summer

Crispy Tofu with Roasted Carrots and Snow Peas

My mother was a grand storyteller of food – she’d tell me about the mystical healing powers of dragon fruit, how too many oranges would make my body produce too much “fire”, and how the more tofu a lady eats, the whiter her skin would become.

fried tofu

Food issues weren’t ever a problem in our family, all mother had to do was instill a little fear and with no questions asked I’d eat it. “You better eat all that cauliflower Xin-xin, or your bone break off, no calcium! “ Eat all the rice in your bowl or holes will grow in your mouth!” “Better not eat too many lychee or you get pimple on your face!” 

Recently she told me I should eat more firm tofu, “Newspaper say, firm tofu has more calcium then soft tofu and soooo gooood for your skin!!” Well it’s hard to argue with that. 

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When I make healthy meals at home I like to keep a few things in mind:

1.     Lots of colors: We eat with our eyes so I usually like to load my plate full of colors: greens, reds, yellows, it’s like painting by numbers, but with food.

2.     Textures: as humans we’re naturally drawn to crispy, crunchy, toothsome things. It makes our brains and mouths happy.

3.     Bold flavors:  Spices are a great way to pump up flavor in a meal without adding too much fat. Sauces are also a great way to add a kick to an otherwise bland meal.

For this dish, I decided to pan fry the firm tofu to add a nice crispy crust to the outside. It’s a great way to add texture to an otherwise soggy piece of tofu without it being overly oily and heavy. It’s important to use firm tofu when frying.

Roasting the carrots adds a great depth of flavor and holds a great meaty texture that makes this healthy dish feel hearty and fulfilling. Adding some fresh snow peas on top gives it a light, refreshing crunch and the sweet and spicy sesame sauce really brings it all together.

Feel free to make a large batch of roasted carrots to use for salads, wraps, sandwiches, pastas and soups. Leftover carrots last for up to a week in the fridge and go with practically anything.

roasted carrots

Ingredients for Crispy Tofu with Roasted Carrots and Snow Peas

Serves 2

  • 1 block firm tofu (14 oz)
  • 1 Tb salt
  • 2 Tb peanut oil
  • 6 carrots, washed and large diced about 1” thick
  • 2 Tb EVOO
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • Kosher salt & pepper to taste
  • Handful raw snow peas, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced

For Crispy Tofu:

Sprinkle salt over tofu and drain in a coriander lined with paper towels. Slice into ½” thick rectangles about 1-2” wide, whichever shape you prefer.  Drain once more with paper towels, making sure the majority of the liquid has been removed.

Heat peanut oil in skillet or pan over medium high heat. When oil just begins to smoke, add tofu pieces. Fry about 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown and flip and repeat for other side. Place onto plate lined with paper towels to drain any excess oil.

For Roasted Carrots:

Preheat oven to 375F.  Line a large baking tray with foil and place carrots onto pan. Mix oil and minced garlic together in a bowl and drizzle over the carrots. Make sure all the pieces are coated evenly with the mixture. Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper and place into oven. Roast for 30 minutes.

Turn carrot pieces over and increase temperature to 400F.  Roast for an additional 10-15 minutes and remove from oven and set aside.

Ingredients for Sweet and Spicy Sesame Sauce

Makes about ½ cup sauce

  • 1/3 C soy sauce
  • 1 Tb distilled water
  • ½ tsp freshly grated ginger (add ½ tsp more if you prefer a stronger ginger flavor) 
  • 2 Tb brown sugar
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 Tb toasted sesame seeds

In a small jar or dish, mix all ingredients together and microwave in 30 sec intervals for 2-3 minutes until sugar has completely melted and sauce has slightly thickened. Adjust flavors accordingly.

Assembly:

You can serve this with rice or noodles. In a large bowl, place steamed rice on the bottom. Top with crispy tofu pieces and roasted carrots and top with some thinly sliced snow peas and drizzle with sweet and spicy sesame sauce.  Feel free to garnish with chopped scallions or cilantro if preferred. Serve immediately.

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fried tofu

Helpful Tips:

1.     For Extra Crispy Tofu: Make sure to dry tofu well before frying! The drier the surface, the crispier the crust. Retained water causes the tofu to “steam” instead of “fry” so get those paper towels ready.

2.     Larger the surface area the quicker the cooking time: Because carrots are so firm, they can take awhile to cook. To quicken the process, slice carrots at a large diagonal – this increases the surface area which not only cuts down time but gives you a bigger area of “Carmelization” thus leading to better flavor and texture.

