Salty Sweet Life

Life Well-Seasoned


Gnarly Tomato Water Blood Mary with Hot Pepper Infused Vodka


Tomato Water Blood Mary - Salty Sweet Life

I will be the first to admit that Bloody Marys have always been a bit of a mystery to me. Is it soup? Is it breakfast? Is it a non-pharmaceutical hangover cure? Aside from the Bloody Mary that one of my favorite restaurants in town makes (they serve them up spicy with a big piece of peppered bacon as a garnish), I’ve never really enjoyed them. If I’m really honest, that big piece of bacon is a major reason why I like that one! Until now, I was prepared to accept the fact that like the Negroni, the Bloody Mary would forever be a mystery to me.

So, when I saw a recipe for a Tomato Water Bloody Mary in the pages of Food and Wine Magazine this month, first, I was intrigued and then a lightbulb went off in my head!   Since I’m already a chronic over-purchaser of certain items (in-season tomatoes, limes, and lemons, for example) and after last weekend’s baby shower, I ended up with an insane amount of leftover cocktail tomatoes! Added to that, we harvested what was left of our sad tomato crop from the garden. A word about that. This has been the most disappointing growing season ever! We planted more tomato plants this year than any other year and yet we harvested the least amount of tomatoes! Between an early heat wave,  a bunch of crazy windstorms, and a healthy dose of user error, our tomato plants looked like hell and they had to go.  So, we ripped out most of them and harvested what we managed to wrangle from the beaks of some very aggressive pigeons.  What we had left were some of the gnarliest, ugliest tomatoes I’d ever seen. Scarred, sun-scalded, split, unevenly red, you wouldn’t have wanted to run into these tomatoes in a dark alley; yet in a twist of irony, they were some of the juiciest and sweetest tomatoes I’d ever tasted!

Tomato Water Bloody Mary - Salty Sweet Life

So, while I pondered a way to use all these juicy and awesomely ugly tomatoes, I had another Eureka moment. Remember that hot pepper infused vodka that I made a while back?  Well, silly me left that hot pepper vodka to infuse for far too long and it was fire-breathing dragon hot!  It was so hot that the heat overpowered just about everything I tried it in.  I had a hunch that a Bloody Mary, with all its crazy, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink list of ingredients, would be the perfect vehicle to showcase such an in-your-face ingredient! So, with my armload of tomatoes, a bit of salt and a little patience, I whipped up this Bloody Mary and I’m proud to say that it’s the first one I’ve truly enjoyed!  It was bright; it was refreshing!  It didn’t taste like soup in a cup.  It had the perfect amount of lip-tingling heat, but it was balanced by that fresh, sweet, tomato water. I had to dilute my hot pepper vodka with plain vodka, but if your infusion isn’t too spicy, feel free to use all hot pepper vodka!

As I mentioned, it does take a little patience to wait for all of those tomatoes to release enough water for the drink, but it is well worth it!  This is truly a great way to enjoy fresh, summer tomatoes, whether they are picture-perfect, or downright homely! And fear not, those tomatoes did not go to waste!  I threw them into the food processor with some onion, garlic and jalapeño peppers and made a mean bowl of salsa!

Tomato Water Bloody Marys

  • Servings: 2
  • Time: 1 hour prep, 5 minutes assembly
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine, August 2014, Chef Gavin Kaysen

  • 1 pound fresh, ripe tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup tomato juice
  • 3 tablespoons Hot Pepper Infused Vodka
  • 1/4 cup plain Vodka
  • 1 teaspoon grated horseradish (I used jarred, prepared horseradish because fresh horseradish was difficult to find)
  • 2 tablespoons dill pickle juice
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 dashes Tabasco Sauce
  • fresh ground black pepper
  1. Place the fresh, sliced tomatoes in a colander set above a bowl. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the kosher salt and allow the tomatoes to sit for at least one hour. You’ll begin to see the water drain from the tomatoes into the bowl. After an hour and just before you prepare the drink, press lightly to squeeze out any additional tomato water. Set the colander of tomatoes aside.
  2. Pour the collected tomato water into a mixing glass. I collected about 1/2 cup of tomato water from one pound of tomatoes. Add the remaining ingredients to the mixing glass and stir well. Pour the cocktail into two Collins glasses filled with ice and garnish with your favorite herbs. I used a sprig of Thai Basil, a cocktail tomato and a dill pickle spear!

