Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Thursday Photo Challenge: HOT

The theme this is week is HOT.  Considering the weather we've been experiencing here in Illinois lately, this is quite appropriate.

This photograph was actually taken by my mother when she and I went to arrange my wedding at the Chicago Cultural Center in January 2009.  It was very cold that day and the poor pigeons were huddling around the Eternal Flame in Daley Plaza.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

Menu Planning

Looking back, I realized that it had been a LONG time since I've shared my menu.  Since I am hoping to compile a family cookbook, I think better get back into the swing of things!  Previously, I shared my menu on Thursdays.  Given the number of grad school deadlines, work commitments, and the Thursday Photo Challenge, it seems a new day would be better.  I am going to play around with it for a while before deciding.  Let's see how Mondays go, shall we?

Menu for this week:

Monday - shredded steak tacos with onion and cilantro, roasted tomato salsa, and avocado slices
Tuesday - Jambalaya with sausage, shrimp, and chicken & fresh fruit salad
Wednesday - meatballs, pasta and steamed broccoli
Thursday - left-over day 
Friday - eat out!
Saturday - grilled bacon burgers with cheese & roasted sweet potatoes
Sunday - roasted turkey breast, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and green bean with almonds.  

Jambalaya is one of those dishes I really love to make as there are no rules - anything goes and the more veggies, the better.  I do start with a boxed mix as it is cheaper than purchasing all the seasonings and trying to get the correct ratios.  Sometimes, if I remember, I add in a few sliced and dehydrate tomatoes from the previous year's garden.  Don't add fresh; however, as they exude too much liquid and the rice is either too wet or overcooked.

Jambalaya (semi-homemade version)

1 medium onion,  finely diced
1 bell pepper (any color you prefer), finely diced
handful of re-hydrated tomatoes, chopped 
1 -2 tsp of red pepper paste (found in Asian markets) or red pepper flakes to taste
1 tsp of cajun seasoning
boxed jambalaya mix of your choice (and any tomatoes, water, or other ingredients as required)
half cup of cooked chicken, shredded/chopped
half cup of sliced sausage - we used beef polish but any kind you like is fine 
half cup of mini precooked shrimp

In a large wide pan, saute the sausage until browned.  Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.  If necessary, add oil until you have 2 T in the pan.  Saute the onion and pepper until they begin to get a bit of color (color = flavor).  Stir in the tomatoes.  Add in the rice, seasoning packet, water and any other required ingredients.  At this point, I also add 2 tsp of red pepper paste and the additional cajun seasoning.  We are adding a lot of additional additional ingredients so we need to bump up the seasonings, too, as the seasoning was perfect for the rice mix only.  When the rice is nearly cooked, toss in the sausage, chicken and shrimp. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  

Serve with fresh parsley.      

Sunday, June 17, 2012

How does your garden grow? Week 3

I had been doing well keeping up with the weeds in the vegetable garden, at least until this week.  When I finally got back there last night to check on them, it looked terrible!

This morning, I tried a trick I read about on Pinterest to control weeds.  In the post, the gardener used layers of newspaper covered with mulch to control weeds.  I am hoping that it will also keep the mint under control (I didn't read the back of the seed packet before planting it (without a pot) directly into the raised bed.  This spring it had taken over the bed and was even "oozing" out of the seams!

Here is a picture of how I did it and how it looked afterwards.  The second picture is an image of the super 100 cherry tomatoes.  I am really looking forward to home-grown tomatoes

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thursday Photo Challenge: Big

What an awesome theme and how fortunate that I have lots of images of the sky scrapers from my recent adventure!

The image I am sharing is of the Trump tower located at 401 North Wabash.  In case you want to see images of the inside of the building, click here to go to the website.

Here are some more pictures of the building. It is even more beautiful in person.  If you ever get the chance to come to Chicago, you have to see it!  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Chicago Architecture Cruise

As I shared before Christmas, I promised my mom an architectural tour on the Chicago River for Christmas last year.  After rescheduling a few times, we finally went Sunday morning. The day was very warm and humid but we were able to take some wonderful photographs of the skyscrapers.

The name of the cruise line was Chicago's First Lady but the
speaker was part of the Chicago Architectural Foundation.  

View of the river and the boats from Lower Wacker Drive.  

Marina Towers - one of my mom's favorite
buildings as she recalls them being built
when she was a child.  

