Friday, July 30, 2010

Carrot cake cookies

I found this really great recipe on My husband really, really loves carrot cake so I knew as soon as I saw the recipe I would have to make him some carrot cake cookies.

I often feel free to take liberties with recipes. I have been successful and also have regretted it. Sometimes I make the recipe first and then adjust it to my liking. With this one, I took liberties right away to make a few changes and thankfully, it worked out fine.

The original recipe called for raisins and that would have been good, but I knew my husband would like cranberries, rather than raisins in this recipe. It also called for ginger and I substituted cinnamon. I also didn't care too much for the original filling recipe. It called for too much butter and cream cheese and not quite enough confectioners' sugar. I also knew he would not like it if the filling was flavored with lemon juice. He really doesn't like lemony desserts very well.

If you want to see the original recipe, go to the website. I just think my cookies are the southern version of that recipe. I took them to a family gathering and they all seemed to appreciate them and I like the idea of the filling in the center. It made this a really special dessert.

I baked the cookies on a stoneware baking sheet -- otherwise, I would suggest parchment paper, as is called for by the original recipe. This cookie would have a tendency to stick if not baked on stoneware or parchment paper.

I baked them a little longer than it said on the recipe. They reminded me of Little Debbie Oatmeal cakes -- but from scratch. I cooled them on a rack and then put the frosting in the center. I will make this recipe again. See the recipe, below.

Carrot Cake Cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups rolled oats
1-1/2 cups finely grated, peeled carrots
1 cup dried cranberries

1/2 package (3 oz.) cream cheese
1/4 stick of butter
2 or more cups confectioners' sugar (add until frosting is creamy)
1/2 vanilla flavoring

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the cookies: cream butter and sugar, add the eggs and cream. Add the flour, cinnamon and salt. Stir in the oats, carrots and cranberries. Refrigerate for half an hour for a better consistency before baking. Drop by tablespoons onto baking sheet (stoneware or on parchment paper) and shape with a spoon until they are flat and round. Bake for about 18 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool and spread a heaping teaspoon of the filling in between two cookies.

For the filling: cream the butter and cream cheese and flavoring, slowly add confectioners' sugar until it is creamy and firm.

This will be fine at room temperature for a day but after that, store them in the refrigerator.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blueberry pickin'

Last evening we went to our cousin's house to pick blueberries. The photos I took don't show how many wonderful, delicious blueberries that filled their bushes. We picked and picked until it was almost dark. It was wonderful.

Their daughter has been getting up every morning and picking blueberries. She is trying to keep up with the abundance of ripe berries she finds each morning but there are so many blueberries that it is hard to keep up.

My sister and I each picked a gallon plus a little more. I know we will really enjoy these fresh berries. When you pick them, they are fresher than at the store -- and I think more delicious.

My favorite way to have them is just plain as a snack but I also like them in smoothies, over cereal, with yogurt and with whipped cream. They are also good spooned over vanilla ice cream. I have been known to add them to a pound cake, too.

The good thing about blueberries is they are full of antioxidants and give your nutrient counts a real boost. I really appreciate my cousins for inviting us over to share in their harvest.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Corn bread salad

While we were in Pell City, Alabama, this past weekend, we went to the Pell City Steakhouse one day for lunch. I am sure steak might be a specialty at night, but for lunch it is the vegetable plate, served every day.

I always love a good southern vegetable plate and this was really good. They offered a few things I have never had. The first thing I had to try was Corn Bread Salad. I was pleased with the entire meal. From the top, clockwise, my plate consisted of corn bread salad, collards and cabbage, black-eyed peas and pear salad. I also could have had corn poppers and rice pudding with lemon sauce but it was the Corn Bread Salad I could not resist.

I thought I had heard about every kind of southern food there was, but not Corn Bread Salad.

It was just a bunch of ingredients, tossed in a mayonnaise based sauce, but this mix of southern ingredients was a taste of the south to me. It was nice to have a hearty cold salad on a very steamy day. I really enjoyed it and when I told my cousin how much I liked it, she was determined that I had the recipe when I left. I sure did appreciate it.

