Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Year's favorite recipes

We've cooked together quite a bit in 2009, making soups and sweets and even a few beverages and breads.

So many of you stopped me in the grocery store, sent an e-mail or called to say how much you loved the Streusel-Topped Pumpkin Pie, Tomato Pie or Stuffed Green Pepper Soup. A number of cooks said they have used the very easy Satin Chocolate Glaze many times on their cakes and cupcakes.

I'm often asked to send recipes to my readers because they forgot to clip a recipe or lost their clipping. I decided this week was a good time to publish again some of my favorite recipes from the year in case you missed them the first time around.

Lisa's Tomato Pie
  • One frozen or refrigerated pie crust
  • 3 to 4 medium, ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped Vidalia onions
  • Olive oil
  • 3 or 4 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (I used reduced fat)
Slice tomatoes and season with salt and pepper; drain juice for an hour or so before using.*

Cook pie crust for 10 minutes at temperature recommended on package. Make sure to prick the crust before baking.

While the crust is cooking, saute onions in a little olive oil.

Once crust is cooked, remove from oven (adjusting oven temperature to 375 degrees) and sprinkle a little of the Parmesan cheese on the crust. (Keep in mind that the Parmesan cheese will also be used in the pie’s layers, so don’t use too much.)

Layer tomato slices over cheese. Add a layer of basil, sauteed onions and a little oregano. Repeat layer, omitting basil this time.

Mix mayonnaise and mozzarella cheese and spread on top of pie. Top with remaining Parmesan.

Bake in pre-heated 375 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes until top is lightly browned and juice is beginning to bubble through.

Let sit for about 20 minutes before cutting.

* Here’s how I drained my tomatoes: I cut the tomatoes into relatively thin slices, not paper thin, but thin. I placed them on a cooling rack that I positioned inside a jelly roll pan to catch the juice. Then I sprinkled salt and pepper on the tomato slices and let them drain. After an hour or so, I put the tomato slices on paper towels to soak up more liquid. If you only seasoned one side of your tomato, be careful to place it seasoned-side up on the paper towels so the salt and pepper won’t rub off. Quite a bit of liquid was removed from my tomatoes, and my pie was certainly not runny. But I also waited to cut the pie until it had cooled for at least 15-20 minutes which also helped it firm up.

Satin Chocolate Glaze
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pour chocolate chips and butter into microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 1 minute. Stir until chips are blended. Mix in honey and vanilla extract. Frost cake or cupcakes.

My New Favorite Soup
  • Olive oil for sauteeing
  • Two medium zucchinis, cut into half-moon shapes
  • 1/2 cup diced carrots
  • 1 onion, choped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cans (14.5 ozs.) petite diced tomatoes
  • 3 cans (14 ozs.) reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried sweet basil
  • 12-oz. package fresh turkey meatballs (cut into quarters)
  • 7 oz. package three-cheese mini ravioli, cooked according to package directions*
  • Shaved Parmesan cheese
In a soup pot, over medium heat, add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil for sauteeing. Add zucchini, carrots and onion and sautee until onions transparent. Add minced garlic in the last minute of cooking.

Add spices, tomatoes and chicken broth and let come to a boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until carrots are tender. Add meatballs and ravioli and cook until heated through.

Pour into individual bowls. Sprinkle shaved parmesan cheese on top.

Makes approximately 8 servings.

*I used Buitoni’s Three-Cheese Ravioletti, found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. For a cheaper option, you could use a boxed pasta, such as spirals. If you use a boxed pasta and plan to have soup leftovers, the leftover pasta will expand and soak up the liquid. You could add the cooked pasta separately to the individual serving bowls and pour the hot soup on top. Refrigerate leftover pasta in a plastic bag and use with leftover soup as needed.

Creamy Wild Rice with Chicken Soup
  • 48 ozs. chicken broth (I used reduced sodium, reduced fat)
  • 2 cups water
  • About 2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
  • 1 (4.5 oz.) package quick cooking long grain and wild rice with seasoning packet (I used Uncle Ben’s)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
In large soup pot, let broth and water come to a boil. Add salt and pepper, carrots, celery and onion and boil for 10 minutes. Add chicken; stir in rice, reserving seasoning packet. Cook rice amount of time indicated on box.

While vegetables and rice are cooking, melt butter in saucepan at medium heat and stir in contents of seasoning package. Stir until bubbly. Lower heat and stir in flour a little bit at a time until incorporated. Whisk in milk a little bit at a time until mixed and smooth. Cook about 5 minutes until thickened.

