Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lemonade serving tips

The other day, at my get-together I made cranberry lemonade (1 frozen can of lemonade, 4 cans of water, 1 64-ounce bottle of cranberry juice -- for less of a cranberry taste use half the bottle of cranberry juice). Northland cranberry juice has a richer flavor than most and I prefer the juice-only variety.

This is the simplest punch I have ever made and people always love it. What I loved even more than the simplicity of the recipe is the serving method.

I love to serve lemonade in large lidded jars. The lids protect from summer "critters" when serving outside. I just dumped a whole bag of ice in the large jar and mixed the lemonade in the smaller jar and it was easy -- everyone serves themselves. Surprisingly, the ice lasts for a long time and I use either tongs or a big, long-handled spoon for the ice and a dipper for the lemonade. I could have poured the ice in the lemonade, but I really don't like to water it down.

The jars were purchased at WalMart for around $12 for both. It really is functional, not too dressy and quite nice for an informal gathering.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Shrimp Boil

When we go to the beach (which is not every year), we rent a condo or house, and eat all but a few dinner meals in. Each year we make a list of all the good, yet easy dinner menus, which usually includes lasagna and this year, spicy spaghetti. Sometimes we order pizza and usually go out for a good seafood meal, once or twice.

This year we added a new dinner meal. We had a magnificent shrimp boil. It was absolutely wonderful and so appropriate for the beach. It was even easier than I thought it would be, and very good. We took a large deep pan from home that we used as a grocery carrier and then on "shrimp boil day," went to the fish market and bought some fresh shrimp. We purchased a half pound per person.

We then layered the pan with potatoes covered with water and a bag of Old Bay Shrimp boil spice, about a quarter to half cup of Louisiana Craw fish, Crab and Shrimp Boil spices (depending on how spicy you like your food, it can be hot), salt and pepper to taste, corn, onions, smoked sausage and topped it off with shrimp and had a wonderful meal.

After the shrimp turns pink, drain it all into a colander and if you can, pour onto newspapers out on the deck. If you can't, pour onto platters and have plenty of napkins and "peeling plates" ready for the shrimp shells.

That is the basic recipe. Be sure to add the potatoes first and bring them to a boil, then layer on the other ingredients, making sure things come back to a boil and everything has cooked thoroughly before adding the shrimp, which cooks quickly.

We had leftovers for lunch the next day after coming in from the beach -- so good. Where is the sausage? Unfortunately, it is underneath the shrimp (I don't think I will have anyone knocking on my door asking me to style their food for photos! Oops.) Yes, that is the ocean on the top right-hand corner of the photo.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Flowers from the yard and garden

Saturday, my sister suggested I take a bouquet of her Chinese Snowballs to decorate our table for a gathering we were having the following afternoon. It was a great idea because the flowers were very pretty and the price was certainly right! They are still gracing my kitchen table and look almost as good as they did on Sunday.

Gathering blooms from the yard and garden is one of my favorite things to do. I love the beauty of a florist's bouquet but I don't honestly think they are ugly if you can't arrange them like a pro -- after all, I think they are beautiful in their natural state so why should they suddenly become ugly because they aren't displayed by a decorator?

I do love almost all cut wild flowers -- especially Queen Anne's Lace and spring blooms (though they fade quickly). I also love to put things like herbs in with my flowers. Fresh mint, basil and stevia (or sweet leaf) can give a fresh smell to a room. I put about a tablespoon of sugar in the water before adding the flowers and I tied the stems together with a rubber band, though that is not necessary. Of course, I cover my table or counter with newspaper before arranging because it can be a messy job.

I know some people have cutting gardens to keep fresh flowers at all times and that is what I would love to have the time for. That can be one of my goals for later in life.

I am reminded of the Jane Austen novel, Sense and Sensibility where Maryanne received the wildflower bouquet from Mr. Willoughby after receiving one from Colonel Brandon and said, "These are not from the hothouse." I think she might have been signaling her preference of men rather than flowers. If she had been talking only about flowers I think I kind of understand the sentiment. It would cost so much more for a big showy bouquet if I had purchased them from a florist, but the fact that I (or someone) took the time to gather and arrange them is really sweeter.

One thing I have found -- I always try to know what the flower or plant is named because most of the time people will ask. These flowers, for instance, I thought were mop head hydrangeas but are really Chinese Snowballs. (I always get that wrong.) Very pretty, but not the same thing.

I also like the fact that even though it is July and very hot, shrubs and flowers are still producing showy blooms right in the (in this case) front yard. Another good thing -- it was time to prune this shrub anyway so we accomplished two things. I have a bouquet that is a thing of beauty and my sister has some pruned bushes. That is definitely a "win-win."

