Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Baking for Santa--and my family

The past few days I have been baking to get a jump on the holidays and I am having a bit of trouble keeping sneaky fingers out of the cookie jar. The goal is to cook early and freeze items to have in a couple of weeks.

I started with cookies and made some to eat and some to freeze. That went pretty well but I only was able to freeze about half of them. Then I moved on to cinnamon rolls. I baked some for the freezer and some for our new neighbors. It was a great thought, but the neighbors weren't at home and we wound up giving some to family members and then the rest of them are almost gone. Not a great start.

I know it CAN be done since my Mother did it every Christmas when we were growing up. At Christmas, an abundant supply of cookies, candies, and cakes did seem to magically appear. This was because Mother had been baking and stashing them away in the freezer and refrigerator while we were at school. We did bake a few things, but most things she prepared when we were unaware of her incredible baking that was going on while we were away. We didn't really get to sample items made for Christmas. I now think this was probably by design to make sure she didn't have to bake perpetually from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve.

Starting tomorrow, I will just have to have to take a firm stand with the goodies I am preparing. Rather than sharing them, I will have to slap away the hands from the cooling rack where the cookies are waiting to be packaged and frozen. I will say in my best "food Nazi" tone-- "No cookies for you!" before I stash them away in plastic and store them in the freezer for the next week or two.

My family will be glad I did, especially with the gluten-free cookies I am baking. There are times I realize my Mother had some cunningly ingenious ideas.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What can I get for a dollar?

A couple of days ago I went to the Dollar Store. I must admit it is one of my favorite places. Every year about this time I go there to get some cute items that include Christmas bags, a few ornaments and paper goods, Christmas cards, and to see what else they might offer. 

This year we have a new, local store that is laid out very effectively. They keep their seasonal items mostly up front and then have seasonal items in aisle displays, which keep you moving throughout the store. The exciting thing is that every item is just a dollar. Though some of the items can be cheaply made, many of the items are surprisingly nice and that is why I love shopping there.

I found some very nice bows, 3 for $1, that look really nice on my packages.

I often buy candy canes but since I could only find yellow and blue ones, I opted for these plastic ones that came in a package of 6--also $1.

I had never seen these doves before. I always have a few cardinals but the doves give the right message. Of course the cost is $1.

I also like to add some silk poinsettias to my tree and these were in bunches of five. I don't know if they are a better value than those at the craft store and were a bit small but I was there, so I picked up a few and had 15 little ornaments for my tree.

I also purchased Christmas cards which are a major bargain. Each package of 15 or more are just $1 and a package of money holders, $1 for 8.

I do realize that most things sold there are made in China but that is true for most discount stores. I don't usually buy foods there, though they do stock packaged and frozen foods. My problem with the food is that there is less in each package than in the grocery stores. It might pay you to shop there if you figured out the price per item, but I think some items were about the same a grocery prices and I have concerns about the freshness.

Good items to buy: Reading glasses, table covers and party supplies, small cheap toys and puzzles, buckets, cleaning supplies and tools, foil cooking pans, cooking utensils, sometimes craft items, little baskets for giveaways, inexpensive Christmas stockings and cute stocking stuffers.

Go there. I think you will like it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Smoothies--a holiday indulgence

Around this time of year I try very hard to eat a little better so that I don't have to lose quite so much weight in the New Year. It is a constant struggle but the thing is making choices that are healthy.

One of the choices we make is to exercise and then have a green smoothie instead of breakfast. Below is one of our favorite recipes.

Does it help? I can't really say. I usually lose focus a couple of times during the holiday season but it makes me feel better to at least try. The smoothies are good, too--so good we are talking about making it a habit year-round. We think of it as an indulgence that tastes good and is good for us, too.

Veggie–Berry Smoothie 

This is our favorite smoothie recipe. It has a little bit of everything and is very tasty. 

