Stuff and Nonsense: June 2018


Cucumber & Tomato Salad With Cheese & Olives

I often serve a simple chopped cucumber and tomato salad as my go-to weeknight side dish, but that can, admittedly, get a little samey-samey from week to week. Happily, the addition of a little fresh soft cheese and olives is a great way to dress it up and make it taste more interesting.

The recipe listed below is just an example. All of the amounts are quite approximate and should be adjusted to suit your own taste/appetite. I seed the tomatoes if I'm using a full-sized one, because otherwise the salad can be bit, well, seedy. However, I don't bother to peel or seed the cucumber because I prefer the added texture. As always, feel free to do your own thing.

Yes, those are fish sticks in the background. No, I have no shame. They were delicious.

Cucumber & Tomato Salad With Cheese & Olives

Yield: 2


  • 4 oz chopped tomatoes
  • 5 oz chopped cucumber
  • 3 oz crumbled feta cheese or fresh goat cheese or perlini mozzarella
  • 1½ oz chopped kalamata olives
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons garlic-infused olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh basil, parsley, or Mediterranean oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Toss all ingredients together in a serving bowl. Allow to rest on the kitchen side (so the flavors can marry) while you grill your chicken, bake your fish fingers, or whathaveyou.


Cookbook Club: Quick & Easy

Since I launched the library’s cookbook club, I’ve required patrons to make dishes from library cookbooks, but I’ve received a little push back about that at every meeting. I know there are a few patrons that are just dying to bring their favorite recipe -- source be damned -- but this is, officially, a library book club, and we need to utilize library materials or it’s just a potluck that happens to be held at the library and I don’t really know how to justify its continued existence as a library program.

As the most common excuse for bringing a non-library recipe is that it is too difficult to find a good recipe in our cookbook collection, I’ve widened the criteria to include magazines and ebooks. My coworkers rightly pointed out to me that it can be quite difficult to print from an ebook or emagazine, but I reckon it will work itself out. Some patrons will stick with print materials, others will move to digital. Some who move to digital will figure out printing for themselves. Others will need help and get it from me. And, doubtless, some have been saying it’s too hard will still bring their own non-library recipe!

Anyway, June was “Quick and Easy Cooking.” This theme seemed to go over well with everyone and all recipes were library recipes -- two patrons even tried out printing recipes from the library’s emagazine collection, agreeing that was a “pretty okay” experience overall. We had six dishes in total and they were consumed with great gusto. Indeed, this is the first meeting we’ve had where an entire dish was consumed -- usually there are leftovers. Speaking of leftovers, several patrons took disposable coffee cups from the coffee cart and turned them into impromptu takeout containers so they could bring an assortment of deliciousness home with them! (For food safety/CYA reasons I can’t provide takeout containers or encourage patrons to take home leftovers that aren’t their own, but I’m not going to stop them, either. Everyone attending is an adult and can weigh the risks for themselves).

The food:
“Turkey Tea Sandwiches” from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten. Very pretty little finger sandwiches made of date-nut bread spread with scallion cream cheese and layered with smoked turkey and fresh basil. The patron made these the day before, as the recipe said she could do, and they kept very well. It was agreed the fresh basil leaves were a brilliant touch and really made these sandwiches something memorable. There was a lot of talk about when was the last time anyone had actually eaten date-nut bread and how good it was and we should all go out and buy some on the way home. There were no sandwiches left by the end of the evening.

“Sheet-Pan Mushroom Frittata” from the May 2018 digital issue of Rachael Ray Every Day. An easy, 30 minute oven frittata loaded with mushrooms. If you don’t like mushrooms, this is not the dish for you. Patron who brought this said she’d wished the recipe had been available for our brinner meeting, because it would have been perfect for that. She also didn’t know where to get watercress, so substituted an equivalent amount of baby arugula as the Internet told her they had a similar peppery flavor. All the mushrooms lovers enjoyed it, saying it was brilliant with arugula, and leftovers definitely went home with them.

