Taking a Tax Holiday & Asparagus Salad with Reduced Balsamic Vinaigrette

You’ve probably figured it out by now. The harrowing reckoning of April 15th, tax day, has been postponed. Well, postponed until today. So, if you’re reading this and haven’t filed, stop immediately and get to work. The time is now if you are a last minute filer.

For years, I was among the legions of last minuters. I don’t know about you but I find it difficult to get motivated. First, it takes a bit of effort to pull everything together. Locating old check stubs. Combing through credit card bills. Searching for thank you letters from charitable organizations. None of it is difficult work; it’s just boring and time consuming.

It doesn’t get any better once you find everything. Mind you, I’m not one of those people who find pleasure in filling out forms. In case you are wondering, yes, I use one of those software packages that guides me through it. It doesn’t matter, I always worry that I will sneeze, inadvertently click continue and miss an important question. If not that, then I’m sure I’ll somehow misinterpret something. Every year, after countless reviews, I take a deep breath and hit send. Luckily, it’s been so far so good.

Now, I admit it, I was tempted by the extended deadline. I could have, would have gladly left it for the final weekend. Heck, I’ve been known to take tax day off. No, not because I wanted to but because I had to! Before I filed electronically, I knew which post offices closed at six and which ones stayed open until midnight. That said; I hit send surprisingly early this year. In fact, my return jumped on the cyber highway and winged its way to Washington two whole weeks ago. I’m not sure but I think that may be a record for me.

Record or no, there is a payoff. Thanks to direct deposit, my refund is already in the bank. How about that for motivation? So, if you are frantically filling out forms today, or did so over the weekend, consider this … twelve months from now, instead of pulling your hair out, shuffling through a bunch of papers and filling in forms, you could be celebrating with your refund.

Now I know that each and every financial advisor out there is going to yell and shout and tell you the last thing you should do is blow your refund on a vacation or a party. They will offer much more practical advice. They will suggest you invest in a 529 college fund for your kids or grandkids, put it in your IRA or start an emergency fund. Responsible people don’t think you should fly to Bermuda or buy diamond earrings, especially if the cost of the trip or jewelry is more than your refund.

Alright then, how about a compromise? Forget Bermuda, drive to the coast for a walk on a sunny beach and have lunch at a favorite clam shack. I spent my first ten summers on the Cape and I make a habit of having fried clams once a year. Instead of diamonds, visit a craft shop, the one with the amazing local artists. Treat yourself to a truly special pair of earrings, a gorgeous ceramic bowl or a fabulous scarf. Indulge in the kind of treasure that you will be proud to own not for a day or two but a lifetime.

As for me? What did I do with my refund? Okay, I confess. I went to Florida. But heck, I’m not a financial advisor. I don’t even play one on television.

Bon appétit!

Asparagus Salad with Reduced Balsamic Vinaigrette
If the calendar says spring, then it’s time for asparagus, lots of asparagus. Enjoy!
Serves 8

2-3 pounds asparagus, trimmed
6-8 ounces arugula
1-2 scallions, thinly sliced
Reduced Balsamic Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the asparagus and cook until tender crisp and bright green, 2-3 minutes. Drain and immediately drop the asparagus into the ice water to cool. Drain again and pat dry.

Put the arugula and scallions in a large bowl, drizzle sparingly with vinaigrette and toss to lightly coat.

To serve: arrange the arugula on a large serving platter or individual plates and top with asparagus. Drizzle the asparagus with a little vinaigrette, garnish with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and sprinkle with pine nuts.

Reduced Balsamic Vinaigrette
Makes about 3/4 cup

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon or to taste honey
1/2 cup or to taste extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Put the vinegar in small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil the over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until reduced by half. Stir in the shallot, garlic and thyme, remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

Using a rubber spatula to press on the solids, strain the vinegar through a sieve into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and whisk in the mustard and honey. Slowly add and the olive oil and continue whisking until thick and well combined.

Cover and store extra vinaigrette in the refrigerator.

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One Year Ago – Homemade Personal Pizzas
Two Years Ago – Grilled Swordfish with Chimichurri
Three Years Ago – Not Your Ordinary Grilled Ham & Swiss Cheese Sandwiches
Four Years Ago – Peanut-y Chocolate Chip Cookies
Five Years Ago – Thai Curried Shrimp and Green Beans
Six Years Ago – Asparagus Risotto
Seven Years Ago – Fennel & Feta Salad
Eight Years Ago – Dandelion Salad with Grilled Steak, Potatoes & Asparagus

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? How will you spend your tax refund this year? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

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‘Tis the Season for Taxes & Lavender Scones

taxes_04What can I say? The sky is the color of dirty snow. One last pile of dirty snow still clings to the edge of the driveway. Rain is not just in the forecast; it is imminent. Step outside and it feels like your thermometer is off by at least five degrees. Could it get any worse? Yes, of course, our taxes are due next Monday. (No, that’s not a typo. April 15th is a holiday in Washington so the deadline has been pushed back.)