1/2 banana 1/2 apple, cored 1/2 orange, remove orange outer peel by thinly peeling, leaving the white pith and the seeds 1 cup raw kale 1/2 carrot 1/4 cup frozen blueberries 3 to 4 frozen strawberries 4 ice cubes 1/2 cup water Add all ingredients to a high-powered blender. Use the tamper tool to push down ingredients into the blade. Blend until smooth and pour into a glass using a silicone spatula. You will need to use a straw with this smoothie to get all of the nutritious and yummy goodness from the bottom of the glass.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Turkey Casserole with Cheesy Biscuit Topping

Our family had such a nice Thanksgiving but, I am one of those cooks who probably overestimated how much my family would need on Thanksgiving, and the day after, and the next day, and ...

You get the idea! I had too many leftovers.

We were all a bit tired of heating up leftovers with food that was way too heavy. I decided to make a casserole that was a bit lighter with my leftovers, plus it needed to be gluten-free. I had seen those casseroles for leftover turkey with cheese biscuits cooked on top and I decided I could make a good gf version that could be a crowd pleaser, if I used that model.

The leftovers I wanted to incorporate: turkey, gravy, cream-style corn. The things I decided to add: chopped carrots, celery, onions, parsley and of course some lower-fat cheese biscuits for the topping.

And the result was a great casserole that smelled delicious and one that everyone really enjoyed. It was kind of like we had it for the first time rather than a recycled meal.

I even had enough to share with my Mom. We made it a Happy after Thanksgiving Non Warmed-Over Casserole that lifted our spirits. You ought to try it.

Here's my recipe. Mine is gluten-free. Of course this would be good if self-rising wheat flour were used, too,

Turkey Casserole with Cheesy Biscuit Topping

4-5 cups pre-cooked chopped turkey
3 small carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 onion (about 1/4 cup), chopped
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 to 1/2 cups creamed corn
1-1/2 cup gravy (or substitute 1 can of broth with 1 tablespoon corn starch stirred in)
Biscuit topping (recipe below)

In a large greased casserole dish layer turkey, carrots, celery, onion, and parsley. Mix together the corn and gravy (or broth mixture) and pour over the top of the ingredients in the casserole dish. Top with Biscuit Topping and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until topping is nice and browned. To serve: dish out biscuit and turn over, then spoon filling over the top of the biscuit.

Biscuit Topping
1/2 cup sweet (glutinous) rice flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup potato starch
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1-1/4 cups buttermilk (more if needed)

 Mix together rice flour, sorghum flour, potato starch, cornstarch, baking powder, xanthan gum, and garlic salt. Mix in small pieces of butter with a pastry knife. Mix in cheese. Pour buttermilk into mixture and stir until well mixed. Mixture will be thinner than regular biscuit batter. Spoon on top of the Turkey Casserole and bake as directed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A few easy changes can make cheesecake gluten-free

A few weeks ago I made a very tasty cheesecake that was completely gluten-free.

You might never have considered it, but cheesecake can easily be a special dessert for a person who can't eat gluten--with a few adjustments, that is.

My "foolproof" recipe--the one that doesn't crack and looks pretty calls for 1/4 cup of wheat flour for which I substitute cornstarch. It firms up the cake and makes it much more stable, avoiding those unsightly cracks that can ruin a cheesecake.

For the crust, use gluten-free graham crackers, if you can find them. Another good choice would be crumbling gluten-free cookies and adding about a quarter cup of almond mill and a couple of tablespoons of butter, then bake it.

For my crust, I made some gluten-free vanilla cookes and added crushed almonds and pecans and the butter. It was nice to have a fancy cake that wasn't hard to make at all. With the holiday season almost here, this is a good choice for a very tasty gluten-free alternative that doesn't feel like an alternative.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Making my own tea

Some time ago I purchased my own tea plant, Camellia sinensis from Southern Roots Nursery. I planted my plant with as much care as I knew how, and just before the first frost I made my own cup of tea! I didn't want to waste the handful of small shoots my tree had put out and, of course I was curious. I wondered if my little camellia bush would produce tea.

I don't have any cookbooks that feature recipes on tea growing but I did find some internet guides. Many may realize that tea doesn't come from the tea tree (melaleuca), which can be toxic if ingested in large quantities, but can good for the skin. Black, green and white tea are all made from the Camellia sinensis plant using different processes.

I chose to make green tea since black tea has to be fermented and I didn't think I was up to that. I do like green tea and it seemed easier. The process: Snip off the new shoots and microwave until the shoots become "juicy." Roll in cheesecloth until dry and then heat in a dry skillet for several minutes. Squeeze and repeat this two more times or until the leaves become very dry. Then you have tea.