Monday, July 25, 2011

My new favorite squash -- Cocozella

No, this is not a zucchini squash but an old-fashioned heirloom Italian variety -- a Cocozella du Napoli. It is classified as a summer squash. While at the Southeastern Flower Show, I picked up seeds for this squash, planted them and then almost forgot about them.

Even though this summer has been kind of a bummer for most squash varieties in our area, this squash has quietly been growing in a corner of the garden until we have noticed these huge, nice squash that are kind of like zucchinis but, in my opinion -- better. It is hard to see from this photo, but these Cocozellas are very large.

If you pick them small, they have tender peels with a more flavorful flesh, more like a regular zucchini mixed with a hard squash -- somewhat like a zucchini/acorn squash mix. After they mature, they become more like hard squashes -- but still mild. The peels are too hard to eat but the flesh is still good, though you have to discard the seeds before cooking.

This squash is great because if you forget to pick, they do get really large but they can be used anyhow -- and are very flavorful. I think the flavor is much better than a regular zucchini. They also hold up much better than zucchini and don't have to be refrigerated immediately, much like winter squash. I will be splitting them in half, scooping out the seeds and baking them. I think they will be delicious with a little butter, salt and pepper.

It will be interesting to see how long they last during the summer, how well they produce overall and we'll see if the seeds save well and produce next year.

Meanwhile, I have a new favorite squash that I am certainly enjoying this year.

Friday, July 22, 2011

What a summer!

I will admit I have felt a little overwhelmed this summer. There is just so much going on and I have been very busy at home, at work and in the garden. I feel a little like my grandson probably did last week while at the beach.

The best thing for me to do is to step back, take a deep breath and try to get back into things while not feeling guilty about being behind on a few things at home.

I have accomplished quite a bit by getting a couple of magazine finished this summer and I have -- just barely, kept up with garden veggies. We did take a nice family vacation and there hasn't been a boring moment around my house. This weekend will be a time to catch up.

I hope you have enjoyed my cute photo and I hope you have a nice and productive weekend, too.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Gel nails

I will admit to being very cheap, but every now and then I splurge on a manicure. A couple of weeks ago I decided to spend $10 more on gel nails -- a kind of new polish that is supposed to last for three weeks.

After my last manicure didn't last throughout the first day, and since I was going to the beach, I decided it would be a good time to try this new procedure. The results were amazing. My nails still look good after almost two weeks.

The most amazing thing was that I could wash dishes and do anything I wanted right after my nails were finished. I still can't believe how durable they are.

I am cheap but I can't help but believe that gel nails are a bargain. I will have this done again and I can't wait to see how long gel nails will work on a French manicure. It is a great way to grow out your nails because they are so durable. Your nails can break but they are certainly stronger and will last much longer than a regular manicure. I really love gel nails.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Last week I was on vacation -- and though I had technical difficulties that prevented blog posting, I am back and my difficulties are all solved.

Before we left we had tons of green tomatoes and now we have tons of ripe ones. We planted a number of varieties and we have a large variety of colors. They range from purple, red, yellow and even green and we have all sizes and types. Most of the ones we planted were heirlooms and we hope to save some seeds from the best ones.

The next few nights, I will be peeling and freezing tomatoes as they ripen. At first I was a little concerned about having tomatoes that were different colors but I think they are beautiful. Interestingly, the green zebras are some of the most flavorful. If I closed my eyes and did a taste test I don't think I would know they were green. The yellow and orange ones are very good, too.

They aren't all beautiful. Some had worm holes and a few were overly ripe. It had been a week since we picked them but it was nice to look at the tomatoes and see all the colorful tomatoes on the vines. My husband said that he wished we would just plant red ones. He is a little put off by the black cherry tomatoes and I don't think he really likes the purple ones. Next year, we probably will try to have mostly red ones.

I think even with the different colors, the marinara will be great. For now, I will be freezing tomatoes because I will be a bit short on time this week. Usually, I can the tomatoes so I hope I have enough for canning later. I would love to make some salsa later, too. I know I will also have a really good tomato sandwich -- my favorite summer treat.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A new recipe for spicy spaghetti

Here's a new tasty recipe for spicy gluten-free "turkey" spaghetti. I know many people turn up their noses at anything that includes ground turkey -- and I will admit turkey can be a little bland, but this recipe is an exception. It is spi-cy. You can make it hot or just spicy and it has some little extras that really make it worthwhile.