Tomato Water Blood Mary - Salty Sweet Life


Israeli Couscous, Asparagus and Mushroom Salad - Salty Sweet Life


(BABY!) Israeli Couscous (BABY!) Asparagus and (BABY!) Mushroom Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette

Israeli Couscous, Asparagus and Mushroom Salad - Salty Sweet Life

Ahh, babies.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had babies on the brain. Most of my peers had kids so long ago that they are now old enough to be productive members of society; but a month ago, one of my closest and dearest friends had a baby boy the day after my birthday!   I cannot tell you how excited I am that a new baby has come into our little group of mostly child-free friends! I don’t have children of my own and that’s not entirely by choice.  I struggled with infertility for many years before coming to the realization that one day my lady parts were going to become my undoing.  That realization came in 2007 when I landed in the hospital with a collapsed lung caused by severe endometriosis.  The following year, almost to the day, my lung spontaneously collapsed again. That time, I spent 6 grueling weeks in the hospital having 4 unsuccessful surgeries before finally heading to the Mayo Clinic for treatment.  Remember when I mentioned my scars a few weeks back?  That situation accounted for about 60% of them!  I spent a week at the Mayo Clinic and they got me in good working order and I am forever grateful for that medical facility–they are nothing short of amazing!  For the next 5 years, I tried to avoid the question of what to do about my fertility but once again, my body kind of chose for me.  Between the endometriosis and then fibroids, my quality of life was declining, so last year, I bid adieu to my defective parts and gained a few extra scars.  You should see me in a bikini!  I now just tell people I was attacked by a shark!  It was ultimately a good decision, but one made with the stark realization that I was closing the door on having children and assuming the permanent title of Aunt Tracey.  And, you know, being Aunt Tracey isn’t so bad. I get to have all the baby-snuggling, play-doh buying and party-throwing fun, without the parent-teacher conferences and college funds!

Last weekend my friends and I threw a baby-welcoming party to welcome this new little person to the tribe!  Since this is not a story about biting off more than I can chew, I won’t mention how it’s totally possible to exist on a diet of pink and yellow Jordan almonds and caffeine for 48 hours or that my default amount of food for any gathering equates to “enough to feed an army”.  5 people?  Army.  15 people? Most definitely an Army. Probably throw in the Navy for good measure…


Here’s one thing that I know to be true about every party. No matter how much planning and preparation goes into it, party day time is different than normal time.  Party day time elapses at a speed that will make your head spin.  This party was scheduled to begin at 11:00 a.m. and I swear, 9:00 to 11:00 went by in 10 minutes!  Thank goodness I had a lot of help from my friends who helped decorate and put together this amazing spread of appetizers!

Melon balls with prosciutto, Vietnamese summer rolls, roasted potatoes and cucumbers with creme fraiche and capers, tomato caprese skewers

Melon balls with prosciutto, Vietnamese summer rolls, roasted potatoes and cucumbers with smoked salmon, creme fraiche and capers, tomato caprese skewers


I did not make these cupcakes! But my awesome friend made the adorable elephant cut-outs! So cute!

The theme of the menu was salads and flatbread pizzas and I was pleased that there was something for every dietary need–vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, omnivore–I think we had it all covered!  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a few of the newer dishes from this menu, but this Grilled Corn and Black Bean Salad was on the menu as well as this Fig and Prosciutto Flatbread Pizza.

Grilled Corn and Black Bean Salad with Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette

Grilled Corn and Black Bean Salad with Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette

Fig and Prosciutto Flatbread with Balsamic Reduction

Fig and Prosciutto Flatbread with Balsamic Reduction

This Israeli Couscous, Asparagus and Mushroom salad was a big hit! I know this because there was only one tiny bowl of it left after the party was over!  What I loved about this salad was that it could be assembled the night before without the dressing and quickly finished just before the guests arrived, which is great if you’re Aunt Tracey, who makes too much food and is pretty much going crazy making more and more dishes at the last minute.  This salad is a playground of flavors and textures: bouncy, tender couscous, crisp-tender asparagus and crunchy spinach are balanced against the meaty umami of sautéed mushrooms.  Salty Parmiggiano-Reggiano is tucked in throughout the salad and the whole thing is punctuated by a bright, tangy, red wine vinaigrette.  It’s healthy and it’s filling without making you feel heavy.  There are a few different components that are made separately, but I’m going to tell you how you can save a little time by changing your method for cooking grains!