The handful of leaves that I "harvested" only made one very small pot of tea--enough to make about two cups. I thought the flavor was very much like the green tea I have had in the past and I was kind of impressed with the simplicity of it all. I really like my green tea and hope to make more next year.

The Camellia sinensis is not as showy as the beautiful camellia bushes we are familiar with, here in the south. It is kind of small, with slightly smaller leaves and the blooms are single and small. The leaves are deep green and with the same shiny appearance as other camellias. Actually the bush is kind of small. It is filling out a little and is certainly doing well but this variety is not exceptional for it's blossoms.

I do have seeds that I have harvested from my bush and was kind of surprised when I found them because I read they didn't produce seed until the third year. I am hoping to use them to grow more plants to plant in other places in my landscape. Then I can have my own mini-tea plantation.

I will admit I have purchased Camellia sinensis plants before and wasn't able to sprout the seeds. I hope I will have more success from my own seeds.

I think it's a good start and can't wait to have more tea next year. Maybe more than a pot!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My new teapot

This past weekend I hit a few yard sales in my neighborhood and I picked up this wonderful Bodum Assam Teapot. I love teapots, especially French press teapots and I really love this one.

To me there is nothing like a nice cup of strong black tea with cream and sugar and I wasted no time in washing my new pot and brewing a cup. I wasn't sure this pot was ever used. It was in the box and it looked brand new. I will say I would recommend this pot and brewing system to anyone.

The main reason. There were absolutely no dregs in the pot or in my cup. It was an absolutely perfect filtering system, and I will use it over and over. I have never had such an effective filter for a pot. Also, it was perfect timing because I drink more hot tea in the cooler months and this weekend, the weather was kind of dreary and perfect for tea.

The price? I paid $2--the best investment I have made in a while.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Brussels sprouts

My daughter wrote this about Brussels sprouts and I think it was worth repeating:

I love this little vegetable. When I was a kid, I only liked them because they looked like tiny cabbages, but now I love them for their flavor. 

Usually I stir fry them in olive oil with a little onion and sea salt, but recently I saw  the following status posted on Facebook by my cousin, "Lemme tell you - If you've never had roasted Brussels sprouts, you're doing Brussels sprouts a disservice."

He had me at "roasted."

I love roasted veggies!! Maybe it's for the wonderful taste, or maybe it's because all you have to do is stick them in the oven (or maybe it's a combination of taste *and* laziness), but it's my favorite way to cook them.

His instructions were, "cut then in half, then toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 400 until they blacken."

As you can see, I went with partially blackened because I was worried the kiddos would be put off by them if they were too dark (hey, when your two-year-old eats brussel sprouts, you do what you must not to put him off).

I needn't have bothered. We all stood around the pan picking out the blackest ones. So wait till they all look like this one:


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tailgating with salads

One of my favorite things about fall is tailgating. The excited atmosphere of a crowd gathered to cheer on its favorite team is the perfect pairing to fun, delicious foods. In order to do something a little different - and maybe a little healthier - my mom came up with the idea of individual taco salad cups. It was a big hit!

They turned out quite pretty in clear, plastic cups with their layers topped with tomatoes and a sprig of cilantro.

We layered brown rice flavored with taco seasoning, black beans, chopped green leaf lettuce, chopped scallions, chopped red pepper, grilled chicken cut into small cubes, shredded cheese (use Daiya cheese to make this dairy-free as well), and the garnish mentioned above.

We also added plenty of sides to add-on. Tortilla chips, chopped avocado, guacamole, chopped jalapenos, salsa, and sour cream.

We also had a corn relish with black beans, onions, and peppers of which I didn't manage a picture (I was quite remiss in my picture-taking. I blame it on pre-game jitters). 

Then for desert we had S'mores bars, and you can find the recipe here.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Super Fall Plant Sale

It's almost time for fall planting and I can tell you where you can get some top-notch plants that will add the perfect touch to your garden for a fair price, at the perfect planting time.