It wasn't the exact recipe as the salad in the restaurant, but it was pretty close. I made it yesterday to take to a family dinner and had to share it. First, I will give you recipe from the cookbook and then I will give you the recipe the way I made it. A little different, but more like the Pell City Steakhouse version.

Here's the original recipe from:

The Pell City Cookbook, 
submitted my Marlin Zane

Corn Bread Salad

1 envelope of Ranch-style dressing mix
1 16 oz. container sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
1 nine inch pan of Mexican corn bread, crumbled (I used regular corn bread)
1 16-oz. can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
3 large tomatoes, chopped
1/3 cup chopped bell pepper
1/3 cup sliced green onions
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
10 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 17-oz. cans whole kernel corn, drained
Tomato wedges (for garnish)

Combine first 3 ingredients

Place half of the corn bread into a large serving bowl. Layer half of the beans, tomatoes, bell pepper, green onions, cheese, bacon and corn over corn bread. Top with half of the sour cream mixture. Repeat layers with remaining ingredients. Garnish, Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. Yield: 8 servings

Corn Bread Salad
(my version)

1 16-oz. jar of Ranch dressing (the refrigerated kind)
1 cup of sour cream
1 nine inch pan corn bread, crumbled (I thought Mexican corn bread might be too spicy for many)

2 16-oz. cans pinto beans, drained
3 large tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
1/2 cup sliced green onions
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
10 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 cup frozen whole kernel corn, thawed

Combine first 2 ingredients

Crumble half of the corn bread into a large 9 x 13 serving dish (or trifle bowl). Layer 1 can of the beans, tomatoes, bell pepper, green onions and corn over corn bread. Top with half of the Ranch dressing mixture. Repeat layers with remaining ingredients. Top with cheese and crumbled bacon. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. Yield: 8 to 12 servings.

In the restaurant, it wasn't layered, but put in a bowl and tossed with Ranch dressing. It had a little pickle relish, too, but I think it is better without relish. I think it looks prettier served as a layered dish because it is kind of white with the cornbread but it doesn't have to be layered.

Corn Bread Salad might be a standard recipe in Alabama but I have never had it here in Georgia. I would love it if someone would like to share their Corn Bread Salad recipe.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cousin's Reunion: Pell City, Alabama

This past weekend I attended my annual Cousins Reunion. Last year, we went to Andrews, North Carolina. This year, we went to beautiful downtown Pell City, Alabama. It is the home of our cousins -- the Hicks, and a very nice town. Above, see the courthouse.

Pell City is in Saint Clair county -- with two county seats. Pell City is one and Ashville, Alabama is the other. In the county's early history, since travel was not easy and the county was divided in half by a mountain, they concluded that having two county seats would better serve the local residents. The transportation issues have long since been cleared up, but the county officials have decided to keep both county seats. I thought that was so interesting and unique -- but a little confusing. The officials split their time between the two county seats.

I don't think I have ever seen an inland town more favorably located. It is less than an hour from the shops and attractions of Birmingham and on Martin Logan lake. It is just two hours from Atlanta. It has it all -- mountains, lakes, pretty vistas and above all, nice friendly people. I thought it also had some good eating places, plus plenty of familiar local stores and antique and thrift stores.

We drove about two hours on Friday morning and were there in plenty of time for lunch. We went to a very nice restaurant named LUNCH and our lunch was wonderful. Plenty of green salads and whole wheat -- just like I like it.

We went to a beautiful antique store that holds a monthly auction downtown and then went for a walk in the downtown area. I was fascinated by the granite blocks, framed by bricks, marking the location of old stores. You can see one of the blocks above. The stores have made major changes over the years, but it was fun to see what had been there originally.

I thought the most interesting reuse of a store building was the one above. What used to be a 5 and 10 Cent Store is now a ...

jewelry store. See the photo above. Isn't that perfect! Talk about moving up!

Above, Judy and Eric Hicks, our "host cousins" on the streets of Pell City.

