Sunday, August 29, 2010

Linguine with Tomatoes, Brie, and Basil

Fresh-picked aromatic basil ... juicy, ripe, ruby red tomatoes warm from the garden ... ooey, gooey, melty Brie cheese ... garlic and pasta -- is your mouth watering yet?! This is one of those meals that just screams SUMMER!
 A friend gave me this recipe years ago, and I've been making it every summer since. It's very adaptable - I didn't have linguine tonight, so I used spaghetti. See my recipe notes below for more adaptations to the original.

Linguine with Tomatoes, Brie, and Basil

4 large, ripe, fresh tomatoes, chopped and drained
1 pound Brie, torn into irregular pieces (may remove rind, if desired)
1 cup cleaned fresh basil, cut into strips, or roughly chopped (lightly packed into measuring cup)
3 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1 pound linguine, uncooked
Parmesan cheese (optional)
Combine tomatoes, Brie, basil, garlic, and olive oil in a bowl. Let stand at room temperature for several hours to allow the flavors to blend.
Cook linguine in boiling, salted water. Drain and toss with tomato/brie mixture. Add salt to taste. Serve immediately. Top with Parmesan cheese, if desired. 

Recipe notes: 
- This recipe makes a LOT of pasta. I usually halve the recipe and it's plenty for three people. Leftovers are good, too, though.
- I usually leave the rind on the Brie. I like the texture of it. And the recipe says to tear the Brie into irregular pieces but I usually cut it into pieces about 1"x1"x1/4".
- I don't always drain the juice off the tomatoes, but it does make the dish a lot juicier if you don't.
- The original recipe calls for adding a sprinkle of Parmesan on top, but I don't usually include it. I like the flavor of the Brie to stand on its own.
- If you don't have time to wait a few hours after combining the tomatoes and Brie, don't let that stop you from making this recipe. It's still delicious if you do it all at dinnertime. Seems like the basil benefits from sitting for a few hours with the other ingredients though. It's a little course and chewy if it hasn't had time to wilt in with the Brie and tomatoes.

I hope you'll give this great recipe a try this summer while those juicy summer tomatoes are still available - it's absolutely delicious!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

New Life in the Late Summer Garden

It's easy to be excited about gardening in the spring. All those fresh, brightly colored flowers are just bursting with life, and there's so much potential in what we see, but by August (and even earlier in warmer parts of the country) everything's looking a bit tired and worn out. Some plants are ready for the compost pile, but others can keep on blooming into the fall if they are pinched, pruned, or deadheaded at the right time.

I've learned to be pretty ruthless with the pruners, and it usually pays me back with more flowers and fruit. Of course, there was that year that I chopped back my lavender a bit too drastically at just the wrong time - those bare stems and dead plants haunted me all winter long. Oh, well, live and learn ...

Basil is one of those herbs that grow prolifically in my summer garden. I have to keep pinching the plants back every week to prevent them from going completely to flower. If I keep after them, I'm rewarded with fresh, aromatic basil (and lots of yummy pesto) up until the first frost. So, it pays to pinch!

Praying mantises abound in my flowerbeds. More than once this summer, I've been surprised by one when reaching for a stem of lavender or when pruning the bushes. This lavender grows right outside my workroom doors and was cut back in July after its first blooming. It's now yielding a second crop of flowers. I'm going to cut them soon to dry. I want to make a little lavender sachet to remind me of balmy summer days, when the snow flies.

These balloon flowers (Platycodon Grandiflorus) are one of my favorite perennials. A bed of them grows next to a flagstone path leading off of our stone patio at the back of the house. The poufy little balloons are so cute, and that periwinkle blue color when they open is just delectable! They usually bloom in July, then, before they go to seed, I cut them down to within a few inches of the ground. They send out a new surge of growth and a few weeks later begin to blossom again. This is a great perennial for the home garden. They're very hardy, beautiful to look at, and the deer don't eat them!

The "Fairy" rose is a reliable performer in my garden.

After a flush of bloom in June, I usually cut back the bush to control the size and encourage further blooming. I timed it just right this summer, because it was blossoming nicely for my daughter Sara's wedding last weekend.

I love growing strawberries in my home garden. That first bite of a juicy, sweet strawberry in June is one of the high points of my year! But the June-bearing strawberries are over in a flash, so I've planted a couple of rows of everbearing strawberries to keep those luscious little gems coming all summer and into the fall.

I picked these this morning before breakfast. I love being in the garden early on a warm, summer morning. The fog is hanging in the valleys, the dew is still on the spider webs, the birds are singing their morning songs, and all seems right with the world. It's a good way to start the day, connecting with the earth. I treasure these late summer days, knowing they will pass all too quickly.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Summer Wildflowers

I guess I should post this sketch before summer is over and the fields of wildflowers have all faded to winter browns and grays. I just love watching the progression of wildflower varieties that come and go in the fields and roadsides in our area throughout the year. I'm trying to be more aware of the world around me, and to take time to stop and notice those things that I normally would walk right by and not give a passing glance. When I go for a walk now, I look for those little unobtrusive flowers that hide down low in the grasses, and the ones with the soft, subtle coloring that are easy to miss. It's amazing what I can discover, if I just slow down and look around.

One June afternoon, I decided to go for a walk with Buckley, our big golden retriever, thinking I would sketch some of the summer wildflowers in the fields along the woods by our house. It was one of those gorgeous, perfect days when it almost seems sinful to stay inside, and I look for any excuse to be outdoors in the sunshine.

I sat down and started to work on this sketch:

Everything was going fine until Buckley came bounding over to see what I was doing and smashed through the pretty flowers I was drawing! I moved to another spot to sketch something else, and he decided to flop down at my feet and rest, right on top of the black-eyed Susans I was painting. I finally gave up and finished the sketch another day... without Buckley.

Moral of the story: Walk the dog or paint the flowers, but don't try them at the same time.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Watercolor Wedding Invitation

When my daughter, Sara, got engaged last December, she asked me to do the artwork for her wedding invitations. Since the event will be held here at Summerhill, she thought it would be nice to have a drawing of the house on the invitation. The blue hydrangeas that surround our house in the summer set the color scheme for the bridesmaid dresses and reception d├ęcor, so they were incorporated into the invitation design as well.

Fresh, fun, and pretty, with a touch of whimsy – that’s the feeling we want for the wedding, and what I was hoping to convey in the invitations.

The painting was done with pen, ink, and watercolor on 140# watercolor paper. The text was hand lettered separately. Both images were scanned, then layered in Photoshop to form the final design. The invitations were printed and trimmed, then we applied them to pale blue card stock.

The hydrangea blossoms carry over onto the response card, which has the same hand lettering and green background as the invitation.

The ensemble included the invitation, bundled with the response card, return envelope, and a travel information page with directions on one side and hotel info on the reverse. The pieces were all tied up with a satin ribbon. I hand lettered  the envelopes, using the same style as the invitation lettering (based on the font "DJ Fancy".)

It's only a few short weeks now until the big day! The RSVPs have all come in, and we're working on seating arrangements, menu cards, and programs. Details, details, details! It's an exciting time for all of us.

It's been so much fun helping Sara to plan her wedding. I'm glad I was able to help make her vision come true, of a wedding that is a true reflection of who she and Ian are.  It's going to be beautiful!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Advice to a New Bride

I bought this quirky old framed poem at an antique store two years ago, in anticipation of the day that I might give it to my daughter. It was just too funny to pass up.

Since Sara's getting married in three short weeks, I think it's time. Hmm, where's she going to hang it so her new husband doesn't know she's "managing" him?
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