Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Southern Living and Southern Secrets

When I received the latest issue of Southern Living last week, I was a bit disappointed with the cover. Too dark for a person who likes light and bright. I am glad I took a closer look because there were a number of things I really loved, some things I really disliked and some things I want to to take the time to contemplate.

I thought the article about Serenbe was very good. It make it look more like it was way out on the farm and I don't think it shows the true Chattahoochee Hill country, but it is nice to know that you can drive out there for lunch or dinner. I am sure it is a great place to live with wonderful restaurants and so many creative people. I love what they have built out of some country real estate, just south of Atlanta. (I plan to tour their organic gardens before too long.) It's a great place and worth a visit.

I liked the article on Muscadines. It cleared up the difference in Muscadine and Scuppernong grapes, gave some good history, explained about pruning and I enjoyed reading about the "Mother vine."

Perhaps my favorite thing was the recipe for Pineapple Upside Down Carrot Cake. They test their recipes so they always turn out as expected. We love both these cakes, so combining them is genius. I will be making this before long.

What I really disliked was the Grumpy Gardener. He is probably witty and obviously knows more than I do about gardening. I did like the advice about pansies that last through the winter. What I didn't like is the tone and attitude. I looked on the southernliving.com website and noticed he has a blog where he lays out his opinions pretty strongly. I was pretty offended to find that the gardener had to be politically correct while handing out snarky comments.

I really don't need that. I don't want to be slammed for my down to earth viewpoints while looking for good gardening advice. Who does? I want my gardening advice to be handed out with sugar rather than vinegar. I think I will stick to our NC Magazine's Thoughtful Gardener. Her beautiful flowers and prose make me feel very positive about working in my garden. Enough said!

Then there was the "The Secret to Being Southern: 25 tips for celebrating the soul of the south." Some of them I must say were right on, while some didn't exactly hit the mark for me, but at least I understood them. I will admit there are differences in regions of the south so that might account for some of the twenty-five. Since I have been a lifelong southerner, I do feel I have every right to comment on this feature with some authority.

Writing a charming thank you note was a winner for me. That is important. Another, Savor Savannah was a good one but you have to say Charleston and Savannah, in my opinion.

Of course they listed sweet tea. That was a no-brainer.

I liked "float a river" because I have always wanted to float the Chattahoochee but have never done it. I have gone rafting. I love rafting, but the Chattahoochee is only a few miles away. Tubing would be easier than rafting, too.

I will be pickling some okra this week, I hope.

I loved this one, "Pass along your garden's best." I can remember my mother visiting her neighbors and coming home with cutting from their gardens and returning the favor when they visited. That is something we should continue to do.

Apple pie? Yes. Cornmeal crust? No way.

Count your blessings? Always.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Whole Foods trip

Whew! What a week last week was. I had some technical difficulties but I am back online this week.

And this weekend, I went to Whole Foods -- it makes going to the grocery store a pleasure, rather than a chore -- for me, at least. It is always a pleasure to see the vegetable bins filled with beautifully arranged fruits and vegetables and all the products you don't normally see at the local grocers. It is also nice to be surrounded by such helpful salespeople who are ready to walk you to anything you can't find. The price is higher and that is kind of a shame, but the experience I love.

One thing I found was a healthier version of pie crust. I am always looking for a pie crust that doesn't have trans fats. I did find some, and then realized they were sitting in the "gluten-free" section, made with all gluten-free flours AND were trans-fat free. This product wasn't fat-free, but it was made with healthier fats.

The price tag of $6.99 was quite high but I would pay that price for a holiday meal. Most of the time I would consider that too expensive and would make my own. Mine is never as pretty as the grocery store version.

I stood back for a moment from that case and realized it was brimming over with gluten-free treats. In the top photo there is a package of gluten-free pizza crusts sitting to the left of the pie crusts. In the photo above, there are breads, cakes, muffins, pies and even brownie bites.

I do know it is expensive and we don't have a local Whole Foods, but perhaps letting your local grocer know you are interested in a gluten-free section would put more products on your local grocery store shelf.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gluten-free dining

It seems that more people of taking notice of the growing number of people who have problems with gluten. My friend and co-worker, Rhonda, found that Outback Steakhouse now has a gluten-free menu.