That night we went to a famous restaurant called, "The Ark," a popular "hole in the wall" restaurant, just east of Pell City. Our hosts told us that in the days of prohibition, the restaurant floated out back on the lake because alcohol could be served on water, but not on land. Later, when alcohol could legally be served, the building was moved to dry land, where people come in droves to eat catfish, seafood and all the trimmings.

It's a real "hole in the wall," but they serve a good food. I guess there hasn't been much use in restoration or updating. People were waiting their turn outside and there wasn't an empty space at the table. It is a very popular restaurant.

Above is a photo of the river or lake that runs behind the restaurant. The parking lot was so full that people were parking along the road.

The next morning we went to a couple of antique stores and I really enjoyed this very nice thrift store, above, where the proceeds went to charity.

That afternoon, we traveled a few miles south to Morgan Creek Winery in Harpersville to continue our  cousins reunion winery tour (last year at Calaboose in Andrews, NC, the year before in Asheville, NC). Above, you can see there was a wedding in progress. It was around 100 degrees outside and rain was threatening.

Above, the tour. The lady, facing our group, was very friendly, knowledgeable, funny and helpful.

I thought the very large barrels were quite amazing. This was a small, and growing winery. The owner retired and turned his hobby into a business. It was especially nice because it was very cool inside.

Later, we went to the Hicks home -- at the highest point in Pell City for a great visit and cookout. I really do think I have the best cousins around. I must admit, I also love old southern towns.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Saving seeds for later

The other day we were clearing plants from the garden that had flowered and were going to seed. My sister asked us to put aside some of the stems because she was going to dry them. She felt they would dry well outside in the heat and she would then pick the dried seed from them to save for next year.

As you can see in the photo, above, she tied them in bunches, hanging them upside down. The next time we came over, she had quite a few fully dried plants, with seeds heads ready to remove and store.

My sister does this all the time and I think this is such a good thing to do -- so frugal and wise. I often miss opportunities like this.

Sometimes people will offer to give me a plant or tell me I can come over and get a cutting and I always plan to do it, but I don't usually make the time. That means I miss out on having some really great plants. I am hoping I take a helpful tip from my sister and change my behavior in this area.

I really need to save some seeds from my heirloom tomatoes and from my herbs, too. I will add them to my sister's seeds she has all ready for next season's plantings.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Midsummer garden update

Keeping up with a garden in the middle of the summer can be a real chore. Right now, we are trying to plant a few new plants to continue our harvest on into the summer. Our new squash plants are looking really good and we are trying to keep these plants from the bugs that are plentiful this year in the garden.

We are having plenty of hot banana peppers, but not enough jalapenos.

These bell pepper plants are doing well and I expect to harvest a good deal more before the first frost.

Okra is a great crop for hot weather. It is amazing how much okra you can grow if the deer can't get to your crop. Deer really love okra. I am so thankful that the deer hate our electric fence.

We are still getting tomatoes. I am seeing some dark spots on some of the leaves, which is a concern to me. We are cutting off the bad leaves and discarding them in case it is a fungus. Maybe we can contain it. I sure hope so. Meanwhile, we are still getting plenty of tomatoes.

I love this photo of cherry tomatoes. They grow all over the plant and the leaves are very lush and pretty.

One of the most frustrating things that happened this past week is that we found all of these little eggs that had been laid on our squash leaves. Honestly, after our squash had been attacked by squash vine borers, we just couldn't believe we were being infested by something else. Unfortunately, these are eggs laid by squash bugs. We even saw some of the nymphs that had hatched. They look like little spiders and are a little scary looking. We picked all the eggs off and sprayed. Hopefully we stopped the squash bugs from overwhelming us.

If we didn't have an organic garden, these pests wouldn't be so bad. It is a little harder to take care of them with organicide and neem oil, but we are giving it a try. Picking the eggs off by hand might take awhile but that is also an effective method.