“Ree Drummond’s Mediterranean Orzo Salad” from the June 2018 digital issue of Food Network Magazine. A light and refreshing pasta salad that is easy to make, but still has a ton of flavor going on. The patron who brought this added three tablespoons of fresh basil in with the parsley and replaced the red onion with sweet white as he felt red onions were “too sharp.” This is the perfect summer salad and may patrons expressed in interest in bringing it to their next picnic. One patron recommended turning it into a meal by adding grilled shrimp or chicken.

“Hearty Alfredo Potatoes” from Taste of Home Fresh & Easy. An eight ingredient recipe that makes use of frozen vegetables, jarred sauce, and cooked meat to speed things along. Patron admitted she changed things up by substituting diced ham and peas for the cubed cooked turkey and chopped broccoli as she just didn’t feel like turkey or broccoli. Group consensus was that you couldn’t ever go wrong with potatoes and cheese.

“Fiesta Taco Pie” from Gooseberry Patch Almost Homemade Cookbook. A crescent roll crust is filled with a taco meat filling, covered with sour cream and cheese, and then baked until yum. When garnished with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, and sliced olives it looked quite welcoming. Everyone at the meeting was familiar with some variation of the dish and recognized it as pure comfort food. Patron who brought it said it took about 30 minutes to make and, if you skip the garnish, it’s only seven ingredients. (But why would you skip the topping? The topping really makes this dish).

“Crunchy Sesame Chicken Salad” from Betty Crocker’s Fast From-Scratch Meals. A simple salad composed of shredded rotisserie chicken, bagged coleslaw mix, sugar snap peas, shredded carrots, ginger-sesame dressing, scallions, and chow mein noodles. This was my dish and I was quite pleased with how it turned out considering how basic and “no cook” the recipe was. Seriously, the hardest part was trimming and halving the sugar snap peas (halving was not called for in the recipe, but the photo of the salad in the cookbook clearly showed halved peas) and not eating all the wasabi almonds. As with the “Fiesta Taco Pie,” this recipe was a variation on a dish many patrons recognized from potlucks and picnics. Paper cups were filled with leftovers and very little remained for me to take home!


Sunday in the Garden

Our house is bordered on three sides by a deep flower bed. Ten years ago, when we moved in, the bed was mostly weed-choked mulch, dotted by islands of evergreens, azalea, and the odd clump of daffodils and hosta. I immediately removed the hostas (hate hostas so very very much), launched a (largely unsuccessful) decade-long war on the weeds, and began filling in the sea of mulch with perennials and more spring-flowering bulbs.

Dalmatian Bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana)

It's a lot of garden for one not-very-dedicated gardener to manage and, next to my neighbor's perfect lawn and flower beds, tends to look quite unkempt. But the critters like it! The flower beds are busy with bees and butterflies. Chirpy birds and hustling chipmunk make their homes among the trees and shrubs. Last year, we even had a fox denning under our shed! This year ... well, this year we had a visiting bear. I will take all that over cosmetic perfection.

Recently, I've been trying to follow the National Wildlife Federation's Garden for Wildlife "Garden Certification Walk-through Checklist." Food, water, cover, and places to raise young are pretty well in hand, but the sustainable practices requirements are giving me some trouble. I use mulch and don't water much, but while that meets the requirements for "Soil and Water Conservation," it hardly feels like trying.

Cranesbill spangled with rain.

I'd like to get a rain barrel, but have yet to do so despite talking about it with The Husband for years now. It's just ... would we use it properly or would it just be one of those well-intentioned bad ideas? Like the compost bins, which seemed like a great idea, but were (in hindsight) badly positioned and poorly managed.

Anyway, if anything is really stymieing me, it's the "Organic Practices." Up to a year ago, I had a compost bin, but now all that compost has been worked into the vegetable beds and our green waste goes straight out (I know, I know). So no compost bin and I'm still using chemical fertilizers. Not a lot, but a couple bags of Miracle-Gro garden soil get worked into my vegetable beds every spring and I do water new perennial plantings with Miracle-Gro to give them, I feel, a fighting chance. It's a crutch, I know, and I could switch to organics, but laziness and lack of surety hold me back.

Also ... well, there's that constant feeling of the world ending in my lifetime, so what does matter if I never certify my garden? I think gardening is supposed to inspire optimism in a person, but lately all I feel is a resigned sort of pragmatism.

Focus on the delphinium & not the weeds behind it.