They even have a dessert that has no flour -- just yummy fat and lots of chocolate. Not so good for people like me, but a wonderful treat for those who can't tolerate gluten.

I can't see why they have cocktails listed. I am sure most people know they are generally gluten-free. Hmmm. Click on the menus to view them larger.

This is probably just the start. Now when you go into a restaurant and they offer you a menu just say, "Do you have a gluten-free menu?" When they say no, you can just say, "Oh, well Outback does." They will get the message.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Floating row covers

I love trying new things in the garden and after battling the bugs this summer I am certainly ready to try almost anything to be able to grow things organically. One of the things I have been reading about is floating row covers. I recently ordered one to give it a try. I won't know for awhile if it will work but it is certainly worth a try.

As you can see, above, it is a very thin material that looks kind of like the interfacing used for sewing -- but lighter.

It is meant to just rest on top of the ground over the plant row. The sun and rain can get in, but bugs can't or aren't supposed to and that is the great benefit of this product. It can also protect from frost so I will probably try it on lettuce. Right now, I am trying it on a new row of squash, since that has been the most attacked vegetable in my garden.

I should know something soon and will post photos as soon as I can

Monday, August 23, 2010


Saturday morning the butterflies were everywhere in the garden. They love my sister's zinnias. This Gulf Fritillary, above, takes on a pink tint when it lands on a pink flower. My sister planted these zinnia seeds last year, and they were very pretty then. These zinnias are volunteers from those first plants. I think they are prettier than last year.

This male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail looks a little rough around the edges but he is still pretty against a pink zinnia.

Here he is again. He seems to really like the pink ones.

Two Gulf Fritillaries on yellow zinnias. They could be playing follow the leader.

You can see how this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is almost translucent. It looks like it is almost time to lay its eggs. I don't know, but I think the increased activity of the butterflies means they are storing up food to contribute to the next life cycle.

This is the female version of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

I think the butterfly above is a Black Swallowtail. The blue spots are a little more defined.

Finally, another Gulf Fritillary. I think if I didn't like butterflies already, I would now.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Vegetable gardening as part of the home landscape

Lately, I have been seeing more and more people add vegetable plants in their landscaping plan. I saw this technique featured at the Southeastern Flower Show this past spring and I thought it was very inventive.

Imagine my surprise when I noticed my neighbors were clearing a space beside their shrubs at the side of their house and planting vegetables. It was a great use of a small space and it looks really good. You can see the tomato plants above -- still looking good, even with all this heat.

The green pepper pants are looking good, too. I like the straw that surrounds the plants -- very neat and no weeds.

There is a cucumber vine and yellow miniature tomatoes in the middle. Our neighbors actually apologized for the plants and hoped we didn't mind they planted their little vegetable patch. We thought it was wonderful and asked if we could have some photos.

In other countries, this is a common practice. They have limited space and make the most of it. I hope it becomes a common practice here. Most people have a little extra space around their shrubbery that would make a great mini garden. Extra veggies are always welcome, too. I think my neighbors are very smart.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A new way to cook okra

One of the plants that loves hot weather is okra. This year we have had plenty of hot weather so that means we have also had more okra. (Last year we had to fight the deer for the okra. This year we have the electric fence so we get to keep the okra.)

There are a number of ways to use okra. It is great in soups and gumbos and it freezes well for that purpose. I also like boiled okra, though that is probably not what most people prefer. Everyone in my family, with the exception of my son, loves fried okra. It is really great, but I really hate to make it too often because it has so much oil in it.

A couple of weeks ago, my mother came up with a great, easy solution. She found out how to cook the okra in a little oil in the microwave, and honestly, it is almost as good as the fried recipe. I have been cooking it often and I really love it.

Microwave Fried Okra

Cut up 3 cups of okra, place 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a microwave safe dish with a lid, stir the okra in the oil, add salt and pepper and microwave for three to four minutes, covered. Remove from microwave using potholders (the dish will be hot). Stir in 2 tablespoons of cornmeal, cover and return it to the microwave another 3 minutes or until it is bright green. It won't be browned by just using the microwave. If you want it browned, put it under the oven broiler for 3 to 5 minutes. You can make a larger batch just as easily by adding more of all the ingredients, but it will need more time in the microwave.