3.     Carmelization during Roasting: Roasting can only occur when the vegetable/fruit is coated with oil and spread across the pan without overcrowding. When there are too many ingredients crowded on top of each other they will steam instead of roast, resulting in a soggier and blander result. Proper roasting gives ingredients a great body of flavor and texture.

4.     Leftovers: Leftover tofu and carrots can be easily stored in glass Tupperware and simply reheated in a toaster oven for 10-15 minutes on “Toast” or 1-2 minutes on high in a microwave.

5.     Mason Jars: These are great for sauces and dressings. Simply put the ingredients in the jar and shake. You can even make bigger batches to use throughout the week.

Crispy Tofu

Yellow Tomato Gazpacho

With another year under the belt, life continues to serve unexpected surprises. The Age of Question seems to only deepen with time as I find myself slowly inching towards 30. Does anyone know when it becomes the Age of Answers? Summer has been kind to us here in Texas. With mild temperatures and ample rain, we've had an abundant harvest this year. Especially our tomatoes: Teardrops, Green Zebras, Brandywine and assorted Heirlooms -- Nature has been very kind and giving this season.

There's something intrinsically magical and pure about growing your own food -- though it takes countless hours of work, sweat and patience -- the pay off seems to nourish in more ways than one. You can literally find the beauty of life in a tomato.

To think what once laid as a dormant seed, given water, soil and light, it awakens and sprouts. And with time, care and a little homemade compost -- it grows into a healthy plant that flowers and ultimately produces the lusciously juicy fruit.

We often forget to appreciate these tiny miracles but they are constantly around us: growing, thriving, living as the World intended.

As with all great ingredients, I allow them the spotlight -- to showcase their wonder without all the flare and masking.

 

We'll start with a yellow tomato gazpacho which I adapted from Bon Appetit. Topped with creamy avocado chunks, thinly sliced purple onions, dotted with meaty cubes of heirloom and drizzled with a bright and bold cilantro oil -- this Summer soup celebrates the beauty of the season.

The best part is, this soup can be made ahead and would serve as the perfect starter for any Summer party. Feel free to serve in shot glasses or tiny bowls and always make sure you serve this soup ICE COLD. Your guests will thank you :)

If yellow tomatoes are not available to you, feel free to use red tear drops -- though the color will be different the flavors will still be wonderful. For those who aren't a fan of heat, leave out the chile but being the thrill-seeker that I am, I put a yellow thai chili from our garden and rest assured, it did the job.

As chiles vary in heat, always be sure to taste the spiciness level and adjust accordingly.

Yellow Tomato Gazpacho
Recipe Type: Appetizer
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 5 mins
Total time: 20 mins
Serves: 6
A chilled Summer soup that will leave you wanting more...
Ingredients
  • 1 3/4 pounds yellow tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup chopped seeded peeled cucumber
  • 1 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 medium jalapeño chili with seeds, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
  • Garnish with cubes of avocado, thinly shaved onion and meaty cubes of heirloom tomato.
  • Cilantro Oil
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 medium jalapeño chili with seeds, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup water
Instructions
  1. Squeeze tomato juices and seeds into strainer set over bowl. Press on seeds to extract all juice. Chop tomatoes. Set aside 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, 1/4 cup cucumber, and 1/4 cup bell pepper.
  2. Combine remaining tomatoes, cucumber, and bell pepper in processor. Add tomato juices, onion, orange juice, oil, vinegar, garlic, and jalapeño; process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer soup to bowl; add reserved vegetables. Cover and chill overnight.
  3. Divide soup among 6 bowls. Garnish and drizzle with cilantro oil.
  4. Cilantro Oil
  5. Combine all ingredients except water in processor. Puree until almost smooth. Transfer puree to fine strainer set over bowl. Using rubber spatula, press on solids to extract as much liquid as possible; discard solids in strainer. Whisk 1/4 cup water into mixture in bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewhisk before using.

 

 

 

Copper River King Salmon

Out in Alaska runs Copper River whose name derives from the rich copper deposits found along its banks.  It's fed by 12 tributaries, is a mile wide and runs at 7 miles per hour.  Besides being the 10th largest river in the US, it also is home to the best salmon in the world -- flourishing in the "pure positive environment that creates salmon perfection."

