Part Three Bento Lunches: What to Pack 

So you have read my previous post and made a pledge to pack healthy lunches this year. (You can make an official pledge at Power Your Lunchbox for coupons, free printables and prizes!) You have purchased an awesome lunchbox and maybe some fun tools to use but now you are feeling a little lost about what to put in them (Check out my lunchbox tools post here) No worries, I have composed for you a list of my go to foods for lunches!

 Proteins

  • Deli meats
  • Canned tuna
  • Canned chicken
  • Meatballs (I always have a bag of frozen meatballs on hand)
  • Hard boiled eggs or egg salad
  • Falafel (I get these frozen at Trader Joe’s)
  • Sunbutter (or nut butter if your school allows it.)
  • Sausage links or patties
  • Veggie burgers
  • Hummus

Grains

  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Pasta salad (Have you seen the adorable shaped pastas that World Market carries?!)
  • Pita
  • Whole grain bread
  • Wraps
  • Bagel thins
  • Plantain chips
  • Crackers: my favorites are Annie’s Homegrown, Special K multigrain, Trader Joe’s Edamame, pita chips and pretzel thins
  • Popcorn
  • Cereal

Dairy

  • All natural sliced cheese (great for cutting into shapes!)
  • Cheese sticks
  • Babybel cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese

Vegetables (Raw)

  • Carrots
  • Bell Peppers and mini sweets
  • Celery
  • Green beans
  • Snap peas
  • Jicama
  • Lettuces
  • Tomatoes (grape and cherry)
  • Cucumbers
  • Avocados
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Zucchini and yellow squash

Vegetables (cooked) 

  • Carrots*
  • Bell peppers*
  • Green beans*
  • Peas*
  • Corn*
  • Edamame*
  • Succotash*
  • Butternut and acorn squash
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Broccoli*
  • Cauliflower*
  • Greens (Kale, collard, mustard)
  • Dr Praeger’s broccoli and spinach little bites (Whole Foods)

*I keep bags of these veggies frozen at all times and just pack a serving as I need them. I often just let them defrost and serve without heating, especially corn and peas!


Fruit (fresh)

  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Clementines or tangerines
  • Plums, pluots, plumcots
  • Melons
  • Berries
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Pineapple
  • Kiwi
  • Mangoes

Fruit (frozen)

  • Berries*
  • Peaches
  • Mangoes
  • Pineapple

*Frozen berries work great to mix in with yogurt or to make a smoothie but do not hold up in the defrosting process to serve as your main fruit!

Fruit (canned in 100% juice) 

  • Oranges
  • Pineapple
  • Peaches
  • Apricots

Treats

  • Cookies: my favorites are School house cookies and yogurt shaped stars from Trader Joe’s, Annie’s Homegrown animal crackers and Bitsy’s Brain Food Alphabet cookies (found at Target and Kroger)
  • Cookie butter (Trader Joe’s)
  • Dips: ranch, ketchup, BBQ sauce
  • Chocolate chips
  • Dried fruits

Most often when people say they can’t pack bento lunches they site two main reasons.

  1. It wastes food. The only food I waste is the crusts of bread. As do millions of moms who cut the crusts off of their children’s sandwiches! But you could even save these and make bread crumbs from them. When I cut cheese and vegetables I most often put those leftovers in my own lunch for the next day. You could easily use veggies for soups or stock and save cheese to top casseroles.
  2. It costs too much. I can just about guarantee that the lunch I packed is cheaper than buying a lunch able. And certainly healthier. However, one thing to keep in mind when you shop. Always buy in season! You will pretty much never see me pack peaches in the middle of winter unless they are frozen. Also buy small quantities of items. Yes, I may pack 3 fruits for my daughter each day between breakfast, lunch and a snack. However, when I buy bananas I only buy 3-4 at a time for the week and 1-2 apples and pack her a quarter on an apple and take the rest for myself.

What are some of your go to lunch items that you pack for yourself or your kids??? I would love to add to my own collection!

Happy Packing and come check me out on Instagram @hollyamethyst for more lunch ideas and come back here soon for some fun holiday lunch ideas!

