Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pumpkins and squashes

I was in the store the other day and in addition to my reasonably-priced pumpkin, I noticed so many decorative squashes. They are beautiful when used to decorate. All you have to do is get out a basket or pretty bowl and fill it up. That's my tip of the day.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pumpkin faces

The other day I saw some pumpkins being in a decorative display and the faces appeared to be applied to the pumpkin, using glue or stickers. I really, really loved the idea. When I bought this pumpkin for just $4.00 I decided it would be my "mood pumpkin." If I was in a good mood, I could stick on a happy pumpkin face and if I was in a bad mood, a face like the one above.

This pumpkin was inspired by the painting by Edvard Munch, entitled "The Scream." I thought it expressed my mood quite well this past weekend as I was working really hard on a deadline. 

After I decorated the pumpkin, using double-sided tape and black construction paper, I decided I really liked his face. It doesn't depress me at all. I also think my pumpkin is very fitting for Halloween. It is my joke. Instead of the pumpkin being scary to people, people are scary to my pumpkin. Silly, for sure, but funny to me.

This is the normal pumpkin face. I also thought is could be easily made using black sticky-backed craft foam. Construction paper won't last in the rain but the foam should be fine.

This pumpkin looks very smug. I don't think this one reflects my mood but I like his arrogance.

I tried to make a sweet one but I don't know if I like this face. Turn the smile upside down and you would have one sad pumpkin.

You get the idea. I like this so much better than carving pumpkins. It is much less messy -- won't light up, though.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An extra rich chocolate birthday cake

Every year, in October, I ask my mom what kind of cake she wants for her birthday and she always says, "You know I love chocolate." This year was no exception. She wanted a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. (You can check out my 2009 cake on my old blog posts.)

Sunday was her birthday and we enjoyed hosting a dinner in her honor. The highlight of the day was my mom, but the cake was very popular, too. 

You will notice that I was in a pretty big hurry while decorating the cake because I forgot to dot my i or cross my t. Kind of funny because no one noticed until the photo was taken!

I usually make the cocoa frosting on the back of the Hershey's Cocoa can, so when I looked on the can's back I noticed the old familiar recipe had changed a bit. It threw me for a minute but I decided to try it and see if it was as good as the old recipe. Actually, it was much better. More chocolatety, more yummy.

OK, I didn't exactly follow their recipe. I adjusted the ingredients and the amounts, as usual. (I don't think I am the only one who does that!) So this is my recipe based on the recipe on the back of the Hershey's can. My family said it was the best one I have ever used. I used my old standby yellow-cake recipe. 

Here is my adjusted Frosting recipe:

Extra-rich Cocoa Frosting

1-1/2 sticks butter, melted
1 cup cocoa, tightly packed
4-1/2 cups Confectioner's sugar, loosely packed
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream (more if needed to make frosting creamy)
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter in the microwave on low. Mix butter, cocoa and vanilla extract together on low speed. Add sugar and cream alternately until well blended. (It may be necessary to add more cream to the recipe depending on humidity). Turn mixer on medium high and mix until mixture is creamy and is of spreading consistency.

Makes enough frosting to heavily frost a two-layer cake and lightly frost a three-layer cake.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Turnip Green Supper

This week we decided to have a "turnip green supper" just because we have fresh turnip greens. I think that is a really good reason to celebrate and I will admit we don't need much of a reason. We had grilled pork loin, turnip greens, fresh squash casserole, baked potato fries and a tossed salad.

My sister made the corn bread that was the consistency of cake -- very delicious. She also made the squash casserole made from squash she picked earlier this week. It was perfect.

Some people don't like preparing fresh greens and I know it is harder than some vegetables because of  the cleaning process. These went through at least six washings. The goal is to wash them in clear water until the water is clear, no matter how many washings it takes. They then need to be packed in large plastic bags and refrigerated until time for cooking.

It takes about twice the amount of greens that will fit in a pan (like the one below) to make enough to feed six to ten adults -- and it cooks down to about a third of the original amount. I like to make more than I need because it warms up well and can be frozen.

I little the taste of turnip greens cooked with just a little water, salt and pepper and cooked until they are tender, about 20 minutes. At this time of year, turnip greens are very tasty but they can have a bitter taste that some can't stand. To help with the bitter taste, some people add sugar. Of course, adding bacon can add flavor and can help take away bitterness. We added a little olive oil to this batch but I don't think it is necessary for young and tender turnip greens.

It was a great meal and I think turnip greens are a good thing to celebrate.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Winners and deadlines

The winners are Joanie and Rhonda. The recipe cards are small things but sometimes it's the small things that make tasks enjoyable. Right?

