Seven Years

Paris Snowglobe
Dearest Alexis,

Seven years ago today you were born. How is that possible? Most days it seems like it was just yesterday that you were wrapped up in that little hospital blanket, looking for all the world like a little glow worm. You were here and you were mine. I was thrilled! Seven years later here we are!

A lot has happened in your world since last year. You finally got to see “your” Statue of Liberty and you were thrilled! The look of awe on your face is one I will never forget! You truly love that statue and it amuses me the levels of your adoration. Don’t lose that ability to look at the world through eyes of fascination as you grow. That is an amazing quality that you posses and I hope that you never lose it!

We also traveled to Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. You had a ball on this trip and of course your favorite part of the trip was standing next to the ocean at the Cape Neddick Lighthouse. You are so my child!

We also enjoyed two trips to Tennessee, one planned, one unexpected, as well as various day trips to locations from DC to Western Maryland. You like to get out and go. I love that about you!

Your birthday party got canceled when you developed a fever and a rash. We thought for a bit you had chicken pox, but it ended up being some generic childhood thing instead. At first you were very sad, but we had a small party with Grandma, Papa, Uncle Jason and us and you quickly came around. You finally decided it was “The best birthday party ever!” I’m so glad you can take a bad situation and make it something more! This is also a good skill to have. I hope it sticks with you as well.

I still wish for you all the things that you want to see and do. I hope we get to take that trip to Paris soon. I can’t wait to see your eyes light up when you see the Eiffel Tower. I hope that you see it for the first time at night when it is all lit up and sparkly. I also hope we take a trip to Hawaii as that is your latest location of interest. I hope that the world is always at your feet. It is…Never forget that!

You truly are a very special individual. You have so many friends and have the ability to make new ones everywhere you go. You have an open heart and an open mind, two very important things to have in this life. May they go on with you as you grow and learn. You are smart, funny, loving and lovable. You are the perfect mix of all of what life should be.

You are a star. You are my star. May you always shine brightly. I love you in ways I can’t even explain to you, but know this…I will always love you.

Love,
Mom

Originally posted at Daffodil Lane.

Grilled Peaches and Pound Cake

Grilled Peaches and Pound Cake with Peach Ice Cream

When my parents came to visit this past week they brought me their old grill. We used to use it when we camped out at the lake in the summers and it was just sitting in Mom’s garage collecting dust. I had hoped to bring it back with me when I was in Tennessee a few weeks ago, but both trips there just wasn’t room in the car. We killed two birds with one stone; Mom got the grill out of her garage and I finally have a grill again! My mom’s only request? “If you decide later you don’t want it you have to find somewhere else for the grill to live!” Deal!

I have to admit that charcoal freaks me out a bit, especially the kind that is drenched in chemicals to ignite. You know me, I’m not much of a chemical person and avoid them at all costs. I was thrilled when we found a natural charcoal that was made from hardwood charcoal and put together with a vegetable binder!

Charcoal

I was further thrilled when I realized by purchasing a charcoal chimney you didn’t need lighter fluid!

My New Charcoal Chimney

There’s a bit of a learning curve with this apparently and this go around wasn’t perfect, but I got it smoking!

My New Charcoal Chimney

And then we really got it going!

My New Charcoal Chimney

Next time I’ll put more charcoal in the chimney and put the paper underneath it instead of the in the chimney itself! You live, you learn! But no lighter fluid! Woot!

Overall this really is a simple, yet delicious summer time treat that gives you a bit of wow factor, yet doesn’t take a ton of time or a lot of effort. I love fresh, simple desserts like that!

What You’ll Need:
Peach ice cream
Peaches, cut in half and pitted
Pound cake, sliced (Note: You can buy one at the store like I did this go around, or you can make one. This is my favorite.)

Obviously you’ll want to make your ice cream ahead of time and have it ready to go.

Next up grill your peaches:

Peaches and Corn Grilling

I actually grilled the peaches with our dinner and then let them cool off before we ate them. They were fabulous! It’s simple to do, just cut the peach in half, remove the pit and place it face down on the grill. Grill for about 5 minutes or until tender.

How easy is that?

Next grill the pound cake!

Slice your pound cake and place the slices on the grill:

Pound Cake Grilling

This process basically just toasts the pound cake and deepens its flavor! Toast each side about 1-2 minutes until golden:

Pound Cake Grilling

Now you’re ready to put your dessert together. A slice of pound cake, a grilled peach and a scoop of peach ice cream and voila…Dessert is served!