You shouldn't hold it against this recipe because it is fairly healthy and includes meats that are lower in fat and also a serving of vegetables. It is very tasty. The rice vermicelli used in this recipe came from an Asian market. (I sometimes forget that the Italians got the idea of spaghetti from China.) We have one very close to our house. This variety is made from white rice but Tinkyada has a very good brown rice spaghetti I love to use because it is healthy and made from the whole grain.

To make it for kids, leave out the hot spices.

Holly's Spicy Spaghetti

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 large yellow squash, diced
1 large zucchini squash, diced
1 pound ground chicken or turkey
1 pound turkey kielbasa or sausage, diced
1 large can diced tomatoes with garlic, basil and oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Frank's Red Hot pepper sauce, to taste
Optional: 1 chopped hot pepper
1 package rice vermicelli, cooked and drained

Saute onion and squash in olive oil. Add turkey and cook until browned. Add kielbasa and brown. Add tomatoes and optional items and cook until flavors are blended. Toss in cooked vermicelli and serve in a large pasta dish. Serves 6.

Friday, July 8, 2011

My new Norwegian Cookbook

I am very excited about my new cookbook! My friend and colleague, Angela, went on a trip to the "north country" -- in her case Wisconsin and when she saw this cookbook, thought of me and brought it to me as a gift.

I am certainly not descended from Norwegians, but long ago, I lived a couple of years in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. Even though I was a young and inexperienced girl from the south, the people there were very nice to me and I developed a deep appreciation for them, their culture and their hearty lifestyle. (Who else could thrive in sub-zero winter temperatures.)

The recipes in this cookbook bring back so many memories for me. Who could forget the amazing breads made with potatoes -- the potato pastries, krum kake, especially the lefsa, a potato flatbread that I tried a number of times. And the Norwegian dishes like fruit soup. Some dishes brought from the "old country" and some probably inspired by the harsh climate.

I remember the mounds of pickled herring in the grocery store and I remember, but never had the courage to try, lutefisk -- a dish made from whitefish soaked in lye until it becomes a jelly-like substance and then is baked or boiled and served on holidays. This dish has inspired a number of Lake Woebegone stories by Garrison Keillor. They always make me remember and smile. I now have the recipe, if ever I come across any lutefisk.

Some recipes I would like to try are the jelly-filled scones and I would really love to adapt some of these bread recipes into gluten-free breads using mashed potatoes.

I didn't find any recipes using rhubarb, especially the rhubarb coffee cake like I had there one time (and loved), but this is a great cookbook for me to get inspiration and to reminisce.

I know if I visited East Grand Forks now, it would be very different since many things were washed away by the big flood a few years back. (I can't believe the Westward Ho is gone, but it still lives in my memory.) I know the people are certainly the same and I will always appreciate them because I learned while I lived there, that you can venture any place in this country and find some great folks and enjoy things about any community.

I experienced a diversity of culture that I found charming. They loved my southern accent and I loved their northwestern/Norwegian accents. I can't see the movie Fargo or hear Michelle Bachman or Sarah Palin speak, without remembering people like my friends Joann, Darlene, Bill and Donnie. I will always remember the LumberMart where I worked and the potato chip factory, sugar beet plant, the Bjornstads and the Hagens. It was a huge learning experience for me and I appreciate that time.

I also appreciate the great cookbook that made me nostalgic. I don't remember the cold so much any more but I now can make lefsa way down here in the sunny south.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The "not so good" news

I did find a photo of one of my watermelon plants. I think they really look a little better than this photo indicates. I consider even having healthy watermelon plants a success story but that is not exactly my point today.

In my experience, the successes you get from gardening inevitably come with some failures. Pictured above is a kind of success but time will tell if it will be a success. It won't be a success unless we have melons to eat.

We do have a couple of failures so far. First, our corn. We didn't have any success there. I can't imagine it was our choice of corn, Silver Queen. That is a tested variety. It just didn't grow like it should have, even with plenty of fertilizer. Then we had either a crow or squirrel attack (or a combination of both). They pretty much decimated our corn. We had to go ahead and pick what corn we had so that the predators didn't get what was left. There wasn't very much to pick. We definitely need to learn to grow corn!

We also have had to replant our yellow squash. Though we worked very hard to prevent squash vine borers, we didn't do a good enough job. We have decided to plant more. It is hard to see but they are on each side of our okra. We will keep planting until we have some yellow squash.

We have some farmer friends who lost all our their squash plants to vine borers, and they don't even garden organically. I think this is a real problem for all farmers in our area. I am sure we will eventually come up with a solution but these are very devastating pest.