Sorry I have been lax in posting this week but I am working on an important deadline and I have to take a "blogaday." I promise I will come up with some very interesting things -- like an end of the season "turnip green dinner," and one of the most interesting tools for keeping up with recipes I have found.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Recipe card giveaway

The other day I picked up some recipe cards for myself and I picked up a few to give away. I think this is the best time of the year to swap great recipes and these cards can make it easier. After all, sharing is a nice thing to do and I would love to help. If you would like to share a recipe with me, I would love it. Just email it to me at

I have two sets to give away to two lucky winners. Enter by leaving a comment below by midnight October 20 and I will announce the winner on my blog on October 21st.

Monday, October 18, 2010

It's the season for greens

My husband surprised me with what's in the bucket above this weekend. No, it is not a bucket of flowers. That would have been nice, but this was nice, too. It is a bucket of collard greens. I think they are very pretty arranged like a big cabbage flower.

Our collards are not quite ready to harvest, even though they are doing well, but my sister read if you pick the outside leaves of the collards, the inside leaves will grow larger, giving you a higher yield. She made the suggestion we pick some of the outer leaves and my husband loved it. We washed them and stuck them in a bucket of water so they would stay fresh until we put them in baggies to save them for later.

I was thinking as we washed and put them away that it was best, and most economical to eat things while they are in season and greens are in season right now. It's time to enjoy the most nutritious vegetables the garden can provide. The wonderful thing about greens is that they have two growing seasons each year. Greens are also one of the best southern vegetables. Very tasty.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Freezing herbs

Yesterday I realized I hadn't preserved any of my fresh herbs. I have used them through the summer, but I knew I was quickly running out of time if I wanted to have any fresh herbs after frost. Everything but the rosemary dies way back after this.

I decided to freeze the herbs rather than dry them. I was a little short on time and I kind of like the way they taste when I use them while they are green. I also think it adds a few more vitamins. You usually have to use larger amounts of the fresh or frozen ones.

My favorite herb is basil and I really love it. I have even purchased fresh plants in the grocery store when it wasn't in season. Basil won't come back year after year like many of the other herbs so it is very important to store in between seasons.

Oregano. This is one that will come back year after year and it is really good fresh. It freezes well, too.

I don't use too much sage, but this will be used for my Thanksgiving dinner.

Thyme is something that comes back year after year, too. I don't really use too much of it but I think it is lovely and fragrant in the garden. I occasionally use the rosemary, in the bag behind the thyme, but rosemary is kind of strong and I have to watch how much I use, especially for my husband.

One thing I am going to try freezing is stevia. I will then use it in tea and smoothies. I have a big bag of it so I am hoping this will be a good way to preserve it.

Now I just need to label each bag and I will put all the the bags in a larger bag or container and freeze it until I need it. I have heard some people like to freeze herbs in ice cube trays of water and use them in soups and stews. That would be good for that purpose but I often use mine in stir fries and sauces so I am not sure I would like that method as well.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fall colors

I think fall has finally arrived in Georgia this week. The leaves haven't turned dramatically yet and that is what marks fall for me. I knew it was here as soon as I saw these wild flowers that I think are Black eyed Susans or Rudbeckias, but my sister says they are Jerusalem artichokes. She is usually right.

Days like this are crisp, still warm enough and clear as a bell. These photos were taken just before dusk so the colors are crisp. You see all the vibrant detail and all this is taken from nature's palette. The flowers were spread by the wind and the birds -- a true gift.

They are growing next to the lake with the tips of the trees showing fall color on the opposite bank. There is almost no breeze because the water is almost still -- the perfect time before darkness falls.

They are very hardy but look fragile with the trees and other plants mirrored behind them. Enjoy your fall. It doesn't last long.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What's for Dinner?

"What's for Dinner?" is an often asked question around my house. The other day I was at Michael's and I found some really nice pads to hang on my refrigerator that may be able to help me with that question. I haven't started using it yet, but I think when I do, it will help me in several areas.

One, I will have a plan and follow the plan. No one will be ask me what we will have for dinner and whoever gets home first can get a head start on dinner. I think this is a very useful tool and it will hang on my refrigerator as a guide for anyone who asks the important nightly question.

A couple of nights ago, I arrived home to a pleasant surprise. My husband decided to make one of my favorite dishes, Veggie Kabobs. He had them all ready for the grill when I got home.

He grilled them for a wonderful dinner.

Grilled Veggie Kabobs

Assorted vegetables cut into cubes: We used peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, plenty of onion, and eggplant.
Put the cubes onto metal skewers, baste with soy sauce and add salt and pepper to taste.
Grill for fifteen to twenty minutes. Yummy and fat-free.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fall cleaning

I have been putting off a job I didn't want to do for some time. This past Saturday I finally tackled cleaning the tile in my bathroom and I will admit I feel so much better. That job has been weighing on me for a very long time. I think it is also a good idea to admit that sometimes I just let some things go and even though it might be embarrassing, I am kind of proud of myself to finally get it done.

