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Saturday, June 25

The Sycamore Standoff by Stacey Weeks

Author Stacey Weeks joins the Wranglers in the corral today. Make her welcome!

The Opposite of Fear is not Always Courage. It can also be Peace.

In general, the Western world—and many in the church—do not know what to do when confronted with fearsome circumstances or unexpected suffering. We need only to observe the world as it navigates out of a global catastrophe that has torn through churches and communities to see that God’s people haven’t always suffered well amidst the fearsome unknown. Yet our responses have the power to either draw others to the Lord or drive them away. How we represent Christ while we face our fear matters.

This is part of the reason I love writing fiction. It’s therapeutic to craft characters who love the Lord and then put them into situations where God stretches and tests their faith. It helps me work through impossible choice scenarios, consider how to rebound after failure, and how to seek the Lord humbly.

Meet Meg Gilmore

Meg Gilmore seeks more than an absence of anxiety, fear, or stress. If that’s all that inner peace required, her twisted insides would have smoothed out when she escaped her abusive ex and resettled in the small town of Sycamore Hill. But the peace she sought didn’t come through removing the source of tension.

Meg wants the Lord to remove the root of her fear (like her ex trying to extort her). She wants God to save the ancient tree that’s become her safe space. But neither would guarantee her the kind of peace that remains when the storms rage. She needs a peace that is different from the world’s peace (John 14:27). A peace that doesn’t come through the removal of trials but from enduring the trials with a trust that what the enemy meant for destruction will be the very vehicle God uses to strengthen her soul.

Meet Eli Martin

Eli’s need to control his environment feeds feelings of anxiousness and challenges his theology. Which is true? His chaotic feelings or God’s promise of peace?

His flesh whispers that failure is guaranteed, but the Spirit says he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him (Phil 4:13). His flesh pushes people (and God) away, but wisdom says humbly seek the Lord, and God will meet every need (Phil 4:19). His flesh screams there is not enough time, but the Spirit reminds him that there has always been enough time when he keeps the Lord first (Matt 6:33). Yesterday, fear overwhelmed him. Today, he starts again with the Lord and trusts Him for another day. God’s mercies are new every morning. He is faithful (Lam 3:22-23). Eli knows this. Now, he has to live like he believes this.

The Sycamore Standoff

Meg and Eli fight for biblical thinking one day (one hour!) at a time, and they learn to live and focus on each day as it comes, not worrying about tomorrow (Matt 6:34). Peace follows this battle for their minds. It is exhausting but freeing. It feels dangerous yet is safe. It provides no answers, but it causes them to depend on the One who holds the answers, and that is why it brings peace within circumstances that haven’t changed. Meg’s fearsome past still exists. Eli can’t control the present. Yet peace anchors them—to God and each other.

Perfect Peace in the Face of Fear

Managing our circumstances will never bring lasting peace—the darkness and pervasiveness of sin roots far too deep than that. Instead, peace comes with an understanding that God uses suffering to accomplish far more extraordinary things than He would by removing suffering.

Like Eli and Meg, I’ve found God in the blessings and provisions of life, but the spectacular sights and rewards that come from the harder work of seeking God in difficulty are even more precious. God has strengthened me to endure and revealed that nothing I fear can limit His hand.

She wants independence. He wants her affections. They’ll have to face her past for any chance of a future.

Escaping an abusive boyfriend, Meg Gilmore finds refuge in Sycamore Hill. She’s particularly drawn to a 250-year-old tree she names Alfred. Like her, Alfred is a survivor, and the shade beneath its protective branches is her go-to place for solace. When a construction firm slates the majestic tree for destruction, Meg resolves to save Alfred. But Meg underestimates an adversary who refuses to yield to her requests to work around the tree.

Eli Martin’s family money is as old as the tree Meg is desperate to save. Attracted to Meg from day one, he sees Meg’s campaign to save Alfred as his chance to seal her affections. The best way to fight big business is to attack them in the pocketbook, and he devises a plan that Meg’s adversary won’t be able to afford to fight.

When Meg’s ex arrives, Eli once again rises to her aid. However, Meg insists he can’t simply throw money at problems to make them go away.

Together they face what truly terrifies Meg, finding freedom and love in the most unlikely places.