#WordlessWednesday: Bear!

A black bear at our bay window earlier this week.
Took the window feeder right off & ate all the yummy seeds inside.


#ImprovCooking: Red, White, & Blue

June's Improv Cooking Challenge theme was red, white, and blue. This would have been the perfect opportunity to trot out a patriotic Battenberg cake, but I just didn't have that kind of time. (Do you know how many years a Battenberg has sat at the top of my "to bake" list? Too. Darn. Many. Someday, Battenberg, someday.) So here's a bright, seasonal salad full of fresh berries and all the right colors. It is simply dressed to taste with a mixture of olive oil and lemon-infused white balsamic vinegar, as I didn't want to overwhelm the berries.

Red: Strawberries
Reddish: Red Onions
White: Jicama
Whitish: Chicken
Blue: Blueberries
Blueish: Blue Cheese

I used canapé cutters to stamp out blossom-shaped pieces of jicama for the "white" in this salad, because I was trying for maximum pretty. Small cubes would work, too, and a Granny Smith apple or Asian pear would be fine substitute if you can't find jicama at your local market. My local grocery stores keeps jicama in two places -- either (already peeled and chopped) next to diced cantaloupe and watermelon or (whole) next to the plantains and coconut.

But what is jicama, you ask? Jicama is as squat roundish root vegetable covered in a rough, bark-like brown skin which should be peeled before eating or cooking. The flesh is white and crunchy with a slightly sweet flavor -- it's kind-of like eating water chestnut or an under ripe pear.

Red, White, & Blue Spinach Salad

Yield: 2


  • 4 oz sliced strawberries
  • 3 oz blueberries
  • 1 oz thinly sliced red onion
  • 4 oz jicama cut into blossoms or small cubes
  • 4 oz chopped cooked chicken
  • 3 oz baby spinach
  • 3 Tbsp lemon-infused white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp crumbled blue cheese
  • Salt and pepper, as desired


  1. For the salad: in a large bowl, toss together strawberries, blueberries, onion, jicama, chicken, and spinach. Set aside.
  2. For the dressing: in a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, and cheese. Season, as desired, with salt and ground black pepper. Drizzle dressing over salad and gently toss until well distributed.
  3. To serve: Arrange salad on a large serving platter. Garnish with extra cheese, if desired.

The #ImprovCookingChallenge is a monthly blogging event where two ingredients are assigned to a month. Bloggers can make any recipe they like as long as it features the two ingredients. If you are a blogger and would like to join us, please visit our Facebook page.You can also read more about the event on our our home page.

If you’d like to see previous creations, check out our Pinterest board.


River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

Set in an alternate 1890s America, where feral hippos run rampant in the Louisiana bayous, a band of hippo wranglers have been hired by the federal government to clear them out ... by blowing up a Very. Big. Dam. The wranglers are a motley bunch, the feral hippos are violent, and there’s a Very. Shady. Man. mixed up in everything. Also, one of the hippo wranglers may be a no good double-crosser.

River of Teeth is a gritty, dark story of violence, mistrust, passion, and revenge. Seriously, the feral hippos are magnificent toothy killing machines and the Bad Man in the bayou is pretty darn Bad. Our gang of wranglers are clearly no heroes themselves, but they’re going to do the job they were hired to do (plus, maybe, get some personal revenge) whatever that takes.

Perhaps to balance out the darkness, a tender, non-binary love story springs up between two of the wranglers and, delightfully, no-one in-story acts like that relationship is unusual in anyway. I do not think I have the words to express quite how pleased I was to encounter an alternate history that actually embraces all its possibilities and doesn’t just default to white, cisgender heterosexual people as the norm.

Overall, I found River of Teeth an enjoyable read. I do wish the novella had been fleshed out into a full-length novel, because sometimes the story felt a bit choppy and under-developed -- continuously promising though, so I never felt tempted to put it down. There is another novella in the series, Taste of Marrow, which appears to continue the story several months on and I may pursue that through my library system. (Both novellas have also been bound together into the collection American Hippo which came out in late May).

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey. Tor, 2017.


