Black-eyed pea potato salad for a picnic

Last summer we made is to less then one Wednesday night Whitaker Music Festival (I didn’t say “zero” because we picnicked with G and some friends one night, but left before music started in order to get someone home to bed).*  We’re set to remedy that abysmal count this summer, with standing Wednesday night childcare (by which I mean grandma).

Whitaker nights mean picnics and picnic food.  Last week I whipped up a pasta salad full of veggies, including scapes, kale, and fennel from the garden, plus sides of pickled beets and artichokes.


On Sunday, I cooked the very last of our garden potatoes.  We ate some for lunch, and I turned the rest into this potato salad.  While I usually cook in large batches, the remaining potatoes dictated the size of this recipe.  You could, of course, scale it up.


Recipe by Melissa
Serves 2-3

5-6 egg-sized potatoes
2 T finely diced onion
2 T finely diced garlic scapes (or 1-2 t minced garlic)
1/3 c. chopped bell pepper (I used frozen)
1/8 c. finely diced celery
2/3 c. cooked, drained black-eyed peas
1-2 T olive oil
1 T mayonnaise
1 t dijon mustard
2 T plain yogurt
1 t white wine vinegar
S&P to taste
Fresh herbs**



Clean the potatoes.  Then place whole, skin-on potatoes in salted water.  Bring to a boil, and boil for 10-12 minutes until tender, but not over-cooked.  Cool, then cut into bite-sized pieces.

Prep your veggies.  Toss potatoes, beans, veggies and all of the other ingredients in a bowl to mix.  Keep chilled until ready to serve.

**Fresh dill would be great here, but our fresh dill is at the garden, which is miles away.  So.


I’m rounding out tonight’s meal with some leftover kale-quinoa quiche (which is great at room temp).  Artichokes will also make another appearance — they’re somewhat time-consuming to eat, which makes them not-so-great for meals with little ones, but perfect for relaxed, open-air dining.

Here’s a quick peek at our standard picnic gear.


Clockwise from top left: Mason jar wine glass, water bottle, s&p, cloth napkins, cloth utensil holder, and our fancy “plates.”  Not pictured — an insulated bag to keep everything cool in the 90-degree heat!

Our go-to picnic plates consist of the top and bottom of a large take-out container.  This option is perfect for picnics (or potlucks) — one person uses the container and the other uses the lid.  This system requires no on-site clean-up; when the meal is over, just put the lid on for no-mess transportation.  (I saw some people washing dishes in the restrooms last week, and, while I appreciated their attempts to avoid disposable options, the remaining bits of food and oils were clogging the sinks.)

Sadly, after years picnic and potluck use, our plastic container-plate is getting more than a little worn.  I’d like to find something similar, but made out of stainless steel, as a replacement.

I’ve been wanting to make a “chicken” salad (using chickpeas), and I’m having fun thinking of other picnic food ideas.  What’s your go-to food for a picnic?

**Check out the Garden’s “Hit a Green Note” challenge/pledge for sustainable picnicking 🙂

Broiled: No-bake stuffed zucchini

I started this post almost a year ago, and it’s been languishing in my “Drafts” folder.  I recreated this dish a week ago for one of Gabriel’s birthday dinners, and my father-in-law requested the recipe.

I should note here that my FIL is a very good cook — we’re usually asking him for recipes, so it’s fun when the roles are reversed.  It’s also a bit easier when we ask him for recipes, since he actually, ahem, uses recipes, as opposed to just making stuff up.

Stuffed zucchini is a great use for somewhat overgrown zucchini and other summer squash, but most recipes call for a long baking time.  This recipe is not oven-free, as it requires a few minutes under the broiler, but it still probably uses less energy and heats the house up less than having the oven on for an hour.  If you’re making a small batch, and have a toaster oven, you can really be efficient!


This is one of those “use what you have/what you like” recipes.  In the above photo, from last fall, I used quinoa as the grain, and we had tomatoes and peppers from the garden.  Last week, I used brown rice, along with some tempeh to up the protein and flavor (lentils are another good vegetarian protein addition).  We didn’t have tomatoes or peppers last week, so I used fennel, kale, and corn, plus some eggplant puree and fresh herbs, for the vegetables.

There is a decent bit of prep work, but a lot of it can be done ahead of time, so it works well when you’re having guests for dinner, or if you just have time earlier in the day, but not in those last frantic minutes right before dinner.

No-bake Stuffed Zucchini

Recipe by Melissa
Serves 4-6


2-3 large zucchini or other summer squash (ideally at least 8-10″ long and ≥9″ diameter)
1 onion
6 cloves garlic
1.5 c. uncooked grain (brown rice, quinoa, millet, farro)
1 c. cooked lentils or 1 8oz package of tempeh (optional)
4-8 c. vegetables of choice (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, kale or spinach, fennel)fresh or dried herbs (thyme, oregano, parsley)
1-2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
olive oil and/or butter
salt and pepper


1. Prep the squash: cut in half length-wise, and scoop out the seeds and goop in the middle.  Sprinkle salt on the insides, and drain in a colander for 30 minutes.  While the squash is draining, bring a large pot of water to a boil (large enough to fit the squash halves).  After 30 minutes, parboil the squash for 5-7 minutes, until slightly tender.  Drain well.  Reserve water for next step (optional).