Our beans are not doing very well. Last year it was our best crop and this year, our beans are not looking good. We did plant another row of beans. We also planted some late corn, some pumpkins and some gourds. Hopefully we will still have a harvest of beans and squash, if things go well.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Time to Vote

In my family we have always voted. My parents told me that if I didn't vote, I couldn't complain about either the candidate or the state of the country. They impressed on me that voting was a duty and one of the most important things I could do, as a citizen. Because of this, I have always voted. As soon as I turned 18, I went to the polls and stood in line to vote, the first time for a Georgia Governor. Sadly, my candidate did not win. Oddly, I still felt good about voting. (I won't tell you the the name of that first candidate because it would certainly date me.)  I can still remember the pride I felt at doing my duty -- and doing something my family taught me was necessary.

The only time I didn't vote was one July, when I let a special election slip my mind. That is all. I'm one of those people who thinks that even though my one vote seems kind of puny, it is very important that I go to the polls and cast that one little vote.

This year, the state races have been kind of hard to follow. There are so many people on the ballot, and very few of the candidates have bothered to ask for my vote. I can understand it, though. If I were running for office, I would probably save my money for the general election in November, if I made it that far. It does make it hard for voters to figure out which candidate they prefer.

The only help I could find was on the Georgia Secretary of States website,  This is a web site called "My Voter Page." If you enter your information, they will direct you to a page where you can pull up your ballot.

Of course, in the primary you have to choose a party and vote on that ticket until the general election.

There is a two page  Democratic and Republican ballot on the site you can download and print. Another thing you can do is find the ballot, usually printed in The Times-Herald or your local paper.

I printed my preferred ballot and did web searches until I found the information about the candidates on my ballot. It really didn't take very long and even if you start this morning, I am sure you can decide on a candidate an make it to the polls before they close tonight.

So get busy, go and vote and please don't complain if you don't.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Old-fashioned sour pickles

This year I have decided to brine some cucumbers to make sour dill pickles. I think they are also called Polish-style dills. I was concerned about trying this method because I have always made fresh-pack pickles and it is hard to put weeks into a batch of pickles to later find you don't like them. However I really do have plenty of cucumbers this year, so it is worth a gamble.

My mother told me that, as a girl, she would go to her local country store and buy sour pickles. Evidently, these stores, more often than not, had a "pickle barrel" filled with sour pickles. You could just dip out what you wanted.

This kind of pickle ferments in the brine, and as they "ripen," they become sour. Also, the more salt that is added, the more sour the pickles become. These cucumbers can soak in the brine for up to six weeks and will then need to be canned. I am a little worried they will become mushy rather than crisp, but we will see. This is definitely an experimental jar of pickles.

My husband came in after I had finished and said, "Man, this is a BIG jar of pickles." He's right, it is about two gallons of cucumbers in a dill brine. I do love the fact that I just washed the pickles, put them in the jar and then poured the brine over them -- so simple. Now that is the easy way to make a huge jar of pickles. I sure hope they are good.

Here's the recipe. I doubled it, so makes one gallon of pickles.

Sour Pickles

Wash cucumbers and put them in a gallon or larger jar, barrel or another container. I put all the cucumbers in whole. Most of these pickles are made with whole cucumbers of various sizes.

To make the brine:
2 1/4 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup salt
8 1/2 cups water
6 teaspoons dill seed
3 cloves of garlic
3 teaspoons mustard seed

Put garlic into jar with the cucumbers. Put all other ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour over cucumbers until jar is full. Weight down the pickles (I used a plate). Let set in cool, dark place for up to six weeks.

To can: Put cucumbers in wide mouth quart jars and pour over the brine until full. Cap and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Drying tomatoes

I love having enough tomatoes to dry. Last year, I barely had enough to eat, let alone dry. This year, they are still producing and I am getting more cherry tomatoes and Romas -- perfect varieties to place in the dehydrator and allow them to turn a beautiful burgundy red. All I have to do is wash them, take off the stems and any bad places and I usually slice them so they will fit in the dryer trays. Above, these are almost ready to take out of the dryer. Some of them are a little soft in places so I will let them dry until morning.

If they are small enough, you can place them in the dryer rack whole, but it does take longer to dehydrate them when they are whole.

