I haven’t read Under the Tuscan Sun in ages and this is my reminder to do so soon. It was one of my favorites when I first began teaching and I pulled out line-after-line to share with my creative writing students. The way that Mayes described the colors of Tuscany took my breath away. Mayes writes, ” When it rains or when the light changes, the facade of the house turns gold, sienna, ocher; a previous scarlet paint job seeps through in rosy spots like a box of crayons left to melt in the sun.” In my dreams, I see the valleys she writes about — like bowls of fog — filled with fruit tress. I want sink my teeth into figs, pears, and apricots and navigate the ancient Roman roads. I want to be there right now, don’t you? (It was -2 on my commute to work today.)
When I met John I learned that he shares my love of travel. We have plans to visit Alaska this summer – and he will be the travel director – meaning the vacation will be on his terms. Alaska was never on my bucket list before I met John but he talked so passionately about a trip he took there with his uncle and father that I want to experience the real Alaska with him. We will not be taking a cruise or staying in touristy hotels. We will be roughing it – so to say. I am nervous and excited to venture out of my comfort zone. I promise plenty of blog posts from our adventures.
My friends and family have found themselves shaking their heads in amusement many times over the past year as John encourages me to embrace my true Yooper. This includes helping him split and stack wood to heat our log home, cleaning the chicken coop, weeding the garden in my Bog boots and bikini, and this winter I have even learned how to load the outside wood boiler with logs.
Because marriage is about compromise, John has agreed to visit Italy and Greece – on my terms – for my 50th birthday (that gives us a substantial amount of time to save) and I cannot wait to experience the colors and flavors of the Mediterranean. In my mind’s eye I imagine the magic that Mayes describes come to life before my eyes. I am a goal setter and I love having my eye fixed on the future and knowing that John and I can reward ourselves for hard work. It also helps me live more frugally, knowing that being wise with our money will pay off with new experiences and the wisdom gained by travel.
In my last post, Time to Make Myself a Priority Again, I shared my struggles in finding time for myself and even for cooking healthy meals. I was waving the white flag at my picky family and relying on processed food – in return I have been feeling less than healthy. Last weekend an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, greens, and berries found their way into my shopping cart and this week I plan a repeat performance. My favorite mid-day snacks at work this week were grapefruit – peeled like an orange. They were so sweet and juicy that sugar was not needed (though I don’t think I’ve put sugar on grapefruit since I was a kid).
On Tuesday I got home from work and whipped up a batch of homemade marinara for a pan of vegetarian lasagna (a great way to sneak vegetables into my family’s diet). I sautéed garlic, onion, celery, red bell pepper, mushrooms, carrots, and spinach, and added one jar of store-bought spaghetti sauce and a large can of crushed tomatoes along with oregano and basil. I layered up the sauce with lasagna noodles, cottage cheese, and added three cheeses to the middle layer and top (mozzarella, parmesan, and Colby jack). My husband and stepson LOVED it – though my stepdaughter picked around her plate. Oh well, more for us! 😉
In recommitting to my health, I started thinking about all the meals that I used to enjoy but have not made in over a year because I know that John and the kids would not favor them. I have decided to cook them again. John is always willing to help in the kitchen and we will just have to eat two totally different things more often. This morning when I came downstairs after getting ready for work; not only had John made my coffee and pulled my vehicle out of the garage, but he had already put dinner in the crock pot for him and kids (ribs with BBQ sauce). On Monday I roasted potatoes, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts and made sure to make a double batch – so there was plenty for tonight. I had roasted vegetables with a GIANT dinner salad with a veggie patty and a dollop of hummus for extra protein.
After dinner I decided that I would prepare one of my favorite tomato sauces dishes to have for lunch tomorrow. As I chopped up the ingredients and juiced and zested the lemon – I could not help envision the Italy that Frances Mayes has fanned out for me in the pages of her writing. Oh, what a delight it would be to select a fresh lemon from a tree and allow its perfume to fill the kitchen. Like the quote I shared at the top of the page – I am often a cook that creates without recipes. Of course, blogging has changed that slightly, but I always recommend that you let your own taste buds lead you. Add as much or as little lemon as you like and season with the amount of dill that satisfies you. My recipes are always a suggestion and I enjoy hearing the tweaks that individuals make to suit their family and their own tastes.
This sauce is great with a variety of olives and I have even been known to chop up some of my mom’s famous dill pickles to add to the sauce. It is fantastic over pasta or zucchini noodles If you eat fish, tuna is a wonderful accompaniment (I have added a tin of tuna to the sauce – or topped with a piece of seared tuna steak). If you are vegetarian or follow a plant-based diet, tender white beans are a fine addition.
LEMONY TOMATO SAUCE WITH DILL
*2 cloves finely minced garlic
*1/4 cup chopped onion
*1/2 cup chopped celery
* 1 Tbsp olive oil
*32 ounces canned tomatoes (I used crushed tomatoes because that is what I had on hand. I often use whole tomatoes and break them apart a bit with a spoon or my hand. In the summer I have made this with fresh garden tomatoes and there is nothing that can compare to it.)
*10-15 olives (cut in 1/2 or chopped)
*2 Tablespoons of capers
*Fresh chopped dill (I use kitchen shears to snip and I used approximately 1/4 cup. A couple teaspoons of dried dill would work as well)
*Juice and zest from one lemon
*Black pepper to taste (I do not add salt since the olives and capers add enough of saltiness to the sauce)
Sauté the onions, celery, and garlic until soft. Add in the tomatoes and simmer for ten minutes. Stir in the olives, capers, dill, and lemon zest and juice – simmer a few minutes to incorporate the flavors. Spoon over pasta or zucchini noodles.
Print out the recipe here: LEMONY TOMATO SAUCE WITH DILL
I hope that you enjoy this sauce as much as I do. I cannot wait to have it for lunch tomorrow. Incidentally, after my sauce was finished bubbling on the stove – John, who was scrubbing the pans in the sink (he sweetly offered to help without my asking) – eyed the Lemony Tomato Sauce. “Try it,” I encouraged him, curious as to what he would think. “It’s good!” he responded in surprise. He thought it would be a great topping for pasta with seared tuna steak. It looks like I will be adding tuna to my shopping list. I wonder what the kids will think – I will have them try a bite (they love tuna steak).
Not only am I changing up my meals and snacks, but this weekend I am going to buy a new multivitamin and add in a vitamin D and calcium supplement. What are your favorite brands of vitamins? I am open to suggestions.
It is also at the top of my list to make more time for myself to read for pleasure, write, and focus on my photography. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan has dramatic landscapes in all seasons and I need to capture the beauty of our hobby farm in the winter.
Thank you for the comments and emails – it certainly is empowering to know that I am not alone in my struggles and I love that we can help encourage each other. As I like to say about my new role of motherhood – it takes a village – and I am happy that you are part of mine! ❤