I think it would also work in a skillet in the oven, too. I just like the ease of using the microwave.

Thanks Mom! This is really a great recipe.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Planting late tomatoes and peppers

 On Saturday, just before it rained, we plowed under a portion of our garden and planted the last of our tomato and pepper plants. We have been talking about planting them for some time but waited because it was just so hot. We felt we needed to wait until the weather was milder. The weather is only slightly better but we knew if we didn't plant them soon, it would be too late.

I don't know if there will be time for them to produce anything but it can't hurt and these plants need to go into the ground. I have ordered a floating row cover and I am hoping the use of a cover might help extend the growing time. It would be nice to get some late tomatoes and peppers.

Everything we do in the garden is a learning experience. I think organic gardening has an even higher learning curve than gardening conventionally. I think our garden is often an experiment, but how will we learn otherwise? I would love to visit some organic gardens in our area to learn their methods and I hope to do that in the future. Meanwhile, the experimenting continues.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A natural bouquet

I love this bouquet. I went to a retirement party over the weekend and as I was leaving, Janice, the retiree's very creative wife, gave me this bouquet. It was one of the table centerpieces. When we walked into the room, the tables were bright and welcoming because of the black and white checked tablecloths and these pretty bouquets.

I found it interesting that the sunflowers were purchased from a florist, but the greenery was gathered from the field next to her house and from her yard. She used regular glass jars, added some greenery and finished it off around the top with a natural raffia ribbon. I think it ingenious to decorate by using ingenuity and creativity. She really hit a home run. I don't think a florist would have done any better and I appreciated that she put so much love and time into making sure everything was so pretty. I also know I will try this myself in the future and I appreciated the idea. 

The food was great, too and I think this couple deserves a wonderful retirement.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bisquick -- it now comes gluten free!

This weekend I was shopping and came across this new product at my local grocery store. My friend Bonnie mentioned there was a gluten free Bisquick but I had never seen it. When I noticed it on the grocery shelf, I thought two things: One, this is a product that can help so many people who have problems with celiac disease or are allergic to gluten. And two, there must be so many people who are suffering from this problem -- enough people to make this product marketable. I hope to see more products like this in the future.

The ingredients are rice flour, sugar, leavening (baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate), modified potato starch, salt, and xanthan gum. This does sound gluten free, I haven't tried it yet, but I intend to in the future. I don't know how it rates, compared to the regular product, but if you go to www.bisquick.com you can find plenty of recipes -- some of the old standbys like garlic biscuits and cheese balls and some new ones, too.

What I really liked was the website slogan, "Introducing pancakes that don't leave anyone out." I think that sums it up.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I'm Loving How-To Videos

Recently, I have been watching how-to gardening videos on the Internet. It can be a hassle sometimes to find the video that will be helpful, but I have been gaining some valuable information from them.

How do I find them? I usually do a Goggle search for the problem I'm having or the question I need answering. I always find something, even if it is not the miracle solution for which I am hoping. Some videos are more helpful than others. I am a visual person and just seeing the solution or idea is better for me than reading about it. A video is even more helpful because it is more dimensional than a photo.

I recently turned up this video on an organic solution for garden caterpillars and I will give it a try in the future. If you find a website you like, please share it. I can always use more information.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A rainbow of tomatoes

In the last couple of years I have noticed that tomatoes come in all sizes, shapes and colors. My photo, above, is not very good but this gives you the idea of what I mean. I planted seeds for Heirloom Brandywines, pictured at back, which will turn a rose-colored red when ripe, yellow tomatoes, in the center, and Black cherries, bottom right.

I didn't think any of my yellow tomatoes grew, but noticed these yellow ones after they began to ripen.

I also like the shapes. Large, like the Brandywines are good for slicing but have a large core. I don't have one right now but the Rutger tomatoes I planted are large and bright red, a good all around choice.

The Romas, center left are cone shaped and are a good, meaty variety.