Sunday in the Garden

This spring has been a weird one -- frequently cold and wet with abrupt moments of summer heat and humidity. But, mostly cold and wet. Unsurprisingly, my vegetable beds are not liking this weather. Even what I think of as the cool weather crops -- the spinach and peas, for example -- are growing very slowly.

My peas, which I had already harvested a few times by now last year, are barely a foot tall. The poor spinach took a knocking during the hail storm we had a few weeks ago, but sprang back and has put on some growth. As for the chard and brussels sprouts ... meh.

Of course, what's going to happen is the weather will abruptly turn hot and sunny, everything in the garden will go into overdrive, and I'll have produce coming out of my ears.

Especially after 29 June when my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) partial share becomes available. Yes, I know I complained last summer about being feeling I was a slave to my CSA share and that I wasn't going to do it again. But, oh, we know I am weak.

The share is through a different farm this year -- Gresczyk Farms out of New Hartford. My friend, Kelly, had bought a full share from Gresczyk last year and, frankly, her shares always looked great. Only a partial share for us this summer (eggs and enough produce for a "household [that] likes to eat vegetables"), but I still pick it up at the Friday farmer's market down from the library so I can still pick up other items like bread and pickles at the same time.

All subscribers receive a weekly email listing our CSA share for the week as well as a weekly handout with recipes and preparation tips. And, really, the weekly email is what sold me. No more being surprised by produce. I mean, I want to try new vegetables -- that is very much the reason I belong to a CSA -- but there was always that moment of panic on Friday afternoons last summer, when I'd find myself staring down at a basket of fennel bulbs wondering if I had the time or wherewithal to deal with them. Now I can menu plan well ahead of time and be ready to cook.

This is all presuming that the commercial farms are doing better than my own backyard garden, of course!


Creamy Cucumber & Tomato Salad

This creamy cucumber and tomato salad is one of those panicky "oh, my god, why do I have so many X in my fridge?" throw-together recipes. I honestly don't know how I managed to end up with so many cucumbers in my house -- we like cucumbers, certainly, and eat them nearly every day on sandwiches or in salads or just as snacks with a little fancy salt -- but still. I blame the general cuteness of mini cucumbers. They look so small, so twee that it's easy to not think about just how much cucumber is crammed in one of those handy grab-and-go sacks.

Happily, this throw-together recipe worked out really well! But then how can you go wrong with cucumbers, dill, and sour cream? It's a classic combination.

I cut the sour cream with a little mayonnaise, because that seemed like a good idea at the time, but you could omit it if you are not a mayonnaise-lover -- the salad will just be a bit more tart, of course. I used Hellmann's Majonez Babuni ("Granma's Mayonnaise"), which is I buy from one of the Polish grocers. It's a little sweeter and more velvety than regular Hellmann's, but not nearly as sweet or cloying as Miracle Whip. In retrospect I think, maybe, I was unconsciously trying to make a sauce that was texturally similar to salad cream?

Creamy Cucumber & Tomato Salad

Yield: 2


  • 2 Tbsp sour cream
  • 1 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp dried dill weed
  • 1 cup seeded, chopped tomato
  • ½ shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups halved sliced cucumber
  • Salt & pepper, to taste


  1. In a serving bowl, whisk together sour cream, mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder, and dried dill.
  2. Add cucumbers, tomatoes, and shallot to bowl. Toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Adjust other seasonings as necessary. Serve.


Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole

Since the untimely death of her mother, Sofie has tried very hard to be a good girl. A church-going, law-abiding young lady. Nice. Quiet. Docile. Decidedly not someone who participates in sit-ins or falls in love with a white Jewish boxer. But there’s a fire burning deep inside Sofie and nice isn’t enough, anymore.

Let It Shine was as much a coming of age story as it was a romance. Sure, it was delightful to see Ivan and Sofie reconnect after years apart, discovering a love so tender and true that it made me a bit goofy. But, even better was watching Sofie come out of her "good girl" shell, fighting through others expectations to become the woman she was meant to be. Yes, Sofie was frequently scared of what might happen to her given the dangers of the era, but she kept going.

Let It Shine was not always an easy book to read -- there's simply no way a Civil Rights era romance wasn't going to make me cry or chew my thumb -- but it was a very rewarding, satisfying one.

Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole. CreateSpace, 2016.