Israeli Couscous, Asparagus and Mushroom Salad - Salty Sweet Life

In the past, I’ve always made grains in my rice cooker or on the stovetop.  Usually I would use a 2 parts water to one part grain ratio and cook it until the grain has absorbed all of the water.   But, last year, my friend Alexandra, from Alexandra’s Kitchen who is also a big fan of grain salads, started talking about cooking grains in a big pot of water, just as you would when you boil pasta.   The grains cook completely and retain their fluffiness in the salad and what’s more, it cooks in LESS time than the rice cooker or stovetop method. It’s foolproof.  I’ve been using this method for quinoa and decided to apply the same method to the couscous for this salad, since Israeli Couscous is essentially a small, pearl-shaped pasta.  I simply started a pot of water, threw in a generous pinch (more like a tablespoon) of salt and put the water on to boil.  To save time, I blanched my asparagus for the salad in the boiling water, removed it and shocked it, then put the couscous right into the same boiling, salted water.  I cooked it for 10 minutes, drained it with a fine mesh strainer and gave it a rinse with cold water.  It worked perfectly! The couscous retained its shape and was well-seasoned by the salted water.  Since I was making it ahead of time, I drizzled it with a little olive oil just to keep the grains from sticking together.  I’m going to try it soon with farro and barley and I’ll report back on how it turns out, but I’m pretty confident that it will work.  I actually used Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains Blend for this dish.  It’s a blend of Israeli Couscous, quinoa, orzo, and garbanzo beans and I love all of the different textures of the grains!  If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, you can find Israeli Couscous in the grocery store located near the rice.

The party was a blast.  Everyone had a great time and left with full bellies and to-go containers!  I got to honor my best friend and her new little guy. Food, friends and family.  It’s what it’s all about. I am Aunt Tracey.  And I will snuggle your babies (because my cats don’t tolerate that one bit).



Israeli Couscous, Asparagus and Mushroom Salad - Salty Sweet Life

Israeli Couscous, Asparagus and Mushroom Salad

  • Servings: 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main dish
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

This recipe can easily be increased for a larger portion.

  • 1 cup Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend or Israeli Couscous
  • 8 ounces sliced Crimini Mushrooms
  • 1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • A few handfuls of baby spinach
  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon herb salt or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon agave syrup or honey
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly shaved Parmesan cheese or Parmiggiano Reggiano
  • kosher salt
  • unsalted butter (optional)
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a little butter, if desired, in a sauté pan over medium high heat. Sauté the mushrooms in batches with a pinch of kosher salt until they are golden brown.  Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
  2. Fill a pot with water and season with about one tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil. Fill a medium sized bowl with ice water. Add the asparagus to the boiling water and cook for one minute. Remove the asparagus (leave the water in the pot) with a slotted spoon or fine mesh sieve and immediately plunge the asparagus in the bowl of ice water. After the asparagus cools, drain and set it aside.
  3. Pour the couscous or couscous blend into the pot of boiling water and boil for 10 minutes, or until the couscous is tender.
  4. While the couscous is cooking, make the vinaigrette. Whisk together the vinegar, crushed garlic, dijon mustard, agave syrup, herb salt and a few grinds of black pepper in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in 5 tablespoons of olive oil until the mixture has emulsified and set aside.
  5. Drain the couscous into a large mesh sieve or colander and rinse with cool water. Toss the couscous with a little olive oil to keep the grains from sticking and place in a large salad bowl.
  6. Add the asparagus, mushrooms, a few handfuls of spinach and the shaved Parmesan cheese to the couscous. Add the dressing, then toss, using your hands if necessary. Garnish with more shaved Parmesan.

Israeli Couscous, Asparagus and Mushroom Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette - Salty Sweet Life

Israeli Couscous, Asparagus and Mushroom Salad - Salty Sweet Life

Sriracha-Ponzu Glazed Salmon - Salty Sweet Life


Cedar Planked Salmon with Sriracha-Ponzu Glaze


Sriracha-Ponzu Glazed Salmon - Salty Sweet Life

I am a girl who loves to grill!  For me, grilling season starts early at the first signs of spring. At that point, it’s still a choice whether I cook outside or just turn on the oven.  Then as summer takes hold, grilling becomes an all-out necessity and maybe even a little bit of an obsession! I can honestly tell you that during the summer, if we are eating cooked food, odds are, it was cooked outside on the grill!  And what a grill it is!  I picked out the biggest propane grill I could afford and thanks to the Husband who converted it to natural gas, there’s no more running to the propane exchange in the middle of dinner!  I’ll tell you in one word why I love a gas grill:  convenience!  With the turn of a knob (ok, five knobs), I am cooking. No fuss, no hassle.  I have baked desserts on the grill, pizzas, artisan bread, casseroles and even kale! Whoever said that the grill was the man’s domain never came to my house, because this baby is mine, all mine!

