Sunday, July 28, 2013

Stuffed Zucchini

      All that hard work in the garden is starting to pay off. Summer dinners are in full swing and are delicious! Last night's dinner was heavenly and I only purchased one item for it (albeit by chance when I saw amazingness at the market!). We made a "stuffed" zucchini. In actuality it was more like zucchini boats but, eh, call it what you want.
      When the girls and hubby went out to the garden a few days ago they came back with a gorgeous ripe zucchini from the pallet garden and a hand full of ripe red tomatoes as well. We took those, some quinoa (which we always have in the pantry) and fresh local mozzarella we got from Farmer's Market and let our tummies do the leading. Of course the quinoa was made ahead of time as is necessary, and the zucchini was halved, and seeded. This made two perfect little boats. We diced the tomatoes, again avoiding seeds in order to avoid extra acidity and unwanted moisture. The zucchini itself already carries a lot of moisture and we didn't want soggy boats. We also diced up the mozzarella ball and tossed it with the tomatoes, quinoa (we used 1/4c dry quinoa to make), olive oil, salt and pepper. Total prep time was about 30 minutes, and we worked at a leisurely pace.
     We loaded the boats full of the mixture and placed them on a baking tray with parchment paper. The parchment paper makes for much easier clean up and is easily recycled and/or composted. The boats were baked at 350deg F for roughly 35 minutes. This time will vary depending on how big you zucchini is. We still wanted a little firmness to the zucchini so it could hold up the mixture and be cut easily with a knife but still keep it's form. Keep an eye on it while it's in the oven- touch it even. Don't be afraid to check on your food actively as it cooks. Nay, I encourage your activity!
     When it was all done, we cut one boat into thirds and I paired it with just a little creamy polenta for the girls (For mine, I went sans polenta to stay up on my new fitness challenge with myself. But we will cover that later). The cheese was melty and delicious. The tomatoes and zucchini were so amazingly fresh, and extra yummy because we knew we had grown them ourselves! It ended up being two dinners for the girls and I because of hubby's work schedule. Aside from splurging on hand made local mozzarella, which I just couldn't pass up when I saw it on sale at market, this meal was beyond inexpensive. Certainly it was less than $1 for all the rest of the ingredients combined, parchment too.
I do so LOVE enjoying the actual fruits of our labors.
Simple City Sam

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Home Made Granola Bars

     Well the summer brings beach days, picnics, and light eaters to our house. Because of that summer also tends to be a big "snack season". As long as I can get the right amount of nutrients into them I'm not going to be a huge stickler for meal times and huge portions through the summer. I get it, I don't want a big meal when it's 90 degrees either!

     One of our favorite bring-a-long snacks is home made granola bars. We played around with various recipes, as always, and ultimately settled on our own version. I must say too, that this is really due to the work of my hubby. He, now newly home more that he works at night and I work days, has really been rocking it on the domestic front. I am again reminded of why I married a chef. You know, minus the undying love junk.

     Ok, so here's the recipe. Feel free to make it your own.


1c oats
1/4c Vanilla Almond Special K cereal, crushed  (really any cereal will work here, it's all preference)
3tbsp oat flour (you can make your own by grinding 1/4c oats to a fine powder)
1/4tsp salt
1/4tsp baking soda
1tsp sugar
1/2tsp vanilla
2tbsp oil (veg, coconut, almond, whatever...we usually use veg because its always on hand)
3tbsp honey (or maple syrup)

     Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Mix all dry ingredients and all wet ingredients separately. Next combine together. Place un-greased parchment in a glass baking dish (we use a 7x5 dish). Firmly press the mixture into the dish. Use the bottom of a mixing cup or firm non-stick surface to pack mixture as firmly as possible.

     Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and place dish on cooling rack to let cool fully. To speed this process slightly remove parchment and mixture together from the dish after about 30 minutes. Allow to sit on cooling rack until fully cooled. Once cooled cut into desired shape.

     We have a small coffee grinder that we use exclusively for spice grinding. We are sure to clean it after every use so spice profiles are able to stay true. This is one of those must have gadgets, it makes life so much easier. Here you can see us making our own oat flour. 1/4 cup oats ground took us about 30 seconds total. This is a way better option for us, rather than keeping oat flower on hand. Our kitchen is tiny and space is a major commodity. We don't use oat flour often enough to keep it on hand, taking up valuable kitchen space. This is simple and perfect.

     They have just the right amount of chew yet are still crunchy, sweet but not overly so, and can be varied in so many ways. Best of all they are a fraction of the cost of store bought granola bars. In reality they are often made of staple pantry items so they cost practically nothing. These always seem to accompany us to the beach or the playground. What's great is that it's a snack I love as much as the girls, win!
Happy snack packing!
Simple City Sam

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Weddings and Presents

       This weekend I had the privilege of watching a dear friend marry the love of her life (who is also pretty awesome). She is one of those amazingly beautiful women that you want to be able to hate...she's just too pretty, too nice, too giving. But alas, she truly is and there is simply no way to hate her...only to love her. So it was even more rewarding to watch her in true happiness in one of the most beautiful weddings I have ever seen!
     The setting was picturesque to say the least. It was held at Wells Reserve at Laudholm Farm. If you've never taken a trip to southern Maine to see this place I recommend you do, it is amazing. She did everything just right. The barn and buildings were lit with twinkle lights just right, the beautiful altar was affixed with an array of wildflowers, and a gorgeous white tent was set near-by with exquisite table settings and dinner. In thoughtfulness they even established a giving table for the families of the 19 victims of the devastating recent fires in Arizona.