Book Excerpt:

Something wasn’t right. Meg Gilmore stopped abruptly on the sidewalk in front of her cedar-sided historical home. As she squinted at the tiny one-bedroom bungalow, the hairs on the back of her neck lifted, and an unseasonal shiver rippled down her spine. Her backpack slipped off her shoulder and landed on the ground with a thud.

The Canadian flag mounted to the right of the front door rippled in the warm, late-afternoon breeze. The vintage mailbox remained closed. Tulips and daffodils waved a happy greeting from their sunny spot in the front garden. Nothing was trampled. Nothing appeared out of place. Everything looked just as she’d left it this morning. 

Yet it all felt wrong. The double-check-your-locks, peek-in-the-closet, and look-behind-the-shower-curtain kind of wrong. Meg’s legs quivered, and she settled a hand over her midsection. She couldn’t explain why. There was no reason for the chill filling her core. 

She instinctively shrank back. She hadn’t felt this kind of inexplicable apprehension since . . .  well, she really didn’t want to think about that. She forced her spine to straighten and picked up her bag. She wasn’t the same person she was back then. She sucked in a deep breath, marched to the front door, jabbed her key into the lock, and twisted. The lock clicked open as she would expect, and she gave the door a trepidatious shove. 

Her breath shot out of her. See. Everything is fine.

Finding a house that she loved in a historical neighborhood in Sycamore Hill had been one more rung on her ladder toward independence. Sure, she didn’t own it. And yes, it was the smallest house on the street. But she’d scraped together the first and last month’s rent to secure the place while studying as a full-time student at Grander University and working part-time at The Muffin Man. And she’d done so all by herself. 

Her keys clinked against the ceramic rim of the shallow, catch-all bowl she kept on the entry table. In less than a minute, she moved through the entire house, tidying a stack of books here and a throw blanket there. She snagged her journal from where she’d left it this morning on the round table in the breakfast nook. Everything was fine. Normal. Just as it should be. Just as it had always been since she arrived in Sycamore Hill. But if that were true, why did an invisible weight press on her chest, making it difficult to take in a full breath?

She hugged her journal. Journaling usually filled her soul with a cathartic calm—the kind of peace missing from her messed-up insides right now. Her counsellor-turned-friend, Kim—trustworthy from the days Meg lived in Sycamore Hill’s local shelter, Life House—would tell her to work it out on paper. But she’d graduated from their program nearly a year ago, and she didn’t want to write. She wanted to talk. 

Lord, You say to pray about everything, so here it is. Something feels off. Her eyelids fell closed, and she inhaled a focused, deep breath. Help me remember that You are with me always.

A sudden vibration in her back pocket made her yelp, and then she laughed. She rubbed her palm over her galloping heart as she tried to force her uncooperative gaze to focus on the text message from Eli. Meet me at Alfred in 10?

She gave it a thumbs up, and the reply went out with a quiet whoosh. She was being ridiculous. This was ridiculous. Meg tossed her knapsack onto her bed as she passed the open bedroom door. The smooth, undisturbed quilt sagged under the weight of her textbooks. The bedroom was the only separate space in the house, if you didn’t count the restroom. Having come full circle, Meg sat down on the small bench near the front door. She had no logical reason for her rising panic.

But it happened like that sometimes. Coming out of nowhere and gut-punching the breath from her lungs.

A burning sensation scorched the back of her throat. She tugged off the ballet flats she’d worn to school and pulled on a pair of socks and sneakers. Outside the paned glass back door, the sun remained high in the sky, having only partly begun its descent into evening. Hours of daylight remained—not that she needed hours. She lived only five minutes from every amenity Sycamore Hill offered its residents. Meg shut and locked the door behind her and headed toward the center of town. With every step that put distance between her and her house, the creepy feeling of being watched receded, and her labored breathing eased. 

By the time Meg rounded the corner onto Main Street, she almost felt normal again. Her boss from The Muffin Man bakery called out a cheery good afternoon as she passed. She smiled. Grabbing breakfast-to-go at the bakery that employed her had become part of Meg’s morning routine, her one treat on a tight budget.

Her steps hitched. All the articles she’d read advised women with a past like hers to avoid predictability in their schedule, but it had been so long since . . . Her chest constricted. Had she made herself too easy to find?