Rarely do I deal in absolutes, but for grilled salmon, I have two: I always cook it on a cedar plank and I always chose wild-caught salmon.  If you’ve never had wild-caught salmon cooked on a cedar plank, then you are missing out!  First of all, the salmon.  A few years ago, I swore off salmon entirely because I just didn’t like the flavor. Then I tried wild-caught salmon during a trip to Oregon and I was hooked!  It was nothing like the farm-raised salmon I had been choking down! The flesh was deep and rosy and the flavor was rich without being oily or funky.  I buy wild-caught salmon and steelhead at Costco, where a two-pound fillet averages around $25.00.  I can get eight to nine portions from a fillet, which makes it well worth the cost.

Sriracha-Ponzu Glazed Salmon - Salty Sweet Life

Salmon Fillets are glazed and ready for the grill!

Grilling salmon on a cedar plank gives it amazing smoky flavor with very little effort.  The only you have to remember is to soak the plank in water for at least 2 hours prior to grilling.  Soaking the planks prevents the plank from burning (read: bursting into flames) and also creates that wonderful cedar smoke!  Simply take a roasting pan or a sheet pan and fill it with water.  Place the plank in the pan and weigh it down with something heavy, like a mug or a large canned good.  When it’s time to grill, place the salmon on the cedar plank and set it right on top of the grill.  Grill with the lid closed so that you retain all the smoke inside the grill.

Cedar planks are very easy to find–check your grocery store near the seafood department.  In the past I’ve purchased these on and more recently, I found these at Costco, which were larger and thicker.

This salmon is glazed with a sweet and spicy combination of sriracha, ponzu and soy sauce.  It comes together so quickly that you’ll be happy to serve it even on a busy weeknight.  The day I made this, I soaked the cedar plank before I left for work so that once I got home, it would be ready to go!  The sauce is simple, yet bold and flavorful–just toss everything in a saucepan and let it bubble until it thickens, then slather it on the salmon and grill it!  It is that easy!

Cedar Planked Sriracha-Ponzu Glazed Salmon

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Preheat your grill to 400 degrees

  • 4 6-ounce portions wild-caught salmon
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons ponzu
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sriracha sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 inch knob of ginger, grated
  • pinch of Chinese five-spice powder
  • white pepper
  • kosher salt
  • 1 green onion, sliced, for garnish
  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the soy sauce, ponzu, brown sugar, sriracha sauce, sesame oil, garlic, grated ginger and a pinch of five-spice powder. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Simmer until the mixture has reduced by approximately a third, then remove from the heat.
  2. Arrange the salmon fillets on the cedar plank and season them with ground white pepper and a small pinch of salt. With a basting brush, brush the sauce over the fillets, being sure to coat the sides of the fish.  I basted the fish several times with the sauce prior to grilling in order to get a nice glaze.
  3. Place the cedar plank on the preheated grill and cook the fillets for 6-8 minutes (with the lid closed), or until the fillets are firm to the touch, but still juicy on the inside. Remove the fish from the grill and allow the fillets to rest for 2 minutes. Garnish with sliced green pinions and serve immediately.

Sriracha-Ponzu Glazed Salmon - Salty Sweet Life

Sriracha-Ponzu Glazed Salmon - Salty Sweet Life

Bok Choy, flash grilled and basted with a little of the Sriracha-Ponzu glaze! Delicious!

Bok Choy, flash grilled and basted with a little of the Sriracha-Ponzu glaze! Delicious!

Fingerling potatoes, roasted on the grill.

Fingerling potatoes, roasted on the grill.

Sriracha-Ponzu Glazed Salmon - Salty Sweet Life

Rosemary-Thyme-Basil Herb Salt


One Salt to Rule them All: Rosemary-Thyme-Basil Herb Salt

One taste of this herb salt and you are going to be in love and you are going to use it for anything and everything this summer–from meats and vegetables to your Saturday morning eggs; you are going to find yourself reaching for it and wondering how you’ve lived your whole life without it!  At least, that’s how I felt about it the first time I tried it!  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that I learned about this herb salt last year from The Splendid Table.  The concept is so simple–fresh, pungent garlic is minced into a couple of tablespoons of coarse kosher salt, then fresh herbs are added, bunch by bunch until you’re left with a verdant handful of the best smelling stuff on earth!

