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The Picnic Basket

I found it in a stack along with other picnic baskets but I immediately knew this was the one. It’s quite rare when you go antiquing with something specific in mind and you walk out with that very thing, and for a good price, I might add. That’s when you know that purchase is meant to be.

Her woven weave is thick, not dainty. The lid closes just slightly askew, letting you know that in her day she was well-loved and frequently used. Her body is deep, leaving plenty of room for a blanket, multiple Tupperware filled with dips, spreads, cheeses, etc. and a nice bottle of wine, if one chooses. She is the color of a hearty loaf of artisan bread and already we love her.

Picnic season is a happy one around here. I am not sure if I love them most because the birds take care of the majority of the clean up or because my favorite meal is a simple one of fresh fruit, fine cheeses, a crusty loaf of bread and a crisp, clean wine.

We don’t travel far for our picnics with many of them being a few inches from out front door but the lure of dining outside remains. The squirrels and crows look on with anticipation just waiting for us to drop a taste for them. Sitting in the midst of our modest garden, I dream of the summer day when the snap peas are at their peak and we can pick our picnic food straight off the vine.

The beauty of food that can be eaten outdoors is that it often can be made well in advance. The best picnic food doesn’t require the extra load of utensils and begs to be scooped up with crackers or bread. Which is what makes this week’s featured recipe – red pepper relish – simply perfect for picnics. With the addition of cream cheese it instantly becomes a sweet and savory spread. Slathered on a tortilla and rolled up with turkey and lettuce you’ll find yourself with an irresistible wrap. Or simply scooped up on a wheaty cracker or a crispy baguette with a pillow-like interior. Without the cream cheese it stores in the fridge for weeks or can easily be made in bulk and then canned.

My family, including our new picnic basket, and I want to wish you all a very happy picnic season!

by Ashley Rodriguez
Chef, food blogger, and full-time mom. Read more of her writings at

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Cold-Fashioned Potato Salad

Cold-Fashioned Potato Salad


2 1/2 pounds red potatoes, large diced

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

3/4 cup mayonnaise (homemade if possible)

1 teaspoon mustard powder

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

1/2 tablespoon very thinly sliced garlic

3 tablespoons fine chopped cornichons

1/2 cup small dice red onion

1/2 cup thinly sliced celery

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Place potatoes into a large heavy-bottomed pot. Cover with cold water and place over medium heat. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat and remove lid. Gently simmer until potatoes are fork tender. Drain and place into an ice bath to cool. Remove skin by rubbing with a tea towel. Slice potatoes into rounds and place into a zip top bag. Add the vinegar and toss to coat all of the potatoes. Place the bag into the refrigerator overnight.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, parsley, tarragon, garlic, cornichons, onions, and celery. Once evenly combined, add the potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Let the salad chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.


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5 c. vegetables (squash, onions, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, etc.)

1/4 c. balsamic vinegar

1/4 c. olive oil

1/4 c. chopped tomato

2 T. maple syrup

2 T. chopped fresh herbs (basil and thyme are nice)

1 T. lemon juice
4 cloves minced garlic

1/4 t. salt

1/4 t. pepper


1) Cut the vegetables into bite-size pieces or leave them whole, depending on their shape.  (For example, you’d want to chop up zucchini but not so much the cherry tomatoes.)  Place them in a large bowl.

2) Whisk together the remaining ingredients, pour the marinade over the vegetables and stir to coat.  Refrigerate.

3) Allow vegetables to marinate for several hours (anywhere from 1 to 24 hours of marinating will do).

4) Thread the vegetables onto bamboo or metal skewers.  If you’re using bamboo skewers, it’s a good idea to soak them in water for at least 30 minutes so they don’t catch on fire when you put them on the grill.

5) Grill the kabobs over medium heat for about 8-10 minutes, turning once.


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Fresh This Week Tips – May 25, 2011


STORE: Never refrigerate tomatoes – it kills the flavor. Keep them at room temperature, lightly wrapped if you prefer. If you want to speed the ripening process, put them in a pierced paper bag with an apple, which emits ethylene gas, a ripening agent.

PREP: Grape tomatoes are best used split in half in salads, so you can still appreciate the burst of flavor from their thick skins.

USE: To make a quick just-back-from-the-market lunch, cut the tomatoes in quarters and put them in a serving bowl with some minced garlic, a little olive oil and just a splash of red wine vinegar. Season until sharp with salt and black pepper and then toss some freshly cooked spaghetti on top. Give it a second to warm through, then stir to combine.


STORE: Carrots can be stored in a plastic bag for up to 10 days, but be sure to store them away from apples, pears, potatoes and other fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene gas, which causes them to become bitter.

PREP: Peel older carrots; younger ones need only a light rinsing or scrubbing. Whiteness on a carrot’s skin indicates dehydration: A quick soaking in water should restore its texture and color.

USE: Along with celery and onions, carrots are used to create depth in stocks, marinades, soups, and sauces. They pair well with honey, thyme, cumin, curry, and orange.