Holly

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Fig Bruschetta 

When I used to think of August only hot, sticky days with a longing for a Pumpkin Spice Latte would come to mind. Until I discovered a love of fresh figs. My co-worker had a fig tree and would bring them in for me at work. The first time she brought them I had no idea what to do with them. She suggested I make a version of this delicious bruschetta. I fell in love after that. It is sweet and salty, crunchy and creamy all at the same time. Truly just one of the most decadent but simple appetizers you can make.

Sadly, her tree did not make it through a harsh winter a few years ago and now every August I am left searching for decently priced figs.  Luckily, I have been able to find good deals at our farmer’s markets and Trader Joe’s. I am also patiently awaiting for my own little fig tree to grow from a cutting that same co-worker was able to grow from her old tree. (I work with some of the best people!)

If you have never had a fig before, give this bruschetta a try and see what you think!

  • 1 French baguette
  • One container of either blue, goat or feta cheese
  • Fresh figs
  • Honey
  • Coarse sea salt

Set oven to 350 degrees and slice baguette on a bias. Cover with cheese of your choice (my favorite is blue). Remove stems and halve your figs, slice them so they will fan out. Place bread in oven for about 5 minutes, just long enough for cheese to begin to melt.


Remove bread from the oven and switch oven to high broiler. Place one half of a fig on each slice of bread. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with sea salt. Place under broiler for 1-2 minutes, keeping your eye on them to prevent burning. Remove and try not to eat an entire baguette of bread. 

 

I hope you enjoy this delicious treat! What is your favorite way to eat figs??

-Holly (@hollyamethyst)

A Night in New Orleans

I was pretty lucky this past weekend…I got to spend 2 whole nights in New Orleans! I was going for a concert, but I’ll take any opportunity there to eat, drink, and eat some more. (Thanks mom for the early birthday present!!) Unfortunately 2 days isn’t enough to go to all of my favorite places. I settled for a couple and the rest were more out of convenience, but it was still a great trip!

Our first mission was day drinking but avoiding Bourbon Street. So we went to Poydras and settled on Happy’s Irish Pub then Walk-Ons once we needed some food. Both have a decent beer selection and the cheese fries from Walk-Ons are pretty yummy. So I had a couple of Angry Orchards and a Blue Moon.

Next up was dinner. I’m a fan of any John Besh restaurant, so we headed to Lüke. The best time to go there is during the winter months when oysters are in season, but the food was still amazing as always. I wasn’t too hungry so I went with corn and crab bisque (delicious!) and the Salad Lüke. Both were great choices. Cocktail wise I started with a French 75 then ended with Prosecco.
After dinner we headed back to the hotel and stopped at the Sazerac Bar inside the beautiful Roosevelt Hotel. And of course we ordered Sazeracs!

Thanks to my alcohol consumption the previous day I wasn’t in the best shape Sunday morning. But I put my big girl pants on and kept going. I skipped breakfast and by lunch I was starving!! After walking around for a bit and not being able to decide where to go (go figure) we stumbled upon a small restaurant called Saint Lawrence on North Peters. I’ve probably passed this place tons of times while in NOLA and just never noticed it. But it’s worth the stop. I ordered the Smothered and Covered; house cut fries smothered in Tasso-chicken gravy with melted sharp cheddar! It was amazing and just what my stomach needed at that point. They also have a great craft beer selection and make a frozen Pimm’s Cup daiquiri. Not to mention their staff was really friendly which is always a plus.

Next was rest time! I needed the nap, but the concert was later on and we knew we’d need to eat an early dinner. The rain was starting so we decided to eat in the hotel. We were at the Hyatt Regency and they have quite a few restaurant options. We went with Vitascope Hall. It is basically a nicer version of a sports bar with a good variety of food. They have seafood, burgers, po-boys, and even a full sushi menu. I wanted something lighter and went with a spicy tuna roll and cucumber salad. I decided to lay off the alcohol so I could last through the concert.