Rosemary-Thyme-Basil Herb Salt

Of all the things we planted this year, the herb barrel in the front yard is truly the only thing that can be described as “bountiful”.  French Thyme, Lemon Thyme and Red Creeping Thyme are starting to climb out of the barrel and drape over the sides.  The basil is abundant!  We have Thai, Amethyst and Sweet Basil that have grown so much that even after we harvest it for pesto, it still doesn’t look like we made a dent in it!  The sage is trying its best to grow in the shadow of these high achievers; so part of my reason for replenishing my herb salt stash was an attempt to prune some of this crazy growth so that the sage can see the sun again! Next year, I will keep this in mind and space them out a little better!

This isn’t so much a recipe, as it is a set of ideas. You can use whatever herbs you choose in whatever ratio seems best to you.  My herb salt reflects the overabundance of basil and thyme, whereas you might enjoy other herbs–lavender, tarragon, oregano.  Once you’re done with the initial chopping, you can use the herb salt in its fresh state.  I mixed some of the fresh herb salt with olive oil and used it as a rub for a grilled pork tenderloin–so amazing! Then I took what was left and spread it on a baking sheet to dry overnight.  The salt preserves the flavors of the herbs and you’ll be able to use it again and again (and you will, I promise)! I used a combination of rosemary, three varieties of thyme, sage and three types of basil.

I chose to do this task by hand, without the help of my trusty food processor, for the simple reason that it was therapeutic.  I found myself reveling in the rhythm of the knife against the cutting board, mincing and mincing until every herb was used, finer and finer still, until it was all done and my whole kitchen smelled like it had been transported to Tuscany.  It is truly divine.

Rosemary-Thyme-Basil Herb Salt - Salty Sweet Life

Rosemary-Thyme-Basil Herb Salt

  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 2-4 Cloves of garlic
  • Approximately 1-2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
  • Fresh herbs, such as rosemary, sage, thyme, lavender, oregano, basil, washed and removed from the stems
  • zest of one lemon, if desired
  1. After harvesting the herbs, wash them and then dry them in a salad spinner.
  2. Place peeled garlic cloves on a cutting board along with the salt. With a chef’s knife, mince the garlic into the salt until the garlic is finely minced and the salt is evenly distributed.
  3. Pluck the herbs from the stems and mince the herbs into the garlic and salt. Continue chopping the herbs until you have a consistent, fine mince. If using lemon zest, add it at this point and gently toss it into the other herbs with your fingers.
  4. Spread the herb salt mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and allow it to dry overnight. I live in a dry climate, so this only took one night. Let it dry for a longer period if needed.
  5. Store the dried herb salt in a sealed container.

NOTE:  If you don’t have fresh herbs in your garden, of course you can buy them at the grocery store or farmer’s market.

Rosemary-Thyme-Basil Herb Salt - Salty Sweet Life

Garlic is minced into coarse kosher salt until it’s thoroughly mixed.

Rosemary-Thyme-Basil Herb Salt - Salty Sweet Life

Rosemary-Thyme-Basil Herb Salt - Salty Sweet Life

Spread the herbs onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper to dry.

Rosemary-Thyme-Basil Herb Salt - Salty Sweet Life

Ponzu-marinated Shrimp Skewers with Nectarine Chutney


Ponzu-Marinated Shrimp Skewers with Nectarine Chutney

We are officially in the thick of summer! It is hot, hot, hot and when it’s like this, we try our best to cook everything outside on the grill so that we don’t heat up the house! I’m sure many of you can relate! So, with that in mind, I wanted to make a dish that was easy to make, yet so bold and flavorful that even my husband, who had declared himself “not a fan of shrimp” would become a believer!