While paying taxes is no picnic, filing is even worse. I assume that there are people who embrace the process as a fascinating puzzle or mystery to unravel. Not I. Running through all those numbers is pure drudge. I suppose that if I was a clever accountant, I would appreciate the finesse and creativity it takes to master the tax code. But I’m not. I’m just an ordinary person with a mountain of forms and receipts and a not-quite-as-easy-as-advertised software package to navigate. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not complaining about the software. For years I did my taxes with a calculator and pencil, this way is much, much better.

I’m not alone. None other than Albert Einstein said, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” If the dreaded tax season has you down, here are a few quotes to perk you up. If you like, you can use them to make refrigerator magnets. (You can sell the magnets to help pay your tax bill. Don’t forget to include your sales as miscellaneous income next year.)

Perhaps these lines will cheer you up, perhaps not. Anyway, here goes:

“No taxation without representation” was a popular slogan during the mid-1700s. The quote summarized the American colonists’ primary grievance against Mad King George. The notion of taxes without a voice in government led to the American Revolution. We have since learned that taxation with representation isn’t all that much fun either.

Benjamin Franklin shared the rather distressing truth that, “nothing is certain except death and taxes.” However, he failed to add that if you are hard pressed for time, the IRS will give you an extension. You just need to ask.

Too bad Richard Nixon didn’t heed his own words, “Make sure you pay your taxes; otherwise you can get in a lot of trouble.” The Watergate scandal, political corruption, dirty tricks and, yes, tax evasion landed Nixon in a whole heap of trouble and forced him to resign. Charges were not restricted to the president. Pleading no contest to tax evasion, Veep Spiro Agnew left office in disgrace ten months before Nixon stepped down.

Nixon and Agnew are not alone. Perhaps Leona Helmsley summed it up best, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” That was before the Queen of Mean was sentenced to four years in prison and fined $7 million for tax fraud. Al Capone must have been similarly deluded when he said, “They can’t collect legal taxes from illegal money.”

I guess Barry Goldwater knew what he was talking about when he said, “The income tax created more criminals than any other single act of government.” Will Rogers didn’t go quite so far. His take on our annual calculations and filing was, “The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has.”

If your W-2 and myriad of other forms are signed and sent, well, good for you. If you are still busy calculating; my sympathies and best wishes.

Either way, with any luck, you’re due a refund. Bon appétit!

Lavender Scones
After your taxes are filed, clear your head of convoluted instructions and calculations with a leisurely cup of tea and a scone. Enjoy!
Makes 16 scones

3 cups all-purpose flour plus more for your work surface
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried lavender buds
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Lavender Honey Butter, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with non-stick silicon mats or parchment paper.

Put the flour, sugar, lavender, lemon zest, baking powder, salt and baking soda in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer the buttery flour mixture to a bowl.

Stir the vanilla into the sour cream and then add the wet ingredients to the buttery flour mixture. Stir to combine.

tea_scones_04Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, pat together and knead for 10 or 12 turns. Pat the dough into a 10×5-inch rectangle. Cut the dough in half lengthwise and then cut each half into 4 squares. Cut each square diagonally into 2 triangles.

Arrange the scones on the baking sheets and brush the tops with cream. Bake the scones at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until golden. A tester inserted into the center of one of the scones should come out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes. Serve warm with honey butter.

Can be made ahead and reheated in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes.

Lavender Honey Butter
2 tablespoons lavender* honey
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter, softened and cut in 1-inch pieces

Put the honey, lemon zest and juice in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed to combine. Add the butter and beat on low speed to break up the butter and begin mixing. Gradually increase the speed to medium-high and beat until well combined, about 5 minutes.

Spoon the butter onto parchment paper or plastic wrap, roll into a log and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

* Don’t worry if you can’t find lavender honey. Your favorite honey should work almost as well.

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One Year Ago – Calzones with Marinara Sauce
Two Years Ago – Chocolate-Espresso Cheesecake
Three Years Ago – Runners’ Chicken with Pasta
Four Years Ago – Steamed Artichokes with Bagna Cauda or Warm Lemon-Garlic Sauce
Five Years Ago – Death by Chocolate Cake
Six Years Ago – Filet de Perche Meunière
Seven Years Ago – Chicken Provençal
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Yippee! I finished my taxes yesterday afternoon. How are doing with your calculations? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2016