This Summer I'll be representing Dallas as one of the Copper River Salmon Fresh Catch Crew Members where I'll be pointing out places I spot CRS through my Facebook Page and Twitter and sharing all the wonderful recipes I'll be making using Copper River Salmon.  My first shipment arrived last week: Copper River King Salmon -- the king of quality, flavor and nutrition.  Prized for its exceptionally high oil content, succulent texture and rich flavor, this luxury fish literally melts in your mouth.

 

Can ya'll imagine my excitement when he finally arrived ( I think it was a he...)?!!?! I wanted to come up with a recipe that allowed the salmon to shine like a star. With the hot Summer temperatures we've already been having in Texas, I kept in mind of what a good Summer dish entails: light and colorful, with just a hint of acid, and a plus if it's healthy (cuz it's swimsuit season y'all!). Can I have a drum roll please? I present to you: Grilled Copper River Salmon with a Herbed Tri-Pepper Salsa and Fried Green Tomatoes.

I love the versatility and simplicity of this dish.  It can be served warm or cold, it's easy to make and plate (for family dinners or parties) and it's freaking delicious AND healthy!!  I know. Life is good, it's reeeeeaaaal good, like this recipe :)  Don't forget to follow my Facebook Page and Twitter for updates on where I spot Copper River Salmon in the Dallas area!

Despite the fly RUDELY inviting himself into my shot, I thought this turned out to be a pretty cool picture after all.  Can't blame the fly for having good taste in salmon :)

Copper River King Salmon
Recipe Type: Appetizer
Author: Joy Zhang
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 30 mins
Total time: 50 mins
Serves: 6-8
A perfectly grilled Copper River King Salmon fillet served with a Basil Tri-Pepper Salsa and Fried Green Tomatoes. The perfect appetizer for Summer!
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds Copper River King Salmon fillet
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup green bell peppers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup red bell peppers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup yellow bell peppers, chopped
  • handful of fennel, chopped
  • handful of fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/2 lime squeezed
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 pounds green tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 cups corn meal
  • 1 tablespoon Cajun spice mix
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
Instructions
  1. Heat grill and follow salmon cooking instructions located below in "Notes". I used a charcoal grill and cooked a 4" thick 2 pound salmon fillet in about 20-25 minutes over medium heat (NEVER COOK FISH ON HIGH HEAT WHEN GRILLING)
  2. Meanwhile, prepare your tri-pepper salsa. In a large bowl mix the chopped peppers, basil, fennel, lime juice, honey and a pinch of salt together, adjust flavors to your liking. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Next prepare your fried green tomatoes. Slice the tomatoes about 1" to 1 1/2" thick and dust in flour. (I keep scraps and butts as my "test batch" to make sure my oil temp and flavorings are right.) Beat the eggs and milk together until combined. In a large pan mix the cornmeal, Cajun mix and salt thoroughly together. Dip the dusted tomato slices in the egg and milk mixture and then coat generously in the cornmeal mixture. Set pieces aside in a large plate or pan.
  4. Line a large baking sheet with paper towels to drain the tomatoes when you fry them. Take a large cast iron skillet and heat vegetable oil over medium high heat, about 4-5 minutes. Using one of your test pieces, drop it into the hot oil and see how long it takes to cook. It should take about 3-4 minutes for a nice golden brown, adjust temperature of heat accordingly. Once oil is ready, line the pan with tomato slices, making sure they do not touch one another. Cook until golden brown on both sides. Remove from heat and drain on paper towels. When ready to serve, reheat in oven on a wire rack at 400F for 10 minutes.
  5. To serve: You can serve this appetizer in martini dishes or to plate them the way I do simply use a hollowed out can. Break up the salmon fillet into big chunky pieces and layer it on the bottom. Place a slice of fried green tomato on top of the salmon and then spoon the tri-pepper salsa next. Finish off with one more slice of fried green tomato and garnish with fresh basil and herbs. Serve immediately.
Notes

How long do I grill salmon? (from http://www.howtodothings.com/food-and-drink/a1889-how-to-grill-salmon.html)

How long you grill salmon (and most fish) is based on the temperature of the fire, the thickness of the fish at its thickest part, and the distance of the grill rack from the heat source. Never let salmon touch the flames on the grill.

Most fish cook quickly. A good rule of thumb is to grill fish for approximately 8-10 minutes per inch of thickness cooking it at 4-inches above the heat source. For grilling salmon, use the following as a guide:

* Salmon Filets: will cook in approximately 4-5 minutes. Do not turn over when grilling. * Salmon Steaks: will cook in approximately 4-7 minutes. Turn once to cook on both sides. You can also sear the outside flesh on a hot grill and finish grilling on medium heat. * Whole Salmon: Cook slow and low. Use the thickness rule stated above.