See easy peasy!

Notes: You can grill many fruits. Apples, bananas, pineapple, plums, nectarines, etc.

I Love This Time Of Year!

Orchard Hauls

I love this time of year, or well more truthfully I love the produce that is available! The hot weather, snakes and bugs I could do without, but the blueberries, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables are pure heaven!

Yesterday Alexis, Grams, Pop and I set off to go on a little adventure. We went to lunch and then I wanted to go over to the orchard and see if they had any peas since mine didn’t really do much this year. They had peas, but more importantly they had tomatoes and peaches! I was thrilled!

After we went to the orchard we cut across country to pick up some charcoal on the way home. My mom brought me our old charcoal grill that we used to use when we were camping at the lake and I wanted to break it in so to speak! Along the way we came across another orchard and they still had some strawberries! They also had blueberries so I was really thrilled given they are my favorite fruit and all!

We ended up with Swiss chard, peppermint, blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, orange cherry tomatoes, cherries, raspberries (for Alexis), cabbage, peas and broccoli! Not bad at all!

This morning we had fruit for breakfast:

Local Berries

I had berries with granola and cocoa nibs. I had planned to have some Greek yogurt too, but my yogurt had gone the way of the Dodo bird!

For lunch we sliced the tomatoes and enjoyed them on sandwiches. Have I mentioned I love this time of year?

Now if I can just find some garlic scapes!

So what’s available where you live?

Another Party Punch

Party Punch

As I’ve mentioned before Banana Punch was a big thing when I was growing up for parties, showers, etc. I wanted to make some for Lex’s birthday party (Which ended up being canceled, but that’s another story!) but I wanted to make it a bit simpler overall and have less volume, yet a more concentrated punch base that would take up less room in the fridge/freezer and this really fit the bill!

Overall I ended up liking this more than the original Banana punch! I love when that happens! Just remember to mix this up at least 24 hours before you need it since you have to freeze part of the mixture.

Let’s get started!

What You’ll Need:
2 – 12 ounces cans of frozen orange juice (Note: A variety without high fructose corn syrup.)
2 – 12 ounce cans of frozen pineapple juice (Note: Ditto on the note above.)
2 – 12 ounce cans of a frozen pineapple, orange, banana blend (Note: Did I mention no HFCS?)
1 – 64 ounce bottle of apple juice (Note: Look for a variety that is just juice.)
4 cups of organic cane sugar
The juice of 4 lemons
Ginger ale (Note: It is possible to find varieties of ginger ale with no HFCS too.)

First you need two very large bowls. I like to use gallon glass bowls.

In each bowl add 1 can of frozen orange juice, pineapple juice and a pineapple, orange, banana blend. Next add 1/2 of the bottle of apple juice, along with sugar and the juice of 2 lemons to each bowl. Stir to mix.

When both bowls are mixed add the mixture from 1 bowl to a pitcher and place in the fridge. Divide the mixture from the other bowl into two equally sized containers and freeze until solid. (At least 24 hours.)

When ready to make the punch pour 1/2 of the mixture from the pitcher, with one container of the frozen mixture into a punch bowl. Cover with ginger ale and stir to mix. Serve immediately. Repeat as needed.

You can keep adding ginger ale to the original pour into the bowl until it becomes unfruity and then add the second round of liquid/frozen mixture.

Notes: You can use a mixture of other juice if you like, but I really like this mixture best. Crushed frozen strawberries would be good. And I have it on very good authority that the addition of a little rum to this sort of mixture makes a very nice adult treat! ;oP

Easy Peasy Mexican Rice

Easy Peasy Mexican Rice

Usually when I make Mexican rice it’s more of an entailed sort of experience. (I’ll share that recipe with you later this summer!) The other night I really wanted some Mexican rice because we were having fajitas, but I was pressed for time so I decided to make something a bit more quickly and this is what I came up with!

This recipe is quick, easy and delicious. It’s just perfect for a weeknight when things can get a bit hectic!

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup of uncooked rice
1 – 10 ounce can of Rotel
1 – 15 ounce can of tomato sauce
1 – 4.25 ounce can of green chilies
A pinch of sea salt
A pinch of finely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon of paprika
1 tablespoon of chili powder

In a large pot saute onion in a little olive oil until tender.

Stir in rice and cook for 1-2 minutes to “wake it up” a bit.

Add remaining ingredients and stir to mix. Cook for 20-25 minutes until mixture thickens and rice is tender.