Ponzu-marinated Shrimp Skewers with Nectarine Chutney

Sweet, succulent shrimp is marinated in a bath of cilantro, Thai basil, garlic and Ponzu; grilled over a hot flame, then topped off with a sweet and spicy nectarine chutney! It’s a perfect summer meal–light, flavorful and kicked up with just enough spice to keep things exciting! If you’ve never had Ponzu before, you must give it a try. It is a Japanese condiment that is made from vinegar, lemon juice and sudachi, a Japanese citrus fruit. It has a light citrusy flavor that really compliments the shrimp; plus, the ponzu doesn’t “cook” the shrimp the way that adding fresh lemon or lime juice would. It’s easy to find in the Asian or Ethnic food aisle in the grocery store.

Ponzu-marinated Shrimp Skewers with Nectarine Chutney

For the marinade, I used about half of a bunch of cilantro that I bought at the grocery store. You don’t even have to remove the stems, just wash it well and toss it into the food processor. I chose Thai basil for its peppery flavor and because it’s growing like crazy and taking over my herb barrel! Sweet basil will work just as well. Because I like things on the spicy side, I used a whole Serrano chili pepper, seeds and membranes included. If you want a milder marinade, discard the seeds and membranes, or simply use half of the pepper. This marinade is also very versatile!  I’ve used it on both chicken and pork with delicious results!  In addition, the chutney makes a wonderful companion to seafood, chicken and pork!  It’s so delicious, you’ll want to eat it by itself!

Ponzu-marinated Shrimp Skewers with Nectarine Chutney

Grilled Ponzu-Marinated Shrimp Skewers with Nectarine Chutney

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 40 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 pound large, fresh, uncooked shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro (stems and all)
  • several sprigs of Thai basil or sweet basil
  • 3 tablespoons Ponzu
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon agave syrup or honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 Serrano chili pepper
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

For the Nectarine Chutney

  • 2 nectarines, slighlty unripe, chopped
  • 1 serrano chili pepper
  • 1/2 cup red onion finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 inch knob of ginger, grated or pressed
  • 1 clove garlic, grated or pressed
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • juice of one fresh lime
  1. Place 2 cloves of garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Pulse until the garlic is minced finely. Add the cilantro, basil and Serrano pepper and pulse until everything is finely chopped. Add the oil, agave syrup, salt and pepper and puree until smooth. In a medium bowl, pour the marinade over the shrimp and stir to coat. Allow the shrimp to marinate for no more than 30 minutes. While the shrimp is marinating preheat the grill on high to 450 degrees. Be sure to oil the grill grates with canola oil.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine the chopped nectarines, Serrano pepper, onion, ginger, garlic, brown sugar, salt, pepper and lime juice. Over medium low heat, cook until the sugar has dissolved completely and the mixture comes to a slow simmer, about 10 minutes. I started with one teaspoon of brown sugar. Add a little more sugar if your nectarines aren’t very sweet. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped cilantro.
  3. Thread the marinated shrimp onto the skewers. Sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper, then place on the hot grill.  Allow the shrimp to cook undisturbed for 2 minutes, then flip them and grill the other side for 2 minutes more.  Top the shrimp with a generous spoonful of the chutney.

Ponzu-marinated Shrimp Skewers with Nectarine Chutney

After many years of using bamboo skewers for grilling, I finally bought some inexpensive metal skewers and I am so happy I did–they are so much easier to work with.  If you do use bamboo skewers, be sure to soak the skewers in water for at least 30 minutes before grilling to prevent burning.

Ponzu-marinated Shrimp Skewers with Nectarine Chutney

Ponzu-marinated Shrimp Skewers with Nectarine Chutney

Ponzu-marinated Shrimp Skewers with Nectarine Chutney

This dish was such a hit and it received rave reviews from my “not a shrimp fan” husband!





Honeyed Fig and Feta French Toast

Last week, figs made an unexpected appearance at the grocery store.  I was pretty sure that last year, the figs didn’t arrive until late August, early September, so I was a little bit dubious about such an early arrival.  But, since figs are one of those, here-and-gone-in-a-minute kinds of fruits, I just had to buy some just in case they were in season and I had my dates wrong!  It turns out that California fig season started a little early this year because of a very warm winter.  Figs have a very short shelf life which I found out first hand when I opened the box two days later and saw that some of them had already begun to mold! So, with a fire lit under me I knew I had to do something with them immediately.  I opened the refrigerator and the ingredients appeared to me like the digital rain of the Matrix! Bread–got it! milk, eggs, fresh blueberries and what have we here…ah, a chunk of feta cheese!