Again, these grilling times are approximate. Always keep a sharp eye on the salmon to keep it from overcooking. Fish does not hold its heat well so always serve the salmon immediately after grilling.

So, how exactly do I grill salmon?

1. Choose the type of salmon you want to grill (filet, steak or whole). Some recipes require specific types of salmon. 2. Lightly oil the grill rack or two-sided grilling basket by spraying or brushing on olive oil before placing salmon directly on the grill. (There is no need to do this step if you are grilling salmon in an aluminum foil pouch.) 3. Preheat the grill to a medium-high heat (300 and 325 degrees). Grilling salmon on a gas grill is ideal, but if you are using a charcoal grill, remember that the coals are generally ready when they are bright red and all actual flames have subsided. 4. Grill the salmon based on approximate grilling times noted above, making sure no flame touches the fish directly. The finished grilled salmon will flake gently when you part it with a fork and the flesh will feel firm when pressed. Like meat, salmon continues to cook a little bit after it is removed from the grill so it is better to remove it when it looks a tiny bit raw or deeper pink inside. Grilling salmon slowly and steadily over a medium heat will allow the fish to retain most of its own juices. 5. After you grill the salmon, serve it immediately.

Shakespeare in the Park

Every Summer and Fall, one of my favorite outdoor events to attend in Dallas is Shakespeare in the Park. They feature different plays every year and this Summer they are holding Cymbeline and The Comedy of Errors.  It's a great opportunity to spend time with friends and family, what can be better on a warm Summer's night than a picnic with a side of Shakespeare?

"As the area’s veteran producers of Shakespeare in the Park, Shakespeare Dallas has invited audiences to enjoy accessible productions in an open-air amphitheatre since 1971, reaching over 50,000 people every summer and fall." -- Shakespeare Dallas

As celebration for this Summer's Shakespeare in the Park, I have come up with a simple and healthy Picnic menu!  Though you can bring anything you like on your own picnic, I've included some easy recipes and suggestions to help you plan a picnic fit for kings :) Below is some additional information on Shakespeare Dallas and short synopsis of the performances playing this summer.

Cymbeline By William Shakespeare Directed by SD Artistic Associate Rene Moreno

Previews: June 16-17 Opening: June 18 Continuing June 29 through July 24 on Sundays, Tuesdays and Saturdays With additional performances on June 19 & 20

Performances begin at 8:15 p.m. at the Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre

"Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney-sweepers, come to dust."

Shakespeare weaves a tale of the beautiful princess Imogen and her new husband, Posthumous, parted by circumstances invoked by her wicked stepmother and her distant father, the King Cymbeline of Britain. Posthumous' impoverished state makes him undesirable to King Cymbeline as a match to his prized daughter. Under the influence of his wife, King Cymbeline banishes Posthumous and confines Imogen to the castle. While exiled in Rome, Posthumous meets the foul Iachimo who finagles him into a wager on Imogen's chastity. Iachimo goes to Britain and through trickery gains access to Imogen's bedchamber. He manages to slide off a bracelet Posthumous gave Imogen to use as proof. Posthumous believes Iachimo's treachery, and enraged, sends his faithful servant Pisanio to murder Imogen in retribution -- although when he learns falsely of her death, he is devastated and repents his action. Imogen, meanwhile, has escaped to Wales in man's clothing, unknowingly meets up with her long-lost brothers and is eventually reunited with her husband and the truth is revealed amidst the victory of Britain against Rome.

Fri. & Sat.: $10 adults/$7 seniors and students. Tues. – Thurs. & Sun.: $10 donation requested. Children 12 and under are free.  

Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre 1500 Tenison Parkway Dallas, Texas 75223

The Comedy of Errors By William Shakespeare Directed by Matthew Tomlanovich

Previews: June 24-25 Opening: June 26 Continuing June 30-July 23 on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. With an additional performance on June 27. *Please note there are no performances on June 22 or June 23.

Performances begin at 8:15 p.m. at the Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre  

"Was there ever any man thus beaten out of season, When in the why and the wherefore is neither rhyme nor reason?"

Take one pair of estranged twins (both called Antipholous) and one pair of twin servants (both called Dromio), keep them in ignorance of each other and throw them into a city with a reputation for sorcery and you have the chief ingredients for theatrical chaos. Fast-paced, hilarious and seemingly irreverent, the young William Shakespeare explores themes in this comedy that recur again and again in his later work: mistaken identity, coincidence and the importance of family.