The nutritional value of each color varies. The red tomatoes have more vitamin C, more lycopene and are more acidic.

The yellow and black tomatoes are best for people who suffer from reflux or acid-related stomach problems and have more B Vitamins.

I just like having a variety of colors. My husband really doesn't like the black tomatoes because he says they look like they have gone bad. He also is wondering why we just can't grow regular tomatoes. On some times we just have to agree to disagree.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fish prints at the museum

While my daughter and her husband were on their retreat, my husband and I were entertaining our grandsons, ages 7 and 5. One of the fun things we decided to do was to take the boys to the Children's Museum of the Upstate in Greenville, South Carolina. One of the exhibits was a "make and take" art project. The photos above and below are the "fish prints," the current  project. It was surprisingly easy to do and not as messy as I would have thought.

The museum is interactive where the children "drive" race cars and space ships, shop in a play grocery store and scan their own products, slide through a giant stomach that makes appropriately rude noises, and climb in a giant kaleidoscope.

We finished with our art project and I know the boys had fun. How do I know? When it was time to leave the five year old BEGGED to stay.

I will frame the fish prints in a nice frame as a memento for the boys and I hope to go back again in the future.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Highland Lake Inn: Photos of their gardens

This past weekend, my daughter sent me the above photo in a text and underneath she wrote, "Not so many problems with THEIR squash."

My daughter was on a retreat sponsored by her husband's job at Highland Lake Inn, in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Of course this was a dig, because she knows how hard we have been fighting bugs this year, especially the bugs that have been attacking our squash.

She started taking photos of the organic gardens during a walk and the photos kept coming. They do have a beautiful garden close to the lake. It looks like they have a nice irrigation system and also use companion planting to help keep insects at bay.

Her comment on the photo above, was, "They sure need to pick their butternut squash!"

I really loved the photo of their greenhouse. It would be nice to have a greenhouse to grow things year-round. The Inn has a great restaurant with much of their food provided by these gardens.

It would be perfect to be able to grow lettuce and things that won't grow in the hot part of the summer.

I didn't expect this photo of a turkey, but it was obviously was a large one and my daughter was impressed.

She finished with photos of the lake and grounds.

She had a wonderful time and said the Inn was a mix between rustic and trendy. The food was really delicious and the rural setting was relaxing. She had a great time and I appreciate these photos of their gardens, even though their squash looks better than ours.

Friday, August 6, 2010

An apple addendum

One more thing about apples. I tried drying some apple rings and they were wonderful. I didn't even cut off the peeling, just washed them, cut them in thick slices and put them in the dryer.

After about 24 hours the apples were dried. I thought since the slices were thick, they might not dry well but they were really good. I know I will dry more apples for snacks and for cooking. I just need to get the apples.

I would love to show you a photo of the finished apples, but I can't. I am sorry, but we ate them.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What I did with a bushel of apples

I didn't know before today, but a bushel of apples will make around a dozen quarts of applesauce and a dozen pints of jelly. I know because that is roughly what I just canned. I had the container pictured below and a large mixing bowl full of applesauce and a gallon of apple juice.

It took several hours, but I was proud to preserve all of the apples. I was even more proud that my sister and daughter-in-law came over the night before to help me peel apples. That was the hardest job and I am so thankful for the help. I could not have gotten so much done without their help. The canning wasn't that hard compared to the peeling.

The juice was easy to turn into jelly. I added 3 cups of sugar to 4 cups of apple juice. After it came to a rolling boil for 1 minute, I poured in fruit pectin and cooked it for another few minutes, then poured it into my jars, cleaned off the tops, put on the lids and waited for them to seal and the jelly to harden.

The jelly on the left is regular apple jelly. On the right, I tried something new. I found some packages of low or no sugar fruit pectin. I was able to make jelly using about half the amount of brown sugar. You can use Splenda or honey, but I like the taste of brown sugar with apples so I decided to try it.

I am hoping to try making some jam with the no sugar pectin. I think it is very interesting. I usually buy the all fruit version of jams in the grocery store and I am hoping to make some all fruit jam of my own -- but not today. I think I have done all I can today.