The Tasty Tomato

It’s that time of year again. The garden is in full swing, and I’m slowly filling the freezer and pantry with goodies to last throughout the year.

Now it’s tomato time and I love trying new ways to use this veggie in a variety of sauces. One of my favorites isn’t new at all but it’s delicious and easy to make. This freezer recipe for spaghetti sauce is so yummy you’ll never want to use store-bought again:

Freezer Spaghetti Sauce

20 cups chopped tomatoes

3 ½ cups chopped celery

3 ½ cups chopped onions

1 cup green pepper

5 cups water

1 ¼ cup sugar

1 ½ T. oregano

1 T. garlic powder

1 T. pepper

3 T. canning salt

4 – 12 oz. cans tomato paste

Mix all ingredients, except for tomato paste, in a large pot and simmer for 2 hours, stirring frequently. If you like a smoother consistency, use an immersion blender. Remove from heat and stir in the cans of tomato paste. Cool completely or chill. Then freeze in freezer bags or containers. This recipe makes approximately 14 or 15 pints.

The following tomato sauce recipe is a fairly new one I found and tweaked a bit to suit my tastes. I can it in pint jars for pizza sauce and freeze some in small containers for those recipes that require a small amount of tomato sauce, like sloppy joes.

Tomato Sauce

1/3 cup cooking oil

2 cups finely chopped onions

1 small finely chopped carrot

1 stalk of finely chopped celery, including leafy tops

2 T. oregano

2 tsp. basil

1 bay leaf

2 T. sugar

2 T. chopped garlic

8 cups of fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped. (Remove seeds if desired.)

1 T. salt

½ tsp. pepper

2 cans (6 oz.) tomato paste

tomato sauceHeat oil in a large pan and cook onion, celery, and carrot. Cover and cook over low heat until vegetables are tender, stirring frequently. Add remaining spices, tomatoes, and tomato paste and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered for about an hour until sauce has thickened to desired consistency. Remove bay leaf. Use a blender if you like a smoother consistency.

This recipe makes about five or 6 pints of sauce.

Summer Update

Doesn’t it feel like summer is flying by? Here it is, mid-July, and school will be starting before you know it!

Not that a school calendar means that much to me, since I am not a teacher, and I don’t have kids yet. But in my world of working for a symphony orchestra, our schedule is just as cyclical as the school calendar: our symphony season starts in mid-September, and runs through early June. That doesn’t mean I get summers off, but our office is much more relaxed during June, July and August. One of the perks of my job is getting eight Fridays off in those summer months while our musicians and conductors are away playing in different music festivals, vacationing, or maybe just relaxing at home.

So, what I have I been doing with myself during this summer?

Swim trialsOlympic Swim Trials! My husband and I attended the opening session of the Olympic swim trials a few weeks ago, which were held in my hometown, Omaha, Neb. It was a dream come true to see these world-class athletes competing in my city for the third straight Olympic trials. #WeDontCoastOmaha

Seeing friends and family! For my first official Friday off, I took my grandma to lunch. I treated her to Mexican food, and she returned the favor by treating me to ice cream. We chatted about my various cousins, aunts, and uncles, and then some about her long marriage to my grandpa, who passed away six years ago. If it were a movie or a book, my grandmother would have passed on sage wisdom or advice, or told me a secret about my family that would have changed everything. But instead, I made a pleasant memory of just spending time with someone I care about. I’ve also gotten to spend time with cousins and other family members at a recent bridal shower and family reunion.

WritingReading! That’s a given, right?

Writing! I usually try to write during my lunch hour at work, and since I have a lot less meetings in the summer time, I can get nearly a solid hour of writing time in, seated in my office’s window seat.

Gardening! I’ve trimmed bushes, pulled weeds, and planted a small flower garden in the backyard that I hope to expand next summer.

Singing! I joined my church’s praise team this spring, and have had the pleasure of helping lead others in worship. For a special July 4 service, we sang patriotic songs, including all of the military anthems (the Air Force theme went over especially well here in Bellevue, home of Offutt Air Force Base!) and it was a special time to recognize our veterans and reflect on our freedoms.

EmmetMeeting new people! I had the pleasure of attending a concert by Irish tenor Emmet Cahill last week, and he was phenomenal! Emmet’s team is hoping he can come sing with the Omaha Symphony someday, and brought him to my attention. After hearing him perform, I am definitely recommending him for future seasons. In addition to his beautiful voice, he had a charming persona both onstage and off, and his dimples are adorable!

Relaxing with the TV! Yes, I’m a Netflix junkie, because I love finding new shows. The last few months, I’ve been watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, a show about a lady detective in 1920s Melbourne, Australia. Phryne Fisher is a modern woman who loves sparring with detective inspector Jack Robinson. With only three seasons, I’ve been parceling the episodes out for months, but I’m going to miss Phyrne when I’m done. Any other show suggestions?