Fri. & Sat.: $10 adults/$7 seniors and students. Tues. - Thurs. & Sun.: $10 donation requested. Children 12 and under are free.  

Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre 1500 Tenison Parkway Dallas, Texas 75223

Season Sponsors 570 KLIF, 1310 The Ticket, Brierley+Partners , City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, City of Dallas Parks and Recreation Department, e-Rewards Market Research, Fossil, Star Newspapers, TACA, Target, Texas Commission on the Arts, The Dallas Morning News, The Hall Agency

Shakespeare Dallas 3630 Harry Hines Blvd. Dallas, TX 75219 (214) 559-2778 ---------------------------------

The Perfect Summer Picnic Menu

Assorted Cheeses and Fruit Platter

Smoked Gouda, Bleu Cheese, Colby Jack, Fresh Strawberries, Green Grapes, Apricots with Rosemary Triscuits

Garden Vegetable Pasta Salad

with broccoli, tomatoes, corn, avocado, red onion, and black beans

Finger Sandwich Platter

cucumber tea sandwiches with cream cheese and sprouts & vegetable sandwiches with hummus and olive oil

Summer Fruit Salad

cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, blueberries, raspberries, green grapes soaked in honey and vanilla

Ingredients for Assorted Cheese and Fruit Plate : (serves 4-6)

  • 8 oz Smoked Gouda
  • 8 oz Bleu Cheese
  • 8 oz Mozzarella
  • 8 oz Colby Jack
  • 1 box Rosemary & Olive Oil Triscuits
  • 8 oz Fresh Strawberries, cleaned and hulled
  • 8 oz Green Grapes, cleaned
  • 8 oz Apricots

Bring a cheese knife and board along with you on the picnic, if you do not have these items a simple butter knife and paper plate will suffice.  Arrange the cheese crackers and fruits to your liking and serve with a nice Riesling or light red like a Pinot or Syrah.

Also feel free to experiment with fruits and cheeses.  You can use other fruits such as apples, figs, raspberries or peaches.  Or perhaps try interesting cheeses like a sharp Gruyere, a creamy Brie or maybe a nice mild Cheddar.  You can find a helpful wine and cheese pairing guide at Gourmet Sleuth here.

Ingredients for Garden Vegetable Pasta Salad: (serves 4-6)

  • 1 lb of Fusili or Penne Pasta, cooked
  • 1 cup of broccoli florettes, blanched
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup fresh yellow/white corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup of red onion, small diced
  • 1/2 cup of black beans
  • 1/4 cup of green bell pepper, small diced
  • 1/4 cup of red bell pepper, small diced
  • 1 avocado, pitted and small diced
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a tablespoon of salt.  Pour in the dry pasta and cook for 4-6 minutes or otherwise stated on the package.  Once pasta is "al dente" or semi-firm, strain pasta and run under cold water to stop the cooking process.  In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients listed above and toss with cooked pasta.  If more salt/seasoning is needed, simply add additional flavor according to your taste.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Ingredients for Finger Sandwich Platter: (serves 4-6)

  • 1 french baguette, sliced into 1/2" rounds
  • 1 medium tomato, sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 avocado, pitted and sliced
  • 1 cup spring mix
  • 1 cup hummus
  • 1 english cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup cream cheese
  • 1 cup of sprouts
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

To assemble cucumber sandwiches, take your baguette rounds and slather each side generously with cream cheese.  Add sliced cucumber and sprouts and hold together with toothpicks.  Sprinkle with cracked black pepper and refrigerate til ready to serve.

To assemble veggie sandwiches, take your baguette rounds and slather each side generously with hummus.  Place the field greens, tomatoes, avocado and onion in between and hold together with toothpicks.  Refrigerate and drizzle with olive oil when ready to serve.

You can make all different types of sandwiches -- ham and cheese, turkey and swiss, blts -- feel free to be creative!  You can also assemble the sandwiches at the picnic, just bring your pre-sliced ingredients and allow your guests to make their own.

Ingredients for Summer Fruit Salad (serves 4-6):

  • 1/2 cantaloupe
  • 1/2 honey dew
  • 1/4 watermelon
  • 1 pint of blueberries
  • 1 pint of raspberries
  • 2 cups grapes
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1 fresh vanilla bean

Using a melon baller, remove the seeds from the cantaloupe and honeydew.  Carve as many melon balls you can get from the cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon.  Set aside.  Reserve the remainder of the melon scraps for a refreshing juice.