Fresh Figs

Yep.  Feta cheese.  Now some of you might be thinking that sounds like crazy talk, but stay with me here and I’ll explain my reasoning.  I am not a huge fan of sweets.  You can probably tell this by the relatively small number of desserts on this blog.  So, my first thought when I encounter a sweet ingredient is “how can I balance this?”  Sometimes I choose a spicy ingredient and other times I choose salty.  This time, it would be salt to balance out the overt sweetness of figs, honey and the inevitable maple syrup that would be drizzled over the top.  I knew before I took the first bite, that it was just crazy enough to work and that you would hop on board with me!

Honeyed Fig and Feta French Toast - Salty Sweet Life

The recipe and method for the French Toast is not exotic, although I did not use dairy milk in the base, but almond milk.  I thought about making the French Toast with fancy, artisanal bread, or even homemade bread, but opted instead to use my favorite store-bought bread–“Good Seed Bread” from Dave’s Killer Bread.  I buy this bread from Costco, but I’ve heard that it can also be found at Whole Foods Market.  I love this bread! It makes the best toast and is amazing sandwich bread.  The fun part, however, is the topping.  The figs are quickly browned in a little coconut oil and joined by walnuts, fresh blueberries and a drizzle of honey.  Then the whole thing comes together with a bit of feta cheese sprinkled over the top!  I have a feeling that a nice, blue cheese would be fantastic as well.

Honeyed Fig and Feta French Toast - Salty Sweet Life

Honeyed Fig and Feta French Toast

  • Servings: 2
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or your choice of dairy)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • butter
  • 4 slices of bread
  • 1/2 pound fresh figs cut into quarters
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil (or more if needed)
  1. Whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla, nutmeg, salt in a casserole dish and set aside.
  2. In a small frying pan, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. I used only a teaspoon of oil since I was using a well-seasoned cast iron frying pan. Use a little more oil if needed. When the pan is hot, turn the pan to coat the bottom of the pan with the oil. Add the figs and cook undisturbed for about 30 seconds, or until they start turning golden brown. Add the walnuts and stir very gently to coat them in the oil. You want to be as gentle as possible so that the figs keep their shape. Add the blueberries and then drizzle with a teaspoon of honey. Again, stir very gently to coat the figs, walnuts and blueberries in the honey. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
  3. Heat a frying pan or griddle over medium high heat. Once the pan is hot, coat with butter. I do this by quickly rubbing the cut side of a stick of butter over the pan. In batches, dip both sides of the bread in the egg mixture, being careful not to let it get too soggy, then place the bread on the hot griddle or frying pan and cook each side until golden brown. Place the finished French toast on a plate and rest them in a warm oven while you continue with the next batch. Because of the size of my griddle, I can only cook two slices of bread at one time.

Serve the French Toast with a few spoonfuls of the fig, walnut and blueberry mixture. Top with a sprinkle of feta cheese and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Honeyed Fig and Feta French Toast - Salty Sweet Life

Honeyed Fig and Feta French Toast - Salty Sweet Life

If you can find fresh figs in your area now, pick some up before they are gone in a flash!  If not, save this recipe for August and September when figs are in peak season again!  Personally, I think the figs that arrive in late summer have better flavor, but these early season figs were made sweeter with that little touch of honey.


My Writing Process – A Blog Tour

Last week, my friend and fellow blogger, Libby Elder of Lemony Thyme asked me to participate in a Blog Tour.  I didn’t know what a Blog Tour was at the time, but she assured me that it was going to be fun and at the end of the tour, there would be cake!  All I had to do was answer 4 simple questions about my “writing process” and then introduce the world to a few blogs out there that inspire me.  So, since there was a promise of cake and it’s always fun to share about other bloggers whom I admire, I took the bait.  The first thing I thought was, “do I even have a writing process?” I mean, if “writing process” is defined by banging my head on my computer keyboard several times while a plaintive moan issues from my throat, then YES I do have one of those! I just wasn’t sure if that process would be very helpful to anyone else, let alone me.


Shamelessly sharing some food photography because that’s really why you’re here, right?

First, let me tell you a little bit about Libby.  Libby is someone I really admire and over this past year, we have bonded over a mutual love of fresh herbs–to this day, I always think of her when I pick lemon thyme from my herb barrel! She’s been blogging for about 2 years–actually exactly 2 years today–Congratulations Libby! And in that time, she has published literally hundreds upon hundreds of recipes.  She writes her blog posts in a way that is easy and elegant and she just does this thing with cheese that will make your eyes roll back in your head! She is truly an artist in the kitchen and I consider her “expert level”.  So, when she assured me that I, the girl with keyboard indentations on her forehead and one year of blogging experience under her belt, would have something useful to share about blog writing, I had no choice but to trust her and surge forward with this post.


