Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cool as a Cucumber

With the Farmer's Market in full swing, I can't get enough of my veggies! I have been going faithfully every Saturday morning to the Green Market here in Chicago. It's really easy to be creative when you see all the wonderful produce laid out before you....

I love a refreshing cooling cold soup on a hot summer day so I made a tasty easy cucumber soup- the best part is you can add whatever you like and it's all done in the blender. Just make it early enough in the day so it can chill in the fridge.

Here is what I did roughly...

Peel, seed and chop 2-3 cucumbers
Chop and add 1/3 cup sweet onion like vidalia
Add about a cup of veggie broth OR almond milk (don't use both)
A few sprigs of fresh dill, mint or parsley or all 3
Salt and pepper to taste

Now for the fun part- to add some beautiful little flecks of color:
Add 2-3 sliced radishes
Add 1 yellow squash sliced

Blend to desired smoothness.....

This is what my finished soup looked like (below)- I garnished with fresh mint sprig, and chunks of cool avocado and a dollop of goat milk yogurt (but cow's milk is fine too!) Enjoy!

What are some of your favorite summertime soups?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Balconies and Bicycles

view looking west (rosemary, lemon basil, mint, coleus)

There are 2 big loves in my life right now jockeying for favorite position....my balcony garden oasis is the first one.

view looking east (more basil, grape tomatoes, sage, chives, succulents)

I have decided to dub myself the "balcony gardener" for obvious reasons, but I think it has a kind of charm to it. Most folks use the term "container gardening" for what I am doing, but I felt like I needed to take it to the next level. It's funny, but most of my neighbors have next to nothing on their balconies save for a lonely ol' barbecue grill....kinda boring!

I was going for the "outdoor living space" idea and I think I am on my way! Got outdoor rugs down (made from recycled plastic), a cute bistro table and chairs for dining al fresco, and a way cool girly umbrella for the days when a little shade is necessary.....

inside the umbrella

Just need some more seating and I think it will be amazing. I am on the fence about a grill- I did see a really cute one on a balcony a few blocks from here, but not sure what the brand is so I am googling around the web to see if I can find it!

Now onto my second new love......

So I have been thinking about those bikes I blogged about last summer, and decided that this summer it was time to go for it. So I went to Boulevard Bikes up in Logan Square to take this girl for a test ride. I wasn't sure how this was going to turn out- but the minute I got on, I knew I had found the one! I went back a week later and took her home. It was a great ride down to the West Loop- about 5 miles or so.

I think that these days, researching and buying a bike is much like buying a car- even more so, because it has to fit not just your body, but your lifestyle- what are you going to use it for, how often and in what weather etc..and for me, I am not into a "speed machine" but a reliable, built to last type of ride. I dare say this may be the last bike I will have to buy in my lifetime!

The Pashley Princess (yes that is really it's name!) is a dream bicycle for anyone who wants to use this in a city (Chicago) in good and bad weather, for commuting and shopping etc. I had no idea what a cult following this bike and many of the Dutch bikes have out there! The Pashleys are hand built in England and apparently, there aren't that many dealers here in the US so I do believe I got lucky by having one here in Chicago. It is not a lightweight bike by any stretch of the imagination- she is really designed to carry loads and go over city streets- perfect for what I need. I chose the dark green color because I thought it looked more stunning in person than the white.

here she is hanging out on the balcony!

There are countless blogs out there in the blogoshere on bicycles, but here is one of my faves, and one of the two gals who write this blog, is a local so maybe we will bump into each other one of these days. Their blog is really great and inspiring to me especially since I am new to this biking way of life. There are even cool accessories to rig on to the bike so you can carry your work, groceries etc- it makes me want to give up my car for sure! Well, that is a strong possibility once my lease is up in December of 2011 it may be bye-bye car hello cyclist commuter! We'll see how I fare riding in the snow this winter then we'll talk about that!

I took her for her first trip to the Farmer's market yesterday and I gotta say it was a lot of fun. I loaded up on fresh veggies, hit the wine shop on my way back and couldn't have been happier to combine exercise while shopping! I mean, how great is that? Even made a stop at the Spice House to purchase some much needed spices- great place and awesome people and service!

Stay tuned for more adventures with me and my new ride and I'll post more as the garden grows...tomatoes coming soon!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Veggie Chips

golden beets, long red beets and zucchini (you can see how the beets "stain" the zukes!)

So I think I may have found my ultimate new snack- it's healthy and tasty all at the same time. If you use low starch vegetables even better! And you can be sure you are getting the daily requirement of your veggies. All in all, a winner in my book.

These "chips" have a huge advantage over store bought by a zillion miles- the reason obviously is that you make them yourself, but really what I noticed and like is that there is more moisture content. You get the true essence of the veggie coming through- no cardboard taste here folks!

All I did really was to take out my trusty japanese mandolin-and carefully (please use the guard here!) sliced the veggies thin but not to thin. Here you need to experiment with thickness- too think doesn't get you the crunch- too thin burns quickly so just practice til perfect.

I have found that the best vegetables to use here are the root veggies- and I purposely stay away from potatoes to keep it all low starch (and I can eat more this way too !). Beets, turnips and parsnips are wonderful and get a great crunch- the zucchini in the photos was an experiment and I did like them but they may have just too much water content to work as well.

Nevertheless, the "recipe" is no more than slicing the veg, then laying them out on a large sheet pan in one layer (overlap is not good in this case since we are going for the browning factor). I also use a piece of parchment which helps in the browning but really makes clean-up a breeze- just toss the paper out when done- no mess!

Just brush with olive oil, sprinkle on some coarse salt and grind on some pepper- they go in the oven at 400° for 45 minutes to an hour. I turn them at about 20-25 minutes. It will really depend on how thin you slice them. Remove them from the baking pan to a platter and sprinkle with a little more salt. My go to here is Maldon sea salt- it is flaky and chunky and helps bring out the flavors even more.

If anyone does try this, I hope you will let me know how it turns out for you and that you will become a convert as I have done from the over-salted over-processed store bought variety! If you have any other suggestions for other veggies to try, please let me know that too!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy Fourth!

What is everyone doing this weekend? Hope it's going to be a great one for all!

We on this continent should never forget that men first crossed the Atlantic not to find soil for their ploughs but to secure liberty for their souls. ~Robert J. McCracken