Just go to the Coweta Extension Greenhouse on Pine Road on Saturday, October 4 and you will find some beautiful trees, shrubs, and plants for your home landscape. These plants have been lovingly planted, watered, and tended by the Coweta Master Gardeners (MGEVs) for this occasion.

Most of the plants have been donated to them by beautiful garden owners all around the county. The Master Gardeners planted them and have lovingly tended them all summer long. I asked one of the tenders how long it takes to water the garden and they said at least three hours. That is true dedication!

I can't begin to list all of the plants that will be available, but they have quite a few Japanese Maples and other nice trees and shrubs. They have both dug plants from gardens and have propagated plants and they will be ready on October 4 to sell you just what you need.

Fall is a great time to plant shrubs, trees and perennials because they will get a great start before cold weather since the rain is usually plentiful at this and their root systems will be well established for winter and spring.

Several great benefits about buying from the MGEVs is that the plants will be very healthy and have been lovingly cared for since being potted. The MGEVs will be able to give you guidance about where in your landscape your new plant should be planted and how to care for your plant. You can also feel good about knowing that the proceeds will go towards scholarships for Coweta graduates.

You can't say any of those things about plants at the big box stores! You will also know that these plants will do well in this area.

I can't wait to get my fall plants. I would LOVE to get a hydrangea. I know they have some but I don't know what kind or how many.

Some advice--get there early. There is usually a line to get in and the best plants (usually the shrubs and trees) will go fast!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Making Pear Preserves

One thing we always loved about summer when growing up in the South, was that you could count on getting plenty of pear preserves when the dog days of summer came along. They were so good!

My mother would peel the pears, cut them in slices and top them with mounds of sugar and let them sit overnight until the pears were watery and the sugar had "melted." Mother would then pour the whole lot into an 8 quart stock pan and let it cook for at least a couple of hours until the pears had reached the perfect golden color. That meant the preserves were ready to can. It also meant that we needed to make buttered biscuits, since the perfect way to serve these preserves is inside a light and fluffy buttermilk biscuit, liberally spread with butter.

I really loved the variety of the pears we used for making preserves. They are not the usual variety we see in the store, but a hard rounder pear that begins green and turns golden when ripe. They were very watery and sweet. They are perfect for canning and of course, preserves.

I believe the old-fashioned pear might be called the Orient pear, Pyrus communis. I am not sure of this, though it does fit the description of these pears. They are somewhat like Asian pears, not quite so round and they are such good producers and not subject to Fire Blight.

The texture is not as good as a Bartlett pear and can be rock hard and even somewhat grainy. When ripe they are a golden brown and will become softer and they ripen but they will remain criper than most pears. They aren't easy to peel and sometimes have hard places in them that I suspect could be insect damage. I always cut that out.

Growing up, we didn't actually have a pear tree in our backyard. We did have a couple of apple trees, including a crab apple tree that was also good for climbing; a peach tree that never produced anything; a wonderful pomegranate tree that was a good producer; and a persimmon tree that, when eaten prematurely, could actually make you pucker. I don't know why we didn't have a pear tree, but it might have been because my grandmother had one so we didn't need one, but that is where we got our pears.

My mother-in-law has a pear tree that is around 50 years old and is about 40 feet tall. I can remember that in years past, the tree limbs would be so heavy with pears that they would almost touch the ground. The tree is now so tall that we can't get all the fruit unless it falls to the ground. This was a good year for that tree because we have made quite a few jars of pear preserves and pear sauce.

To make my Mother's recipe, peel, core and thinly slice enough Orient pears to fill a heavy 8 quart stock pan. Cover with approximately three pounds of sugar. (You don't have to be exact for this to be good.) Lighter pans can tend to stick on the bottom. Cook on medium heat for two to three hours, uncovered. After that, you need to fill approximately 8 pint jars with the mixture, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Clean off the jar rims. Add new lids and rings to the jars and process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. If you have any leftover preserves, store them in the refrigerator. You might have excess juice left, which is very good on pancakes or can be used as a simple syrup in teas or anytime simple syrup is recommended.

While you are waiting for the jars to cool, make some biscuits, because you will certainly need them.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What a surprise!

Though these lilies are sometimes called surprise lilies, they shouldn't be such a surprise to me since they have been blooming each year, in August, in the middle of my lily bed. They put on a better show than my white lilies that grow all around them.