The large tomatoes I will can, but the smaller tomatoes are perfect for drying. I can't resist eating a few after they are dried. They are very good -- sweet and perfect for snacking. To use them I will rehydrate them by soaking them in water and using them as I would regular tomatoes in a salad or Italian dish. A great way to use the little tomatoes so they don't go to waste. You can see the fresh tomatoes in the layer underneath the dehydrated ones. I can keep the dryer going for days.

After they are dried, I just pop them into a freezer bag and store in the freezer and take them out as I need them for cooking.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Rain gives us a break from gardening

Today was clear and sunny after two days of rain. It is really too wet to do much in the garden. I also have had visiting family, family in the hospital and deadlines at work. That makes it a good time to concentrate on other things rather than the garden, since things are so hectic.

One of the things we will be doing as soon as it is drier, is plant a few more tomatoes and peppers. A little over a week ago, I wouldn't have given these plants a chance for survival, but my sister, who has a serious green thumb, nursed them back to health and they will hopefully give us tomatoes and peppers until frost.

These are some of the plants we grew from seed in the spring. I did make a huge mistake by getting them mixed up, so I don't know exactly what varieties they are. They could be yellow tomatoes or black cherry tomatoes or Brandywine tomatoes and the peppers could be jalapenos or sweet bananas. I know I won't make the mistake of mixing up my seeds next year. It has been way too confusing.

The great thing about the rain is that the lake is filled up again, and we have plenty of water for the remaining hot summer days. I also think it is nice to take a break after the hot dry spell we have recently experienced.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pancakes to make you smile

I don't often make pancakes, not for me or my husband, but when I recently had a house full of company, I decided to treat everyone to pancakes -- I think especially for my five year old grandson. I usually like to make blueberry pancakes but in a desire to make the breakfast more enjoyable, I turned my blueberry pancake into smiley-face pancakes.

It could be that everyone who is reading this makes these all the time. It is certainly easy to do. I do think a smile is contagious so why not make your pancakes smile at you so you can see a friendly face.

Just make your favorite batch of pancake batter (I include mine below) and add fresh or frozen blueberries in a smiley face pattern, cook and turn over to cook the other side. I think fresh blueberries are a little easier but frozen ones work really well, though they cook a little more slowly.

Above, the perfect breakfast smile. I always use pure maple syrup to make them even more yummy. Maple syrup is a natural sweetener. I am not saying it is "good" for you, but it doesn't have artificial sweetener. I think that no more often than I cook them, the pure maple syrup adds to the treat of having pancakes. I also use the maple syrup as a replacement for sugar while cooking.

Here is my recipe.

1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup self-rising flour
1 tablespoon sugar or maple syrup (optional)
Blueberries (I use fresh sometimes and frozen sometimes. I like both. I like to put so many blueberries in the batter that I can barely stir it. I don't know if my blueberry pancakes are "batter with blueberries" or "blueberries with batter." You would think they wouldn't cook very well with so many blueberries, but they certainly do.

Heat a non-stick pan with a small amount of butter -- around 1/2 teaspoon. Heat on high and when the butter sizzles, pour 1/4 cup of the batter into the hot pan. Cook until bubbles form on the top of the pancake and turn it over. Cook until firm all the way through. You may have to turn the burner down. Cook all pancakes and store leftover in the refrigerator or freeze them. They thaw well in the microwave and are very good warmed over.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Last night it was a stormy summer evening at our house. The storms just seemed to roll over, one after another.

On a night like that, my favorite summer comfort food is Ratatouille. It is a french word that means vegetable stew. From what I have read there are many, many Ratatouille recipes out there and I am sure I would be fond of most of them because I just love the ingredients. It is comforting for me, especially on a rainy summer evening. I especially like it when the ingredients came out of my garden as these did. I also love that it is quick and easy to fix.

Here is a photo of my finished stew -- rich and delicious.

My recipe is not fancy, just plain ingredients, salt and pepper. The ingredients can change for me depending on what is growing in the garden when I make it. This is my yesterday's recipe.