Stir milk mixture into broth mixture and stir. Let simmer until heated through, about 10 minutes.

Leftover soup is thicker but is very good!

Lemon-Glazed Blueberry Cookies
  • 2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar (divided)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries, washed and air dried
Lemon Glaze
  • Juice from one large lemon
  • Powdered sugar
In a small bowl, add blueberries and pour 1/4 cup granulated sugar over top. Gently stir to mix and let stand while preparing cookies.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or prepare with a light coat of cooking spray.

In a large bowl, cream shortening, brown sugar and remaining granulated sugar. Mix in egg, milk, vanilla extract and lemon zest until well mixed. Mix in flour until incorporated. Gently stir in sugared blueberries and any sugar that has settled to bottle of the bowl.

Drop batter, a teaspoonful at the time, on prepared baking sheet. I used a cookie scoop. If you want larger cookies, the size of a muffin top, try 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter. Make sure each cookie has a blueberry or two. Smaller berries work well for this recipe. Bake 12-15 minutes in preheated 375 degree oven.

While cookies bake, prepare glaze. Squeeze the juice from a lemon into a bowl. Add a little powdered sugar at a time, stirring with a fork until the desired consistency. Should take about 1/2 cup of powdered sugar.

Let cookies cool a little before pouring glaze on top.

Makes around 3 dozen small cookies

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Keeping Christmas

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Christmas traditions and why we break our necks each December to make the same cookies, place the same ornaments on the tree and get to the same houses to celebrate.
It all started a few days after Thanksgiving. My husband, Reggie, brought in our Christmas tree from under the carport, where it had stood for a few days to air out after a year in storage. He and I started to fluff out the branches, starting at the top and working our way down to the bottom. By the time I was working on the longest branches near the base, I started noticing a peculiar odor. I knew right away what it was. It was the unmistakable stink from where a cat had sprayed our tree. At first I thought it was confined to one branch, so Reggie cut it off. But I was wrong. There was more to it, and the longer the tree stayed in our warm house, the more offensive the smell became. I called a friend who has a small family of adopted cats. We talked about my options, and I tried cleaning the tree with disinfectant wipes. But it didn’t take but a few swipes across the brittle green needles to realize we had an unfixable problem.
So I did what any stressed-out, overworked, emotional mom would do. I cried. Sobbed, actually. At no point in that breakdown did I rationalize it was time for new tree anyway. We had used this same tree since 1995. Mama and I had gone shopping after Christmas the year before. She bought one, and I bought one. We were determined to no longer buy a live tree because I was allergic to them and so was my son.
I loved this tree, and I wanted this tree to decorate my home again this year. In fact, I wanted everything exactly like it had always been. Exactly. But in my heart — and even my mind this time — I knew that wasn’t possible because this is our first Christmas without Daddy.
I knew December would be hard, but I had no idea just how much I would cry and remember.
Not only did I cry when my tree had to be tossed to the sidewalk, but I cried when we took out the ornaments and started decorating. I’m a sentimental fool, and my childrens’ construction paper ornaments from their preschool days made me yearn for a simpler life when our biggest concerns were which toy they’d take to school for “B” week or if I had a pretty hair ribbon to match my daughter’s Christmas dress.
I cried again this past weekend when I ran across my recipe for coconut cake that I made for Daddy at Christmas each year. And I cried when my husband so lovingly remembered helping my dad deliver boxes of food after our church Christmas program.
My sister and I talked about the holidays and made plans — a promise really — to make things as special as we could for our children. We wanted to serve Brunswick stew for Christmas Eve dinner and visit with Mama’s family as we always have. We wanted the children to sit in the den at Mama’s Christmas morning and to empty stockings packed full of wonderful treats. We wanted to be together.
Then a wrench was thrown in our plans. Mama, who has Alzheimer’s and is very frail, fell last week and fractured her pelvis. How could any of us bear to watch her suffer? And how could we possible celebrate Christmas if she were still in the hospital? I could feel the sadness settle into my chest, into my very soul.
I know I was gloomy and negative, but my very wise 15-year-old daughter set me straight as we were sitting at Mama’s side Sunday evening. “We’ll just bring the poinsettia down here to decorate the room and bring our stockings and have Christmas here.” Ah-ha! I thought. Maybe we don’t have to make everything exactly the same. Maybe these wonderful grandchildren are more adaptable than I thought. Maybe they are more adaptable than their moms.
Over the last few months, I’ve told myself quite often that I have two options: I can mope around and be sad that the days shared with my parents are over or I can be very thankful to have memories of our shared lives and pass along their wisdom, their traditions. I am very thankful, really I am. I realize not everyone has the same charmed childhood I had or the same loving, devoted parents who raised me. But it’s very hard not to be sad, not to cry because I’ll no longer discuss N.C. State basketball with my dad or see his distinctive handwriting on the envelope he handed me each Christmas morning.
I know the grief subsides, and I know I’ll cope better with each passing month. But it’s just so hard, especially at Christmas when traditions and memories are so much a part of our celebration.
With any luck, Mama will be able to come home for a few days at Christmas, and we’ll all be together in the house she and Daddy made so many memories in for 50 years.
At our house, there’s a new Christmas tree. It’s very pretty decorated with the trinkets I’ve collected since I was a young girl. There aren’t as many ornaments this year — Reggie and I decided to leave off the more fragile ones that might tempt our granddaughter’s busy hands — but it’s still beautiful, and it makes me smile.
There’s also a new photograph, framed in red and placed beside a candle I like to light when I’m home. The photograph shows Daddy, sitting straight up at his spot on the couch and very alert, holding his new great-granddaughter, Sora, on Christmas Day last year. She’s very tiny and sound asleep in his lap. Her first Christmas and his last. I look at that photo every time I leave the house and think of the promise of a new life and the wonderful memories of a life well spent.
I’ve made a promise to myself to share those memories and those traditions with that precious baby, who will have her own stocking to open Christmas morning at Grandma Helen’s house.