Snuggle bugsSnuggling babies! Well, really just one. Last Friday, I was able to visit one of my best friends, and her nine-day old newborn, Ivy. I got to snuggle that little muffin to my heart’s content while I visited with her mama and daddy all day. Bazinga was incredibly jealous that I spent my day away from her (she usually “helps” me when I write or garden, or cuddles next to me when we watch Miss Fisher), so she had to get some snuggle time in too!

I’m looking forward to the rest of my summer! What are you doing to while away the heat?

 

 

Memories of Independence Days Past

Every year on the 4th of July, I’m reminded of why I’m thankful I grew up in farm country USA.

Unlike most July days in southwest Iowa, Independence Day this year was delightfully cool and refreshing–only 24 hours before the heat advisory swept across our area. In the tiny town of New Market where I spent a good portion of the first eighteen years of my life, the population swells from somewhere around 400 to several thousand over the course of the three day celebration. For me the holiday is somewhat of a town/all-school reunion where friends meet up every year.

The festivities begin two days prior with BBQ cook-offs, ATV races, draft horse pulls, a car show, and many other attractions, including dodge ball tournaments and a life-size version of Hungry, Hungry Hippos and human foosball.

One of the most popular activities comes on the 4th itself. This quiet little sleeper town comes to life as hundreds of spectators line the streets watching the hour long parade led by the American Legion Honor Guard marching down the tree tunnel of Main Street. The crowd grows serene as Old Glory passes by, the stars and stripes rippling in the cool breeze.

Followed by a drum line and color guard, the procession of antique cars, tractors and trucks and homemade floats begins, carrying uniformed ball teams and county fair queen contestants in glittery gowns waving to the crowd. The parade continues past the few remaining downtown businesses, guarded by the stately old water tower that once proudly boasted a purple and gold beanie to match the school colors. Now the school is closed and the beanie is gone, the tower sporting its shiny bald head instead.

As the  parade weaves throughout town, the kiddos scurry to fill their bags with candy tossed out by parade participants. Aah, how I remember the sugar highs of yesteryear.

The procession of horses, and a buggy or two, brings up the rear. The clip-clopping hooves pound the pavement, mingling with an occasional neigh or snort, as their riders wave and call greetings to the spectators.

With the parade now over, the crowd congregates in the town park filled with tantalizing scents of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and funnel cakes galore—comfort foods of the 4th of July. Of course the celebration wouldn’t be the same without ice cream or a bag of kettle corn.

I sniff the smell of diesel filling the air as the truck and tractor pulls begin on the old football field, spewing black exhaust into the air. Into the evening the pulls wind down and the music begins. This year a gospel and bluegrass band belted out tunes.

As the festivities end everyone waits for the grand finale to start. As darkness descends, the kids all wave their glow sticks, looking like hundreds of lightning bugs dancing in the nighttime air.

As a spotlight pierces the darkness, Old Glory is lowered and retired for the night. The light goes out and a recording cuts through the silence, a voice over the loudspeaker reminding us of why we celebrate this day. Independence Day is not about the fun or the food, but a time of remembrance and thankfulness for those who fought for our freedoms we so often take for granted. As the recording ends, the MC asks the veterans to stand and be thanked by an enthusiastic crowd.

fireworksExplosions of fireworks, all set to music, fill the sky with brilliantly colored sparks and smoke. When the fireworks in the shape of an American flag starts to burn, its embers drifting to the ground, we know the show is ending in all its glory.

As we finally make our way out of town and head for home between the corn and soybean fields of farm country, traffic dots the highway with miles and miles of red taillights, like a string of Christmas lights in the dark stretching from one town to the next.

Another Independence Day is in the books. Until we return again next year, I’ll remember that it’s more than the 4th of July. It’s a day we commemorate our veterans’ gift to all Americans—the gift of freedom–and for that I am blessed.

Celebrating Independence Day

I love our country.

And in spite of the news that permeates our news feeds and social media sites, I believe we live in a great nation. Flawed? Absolutely. It’s run by humans; how can it be anything but imperfect?

Yet in the true American spirit, we’re always striving to make it better. We make wrong turns along the way, but eventually we get aimed back in the right direction, having learned a lot about ourselves because of those wrong turns.

