Thursday, November 29, 2012

Monday night meeting was "for the birds"

Monday night at our regular monthly meeting of the Crossroads Garden Club, Charlotte Nelson, usually referred to as "the Straw Bale Lady" talked about another passion of hers (besides gardening). Nelson loves animals and every year about this time, she mixes up winter treats for the wild birds and puts them outside her window and around her home and garden, so she can watch as they hungrily gobble up the winter treats she prepares.

Above is a bird feeder/birdbath she made from glassware, mostly platters and vases. Nelson finds yard sale treasures and glues them together using "goop" to make beautiful garden ornaments. The one above she made from two vases, a platter and a dish and we all were amazed when she unveiled her creation.

Nelson told us that she prefers to use suet (beef kidney fat), peanut butter, oatmeal, birdseed and raisins to make the bird food and below she shows us photos of her feeders. According to Nelson, birds need a diet high in fat and protein like the bugs they eat in the summer.

She said she never feeds the birds from March 1 through September 30, describing it as the time for the birds to eat insects from her garden and yard. As October begins, she prepares her suet mixture in a large sauce pan and forms the resulting concoction in squares that will fit into a suet holder or makes smaller suet blocks in cupcake holders to place in feeders for her birds. Though Nelson didn't provide an exact recipe, she said we could easily get one from the Internet and the recipe didn't have to be exact. It was just important to use enough fat to hold the mixture together.

Nelson said that at her home, one bird will begin peeking in a window around the first of October and that is when she knows to prepare the treats. Below, Nelson shows us photos of her winter feeders.

After Nelson spoke, everyone participated in a raffle and one of our members won the beautiful feeder. It wasn't me, though I did come home with a small cupcake holder of suet and plans to make both suet blocks and my own bird feeder. I just must go out and buy a supply of Goop.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Heirloom Gardener--a favorite magazine

If you are familiar with Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, the company that has done so much to make the heirloom seed movement a success, has a great new magazine that gets keeps getting better in every issue.

You might have seen their beautiful Baker Creek catalog that is filled with pretty photos and tells the story of Jere Gettle who planted his first garden at age 3 and printed his first seed catalog at 17. His company has grown until he now lists 1,300 plants and you can request his catalog by visiting his website

He and his attractive family now offer the magazine, pictured above that is filled with great gardening advice, recipes, rare seed info, gardener profiles and more. It just gets better with each issue and I can't wait to get through this one because it is packed with useful information.

I can't wait to see the tips for growing early tomatoes and for re-evaluating my vegetable gardening. This is a must read and would make a good gift for any vegetable gardener.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Crossroads Garden Club Meets Tonight

Tonight is the November meeting of Crossroads Garden Club.

Our speakers will be Mike Christie and Charlotte Nelson.

Mike's topics are "Growing Tropical Plants in Georgia" and "How to Draw More Hummingbirds to Your Garden." He also will give us an update on New Leaf.

Charlotte will talk about "Birdhouses" and will demonstrate "How to Make Suet."

Come with questions because these two have the answers. Meeting time is 7:00 pm at 3072 Highway 152, Newnan in our regular Old Barn building and there will be prizes and refreshments. Everyone is welcome.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Making our own rum cake

My husband and I just returned from a very nice cruise to the Caribbean and the first order of business for us was to make a rum cake to celebrate our return.

A number of years ago, we took a trip to the Cayman Islands and while there were introduced to Tortuga Rum cakes. We brought back a few for gifts and thought we would find rum cakes on the other islands we toured during this most recent trip, but no cakes--just plenty of rum.

When we were on St. Thomas and St. Kitts, part of our sight-seeing tours took up to rum distilleries and I decided that though I don't use rum for any other reason, I would love to try my hand at making a rum cake like those from the Caymans. We bought some Brinley Shipwreck Gold vanilla-flavored rum in St. Kitts from for under $20 and since the only cakes available in the ship's store were were selling for around $33 each, we felt making our own cake would be a great bargain.


There are tons of recipes online for rum cake and one I found for the very famous Tortuga cake, one of the best at Most of them are the same. I did purchase a box of vanilla instant pudding to make the cake and I used buttermilk, rather than whole milk and omitted the nuts, but the cake was very good--and very much like the rum cake we remembered. We have left-over spiced rum to make a few more cakes and I think they would work well for family gifts--maybe at Christmas.

