Friday, July 31, 2009

Making the most out of a paper bag

The other day I needed a little gift bag, but I couldn't find a suitable one anywhere. During my search, I saw an unopened package of 50 white paper bags I have had for a very long time. It hit me that if I used my edge punch, I could turn them into something that would work and be pretty as well.
It worked on these white paper bags but it wasn't as easy to punch as card stock. I had to clean the paper off the punch a little more often because the paper is so thin. It worked for me and it is something I will do again. Higher quality bags would probably be easier to punch, but I was happy to use what I had on hand.

I am thinking of other ways to use the bags. They could make nice cookie bags if you folded down the top and stapled them. Adding a ribbon would be a nice touch.

The decorative punch can be found at Michael's. Use the forty percent off coupon that comes in the paper and it will be very reasonably priced.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Yes, I can can

Growing up, my sisters and I helped my mother preserve food. We spent a fair amount of time canning and freezing summer produce. I didn't always like it at the time, but now realize what I learned is a huge help to me now. I really don't think I would have had the confidence to preserve my own food without that early experience of food preparation.

I had not canned anything in quite a while but since my small freezer was getting very full, I decided to pick up some canning jars and give it a try.

My mother used to have a chart she checked to be sure how long to pressure the jars. Safety was always our main concern when canning and I wanted to make sure I remembered exactly what steps to take. I decided to look online to see if I could find any good canning guides and I found a great site that gives step-by-step methods and charts for most vegetables. It is part of the University of Georgia cooperative and gives great information. If I didn't know how to can vegetables before, I would by following their helpful guide. Click here to access the handy guide.

My beans are looking good to me and I have two options now for preserving my beans.

My yard sale china

I must admit that when I get the chance, I love to go to yard sales. You never know what you can pick up. Sometimes it is shocking what you can find.

Last spring, I decided to buy a set of china and figured it would be better for my budget to get a set that had been "gently used." I looked on ebay and decided on a simple white china with a scrolled white border with silver accents. I didn't care about the pattern, just the general look. The online price was about $125.00 which I thought was pretty good.

Before I could purchase the dishes I spent a day visiting yard sales and happened on the china pictured above. It wasn't exactly the same as the pattern I saw online, but it was awfully close. The price for a ten place setting was only $10.00. I could not believe it! It might not be the prettiest set of china around but it suits me just fine, and the price was right.

A few months later I went to an estate sale on a trip to South Carolina and found another set for $25.00. I now have twenty-three plates and almost that many cups and saucers.

Of course I don't need that many, but I think if one of my guests breaks a piece of my china, I will just smile say, "That's OK, I have twenty-two more just like it."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More about my china

About two weeks ago I wrote about how I discovered china at an estate sale that exactly matched my grandmother's china.

Last week I learned another amazing fact about this china. My cousin's wife, Louisa, was a relative of the woman who's china I purchased. When she found out I had purchased the china of her late relative, she was very excited, and the fact that it was the same as my grandmother's was amazing to us both.

I have often commented about how small the world can sometimes seem. It probably isn't that unusual to go to an estate sale of a late relative of someone you know. In this case we do live in the same county. But I do think this is somewhat amazing. I know it has made this china even more special to me.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Making quick quesadillas

Last night, my son decided to stop by at the same time I was having a dilemma. What should I cook for supper? (My real problem was not planning ahead but that was beside the point.)

I had all the ingredients for quesadillas and I really hadn't made them before but my son and his wife had so they gladly pitched in to help. It was really, really easy and enjoyable to make together.

I think I will have to add this as a regular menu item for times when I want something fast and easy.

Chicken Quesadillas

4 whole grain flour tortillas
1 cup cooked chicken breast, chopped
1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese
1/4 cup chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons green onions, chopped
Optional ingredients: sauteed green peppers, jalepenos, zuchinni
salsa and sour cream to garnish

In saute pan melt a small amount of butter and put one tortilla in pan. Layer half of chicken, cheese, tomatoes onions, cilantro and optional ingredients. Top will another tortilla and press down with spatula until bottom is browned, turn and cook until the other side is browned. Remove onto cutting board and cut into wedges. Repeat. Top with salsa and sour cream.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Drying tomatoes

A couple of weeks ago I borrowed my sister's food dryer to dry some herbs. I started with basil and then dried some stevia. It works so well and dries so fast. I loved it.

Then I decided to try some tomatoes. It worked even better and they are SO good. Now I can't wait until my smaller tomatoes get ripe so I can dry them. It works even better than I could have imagined! I found out that I really, really, really love dried tomatoes. And they are so expensive in the grocery store. I feel like I am saving quite a bit of money. I am also considering other things like dried fruit. This is really a wonderful way to preserve food.

I really need some dried tomato recipes. Want to share?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Touring Calaboose Cellars

There is a little winery on the outskirts of Andrews, North Carolina. It's the smallest free-standing winery in America. The owners, Eric and Judy converted an old jail into a winery and grow the grapes out back. It is really, really small but very pretty.