     She seemed to have thought of everything! Table pace cards were rustically hung on the barn wall with the use of a wooden frame and mini clothes pins. She even put bug spray on all the cocktail tables...and we used it! Gifts were placed in a wooden cart and the guest book was a rough hewn square of natural wood boards, truly gorgeous. And yes, it goes without saying that she was absolutely breathtaking. It was as if it had all been plucked from the pages of a bride magazine, and instead it was all the hard work, creativity, and determination of a well-planned bride.


     Well, I knew this wedding would be amazing, just like my friend. So I set out months ago to make a gift that could try to match such an event. She tactfully chose beautiful, casual summer colors: grey, yellow and teal. I began to try to put my skills to use. I chose several fabrics and set out to create a one-of-a-kind quilt for her and her new husband.

     I wanted it to be bright and fresh. I wanted them to be able to look at it and feel warmth and happiness, to render all the feelings they had on their wedding day for all the years to come. Sure, a tall order, but you know me, I love a challenge.

      So after months, and a little help from my mom (who also knows and loves this friend) I had a product I was pleased with. A beautiful heart pattern detail was the crowning jewel. I want to acknowledge the fact that I am not showing you the full quilt, because it is theirs, all theirs. Sure we get a peek but in reality I wanted to make sure they never had to share this item and what I hope it will symbolize for them. But, you get the idea.
     So I carefully placed paper throughout as I neatly folded the quilt and tied it in a simple grey bow. I gifted it in a sturdy, simple and beautiful basket and presented it in the open style you see here. I added a heart felt card and was ready...weeks in advance I might add ( a rare feat for me). And though I won't sully the piece by talking money, you know my style...I was able to accomplish all this in my true fashion and it is worth considerably more than the money put in. It's about love not money.

     Of course I have no problem finding room for improvement but all in all, I am truly pleased with the outcome. I can only hope she'll feel the same.
         It was a magical night, topped off with a spectacular show by Mother Nature. Truly befitting a regal wedding. I can only hope that the rest of their lives together is equally as magical, exciting, and breathtaking.
I love you both!
Simple City Sam

Friday, July 12, 2013

Energy Bites

      Sometime last year a friend of mine brought her "energy/protein balls" to a little get together we all had. Hello! I was in love. I, of course, had to get the recipe and, yes, tweak it, just a little. The original recipe didn't need any help, to be honest. Any changes or alterations we made we purely for curiosity or preference alone.
1 cup (dry) oatmeal
2/3 cup toasted coconut flakes*
1/2 cup peanut butter**
1/2 cup ground flaxseed or wheat germ
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
Mix everything together in a large bowl and place in the refrigerator for 30 min (or more). Then roll into balls. You can use your hands or a small ice cream scoop. Store in the refrigerator.
* We toast our own coconut because its so much cheaper! Take coconut flakes and put them in a fry pan on medium. Toss frequently so as to not allow the sugars to stick. When coconut starts to brown it is done. Total time for this is about 10-15 minutes.
** I also like to use almond butter in a 50/50 mixture with the peanut butter. This gives the whole thing just another layer of dimension. It also bumps up the protein count ever so slightly.
     The original recipe offers honey or maple syrup and while the syrup does work we really prefer the honey. The flavor and consistency is just better. Of course I always use local honey so we get the extra added benefits that come along with that (like potential alleviation of seasonal allergies). They also made the chocolate an optional ingredient in the original recipe. I'm sorry, I guess I missed the memo that allowed chocolate to EVER be considered optional.
     The girls will each have one as a snack and be completely satisfied. Two will get me through that "lunch push" at work, after which I realize I haven't eaten anything in like 6 plus hours. I just bring two with me and stick them in the cooler. They are perfect and practically guilt free. They pack and travel well too. These little babies are ideal for hiking or the beach or just walking around downtown.
Simple City Sam

Sunday, July 7, 2013


     A lot of people ask me why I love Portland so much. There are a ton a reasons, but inevitably one of the top reasons is always, "I love that I can walk everywhere and anywhere". And it's true. For such a diverse and amazing community, Portland is, well let's just say it, small. I love that! I could literally walk from one side of Portland to the other in and afternoon, downtown area in less than an hour.
     So, we go for walks all the time. Now that we have Quail we walk even more. Sometimes it's to the store, or the playground. Sometimes the walk is just...around. We always have a good time, too. The girls have taken to carrying purses and/or bags, and I always anxiously await the hat choices. It keeps us relatively fit, though walking with a 2 and 5 year old is more of a mental challenge for the adults than a physical one. It saves on gas and wear on the vehicle and we never have to worry about parking. In addition, we've stumble across some great little spots here and there that we would have missed entirely had we not been on foot.
     And, truthfully, the view is pretty spectacular too. If you ask me.
Get moving, it's simple and free.
Simple City Sam 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Frog Ponds and Lily Pads

      So everyone by now knows how much I love Snell Family Farm in Buxton, Maine. It is beyond reasonably priced, the selection is outstanding and their commitment to quality and integrity is unmatched. Also, they have more plant knowledge combined than any other group of people I've ever met in my life. It is truly impressive, to say the least.
     When we went this year to get out seedlings for the garden we discovered that they also have their own, man made  frog ponds. Here they grow and sell pond lilies (lily pads). The "ponds" are teeming with frogs, tadpoles, frog eggs and aquatic life in general. It was glorious and amazing! I couldn't believe my eyes, and then I saw the looks on my girls' faces. So many frogs, so many questions....such a patient Daddy.

     Even without photos, this will be a moment and a day that I will never forget. So many wonderful things came from that day, none-the-least of which was watching the girls learn and experience something new. 
And, hello? How cool is it to be able to buy your own lily pad? You know, as long as you have a pond-type-thing...
Simple City Sam