I do need a bundt pan. I don't know why I never purchased one but it would make a prettier cake than my regular tube pan makes. I don't think the cake will make us tipsy, though the flavor of the glaze can be kind of strong and I am not planning to consume large amounts. The conventional wisdom is that the alcohol evaporates when heated. I'm not really sure about this but I know that I don't need the extra sugar, butter--or the alcohol after my vacation.

I do know that the cake is very good and we are really enjoying our last taste from our amazing trip.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Decorating with "Turkey Day" Cupcakes

Here is an idea from a couple of years ago but still one everyone loves for Thanksgiving.

Make the cupcakes any flavor you like--a mix works fine. The decorating is the most important part of making turkey cupcakes. I used a butter cream frosting. Tint the frosting using brown food coloring.

The turkey is simple to make. Use a large icing bag--at least 16 inches and a large tip coupler with a large star tip. Make large stars all over the tops of the cupcakes.

To make the head, nose and wings. Use two or three small (or mini) vanilla wafers and trim each wafer with kitchen shears until it is the perfect oval shape. The head is one wafer and the wings are each a half-wafer. You can save the "shavings" (which is what you will have) when you trim the cookies into the perfect shape for other recipes.

The nose is a candy corn. I placed the large end of the candy corn underneath the edge of the head.

The wattle is a piece of strawberry fruit roll-up, carefully cut with kitchen shears, or a sharp knife into a large teardrop shape. It was gently laid over the "beak" and part of the face.

The eye can be drawn with a food coloring maker, or use a mini chocolate chip "pasted" on with a tiny bit of frosting.

Add two rows of candy corn in the icing for the tail feathers. Use five in the back row and then alternate with four pieces of candy corn on top.

If you don't want to make a turkey there are plenty of ways to decorate cupcakes for the season. How about tiny leaves and pumpkins on top.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

About "The Collected Tabletop"

A few weeks ago my friend and colleague Angela and I visited the beautiful Boxwoods store in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. While there she found a beautiful coffetable-sized book, The Collected Tabletop by Kathryn Crisp Greeley. Later Angela ordered the book and has mentioned several times that she really liked it.

Later, she graciously let me look through it and at first glance I thought it was pretty and the more I looked, the more I understood how Angela felt about the book.

Greeley is a decorator who often entertains and has spent a great amount of time and energy collecting some very beautiful dishes she uses for entertaining. She plans parties or get together with her collections in mind and with attention to the finest detail, she entertains beautifully.

In some cases she has spent years collecting items that fit themes. With photos, she shows how her ideas are developed from the invitations to menus, recipes and beautiful table settings that I have no doubt both show off her skills and delight her guests.
At first I thought the book might be a little pretentious, but as I turned page after lovely page I started to really "get" her message and though I doubtless will never have a martini party, wine-tasting party or Scottish Gamekeeper's Dinner. I could really see the value in her collections and I loved her beautiful decorating ideas.
I started really getting into the book with the Irish Party. My mother has some very similar dishes with green leaves surrounding each plate. Those were always my favorite dishes growing up. My mom's dishes are not quite as formal as the ones shown here, but I do love the look.

I really could picture the "High on the Hog Bar-B-Que" where she gave a thank you party for one of her friends' contractor and crew, working on their house. The party was given in the unfinished house and proved you could provide beauty and elegance when the gathering was just about anywhere.

I really loved that one and it has given me some really great ideas for my Thanksgiving meal. I really love the idea of using burlap.

Another thing I really loved was the "Fall for Football" menu. I am always looking for great tailgating ideas and she comes up with some grand ideas. I don't know if I will ever make a 'Smores Brulee but I think the idea fits the occasion perfectly.

I also love Thanksgiving ideas since we always have a huge meal on that day and I loved the ideas there, too. Some of the recipes look very good and Greeley is obviously a very accomplished cook.

I can say her ideas are inspirational and I appreciate Angela for sharing her book with me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Keeping children entertained

My daughter sent me this photo of her son reading his homework assignment to his younger brother. I don't really know whose idea this was but I think it is brilliant! It is so hard sometimes to get the older child to do homework and keep the younger one entertained. This is a perfect solution.

Small children need to gain an appreciation for reading later. The little one might not get the story yet, but he is very interested.

It's brilliant. Enough said.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sargent Baptist Church Holiday Cookbook

I received an email that a new cookbook by the members of Sargent Baptist Church was for sale and while I like to help people raise money, I LOVE to buy church cookbooks and I love the idea behind this new one, From Our Family To Yours: Our Best Holiday Recipes from Sargent Baptist Church.