Her phone vibrated again. Running late.

Meg had hardly read the message before someone brushed past her, nearly sending her phone to the sidewalk. Her breath stalled in her throat as she fumbled to maintain a hold on the device.

“Sorry,” mumbled a woman, hurrying past her before turning toward the bank.

Meg sagged and sent Eli another thumbs up. Everything was fine. As she crested the gentle incline of Main Street, the magnificent sycamore she’d nicknamed Alfred came into view. The tips of its full crown waved hello, and the quivering in her belly settled. Its rich and familiar aroma soothed her erratic heartbeat. The shade beneath Alfred’s protective branches was her go-to place for solace. And today, she needed solace.

But then she spotted a chain-link fence imprisoning it. A padlock. A public notice.

As if a fist had reached into her chest and squeezed, her heart wrenched. 

Meg raced toward the tree, hitting the barricade with the power of a gale-force wind. She rattled the locked gate, shaking loose a poster pronouncing: The Future is Yours. Come Home to a New Horizon Property.

She picked it up. Condos? She tore her gaze from the poster to Alfred’s patchwork bark that exposed white, green, and cream-colored inner layers. Alfred mattered more than condos. The massive sycamore fig—the singular remnant of an ancient forest from another era—stood as the sole survivor of his community. He was a fighter.

Like her.

~ *~

Stacey Weeks is a ministry wife, mother of three teenagers, and a sipper of hot tea with honey. She loves to open the Word of God and share the hope of Christ with women. She is a multi-award-winning author, the primary home educator of her children, and a frequent conference speaker. Stacey has a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Ministry from Heritage College and Seminary, and she is working toward a Graduate Certificate in Biblical Counselling.


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Tuesday, June 21

Ch-ch-ch Changes

By Margie Senechal

 Changes are afoot in the Senechal household and our extended family.

 First my oldest nephew (of two) got engaged this past weekend and plans on getting married in November. Congratulations to Evan and Graci. I’m thinking wedding plans are going to be kicking into high gear by the end of the summer, if not before.

 Last week I started a new job. I am now the new Indirect Loan Coordinator for Unitus Credit Union. So far, every day has been a learning experience. Banking is an entirely new language for me. Like indirect means we deal with motor dealerships and not as much with a personal customer. Unless one calls to inquire about their loan payment or a question.

While I had a good job at Walgreens, I’m hoping this will be a great job that will pave my way until retirement. I know my knees are beyond happy with this move. As it is a remote job, I’ll also be saving on gas—not that it was a big deal before because I live just two miles away from my store. Yes, it’s still my store. It probably always will be in my heart.


The past two months my writing has taken a backseat as I prepared to get this job. The company is a great company with a really caring upper management and company policies. Not to mention the pay bump that is enough that it will change our quality of life. 

For one, I was able to hire a handyman neighbor to help me get my yard under control. This spring, rain has been relentless—even the Columbia River is threatening to spill over. And it always seemed to rain on my weekends so I couldn’t get out there and mow the lawn or hack away at the blackberries.

A couple of years ago, my apple trees were so heavy with fruit that they simply laid down their branches. I knew I needed someone to come with a chainsaw and cut those limbs back, but it never happened. Until about two weeks ago. I can see the birdhouse in the healthy apple tree from my desk once again.

 I can also see the back of my property for the first time in a very long time (I refuse to be judged by telling you how long). In fact, I discovered my neighbors at the back have stacked wood along our fence line. Who knew?

 I’m hoping by the end of summer, I’ll be able to host bunco on my patio once again. We’ll see. I know how those eggs in the basket have a habit of breaking. 


And now, I have just enough time to write for a short spell before I begin work for the day. It’s time to reestablish that habit.


Friday, June 17

A Wrangler on Aging: My Language is Deteriorating

No kidding—it really is! I’ve always taken pride in the fact that I have a good vocabulary. My mom insisted we have extensive vocabularies and use them appropriately. We played word games voraciously when I was kid—Scrabble, Boggle, Probe—and to this day, family gatherings include word games. Our latest fave is Apples to Apples—très fun! I’m a whiz at spelling, and usually, if someone asks me what a word means, I can come up with the correct definition without running to a dictionary. My grasp of language and its appropriate use is part of why I’m a good copy editor (I have clients who’ll testify, honest!). I adore discovering new words and finding ways to use them in my writing.

