 15 oz can white beans such as cannelini
  • 3 gloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 T Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 c of basil pesto
  • 2 oz crumbled feta
  • fresh ground pepper
  • heirloom tomatoes of different sizes and colors
  • fresh basil  for topping
    1. To make the white bean purée, in a blender place the beans, the mustard, the garlic and oive oil.  Purée until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. I used a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
    2. Slice the larger tomatoes  and cut the smaller tomatoes in halves.  Place on a paper towel in a collander to drain some of the moisture out while you prepare the crust.  You want enough tomatoes to really pack the crust densely as shown in the photo.
    3. Preheat oven to 375F.
    4. On a sheet of parchment cut to fit a shallow, rimmed sheet pan, roll out your dough to a 1/8″ thickness. It can have an irregular shape.  Transfer to your baking sheet on the parchment.
    5. Smear a layer of the white bean purée on the crust, leaving 2″ of the edges uncoated.  You will have some left over for another use.
    6. Sread half of the pesto in a concentric design pattern over the white bean purée.  Load the tomatoes on top, mixing up the colors and shapes . Dot the tomatoes with the rest of the pesto and season generously with freshly ground pepper.
    7. Spinkle the pie with the feta.  Fold the edges of the dough, pleating as necessary.
    8. Bake on the lowest rack for 40 minutes.  Sprinkle with shredded fresh basil.  Let rest 10 minutes before slicling.  Serves 6 as a starter or 4 as a meal.
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