Place balls in a large bowl and add the berries and grapes.  Whisk the honey with the vanilla extract/bean and pour over the fruit mixture.  Allow the fruit salad to "marinate" for at least an hour before serving.

Now remember when I told you to set the melon caracasses behind?  Well you can use the leftover melons to make a refreshing drink for the picnic! Now take the melon scraps you set aside and scrape off as much of the flesh as you can.  Transfer the juices and melon flesh into a large bowl or jar and mix with a cup of simple syrup, blend throughly with a hand held blender.

Ingredients for Simple Syrup:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

In a medium saucepan combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool.

If you want to make other drinks you can try this refreshing Mango Lemonade and Watermelon Lemonade or perhaps some of my Limeades !  Simply serve over ice and you are ready to go :)

I hope everyone who lives in Dallas takes the time to take part of Shakespeare in the Park.  It truly is a wonderful experience!  Not only do you get a picnic under the stars (boys, girls like these things) but you get to watch talented actors and actresses from Shakespeare Dallas put on an amazing performance.  Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend, and remember -- no picnic is complete without a picnic basket :)!  (I got mine from Target for $15)

 

 

Duck Creek Blackberry Farm

It was nice to feel the warm morning sun with the soft summer rays cascading across the berry farm.  A boy and his mother are carrying a basket together, he reaches for the berries towards the bottom of the bush while his mother reaches above him -- "Now don't pick the red ones, those aren't ripe..."

The boy waits for his mother to look away and suddenly his hand shoots towards a gigantic, juicy RED berry "NATHAN, if you keep picking the red berries I'm going to have to take your bucket away!" He plucks the red berry and drops it in the bucket, smiling wide at his mother.  She shakes her head and laughs.

It's funny how children are able to melt their parents' hearts like that, with a sweet innocent smile, poof the anger just seems to vanish.  Too bad that move doesn't work on my parents anymore, how cool would that be? -- "Hey mom, about that $3500 credit card bill...*smiles*" "Hey dad, I may have wrecked my car..by hitting a parked car *smiles??*"

(pictured above: a Yellow Garden Spider or Argiope Aurantia)

Though both accounts would realistically cause severe consequences involving both physical and mental anguish, even in the worst situations parents always somehow forgive.  You truly learn the virtue of patience when you become a parent, even when your children are 50 I bet that same impish smile probably still melts your heart.  Kids are just manipulative little creatures aren't they?  :)

------

Since moving to Texas, I have abandoned my inner farmer (instincts) for some reason.  Before, when I lived in Minnesota and Ohio, my family would venture out to berry and apple farms where we'd pick til our hearts were content.  I would remember picking fresh strawberries in the following order, one in my bucket, one in my mouth... until my stomach would hurt and my bucket was full.

I think one of the things I love most about picking fruit is being able to experience the environment in which the fruit flourishes.  There is something magical about going out to an open apple orchard right when the sun is peaking through, the grass still fresh with dew, and all around you see branches hanging low and heavy with plump beautiful apples.  And the smell!  Oh the sweet smell of sun-kissed fruit, there are few things in this world that beat it.

When Natalie suggested going on a berry pickin' adventure a couple of weeks ago, I was ecstatic.  Out in Sanger,TX about 10 minutes outside of Denton, there was a beautiful spot -- Duck Creek Blackberry Farm.  It is there that blackberry farmer, Charles Kessler grows over 5000 blackberry plants of all different varieties, mostly thornless so they are more "picking friendly".

So bright and early at 6 am, the Natalies (From Natalie's Killer Cuisine and The City Sisters) and I met up for some good ole berry pickin'.  By the time we arrived, there was already a crowd of people surrounding the truck bed of gallon buckets -- waiting to be filled with plump and luscious blackberries.  The entire farm stretched out as far as the eye could see -- littered with not only blackberry bushes but pear trees, apricot trees, peach trees and pecan trees.

Using a carefully crafted water irrigation system along with the help of a couple of hives of honey bees, Charles Kessler has successfully maintained his blackberry farm since 2004. For only $15 for a gallon bucket, it's enough blackberries to last you at least a week -- but not if you have a Wells in your family, my honey ate all (except a small handful) in one sitting.

Hence why I have absolutely no dessert to show for it...but I guess that's the plus size of having friends who have food blogs as well :)  You can find a wonderful blackberry mojito recipe at The City Sisters and delightful berry pie bars at Natalie's Killer Cuisine.  Enjoy!