Sunday, September 28, 2008

My Backyard Garden - Herbs!!!

I'm a virgin herbalist. In late spring, I decided I wanted to grow some garden items in containers on my patio. I've done this before and have been successful with this and that, mostly tomatoes and peppers. But this year I decided to add herbs. Herbs are kind of cool and I love to cook with fresh herbs, so it made sense, right?

Of course, I have no clue what I'm doing, so I Googled to get ideas and tips and viola! made it through the entire summer without losing a plant.

As far as vegetables I had tomatoes and green peppers and a jalapeño pepper plant. Oh...drat, I lied, because the grape tomatoes just did not do at all. I'll have to research a bit more about growing those. The tomatoes are long gone but a few peppers are still hanging on. I'll let them hang on as long as I can.

But we're here to talk about herbs, right? Right.

I started off with chives, parsley and thyme and planted them in a wooden box my dad had given me. It was an old flour box, I think, and one my grandparents had. I think they look kind of cool in that box. And I think it was also good growing in there. They seemed to do really well. Then, I went away for a week and the watering was a little sparse, so they got a bit dry...so, I decided perhaps it was time to harvest and dry some for winter.

I also have basil. Sweet basil. I love basil! Unfortunately, I didn't know what I was doing with the basil, and it flowered out before I realized it. I've heard the best basil comes before it flowers. Still, I've used it off and on. I wonder if you top basil out, pinch the flowers off early -- like you do tobacco when it's in the field -- so it gets fuller and healthier? I betcha. I didn't do that.

No, I let my basil go to seed. I'm hoping this container of basil will reseed itself. That remains to be seen. Still, I've harvested a lot of the dried seeds, so I may start some seedlings in the house over the winter.

About mid-June, I was out in Albuquerque and spied some herbs outside a small store. We stopped and my friend Sharyl and I bought one each of rosemary and lavender. Believe it or not, I carried these babies home on the plane in my purse. They survived both the plane trip and the summer. I planted them in an old coal bucket. The rosemary is thriving but suddenly the lavender is turning brown. Maybe it's supposed to do that? So, I'll cut it back and dry it out and savor the scent this winter. I think I'll bring the rosemary in over the winter, since it came from New Mexico and all. I'm sure it will not like our Kentucky winter.


I also have mint and lemon balm. I brought the mint back from Ohio in early summer. There is a bunch of it around the pond on my parents' farm. Dad dug a shovel full, complete with pond scummy soil, and I carried them back to Kentucky in a bucket. I believe that mound of pond soil helped them really take off in this Kentucky clay. See?

















I also planted lemon balm around the tree out back. Of course, it's taking over. I didn't cut either of the mints back or try to harvest because, well, they are growing nicely and I may have to thin them out later. Or not. Another day, another story.

So, this morning after the dew was off, I cut back most of my herbs, brought them inside and washed and laid them out to dry on a towel, and Googled some more about how to preserve them. The thyme and rosemary and lavender, I learned might do best tied in a bunch and hung upside down to dry, then remove the leaves and store. The basil, parsley and chives, do better being frozen.

So, I tried that. Here they are in their little cubes. They say you can plop those cubes in a baggie and take out and put in your dish when cooking. Sounds like a good idea to me.

So that's my herb story for the day. I guess this winter we'll see how the frozen and the dried herbs, do. Then next summer, I'll be ready.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sandford's in Rapid City, South Dakota

I had a great salad in Rapid City before heading home yesterday. This BBQ Chicken Salad was so huge that it needed a huge fork to go with it! Strips of barbecued chicken on a bed of greens with hard boiled eggs, walnuts, blue cheese crumbles and toasted crouton strips rounded out the salad. Blue cheese dressing was an added touch. The BBQ sauce was not too spicy but sweet and good. It was a great lunch time choice but I left way too much behind on my plate!

My friends made choices of the bourbon chicken wings -- not overly bourboned, they said, but a nice sweet brown glaze tickled their palates. The both chose the friend green tomatoes with their wings and offered me a sample. Nice and crispy with the addition of a little Cajun spice for a kick, I believe.