The concert was AMAZING! Deftones and Incubus and neither disappointed. It was super hot and it rained and I had to stand in a giant crowd for 6 hours…but worth it!!

I had planned to drive straight home the next morning, but when you’re in NOLA you HAVE to stop at Sucré. Trust me! You will not be disappointed. Their chocolates are to die for. Any of their desserts are amazing. But you must get their macarons. They have their original flavors like chocolate, pistachio, strawberry, hazelnut, and few more; but they also have seasonal flavors! My favorite are the king cake ones, but since it’s not Mardi Gras I settled for their summer ones. This summer it’s apple pie, watermelon, blackberry lemon, and peaches & cream. Apple pie was definitely my favorite. And after spending more money on macarons than I did for any one meal in two days, I needed to get out of there!!

Overall it was a great trip. Next time I go I’ll be sure to plan my meals a bit better and try some new places…but I’ll survive! I have my big box of macarons to hold me over.

First beer of the trip at Happy’s

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Lüke- corn and crab bisque, French 75, Prosecco

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Sazerac Bar

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Smothered and Covered from Saint Lawrence

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Vitascope Hall’s spicy tuna roll and cucumber salad

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Way too many macarons from Sucre

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Part Two Bento Lunches: Supplies

So you read my last post about WHY we should pack lunches and you’re considering starting to make bento lunches. Now it is time to figure out what supplies or #momtoys work best. First and foremost, I feel the need to say that this post is not sponsored. I am a brand representative for FunBites but other than that I have purchased (or been gifted!) all of the tools and supplies that I recommend. 🙂

Boxes:

Yumbox: This is my go to for efficient packing that still looks good. Yumboxes are leakproof, portion controlled boxes created for kids. You can put applesauce in a container and not worry about your crackers getting soggy!! GENIUS! It also keeps apples, bananas and avocados from browning. For real. It really works. Promise. I literally cannot say one bad thing about my Yumbox. It was the first bento supply I purchased for Grace and I still use it a few times a week and it remains in great shape. They have released a new style (the Panino) that has room for a full sandwich or small salad that is a little better portioned for adults. I am able to pack a Yumbox in no time. 

 Easy Lunchboxes: I also use my Easy Lunchboxes all the time. These are priced so well and the size is bigger. I use Easy Lunchboxes for my own lunch about 3 days out of the week. The containers are not leakproof so you don’t want to pack wet items like yogurt or applesauce in there unless you KNOW it is not going to get turned upside down. Grace is still young enough that I carry her lunch bag to the kitchen in her day care and it goes directly in the fridge so I am able to worry about that a little less. I like Easy Lunchboxes because they are a little bigger and when I want to do more food art type sandwiches or lunch themes I have a little room. 

 Other popular bento boxes are Bentgo Fresh and Planetboxes. I have heard great things about both and see them in use A LOT but have never used them myself.

Cutters:

Cute Z Cute Animal Cutters: These are probably my most used set of sandwich cutters. It is a kit that comes with a frog, panda, pig and cat. You can make an adorable sandwich in no time. I do use low calorie bread and have found that it does not always come out as neatly as I would like.

FunBites: As a brand rep, I do receive their cutters. However, I can honestly say, I love this thing. It is super cute to make a quick sandwich and is very versatile in what you can create with the shapes. Currently, they have a heart shaped, squares and triangles option. It is pretty sturdy and dishwasher safe, too. 

 Wilton’s Cookie Cutters: If you are looking to get a great variety for holidays and all seasons on the cheap, I would recommend the 101 cookie cutter set from Wilton. This is going to give you numbers, letters, shapes and tons of seasonal options. You get what you pay for with this set. They are not very thick or sturdy but will be fine to use on bread or thinly sliced cheese.

Biscuit Cutters: I also have a set of 5 round biscuit cutters that I use to make a lot of my sandwiches and then add my own details. These are very versatile as we use them pretty regularly for cooking.