Their common name is Spider Lily or Lycoris radiata and apparently, their thin green leaves make a showing in the spring, then die down and in August, they shoot up from the ground putting on a display I am always excited about.

At some point, someone either planted the bulbs, were mixed with the lilies already planted, or my favorite, some ingenious bird found a great spot to drop a "deposit" that contained something that became a Spider Lily.

I only know that I didn't plant them--yet I am thankful for them each year. Nothing else is blooming at this time of year so they are a very welcome sight.

They seem to appear, like a magic show, every year.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Research and Education Garden

A little more than a week ago I visited the Education and Research Gardens in Griffin, Ga. It was a beautiful day and I saw some inspirational sights, including this grasshopper on a red leaf.

The great thing about the gardens is that they are open to the public and were built by donations and though they have a very experienced horticulturist on staff, much of the labor is provided by volunteers.

They are learning areas, where you can learn to do what they do in your own landscape. Almost every kind of garden area you can imagine is included. There are pergolas, a shade, butterfly, water, rock, and container gardens. It is quite spectacular and I know I will have to go back just to get more inspiration. They also have experimental gardens you can walk through and I was fascinated by everything there.

Events are scheduled throughout the year and I can tell you this is one of those places a gardener would love to visit. In fact, you are invited anytime they are open.

Check them out at and go there for a real treat. My photo of the green grasshopper on a red leaf is pitiful compared to what you can see when you visit.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

It's time for Apple Pie!!!

This is the time of year to go out into your backyard and pick apples. The only problem is that I don't have an apple tree. I keep thinking every fall that I will plant one, but so far I haven't gone to Ison's Nursery, (a great nursery in our area that specializes in fruit trees) to buy one. Thankfully, I have a good friend, Angela McRae, who gave me some really great apples from her father's apple tree.

These apples were so good that I knew they would make a GREAT apple pie--like my Mother's apple pies during my childhood years. My husband thought so too, and they is why he volunteered to peel the apples for me while I mixed up a crust. (That is pretty amazing.)

As I pulled out all the ingredients I thought I would just make it from scratch like my Mother did and to make it easy, I didn't measure very much or look in a cookbook, but did the following:

My Pie Crust

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, cold
Ice water

I mixed the flour and salt into a bowl. Cut up my cold butter in my flour mixture and drizzled on the honey. I then took a pastry blender and mixed in the butter, then added ice water in small amounts until it formed a dough ball. I wasn't too fussy about it and left some butter flecks I could see. I then rolled it out on some waxed paper sprinkled with flour. The bottom crust takes a little more dough. I put the bottom crust in the pie plate, then added the fruit filling. I rolled out the top crust, placed it on the top. Pressed the edges down into the bottom crust with a fork and then cut some slits into the top.

Here is my filling:

Apple Pie Filling

8 medium apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 tablespoons corn starch
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 stick of butter

In a bowl mix the apples, corn starch, and sugar. Pour into an unbaked pie crust. Dot the top with the butter. Cook on 375 degrees for 1 hour.

We always have it with ice cream or whipped cream.

Some people add cinnamon but I didn't want that for this pie. Because of the great apple, it tasted like the apples from the tree in our backyard. Perfect!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Pear sauce

We've been busy on a number of things this past weekend. One of them has been canning pear sauce. It's very much like applesauce but made with stewed pears.

My husband's mom has a huge backyard pear tree that he figures has been around for half a century. This antique tree that is at least thirty feet tall was filled with pears. In fact, we only picked up pears that had fallen on the ground. We canned a gallon of pear sauce and about the same amount of pear preserves.

Why pear sauce? It is tasty and sometimes easier on your stomach than applesauce. It is surprisingly smooth and flavorful and very good with a little honey added and good as a low-fat topping for oatmeal. It is good for babies and also older people who might have compromised digestion.

It is VERY easy to make. Just peel the pears. Cut them up into a large saucepan. Don't add water. Pears contain SO much water, and are more flavorful if cooked in their own juice. Just start them on low and let them slowly come to a boil. The pears will be covered in liquid in no time.

After they become soft, remove from the heat, allow to cool and strain out most of the water. Grind the pears in a blender or a food processor. The excess juice can be saved, too, for smoothies or other things.

