Thursday, September 30, 2010

Just duck tape it for a creative Halloween

Yesterday I stopped by Michael's to buy some construction paper and paint. As I walked past the Halloween displays, I noticed stacks of duct tape of all colors and some with patterns. I am a firm believer in using duct tape because I think it can fix almost anything. It is one of the best products around but I never expected to see this display in the craft store.

As I was standing there, looking at the costumes someone had made with tape, a teenaged girl walked almost past, let out a gasp and picked up a roll of zebra print duck brand tape. I was intrigued. While I was standing there a mom with a couple of pre teen kids stopped by and picked out tape to make their Halloween costumes.


 I searched online for duct tape costumes and found a number of wonderful costumes that could be made from duct tape, specifically Duck Brand Tape. It was quite fascinating.

 I also found that this company has some great contests. You can have fun decorating a pumpkin and then win $1,000.

 You can also make some great decorations.

And the colors and patterns are really remarkable. So much could be done with a zebra or leopard print and there are plenty of colors to choose from.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Garden is thriving after rain and milder weather

 Our garden is really growing now the the extreme heat has abated. We finally had to take the row cover off the squash because it was hovering off the ground so that insects could get underneath. Also, it was time to let the bees in to pollinate the flower. If this didn't happen, we wouldn't have any squash.

And our cucumbers are blooming nicely.

We are beginning to have more eggplants now. They aren't large enough to harvest, yet, but I think they will be before frost.

We are quite proud of our gourd tower. It looks better every day.

And our gourds are going to be larger than I expected.

Our line of sunflowers are particularly inspiring to us. It's hard to believe they grew so large in so short a time.


And bright.

The kale we covered with the row cover for protection. The greens are one of the things I am most excited about.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Grilled stuffed peppers

Yesterday, my husband went to the garden to pick okra and peppers and he filled a basket with beautiful vegetables. It is two thirds okra, one third peppers and a couple of tomatoes.

He was so impressed with the size and quality of the peppers. I know the rain really helped. When I arrived home, he had prepared grilled, stuffed peppers. I was so surprised and then had the most wonderful dinner.

Wasn't that a sweet thing for him to do?

Grilled stuffed peppers

1-1/2 pounds ground turkey
Salt and pepper to taste
Soy sauce
4 green peppers, core and seeds removed

Mix up turkey, salt, pepper and soy sauce. Stuff peppers and seal in heavy duty tin foil. Cook on the grill for 35 to 45 minutes, or until pepper is soft and meat is well done. Uncover for the last ten minutes to allow meat to brown.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Weekend fall crafting

This weekend I spend some time with an eager 5-year-old crafter. He has been ready to make this bat jack-o-lantern from the Family Fun Halloween magazine since he saw the magazine, over a week ago. We used black paint and construction paper for the bat wings, ears and eyes, then attached the bat appendages with hot glue. It was very easy and made one boy very happy.

Hot glue is not something that a child should handle. There are other glue products that would be appropriate for a small child but hot glue is something that needs adult supervision. It is too easy to get burned on a hot glue gun.

The pumpkin was purchased at WalMart for seventy-eight cents and the construction paper we already had. The paint was around two dollars so this craft was really cheap. (The remaining paint we can use on other crafts or Halloween projects.) These were recommended for small decorative pumpkins but we chose to make larger ones.

We did buy some small decorative pumpkins -- again at WalMart, and they became fall creatures. We picked up a few leaves and sticks, pine cones could work, too and within five minutes we had a family of gourds, ready to decorate for fall. Hot glue was used here, too but other glues would work as well.

The artwork was courtesy of Eli, who loves to draw faces on friendly vegetables.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Andi/Mandi scores for better nutrition

After including the recipe for the green smoothies yesterday, I felt it would be a good idea to tell you why I think it is so important to include collards, kale, spinach and even mustard greens when making smoothies. I know some might find these odd ingredients and it might take a little getting used to, but including greens gives a smoothie a huge nutritional boost. Maybe even more of a boost than you realize.

When I read Joel Fuhrman's book, "Eat to Live," I was very impressed by the way he based his theories about healthy eating on scientific study. One of the things he came up with was a system for measuring the nutritional density of any given food. He put foods on a scale of .5 to 1000 and kale and collards are right at the top of the list. They are nature's most nutritious foods. You get more vitamins, minerals and nutritional benefits from greens than any other food. Not only do they have more nutritional benefits but they top the list of all foods by a large margin.