1.  What am I working on?

I probably should be working on a post entitled “Learn From My Fail” because that has described my recent shenanigans in the kitchen!  Example:  pizza.  I promised myself that I would blog about pizza again, since over the past year, I’ve learned better techniques for pizza dough.  I got all excited to do this over the weekend and made what would have been the Best Pizza Ever.  And then I burned it beyond recognition! Seriously. Burnt black.  Since it’s officially summer I am working on recipes and techniques for the grill–fish, pork loin, hamburgers and of course, pizza.

2.  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t know if this is different from other blogs, but I really try to blog from a place of honesty.  My food is real–sometimes it’s not pretty, but it always tastes good.  I have unrealistically high standards for the dishes I post here, and that’s the reason that I average about one recipe per week.  So many dishes just don’t make the cut! I also try to give little tips and tricks so that you don’t have an epic fail while preparing something. Let ME fail so that you don’t have to!

3.  Why do I write what I do?

Everyone who blogs about food loves food, that’s a given.  But, I write as a way to create a food legacy where one didn’t exist before. I didn’t come into blogging with a weathered recipe box filled with time-honored techniques and kitchen wisdom.  I have a great foundation of basic cooking techniques that I learned from my mother; but my mother didn’t inherit those lessons from her mother–she was completely self-taught.  She also didn’t write many of those recipes down.  A few months ago, she and I went through her old recipe file that she’s had since I was about 6 years old.  While it was really fun looking through old clippings from Redbook and Reader’s Digest, I realized that only a few were recipes that I remembered from my childhood.  In a way, I guess it was like an analog version of Pinterest–filled with all the recipes she wanted to make, but just didn’t have the time.  So, I write in order to repair a fracture in our family’s culinary history–to finally put in writing those recipes that never made it into the recipe file.  Even though I don’t have children to pass these recipes down to, I just felt the need to at least document the things we love to eat because it’s so important to me.

4.  How does my writing process work?

I write every day for my day job, but it is a very different process.  My work writing is very much about stating the facts and writing them in a concise way that everyone can understand regardless of educational background.  But whereas my work writing depends on stating facts, laws and conclusions, food writing has to convey a mood, a story, a flavor.  This is by no means easy for me and sometimes I struggle to remove my brain from “work mode” and get into food writing mode–hence the head banging.  The first paragraph is always the hardest so a lot of times, I will start in the middle and work my way backwards! Then I go back over what I’ve written and I take out all the superfluous words because if there’s one thing I know about reading on the internet, is that people don’t like to read a lot of words.

I have a really good friend who is a novice cook in every sense of the word. Over the years, I have seen her bork up so many recipes, that when I write a recipe, I am writing it with her in mind.  I try to think of all the ways a recipe can go horribly wrong, whether by misinterpretation or simple lack of technique and I try to make sure that I write a recipe that’s fairly goof proof.

Blogs that Inspire Me

Now, I want to introduce you to a couple of bloggers that really inspire me. The first is Prashanthi Pathak of Yummily Yours.  Prash has only been blogging for a short period of time, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at her blog. She is an expert at Vegetarian and Indian cuisine and she does an amazing job at demystifying a food culture that can seem very complicated.  Prash makes Indian cuisine easy and accessible, but that’s not the only thing she does.  You may have seen her Hasselback Zucchini with Garlic recipe floating around the internet.  I mean, everyone has done Hasselback potatoes, but the fact that she used zucchini is a testament to how creative she is. Her blog can be found at

Next is Christine Arel of No Gojis No Glory.  Christine writes with an infectious enthusiasm and her recipes are so trustworthy–meaning, when I read them, I know that they will work. I love that her blog focuses on healthy eating, but does not subscribe to a diet “dogma”.  Her recipe for Maple Chicken Sausage with Cinnamon Apples was my first taste of her work and I immediately made that recipe for our Mother’s Day brunch this year.  So delicious!  Her blog can be found at

I hope you will take a moment to visit Lemony Thyme, Yummily Yours and No Gojis No Glory as they are wonderful and amazing blogs that deserve every bit of recognition I can throw at them!

So, there you have it!  Now, I will be waiting for that cake I was promised.  Bring it on!



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