STORE: Store whole onions in their mesh bag (or any container that lets air circulate) for up to 2 months in a cool, dark, dry space. Don’t store onions under the sink or near potatoes, because moisture and the gases emitted by potatoes will cause the onions to rot. Refrigerate a cut onion, skin on (it will last a bit longer) and tightly wrapped, for up to 4 days.

PREP: Peel skin and cut onion in half through the root with utility knife. To properly cut an onion, place onion half, cut side down, on cutting board. 
Holding knife horizontally, make cuts in onion parallel to board, almost to root end. Cut onion vertically into thin slices, holding onion with fingers to keep its shape. 
Turn onion and cut crosswise to root end. Repeat with remaining onion half.

USE: Out of the onion family, yellow onions have the strongest flavor. They’re pretty overpowering raw, but cooking mellows their flavor nicely.

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Potatoes, Beets, Chard, Spinach and Radishes

Last week we were able to get a few crops in the ground and are hopeful to get a few more this week. It hasn’t been easy timing our efforts with the weather. Our first planting of beets had to be replanted. I planted them before the last deluge a week ago and that amount of rain so saturated our soils that there was no way for even the mighty beet seed to break through that crusted over layer of soil. Thankfully, I only planted a few thousand feet. I usually start out with smaller plantings in the spring and then work my way up to larger plantings as the season and the weather stabilizes.

We were able to plant potatoes on Saturday. We are planting four varieties this year. Satinas and Yukon Golds are yellow potatoes and Red Lasodas and Chieftans are two red varieties. They are inter-planted (Yukons, Red Lasodas, Satinas, and Chieftans) so I can keep them straight. It also makes for a beautiful planting because the flowers and plants, although all potatoes, have a different hue to them.

We also use soil microbes when we plant our seeds and potatoes. Our strategy is to pre-inoculate the soil and crops with the good bacteria. Soil microbes (aka, good bacteria) are essential to healthy food production. Not only do I not use herbicides or pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, I am proactive in feeding my soil with lots of minerals and soil microbes. Soil microbes are essential for plant health, because they break down the minerals so the plants can absorb them. If the minerals are not in the soil, then they won’t be in my crops and, consequently, not in your food. Soil microbes make sure the plant has the minerals available to uptake.

Our BioGarden line is the same concept, but in home garden quantities. The BioGarden Soil Conditioner is an excellent product for lawns, flower beds and garden areas. We have several products for home gardeners that will help you produce healthy and beautiful landscapes and gardens (foodscapes).

Here’s to a successful growing season going forward!

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Fresh This Week Tips – May 17th, 2011


STORE: Leave strawberries unwashed and loosely wrap the container in a plastic bag or paper towel and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

PREP: Wash the berries and trim the caps just before using.

USE: Strawberries are perfect in pies, just right in jams, and a sweet-tart touch in salads. But they’re at their best raw, served at room temperature, topped with freshly whipped cream.


STORE: Refrigerate in a loosely closed plastic bag; do not seal tightly. If roots are attached, wrap them in a damp paper towel before placing the lettuce in the bag. Lettuce is delicate and should be eaten within 5 days (iceberg lasts up to 2 weeks); discard any leaves that are wilted or slimy. Do not separate the leaves from the head or wash until just before using.

PREP: To toss a picture-perfect salad, first tear (don’t cut) leaves from the core, then clean and dry them well. The best way to do this is with a salad spinner. Fill it with cold water, add greens to the basket, and swish. Lift out greens, dump the water, and repeat until the water is grit-free. Spin the greens until thoroughly dry (in batches, if necessary). Excess moisture dilutes the dressing. Oil can cause greens to wilt, so dress them just before serving with only enough dressing to nicely coat the leaves without pooling in the bottom of the bowl.

USE: Perhaps the most versatile vegetable in existence, lettuce is a great accompaniment to almost anything your heart desires. Most notably found in salads, check out this recipe for a strawberry green leaf salad that is sure to satisfy your taste buds.


4 c. leaf lettuce

1 pt. strawberries

2 kiwifruit


1/4 c. honey

1/4 c. wine or tarragon vinegar

1/4 c. salad oil

1/2 tsp. dill weed

  • Wash, dry and tear lettuce. Wash, hull and quarter strawberries. Peel and slice kiwifruit. Toss gently in bowl. Combine dressing ingredients and shake until well mixed. Drizzle over salad.


STORE: Keep unwashed stalks in a loose plastic bag, leaves attached, in the vegetable drawer. Rhubarb will last up to a week; use it before the stalks become soft.

PREP: Just before using, wash the stalks and remove the leaves (they contain oxalic acid, which is toxic if eaten in large quantities). If you’ve got a tough bunch, you can peel them with a paring knife or a vegetable peeler.

USE: Rhubarb is quite tart and is best cooked with sugar in sauces or compotes or used as a filling in pies, crisps, or cobblers. It is lovely paired with the sweetness of strawberries or raspberries.

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Oh my!