So it surprises me to find that I’m using expletives more frequently as I get older. And I’m not talking about the occasional crap or damn. I’m talking the real words—the ones that would have gotten my mouth washed out with soap when I was a kid. You know, the words from George Carlin’s infamous list. (Google it!) I’ve never really been a language prude, but I’ve always been someone who disdained “bad words” as the language of the uneducated. For years, I believed that profanity demonstrated a lack of creativity and a poor vocabulary.

Lately though, I’ve discovered that often the best word, the very best word I can use in some situations is a profane one. Sometimes people behave like ass-hats and that’s the only suitable word to use to describe them, so I use it—but always appropriately. I’ve developed serious post-menopausal short-term memory loss, so s#*t! pretty much takes care of the frustration of not remembering where I put my damn reading glasses. And sometimes, in the throes of a particularly gnarly hot flash (yes, I’m still flashing like a freaking lightning bug!), or when I’m restless and my emotions are in a confused knot, I just want to scream the F-bomb. So I do and it makes me feel better.

As a writer, I’m not particularly proud of this, but as a woman, I’m kind of intrigued with the relief that one good loud F-bomb can bring. How many centuries have men used profanity to relieve tension? Husband has always maintained that calling a broken anything a bad name is the first step to fixing it. You know, maybe my language isn’t really deteriorating at all, maybe it’s just getting more colorful—yeah, that’s it! I like that! I’m colorful! And even though I’ve added some profanity to my vocabulary, I’m not going to be adding it to my small-town romance stories—that would take away from the sweetness of it all, but know this...when my characters are up to here with whatever situation I've put them in, when they are angry or frustrated beyond measure, they're surely thinking what I won't write!

How about it, Wranglers? Where are you on the topic of profanity? Do you use it? Does it bother you when other people do? Talk to me and feel free to use whatever word fits your current mood.

Tuesday, June 14

Brainstorming, or whaddaya think of this? by Liz Flaherty

Oxford Languages defines brainstorming as "group discussion to produce ideas or solve problems."

Welcome to an official Word Wranglers brainstorming session. There are no rules other than civility. All input is welcome and begged for eagerly solicited. 

Because, as I have been saying for years now, my next book could easily be my last one, I'm thinking about it ahead of time. I'm going to try writing what I love to read--women's fiction. My only other attempt at this sub-genre was The Girls of Tonsil Lake. Nine years after it was published, it's still a favorite, so maybe it's time to try again.

So, I have lakes in lots of stories. Besides Tonsil Lake, I wrote the Lake Miniagua series for Harlequin Heartwarming and Cooper Lake plays a large part in the Second Chances series I'm writing now. Apparently, I like lakes. So, is it okay to use them so much? Nan says Yes, and to look at all the authors who write about oceans and beaches. 

I like campgrounds, too. I loved writing about the one in Life's Too Short For White Walls. There wasn't a lake in that book, but Banjo Creek meandered through it...

Oh, but back to the women's fiction book. So, there's a lake. A small one on the edge of a little town, barely big enough to waterski on, but with a nice private beach and the kind of cozy cottages developers love to move in and tear down. 

The heroine drives up to a cottage at the lake. It's nighttime. She's almost too tired to get out of the car. It's been used to death, hasn't it? The tired woman whose life rug has been pulled out from under her feet. But it's been used a lot for a reason, hasn't it? Because we can feel her pain, we can remember the ache that's swelling in her chest, we can say, "If that was me, this is what I'd do."

This story is like an itch I can't quite scratch. The woman is a friend I don't have yet. The lake with the moon reflecting on it is a place of comfort and peace. Or is it?

Any ideas for this story? Please share them. Nan and I did some brainstorming on our workday yesterday and I think she got me out of Dinah's Dilemma. (No, that's not really the title of the story, but doesn't it sound 1950's-teen-book-ish?)

Got anything you want to brainstorm? Come on in. We have sooo many opinions here in the Corral, and we're more than happy to share them!

Newest from me is Reinventing Riley, Book Two in the Second Chances Series from Magnolia Blossom Publishing. Riley's one of my favorite heroines ever and Jake is...oh, I love Jake. You have to meet him.