Fondant Cutters/Vegetable cutters: For all the details or small pieces that you see in my lunches I will use fondant or vegetable cutters. I am on the lookout every holiday for sets at places like Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, Marshall’s and TJ Maxx. My favorite to use was my ABC set that I sadly lost some time ago and can’t find ANYWHERE in my kitchen. (Don’t ask me about bento organization, I clearly have none 😦 )

Miscellaneous:

Silicone molds: Silicone molds are fun to add details to lunches. Be on the lookout for the different shaped silicone ice cube trays or candy molds. These are also found in the holiday sections of stores and with cake and candy decorations. I like to put canned pumpkin in my pumpkin molds, freeze it and pop one out to add to yogurt or oatmeal in the fall.

Silicone cups: A must if you are going to pack a bento that would have both warm and cold foods. If I am packing Grace a Yumbox and pack her leftover chicken and also grapes I will put the chicken in a silicone cupcake mold in the compartment of the box so her daycare can just pop the silicone cup in the microwave. These also come in tons of different colors and shapes to add a pop of color or add on to your theme.

Food Picks: I do not personally use food picks yet. This is ONLY because 1. I don’t think they will come back home from day care and 2. I don’t want Grace to poke her playmate with a food pick at the lunch table or worry one of her friends will take them and poke HER (or themselves, or their eye..) with one 🙂 I am planning on getting some for home though because food picks are hands down the quickest way to make a boring lunch cute. Packing some slices of turkey? Just roll it up and put it on a cute panda bear food pick and it INSTANTLY looks more fun with almost no effort. You can also start saving all of those cupcake ring toppers that you get on birthday cupcakes. You could have a Jake and the Neverland Pirate lunch in no time if you went to a party with this as the theme!

Tweezers! Sounds crazy, right? But so helpful for detail work. 

Sprinkles! Because they are awesome.. And pretty. 

  
I would recommend going to Amazon or All Things for Sale (a bento and baking supply company) to check out tons of adorable and dangerously affordable fondant/veggie cutters, molds and food picks.

Come back soon for my next post in this series that will give you some great ideas for what to pack in those boxes now that you have them. Also,come find me on Instagram @hollyamethyst to see all of my lunch creations (and my adorable daughter 😉 )

Do you have any bento or lunch supplies that you can’t live without???

Finding My Self Confidence

Today, we have our very FIRST guest blogger,Teri, from The Last Dish. She and Stacy are good photographer friends! Stacy contacted her to write a post for us and I have to say that I am BEYOND impressed with Teri’s talent, in both photography and writing! We have had the chance to chat recently and I believe she does not realize how great of a talent she does have! Everyone, please give Teri a warm welcome! To find this recipe and other great recipes, head over to her blog and see what your heart is hungry for:  www.thelastdish.com

I was 11 years old. It was summer, I have no idea which month. I was surrounded by

friends at a church ice cream social and we were eating more than our share. My

mother had submitted her famous banana ice cream, and I’ll admit, I ate more of

that kind than any other. Banana has always been my favorite and I wasn’t afraid to

say so. Apparently, other people weren’t afraid to say so either. She brought home

the first prize ribbon.

At 11 years old, I was completely at home in my body and in my personality. I knew

who I was, where I was going, and what I was capable of…and I worked it! Heavens

above, did I ever work it. I was anything but shy. I would sing in front of perfect

strangers. I loved being on stage dancing. I made a list at that age of the “20 Reasons

My Future Husband Would Be The Luckiest Guy To Marry Me”. No joke. Granted, I

could be loud and obnoxious about my talents sometimes. I definitely could have

used a little more tact. But, I didn’t lack confidence. I was full of it to overflowing.

Then something happened. I entered middle and high school and I began to question

myself. I remember singing in choir in a brand new school and hearing a girl behind

me say “Off pitch much?”. To this day, I still don’t know if she really was talking

about me or not…but I have sung more cautiously ever since. At a church dance, one

of my friends joked that I “danced like a spaz” and suddenly, I couldn’t dance freely

anymore. It paralyzed me. Every time I got up to dance, I would critique myself and

ask, “Am I dancing like a spaz right now?” Probably the hardest blow of all was

hearing a friend in a hallway tell someone else that I was “far too confident” and it

“made them feel inferior”. Really? I didn’t want my friends to be uncomfortable

around me. And so I started playing smaller than I was…you know…to help them feel

somehow bigger.