Also, the weather has been a very negative factor. Our beans are doing very good but are attacked by pests. We are barely able to keep them at bay. Our tomatoes are good but not great. I think the weather has been a factor there, too.

Our cucumbers, carrots, a success. Our okra looks great but not bearing, yet.

All in all it is worth it, though it is quite a fight against the elements and especially the pests. I can say I believe in growing food with no pesticides but it is a struggle. I think on the days we "win," it is great, when the pests "win" it can be a little depressing, but not enough to give up.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Some positive things from the garden

I suppose our garden is doing pretty well for this time of year, in spite of how hot and dry it has been. We've had some better days lately but the dry, hot weather has taken its toll on our garden.

We did plant some cantaloupes and watermelons several weeks ago and they look great, especially the watermelons. Of course I thought I had a photo of the watermelons but perhaps I erased it. The watermelons don't have blooms yet, but the cantaloupes do. I am so excited, because up until this point, we haven't done very well with melons. We don't have any yet, but are hopefully on our way to a good crop.

The pepper plants are beginning to produce and look very good. If you will look closely, you can see the two peppers on this plant. The hot peppers look better after Monday night's rain.

We found something behind these cucumber blooms that is very unusual.

There was a bit of wire left rolled up at the end of our cucumber vines and, of course an cucumber grew inside. Cucumbers have a tendency to hide from me, either under the leaves on the ground or any crevice they can find.

These are the good things. Later I will write about the disappointments -- and I am not just talking about the weather.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Refreshing drinks for hot summer days

In the south we pride ourselves in our iced tea and I will admit we drink plenty of it at my house in the midst of the summer heat. Not much is better after working in the yard or garden.

My mother always used Tetley tea. She was a big fan and when I go shopping for tea I always reach for the Tetley first. These days I always buy the decaf variety. I started using it years ago and even though I am not bothered by caffeine, as some are, I use it because so many are. I can't stand the thoughts of serving something that can cause problems when the taste is the same.

We also used Liption (I also use the store-brand decaf tea if it is cheaper. I do prefer Tetley and Liption because I think the flavor is a little stronger but I am not loyal enough to a brand to pay two prices for it.)

I do love the iced tea to go. Just pour a packet into a cold bottle of water and you have a treat. I used to hate instant tea but they have come up with a winner here. I love it that it is also sugar-free. My husband will take a half-gallon packet and make it for dinner. He prefers it over ice. I can't say I prefer it to freshly brewed tea but I do love the "to go" teas. The lemonade variety is also a winner.

Snapple makes a very good product and if I am out and about I will sometimes choose one.

And also Izzies are a good choice -- i think better than a soft drink but with the sparkly punch you get with carbonation.

When I am really hungry and need something that is good for me I choose Naked smoothies. They are kind of pricey but I can stop in at a convenience store and make a better choice than a pack of crackers or candy bar. I would recommend them because they are filled with good stuff and taste good, too. It's all about the choices!

Sometimes I will get a carbonated beverage when I need a pick-me-up. I do try to stay away from them. I don't think they are good for me so I keep them at a minimum. I like Diet Coke but I probably like Diet Mountain Dew better. It just has an extra punch.

Sometimes after working in the garden we will hit the Quick Trip on our way home. My husband really loves his fountain drinks, especially when they are 59 cents. He gets a Diet Pepsi with a little squirt of cherry and I either get white tea or I "do the dew."

I do try to drink more water than anything. Even when we get fast foods, I have gotten used to drinking bottled water. It is probably not any better or more pure than tap water but it is refreshing and cold and perfect for a hot summer day.

Friday, July 1, 2011


If you ask me what I have been doing lately, the answer will be making pickles. I am fighting to stay ahead of the cucumbers. Don't get me wrong. We love cucumber pickles and I would hate NOT to have them during the year but it is a bit hard at this time to keep up with all the beautiful cucumbers.

Here is my recipe for sour pickles. So far I have made the majority of the cucumbers we have grown into sour pickles. There are our family's favorite pickle variety.

I wash the jars and fill them the best I can with cucumbers. Then mix up the simple brine and let them sit for a few days before they are ready to eat. If I want to save them for later, I can the pickles.

I like the smaller pickles and also slices. My husband likes big, honking pickles.

I have tried purchasing pickle "mixes" and though they don't taste bad, the pickles seem to get soft after a few months. My family only likes them if they stay crunchy. I really don't like sweet pickles, though most people do, especially in Georgia where barbecue is still a widespread favorite. Most barbecue "joints" in our area still serve sweet pickles with a barbecue plate.

At least we don't buy pickles anymore. For that I am grateful. I can't say it saves money but we do enjoy homemade ones better.