While you are waiting for your entres, or for your friends to finish up their generous portions from the lunch menu, you'll find lots of things to catch your eye. For example, a wall full of old South Dakota license plates or hubcaps. From our table we had a view looking up Marilyn Monroe's dress, or we could tickle the toes of a mannequin whose lets were hanging over the end of our table from above. Quite the colorful place, as you can see.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Red Cabbage Recipe?

While flying out to Rapid City, South Dakota the other day, I noticed my seat mate was reading a historical romance novel. I commented on her book by Stephanie Laurens (The Edge of Desire) and told her I also wrote romance novels. So, this started a conversation and we talked books for a while but in the end, we talked more about food.

I mentioned the cookbook I was working on, too, Family Stories, Family Recipes, and she quickly rattled off a couple of her family favorites.

One was for a red cabbage dish that her mother, or was it her grandmother?, who was from Sweden, used to make. It was pretty simple, she said. Just cut up the cabbage and cook it in a big Dutch oven with butter and brown sugar. She didn't know the proportions, it was just one of those things you knew...you know? The cabbage should caramelize and be almost crisp. Green cabbage won't do, only red. Some people in her family liked it and others didn't. It sounds yummy to me and I can't wait to try it out.

Anyone out there ever cooked red cabbage like this?

She also talked about a dish her daughter recently made by sauteing up onions in olive oil and seasoning with sweet paprika. Short and sweet and simple. Sounds interesting, too.

Let me know if you've made anything close to either of these. I'll do some experimenting and googling to see what I can find, too.

On my way back home later today from my work in South Dakota. I'm looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight and just being home to piddle in my kitchen.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ahhhhhh... Boots.

This picture just about says it all. Can you hear that big sigh behind the camera. Well, it was there.


Sigh.

I love boots. Correction, I love cowboy boots! I would wear them all summer if I could get away with it. I have a pair I bought a couple of years ago and they are my utlimate, go-to winter shoe, particularly with jeans.

See? Here are my boots when they were brand spanking new.

Can't you tell? I bought them while on a work trip. They are definitely sitting on a hotel table. In fact, I bought them in Valentine, Nebraska at Young's Western Warehouse. I visit there about once a year when I work at one of the nearby schools. These are the boots of my heart. I love the style, the snub-point of the toe, and the heel. Love them. After two years, they fit my feet like gloves and I can slip them off and on my feet in no time while running through airport security checkpoint. Seriously, I can do it. And I do it often.

And do you think my boots get noticed. Um. Yes. They do. And do I like it. Well.... (smile) it IS kind of fun when people talk about them.

So, you see, I love these boots so much that today, I had no intention of buying another pair. None whatsoever. But I just happen to be working in Valentine again this week and across the street from the favorite restaurant is...you guessed it...Young's Western Warehouse.

I swear, I had no intention of buying boots. Nada. None.

But then this happened.

There they were. Front and center on the sale table, first thing I saw as I entered Youngs. Right there. Waiting. The favorite toe. The right heel. And my size. The only pair left. And black. I'd wanted a black pair. And red. How can one pass up red? And...won't these look great with my black jeans? Oh, and the price? Hm, let's just say I saved $100.00.

A deal? You betcha. Those babies were just sitting there waiting on me.

After all, I only get to Valentine once a year.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Iron Cupcake -- Basil!

I've recently discovered a new project venue. It's a fun little project that quickly could become all consuming. I know, that's dangerous, right? I learned about it from a co-worker whose daughter had participated in this contest last month. The name intrigued me -- the Iron Cupcake Challenge.

Now, as previously declaired, I'm a Food Network junky and yeah, I've watched more than my share of Iron Chef, Japan and America. But Iron Cupcake? This was a new one on me and so, well, I had to do the Google and check it out.

Now, I'm an Iron Cupcake baker. I'm about to enter my first contest. This month the secret ingredient is Basil. That's right, basil. In a cupcake. But like their mantra says, these are not your momma's cupcakes.

So yesterday, I baked. I created the recipe, snipped the basil from my backyard, and went for it. I didn't even shop. I used what was on hand in the pantry (fortunately, I had just stocked up a week ago as the pantry was getting mighty low there for a while) and set out on my quest.

I decided not to go wild and crazy. My brain immediately went to lemon and blueberries, for some reason. So here we have, Lemon-Basil Cupcakes with Lemon-Buttercream Frosting and Blueberry Sauce.

Here is the official photo I'm posting for the contest.