Treat for Santa

If you have children in your house, pull them in your lap and read this column with them. We're going to talk about a special treat for Santa Claus.

It's not too late to plan a delicious drink for the jolly old elf. By the time he gets to your house, he will have had all the milk he wants, I suspect. So why not fix him something different, and something warm?

If you have hot cocoa mix at your house, you shouldn't have any trouble making a special drink.

For a mocha flavor, you can mix in some coffee granules. For chai, add some spice for a delicious drink. And definitely top them both with a dollop of whipped topping. Yum.

Don't worry about keeping the drink warm. Santa has magical powers and can probably warm it up himself. And I'm sure it would also be quite good cold.

Santa's not the only one who would enjoy these delicious chocolate drinks. Maybe you can make a hot chocolate drink for everyone in the family to enjoy after a trip caroling around the neighborhood or later this winter when you've been playing in the snow.

Hot Creamy Mocha
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 envelope (1 oz. each) milk chocolate hot cocoa mix
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half (1/2 cup = 4 oz.)
  • Whipped topping
  • Ground cinnamon and cinnamon stick, optional
Mix hot water with cocoa mix and coffee granules. Add half-and-half; stir.

Microwave on high for 1 minutes; stir.

Garnish with whipped cream. Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve with a cinnamon stick for stirring, if desired.

Makes 1 serving.

Swiss Miss

Chai Mocha
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 envelopes (0.55 oz. each) no sugar added hot cocoa mix
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 cinnamon stick*
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Whipped topping
Place milk, hot cocoa mix, instant espresso, cinnamon stick, whole clove, cardamom and ginger in small saucepan. Heat over medium heat 3 to 5 minutes or until hot, whisking occasionally.

Remove and discard cinnamon stick and whole clove. Pour into heat-proof glasses or mugs; top with whipped topping. Serve immediately.

Cook’s Tips:

No whole spices on hand? Substitute 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon and a dash ground clove for the whole. Reduce cardamom to a dash. Proceed with recipe as directed.

Makes 2 servings (3/4 cup each)

Adapted from Swiss Miss

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fudge, fudge and more fudge

Before Santa Claus comes, Faye Taylor will have made and given away 100 pounds of fudge this holiday season.

It's a tradition for the Wilson woman, who's very much at home in the kitchen.

For about a dozen years, she's given fudge to her family and friends as well as people whose paths she's crossed including her doctors and her children's co-workers.

"I love giving," she said. But don't expect a store-bought gift from Taylor.

"I don't buy any presents," she said. She gives food from her kitchen.

Taylor's fudge-making begins in the 55-year-old frying pan her mother gave her when she got married. It's where she starts each recipe, which includes a stick and a half of butter, 3 cups of sugar and some evaporated milk. Each recipe yields 4 pounds of fudge.

Taylor's husband, Kenneth, gets up at 5 a.m. to go to work. That's as good a time as any to start making fudge, she reasons.

Taylor said this time of year she will normally heat up the iron frying pan around 5, then make another batch two hours later. She'll repeat the process in the afternoon, making two more batches of fudge: caramel, butterscotch, chocolate or vanilla, some with nuts, some without.

