strawberryfarm.jpgAs far back as I can remember, every June my family would make our annual pilgrimage to Jones' Farm to pick bright red juicy strawberries. If we didn't leave with a heaping boxful then we didn't do our jobs. But as a kid I would always end up picking more for myself than for the box, eating every other berry and leaving with the tell-tale signs on my hands and face. I was just as guilty as the next kid, so actually I didn't feel that bad. Now as an adult I typically taste only one and try to keep myself from eating any more. I'm really just saving up for gorging on them in the privacy of my own home.

You really have to love strawberries to pick them yourself. After all that bending and picking, it's easy for a person to get tired. I must love them so much, because last week on a sunny yet breezy Monday morning, with the help of my mom, I picked 13 pounds of strawberries. But aren't strawberries easy to love? I don't think I know anyone who doesn't adore them. They're so sweet and mushy once you eat them. It's one of the most favorite flavors in ice cream and candy. Even lotions and some cosmetics are flavored with strawberries. That just shows you how extremely popular the flavor actually is.

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tabbouleh.jpg Summer is nearly here. For many Memorial Day weekend marked the beginning of summer with barbecues and backyard parties. And with the hot weather that we on the East coast are already having, it's easy to start entertaining like it's summer. I found myself pulling out the grill for the first time yesterday, and it couldn't have happened any sooner. My oven will be on hiatus for the next few months. Right now with the availability of fresh spring salad greens and herbs in farmers' markets, I find myself creating recipes that require little or no cooking. I'm taking every opportunity to use garden-fresh produce, especially herbs.

One in particular is my favorite as well as the most utilized herb of many cuisines. Parsley, what would Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking be without it? You might only know parsley as a sprig of green that garnishes food. But one of the best uses for parsley as a main ingredient is the popular Lebanese dish of tabbouleh. Served in many Mediterranean restaurants and even supermarket salad bars, it's no stranger to American palates. It's a refreshing salad typically served alongside Middle Eastern appetizers called mezze. It can also be very versatile, making a great summer salad to eat with grilled meats.

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tomatopasta.jpgWith my garden laden with cherry tomatoes this year, I've tried to come up with different solutions for using them in recipes besides eating them raw as fast as they ripen. Last year I made cherry tomato salad, but even then the plants were so abundant that I fed my coworkers with tomatoes for weeks upon weeks. This year, my cherry tomatoes are the only ones that haven't been affected by the blight, which has caused havoc on farms in the Northeast. Some farmers have now resorted to burning their crops. Luckily the disease hasn't been so drastic in the small scale. This year I'm keeping all the tomatoes to myself.

For me each raw cherry tomato is a burst of powerful summer flavor, but with a bit of cooking, they are even better. One of the best ways to get the maximum flavor from vegetables is by roasting them. Roasting cherry tomatoes concentrates their flavor so that they taste almost like sun-dried tomatoes. In this recipe, I roast them with the addition of garlic, oil, red pepper flakes, and vinegar. The balsamic vinegar brings out a layer of savory sweetness while the other ingredients create a simple and very tasty sauce. There are no long hours of cooking sauce on the stove top required. Once the pasta and roasted tomatoes are combined, the addition of fresh herbs releases perfumed aromas and pungent flavors. It's truly a very satisfying and quick-to-make pasta dish.

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web cherries ppp1305Up until last week, the closest I had ever gotten to a cherry orchard was reading Anton Chekhov's masterpiece, The Cherry Orchard. And if you're familiar with that play, you know it doesn't end happily for the family or the cherry trees.

Thankfully, life is much happier in the state of Washington, especially the Leavenworth region, where scores of cherry orchards heavy with fruit line the highways.

A fully fruited cherry tree is gorgeous — the clusters of cherries are dramatically suspended from branches, like firework starbursts.

Despite having eaten over three pounds of cherries in three days while we were in Washington, we're still craving them.

So last night  I made Smashed Cherries, Amaretti and Ricotta, a delightful, no-cook summer dessert from Cheryl Sterman-Rule's new cookbook, Ripe: A Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables. I had tested this recipe for Cheryl last year and have made it numerous times since. No doubt, you will too.

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eggplantparm.jpgI realize that most of the country is melting right now, and that everyone is looking for no-bake dinners and salads. But sometimes, in spite of the heat, a girl's gotta have some warm, belly-filling, Italian comfort food, like eggplant parmigiana, or more affectionately, eggplant parm. As far as I'm concerned, eggplant parm is a year-round food, but it's the best from August-October, prime eggplant season.

Eggplants have a long history. The earliest ones were grown in India between 4,000-5,000 years ago. Eggplant was introduced to the Mediterranean region in the early Medieval period. That's when Italians discovered eggplant, and they still prize it for its rich, creamy, flavorful flesh.

Eggplant parmesan, also known as melanzane alla Parmigiana or Parmigiana di melanzane, is a treasure of Neopolitan cuisine. It consists of thick slices of breaded eggplant that are fried in olive oil until golden then layered with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and basil and baked until bubbly.

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