Soon after reading the Fuhrman book, I stopped by Whole Foods and realized they post the ANDI scores of foods throughout their stores so this scoring has become a widely recognized system for measuring the nutritional food density.

To help you understand by using the numbers, kale has an ANDI score of 1000. Bananas have an ANDI score of just 30. The score for blueberries is 130, carrots -- 240, apples -- just 72, so you can see that when you add the greens, the value of the calories you eat a smoothie jumps dramatically.

I might not be explaining it very well but the book really goes into detail and the Whole Foods website does a good job giving information, too.

Does adding greens effect the taste -- not very much. Interestingly, cooking greens intensifies their flavor but eating it raw doesn't add too much taste, just nutritional value. You really taste the fruit, especially the banana, but the greens don't seem to add anything but ANDI points. Now, I wouldn't make a smoothie without adding the greens. Find out more about ANDI/MANDI scores by going to or and I think it will make a difference how you view the lowly kale, collards or other nutritionally dense green.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Vitamix saga

A few weeks ago, my husband was awarded a Vitamix Blender. It was an award he received from work. Originally we wanted to buy a grill, but we just couldn't find one we liked on the online award site. Our second choice was the Vitamix. I have heard so many good things about it and my husband decided he wanted to make some healthy smoothies to get more vitamins from whole foods into his diet. We also really loved the seven year warranty.

We soon received it and it was very large and a little quieter than I expected it to be. It also works really quickly. You can blend or make smoothies in a minute. The cleanup was easy, too. Also, it makes HUGE smoothies. That was a good thing.

The bad thing was that when we tried to grind flour from spelt, it overheated and wouldn't come back on.

We were kind of frustrated, but when we called Vitamix and told them our problem, they paid to have the blender returned and sent out a new blender as soon as the original was received. I was pretty upset at first that my ultra expensive blender stopped working as promised, but I was happy with the outcome.
I did receive a DVD and a cookbook with some great recipes -- including, of course, some whole food smoothies, sauces and bread recipes that begin with grinding your own grains.

Each recipe has a full color recipe. That is good.

And I finally ground the spelt into flour. The problem the first time I tried to grind it was that I put too much in the blender at one time. Two cups of grain is the maximum you are supposed to use. They told me at Vitamix that the blender should have gotten hot and the fail safe switch should have turned it off and it should have come back on after about twenty minutes. Mine was obviously faulty, according to the representative I talked to. When I ground the flour tonight with the new blender, I used no more than two cups and it worked perfectly.

Now I can buy whole wheat, spelt and even beans and grind them to make bread. This is really making it from scratch and my flour will be super fresh.

Here is my husband's recipe for whole food smoothies. It is good, smooth and full of vitamins.

1 carrot, cut into slices
1 apple cored, with peelings left on
1 banana
1 to 2 cups of frozen blueberries, strawberries or peaches
2 cups of washed, fresh kale, collards or spinach
1 to 2 cups of soy milk or vanilla almond milk
Optional: 1 tablespoon flax seed
Enough ice to make the mixture thick (at least 1/2 cup)

Put all into blender. Turn on low and gradually increase to high. If necessary use the tamper to push mixture into the blade. Pour into large glasses and enjoy. This makes enough for two smoothies.

A wink from a sunflower

Sunflowers are the perfect icon to use for the first day of fall. The colors are right -- yellow, orange and green and if I had to describe the past month without using words, I would use this sunflower. It seems whimsical to me. I think it looks like it is winking at me and making the warmth of the summer stick around as long as possible.

So, using this sunflower from our garden, I would like to wish you a happy first day of fall.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pickled Okra

In the last issue of Southern Living, one of the (only) things I liked was the recipe for pickled okra and I  mentioned then I would share my recipe. I am planning to make some more this week -- maybe several batches before frost.

I have had a good deal of okra this year. As long as we continue to have hot weather, and as long as we get rain, I think we'll continue to have okra. Every time I pickle it, it seems to just disappear. I have given some away and my husband really loves it.

The other day, he took a jar to work and he said it was gone within five minutes from the time the lid was removed. I was surprised by this but maybe I shouldn't be. Okra is a southern favorite. The wonderful thing is that okra is fairly easy to can and freeze and you don't have to blanch it when freezing, just wash it, slice it up and freeze in a bag. I will use my frozen okra for soups and stews all winter. Yum. I hope I will have enough pickled okra for my husband.