What do you think? I had some help from friends to decide. I took well over a hundred pictures. Can you believe how difficult it is to take a decent picture of a cupcake? Well, I'm here to tell you....

And here are a couple of others. Mouth watering yet? I hope so.

Oh, and so this is the place that I am supposed to tell you this is a competition and you can actually vote on this cupcake by clicking on the Iron Cupcake graphic in the right sidebar of this site. It will take you to where the voting takes place. But not until the contest actually opens, which is.... (okay, gotta go look)

Here is the official statement: Voting will begin on Sunday, September 28 at 12 noon at NO ONE PUTS CUPCAKE IN A CORNER, http://mkecupcakequeen.blogspot.com and will be open through Thursday, October 1 at 12 noon. (And like I said, you can click the graphic on my site to get there, too!)

And oh yeah, there are prizes! (It gets better and better, huh?) Here are the links to the prize providers: (thank you so much, prize providers!)
Rest assured, I'll remind you about the voting thing. (smile)

Tomorrow I'm off to work in South Dakota for a few days. Hope to be able to bring you some interesting posts while on the road. Talk soon!

maddie


Family Stories, Family Recipes ~ Granny's Fudge Frosting from Donica Covey

This recipe came from my Granny Teen Balentine. She lives in the quiet little town of Big Flat Arkansas. I go there as often as I can, not just for the cake…although I think Granny thinks I do! ~~Donica Covey romance author www.donicacovey.com

My granny is an amazing woman. When I was a kid she and my grandfather had a café in their tiny north central Arkansas town. They live on a farm where grandpa raises cattle and hay. Granny opened the café bright and early every morning—six am—and they didn’t close until around ten or eleven o’clock at night.

People came from all over to eat there. Granny was the cook, waitress, dishwasher and bus person. She never hired help although she did let me work there when I came down for my summer long trips. When I wasn’t messing around with the animals, riding my mare or walking the woods I was in there “helping”.

Granny always keeps her recipes to herself. Very rarely does she share them. (I’m still waiting for the recipe to make her special donuts.) However, when my daddy and I go down she always makes the same cake. A delicious light yellow butter cake with a fudge frosting.

To this day granny makes this in honor of our arrival. I really love it when she makes it after I get there. Then I get to sop the pan. That’s the BEST.

All spring and summer granny’s windows are open and when I arrive as I’m climbing out of the truck the scent of that cake wafts lightly on the warm breeze. There’s nothing better than my granny’s greeting!

Granny’s Fudge Frosting

This recipe is extremely easy. Granny uses a regular butter yellow cake, adds an extra tablespoon of melted butter to the mix than pours into a sheet cake pan. While this bakes she pulls out her fudge fixin’s

3-cups sugar

2/3-cup cocoa

1/8-teaspoon salt

1 and ½-Cups milk

¼ cup-butter

1 teaspoon-vanilla extract

  1. In large heavy saucepan stir together first three ingredients; stir in milk, with a wooden spoon*.
  2. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a full rolling boil.
  3. Boil without stirring, to soft ball stage.
  4. Remove from heat. Add butter & vanilla.
  5. Stir *with a wooden spoon until the mixture takes on a glossy appearance. This will take a bit of time and patience. Don’t allow to cool before you finish mixing or the fudge will not set up on your cake properly.
  6. Pour over cooled cake and spread to a nice even coat. Allow to cool until fudge sets up. A couple of hours waiting will be required. (This is the most tempting time!)

*Don’t use whisk, or metal spoons or the chocolate won’t turn out.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Monte Carlo and The Food Network

Right now, Rachel Ray is on the tube. She's making something Cajun with hot sauce and beer and shrimp. Her vegetable is crispy green beans, sweet and spicy and smoky all at the same time, she says. Yum.

Okay, so I'm addicted to watching The Food Network. It is my weekend show. I think I like it so much because, a) I like food and b) I like trying out new recipes and c) I really do like to cook, and d) I can have it on in the background while doing other things. Sometimes I switch back and forth between The Food Network and The Learning Channel and HGTV and once in a while, A&E. But largely, TFN is where my channel selector likes to rest.

I also think that watching people cook food relaxes and de-stresses me. Food is a basic thing but oh-so-important to our daily life. When I cook, I am relaxed. I like that and I NEED that in my life. There is enough stress with the other parts of my life. This, the cooking, I can control and be creative with.