It was really just grime. Even though I have mopped over and over, I think sometimes I just pushed dust and grime into the grout where it just turned dark over time -- very frustrating.

I have looked over and over again for products that can clean a tile floor with ease but I just can't find any. The only thing I have ever been able to use on tile is bleach and elbow grease. So I took some bleach cleanser, a brush and a cleaning cloth and got to work. After a few minutes, it began to pay off.

I think the main thing I had to watch were the fumes from the bleach. If anyone has a better method, please let me know what you would do. I would prefer to use something other than bleach, a bucket of water and a scrub brush, but it is the best thing I know of for cleaning soiled grout.

I must admit, the tile does look better and I now won't be embarrassed to let someone see my bathroom floor. I need to move on to other projects to finish my fall cleaning. I will be sure to clean more deeply from now on. I don't want my floor to get this bad again.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Garden update: 10-10-10

Yesterday we picked vegetables from our garden and I still can't believe that we have so much this late in the season. We are still getting some okra, peppers, squash, cucumbers and eggplant.

The peppers seem to be better than at any time during the summer. It's like they just exploded and we have more of every variety. I didn't get a photo of the jalapenos -- just an oversight on my part. They sure looking good, though. I am hoping to make some pepper sauce one day this week.

The collards are looking very good. We planted plants this year rather than seeds. We do have a few with holes but the bugs are not ravaging everything like they were earlier. We will wait for frost to pick.

The cucumbers are growing a little more slowly but it is exciting to have fresh cucumbers this time of year.

We are also a little surprised by our eggplants. They have been steadily producing. I think tomorrow, my husband is planning to grill some for dinner.

We have a tower of gourds and that is exciting, too. We are hoping to make something decorative out of a few of them but we don't yet know what. I hope the seeds won't be too hard to remove.

We have four large ones growing in the center of the "tower." We are so happy to have them.

Our kale is mostly "undercover." We put the row cover over most of the kale to (we hope) prevent it from having little green worms. I hate bringing them home.

Our pumpkins are really growing and flowering but there isn't very much fruit.

We do have a couple of little ones, like the one above. We are still hoping, but time is running out.

The sunflowers are beginning to droop and should be harvested soon. If we don't get the seeds, the birds surely will. We may put the seed heads out during the winter for the birds. We could also dry them and eat them ourselves.

I forgot to take a photo of the squash but it really looks good, too.

My garden is not too bad at all for the 10th of October!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Fall flu shot reminder

Tonight I am resting with a cup of tea and a couple of pain relievers because I had my yearly flu shot, which incidentally contains H1N1. That means two shots are not needed to protect you from full flu coverage this year (that is if they got it right) and that is a good thing because even though my nurse gave me a pain-free shot, my arm is still sore and swollen and I am glad I don't need two shots.

I really do recommend the shot because I haven't had the flu since I began getting shots a few years ago. Also, I recommend taking it easy on the day you get the shot, drinking plenty of water (or hot tea), eating well, getting plenty of rest, taking Tylenol if you have pain and an antihistamine if you have swelling or allergy symptoms.

I also would like to mention that I like going to a female primary care physician -- the reason -- today she complimented me on my choice of toenail polish in the course of my physical exam. How often could that happen? Sorry guys, if you are reading this. It's a girl thing.
Congratulations Joan. You are the winner of the book, Second Round: Tea-Time at he Masters. I will be emailing you for your snail mail address. Thanks for entering.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ten ways to use peppers

Our family loves peppers -- all kinds really, but I particularly love bell peppers. We were a bit disappointed when we didn't have as many peppers in our garden as last year but now that the weather has cooled our peppers are bearing again. I don't know if we will have as many as last year, but they have picked up lately and I am enjoying every pepper.

Here are our top ten ways to use peppers. I mean all kinds, sweet and hot. This is not necessarily in the order of my preference.

1. I love to just eat them as snacks or along with a sandwich. They are nice and crunchy, especially if chilled and I like them better than chips -- full of flavor but not the fat.

2. In the mornings I often make egg white omelets. I begin with chopped onions and peppers in a non-stick skillet with a very small amount of oil. After they are cooked tender, I add chopped spinach, tomatoes and sometimes mushrooms and saute a bit more. I then add a couple of egg whites along with salt and pepper. It's very good and I usually don't like egg whites alone, but I could eat this every day.

3. There are so many ways to prepare the peppers like the recipe I gave you in September.

4. They are very colorful and could make a nice centerpiece. They won't last long without refrigeration but if you wash them and dry them, they can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks.

5. I like adding peppers to almost any stir-fry. Sometimes I saute onions and peppers, then add frozen vegetables (I would recommend a Chinese stir-fry variety). Just add soy sauce and maybe a little grated ginger and it is really yummy.