And the photo at the top? Two couples, Judy (my favorite cousin), Eric (the owner), Eric (my cousin Judy's husband) and Judy (the other owner). (Hey Eric and Judy, meet Judy and Eric.)

Whether you are a tee-totaler or wine enthusiast, this was a very enjoyable tour. The wines are cleverly named after "jail terms" like Wardin's White and Jailbird's Blueberry. It is a creative operation. They actually crush the grapes out back on the deck and make the wine inside the old converted stone building. I was very impressed by their knowledge and expertise.

The owner's are "snowbirds" from Connecticut who obviously really love what they do and enjoy sharing it with visitors.

Outside the old jail that houses Calaboose Cellars.

The entrance to the winery.

I couldn't believe these huge bunches of grapes. They aren't quite ready, yet.

Visitors relax on the deck where grapes are prepared during harvest.

The vineyard out back with a view of the mountains.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

From burgers to rocking chairs

At our cousin's reunion in Andrews, North Carolina, we ate a few promising meals. They were fine, but one was better than the rest. It was the Burger Basket, located just north of downtown. When we drove up, it didn't look too promising. We had heard it was very good and were determined to try it. Andrews doesn't have very many restaurants so we didn't have much to choose from. Most of us ordered cheeseburgers and were very happy with our food.

One of the local men in the restaurant said the cheeseburger was "killer" and I agreed with him. It was perfect, not a preformed, cardboard burger but, a homemade burger served up in a basket. Another good choice was the "Apple dumpling and ice cream with caramel sauce. That was "killer," too.

Across the road from our hotel was, Jimmy's Pick 'n Grin. It was modeled after the Grand Ole Opry and we really enjoyed it. Apparently, much of the town of Andrews enjoyed it, too because there was a large crowd. Most of them had their clogging shoes on and they were obviously having a great time. They really were into dancing.

But my favorite thing was sitting on the rocking chairs out in front of the hotel. What a great way to visit, while gazing out at the mountains. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Farmer's market day in Andrews

On Saturday morning, the town of Andrews, North Carolina holds a Farmer's Market, just off Main Street. I wish I had gotten some really good photos of the mounds of green beans, corn, squash, tomatoes and other vegetables that were on sale. Everything was so beautiful and fresh. At most of the surrounding homes there were beautiful vegetable gardens and this was a great opportunity to sell their excess produce.

There were some tents set up next to the park and a band was playing some bluegrass music under a nearby gazebo.

We bought blackberries, honey and some raspberry plants from the vendor who was selling fruit tree plants and herbs.

We enjoyed looking at the chickens. They sold really quickly because that vendor was gone the next time we passed by.

After we left the Farmer's Market, we walked up the street to the downtown shops.

We really enjoyed shopping at the thrift stores and antique shops. There was a bead shop, beauty shops and several "gently used" stores. I found a dress, some scarves, earrings, and a set of vintage napkins.

We browsed the shops for quite a while and it was obvious that the town is undergoing revitalization and growing very quickly. There were shops that had recently opened.

And there were shops that were under construction. I have the feeling if we went back in six months we would see even more shops. It was very surprising during a recession.

Plus, it seemed that this small town had everything -- maybe on a smaller scale but it was very impressive.

Our last stop was at the coffee shop for a latte. Andrews doesn't need a Barnes and Nobel when they have this great Beans and Novel. The left side is a coffee shop and the right a book store. They were even having a book signing that morning and that night they were having special musical entertainment.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cousins' Reunion

I just returned from our annual "Cousins' Reunion," that was held this year in the small town of Andrews, North Carolina. It is a peaceful little town located in a scenic valley in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

We really enjoyed this little town that is the perfect combination of the past and the present. There are beautiful mountain vistas and nostalgic old homes, shops, markets, country music and best of all friendly and gracious people. It was the perfect place to visit and enjoy one another's company.

We arrived on Thursday and spent some time catching up on the rocking chairs out in front of our hotel. On Friday, we went rafting on the Nantahala River. The day was beautiful and we really enjoyed ourselves. We had two groups rafting down the river and no one fell out into the frigid water, and we went injury-free. In the photo above we ended our rafting trip by going over Nantahala falls. Eric, at back, did a great job steering us down the river and the rest, Wilma, Jerry, Judy and I, at front, spent more time enjoying the beautiful scenery along the river than paddling the raft. If you could find a way to warm up the water, which was freezing, it would have been perfect. We all loved it!

Friday, July 17, 2009

The third time is the charm?

It's the middle of July and we still don't have any corn. We have planted corn three times and the first time it was too cold and wet and as soon as any of it came up, crow swooped in and ate it.

The second time it came up just fine and then the crows came in and ate every bit of it.