I mentioned several days ago that I visited The Monte Carlo Steakhouse in Albuquerque recently. It was a great restaurant and I wouldn't have know about it had I not been watching The Food Network one Sunday afternoon--even though I am a frequent visitor to Albuquerque. So I told my friends all about it and we sought it out. Had we not have known what to look for, we would have easily missed it. Why? Because the restaurant is actually tucked in the back of a liquor store! But once you get there, you realize you've found what you were looking for. I've already blogged about the meals, so take a look at my previous post about the Monte Carlo.

While I'm waiting for my entre, I glance up and viola! Who do I see but....

Guy Fieri! (sigh)

No, not the man, but his autographed poster on the wall. Guy was a former winner of The Next Food Network Star and has three shows right now on the network. Diners, Drive-ins and Dives is one of my favorites. No...Guy's Big Bite is a favorite, too. Oh well, let's just say he's entertaining and his recipes are great! You can read more about Guy here http://www.guyfieri.com

Funny thing about this picture. Once I spy it, I lean in on the table with my camera to take a picture. See the guy's head in the lower lefthand corner? My friends who are with me start to snicker and I take the camera away from my eye. The guy edged closer to his girlfriend/wife/girl-he-was-with to give her a smooch. They were cheesing for the camera, thinking I was taking a picture of them! I think they were a mite disappointed when I said, "Oh, I don't want you, I want a picture of the picture."

Oh well. Should they have a show on The Food Network in the future, I might one day take a picture of them, too.

Pirate Blog Winners!

The winners were selected from last night's contest through Random Integer. The top five integers selected belonged to: Leah/Deb, Renee, Pollyana, Tatiana, and AngieTheresa!

Give me a shout at maddie.james@insightbb.com and let me know if you want a copy of The Curse or The Cult and to which email address I should send it. Congrats and happy reading. Ar!!

If you did not win, never fear! I plan to make a book giveaway contest a monthly event on Life: Unedited. Stay tuned!

maddie

Thursday, September 18, 2008

When Golf Comes to Town and Other Crazy Stuff

I know, I know. There are days I can barely eek out a blog and today, I'm overrun with thoughts and ideas. Never fear, I'll just post away in the hopes of appeasing the blog gods as by bloggeth run amok.

Did you know it's Talk like a Pirate Day? Well, 'tis such a day, mate. Shiver me timbers and blow the man down, but let's celebrate the day with...what say you? A book? How about two? Don't forget that my series, The Legend of Blackbeard's Chalice is chock full of pirate action, both modern day and from the past. They are time travel books, you see, with a smattering of suspense and a layer or two of paranormal. You can find The Curse and The Cult on www.fictionwise.com and www.amazon.com

And did you know that September 19 is like, really Talk Like a Pirate Day? That it's official and everything? It's true. I think it's been sanctioned and annointed as such. Anyway, these guys say so, so it must be true, eh? You can visit them at www.talklikeapirate.com. Looks like they've even written a book! Wow.

Then there is that other thing that is happening today. At least here in Louisville. It's a little thing called The Ryder Cup. A little thing that is not so little. And all for a little ball that goes sailing through the air only to land expertly in a cup in the ground. This Ryder Cup thing is all the rage here right now, since it's being played out at a golf course down the road. Just a little ol' competition between the Euros and the USofA.

So, what happens when golf comes to town on the country road that I drive each morning on my way to work?

This happens.
And this.

And I'm late for work. But at least today I'm driving to work rather than flying. Which brings me to this.

Yes, this is a hairdryer. A hotel hairdryer, as a matter of fact. One in which (sorry Sunbeam) is of very poor design. Why, do you say? It looks to be standard hotel issue, correct? Mounts to the wall, retractable cord, off the counter so no clutter there, next to the mirror, three speeds and temps, etc...

Wrong. This is not a friendly hairdryer. This hairdryer causes hand cramps like you would not believe.

Who in their right mind would design a hair dryer in which you have to grip the handle AND hold down the button to keep the thing on, all in one grip? That's right, girls, you have to grip and hold and style and fluff and not take your thumb off that button.

Impossible.