6. This relish recipe from last year is a good one. I haven't had enough peppers to make it this year but maybe in a week or so. This is really good on hot dogs and served with beans.

7. One of my favorite ways to use peppers is in fajitas. My husband usually grills steak or chicken and we cut it up and add to an onion mushroom and pepper saute. I sometimes buy packaged fajita flavoring and then add the chopped, grilled meat. We chop tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, cilantro and avocados, grate cheese, then heat up a can of nonfat refried beans and stuff it all into warmed flour tortillas. It's all kind of work intensive because there is just so much chopping and preparation, but after we take on the chore, it's one of our favorite meals.

8. We sometimes stuff peppers with cheese and bake them. We usually use the banana peppers, hot or sweet, wash them, slice them in half, remove the seeds, fill with grated cheese, then bake at 350 degrees until they are done, about 20 minutes. I have tried to use low fat cheese in these, but don't do it. It just doesn't work, in my opinion.

9. I also made this Mexican stuffed pepper dish last year and it was a winner in my family. Much easier than fajitas and has similar flavors.

10. Then we love our canned peppers. They are really good.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Enter to win this cookbook

As I mentioned yesterday, I have a cookbook to give away. The book, "Second Round: Tea-time at the Masters," is one of those great fundraising cookbooks by the Junior League of Augusta, Georgia.

I must admit I really love cookbooks like this. This one is a pretty complete cookbook with a little bit of everything. It has a large section of fish and seafood recipes, and some very different desserts. I think there is something for everyone inside.

Yesterday, I told you that my favorite cool weather treat was a cup of hot tea. Just leave a comment, telling me what kind of cool-weather beverage you like and I will pick a winner at random. The contest ends at midnight, EST on October 7 and I will announce the winner on October 8.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cooler weather and tea time

Yesterday (and this morning) I woke up to cooler weather and I was so thrilled because of my favorite cool weather treat, hot tea. Even though I drink some hot tea in the summer, it is just not as important as in the fall and winter. When the weather is cool, it is like a reward I give myself, usually midmorning, afternoon and at night. Tea has some health benefits so I feel like I am giving myself a healthy treat.

I know that iced tea is a southern favorite, and I love it, too, but I think one of the reasons southerners don't appreciate hot tea as much is because of orange pekoe tea. Orange pekoe is great for sweet cold tea but there are a world of teas out there and it is hard to imagine not liking one variety or another, hot, if you tried enough of them.

Since I am not a tea expert, I will not even try to give a lesson about the varieties of tea, but I will tell you the teas I really love.

In the morning I love a green tea, usually double green, green gunpowder or green ginger. I'm not as fond of mint varieties. I usually use a few drops of stevia. Sugar is a favorite but I have given it up for health reasons and I like stevia better than other sweeteners.

My favorite afternoon teas are usually Assam varieties. They are bolder black teas and have a strong flavor. I usually use a bit of milk or soy milk and of course, stevia. I like Earl Grey, too, but usually with a bit of milk and sweetener.

For anytime teas, my favorite is usually an herbal tea like Passion by Tazo. I also like red teas, also herbal, and if I am having trouble sleeping I often drink a cup of chamomile tea -- very calming.

My husband will sometimes share a cup of tea with me and he loves chais, especially India Spice Chai by Constant Comment.

Tomorrow, in honor of cooler weather and the season of tea drinking I will begin a give away of cookbook called, "Second Round: Tea-time at the Masters." It's not a TEA cookbook but I think the name is only semi-appropriate, since the Masters is a spring event. I think the cookbook is worth it, anyway.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Gluten-free section doesn't give much credit

I just received my new copy of Healthy Cooking by Taste of Home and noticed it is still a colorful magazine filled with recipes but towards the back of this issue I saw something that I found very irritating. In fact, it is one of my pet peeves. 

In a section were the recipes are labeled gluten-free, all of the recipes in the section are naturally gluten-free. I think this is treating people who can't tolerate gluten like they obviously don't know anything about what to eat. I guess I could see these recipes in an article about what you should eat if you have celiac disease, or a gluten allergy, but this just seems silly to me.

I would think if a person needed to be on a gluten free diet, they usually know that steak and potatoes don't contain gluten. Don't you think a person who has this problem eats plenty of potatoes and meat? I would think gluten-free bread or cookies or pudding or something that might normally contain gluten but doesn't with a great new recipe, would be a more helpful thing for this section. Honestly.

Maybe the deadline was looming and the editors decided they hadn't come up with anything so they began to discuss it and said something like, "These people can eat potatoes so lets add steak. Steak doesn't have gluten either. Who wouldn't like that." I think most people can bake a gluten-free potato, even without a recipe. Give me a break! Let's just say they didn't dig very deep for this section.

I could make a long alphabetized list of foods that have never contained gluten. But I think you have enough common sense to already know that.