My friend Kim gave us some corn she had purchased and decided not to plant. It was a variety I had heard of, Silver King and I was anxious to try it. We decided to try planting one more time. This time it came up really quickly and looked great. Then the crows came again and picked a little from each row. They came back again and then one more time.

Now the corn is finally tall enough and has deep enough roots so I think maybe, just maybe, we will have some corn after all. From the five rows we had, we probably have one and a half to two rows left.

Maybe, before frost, when the price of corn is much higher, we will have a corn harvest. I don't think the idiom I should use is "the third time's the charm." It isn't totally appropriate. I think the better idiom would be, if at first you don't succeed, try again and again and again.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sometimes it's the presentation

I made a salad the other day and my husband really was wowed by it. I decided that the salad really wasn't so special but it was just presented in a way that created interest and looked really pretty.

It had all the regular ingredients of a grilled chicken salad. In reality it was pretty plain, but there was something nice about this salad. My theory is that people really like how food is presented. We are all used to some beautiful food in magazines and a chef can really make food into an experience. In fact, magazines hire food stylists to make sure those photos look great.

I am not saying that you should spend hours at each meal dressing up your food, but I do suggest you try to occasionally present dishes that make food special to family and guests, but especially your family. You are creating memories that will last a lifetime so some effort should be put forth on occasion. They might get tired of it every day but every now and then, it is a real treat.

To make this Cobb salad start by chopping all the ingredients and arranging them on a platter. A white or glass platter is a nice start. Arrange the chopped food and then provide a serving spoon. This is kind of like a build your own salad bar because if you don't like one of the item you don't have to get it.

I used tomatoes, finely chopped lettuce, cheese cubes, grilled chicken breast, chopped boiled eggs, green onions, cucumbers, bacon and avocado. Serve a choice of dressings -- a vinaigrette, honey mustard and ranch are good choices. Let everyone serve themselves and enjoy. This makes a great meal.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Garden blooms

A few days ago I went to our garden to do some work and I was captivated by the blooms that were everywhere. There were all kinds and sizes and the colors were brilliant and lovely. Some were even ethereal. It is a little surprising because most of the blossoms were from vegetables.

At the edge of the garden, my sister planted these brilliantly colored zinnas.

The tomato blooms are spikey and pale yellow. I like the fuzzy stems.

Cucumber blooms are small and bright.

Here is a baby cucumber with the blossom still attached.

These pepper plants and blooms are still dripping from the morning dew.

I love these twin Waltham butternut squash blooms.

Green beam blooms look like mini white sweet peas or lillies.

Okra blossoms are large and pale yellow with burgundy centers. They look exotic to me.

My parsley is just beginning to blossom. I think I like this photo best, even though it is not as colorful as the others. I like the way the grass behind the parsley is blowing and it looks soft, almost like a waterfall.

Another zinnia completes our tour.

Discovering my grandmother's china

My sister game me a very nice present for my birthday, back in March. It was a few pieces of china that had belonged to my grandmother. They included a teapot, a lidded serving piece, a cup and saucer and a demitasse set all in a pattern called English Garden. I was really excited to have something my grandmother once used.

Granny really loved dishes and I think I inherited that love from her.

Last Thursday, my friend Angela asked if I would like to go to an estate sale and I told her I would love to go. It was an interesting sale because they had quilts and linens. I really didn't expect to find much, but you never know.

We looked all through the house and in the last room we discovered a set of seven cups and saucers and seven plates in the same pattern as my grandmother's English Garden china.

The price was $20. What a bargain!

I know this is a little odd but I feel very much like this is all my grandmother's china -- even the pieces she never touched. I would really love to have a tea party to celebrate this "new" china ... I think my grandmother would approve.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Can a simple tomato sandwich prove your lineage?

There are a number of things that southerners hold dear. One being sweet iced tea, and I guess grits would be one. Biscuits are right up there but they aren't strictly southern anymore. I am thinking the second most revered southern treat (after tea) would have to be the tomato sandwich. I know it is simple but aren't the simple things often the best?

My favorite tomato would be a huge, vine-ripened beefsteak tomato that is at the perfect stage of ripe. You know that glorious color is is almost Coca-cola red. Just a little redder than fire engine red. You know that color! It is best, of course when one slice of tomato fills the whole sandwich.
I prefer whole wheat bread. Growing up it was white bread (usually Sunbeam bread -- remember little Miss Sunbeam?). Then there is the mayonnaise and about this there is an ongoing debate. Some prefer Hellman's or Miracle Whip but in my family it is without a doubt Duke's. In this economy, though, I get the BOGO Free with a coupon which in this case was Hellman's. Then top with plenty of salt and pepper. Top with the second piece of bread and bite into a little piece of heaven!
Now if you don't get home-grown or farmer's market tomatoes it is not going to be good enough.

I have talked to people who don't hold the tomato sandwich in awe and reference as my family members and I do, but I just can't help but believe they aren't truly, authenticly Southern. I might be wrong. I guess you could test out this theory and let me know.