Sinfully easy, but oh so delicious! I like recipes like that!

Notes: You can use brown or white rice. Wild rice even works.

Crayfish Gumbo

Crawfish Gumbo

Alexis and I have been exploring a lot lately. I get in these modes when it feels like there is something out there just outside of my grasp that I’m supposed to be doing, or someone I’m supposed to know, but the universe hasn’t decided to share yet. The other day we were out and about, having fun, laughing and just generally enjoying ourselves as we are prone to doing and I actually found crayfish at a local market! I was thrilled!

It’s been years since I had crayfish, since before Lex was born in fact. When we lived in Anne Arundel county I used to pick it up at Whole Foods now and again, but I hadn’t found any this area until the other day! The ones I found were already steamed, but hey, that works! A crayfish is a crayfish after all!

Alexis had a ball playing “helping me” with the crayfish. She had them “talk” to each other, have battles and even helped me in the process of cleaning/shelling them as you can see in the pictures below where she is my demo girl for the pictures. She amuses me, which is neither here nor there, but we really do have a lot of fun together!

Anyway…

I originally thought I might make etouffee, but ultimately decided I’d rather just make a big pot of gumbo! This turned out great! I was really pleased with the result. After all what’s better than a big bowl of gumbo and rice?

What You’ll Need:
5-6 pounds of whole crayfish or 2-4 cups of crayfish meat
1 cup of oil (Note: You can use olive or a clear oil. I’ve used both in the past.)
3/4 a cup of unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon of finely ground black pepper
1 large bell pepper, chopped
1 bunch of celery, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
2 quarts of chicken broth
2 tablespoons of Creole or Cajun seasoning, preferably salt free
1 – 1 lb package of frozen okra or 2-3 cups of fresh okra sliced
Cooked rice

As I mentioned the crayfish I found were already steamed. I actually popped the bag in the freezer when I bought them a couple of weeks ago because I knew I wouldn’t get to them right away.

Crawfish Gumbo: Out of the Freezer

I placed the frozen crayfish in a big pot:

Crawfish Gumbo: Ready for Water

Then I covered them in water:

Crawfish Gumbo: Ready for a Quick Boil

Bring them to a quick boil covered and remove from heat. In this case these are already cooked so you don’t have to cook them again, you just want to knock the chill off of them.

After about 5 minutes drain and place in a bowl to cool:

Crawfish Gumbo: Steamed Crawfish

While the crayfish are cooling let’s get busy with some other aspects of the gumbo!

Chop your trinity (aka your pepper, onion and celery) and set aside:

Crawfish Gumbo: Holy Trinity

Now get to work on your roux!

Roux isn’t difficult, though it has a reputation for being so. You basically have oil and flour and you cook it until it’s a nutty brown. It will look golden and smell nutty. I love that smell!

Crawfish Gumbo: Roux

How gorgeous is that?

Basically you add the oil to your stock pot, stir in the flour and your salt and pepper and cook on low to medium, stirring often until you achieve the nutty color/smell.

Many recipes call for you to stir roux constantly, but I’m not going to lie to you, that’s not happening with me! There are very few things I’ll stir constantly, custard being the only one I can think of right off the top of my head. I stir, then chop something, then come back and stir, and then do something else. Every two minutes or so I give it a good stir for 30 seconds or so, but not constantly.

When the roux is a nutty brown (this usually take 15-45 minutes depending on your stove top) add your trinity:

Crawfish Gumbo: Holy Trinity Added to Roux

Cook stirring often until onion, pepper and celery are just tender.

Next add broth, Creole or Cajun seasoning and okra:

Crawfish Gumbo: Broth, Creole Seasoning and Okra Added

Cover and simmer for 2 to 3 hours.

You will add the crayfish to the pot during the last five minutes of cooking or so. Now let’s see how to “clean” them!

First look at your crayfish:

Crawfish Gumbo: Crawfish

The “big” piece of meat on a crayfish is its tail. 5-6 pounds of whole crayfish sounds like a lot, but they are little and there isn’t a lot of meat there! Some people like to suck the head, but I can’t say that appeals to me at all.

The first thing you want to do is remove its arms. If it has big claws you might be able to get a small piece of meat out of the claw itself, but in most cases there isn’t anything in there to write home about so if it’s little like the one pictured above I wouldn’t even bother.

Flip the crayfish over and hold it with your fingers like so:

Crawfish Gumbo: Ready to Snap

Pull down on both ends and snap the crayfish in two:

Crawfish Gumbo: Snap

It should break in to head section and tail section. Dispose of the head, unless you’re one of those who enjoys that part of the crayfish.