So yes, I love the United States of America, and I’m very grateful I live here. For that reason, I also love celebrating our country’s birthday. These are some of our want-to-dos for this year:

  • Celebrate my son’s birthday – he was born on July 2 which also happens to be the day (in 1776) that the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia voted to approve a resolution for independence from Britain. That evening in 1776, the following was published in the Pennsylvania Evening Post: “This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States.” So my son declares that he was born on America’s true Independence Day.
  • Music in Plymouth – attended this last night. It’s an annual fair-like event filled with a variety of foods and fun. A variety of music artists are featured throughout the evening, always culminating with the Minnesota Orchestra followed by fireworks. We bring a blanket, books, and a cooler of food and just sit and enjoy. If you read my upcoming release, Risking Love, you’ll see this event featured.
  • Roast hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire pit, and making s’mores. There’s nothing like fire-roasted food, is there?
  • Watch the movie Independence Day and the sequel (again) this weekend, Independence Day: Resurgence.
  • Watch fireworks. This goes without saying, right?
  • Spend time with family. Always the most important!
How do you celebrate Independence Day?

Grilling up Summertime Flavor

I don’t know about you, but my grocery list and mealtime plan drastically changes when the weather turns warm and the sun stays out late.

Yeah, that’s right: when summer rolls around, my husband and I practically make every meal on our grill. It’s easy, fast, and delicious. Plus, it’s a great way to give cooking duties over to my husband!

It wasn’t always this way. My relatives graciously gave us a large gas grill as a wedding present nine years ago, and the spring, summer, and autumn of our first year of marriage was filled with barbecued ribs, charred chicken, and grilled burgers, brats, and hot dogs. And then a subsequent move and a crackdown on apartment grills made us put our grill into storage for six years.
But then when we moved into our own home a year ago, dinnertime was suddenly fun once again!

One of our favorite summertime favorites is grill packets. I clipped this recipe out of a magazine years ago, and we’ve modified it some over the years, but it’s delicious. Plus, it’s a great way to get your summer veggies!

Ingredients

Ludwig Grill Packets

  • 1 pound smoked sausage (Italian sausage can also be used), cut into 1/2 inch piece
  • red potatoes (as many as you like), cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 medium yellow summer squash, sliced 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 medium sweet red pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 T. dried oregano
  • 1 T. parsley flakes
  • 1 tsp. garlic salt
  • 1 tsp paprika

PacketsLayer vegetables into aluminum foil packets, with potatoes and meat toward the bottom, as they take longer to cook through. Mix olive oil, oregano, parsley, garlic salt, and paprika, and drizzle over packets. Close pouches and grill until meat and potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes on medium-high heat.

Enjoy!

A Vacation to Boast About

Within in the past month two friends have vacationed in England, one in Norway, and two other friends will be touring England in 2016. Now I know those are grand, boast-worthy locations to visit, but I, along with my husband and daughter, just returned from a trip that surpasses those, and we can’t wait to do it again: a road trip to Omaha, Nebraska, and Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Ah yes, I can hear you scoffing, accusing me of employing the literary tool of sarcasm. I assure you, I am quite serious. Let me explain why …

A driving trip treats the passengers to a front row view of God’s landscapes. From Minnesota’s gently-rolling hills to the flat-lands of northern Iowa, to the roller-coaster-like hills in the Missouri River valley, the diverse beauty never ends. And the lightening show we were treated to as we entered Omaha was second to none–(although we could have done without the gully-washing rain dumping down on us the last several miles). We even passed signs referencing John Wayne’s birthplace and the bridges of Madison County, but didn’t stop…not this time anyway.)

Superheroes concertWhile visiting Omaha, we took in a wonderful concert by the Omaha Symphony as they played music from superhero soundtracks. As our family members are all superhero fanatics (and my daughter is an aficionado of movie soundtracks), we thoroughly enjoyed the evening. We were joined by a cousin and her husband (with whom we also shared supper and breakfast and much laughter!), and I got to meet fellow Inksper Stephanie Ludwig who dressed fabulously like Peggy Carter (aka Agent Carter). Let me tell you, Stephanie rocked that red dress!

The OasisPrior to the concert, we spent the late morning and early afternoon visiting with my college friend and her family at their awesome campsite. Right on the river, this site–perfectly named The Oasis–boasted tree houses and multi-level decking and sunset views–a perfect place for a writers retreat. Anyone up for a fall retreat??? But best of all was the time spent with friends sharing grilled food and conversation and laughter. I could have spent the entire weekend there and that wouldn’t have been long enough!

The whirlwind trip was capped off by having lunch with fellow authors at the Council Bluffs Village Inn. It was a joy getting together with fellow Inkspers Lorna Seilstad, Dawn Ford, and Stephanie Ludwig plus Angela Meyer. We probably could have talked all day!

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So yeah, a trip to England would be sweet, but better than God-crafted scenery, smile-inducing music, and fellowship with family and friends? Never!

Inspired by a full quiver

“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord; and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of the mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” Psalm 127: 3-5

Have you ever had a weekend that left your heart so full of love that you think it might just burst? Our kids started arriving from three states Saturday at noon and some are still in town from our fortieth wedding anniversary celebration. Unfortunately, because of technical logistics, I don’t have proper pictures of that event yet. Believe me, I will be sharing them soon. The picture at the top of the page is a favorite of me and the first four grands during a past Granny camp.

