Salad Dressings

I love this time of year – farmers’ markets, roadside stands and grocery stores are filled with local, fresh produce!  It’s easy to plan menus around the fresh harvest.  Friends came for dinner Sunday evening and brought us fresh tomatoes and newly dug potatoes from their garden.  We’re quickly devouring the tomatoes, and the potatoes will be featured for dinner tonight.

This time of year, and especially in the midst of this heat, we have salad most nights.  Sometimes it is a side dish, but frequently it is the main course.  When I roast chicken, I always freeze the leftover meat (boned, skinned and sliced or chopped) so it is easy to add to the top of a salad along with some fresh grated cheese and fresh cracked pepper.  Yum!


Today I’m featuring some homemade salad dressings you might want to try on your summer salads.  I buy fewer bottled salad dressings now, preferring to make them up fresh. You can adjust the amount of fat, etc. to your own taste and once you have a basic recipe, add herbs and seasonings to experiment.




The first one is from our dear neighbor, Myrtle, in Parma, Michigan.  Myrtle was an elderly lady who lived in the apartment below us during our seasons of “firsts” – first apartment out of college, Paul’s first job after graduation, and the birth of our first daughter.  She was a surrogate grandma for two kids running full-out in the adult world.  She shared food, recipes and her family history with us, along with daily doses of encouragement.

Myrtle’s Salad Dressing

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup catsup
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon celery seed
  • 1 Tablespoon mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped

Beat all ingredients together.  I use a blender to mix it all. 

Note:  My dad loved this dressing on burgers and hot dogs!  As with most things these days, I decrease the oil and sugar a bit; so feel free to adjust.

This next one is from our daughter, Jessica.  Yes, she is the first-born that we brought home to the apartment over Myrtle’s.  And some nights when Jessica kept us awake, we were glad Myrtle took her hearing aids off at night!  She’s grown now, sleeps through the night, feeds her family well, and shares recipes with me too.  It is quick and easy, and you can use any vinegar – I’ve used apple cider, white, balsamic, and red wine.  I have also used a vanilla balsamic vinegar and omitted the sugar.  Experiment and enjoy!

Jessica’s Vinaigrette

3 Tablespoons vinegar

3 Tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

pepper to taste

Shake or whisk all together and serve.

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Why I love coaching

I am reading three books in preparation for a coaching class that begins this week.  As I have been reading I have been struck once again by how much I love the life coaching concept, or the “coach approach” to helping people.

The coaching session is a time set aside just for the individual.  It provides a time to focus – on the individual’s purpose, calling, goals and dreams.  In a hurried world, the coaching session is a time set aside to think, to process, to plan.  As a coach, I am privileged to share in this time, and by asking questions, help the client determine their course of action.  Walking beside someone as they pursue a dream, or realize their purpose, or take steps toward accomplishing a goal is a joy!

In these days of economic gloom, political dissension, droughts, and violence, the obstacles for an individual can seem overwhelming.  Coaching is a way I can help combat the negatives and provide encouragement for each client to make a difference – in his/her own life, and as a result, in the community.

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Intentional Living

My nephew, Adam, posted on his Facebook wall the other day, ” ‘Live intentionally’ Best advice I have ever received.”  Thanks, Adam, for this good reminder.

And my question for you today – Are you living intentionally?

Are you living each day with a clear sense of purpose and direction?  Do your daily or weekly, routine activities reflect this?  Take some time to reflect on the past week, or perhaps the last month.  Just make a simple list of what you spent your time doing.  What filled your days?

Do your activities fit with your purpose?    It is important to have a clear understanding of your life purpose or mission – what you are here for.  Much can be gained by going through the process to write a life mission statement, or to set down specific goals.  But unless your actions consistently, over time match that, it’s of little value.  Your real purpose, what you value, who you are, is really found in how you live out each day.

Several years ago I remember hearing of a friend’s young boy with an upset stomach following a holiday party.  He told his mother, “I only meant to have three cookies, but I accidentally had eight!”

What life are you intending to have?  Don’t accidentally live a different one.

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Broccoli Salad

When we lived in Jackson, Michigan we shared life with our good friends, the Baileys.  John and Sharon’s boys, Mikal and Seth, were the same ages as our girls and our families were frequently together – church, weekend activities, vacations, and frequently, dinner.  Sharon and I talked just about every day on the phone and so dinner menus were frequently a topic, and the result was often a shared meal.  It never mattered which home or what was on the menu – we talked and laughed, shared honestly about the days, shared deeply about life, played cards, shared in the joy of our kids, ate well, and laughed some more!  And so much of this sharing of life happened “at table”.

So, remembering those days, I’m sharing one of Sharon’s recipes that she gave me in 1987.  So, why not call some friends over for dinner one night this week – share this salad, and maybe you’ll share more than a meal?

Broccoli Salad

Mix and let set overnight:

  • 3/4 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise (use mayo, not salad dressing)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons vinegar

Mix and let set at least one hour:

  • 1 bunch broccoli flowerets, cut up
  • 4 ounces raisins
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 can sliced water chestnuts (which I slice again into strips)
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped red onion

Just before serving, stir 1 heaping Tablespoon of bacon bits or crumbles into the dressing; add to salad.  Serve and enjoy!

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Not over it

Sometimes it comes in huge waves, and then so do my smiles and tears.  At other times it happens when I do small daily things and a memory is triggered.