Next hold the piece of meat that is sticking out of the shell with one hand while holding the shell with the other:

Crawfish Gumbo: Ready to Pull the Tail

Tug gently and the meat should slip right out of the shell:

Crawfish Gumbo: Tail Free

Every once in a while you’ll come across a stubborn tail and you might have to crack the shell a bit, which you can easily do with your fingers, but for the most part they just slide right out.

Along the back of the crayfish tail there is a membrane and if you remove it you’ll discover the vein right underneath:

Crawfish Gumbo: Vein

Give the vein a little pull and it will slide right off to be disposed of:

Crawfish Gumbo: Deveined

Place the crawfish in a bowl or container and give them a little rinse to make sure they are good and clean:

Crawfish Gumbo: Tails Cleaned

Place cleaned tails in the fridge until five minutes before servings gumbo and then add to the pot just long enough to heat through.

Serve gumbo over rice with hot sauce, chopped onions or just all by itself!

Notes: You can do this process with shrimp too.

Where to Eat: Gondolier Pizza, Athens, Tennessee

Gondolier Pizza, Athens, Tennessee

Today I’m going to tell you about a restaurant I really enjoyed when I was growing up in Tennessee…Gondolier Pizza! When Lex and I were in Tennessee in April I didn’t get a chance to stop by, but when Jamison had to teach a class in Nashville in May, and Lex and I went back to my mom’s house while he was there, I made sure to stop by with my mom, Darlene and Alexis one day for lunch.

Growing up we often ate at Gondolier after church on Sunday. My sister and I would normally get a pizza with black olives and mushrooms, while my mom and daddy would sometimes get the buffet. Also a favorite of mine is their Greek Salad, which I have mentioned before.

This go around we got a pizza that was half house special and half black olives (which is Lex’s favorite variety of pizza):

Gondolier Pizza, Athens, Tennessee: Pizza

The toppings where just as I remember, as was the sauce! So delicious!

Gondolier Pizza, Athens, Tennessee: Pizza

We ended up getting a small pizza with black olives to take home since we demolished the pizza before Lex finished what she actually ordered.

To begin with I got a Greek Salad of course!

Gondolier Pizza, Athens, Tennessee: Greek Salad

It too was so delicious!

Gondolier has locations in Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia and Florida. If you like good pizza, Italian food and an awesome Greek Salad and happen to be in one of the areas of their restaurants I highly recommend them!

You Find The Best Stuff Out and About

From The Orchard

This morning I had to run some errands and once I got through I had the urge to go exploring. There was a road off the main road that I always wondered where it went so I took it. Jamison works from home most days and Lex opted to stay home with him, so I was sans kidlet and in the mood for an adventure. I had a general idea where I thought the road ended up, I had a county map in the car if I got really lost, and if the road did in fact end up where I thought it would, then I planned to go over to the library and see if I they had a copy of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict (which they didn’t).

So I’ve guessed you figured out that the road ended up where I thought it would. I love it when that happens. So since I was where I thought I’d be I decided to stop by the orchard before I went to the library to see what they had today hoping to find some strawberries (Score!) and possibly some peas (No score, but he told me they’d be in this weekend or early next week!) because I’m slightly obsessed with both.

Unfortunately this year we weren’t able to swing the CSA. We didn’t have the upfront cash we needed to sign up at the time because well life’s a bitch and all that, but that didn’t mean that I wanted to totally forgo eating locally. There is just nothing like fresh, local fruits and vegetables, especially when it comes to strawberries! The strawberries today were a little dirty as you can see, but nothing a little water won’t fix, and oh my…The smell! The smell is heavenly!

So I happily picked up some broccoli, spring onions and strawberries. I’ll venture over next week in search of peas, and if I can keep the effing ground hog (who I have nicknamed “Satan” in case you’re wondering) off my porch and out of my garden containers which he seems to think is a free buffet, then I might have some peas of my own to harvest too!

So what are you all growing? What is available at your markets? What do you look forward to most? I’m curious…..

P.S. Two days in a row with an entry? A sign of the apocalypse I’m sure! ;oP As you can see I haven’t been blogging much lately. I’m easing back in to it and for a while I may just be talking about food in general, but feel free to tell me your thoughts on what is going through my head too. I have a few recipes to share too, just be patient with me as my mind is cluttered at the moment and I’m trying to figure out where life is heading.