1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large onion chopped
2 zucchini, chopped into large pieces,
2 small or one large eggplant, cut into large pieces
6 tomatoes, diced
Green peppers, optional
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in large pan. Add garlic and onion and brown on medium high. Add remaining ingredients, except tomatoes. Turn down and simmer until browned. Add tomatoes and simmer. Turn on medium high and reduce the tomatoes. Add salt and pepper and cook until zucchini and eggplant are soft and tomatoes form a thick, rich sauce.

Friday, July 9, 2010

More on the bird's nest

It had been a few days since I took the photo of the bird's nest that was on my blog yesterday. This morning I took a sneak peek at the birds again and I was very surprised by the presence of three baby birds rather than three bird's eggs. A lot can happen in a few days. I don't know how long it takes, but the babies were hatched and I think it is a precious sight.

They are little fuzzy bits of skin, beeks, wings and spindly bodies right now. It's hard to tell they will soon be flying around my sister's front yard.

I thought the eggs looked sort of like those laid by house sparrows, but my sister said that wasn't correct. It is very hard to identify birds from eggs. She didn't know exactly what kind of bird it was, but said it was a larger black bird with white on the wings and reddish on the sides and some white underneath. I wasn't sure, but I thought it might be the Eastern Towhee, a fairly common bird around here.

She looked it up on the Internet and, sure enough, the mother bird is an Eastern Towhee.

Towhees dig and scratch around in the underbrush around shrubs and in the woods. They search for food by sifting through forest litter or the mulch that we so carefully place around shrubs. Their main food is bugs, seeds, worms or berries. Sometimes, when you blame your pet for digging around in the mulch, the culprit could possibly be the Towhee. If you hear a rustling in the woods or in the leaves it just might be the Towhee, because they are pretty noisy in their search for food.

They might come around bird feeders, but they don't feed from them. They prefer to eat the seeds that other birds drop under the feeder.

I think one of the most interesting things about the Towhee is their song. Their song has two notes and then a trill. Very quick, and repeated over and over. Sometimes birdwatchers and researchers make up cute and silly phrases to help us remember the songs of birds and tell the difference between birds of different species. For instance, a cardinal's call is "Pretty, Pretty, Pretty, Pretty." For the Eastern Towhee the phrase for their song is, "Drink your tea." It is silly, but the first time I heard a Towhee's song, I thought the phrase really did fit the song.

Eastern Towhees are not as plentiful around here as they used to be, so I am glad to see they are still around. I just wanted to let you know about the "blessed event," and that I was wrong about the species.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A hidden treasure

The other day, my sister found this bird's nest filled with eggs and she enjoyed showing us all her find. It was like nature's treasure tucked away in her shrubs. I know that in a few days, the eggs will hatch and the birds, probably house sparrows, will be ready for grubs and bugs -- I hope taken from our garden. We have plenty of bugs to spare for the little birds.

Now I want to share it, too. They are a little hard to see but something like this is always a treat to me.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Garden shapshots

Today -- just a few garden views. My husband says I just like to grow vegetables so I can look at them and he wants to pick them while they are still good enough to eat. I don't think he is entirely correct but I do like to look at the vegetables and I prefer not to pick them too soon.

This cabbage is almost too pretty to pick, in my opinion. It really looks perfect right now.

I love, love, love the way the cucumbers run on the fence and almost meet in the center. Very pretty. I would love for the vines to look like this all summer. I also like to pick the cucumbers.

The green beans look pretty from this angle, but they are not really doing so well. This heat is very bad for them. They have almost stopped blooming. I do like the way they look, though.

I love the clusters of tomatoes. I usually pick them before they turn red, like these. I think when you let tomatoes go too long they draw the attention of birds and small animals. If that happens you loose some nice large ripe tomatoes. That is sad.

Clusters of green tomatoes can be pretty, too.

I like the Romas. They really are good for canning. They also get pretty large at times.

I have two rows of peppers that look pretty good and one that is not doing well. It is hard to tell, but this is one of the good rows.

The squash is still not producing as well has they did but they look better than right after we did surgery on them to remove the vine borers.

 The big news is that we have planted some more squash: Yellow, zucchini, some gray squash and some scalloped squash. Maybe we will fare a little better with the new plants.

I hope you enjoyed my snapshots.