Pear sauce can be canned or frozen. To can, just pour into clean jars, clean the tops of the jars and put on new lids and rings, tighten and out then in a bit water bath for 20 minutes. Carefully remove from pan and allow to cool. That's about it, but pear sauce is quite good as a low-cal treat with just a drizzle of honey.

Pears may not be an interesting and fun topic but it is great to know you have a gallon of pear sauce sitting on your shelf waiting to be used and it's fairly easy to make--good for you, too,

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Seed Sale!!

This is the time of year to get bargains for summer sale items, especially clothing. I usually try to stock up on things that go on sale in August, but this year I'm stocking up on a something different.


I just LOVE seeds, and I have found that if you buy at the end of the season, the seeds still sprout and grow really well the next spring. After that, they probably won't sprout quite as well. That is why buying this year's seeds at the end of summer is such a bargain. I have used packs of two year old seeds that worked too, but I wouldn't recommend banking on the germination rate of seeds that have been kept that long.

You can get bargains almost anyplace that sells seeds, but I bought my bargain seeds from a reputable business, Arnall's Grocery in downtown Newnan, Ga. I have always used their seeds with good results and I think I am way ahead of the game this spring. I will already have enough seeds to give me a good head start 4 to 6 weeks before spring planting time.

Some of the seeds I will use right away. The lettuce, radishes, carrots, and cabbage I will use for my fall planting. I also purchased some spinach and beet seeds, but I didn't get a deal on those because the good folks there know they can be grown in the fall.

And, if you were in Arnall's yesterday, I was the crazy lady down on her knees digging through the basket and bucket of sale seeds. It was worth it, because rather than spending more than forty dollars, I only spent eight dollars.

As I dusted off my knees and paid for my seeds I was certainly happy because I now have the knowledge that I have most of my fall seeds (at a bargain) and also many of my spring seeds (again, a bargain). For now, I am prepared--a nice change from my usual practice of waiting till the last minute.

Friday, July 25, 2014

My long-longed-for plant

I have wanted a tea plant for more than five years and I am delighted that I now have one planted in my front yard. I have checked on it every day I was here, expect for the days I have been on vacation. Every time I examine it (for signs of bugs, or disease, or anything) I am so happy that I finally have the plant I have wanted for so long.

It's about waist high and I am excited that it is doing so well. I have struggled to have a plant like this, buying seeds online and even trying to propagate one, TWICE, from springs I received from my friend Angela McRae who owned one already but now has two since she purchased one at at the same time.

It took a new business in town, Southern Roots on Hwy 29 in Newnan and a visit to our Crossroads Garden Club by the owner, Bob Lott, to finally find what I had been looking for so long. Lott and his wife Sherry opened the business last year after retiring, and he specializes in southern plants and plants that do well in our area of the south.

As Lott was speaking about his plants, he mentioned that as far as he knew, he was the only person in the area that had a "tea plant." I haven't seen one for sale locally and had only seen the tea plant or Camellia sinensis at Hills and Dales estate in Lagrange. I had even asked if they could propagate one for me but even though they were gracious enough to take my name, they never contacted me. I guess they had too much work on that large estate, to worry about selling one plant, and I understand that.

The Camellia sinensis originated from China and is grown and exported from many Asian countries. Some tea plantations have their own varieties though all tea comes from the same Camellia sinensis plant. I would imagine that soils might make a difference in the flavor variations, but that is not a scientific supposition, just an opinion of mine because of what I have read. I do know that my favorite black tea comes from the Assam region of India.

The largest tea grower in the United States is located in Charleston, South Carolina, though there are smaller growers in the states of Washington, Alabama, and Hawaii. I don't know if my "tea plant" originated from one of these places but I would guess Alabama or South Carolina. I wish in this case that plants could come with papers to let us know their origin, but they usually don't.

An interesting fact about tea is that black, green, and white tea all come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, but are processed differently.

Do I plan on making my own tea from my tea leaves? Of course I do. Apparently, springs from a Camellia sinensis should only be harvested when the plant is three years old. I don't know exactly how old my plant is, but it already has seeds should make it old enough for harvesting.