It's all about the holidays and if you have a dish you usually prepare only during Thanksgiving or Christmas, the recipe is probably in this book.

It begins with section on holiday punch recipes and finger-foods and I really love it that there are a number of cranberry punch recipes--my favorite. There are dips, soups, salads, some main dishes, breakfast foods, some vegetables and casseroles, breads and tons of candy, cakes and holiday treats.

It is like someone said let's do a cookbook so people will know how to cook for a holiday party. The recipes, inspired by the holidays are mostly easy, crowd-pleasers and I know I will try a number of recipes this holiday season.

My favorites besides the cranberry punch--several versions of Mexican dip and the charming, Magic Snowman Stew that calls for a Hershey's Kiss and Hug and has rhyming directions (Kids will love it!). I also love the Broccoli-Ramen Noodle Slaw, the breakfast casseroles and the Red Velvet Swirl Brownies. There are so many recipes for goodies that I just can't choose. I especially love the two-ingredient recipes. They would really be a time-saver in the busy days ahead.

I will admit, I just love Christmas and I think this book is great. Just "google" their church, Sargent Baptist Church in Sargent, Georgia and you can find their phone number to call someone who will sell you a book. All proceeds go to missions.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Thanks to those who served

Our country has a long history of pride in honoring those who fought and those who died in service to our country--which is really in service to us. All across the nation there will be ceremonies over the weekend that honor our veterans. We still have brave men who go to war and though the weapons may have changed, men still are serving in harms way. Today we honor those brave servicemen and women and their families. Your sacrifice is great and we continue to appreciate you. May we never forget the sacrifice and the freedoms you protect.

Above the flag at half-staff over Guantanamo Bay.

Civil War veterans at a ceremony in Ortonville, Minnesota in 1880.

A World War I poster from the Red Cross asking for help for returning disabled veterans on November 11, 1921.

A poster asking for help with veterans of World War II.

A poster from 1998's Veteran's Day with medals given to men who served in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and Southeast Asia.

Photos are from Wiki Commons.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thrifty Gardening

I was surprised the other day when I came in to work because this book was sitting on my chair with a note. "Want this?" The book was from Angela McRae and if she had been there my answer of course, would have been, "Of course!!"

As I began thumbing through the pages covered with tips I was even happier that Angela thought I might like this book, after all, I am all about thrift and I really love gardens. The book doesn't start with thrift, Thrifty Gardening From the Ground Up, by Marjorie Harris begins with a woman who loves to garden and realizes that her love for gardening can be very expensive. She then writes a book that marries a garden-lover with a love of a frugal lifestyle.

According to Harris, you can have both, but you need to plan. She then helps to combine the two with a common-sense approach to gardening for every phase of your life. Her tips begin with purchasing a house, planning a garden--not an expensive one, but one that is suitable for every lifestyle and budget.

She includes ideas for garden planning, working with garden professionals,shopping for garden needs, how to propagate plants, decorating in the garden and even downsizing a garden. She really covers so much ground and there are too many tips to mention. Two of my favorite topics are going to yard sales with the garden in mind and scrounging for a garden. I know I will follow some of those tips first!

There are no colorful and magnificent photos of plants, but there are hints and tips galore on every page. I don't think you would have to be having a hard time financially to get some helpful tips from this book, but in the economic times we live in who doesn't want to save in every way possible?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

It's very similar to Leap Year since it only comes once every four years but even though it is a little painful at times (endless commercials, flyers, robocalls), I love election day. There is always an air of anticipation--and sometimes dread, about how it will turn out. I have certainly not always voted for the best candidate but, I have a choice to change that next time and I have the right to make a choice, good or bad. I am thankful for that right.

Above and below are early voters standing in line in Coweta County.

Here are some quotes I found about voting and I hope they will make your either think or smile.

"Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don't vote." -William E Simon

"Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost." -John Quincy Adams

"Anything important is never left to the vote of the people. We only get to vote on some man; we never get to vote on what he is to do." -Will Rogers

"The ballot is stronger than bullets." -Joseph A. Schumpeter

"If you have been voting for politicians who promise to give you goodies at someone else's expense, then you have no right to complain when they take your money and give it to someone else, including themselves" -Thomas Sowell

Monday, November 5, 2012

An All Saints Day birthday

My sister was born on All Saints Day which is the day following Halloween. My mother always said that the witches dropped her by and I don't think this is true at all. I think she is just as sweet as she can be and being born on what I have heard described as the holiest day of the year, suits her perfectly. We almost always have a birthday dinner to celebrate.