Without getting a cramp. For a woman with long hair and small hands, it is a nightmare. I can only say that this hairdryer--which is now my new pet peeve--had to be designed by a... (yes, you know what I'm going to say, girls) a man. No doubt about it.

So there you have it. My thoughts for the day. (smile)

p.s. Tell your friends and neighbors. If you come by and comment today before midnight PST on this blog, you might win one of the 5 ebook copies of The Curse or The Cult I'm giving away tonight. So go! Tell everyone now!

Captain Meriweather's Restaurant, Bismarck, ND

I'm working a few days this week in Bismarck, ND. I've been here a couple of times before. The last time I was here was in the dead of winter. I thought my pinky finger was going to fall off from frostbite by the time I reached my car rental in the airport parking lot. It was that cold. Yes. Those North Dakota dwellers must be made of mighty hardy stock. I'm not sure I'd make it through the winter.


One of the highlights of my trip that time though, was a visit to Captain Meriweather's restaurant. Situated on the Missouri River, the story goes that this is a spot that Lewis and Clark stopped at on their trek west. Makes sense. The house where the restaurant is located is old but I doubt old enough to boast that "Lewis and Clark slept here" unless, of course, they slept on the bank. Last time, I was impressed with the food, the laughter, and the drinking going on in the restaurant. I deduced that in the winter, that was all people had to do up there, trying to keep warm. Laughing, eating and drinking certainly can while away the hours.


This time, however, I did not have to walk on a six inch layer of ice to get to the restaurant. In my sandals, I strolled up, taking a gander at the river. As I left, I listened to the tree frogs in the woods. We ate outside on the deck, in a nice shady spot (forget the poison oak hanging down over the next table) and had a pleasant dinner with friends. The food was good.

My appetizer (which I shared) was a crispy crab rangoon with a spicey/tangy sweet and sour sauce and a flavorful crab/cream cheese filling. A bit spicier than what I'm used to but very good. My favorite part was the crunch on the wontons. My entre was ahi tuna--seared with parmesan (which was good) and pepper (which was too much) and hot salsa made with peppers (probably jalapeno) and kiwi, melon, pineapple, onion, etc... The ahi was okay. Just okay. I'm a big fan of ahi tuna and I have had better. The pepper and the salsa together was a little overpowering for me. Still, I consumed most of the meal.

My coworkers had potato encrusted salmon and the fried walleye, and both of them raved about their dinners. Here is the walleye.


Dessert was okay. After all the spice I longed for ice cream but there was none to be found at Meriweathers. My coworkers ordered the Kentucky Bourbon Pie, which being from Kentucky, we were pretty sure the North Dakotans could not replicate. I had a small bite of my friend's, who proclaimed it as good or better than Derby pie (stronger Bourbon taste, she said) but I still have my doubts. What could a North Dakotan know about Kentucky Bourbon pie?

Well, it still was a hit. And Meriweathers is also a hit. The amibiance is great, whether inside in the winter or on the deck in the summer. The food is good and the setting along the river, picturesque.

Captain Meriweathers is voted in the top ten in the Ten Best, Trusted Advice for Travelers, for restaurants in Bismarck.

2. Captain Meriwether's Restaurant
1700 River Rd, Bismarck, ND 58503 (Map) 701-258-0666

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Heart Health

I've been thinking a lot about heart health lately. Yeah, you guessed it. Someone in my family is experiencing some difficulties of the heart. Not the romantic kind, however, the double-bypass-surgery kind.

Because of a strong history of heart disease in my family, my father's family doctor recommended a preventive screening of his heart about a month ago. My grandfather died of congestive heart failure two weeks after he underwent open-heart surgery. He was 86 and probably, the decision to have the surgery was not a good one. He never came home from the hospital. Several of my great uncles have had heart surgery. My Dad will be 72 this month, takes medication for high blood pressure and cholesterol, and a couple of years ago was diagnosed with diabetes. He worked a high stress job for 42 years. And his weight, although not obese, is not ideal.

After the screening and stress test, with all of the numbers plugged into the computer, he came up in the 99th percentile of risk for a heart attack. A couple of weeks later a heart cath revealed that he has severe coronary disease. He is waiting for the call to schedule is surgery, which should be very soon.