Worrying so much about what everyone thought of me led to a quiet death of many

of my talents and my self-confidence. Before long, I found myself in the downward

spiral of depression. The depression chased away the people that surrounded me.

By trying to “tone down” my confidence to make everyone more comfortable around

me to hopefully gain more friends, I lost myself. When I no longer felt comfortable in

my skin, I began a cycle of negative thoughts and self-talk that made me unpleasant

to be around. And in the end, my existing friends began to pull away.

No matter how hard I tried to fit in. No matter how much I tried to jam my

personality and my body into the mold presented in pop culture, it just wouldn’t fit

right. Before long, I began to feel that something must be wrong with me.

I was right. Something WAS wrong with me.

I had forgotten who I was. I had forgotten that I came to earth with a special

personality and a special mission. A mission that no one else could accomplish. My

gifts, my talents, my quirks…even my weaknesses…they were all needed to help

others, lift others, and bring a ray of sunshine to this earth. When I tried to be

someone else…or even just a different version of me…my light dimmed.

As I have embraced my crazy, fun-loving, fast-paced, creative, loud, sometimes

thoughtless and scatter-brained self I have come to see the truth. Being who I am,

the very best version of who I really am, gives others license to do the same. As I

spread my wings to see how high I can soar, I inspire others to take flight too. And

those flaws? Well, they keep me approachable. No one likes a perfect friend.

I am no longer that innocent 11 year old brimming with confidence, sitting with a

gaggle of friends eating ice cream with delight.

No, I am now a 35-year-old woman who finds joy in my perfectly average body, full

of stretch marks and cellulite that bear witness that I am a mother. I have confidence

that I am capable of accomplishing whatever I choose to work hard at. I have a deep

understanding of my talents as well as my weaknesses. I have confidence that the

right friends will choose to see the good in me and will be patient with my flaws. I

have a husband that tells me almost daily that he is “The Luckiest Guy” because he

married me. And I finally know that I am loveable, exactly the way I am.

I used to think that to be “perfect” meant to be just like everyone else. Now I

understand that humanity is a recipe…full of different ingredients that together

make something more than the sum of its parts. I may not be the sexiest

ingredient…nor the most organized, but I am needed and valued and the recipe

wouldn’t be the same without me. I am “perfect” for the life I have been given. And

there is joy in knowing that.

Today as I sat on the porch with my kiddos watching them eat my updated version

of my Mom’s banana ice cream, I realized this is what I want most for them. I want

them to know who they really are, what they are capable of, and that they are

loveable and important…just the way they are.

banana ice cream 1 (1)                                      Banana IceCreamIMG_3518                                                                              Banana IceCreamIMG_3545 (2)                                                                         Banana IceCreamIMG_3575                                                                            Banana IceCreamIMG_3635                                                                                                  Banana IceCreamIMG_3678

BANANA ICE-CREAM

Rating: 9
Serves: 8-12
INGREDIENTS:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 cups milk (I used 2 percent)
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 “freckled” bananas (You want completely ripe bananas which are yellow with little black “freckles”. The bananas in the pictures are underripe for this recipe…but are prettier for pictures.)
INSTRUCTIONS:
In a medium saucepan, heat heavy cream and milk over medium heat until hot and steaming, but not boiling. (Do not let it boil! I’m serious.)
Place egg yolks in a heat-resistant bowl. (I prefer metal, glass or ceramic so your eggs and cream don’t pick up any funky tastes from a plastic bowl). Temper the eggs by adding 1 ladle of hot milk to the bowl while stirring constantly. Add 1 more ladle of milk and continue to stir. Then add the milk/egg mixture to the rest of the milk in the saucepan. Continue to stir over medium-low heat until mixture thickens. (Never let it come to a boil or the eggs will curdle). The mixture is ready when it thickly coats the back of a metal spoon (about 6-8 minutes). Remove from heat and pour mixture into a heat-proof bowl.
Add sugar, salt and vanilla to the milk mixture and stir until sugar and salt are dissolved.
Chill the custard in the refrigerator until cold.
Mash bananas and fold into the custard.
Place the custard into the canister of your ice-cream maker and follow the directions for your machine.
You can either eat the ice-cream soft-serve straight from the ice-cream maker or scoop into a metal or glass loaf pan. Place plastic wrap over the ice-cream mixture and press down gently over the ice-cream to close off all air exposure to the mixture. Place pan in the freezer for 4 hours or overnight. Scoop and serve.
Store any leftovers in the freezer in a sealed freezer-safe container.