He’s afraid a second time at love wouldn’t live up to his first. She’s afraid a second round would be exactly like her first.

Pastor Jake McAlister and businesswoman Riley Winters are in their forties and widowed. Neither is interested in a relationship. They both love Fallen Soldier, the small Pennsylvania town where they met, even though Rye plans to move to Chicago, and Jake sees a change in pastorates not too far down the road. Enjoying a few-weeks friendship is something they both look forward to.

However, there is an indisputable attraction between the green-eyed pastor and the woman with a shining sweep of chestnut hair. Then there’s the Culp, an old downtown building that calls unrelentingly to Rye’s entrepreneurial soul. And when a young man named Griff visits Jake, life changes in the blink of a dark green eye.

Liz Flaherty

Friday, June 10

My Favorite Summer Recipes by Jana Richards

My favorite summer recipes are often ones that use produce from our garden. It’s great to have recipes on hand for when a vegetable goes crazy and proves way more bountiful than you expected. Like last year when my husband decided to start tomatoes from seed and we ended up with more tomatoes then we knew what to do with. We ate a lot, froze a lot, gave quite a few away, and I put many tomatoes through my juicer. It was delicious but I don’t think I’ve ever drunk so much tomato juice in my life! If you have a juicer, it’s a great way to use up excess tomatoes and it tastes delicious. Sometimes I processed the tomatoes on their own and drank the juice that way, but I very much enjoyed adding a peeled lemon and juicing it along with the tomatoes.  

It'll be a while till these tomato plants bear fruit.

If I was feeling fancy, I added other vegetables to my drink. Here’s a recipe for Spicy Tomato, from The Juice Lady’s Turbo Diet by Cherie Calbom:

Spicy Tomato

2 medium tomatoes

2 dark green lettuce leaves

2 radishes

Handful of parsley

1 lime or lemon, peeled

Dash of hot sauce

Cut produce to fit your juicer’s feed tube. Juice ingredients and stir. Pour into a glass and drink as soon as possible. Serves 1.

It was a very late spring, so this English cucumber is very small. 

One year, the vegetable that grew out of control in the garden was our long English cucumbers. One of my favorite recipes using cucumber is Creamy Cucumber and Dill Salad. It’s cool and refreshing on a hot summer day, and so easy to prepare. My mom had a similar cucumber salad recipe, but she always used sour cream, which is higher in fat, and white vinegar. I find the rice wine vinegar much milder. Here’s the recipe:

Creamy Cucumber and Dill Salad

4 cups thinly sliced seedless cucumber

1 tsp. salt

1/3 cup low fat yogurt (you can also use sour cream if you prefer)

2 T. rice wine vinegar

2 T minced fresh dill

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

1 cup thinly sliced red onions

To Prepare:

Toss the cucumber and ½ tsp. salt in a colander set over a large bowl. Let stand for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Rinse and dry the cucumber slices. Discard the liquid.

Add the cucumber and onions and toss to coat.

Cover the bowl and chill the salad, 1 hour. Serves 4.

It won't be too long till I can make a rhubarb pie!

One of my very favorite things to make using produce from my garden is Rhubarb Pie. Each year I wait in anticipation for my rhubarb to get large enough so I can make it. I got the recipe years ago from my mom, but I have no idea where she got it. The rhubarb is suspended in a custard-type filling that’s just delicious, but it’s definitely not low-cal. I’ve made this pie many times, and even rhubarb haters have told me they like it!

Rhubarb Pie Filling

2 ½ cups chopped rhubarb

1 cup raisins (optional)

1/3 cup flour

1 cup sugar

¼ tsp. salt

½ cup sweet heavy cream or whipping cream

1 egg

Mix ingredients together and pour into pie shell. Makes one pie. 

Summer is a great time to have recipes on hand that use fresh vegetables (or fruits) from the garden. Enjoy the bounty of summer!

Tuesday, June 7

Kool-Aid and Coconuts by Janie DeVos


          Our favorite summer recipes is the theme on the table (hardy har har) for this month at WordWranglers, and immediately, Ina Garten’s Summer Garden Pasta comes to mind.  I’m all for summer dishes that help me escape from the heat by not tying me to a hot stove all afternoon, and with Ina’s recipe, I’m not committed to that kitchen appliance for any more time than it takes to boil up a pot of angel hair pasta.  Marry that with a bowl full of marinated tomatoes and mounds of parmesan cheese, and “what could be bad with that?” as Ina is so fond of saying.  I whole-heartedly agree.  