All of this has given me pause. Not only because I think of my strong, funny, and stable father as being invincible. I cannot fathom him being any other way, and I don't even want to think about life without him. It's too soon. So I'm glad for the surgery and pray it goes well and that his heart will be healthy once again.

Then there is the other thing--my own heart health. I, too, have inherited this strong family history of heart disease. I'm overweight. I take high blood pressure medication. I get way too little exercise. And my job, well yes, has it's fair share of stress. Not to mention that I really have two jobs, my day job and the writing. Yes, juggling deadlines in both can be stressful.

I'm closing in on 52. My dad has 20 years on me. Of course, plaque doesn't build up in the arteries overnight. It takes time. So the other pause I have taken is this -- what am I doing to keep my heart healthy?

Not much.

And this, is something that I have to fix. Soon. Change habits. Find ways to get rid of the stress. Exercise regularly. Eat right. Lose weight. Restructure my life? Perhaps. I think this is a subject I shall return to often here. And I'll be sure to let you know about my dad's progress.

So, what do you do to keep your heart healthy? I'd love to know how you handle stress, get the exercise in, and make good food choices. Please share.

maddie

p.s. After a quick visit to the American Heart Association website, I came across www.goredforwomen.org. I'm off to take their heart healthy quiz for women. Come on, let's both check it out!

p.p.s So, gee, glad I enjoyed that Monte Carlo steak the other night, huh?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Me and My Favorite Condiment

A couple of nights ago while in Albuquerque, my friends and I sought out a restaurant I'd seen featured on The Food Network (okay, I'm a FN junkie). The Monte Carlo Steak House is on Central, a few blocks past Old Town and over the Rio Grande, tucked in behind a liquor store. Yes, literally. You have to walk through the liquor store to get to the restaurant behind it.

Once there, you're saturated with local flavor and surprise, a wonderful local secret...a steak house known for their pork chops, and peppered with a Greek influence.

Note the beautiful Greek salad my vegetarian friend devoured at this "house of flesh-eating sin."


The dolmas were excellent and the feta sharp and fresh. (I had an appetizer of dolmas.) My vegetarian friend, who wailed prior to heading to the Monte Carlo, "But I'm a vegetarian! Why are you dragging me to a steak house?" Thanked us for taking her there while groaning in mid-bite. She especially favored the house salad dressing, which we dissected and think it was made with yogurt and dill and some mystery spice. Needless to say, she was sated after her salad and baked potato.

Me? Um, I went for the steak. Ribeye, 10 oz, medium rare. Tender, flavorful and just enough marbling. I'm such a carnivore.

So here's my steak...

And here I am with my favorite condiment (although I do prefer Heinz...)

Yes, sigh, I am the carnivore that cooks and chefs gasp to -- I like ketchup on my steak, with a heavy dash or two of Worchestershire sauce. Hey, it's my steak, right? (gee, do I look tired or what... )

More on the Monte Carlo Steak House to follow. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Shoes, Room Service and Tacos

Today I did serious work. I'm in Abuquerque for a week long training where I am training teachers to do serious stuff. Like helping preschoolers get ready to read. How to do lesson plans that connect to standards. Involving parents. That kind of serious business.

So, I took this picture to document the seriousness of the occassion.


This is the kind of stuff that teachers who are no longer teachers but teach other teachers how to be better teachers do when on break. Guess which toes are mine?

But the real highlight of my day was--you guessed it, dinner!

I opted away from the crowd this evening and (gasp) ordered room service. This can be a bit tricky depending on the hotel, time of day, etc. I once got food poisoning from soup that came hours after I ordered it, which is a story in itself. I can still hear the security officer when he came to my room the next day, after learning that I had gotten food poisoing from their food. (I'd called to ask for a late checkout because of my condition, wanting to stay in my room as loooong as possible before my flight home, which was also looooong.) Anyway, I can still see the uniformed hotel cop, notepad in hand, staring down at what he was writing, saying, "And what time did you eat the alleged soup, ma'am?" "At approximately what time did you order said soup?" "And at what time..."

You get it. You'd have thought I'd witnessed a murder or something.

But this was not the case for this meal. See?


Do you see that taco salad? Man, was it huge. And fresh. No iceburg, here, but crisp mixed greens. Fresh quacamole, real sour cream, black olives, fresh everything. And that bowl of salsa? Yum. Fresh and housemade.