I just looked at the extended forecast for this week and there is no rain in it for the next four days. Four days without rain! Somebody pinch me! There hasn’t been four days without rain since September! Truth be told, it hasn’t been the rain itself that has been the problem, but the volume of rain and the lack of sunshine. A spring shower here and there is normal, but these every other day torrential downpours mean waiting a long time before the soil is dry enough for us to get back out into the fields.

I was visiting with a retired farmer and I said, “I bet you are glad you are not farming this year?” He smiled and responded, “It is going to take a whole lot of equipment and man hours to get the crops planted this year.” He understands that in a year like this all the work stacks up and when the weather breaks, every farmer will be working around the clock trying to get two months of work done all at once!

We are really far behind in our plantings. Last year we planted our first lettuce starts on April 6th and our third planting was this same time last year. This year we had to compost the first lettuce starts. On Saturday I planted our second and third plantings of lettuce at the same time! What I planted the starts into would be considered “mudding” them in. Hope they make it!

I hope my headlights are working on my tractors and nothing breaks on any equipment this week, because if the weather holds we are going to be in the fields every waking moment. ☺

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Tangy Cauliflower Salad

Cooking Time: about an hour


1 small clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons capers

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 lemon, zested (2 teaspoons) and juiced (2 tablespoons)

8 cups bite-size cauliflower florets, (about 1 head), cooked until tender-crisp (see Tip)

PREPARATION: Whisk garlic, capers, oil, vinegar, crushed red pepper, lemon zest and juice in a large bowl. Add cauliflower to the bowl and toss to coat. Chill the salad for 30 minutes, or overnight. Serve cold.

TIPS: To cook florets: In a steamer basket, cover and steam 8 to 10 minutes for tender-crisp or 15 minutes for very tender. Or microwave, covered, with 1/4 cup water for 2 to 4 minutes for tender-crisp or 3 to 5 minutes for tender. A 2-pound head of cauliflower yields about 8 cups bite-size florets.

Nutrition Bonus: Cauliflower is a good source of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, and has a modest amount of calcium.

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Fresh This Week Tips – May 5th, 2011


STORE: Store cauliflower for up to one week in your crisper covered by a plastic or paper bag.

PREP: Keep whole and chop off ¼ inch off the stem or cut the head into bite-sized florets.

USE: Steam, roast, bake or stir fry cauliflower. Be careful not to overcook!


STORE: Quite perishable, Murcotts keep only a day or two at room temperature and up to one week refrigerated.

USE: Use Murcott tangerines as you would other varieties. Their sweetness pairs well with butter-based sauces and may be added to vinaigrette. Mix tangerine juice with grapefruit juice, sugar and water, then freeze into sorbet. Add tangerine sections to green salads with toasted pecans and goat cheese.


STORE:  Refrigerate in a tightly sealed plastic bag. They’ll last four or five days.

PREP: Many sugar snap varieties have a tough fibrous string that runs the length of the pea and should be removed before cooking. Fold back the stem and pull — the string will unzip quite easily. Check carefully; some varieties have strings on both sides (just repeat the stem operation from the opposite end). Cook sugar snaps very briefly to preserve their flavor and crunch.



•           The pod can be left whole and served with your favorite dip.

•           The peas can be removed from the pod. Puree the raw peas in a food processor or blender and fold the puree into your favorite dip.

•           Snap the whole pea pod into 1-inch pieces and add to salads—vegetable, macaroni, chicken, etc.


•           Use instead of snow peas in oriental dishes.

•           In stews or soups, add whole or in pieces, 2 minutes before serving—just long enough to heat thoroughly.

•           Stir-fry as you would any vegetable.

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What Really Matters

This past Saturday there was a terrible boating accident near Camano Island—a boat capsized in the bay. An uncle died on the scene and his nephew died a day later on Mother’s Day. The young man was wearing a life jacket, but was trapped under the boat. This is a terrible tragedy for a family here. Some in the family lost an uncle, who was probably also a husband, a dad, a grandpa, a brother, and, of course, a friend to many others.

As I sat in church, I kept looking at my children, who often go boating with grandpa in pursuit of the mighty salmon. I was aware that the young man was still on life support and the family was deciding on Mother’s Day to release their precious baby to Jesus.  I cannot begin to fathom the depths of courage and love it would take to say good bye. I know that this family has hope to see their son again in Heaven, but it must only slightly comfort them.

I have a 13 year old son and I couldn’t imagine if he was gone. I would so miss his smile, sense of humor, and hugs. I would long to see him fall in love and marry, raise a family, and succeed in his career. I spent most of that church service, before hearing the fatal news, weeping and praying that Jesus would let this family keep their baby. But that was not to be.

We had a daughter born on a Mother’s Day and this mom lost a son on Mother’s day. Both major events in the life of a mother, one filled with happiness and one with sorrow.

As I write this, I want every conversation, every goodnight, and every hug to be meaningful. How can anyone prepare for the accidental or sudden loss of a child, a relative, or a friend? I would contend you can’t, but you can soften life’s blow by mending fences quickly, keeping short accounts and not letting the sun go down on your anger.

Life is so precious. Make your relationships count, so that when death comes, and it will, your sorrow will not be full of regrets, but of the sweet memories shared together.