Iris Clark Neumann: Summer meals include pita pizzas and pasta salad

Cut the pita pizza into slices and share with some friends.

Using whole-wheat pitas for a crust is a great shortcut for making individual pizzas.

A quick pasta salad can be made with a salad kit and a few extra fresh vegetables.
By : 
Iris Clark Neumann
Food for the Neighborhood

Truthfully, I have not been a gifted cook so far this summer. When my husband and I are together, I quickly pull something together for a meal, but it's nothing fancy.

His work, after retiring, has been the remodeling project at the cabin, which he started two years ago. Because I have gardening and other stuff going on back home, we are not always together. I love the cabin, but I prefer not being there full-time.

Each night we are apart, we chat during the evening and recite our accomplishments of the day. Recently, after leaving to come back home, I left him leftovers, which he really enjoyed and stretched out for a few days. But on his own, he creates a pretty healthy regiment of green salads with canned sardines or tuna. Occasionally, he'll heat up some sort of noodle-type frozen meal.

Although we have a wonderful grill at the cabin, which my daughter and her husband gave us, we tend to eat easy meals, between our projects up there.

Last weekend we actually drove up there together, but our time was spent focusing on getting the house ready for company. Over the winter, Dale converted the house back to a split entry, as it was originally built.

He is pretty proud of the whole process of reconstruction, although sometimes the overall transformation seems daunting. I like to live in the present, which means that even if the addition is not insulated or finished, it's still usable living space during the summer season.

So I just clean whatever is there, set up temporary furniture, string lights from a maze of cords, and enjoy it, as is. The view from the addition towards the lake is beautiful and I love sitting in my rocking lawn chair looking out the window.

There was more cleaning to do in the basement after a lot of sawing and some dry-walling over the winter. But I've helped reorganize the spaces and temporarily moved the kids’ toy area upstairs. I even have a color scheme with a blue and yellow theme in the new area. (Blue folding chairs, yellow pots for plants, yellow kids chairs, and a blue-checked tablecloth on a folding card table. Kids are enjoying comfort of a recycled blue yoga mat laid on the floor by their play kitchen.)

After the two-story addition was built, I gradually realized the lower room might just be the most perfect place to sleep, looking out into the woods and towards the lake. We hadn't planned for it to be a bedroom, but why not, I asked? Earlier, I'd planned to have it as a place to sit and sew or do some crafting.

There might be some cross-traffic during the day when guests are coming up from the lake, but now there is also a stairway to get upstairs via the new deck. So, I think it will work.

That would also give us another bedroom for guests, but Dale has found he really likes his desk in our current bedroom, and might just keep it there with a Murphy bed folding from the wall, when it's needed as an extra bedroom. It is funny that the desk was something I originally thought I wanted, where I could sit at my computer. He even made me a special stool for me to sit by it.

But instead, I use the stool to sit my duffel bag packed with a few days worth of clothes. There really wasn't enough room for the desk in the corner, as I'd planned. So one day, we moved it over and it became his desk. If I'm on my laptop, I sit in bed or in my rocking chair.

So, I guess one might say, it is all a work in process, with new functions developing as the spaces develop.

We marvel at how a slope behind the house was previously nonfunctional, but is now usable outdoor space with a deck above and a patio below. The retaining wall Dale built and I landscaped, is developing into spaces connecting the woods to the house.

The last weekend we were there, I continued my project of transferring more ferns and woodlands plants to the bank beside the house. Between cleaning out sawdust in a sleeping space downstairs and throwing together quick meals, this was really fun for me.

I should have taken some photos to share, but I wasn't thinking about turning it into a story then. We spent two days getting as much work done as we could, then drove back home. Next weekend, we'll have guests and I am planning to grill, at least some asparagus and chicken breasts, if I remember to pull them from the freezer before I leave.

So what have I been making in my kitchens?

Well, one thing that I started doing was making easy individual pizzas using a package of whole-wheat pitas. The sauce is actually not traditional, it is marsala sauce, found in the ethnic food aisle at the grocery store. After reading someone else's easy cooking ideas, I adopted this for myself. It is topped with mushrooms and sweet peppers, or whatever else I have in the fridge, along with cheese, of course. Last weekend I found a tin of smoked trout in the cabin cupboard and this was a perfect addition to the “pizza.”

Another easy way to create a summer meal is with a boxed pasta salad mix. Add a serving of vegetables by adding some chopped broccoli, shredded carrots, and cherry tomato halves. Add cheese cubes or fresh mozzarella cheese balls or add a can of drained black beans to make it a meal in one dish.

Also, make the flavor pop by adding chopped fresh parsley, chives, or other herbs or adding a dash of Dijon mustard.

Both ideas also make great leftovers, either for me to leave behind at the cabin, or have at home when I am too busy gardening to cook.

Easy Pita Pizzas

Package of five whole-wheat pitas

Bottled marsala sauce

Sliced fresh mushrooms

Tin of smoked trout

One goat cheese log

Chopped green, yellow, or red peppers

Chopped green onions or chives

Drizzle of olive oil

Sea salt

Shredded mozzarella cheese

Distribute pitas over a baking sheet. Spread each with a small amount of marsala sauce. Sprinkle with sliced or chopped fresh mushrooms. Distribute smoked trout morsels and crumbled goat cheese over pitas. Then add sliced tiny peppers or chopped chunks of sweet green, yellow, or red peppers. Sprinkle with chopped green onions, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Top with a little shredded mozzarella cheese.

Bake for about ten minutes at 375 degrees or until cheese is melted. Cut each pita into four pieces.

Quick Pasta Salad

1 package Betty Crocker Suddenly Salad Classic

Olive Oil

1 1/2 cups chopped broccoli

1 cup cherry tomato halves

1/2 cup shredded carrots

1 cup fresh mozzarella balls halved or cubed cheese

Chopped green onions or chives

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Optional: Dash of Dijon mustard, can of black beans, drained

Prepare the Suddenly Salad mix according to package instructions. Stir in chopped broccoli, cherry tomato halves, shredded carrots, cheese, chives, and fresh parsley. Add a dash of Dijon mustard, if desired, or add a can of drained canned beans. When serving leftovers, drizzle with a little additional olive oil and stir in to moisten.