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Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes are pretty easy to spot, but sometimes hard to find, even at the local farmers market. Unlike most of the tomatoes sold at grocery stores they lack a uniformity in size, shape and color. Even heirloom fruit of the same variety can be as different as fingerprints. They can be small or large, pear shaped or round, and appear in a rainbow of colors including black, purple, red, orange, yellow and green.

Heirloom tomatoes also differ greatly in flavor from the standard supermarket fare, which can be bland and sometimes grainy in texture. Depending on the variety, heirlooms can be savory, tangy, sweet, tropical, earthy and especially the darker colors even chocolaty. It’s no wonder that such varieties as the green zebra, the sweet and verdant plum pictured above,  have become a favorite among chefs, coast to coast. heirloom tomatoes

Very simply defined, what makes an heirloom tomato an heirloom tomato is the way it is grown and reproduced.  Any plant, tomato or otherwise, is considered heirloom if it is passed on from generation to generation through seed saving and replanting. Beyond that, there is much discussion and debate, with some advocates defining heirlooms as being plants that are at least 100 years old and others defining them as being earlier than 1951, widely considered the year when hybridization exploded on the international front.

Color, flavor and a sense of history all contribute to the allure of this most sensuous of fruits. Heirloom tomatoes are absolutely impossible to pass by at the farmers market without touching, sniffing or just stopping to contemplate.

With a handful of precious gems from Six River Farm, an organic farm in Bowdoinham, Maine, I whipped up an easy, colorful and delicious tomato salad that was a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds.
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Heirloom Tomato Salad

  • a mix of fresh heirloom tomatoes, cut in chunks
  • fresh cucumber, diced
  • a 2/1 ratio of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • a dash of pepper
  • fresh basil, if desired

Mix dressing separately and sprinkle over chopped tomatoes and cucumbers. Add salt and pepper. Top with basil.

Yum!

Collecting: 50s Kitchen Tools

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It’s hard to imagine a kitchen before the invention of microwave ovens, food processors or electric mixers. But even the most well appointed homes of the mid-century had none of that. For routine kitchen tasks such as baking or preparing vegetables, housewives of the 1940s, 50s and 60s had only hand tools at their disposal – along with plenty of elbow grease.

Today, such kitchen utensils are highly collectible, and sometimes will even suffice when the bulky electric apparatus is too much trouble for the job at hand. While a nod to the past, they’re also very economical and, yes, even sustainable, leaving relatively little carbon footprint on your kitchen floor.

Perhaps some marketing genius had a thought, or maybe paint was limited in the post Depression era, but most of the hand held kitchen tools from back then are either red or green. Some may have a white or cream stripe, but mostly they’re red or green. That makes it easier for collectors to hunt them down in antique shops, flea markets or on line. It also makes defining a collection really easy. Best part is, many of these items, from potato mashers to whisks to slotted spoons, can be had for not much more than $10.

Which will you collect? Red, or green?

All items above can be found on Etsy.

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Family Camping Essentials

We’ve been in Maine for a couple of years now, but summers haven’t been as fun as they have been so far this year. That’s because we’ve been camping  on weekends, mostly at state parks. Let me tell you, there’s a reason they call Maine “Vacationland.” You don’t have to travel far to find a nice spot at the  lake or beach. Two we’ve especially liked this summer are Lily Bay State Park at Moosehead Lake and Sebago Lake State Park near Naples.

Each time we go on a new adventure, we think about how we might improve our experience the next time, particularly in the area of creature comforts like softer bedding or a better organized camp kitchen. We see other campers with a better set up, giving us ideas to steal.

Here are five items on our current wish list:

Cabela's Deluxe Camp Kitchen

Hands down, this Deluxe Camper’s Kitchen from Cabela’s, above, is the way to go. It has a place for everything and cleans up easily, and the lamp hanger is a great idea for when you’re cooking in the dark. The outdoor store offers a couple of models, both reasonably priced.

Camping Sign I used to think welcome signs at campgrounds were as tacky as plastic flowers or pink flamingos. But I’ve come to see the light. Tastefully done in a simple style, they are a friendly conversation starter.  Etsy has a number of sellers, including The Lizton Sign Shop from Indiana, who will make custom signs for you for only around $40.

Coleman Double High

We don’t have one of these, unfortunately, which means, as mom, I am the one who usually gets the rock or a hard place.  All night long. For avoiding the pain and discomfort, an air mattress is a must, and Coleman’s mattresses seem to be rated pretty good for quality and price. With a little cotton bedding and a nice down pillow, this double high queen, above, could sure make me feel a whole lot better about sleeping on the ground.

Screen House

Almost as essential as a tent  in creating that comfortable family camping experience is the screen house. It keeps the bugs out, while still allowing you access to that beautiful nighttime ambiance by the lake or the seashore. And when you’re not camping, you can use it in the backyard for cookouts and quiet evenings. Screenhouses are a bit pricey, but you want something sturdy that will hold up over the years. The one above, from Eureka, is a customer favorite, available at L.L. Bean.

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Lastly, pack some fun in the trunk, but leave the electronics at home because family camping offers a chance to get away from all that and enjoy quality time with your family. Bring the dog if they’ll let you. Bring a frisbee for sure.  Frisbees are great for those 20 minute periods when you’re waiting for dinner to cook and you need something to do. Never leave home without one.

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