When I asked my sister what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday, she asked if I could make her a caramel cake. I didn't mind at all, but I had only ever made one caramel cake and it was only okay. That recipe was for a browned butter caramel icing and instead of browned, my cake icing was slightly burned and also turned out to be grainy. For this one, I used a different recipe. I don't think browning sugar is on my list of skills.

I made the cake first, by my normal yellow cake recipe but separated the batter into three layers, rather than two.

After the cake was done, I made the icing which is basically the same technique as making candy. I put all the ingredients into a pan and while stirring, let it cook until it reached 238 degrees or a soft ball stage.

I then took a hand mixer and mixed it until it was "less glossy" but really I only saw that it was a bit stiffer. I could not see that it was less glossy.

You do have to work a bit harder with the frosting which pours easily until it cools and then it kind of forms a shell.

My sister loved it and that was my goal. Here are the recipes.

Basic Yellow Cake

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
3-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring

Add butter and sugar in a bowl and mix on medium until combined. Add remaining ingredients and beat until smooth. Divide batter into 2 or 3 9-inch cake pans sprayed with cooking spray and lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees until centers are firm and the cake begins to separate from the edges. It will take 15 to 18 minutes for three layers and 20 to 25 minutes for 2 layers. Allow to cool before frosting.

Caramel Icing

3 cups light brown sugar, packed
1-1/2 cup evaporated milk (or cream)
1-1/2 sticks butter
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
A pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla flavoring

Add all ingredients to a large, heavy saucepan and stir constantly until it reaches a soft ball stage, 238 degrees. Remove from heat and beat with a hand mixer until it cools a bit and icing is a bit thicker. Put first layer on serving plate and carefully ladle frosting onto cake. Be careful not to let it run off the sides. Working quickly with a spatula, spread and icing that drips down onto the sides of the layer. Add the next layer(s) and pour more on the top and carefully spread on the sides. It may be necessary to use warm water to dip the spatula in to help in spreading the icing. If the icing hardens too quickly it may be necessary to put the pan back on the burner, on low, until the icing becomes softer and easier to spread. If icing is allowed to cool it will be very difficult to spread onto the cake.

Decorator Frosting

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 pound confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
Milk (add by tablespoons until it is the proper consistency)
Food coloring, optional

In mixer bowl, add butter and beat until it is smooth. Add confectioner's sugar and vanilla. Beat mixture slowly and add milk by tablespoonfuls until it is the consistency of decorator's frosting. Fill a decorator bag with frosting and use to decorate the cake. Be sure the caramel icing is firm before decorating.

Friday, November 2, 2012

More Halloween Fun

I hounded my daughter until she sent me these photos of their Halloween fun. While there was plenty of fun, it was hard to get three kids ready instead of two. She always seems to manage it though.

Eli was Frankenstein, Noah was Batman and Isaiah was a tiger, though I think the theme could have been Monsters meet Batman. Eli got into the part by watching "Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein." He played his part well. Noah loved taking on a secret identity and Isaiah really didn't care what he was wearing. They all had fun and I love sharing the photos.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Gluten-free mushroom soup from Progresso

I was in the grocery store buying my favorite canned soup (Progresso lentil) when I discovered something that really surprised me. Progresso has a mushroom soup that is gluten free. I thought it was really exciting news for celiacs and those on gluten-free diets. I haven't tried it yet, but I did buy a couple of cans and plan on trying it (though I am not a lover of most canned soups).

The ingredient used to thicken this mushroom soup is corn starch. It takes a bit less corn starch than flour to thicken something so I am assuming it is not a bad thing for it to include that ingredient since some are sensitive to corn products.

But in the middle of my excitement I did notice a couple of things that dampened my enthusiasm and made me really think it was good for some people--but not so much for others.

The label warns that even though it is gluten free, it does contain milk, egg and soy products. I also noticed that it contains yeast--also a problem ingredient for some people. It has a whopping thirty-seven ingredients, many of which are milk and soy by-products.

If you compare the Campbell's, it only has 18 ingredients including mushrooms  but also milk, soy and yeast but it doesn't appear to contain eggs.

I do think it is very good for anyone on a gluten-free-only diet since they can have green bean casserole, definitely an American favorite. However, for those on a more restricted diet, soups and soup starters are still a big problem.

Just a reminder--Progresso soups are not condensed, so don't add water.