Huge. I told ya. Like a crispy tortilla taco boat.


Yum.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (so okay, no trains)

See these people? I don't know them. Or, at least I don't think I know them. I could have been on this very plane with them before this. Or not. Who knows? I usually only see the backs of peoples heads. They all start to run together, eventually.

Wait. That guy two up on the left? In the light blue windowpane shirt? Maybe I saw him once. It happens.

All I know is that this is a view I've not had for a couple of months--staring up the aisle of a McDonnell Douglas Super 80. Can't say I truly missed it, this summer, but once I get back in the swing of the M-F travel warrior thing, I sort of look forward to it.

Most of the time.

I'd rather be home cooking. Or gardening. Or writing.

So that's where I am--back at it. Last year I traveled 33 out of the 52 weeks in the year. I bet it's not much different this year. It can be difficult, yes, but the road traveled is rewarding, as well. I do love the work I do.

See those circles? No, they are not crop circles. Although I do believe it has to do with crops and I think they are somehow related to irrigation. I always know when I see these circles, that I'm somewhere over west Texas or east New Mexico and heading toward Albuequerque. It was a bit hazy, today, even way up here.

This view? The one out my hotel window. The Sandia Mountains in ABQ. The high temp was near 90 but the humidity is around 12%. Niiiicccccceeeee..... Now, if only those kids would stop running up and down the balcony outside my room.

So what is the real sign that it's travel time again? The big purse comes out. With all of the luggage restrictions and fees these days, it pays to have the big purse. You can of course see that I've stashed the laptop, a bottle of water, and Lisa Kleypas' Sugar Daddy in there. What you can't see is my wallet, jewelry, medication, makeup, day planner, sunglasses, eye glasses, smart phone, steno pad with all my work lists, and a file of papers. Sort of reminds me of Mary Poppin's carpetbag.

Yeah, it's official. I'm traveling again. This week Albuquerque. Next week, Bismarck.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Family Stories, Family Recipes ~ Nancy's Cornbread

My mother and I didn’t get along for much of my early life. It was more than a mother/daughter thing. An only child, I saw my mother as overly critical. She tried to improve me. She didn’t accept me for myself.

“You must fire your parents as parents,” the family therapist told my group in the early eighties.

I was thirty-one-years-old and absorbing the new way of being that group therapy opened for me. I didn’t know how to “fire my parents,” but being a writer, I eventually wrote them a letter.

My dad took it hard. My mother didn’t. Gradually, I came to understand my mother’s motivation. She wanted me to be the best I could be, and pushing me was her way to do it. I heard her “encouragement” as “nagging.” She was a product of The Depression and WWII. She wasn’t versed on the pop psychology of the day.

Through group therapy I gained insight into my motivation. As a child, I had learned subconsciously that my purpose was to “make my mother happy.” I gave it up. I grew up. As a result, she quit her “frantic mothering.” She learned I was able to guide my own life.

When she died, my mother and I were friends. When I think of her now, the old acrimony and teenage conflict is a blur. I think about how she showed her love to me and my children—always “doing,” seldom with a hug or a kiss.

Nancy’s cornbread recipe is a memory from my childhood and early adult years—country cooked meals, family and fellowship. I hope you enjoy the symbol of my mother’s love for her family.

From my mother’s handwritten recipe—

#1 Self-rising corn meal

#2 Non-self-rising corn meal

1 egg

1 egg

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup buttermilk

Self-rising corn meal

¾ t. salt


¼ t. baking soda


Corn meal

It’s important to have a hot pan and hot grease. My mother used an iron skillet or iron cornbread pans shaped like corn.

Combine the ingredients and then add the corn meal last. It’s important that the batter not be thicker than thick cake dough.

“Bread isn’t good if too much meal is used.”

Cook at 450° or hot oven until brown.

Jan Scarbrough

Romance Novelist

http://www.janscarbrough.com

Still Cooking

You see, I have these apples.

Actually, there were more but I’ve already cut up the rest of them. They were sitting on the counter in the kitchen where I work with a sign that read, Please take. From my backyard.

So, I took. Not all, but enough.

And today, I look at them and think, “I need to make apple salad.”

Now remember, I’m cleaning out the fridge, right? I’ll be gone for a week or so. Can’t leave perishables around to rot, eh?