I think of my sweet friend, Betty, each week when I do laundry and pray for her as I iron and fold clothes.  She lived with us for the two years we lived in Pretoria, cleaning our home and our clothes, reading to me from her Bible in Setswana and then me reading the passage to her in English.  Holding hands, each of us praying in our native tongue, we began many mornings with toast and tea.  Sisters.

I think of Eastside Community Church each Sunday morning as Paul and I prepare for church here.  I imagine the worship and wonder what the sermon was about.  I picture all of the faces.  I watch for pictures on Facebook of the trailer ministry in the rural churches and holiday clubs these past weeks.  And I remember 2010 and the huge task God gave to the churches in South Africa during the soccer World Cup.  And the honor it was to serve beside them and the thrill of just getting to be a part of what God was doing in their midst.  Community.  Family.

I drive past all the sidewalks and walking trails here in Johnson County, and think of the red dirt paths there.  Sidewalks and trails that are used for “exercise” here; trails that are used for daily transportation there.  I can’t look at the cheese section at the local grocer, without recalling all of the gouda and feta cheeses available there. I open our blinds in the morning and think of opening the blinds and windows each morning there.  I have my kitchen window open sometimes early in the morning and hear the birds; then recall the birds we heard there.  In a thousand little things I am reminded of South Africa.

We were only there for two short years.  My brother called me a couple of weeks after our return to Kansas and asked if I was glad to be home.  I said, “Yes, but I am missing South Africa so much!”  He laughed and said, “You’re gonna get over that soon, aren’t you?”  Well, it’s been 10 months now.  And no, it appears that I’m not.  Nor do I want to.

Once you have the dust of Africa between your toes, it is there forever.  Home.

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The Goodness of a Garden

I was in the backyard early this morning, watering the potted flowers along the patio and then on to our small raised-bed plantings.  Although we had an early start with warm weather, this hasn’t been a stellar year in the McCool garden.  The peas failed, the tomatoes, bell peppers, rosemary, chives and jalapenos I started from seeds all died within a short time of being set in the ground.  And some of them were gobbled up before they had a chance to grow.  Rabbits chewed through the wire fencing and helped themselves to the salad buffet, as well as to the phlox we planted around the house.  Early in June a deer wandered into our subdivision one night and enjoyed our blueberry bushes, four new pepper plants, and other delicacies.  The marigolds I planted (because I thought the smell would deter pests) around the maple in our front yard were quickly uprooted by the neighborhood squirrels.

However, even with these setbacks, we are beginning to see the desired results.  We had the first of the new red potatoes last week.  We have plenty of fresh cilantro and an abundance of basil that I have happily added to tomato soup and to pasta.  The bean plants are covered in blossoms, so we are hopeful.  And the cucumbers are growing in spite of the withering heat the last two weeks.  And our tomatoes (yes, plants that were purchased because the seedlings died) are thriving and have blossoms.  Of the four pepper plants the deer (or rabbits?) ate, three of them came back and one plant now has four peppers on it.

This morning while I was out my neighbor and I chatted.  I offered her some basil and she offered me tomatoes.  So, you can guess what’s for dinner tonight – fresh tomato slices, fresh basil, and a sprinkling of good balsamic vinegar and fresh cracked pepper.  If I was going to the store today I would buy some fresh mozzarella to slice and stack with the tomatoes for caprese salad.  Maybe another day.

There is so much goodness in a garden.  Enjoying the produce itself and the fresh air and exercise while caring for it are obvious.  Sharing the produce with friends and other gardeners is a blessing for all.  There is something good about planting, watering, feeding, weeding, protecting, hoping.  In gardening I find goodness, not just for the table, but as a pattern for living.

And some more goodness to share – finches that are also enjoying our zinnias!

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Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Well, it’s that time in the gardening season – zucchini harvest has begun.  If you are a gardener then you shake your head and keep repeating, “I only put in two plants!”  You’ve sautéed them, you’ve grilled them, you’ve steamed them, and added them to stir-fry.  Then you’ve found yourself making lists of every one you’ve ever met and hoping they love zucchini, as much as you once thought you did.  You carry a basket of them everywhere you go, hoping to feed the masses.  If you are not a gardener, then you’ve started watching your green-thumbed friends and neighbors suspiciously, looking for zucchini as they approach you.

Our friends, Don and Diana Wilson, shared their garden space with us many years ago in Parma, Michigan.  Long summer evenings were spent working in the garden and then enjoying iced tea and conversation.  The garden was large and the harvest was always plentiful, with enough to share with others.  I remember them leaving items in the church foyer some Sunday mornings, especially zucchini and cucumbers!

Today’s recipe is one that Diana Wilson shared with me during those gardening days.  It has been a family favorite and frequently requested recipe whenever I have made it.  Quick, moist, no frosting, and it’s chocolate!  So, relax about all of that zucchini – bake a cake!

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

  • 1/2 cup butter (original recipe called for margarine)
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup sour milk
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon each, salt and soda
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini (I don’t peel it, but if the green bothers you, then peel it)
  • 1/2 bag chocolate chips

Cream butter, oil and sugar; add eggs, vanilla and milk, and beat well.  Add dry ingredients.  Stir in zucchini.  Pour into greased and floured 9 x 13 pan.  Sprinkle with chocolate chips (and chopped nuts if you want).  Bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes.


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