Easy strawberry shortcake is another no-fuss delicious summer favorite, which I make using a store-bought lemon-flavored angel food cake, cut into slices about an inch thick, then topped with really good vanilla ice cream and macerated strawberries—sliced strawberries that have sugar generously sprinkled over them and then “marinated” for several hours or overnight, bringing out the berries’ wonderful juices.  And, hey, just because we’re adults and can do what we darn well please, I top that mound of strawberries that’s on top of that other mound of ice cream with ANOTHER mound of whipped cream (store bought, of course.  I’ll hang out in the kitchen for hours in the cold weather months, thank you).  

So, those are just a couple of my favorite summer dishes, but, as I was thinking through them, trying to decide which ones to share with you, I couldn’t help but think about my favorite summer treats a long time ago. 

As a kid growing up in Miami, in the ‘60’s, our treats consisted of the super-easy-to-make-so-you-can-get-out-of-the-kitchen fast kind, especially for those who didn’t have air conditioning, which we didn’t for the first eight years of my life in our old 1920’s home.  Finally, we got wall units in most every room, and I probably wouldn’t lose the bet if I put my money on the acquisition of such being the result of Mama telling Daddy it was “take-out, mister, every night from May-September!” if they weren’t installed.  And one of my favorite hot-weather treats was Kool-Aid popsicles, especially the grape-flavored. Mama bought trays that most likely the Kool-Aid company had put out for just that purpose and buddy, I can tell you, we devoured them as soon as they were frozen enough to be pulled out of the tray.  Of course, we shared with our little friends, so a tray was gone within seconds.  But, it just meant Mama filled them up again, and in a couple of hours, heavenly bliss melted on our tongues once more. 

Another simple and tasty treat we loved was shimmying up a palm tree and yanking down a ripe coconut.  Our street was lined with that majestic, swaying tree of the tropics until a blight killed them off when I was a teenager, but during the golden days of my childhood, we’d yank down a coconut and then took turns smashing it on the sidewalk until its hard shell was cracked and we could rip it and the underlying husks off, revealing the round nut encasing the delectable fruit.  One good slam of the nut against the sidewalk exposed the whitest, richly sweet——but not overly so—fruit inside, and we would break off pieces like peanut brittle and savor every mouthful of it. 

And, finally, what would a summer day in the life of a kid in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s be without a bike trip to the neighborhood 7-11 for an Icee?  Personally speaking, my favorite was the Coca-Cola-flavored version, while my sister liked the fruity one, but either way, when we took our first pull on the straw and our mouths were filled with the chilled delectable concoction, the only sound coming from us was the murmuring of “Umms”, or “Oww, oww, oww!  Brain freeze”!  Within minutes, we were restored, and our overheated blood-red faces were cooled to a perfectly pink shade then off we’d go on our bikes to the next summer adventure. 

Now, of course, with decades behind me since I parked my pink bike with banana seat by the side of the 7-11, my palate has matured.  As a result, I enjoy those more sophisticated dishes, like Ina’s Summer Garden Pasta, but I’d give a hundred plates of it for just one of those Kool-Aid popsicles, or a bite of fresh coconut, and a Coca-Cola Icee.  Sure, I could make the popsicles, or buy a coconut, and drive to 7-11 for an Icee, but, somehow, they just wouldn’t taste nearly as good as they did on an August afternoon in the 60’s. 


 Ina Garten’s Summer Garden Pasta 

4 pints cherry tomatoes, halved

Good olive oil

2 TB minced garlic (6 cloves) 

18 large basil leaves, julienned, plus extra for serving

½ ts crushed red pepper flakes

Kosher salt

½ ts freshly ground pepper

1 lb dried angel hair pasta

1 ½ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving 

Combine the cherry tomatoes, ½ cup olive oil, garlic, basil leaves, red pepper flakes, 1 ts salt, and the pepper in a large bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature for about 4 hours. 

After tomatoes have marinated for 4 hours, spoon them (including the liquid), over hot angel hair pasta, then top with cheese.