2. Prep the grain.  To up the flavor, add a bit of salt, plus some onion powder and a pinch of tumeric to this step.  If you want to conserve water and energy, use some of the already-heated water from step 1 to cook the grain.

3. Prep the veggies: Since we’re not baking the stuffed zucc, you want everything fairly tender and ready to eat.  Chop everything into bite-sized pieces.  Sauté onions, then add other veggies to sauté.  I used a mix of butter and olive oil, plus about 1/2 t. of salt.  If you’re using tomatoes, you can just throw the chopped, uncooked tomatoes into the filling, or cook them down into more of a sauce.

4. Prep the tempeh, if using: I basically followed the method I use to prep tempeh for vegetarian reubens, except I crumbled it up first, instead of leaving it in a slab.

5. Combine it all: In one large pan or bowl (one of the ones that’s already dirty is fine, if it’s big enough), combine everything from steps 1-4.  Toss in any herbs.  Taste for overall salt and flavor level, and adjust as needed.

6. Stuff it and broil it: arrange squash halves on a broiler pan or in a large cast iron pan.  Sprinkle halves with salt and garlic powder.  Add the stuffing.  Preheat the broiler for a couple of minutes, then broil for 5 minutes.  Remove, add cheese, and broil for an additional 2-3 minutes.



  • Don’t worry if you have extra stuffing.  Serve it on the side, or save it for leftovers.
  • If you don’t want to heat the house up at all, I imagine you could do the “broil” step on the grill to good effect.
  • While not required, adding something a little “saucy” can be nice.  For my most recent batch, the eggplant puree (frozen from last summer) filled that role.  Tomatoes or tomato sauce work similarly well.
  • To prep ahead, complete steps 1-5.  You could stuff the squash ahead of time, also, but it’s best done shortly before broiling.  If your filling and squash are starting at refrigerator temperature, either get them out of the fridge about 30 minutes before dinner, or microwave the filling to warm it before completing step 6.


Blueberry boy

So, I did it.  I sucked it up and went blueberry picking with my toddler.

The night before, I posted this to Facebook:

Torn about taking G blueberry picking tomorrow. It would be easier w/o him, and I wouldn’t have to worry about nap timing if I leave him behind. Someone tell me it will be okay if I take him?

I was really on the fence.  I liked the idea of sharing the experience with him, but I was fairly sure I would accomplish more without him, and I really don’t like messing with nap time.  Some things are sacrosanct, and nap and bed times fall into that category around here!  And I could always take him next summer, right?

But I was going to have my MIL along to help, so I went for it.  Unfortunately, I didn’t plan well, so Tuesday morning found me madly running around the house, trying to get our lunch packed, self dressed, potty and some toys packed . . . . I really almost called the whole thing off then and there, and the first five minutes in the car, on the way to meet my MIL were no better.  Whiny toddler, still-stressed and frazzled mama — not a pretty picture.  I forced myself to take a few deep breaths and just drive.

Anyway, my game plan was to start early and tire the little Pookle out enough during the morning that he would nap in the car on the way back (car napping = often not his strong suit).

The blueberry patch was already hopping by the time we arrived (and unfortunately, already fairly picked over — there were, technically, plenty of blueberries out there, but at this stage, it took longer to pick a given amount).

As expected, Gabriel went right to work, picking and eating blueberries.  I love that my not-quite 3-year-old totally knows how to identify ripe berries.

[Note: if the video is not working, try a different browser or adjusted settings.]

My goals for the morning were to pick 5-6 gallons of blueberries and keep G from turning into a blueberry, a la Violet Beauregard in Willy Wonka.

Turns out the second was more of a success than the first.  After about twenty minutes of Sir eating everything he picked (and asking for contributions from us), I stumbled across “construction site blueberry picking.”

My big bucket was the dump truck, and Sir’s little bucket was the backhoe scoop.  His mission was to fill the backhoe scoop with berries, and dump them into the dump truck.  This game yielded almost an hour of picking and [mostly] not eating!


In the end, given the not-so-great picking conditions, my MIL and I, combined, only picked about 4.5 gallons of berries.  She’s planning a trip to Wisconsin and hopes to find more berries there, so she very generously gave all her pickings to us.  Still short of my goal, but not bad!

My nap plan sort-of worked: within 5 minutes of leaving the blueberry farm, G was snoring in the backseat.  However, I made my plan thinking that the farm was about 90 minutes from home, instead of the 50 minutes it actually is (I was aware of the corrected driving time, and thus reduced nap time, going into it).  I knew he would almost certainly wake up when we exited the interstate, but I wasn’t willing to drive extra just to extend the nap.  A 35-minute nap is NOT ideal, but better than nothing!