It takes Taylor about 30 minutes to cook a batch of fudge. The preparation time takes longer; Taylor always pre-measures ingredients before getting started and has them waiting beside the stove. That way, she doesn't leave out an ingredient.

Once the fudge is made and has cooled, Taylor will sometimes decorate each piece with a pecan before cutting the batch into squares. Other batches are cut into seasonal shapes including Christmas trees or hearts. The fudge leftovers that result from cutting the fudge into shapes are all stored in a plastic container. When she gets enough of the chocolate pieces, she'll melt them down in her frying pan, and add butter and evaporated milk to make enough frosting for her famous 10-layer chocolate cake.

The small tins that are given to individuals usually contain 30 small pieces of fudge and one large cutout. If she's taking a tin to a group of 50 or so in an office, she'll allow two to three pieces per person.

Dr. Harvey Ham and his co-workers have gotten fudge from Taylor for more than a dozen years, he said. His favorite is chocolate fudge packed full of chopped pecans.

"The fudge is absolutely marvelous; it melts in your mouth," he said. "You can't have just one piece."

Ham said Taylor's a giving and thoughtful person.

"When she walks in, it's with a smile. She says, 'God bless y'all,' and she walks out the door." She doesn't give them a chance to thank her or fuss over her.

"It's her blessing to do that for us," Ham said.

In recent weeks, Taylor's granddaughter Bridgette Baker and great-grandson C.J. Baker have helped with the fudge-making and grocery shopping. They were with her last week when she bought another 10 pounds of butter and 15 bags of marshmallows. They shop around for the best prices, Baker said.

And they're always on the lookout for good prices on holiday tins to store and give the fudge in as well. People also give tins to Taylor for her holiday fudge.

"That's because they want them back full!" Baker said, laughing.

C.J., who's 4, is learning how to make fudge and helps his great-grandmother with the process. It's important to Taylor that her cooking knowledge is passed on down the generations. C.J.'s favorite part is the sampling. Before a pan of chocolate pecan fudge had cooled one morning last week, C.J. was eyeing it, wanting a taste.

"I could eat the whole spoonful; throw it in my mouth," he said.

Taylor's recipe is one she's developed over the years, making changes as she's gone along.

For instance, she now uses butter instead of margarine.

She tastes every batch she makes, cutting off a small piece in the corner of the pan, just to make sure it's right.

"Now I've got my fudge like I think it's good," she said.

Faye’s Chocolate Pecan Fudge
  • 3/4 cup Carnation evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 10 1/2 oz. bag miniature marshmallows
  • 1 12 oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped pecans
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Pour evaporated milk, butter and sugar into a large iron frying pan, with burner at high. Let come to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and stir until mixture reaches 234 degrees on a candy thermometer. Turn off heat; leave skillet on burner.

Gradually add marshmallows, chips, nuts and vanilla (in that order) with a hand mixer. Incorporate each ingredient before adding the next. Continue mixing until smooth, approximately 10 minutes.

Pour into a buttered 11X18-inch pan. Let cool at room temperature before cutting.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Treats for holiday parties

Besides the fellowship, hugs and presents, one of the best things about a Christmas party is trying other people's special cookies, cakes and candies.

I get some of my best holiday food column ideas from my family and friends.

For the last few years, I've jotted down new recipes I've tried and put them on the calendar for next year's Christmas season.

Last Christmas Eve, as soon as I tried Oreo Truffles made by my cousin Martha Cayton, I knew they'd end up on a food page this Christmas.

My family loved these tiny, tasty treats and managed to swipe a number of leftovers to take home last year. They made me promise to make them again. I said I would, but it took me a year!

On Friday, I left work early so I could make Oreo Truffles and another new treat, Cake Balls. I love reading blogs that include recipes, and a number of them have given recipes and tips for making cake balls this past year.

It was quite a busy (and messy) afternoon, but it was also fun. I love baking for the holidays, even if it is this early.

Oreo Truffles are very easy to make and would be a good recipe to do alongside your children. Basically, this is what you do: crumble most of a package of Oreos, using a food processor or pastry blender; then, with a mixer, add in a package of cream cheese until incorporated. Let chill for about 20 minutes while you clean up, then form into small balls. Chill the balls before dipping in melted white or semi-sweet chocolate. Then decorate. Easy, easy. The hardest part of this recipe is keeping your family from eating them up before your party!

