One of life's great pleasures is having a small unexpected adventure. When David and I tried to take our niece on an outing to the Kingman Museum in Battle Creek, only to find the museum was closed that day (but we'll try again--I've been there before and it's totally worth the drive--old-school science museum, very nostalgic), we went next door to the Leila Arboretum, which ROCKS. It's basically just like this beautiful huge park that you can walk around in, and there's a couple of sculptures, and small gardens, a walking labyrinth, a cool fountain, just a fun walk.
But we also made two amazing discoveries there, one of which leads to a recipe. The first discovery was the Fantasy Forest, which if you haven't been yet, GO, especially if you have kids. So fun. And free (but there is a donation box and you'll for sure be inspired to donate to support more art in Battle Creek because that Fantasy Forest is Awesome!). It's basically a bunch of tree trunks that have been carved into these pretty tall and elaborate fantasy themed sculptures (thinks dragons and wizards and gnomes), but you don't have to love fantasy stuff to love this place. It's great fun and super imaginative, and I'm not sure how long it will be there so go soon if you want to see it. Not sure if there are Pokemon there, but if not you won't miss them.
The second discovery is the Aboretum's Gardening 365 Farm Stand, open 12-6 Tuesdays and Thursdays. Do you love tomatoes??? Yes. Me too. Their heirloom tomatoes are so delicious and available NOW, because they have hoop-houses so they can harvest tomatoes early. I am kind of embarrassed to admit the tomatoes were so flippin good that I actually drove the fifteen minutes there and back from the store yesterday to buy more because I just really wanted to make this Caprese Salad and I knew I wasn't going to find tomatoes like that anywhere else. In my defense, I was happy to learn on my second visit to the stand that the garden project is an ambitious and educational one. With the garden, they are hoping to bring beautiful fresh, and AFFORDABLE produce to the area and educate people on how to use the food, and even how to grow your own. It's a pretty cool project and made me feel better that I drove that far just for tomatoes. To make my recipe. Which is one of my favorites, and is pictured above, and described below:
KEEPING IT SIMPLE CAPRESE SALAD
what you need:
3-7, depending on how much salad you want and where you like your cheese/tomato ratio to fall, of the most beautiful tomatoes you can get your hands on, heirloom varieties or colorful ones are great!
a good handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
one small ball of fresh mozzarella cheese (or if you don't like to chop or prefer the pearls, you can use those)
1 Tbs Olive Mill 20-year-aged Traditional Balsamic Vinegar*
1 Tbs Olive Mill Basil Extra Virgin Olive Oil*
1 tsp stone-ground mustard
Cyprus Flake Salt and freshly ground pepper (I love it with the Everything Nice Long Pepper), to taste.*
what you do:
Chop the tomatoes how you like them—I like mine quartered in big chunks, and put them in your favorite big mixing bowl.
Cut the basil on top of the tomatoes with scissors—I like mine coarse.
Slice the cheese and toss that on top of the basil—I slice the ball in half, then half again, then quarter inch slices of that, but you can do it however you like.
Sprinkle a light portion of salt and pepper on top (you can add more later, so start slowly).
Make the dressing in a separate bowl. And be ready with a rubber spatula: I don't know if you can tell from the picture above, but this stuff is THICK. Put the balsamic into the bowl, whisk in the mustard—whatever mustard you have in the fridge will work, even French's or Honey Mustard, literally any mustard. And if you are out of mustard, just leave it out. Whisk in the Olive Oil, and you are done.
Drizzle the dressing over the tomatoes (and scrape ALL of the dressing out of the bowl with the rubber spatula, which you will need!) and gently toss it all together with a big gentle spoon. Did I mention to be gentle? Those tomatoes are glorious and don't deserve to be smashed. Don't worry if it doesn't seem like enough dressing—it is. The tomatoes are so juicy that they add to the dressing and because you are using super flavorful high-quality balsamic and olive oil, a little goes a looong way.
Taste it. Add more salt and pepper if needed to taste. Eat right away, but to be honest, I usually make enough to last for lunch the next day, too, because I like to make the most of my efforts, and I think it is just fine on the second day, though that is probably sacrilege. I don't think it wouldn't make it to day three, though.
I love this recipe because it is so basic and can just be modified by whatever you have. Here are some of ten million ways:
Add 2 cups or so cubes of super good bread (it doesn't have to be fresh—a great way to use up leftover old bread), I like Victorian Bakery or Zingerman's—but if you do this, also add a little water to the dressing—it makes the flavor of the dressing slightly less intense, which is good in this case because the bread really soaks up the dressing, and at full strength, it can be overwhelming.
Add fresh cucumbers or green beans.
Sprinkle shaved parmesan on top for a little more cheesiness.
Add roasted walnuts or roasted chickpeas, or even grilled chicken breast, for a little protein.
SO: WHAT TO DO ON A TUESDAY OR THURSDAY AFTERNOON OR EARLY EVENING THIS SUMMER?
Go to Leila Arboretum for the afternoon, buy some tomatoes at the Farm Stand (get there before 6!), and go home to make your salad. You can even stop at Beer and Skittles on the way home and grab a six-pack (unless you live in Battle Creek or Marshall, then it might not be on the way home, but hopefully it's worth the extra 15 minutes each way). Cheers!