Pickled Okra

12 clean pint jars with lids and rings
Enough washed and trimmed okra to fill jars.
1/2 red cayenne pepper for each jar
1/2 clove of garlic for each jar
2/3 cup pickling salt
4 teaspoons dill seed
2 teaspoons mustard seed
6 cups water
6 cups vinegar

Fill clean jars with washed and trimmed okra, cayenne pepper and garlic. Mix salt, seed, water and vinegar together and bring to a boil. Pour hot mixture over okra in jars to within 1/4 inch of the top. Carefully clean off tops of jars. Top with sterilized lids then tighten rings onto the jars. Process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes. Serve just as you would cucumber pickles.

I often don't have enough to make the whole recipe. It works fine just when you half the recipe.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Halloween edition from Family Fun

My grandchildren love crafts. Every time I see them they ask to make something and I love to oblige them. That is why I look for magazines like the special Halloween edition by Family Fun. Special edition publications like this one have become a bit pricey and that is why I have to make sure I can get plenty of use from each purchase. This one is $9.99 and even though it is expensive, I think it is the best one I have seen.

The last one I really loved was the Martha Stewart Halloween special edition from two years ago and there is a 2010 addition, too but when I looked at it in the store, I saw so many repeats from past publications that the choice was clear. The Family Fun edition was the one I chose.

This past weekend, my five year old grandson spent some time looking the magazine over and over and finally checked all the crafts he wanted to complete before Halloween. I can tell you we will not be able to complete the marked projects unless we spend all our waking hours between now and then in production.

It would be hard to list all of the things he likes. His favorite is a bat made from a pumpkin. He also liked the pumpkin made into a mummy, spider cupcakes, tye-died T-shirts, candy corn cheese toast, eyeballs made from pudding, fingers made from cheese, banana ghosts and there are dozens of other crafts, recipes and even entire costumes to choose from.

I was concerned that a few of the things we could make were a little scary, but he assured me these things weren't real. What is real is the fun we will be having from this special edition.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Paper versus cloth

Last week I went with my friend Angela to an estate sale. It was the perfect day to go, as far as I was concerned, because most of the items for sale were half-priced. As we walked around, Angela pointed out one of my favorite items to buy at estate and yard sales -- nice white linen napkins.

This is why -- I used to use paper towels for everything. I often used them for napkins. I used them to dry dishes and wash off counters. Sometimes I even used them to wash dishes. I took some with me wherever I went and even kept a roll in my car. I finally came to realize that I was wasting money and wasn't doing anything at all to help the environment.

I then pulled out my old cloth napkins and decided to break my habit of reaching for paper towels. I made room in my kitchen cabinet for a napkin drawer. I really didn't have enough to use all the time so I went to the dollar store and bought some really plain ones that were two for a dollar, I found some nicer ones ones on sale while shopping. We then started using them every day for every meal. It really was nice. I felt I was like indulging myself white saving money.

After that I found began to look for napkins at yard sales and estate sales. Surprisingly, the napkins I find have never been used. Sometimes I even find napkins with matching tablecloths still in the original packages. I now have stacks of napkins and I wouldn't go back to paper towels for anything. (I do use paper towels, just not often.)

They aren't really hard to wash and keep clean. I usually put the dirty ones in a pail in my washroom and I spray spots with a stain removal product. Sometimes I have a stain that won't come out and I no longer use those napkins for company. The hardest thing to get out of a napkin? Definitely barbecue sauce.

Taste Of Home cookbook winner

Congratulations Guntons. You won the cookbook!

Send your snail mail address to me at and I will get the book to you in a few days. Thanks for entering!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My thirteen-cent ring holder

The other day I was browsing in a local "gently-used" thrift store and I saw something I really needed. I have been losing my rings in my jewelry box for some time. Every night I take them off and put them in with the rest of my (mostly) costume jewelry and the next morning, I spend way too much time digging through my jewelry just to find my rings. I don't even want to think about how long it takes to find a matching pair of earrings. It is amazing I hadn't already come up with a solution because it was a big problem -- a mess, really.

When I saw this little covered china dish that measures about 4 inches in diameter, I thought it was the perfect size to hold my rings and maybe a small set of earrings or two. I could envision this little ring keeper siting on top of my jewelry box so that my rings would always be accessible -- no digging for gold.

I liked it even better when I realized it was on the 75 percent off rack. It was priced at 50 cents so the grand total was just thirteen cents. The color wasn't perfect, but the price was right. I couldn't wait to get it to the counter. All I can say is that organization doesn't always have to be expensive.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our September garden

I just wanted to give an update on our garden. We are slowly turning our garden into a fall garden with plants that like cooler weather. The only problem I can see is there hasn't been very much cooler weather. It has been awfully hot. We planted collards and they are looking good -- they may be growing a little too fast. I don't know.