I know that even though I love tea, I have no experience as a taster and might not be able to tell the difference between old leaves and new but I am sure that I will soon be able to harvest. I certainly don't want my tea plant to grow too tall. I have read they get up to 16 feet if not trimmed (or plucked).

I do know that the Camellia sinensis is an acid loving plant and needs plenty of rainfall to produce leaves for tea production so I need to monitor rainfall to make sure my plant is happy enough to produce.

I may even try to grow some plants from seed--I have at least four green ones on the plant. I would love to have my own tea hedge and harvest enough tea for my family.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Beach Morning Glory

For a number of years now, I have seen these lovely pink flowers along the coast. My husband correctly identified them as morning glories but I really didn't think so because of the foliage. 

When I did decide to look it up I found they were indeed beach morning glories.

According to Ralph Mitchell is, Extension Director/Horticulture Agent for Charlotte County UF/IFAS Extension Service it is a beach or railroad morning glory that is used to help prevent beach erosion.

I think it also adds enjoyment to my walks along the beach. I am glad to know what these flowers are and my husband is happy to know he was right.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Happy GF Beach Birthday

We always have a birthday party at the beach since my husband birthday falls smack in the middle of July.

It creates a unique problem because there are no gluten-free bakeries where we vacation. Also, I don't think a homemade cake could withstand the trip.

Last year we decided to bake the cake and frost it after getting here.

This year we made our own mix. We put all the dry ingredients in a baggie and on the day of the birthday, just mixed them together and put the cake in the oven. (Purchasing a mix would work, too.)

There were no serving platters at this condo so the cake was baked in a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish. It turned out perfectly, needed less frosting, and was just all-around easier.

It would be better to premix the frosting, if possible. We used a white frosting we made here, and brought pre-made chocolate frosting to decorate.

Writing the birthday greeting and adding a border and candles were the only things we had to do. The cake was pretty and delicious, and it was nice to have only one cake for our whole crowd!

A couple of tips. Hand-mixing works but bringing a hand mixer is better. And, throwing in a decorater bag and tips also helps. It will make the cake look better and these items take up almost no room.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What happens when babies hate sand?

We have been stumped by a baby who LOVED the beach last year but can't stand even one grain of sand on hands or feet. He loves water, screams when sand is near.

Our solution is to put him in a little boat float filled with a couple if buckets of water and give him beach toys. We looked for a little pool but this float could be used as a pool and a float.

Happy toddler, happy parents, happy me. This happiness only cost me $4.27!

Monday, July 14, 2014

A healing herb

What is this lovely flower? It traditionally has been used as a healing herb. The flower petals are used in wound healing and treating skin ailments.

I started my calendulas from seed this spring and they are just now beginning to bloom. Finally!  Here is some info.

Calendula officinalis (Pot Marigold or English Garden Marigold) a member if the daisy family. A half-hardy annual or tender perennial. Good for early- and late-season color but performs badly in hot weather. Flower petals are sometimes used in medicine. 

Calendula shouldn't be confused with the marigold, Tagetes erecta (African Marigold). T. patula (French Marigold). This is a different plant altogether.

Though it is considered a tender perennial I am hopeful that I can transplant to my new herb bed this fall. I know the flower petals are edible and I think it is prettier than I expected.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Turning $5 into summer relaxation

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a nearby neighbor's yard sale and bought a couple of wicker chairs and a wicker table for just $5.

But I will be the first to admit that I didn't really know if it was a great purchase, or not. The seats were sagging, some of the wicker was barely hanging on, and they were a sorry shade of gray. They were dirty and mildewed, but as I reached in my purse to get the $5, I found myself giving a pep talk--to me. I was telling myself that if I had to take these chairs to the dump, I would only be out $5. I had wasted $5 before and this could really fill a need we had.

The back story is that during an ice storm this past winter, a large pine had fallen on our deck, destroying our entire patio set. Thankfully our deck receive only minor damage but we had nothing to sit out on in the evenings when our deck was shady. Also, we had to replace three sets of doors that open onto the deck, so our budget wouldn't stretch for a new patio set. Not this year.

That all worked together to make the very sad-looking wicker set look more attractive to me. When I got them home, my husband was skeptical that I could repair and restore the set for use at all, though $5 wasn't so much to waste. He said I was on my own in this one.