Recent eats and recipe: Lentil Fennel Soup

The garden is bountiful these days: loads of red and black raspberries, bunches of greens, big bulbs of fennel, and sweet, crunchy sugar snap peas.

I love eating the sugar snap peas as-is (and so does Sir), but we have enough that I felt like experimenting, so I tried this sugar snap salad recipe.  Fortunately, I had grabbed some mint from my MIL’s yard, so I was good to go (I didn’t have shallots, so I just substituted some onion).  It was a snap to make and tasty, too!

Next up, marinated fennel.  I started this on the same afternoon that I made the pea salad, planning to give the fennel a nice long marinade before using it for the next day’s dinner.  It just so happened that the fennel marinade in the recipe I wanted to try was almost identical to the dressing for the pea salad, so I just made extra and tossed it on the fennel.


The next night, the marinated fennel paired with fresh mozzarella and grilled bread for a satisfying, summery sandwich (recipe here), shown above in a deconstructed, bread salad version that I tossed together for a picnic dinner later in the week.

We’re awash in fennel right now, so I created a lentil soup recipe to make use of the fennel, as well as some greens.

Recipe by Melissa


One large bulb of fennel
1-2 T. butter1-2 T. olive oil
Chopped garlic scapes or minced garlic
Oregano (dried or fresh)
1/4 t. tumeric
1/2 t. onion powder
1 t. salt
1 c. dry lentils
1/2 c. wild rice
3-4 c. loosely packed fresh spinach, washed and chopped


Cover wild rice with 2 c. water.  Bring to boil, lower heat, and simmer for 60 minutes.

Cook lentils in 4-5 cups water.  The extra cooking water will become part of the broth for the soup.  Once at a boil, simmer for about 15 minutes until tender, but not mushy.

Meanwhile, quarter fennel (discarding tough core, if present), then chop into bite size pieces.  Sauté fennel in butter and olive oil, with a bit of salt, about 10 minutes over medium heat.  Add the garlic or scapes and sauté an additional minutes, then turn off heat.

Puree about 1/3 of the cooked lentils and 1/3 of the cooked fennel with some of the extra lentil “broth.”  Combine puree and all remaining ingredients in a large pan.  Check salt and seasoning level, and adjust as desired.  Simmer 2-3 minutes to wilt spinach.


This was good the first night, but, as is the way of soups and stews, it tasted even better for lunch two days later, after the flavors had time to meld.


Linguini with rhubarb and carmelized onions

I visited my family in Iowa over Memorial Day weekend, and, upon arrival, I discovered a treasure trove of magazines.  I’m a closet magazine junkie — I love reading books, but there’s just something about sitting and flipping through a magazine that feels fun and indulgent.

I don’t subscribe to any magazines myself, between the environmental and monetary costs.  I could get more magazines from the library, but I don’t.  Anyhow, I indulged in magazine fest while at home: Self, Health, Parents, and Better Homes and Gardens.  (My mom sent some back to StL with me, so the mag-fest continues!)

The May issue of BHG had a whole section of rhubarb recipes, including several savory dishes, and the rhubarb linguini caught my eye.  Once back in StL, I was on garden duty while my boys and MIL were in Florida, and, lo and behold, we had rhubarb to harvest.

I started out by more or less following the recipe as printed.  My garden harvest also included a ton of greens, so I made a side of sauteed spinach with carmelized onions to go with my pasta.  Turns out that was an good move, as the sweetness of the carmelized onions was just what this recipe needed to balance out the tart rhubarb!

It’s been for. ev. er. since I’ve posted a recipe.  Sorry about that, and here you go!



Recipe by Melissa, adapted from BHG May 2014
Serves 6-8

12 oz. whole wheat linguini
2 c. thinly sliced onion
4 c. loosely packed spinach or kale
3 c. 1/4-inch thick slices rhubarb
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
4-6 oz. freshly grated Parmesean cheese
1 T. dried parsley
chopped fresh parsley

Carmelize the onions.  While the onions cook, start working on the other steps.

Wash and chop the spinach.  If you haven’t already chopped the rhubarb, chop the rhubarb.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  While waiting for the water to boil, grate the cheese and chop the garlic.

Cook the pasta according to package directions for al dente noodles.  One minute before the pasta is finished, remove one cup of pasta cooking water and reserve.  Toss the chopped rhubarb in the pot with the pasta, cook one more minute, and drain.

Sauté the garlic in olive oil in the hot, now-empty pasta pan.  Add spinach and carmelized onions.  Add the pasta and rhubarb.

Lower the heat, and add the cheese, dried parsley, and reserved pasta water.  Mix until well combined.  Turn heat to medium, and cook, stirring constantly, for two minutes.

Garnish with fresh parsley and freshly ground black pepper to serve.


This was tasty the first night, but I think it tasted better the second time around, after the rhubarb mellowed a bit and the flavors had a chance to mingle.