3 mouthwatering tomato recipes

Cherry tomatoes on the vine

Normally, late August is the time to lament the end of tomato season in my garden. But thanks to a late start to summer this year, my tomato plants are just now starting to produce. This past week, I ate my weight in cherry tomatoes. I’m a “pluck it off the plant and pop it in my mouth” kind of tomato eater but sometimes a few lucky tomatoes actually make into my house. When that happens, I like to try delicious ways to incorporate them into dinner.

There are around a eleventy billion tomato recipes floating around the internet and, while most of them are OK, they often lack the wow factor that homegrown tomatoes deserve. So, when I’m looking to cook up a delicious and easy meal with my homegrown beauties, I turn to one place: The Smitten Kitchen blog. It’s clear that Deb Perelman, the mastermind behind the blog, has a deep love for tomatoes. Search for the word tomato in her blog and you get around 2000 results. For me, three of those recipes stand out from all the rest. If you are dealing with a bumper crop of tomatoes this year, try one of these recipes. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

  • Scalloped tomatoes with croutons – This is, without a doubt, the best thing I have ever eaten. And to think, I almost let my phobia of wet bread stop me from trying it. The trick for me is spreading the mixture out in a thin layer in a large casserole dish so the croutons dry out while baking. Do not skip the poached egg! 
  • Mediterranean baked feta with tomatoes – You can use any feta with this recipe, but I recommend treating yourself to a high quality hunk of the salty Greek treat. You won’t regret it.
  • Roasted tomatoes and cipollini – Simple ingredients and easy to make, this dish packs a huge amount of flavor. I serve mine over black beans.

Now, please excuse me while I run out to the local Greek store for feta. In the meantime, feel free to share your favorite way to use homegrown tomatoes.

Soap making secrets: Finding inspiration

Soap making secrets: Finding inspirationLately, I’ve been in a creative rut. I’ve been focusing on making fresh batches of my best selling soaps but I haven’t tried anything new in a while. The problem is a lack of focus more than a lack of ideas. There are so many great scents, colors and techniques that I could try but I haven’t been able to settle on one.

Then, a few weeks ago, I took a mid-week trip to the Cleveland Botanical GardenWith 10 acres of outdoor gardens and two glass houses that contain a Madagascar desert environment and a Costa Rican cloud forest (complete with birds, butterflies and leaf cutter ants), this place is my Disneyland.

My group took a guided tour through the gardens and during the tour, a few of the volunteers stole the stage from our tour guide. One sweet lady in particular took the time to explain the histories of how indigo and madder root plants where turned into and used as dyes.

I have both indigo powder and madder root powder in my soap making arsenal so I listened intently to everything she told us. I bought these natural colorants several months ago but haven’t been inspired to use them. Listening to her talk and hearing her passion about the plants surrounding us gave me the spark I needed to get those colorants out and start using them. I now had focus. I would use indigo powder as a natural colorant in my next new batch of soap. From there, the ideas for scents and designs started to flow.

My advice to anyone looking for creative inspiration is simple: Step out of your daily routine and try something new. It’s hard to be inspired when every day feels the same, especially when your day job involves sitting in a grey cubicle jungle. Break your routine, see a new place, talk to someone who’s passionate about what they do and inspiration will find you.

Do you have a special way to find inspiration? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Northern Ohio road trip: Schoepfle Gardens

When Matt and I are looking for something to do, we often search for botanical gardens in the area. There’s no better way to get inspiration for my own garden than to check out what the pros do. The other day, I ran across Schoepfle Gardens, a 70 acre park that is part of the Lorain County Metro Parks system.

The founder, Otto Schoepfle, sounds like my kind of guy. He had a passion for continued learning throughout his life and according to the information on the Metro Parks site, he went to Europe several times to learn about new plants and then came home to apply what he had learned in his garden.

I imagine Otto as a great lover of nature and this statue of him conveys that perfectly. Look closely to the left and you can see a butterfly flitting above the flowers. It’s as if his outstretched hand is summoning the butterflies and woodland creatures to him.

Otto Schoepfle

Yellow swallowtail on marigolds

Otto lived and worked on the grounds from 1936 until his death in 1992. That’s 56 years of hard work, sweat and dedication. He set up a trust and donated the acreage to the Lorain County Metro Parks in 1969 but he continued to live in the family home, located on the grounds, until his death.

Schoepfle Gardens - Formal Path

Schoepfle Gardens

One of the most impressive specimens on the property is the Dawn Redwood tree.

Schoepfle Gardens redwood tree

According to the placard, the Dawn Redwood was once thought to be extinct. It was rediscovered in China in the 1940s. Otto went to China and brought back two seeds. This tree is from one of those seeds.

Over the years, Otto received help from volunteers in the community and he loved working with local children. In 2007, a music themed children’s garden was added along with a carousel. The horses and animals were refurbished by local artists and are stunning.

Schoepfle Gardens - Carousel

Restored Carousel

 If you live in Ohio and love nature and gardening, Schoepfle Gardens is a must see. If you don’t live near by, you can take a virtual tour, narrated by legendary Cleveland newscaster Leon Bibb, here.

Want to read more about the history of the Dawn Redwood? There’s a short yet fascinating story here courtesy of the good people at dawnredwood.org.

Know of any must see botanical gardens in your own state? Share the website in the comments below. I’m always looking for new inspiration!

The Loofah Soap Experiment: Update #3

For most of the summer, I’ve been convinced that my loofah plant would never bear fruit. It has been an unusually cool summer and loofah plants need heat. The vines are huge and getting bigger very day. Neighbors, don’t let your cats out. Loofah hungry!

Loofah plant

The plant has been blooming for the last month, but no loofah.

Loofah flower

Then, we had rain and several sunny days in a row and suddenly, loofah!

Loofah

At last count, I have five little loofah growing and dozens of flower buds. If the weather would just warm up, I think I might get at least one loofah that is large enough to dry and work with before the snow starts to fly. I might even get brave and pick a few small ones to eat.

Did you miss the first few installments of the loofah saga? Catch up with them here and here.

The Loofah Soap Experiment: Update #2

Where has the time gone? Between prepping for my first Cleveland Bazaar and making more soap to replenish my stock, I almost forgot about posting an update on how my loofah is growing. Looking back on my last update, I can’t believe how much the plant as grown. It went from this sweet little seedling:

Loofah seedling

So cute.

To this Little Shop of Horrors like vine:

Loofah vine

“Feed me!”

I’m not sure how big this vine is going to get, or where it’s going to go, but for now it seems happy to grow up the side of the bird net covering my blackberries.

 

Loofah and blackberry

Don’t get too close to those tendrils!

I’ve read that loofah can have a very long growing season and needs warm temperatures to thrive. We’ve been having an uncharacteristically cool summer so far, so I’m not surprised that it’s mid-July and I’m only now seeing flower buds. Hopefully the temperatures warm up and I get a couple of good sized loofahs by the end of the summer.

Loofah flower bud

Are you growing anything fun in your yard this year? I’d love to hear about your gardening adventures!