I can't recall the name of this building but I was so glad to
have a moment of shade underneath it.  It was nearly 90
degrees - hot and sticky!

The Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower).  I don't
think I will ever get used to calling it that!

Another building I can't recall the name of -- in this one I love
of the reflection of the other buildings, the sun and the
curve it makes that mimics the curve of the river.  
We took lots of pictures on this trip (maybe two hundred between my camera and my mom's) but I want to save some for future Thursday Photo Challenge events so I am just putting up a few of my favorites.  I will also post more about our trip to Skydeck Chicago later.

Oh, one more picture before I turn in - what is a Squirrel Box post without a few images of birds?    

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Thursday Photo Challenge: Container

This week's theme is "container" and I have a few selections.  The first two photographs were taken last spring. The bottom picture is seedlings that eventually grew into large Brandywine heirloom tomato plants.  I think they are my favorite type of tomato and the sauce I made and canned was wonderful - I was heartbroken when I discovered I had used the last one in November.  I will definitely put up more than 16 jars this summer!

These next two pictures are images taken at the bird feeders in my garden.  

This is a photograph of the African violets I had on my ledge at work.  It is not such a dynamic photograph but I like it, nonetheless.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Summer Flowers Beds

Now that the veggies are planted, I focused my attention to the flower beds and the flower pots.  Last year my Dad and brother built these beautiful raised beds and I love them!  To help control the weeds, I covered them with mulch after planting the perennials. 

This is a picture of the side yard taken early this spring (March).
As you can see the perennials were quite small and I lost a few
despite the mild winter we had.  

I love the colors in this picture.  

The yellow yarrow grew so well this spring.  

The rose bush came back strong after being
trimmed back hard last fall.  It didn't bloom last year
so I took a chance and it paid off!

I found this at a thrift shop and it looks great
tucked in under the rose bush.  

The white geraniums and spikes in the container on my front
porch create such beautiful shadows in the morning!

I found this metal bird sculpture at a garage sale - a fresh coat
of paint and a few turns of a screwdriver  later and I have a
beautiful addition to the perennial beds.  As you can see, the
plants have grown quite a bit in the last six weeks.  In the bed
in the left are late summer blooming black hollyhocks.  

Cone flowers are a staple in a perennial garden
but these white ones are a bit less ordinary.  

These were commercially prepared baskets with
ice lemon petunias and these beautiful blue
flowers.  I love them. 

Julie's 2012 Vegetable Garden

May was a sort of  "lost" month as I was recovering from a minor surgery (damn you, gallbladder).  Anyway, I didn't get to start my veggies from seed this year so I had to rely on commercially prepared plants.  However, the excursion was very interesting.  I am glad I went.   Here is what I planted this year:

mortgage lifter tomatoes
brandywine tomatoes
roma tomatoes
oxheart tomatoes
super 100 cherry tomatoes
melrose peppers
thai chili peppers
yukon gold potatoes
pole beans
lemon balm
garlic chives

These are the raised beds where my tomatoes, pole beans,
peppers, peanuts and herbs live.  The gray bin on the left
holds the seed potatoes.  I use the blue bin the middle to
raise the sprinkler so everything is watered evenly.

Last year the beans choked out my cucumbers early
(thank goodness I had a co-worker with  an endless
supply to keep me pickle-making process moving).  So
this year I have spread them out along the back of the
tomato bed.  This should allow them enough room.

The strawberries are on the left and the cucumbers live
on the right.  Last year  the cucumbers and beans were
fighting over the trellis so I moved the cucumbers to a
bin  by themselves.  

This year's experiment - peanuts!  I love how
well my camera catches the drops of water
on the leaves.  

This cardinal was very interested in the worms that came to the
surface of my raised beds after watering.  The picture was taken
from inside the house (through the screen).  

Melrose sweet peppers.

My rosemary plant came back from last year.  I used the last of the dried
herb from last year  at Easter so I was so excited that it came back
early this year. 

My old boss gave me the garlic chives and they are growing so
well in the perennial bed  that I left them there rather than moving them
 to the herb bed.  

My basil plant  - I can't wait for the tomatoes.  I've
been dreaming of  caprese salad with balsamic glaze
for weeks now.   

I will also be planting carrots and lettuce in rotating crops in containers - probably will start them next weekend.

What are you growing in your garden this year?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Thursday Photo Challenge: Stairs

This was taken while I was on a cruise.  There were natural stairs built into the shoreline.  I love this photograph!