Part One Bento Lunches: Why Pack Bento?

Can you believe it is already Back to School time??! What a better time to talk about the benefits of packing your kiddos school lunches and maybe making them fun! This will be the first in a series of posts focused on packing lunches in a fun and efficient way!


Ever since Grace was a glimmer in my eye I knew that I wanted to pack her fun lunches. I get that it is kind of my “thing” and it might not be yours. That’s okay! But let’s talk about why you might want to consider making bento lunches or just making fun lunches!

First, let’s discuss that bento is a traditional form of lunches that are popular in Japan. If you want a traditional style bento there are certain ratios of rice, veggies, proteins and the way it is set up. So I am using the term “bento” very loosely to describe my style of food art/fun food/packed lunches. Also, while I pretty much always think about making the presentation of food appealing, I don’t necessarily pack food art/theme lunches every day as you can see from Grace’s lunches. However, I do pack my daughter’s lunch EVERY. SINGLE. DAY (and breakfast and snack, too!)

Now that we have that out of the way.. Let’s discuss why we should pack our kids lunches rather than depending on our schools to provide lunches. Maybe I can convince you it isn’t quite as bad as it seems.


Why Pack a Bento?

  • It’s healthier! Have you SEEN what USDA considers healthy??! By packing a lunch I have the ability to pack in season fresh fruits and vegetables that my daughter would rarely be able to eat otherwise. I’m pretty sure I have never seen a kiwi, mango, avocado or zucchini served on a school lunch plate. Look, I GET IT! They have to serve hundreds of kids on a budget and have restricted storage space!
  • Environmentally Friendly! Did you think I was going to go through a whole post without saying something about the environment?! Maybe next time… If you use some of the lunchboxes that are out there to pack lunches for your kiddos then you can help the environment. Instead of using styrofoam plates at school or tons of plastic bags you can use a bento style container. I PROMISE YOU they will pay for themselves! Check out my post next week for my favorites 🙂
  • LEFTOVERS!! If your kiddo has access to a microwave or if you have a thermos or food that can be served cold, you can send in your leftovers from dinner, which makes packing a BREEZE.
  • You know what your kid has eaten. Maybe I am the only one that cares about this one.. But if I KNOW Grace ate all of her lunch and she only takes 2 bites at dinner, I am okay with that. If she hasn’t eaten at all the entire day I know something may be up with her. When I get her box back and half the food is in it and she asks for a snack as soon as she gets in the car, I know why.
  • Quality Control. I had a friend who was a school teacher that has told me how gross school cafeterias are. I am confident that this is not true across the board- so no shade toward you awesome school lunch workers out there! But I know exactly what is in all of the food I send in for my kiddo. I don’t have to worry about her getting moldy bread, bugs in the kitchen, mice problems, food that is undercooked, hair in the food, etc.
  • Send in a little love. I know that I need to work. I know that my daughter is well cared for at her daycare and she LOVES going. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t often think about how I wish we were together every day. Packing a cute little lunch is my way of sending my daughter a little love in the middle of the day when we have been apart for a few hours. She can open up her lunch box and it’s like a little love note from me. I’m sure she just sees a sandwich that looks like a cat, but at least she likes cats.
  • Variety. This ties in a little with the fact that it is healthier. When you pack a bento style lunch you often pack small amounts of several types of foods. That way in the event that your kiddo decided that morning that apples are the worst ever even though they ate them all day yesterday, they have other options. I will purposefully pack small amounts of things that I KNOW Grace doesn’t like and pack them over and over again in her lunch. Guess what? She has started eating her raw carrots and watermelon!
  • Creativity. This is kind of a two fold benefit. It’s fun for ME to pack fun lunches. I enjoy making Grace’s lunches cute and the challenge that I can make it. (Like my ABC lunches that have been challenging me for nearly a YEAR and I am only on “I”) There have been some EPIC fails, don’t get me wrong but I enjoy trying to get my creative juices going and seeing how amazingly creative other moms are out there. I also think that your kiddos will enjoy the creativity. Grace gets a kick out of telling me what her lunches were each day. She will look through the pictures on my phone and giggle at the different lunch themes I have made for her. It makes food fun for her too!