Well, I’m sure the apples wouldn’t rot in the fruit bin in six days but I decided to make apple salad, anyway.

You see, I’ve had this Raspberry Walnut Vinaigrette hanging around in my refrigerator door and I’ve been dying to try something untraditional with it…like, not on lettuce.

Here’s my chance. Quick perusal again of the dwindling contents of the icebox.

Still some celery. (Oh, okay, I intentionally didn’t cut all of it up earlier because, well, I’d been thinking about this apple salad then, too.) Um, pecans. Yes, those will do nicely. And the apples. That’s enough. Nice and simple.

So I diced the celery and about five apples, and tossed it all with lemon juice for good measure. Rough-chopped about a cup of pecans and threw those in the bowl, too.

On to the vinaigrette. Hm. Is that really what I want here? What about…what about that tangy dressing I make with Miracle Whip?

Hmmmm…ponder, ponder….

Viola! I’ll try both. I split the mixture into two bowls and squirted about 4 or 5 squirts of the vinaigrette in one bowl. The other I tossed with my tangy dressing—you know the kind, the one your mother taught you how to make all those years ago? The kind that works for all things salad and then some? Some mayo, a little oil, equal part vinegar, and some sugar. DO NOT ask me for the precise measures because, heck, I can't tell you. It’s one of those eyeball things. Or maybe, it's a tongue thing. You’ll know it’s right when you lick it off your finger—if you pucker too much, you’ve got too much vinegar, so add some sugar. If it gives your tongue that nice, smooth tang, well, it’s just right.

Like I said, you’ll know.

Now, here I sit, with two different variations of apple salad. Which do you think I liked best?

You think about that while I consider how I am going to eat all this apple salad before 5 o’clock tomorrow morning.

You got any ideas, be sure and let me know.

Half-Scratched: Clean-out-the-Fridge Vegetable Soup

I often do this. I know I’ll be out of town for a week or longer, so I decide to forego the grocery shopping a couple of weeks prior, and use up everything perishable before I leave. I think that’s smart. Nothing to go bad while I’m gone, huh? (I hate to waste food.)

So, knowing that I leave early in the a.m. on a six-day business trip, I peer into the cold depths of my vegetable bin this morning, take a speedy inventory, and deduce, “I gotta make soup.”

Here were the vegetables in my bin. One tomato and squash left from the stash I got from my Dad’s garden last weekend. A lonely onion. Some slightly-on-the-edge of crisp celery, and baby carrots. Digging a little deeper, I find a container of cooked squash and onions left over from a night or so ago. I pull that out. Then I spy a half-full jar of salsa. Yep, won’t last until I get back, that’s going in the soup, too.

Perfect.

I checked the pantry. These things won’t go bad while but will nicely round out the soup—some brown rice, stock, and minced garlic from the fridge.

With a layer of olive oil (which I also used the last of) in the soup pan, I sautéed the onions, celery, carrots and garlic, with some salt and pepper.

About that time I remembered I had two small green peppers out on my patio garden, so I rushed out to get those. knowing that if we don’t get rain, they could wither on the plant before I get back. I also cut a couple of sprigs of flat-leafed parsley from my herb garden. Feeling accomplished (and glad my neighbor is not out for his first smoke of the day because I’m still in my nightgown…) I rush back to the soup.

Everything else goes in the pot now. The diced green pepper (sautéd a little with the other veggies so they don’t feel singled out), then the stock (simmer), followed by the parsley, tomato, squash, the container of leftover squash (already nicely cooked) and the half jar of salsa. I looked at the brown rice and decided…just a little bit, about a quarter cup, because I didn’t want to over power the fresh veggies with a lot of heavy brown rice. We’ll see how that works.

Since I was using the salsa, I decided to give this soup a little Mexican bent and added a dash or two of hot sauce, some red pepper flakes, and about a tablespoon of packaged taco seasoning.

Now, bring to a boil again and then let simmer. Lid on, slightly cocked. And wait.

Yum.

So, from a few leftover veggies, some staples I always keep on hand in the pantry, and a some nice touches from my backyard patio garden, I’ve got soup. I’ll have a bowl for lunch, maybe dinner, and freeze the rest for a nice winter’s treat.

And I have to say, that ain’t half bad. Actually, it’s Half-Scratched!