I knew I didn't want to spend too mush on restoration and I didn't even take a before photo because the set just looked too bad.

To fix it up, I bought some high tack wood glue and made some repairs with glue. I then reinforced the seat bottoms with wire. I knew that paint would most likely cover the wire and I was right. I bought some spray paint and sprayed the chairs and then added a coat of leftover white enamel exterior paint, leftover from the painting the doors. This I added with a brush.

When I was finished, I was pleased, but my husband was elated. He just couldn't believe they looked so much better.

We purchased cushions for about $10 each and we are very happy with the results. If this furniture will last until next year when we will probably be able to replace it with a new set, we will feel that the $5, plus supplies and cushions will have been worth the price and the effort.

The only chore we have left now is to paint the deck and we can have our morning coffee in our new chairs and we can also sit out while watching the grill with a glass of mint tea. It doesn't get much better or much cheaper!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Saturday at the Carnegie

Saturday was a very big event for us. We were at the Carnegie Library in downtown Newnan, Ga. presenting our story and giving tips for gluten-free baking and cooking. The photos are courtesy of Katie Brady who was an incredible hostess for this event.

We certainly appreciate the Newnan Carnegie Library Foundation and Katie Brady who invited us to speak and present our gluten-free tips, and also serve some of our baked goodies to the attendees. We had about fifty who came out on a beautiful Saturday morning to hear us speak and I must say, the audience was so attentive and encouraging. We felt we were really helping those who are struggling to provide a gluten-free lifestyle in a world that is obsessed with wheat!

They provided encouragement and also some very good tips, too. I think it is amazing how much you can learn from a group of like-minded people.

We told everyone about our story and how we came to this point--blogging, authoring a book, and trying to keep things going with busy lives, careers and families.

We showed them the flours and ingredients we use and gave them tips that included, keep positive, how to turn your mistakes into something good--like croutons from a failed bread recipe, and making a trifle from a cake that fell. We also demonstrated how mixing wasn't such a bad thing and gave away one of the mixes we created.

 After we spoke, we invited everyone to try our our goodies and the brownies were the crowd favorite. The Lemon Blueberry Cake which was my favorite, and a very close second with the crowd.

Later, we had a book signing (here I am making change from my purse!).

I can only say how welcomed we felt and appreciate so much the Newnan Carnegie Foundation, Katie Brady, Carol Zoeller, Carolyn Sears, and Anita Headley. They helped us so much. We are definitely fans of the Newnan Carnegie. Thanks so much!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Saturday, speaking at the Carnegie

We can't wait until Saturday! My daughter, Amelia and I will be there to speak at the Carnegie in Newnan, Ga., about our journey. Why we wrote a gluten-free cookbook. What we've learned and how we have grown from the experience.

I can't wait to answer questions and talk about how it is to go gluten-free in a wheat-obsessed world.

It begins at 10:30 am, and will be followed by a book signing. I hope to see you there!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Ardenne Farms giveaway.

Gluten-free mixes just aren't as good, right? They are gritty and don't taste as well, right?

(Birthday cupcakes with football baking cups. My decorating isn't quite on par with my artist mother's).

Well, you just haven't tried the right brand of mix - and I have the right brand for you to try. Ardenne Farm. Honestly, these mixes are so good that you might want to try them even if you don't eat gluten-free. You won't be able to tell the difference - and they really are THAT yummy!

I know I have spoken about these mixes before - last time I told you about the chocolate chip cookies.  And, yes, they were fabulous. This time I made the cupcakes. Oh wow! There is no better cake mix out there - gluten-free or not.
I could tell as they were coming out of the oven that they'd be great. 

Does this look gritty to you? I was told by some nice ladies with Ardenne Farm that they mill their own flours so that they are ground finely. And it was obviously true from how light and fluffy these cupcakes turned out.

And now for the giveaway! How would you like to try this delicious-looking muffin mix?

In the comments below, tell me your favorite gluten-free summertime guilty pleasure, and we will enter you in a drawing for this Ardenne Farm Cinnmon Crunch Muffin Mix so you can see for yourself how great these products taste!

We will pick the winner on Thursday at 7:00 pm and announce it on Friday,