I hope this encourages you to start packing your kids lunches this year to give them healthy and yummy options! Come back next week and check out part two on my favorite tools to make lunch packing as quick and painless as possible. Also come check me out on Instagram @hollyamethyst for all of Grace’s lunches!

Farmer’s Market Panzanella Salad

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Certain foods just taste better in the summer. One of my favorite summer foods is a panzanella salad. I like to go to the farmer’s market to pick up my ingredients for this yummy and filling salad. Of course, I love to go to the farmer’s market for many reasons. And since I like lists, here are my favorite reasons to shop at the farmer’s market!

1. Avoid the Coldscape: Do you know WHY the tomatoes you grow or buy at the farmer’s market taste so much better? They are allowed to ripen on the vine and picked at their peak and sold to you. When you buy produce from the grocery store the food goes through what is called the coldscape. Upon being picked it is chilled to nearly freezing to slow down the ripening process. Don’t get me wrong, without the coldscape, I would have never eaten a mango or banana in my life. But when I can avoid the coldscape I will!

2. Get your kids involved: Our local farmer’s market has a goat milk soap vendor and they will often bring their baby goats for petting, they have a playground, music and ice cream. It is a great opportunity for my daughter to choose new fruits or vegetables that she would like. She learns what different foods look like and from where they come. A true family event that you definitely do not get at the grocery store!

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3. Try something new: For this trip we got golden cauliflower to try. I love that there are so many different kinds of fruits and vegetables that are not always found in our local grocer.  You can ask the farmer’s themselves what it tastes like and they can often give you ideas on how to prepare it.

4. Good for the local economy: Support your local farmer! Keep your money local! There is a reason why shopping local is so huge right now. It’s just the right thing to do whenever possible.

5. Good for the planet: I know, I know.. I say this in most of my posts. But it is true. You avoid all of the transportation costs of shipping your food halfway around the planet when you buy local. Think of all that electricity that must be used to keep the coldscape functional. It’s just better for the planet to buy as much as you can from a local farmer.

After our trip to the farmer’s market we were all set to make our panzanella salad. The great thing about this salad is that it is super versatile. You need some type of crusty bread, a juicy vegetable and olive oil. Other than that you can adjust to your taste. I hate to sound like Ina Garten here… but I would highly recommend using “good” olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We will typically buy a big bottle of average olive oil for every day cooking and keep a small bottle of the expensive stuff for finishing oil, dressings, etc. This recipe is very approximate; just do whatever looks good to you!

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1 pint cherry/grape tomatoes or 2 medium tomatoes

1 medium cucumber

½ French baguette

1 bunch green onions

Handful of fresh basil

1 tbsp fresh oregano

Fresh mozzarella cheese

1 clove garlic

“good” olive oil

“good” balsamic vinegar

Salt

Pepper

Cut bread into large cubes and add to large bowl with halved cherry tomatoes, diced cucumber, chopped greens of green onion, chopped basil and oregano, cubed cheese. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste and chop garlic finely. Drizzle about 2 TBSP of olive oil and 3 TBSP of balsamic vinegar over everything and toss until everything is coated well.

Refrigerate for at least a few hours. I like to refrigerate it for awhile to let all of the juice soak up the bread and then let it come back up to room temperature for serving. It will taste even better the next day if you can wait that long!

And THAT is summer in a bowl, my friends!

I hope you enjoy!
Holly