But, what is so rewarding and exciting is that for the first time, all five of our grands were together. Sorry, I don’t have a picture that captures that moment either. Were you ever so busy just soaking up the love that you didn’t take proper pictures?

These children represent the future of the McLeod and Carlisle clans. There is so much promise in their faces. Whether they are together or apart, they represent who we are, where we came from, and who we will be in the future. Our three kids and their spouses are an absolute joy and blessing to their Dad and me. And now, the grand kids. Be still my heart. I love them so much it hurts.Beach with Graham small

Garden Tour!!!!!

Good morning! Spring (or really summer) has finally reached these northern climes and I’m a tad shy of giddy with gardening bliss….or I would be if my labors matched my goals. But, as with everything the last few years, I am learning that it’s possible to modify an activity to meet my physical challenges. That means I garden in snippets of time. Ten, fifteen minutes max and I’m working up to multiple times a day. Alas, the weeds don’t share my lack of stamina so there are days I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle. In order not to get discouraged I’ve trained myself to look at the finished areas in my garden. Like these:

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My favourite bed. It’s literally no work. The lily of the valley (which is smelling divine right now) chokes out any weeds that dare try to lay claim to the soil. And the hydrangea is just gorgeous even when it’s not in bloom.

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I’ve armed myself with mulch and willing slave labour this year (in the form of dear daughter) and she helped me clear out this area of weeds (wickedly overgrown) and then we mulched in a garden path which is fairly easy for me to navigate with my garden walker so I can tend to the beds on either side.

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I’m working on clearing the paths in the rest of the garden. I’ll be getting out there in a minute. See how pretty and organized it looks when mulched? My rose bushes are so happy! Lots more work to do though!

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I let the periwinkle take over the section by the driveway. It’s really lush and pretty and other then picking out a stray blade of grass, it’s pretty low maintenance. And this year a crop of lambs ears popped up! How cute are they?

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I love ferns. These were transplanted about four years ago and they fill in some hard to reach places by the side of my house. I just let them do their thing since I can’t navigate my way to that area any more.

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Hostas are cheery friends that keep coming back year after year, even when the slugs mess with them. Ugh, slug! Leave my stalwart friends alone!

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Alas, there are still swatches of garden that need my attention. Like this. Crazy grass is taller than the poor plants! If I look at this picture too long I’ll start getting a panic attack!

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Oh — and this is really dreadful. It’s supposed to be my vegetable garden. A little piece of land tucked in the back next to my landlord’s massive garage. There is a raised bed somewhere under all that grass. I’d feel guilty except the neighbourhood cats are enjoying their urban jungle hunting grounds. This is Mickey the Mouser. He’ll be devastated when I finally get around to dealing with this mess.

So that’s the garden tour! Any other gardeners out there? How does your garden grow?

What I Learned From the Little Red Poppy

When I was a kid I dreaded Memorial Day. While all my friends got to sleep in (it was summer vacation after all), my mom pried me out of bed at the crack of dawn so we could get to the cemetery bright and early before the visitors arrived to decorate their loved ones’ graves. As Girl Scout leader one of Mom’s jobs was to organize the girls and their parents to put poppy’s on veteran’s graves.

For some strange reason, not many of the scouts volunteered for this form of early morning torture, so guess who was the lucky ducky every single Memorial Day while I was a Junior Girl Scout? Me-me-me-me-me! Life can be so cruel at times.

Still grumbling by the time we got to the cemetery, Mom handed me a box of red crepe paper poppies and instructed me and another scout (also dragged out of bed by her mother) to start putting poppies on the veteran’s graves. Disabled veterans had made the poppies and it was our American duty to recognize these men and women who fought for our freedom, she said.

cemeteryWith my eyes still narrow slits, I traipsed through the dewy grass, twisting the thin wire of the poppy’s stem around the metal grave marker. On and on we went until every veteran’s grave had a poppy and my tennis shoes were soaked through.

Arriving back home at a time when normal kids would have still been in bed, I settled in for a second breakfast and wondered what the fuss about the poppies was really all about.

Years later when I’d visit the cemetery on Memorial Day, I noticed the sea of tiny red poppies dotting the graves of those who served–the poppy that symbolizes the blood shed by veterans of every war since World War I. I thought of my dad who fought in World War II who has now earned his own poppy. I thought of the handicapped men and women creating these poppies with their own hands to recognize and remember those who fought for our country’s freedom and have now passed on.

Now in the days before Memorial Day when I see members of the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary selling their poppies at the grocery store entrance, I think of the true meaning of the little red poppy and am thankful for our veterans–today and everyday.