The July Fourth holiday is behind us, and before you know it, the summer will fly by. I never understood why the time seems to go so much faster during those long, lazy days of summer. One minute you are basking in the warm glow of summer, then in the blink of an eye, autumn is here, the kids are back in school, and you are riding a roller coaster for the next 9 months. Oh well. Sorry, let’s not think about that just yet.

There are so many wonderful things about the summer. I love the fragrant flowers and the beautiful harvest of vegetables (and so many other things, but I won’t bore you). For the past couple of years, I have been growing some of my own vegetables. Although I am not a  great gardener, I do manage to pull off a couple of tasty veggies. I enjoy growing them, and achieve satisfaction when I use them in the meals I prepare. It is still early enough for you to try to grow your own. So give it a try…you never know!

This recipe caught my eye as I was searching for a barley dish. Quick-cooking barley is easy to prepare and is very versatile. I had all the ingredients in my pantry for this recipe, so I gave it a try.

I am so glad I did! It was sweet, along with a little tang and a little heat–a perfect combination. You can also use chicken broth to prepare it (I did). If you use regular chicken broth, you should eliminate the salt. It will be salty enough once it is cooked. I also could not find black-eyed peas, so I used regular black beans, and I am sure the result was similar ( you could also substitute chick peas). Remember, a recipe is just a guide. When you cook (as opposed to baking), there is plenty of room to change things up, and make it exactly as you like.

Whatever you do, put this recipe on your to-do list. It is fast, easy and just plain delicious.

This recipe is courtesy of Eatingwell Magazine and will serve 4-5 people who will repeatedly crave this flavorful dish.

Ingredients for Barley Hoppin John

1 small red pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 14-ounce can vegetable broth
1 cup quick cooking barley (I used Manischewitz toasted barley)
1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tsp. dried)
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 15-ounce cans black-eyed peas, rinsed

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.

Add onion, bell pepper and celery.

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Cook until vegetables soften, 3-4 minutes.

Add garlic and cook 1 minute.

Add broth, barley, thyme, lemon juice, crushed red pepper, and salt. Bring to a boil.

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Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the barley is done, 15-20 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in black-eyed peas.

Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.

Serve hot.

It’s that simple!

Yellow cone flowers

Herb Garden

It is summer! When I first started getting ready to start this blog, it was Spring! It took longer than I thought to get this up and running. But it still is not to late! Time to push your sleeves back and get into the garden!

Even if you have little experience gardening, growing herbs is an easy, rewarding endeavor. Nothing tastes as good as something you have grown!

I must confess, I do not have a green thumb when it comes to gardening. I have tried to grow tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables with little success. Okay, maybe I once got 12 grape tomatoes and they were delicious. But that was about it. Never a good outcome for me!

However, I have been successful at growing herbs in containers for many years. It is pretty easy.

You can grow your herbs in pots on the patio, or the deck right next to your kitchen. Make sure you buy pots that are deep enough for the roots to grow. The pots need to have good drainage. If your herb roots sit in the water for too long your herbs will die.

You can buy your favorite herbs from your local garden store. Most grocery stores sell them now, as well. Some of the herbs, like thyme, chives, and mint, are perennial, which means they will grow back again every spring.

Next step is to find an organic potting mix. Potting mix is better than potting soil, as potting soil tends to be heavy and have poor drainage. An organic potting mix is a much better choice since it is higher quality, lighter and will give your herbs the drainage they need.

You are going to have to replant the herbs in a larger pot. Make sure to place rocks at the bottom of the pot to ensure good drainage prior to pouring in the potting mix.

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I promise you they will grow beautifully if you just remember to water them!

You must pick a spot where the herbs will get plenty of sun during the day. Herbs originated in the Mediterranean region and other areas of the world that have very hot climates; herbs are sun worshipers.

There is nothing more rewarding and fresher than cutting the sprigs of your home- grown herbs and adding them to your summertime meals and salads!

Start growing now! You will be so glad you did!

Once you have grown your own garden, there’s a trick to keeping the herbs fresh in the refrigerator and ready to use. This trick works just as well for store-bought herbs during winter months.

Rinse and wash well, then let them dry thoroughly.

Once they are dry, layer 2 paper towels and sprinkle water to wet the paper towels a little, but not entirely.

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Place the herb in a single row on top of the paper towel.

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Roll up the paper towel with the herb inside.

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Place in plastic bag, but do not close the plastic bag!

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Write the name of the herb on the plastic bag and refrigerate until you need it.

Remember also, that when a recipe contains a dry herb ingredient, if you choose to use a fresh herb instead, you will have to use twice as much of the fresh herb than you would the dry herb.

Try it! I think you will be surprised by how easy it is to have fresh herbs throughout the year!

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It’s that simple! Good Luck! (Thank you Simone!)