Drink well, spend less: 5 fresh ideas for summer sips (Watermelon Agua Fresca)

We packed a picnic lunch on Saturday and spread a quilt over the violets and ferns of the forest floor. There were smoked salmon stuffed bagels to enjoy, along with chocolate pots de creme, but it was a bottle of chilled Watermelon Agua Fresca that stole the show.

Whizzed up in the blender with a few ice cubes, it was thrown together just 5 minutes before we left, while my boys pressed their noses against the screen door and inquired when lunch would be ready.

Our blush pink ‘fresh water’ was enjoyed by even the smallest member of the family, who guzzled her watered-down version before anyone else had finished theirs. I take it she approves of both picnics and summer beverages.

watermelon agua fresca and a picnic box

The season for fresh, fruity drinks is upon us, and will last through September, when it is overtaken by pumpkin spice lattes and spiced cider. For now, however, berries, stone fruits and melon flavor our sips, paired with herbs and other aromatics.

Whether we are picnicking with just the five of us or entertaining a group of guests, we’re drinking homemade, non-alcoholic beverages all summer long. We don’t load up our shopping cart with cases of soft drinks or juice boxes, and wine is reserved for special occasions.

Cocktails? Yes, they make a fairly frequent appearance, but this post is about the thirst-quenchers, suitable for the whole family. Okay, except for the iced tea and coffee.

Making agua fresca, iced tea or lemonade is one way we infuse our summer drinks with seasonal flavors and skip the sugar and artificial ingredients contained in most store-bought versions. We also manage to save a little money in the process.

Drink well, spend less? That works. It also happens to fit into our theme for this month’s Eat Well, Spend Less challenge: summer entertaining on a budget. Read on for my 5 fresh ideas for summer sips and a recipe for Watermelon Agua Fresca.

[Read more…]

How to plan a simple taco gathering: the make, the buy & the do-ahead

Brought to you by Archer Farms only at Target.

Spring has sprung. In a span of a week, our lawn turned green and the forest unfurled into a glimmering emerald panorama. All at once it seems highly appropriate to be eating outdoors, and besides, how can we stay away with the chorus of the bullfrogs and the quacking of the mallards calling us to come and salute spring?

I decided rather last minute to welcome friends over for a meal last weekend. They were in town on short notice and we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see them – and meet their adorable new baby girl.

Everyone in the family pitched in to prepare for our first backyard gathering of the season. The boys power-washed the deck chairs and Danny primed the grill, while I prepped for a simple taco feast.

The day turned out to be gloriously warm; the children ran barefoot and our friends toured the garden and the chicken coop before we ate. And boy, did we eat.

[Read more…]

Cooking for Others: A Guide to Giving Sympathy Meals

Our recent Q&A on sympathy meals received a tremendous response. Thank you to all who took the time to share your experiences with either giving or receiving meals. It was very, very interesting to read your comments and I took note of all the questions. I hope to answer them in this follow-up post.

We agreed that there are people in need all around us, and a small gesture like giving a meal can be a blessing both to giver and receiver. In fact, by the sounds of things, lives were very nearly saved just because a meal -or series of meals- was received during a time of need.

It was interesting that many more readers had given a meal than accepted one. Those who had been recipients spoke passionately about how touched they were and how helpful it was to be given a practical gift, in lieu of flowers. And there was another theme – the food that was brought is the best, or very near to the best, food that they had ever eaten. I’d have to agree with that one, too.

Plenty of questions also arose, all of them extremely pertinent. When is the best time to deliver a meal? What about allergies? Should a casserole be pre-baked or not? Hot or cold? Frozen or fresh?

This post will highlight the best tips, helpful suggestions, and friendly advice on bringing meals to others. Hopefully you will be encouraged to look around and reach out to people in your community through a hot meal.

[Read more…]

My Christmas Cookie Swap: a Recap

Christmas comes but once a year, and so does my annual holiday cookie swap, so I like to make it as memorable and fun as possible. It’s my absolute favorite party of the season. I get to connect with friends from all over, sample mountains of cookies of all varieties and sizes while sipping hot spiced apple cider and exceptionally tasty homemade eggnog. What’s not to love?

Last weekend was the Big Event and it was a smashing success! Twelve girls, a few guys, and ten excited children braved a snowstorm and gathered in my home to swap over a thousand homemade cookies. Here’s the recap.

[Read more…]