Our eggplants were almost dead but my sister cut them back and they responded by growing into really beautiful plants. They were really attacked by bugs but it is obvious they do well in warm weather. We now need to make sure the bugs don't attack the new growth. I think the bloom is beautiful.

I am excited about our gourds. We have quite a few and they are very small. I am hopeful we will have some larger gourds by frost. It's a shame I didn't get the photo above in focus. The gourd is also dirty from the water splashed on while watering the day before.

Here's another small one. It is in focus.

We found an old large wire cage that is about 12 feet high. We will soon have a gourd tower. It was the only way to get the gourds off the collards.

It's a little hard to see because the soil was wet but we have kale -- my favorite green -- so healthy.

Our okra is still growing and looking good.

Some of these pods are a little too big but we have plenty of okra for even our Mother. Okra is her favorite. When we ask her what she needs, the answer is usually okra.

We have peppers. Our bells look especially good.

And a small pumpkin. I sure hope we have some for Halloween. They look promising.

And we have more pumpkin blooms.

Our squash are still undercover. We are just waiting for blooms to give the bees a chance to pollinate.

We almost have some sunflower blooms. The stalks are between eight and ten feet tall.

Our older tomatoes are blooming again. The heat was almost too much for them.

And we also have some new tomatoes. Will they produce? It depends on the weather.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pear and Apple Rollups

A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered to make refreshments for a meeting at our church. The meeting was for an English as a Second Language class and most of the participants are from Korea. I decided I would make brownies and some cookies but I really wanted to give them something they might enjoy a little more -- a treat that says we tried to give them something that would say "Welcome," and something for those who don't really like sweet desserts.

From what I have read, this describes many people of Korean descent. They eat some pastries and some sweetened dessert drinks but from all accounts, they don't like really sweet foods -- that is, at least until the next generation American who has gotten used to our sweet goodies.

It occurred to me, after the pastries turned out to be pretty good and not overly sweet that there are many who don't really like really sweet foods. I am not talking about myself. I like things that are sickeningly sweet with everything except tea. That is why I think these would be good served with tea.

I did like them and I think I would make this treat again. They are similar to cinnamon rolls but with fruit and less sweetness. I am not sure if our Korean friends will like them, but I hope so. I don't know how to say, "Welcome," in Korean.

Pear and Apple Rollups

2 cups self-rising flour
1 tablespoon butter, softened
(Bisquick baking mix or gluten-free Bisquick can be used for the first two ingredients)
1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

1/2 Granny Smith apple, core removed, peeled and grated
2 pears, core removed, peeled and cut into thin slices
Approximately 2 teaspoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon white sugar

1/2 cup Confectioners sugar
Enough unsweetened vanilla almond milk for glaze

Cut butter into flour until it is well blended. Mix in milk and form into a dough ball. Knead a few times and roll out on waxed paper until it is approximately 13" x 9". Spread on butter, sprinkle on brown sugar. Top with apple. The apple will not cover the dough entirely. Layer the pear on top, then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Roll it up and cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices. Recipe makes between 12 and 15 pastries. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until pastries are browned. Drizzle glaze over the rolls. (I didn't use all the glaze on my rolls because I didn't want them to be very sweet. If you prefer sweeter pastries, just use more glaze.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

A cookbook giveaway

This week, I am starting with a giveaway. It is the Taste of Home Guilt Free Cooking, and includes 356 recipes that are mostly lower in fat than normal recipes. Almost half of the recipes can be completed in under 30 minutes.

Taste of Home is known for good, down home recipes that are crowd pleasers. This cookbook credits a large staff of contributors that includes a registered dietitian. The book begins with some healthy eating tips and each recipe has a listing of nutritional information that includes calories, fat, cholesterol, carbohydrates, sodium, fiber and protein. There is even a diabetic exchange.

One of the things I like about the book are the pretty photos throughout. Each recipe is pictured in color and is easy to read with helpful tips on almost every page.

There are recipes for every meal or occasion and it really does look like the recipes are meant to cut out some of the most unhealthy ingredients while keeping the taste and quality. I think this cookbook is a good start towards healthier cooking.

My only problem with the cookbook is that the recipes are mostly for meats and carbohydrates, but as I said earlier, it is a good start. An improvement for me would be more vegetarian recipes.

Leave a comment and tell me why you think this cookbook would be good for you and I will include you in the drawing on Thursday. The winner will be announced Friday morning.