There's nothing low calorie about this recipe, but I did use reduced-fat Oreos as well as reduced fat cream cheese, or Neufchatel. I can promise you no one noticed the drop in fat.

Cake Balls are made with three ingredients: a cake mix, cake frosting and melted chocolate. There are so many possible combinations of flavors: carrot cake or spice cake mix and cream cheese frosting; lemon cake mix with lemon frosting; or a Funfetti cake mix full of sprinkles with vanilla frosting.

For this column, I chose a red velvet cake mix and cream cheese frosting. The idea for cake balls is similar to Oreo truffles. You make the cake according to package directions. Once it's cooled, you break it into crumbs; I used a fork and my fingers to do this. Then mix in almost a whole can of cream cheese frosting. I chilled this mixture in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. I used my small cookie scoop and hands to form these balls. After the cake balls stayed in the freezer for an hour or so, I poured on the chocolate.

I'm not an expert at dipping candies and cakes in chocolate. I alternated between rolling the balls in the chocolate (which leaves crumbs in the chocolate) to just spooning the chocolate over the balls.

I made a big mess with these two recipes, but I thought the results were worth it.

I made both recipes in one afternoon and had both white and semi-sweet chocolate to work with. My family preferred the semi-sweet chocolate. The cake or cookie crumbs don't show through!

Cake Balls
  • 1 box cake mix, prepared according to package directions (I used red velvet and made in 9X13 glass dish.)
  • 1 container cake frosting (I used cream cheese frosting.)
  • 2 packages (8 squares each) semi-sweet chocolate, melted or white chocolate or one of each (I used Baker’s.)
  • Sprinkles for decoration
Make cake according to package directions; cool. Using fork and your hands, crumble cake into large bowl. With a spoon or mixer, stir in a can of frosting, reserving about 1/4 cup. If your mixture is too dry, add in remaining 1/4 cup. Chill mixture for 20-30 minutes.

Using a small cookie scoop or your hands, form into balls. Place balls onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or waxed paper. Chill in freezer for at least 90 minutes.

Melt chocolate according to package directions. Dip chilled cake balls into melted chocolate or pour chocolate over balls. Once the chocolate has set, decorate with opposite color chocolate drizzle and seasonal sprinkles.

Oreo Truffles
  • 1 package Oreos (reserve 6-7 for topping)
  • 1 8 oz. package cream cheese (I used reduced fat.)
  • 2 packages semi-sweet chocolate, melted
Crumble Oreos, reserving a few to crumble for the topping. Use a food processor or pastry blender to make the crumbs. With an electric mixer, mix in cream cheese.

Chill crumb mixture in refrigerator for about 20 minutes. Using a small cookie scoop make balls. Once mixture is in scoop, use thumb to pack. This leaves a flat bottom. If you want it round, use hands to make a ball. Place balls on cookie sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper. Let chill in refrigerator or freezer for about 30 minutes.

Melt chocolate according to package directions. Dip balls in chocolate or spoon chocolate over the balls. Sprinkle cookie crumbs on balls; add colored sprinkles if desired.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes approximately 4 dozen.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Look close to home for role models

The whole Tiger Woods scandal has prompted more than a little discussion at my house.
It’s made us pause to question why we respect people we haven’t even met. And it’s made us ponder why people in the public eye do the things they do.
My daughter, Anna, who’s 15, has been right in the middle of these talks with her dad and me and has weighed in with her opinion. Our conversations have led to tough questions: Why would a husband cheat on his wife, and, in effect, his children? Why did he think he could get away with it? Should his wife take him back, if indeed he has had affairs for so many months — years, in fact?
I told my daughter that I have friends who have worked through infidelity in a marriage. But it’s been a short fling, a one-time indiscretion in most cases. Not that I condone that, I told her, because I do not. But the couple found a way to work it out and move on. I’m not sure I could do that, I shared, but others can.
But Tiger Woods’ case is different. And at 15, she’s old enough and wise enough to see the difference. She’s also old enough to see the craziness in a wife accepting a large amount of money to live in the same mansion as a cheating husband. Is there really a mansion large enough for them both?
I’ve also been alarmed to hear myself say I don’t blame her for hitting him, if that rumor is to be believed. In fact, I was glad to know she had given him hell. But that’s not the right response. Domestic violence is wrong no matter the trigger. But I said it, and I rooted for Elin.
Anna brought up another point in our conversations. Her grandpa, who died in March, loved Tiger Woods and followed his career. He enjoyed watching Tiger play golf and thought a lot of him. Grandpa, she said, would have been so disappointed in Tiger Woods. It made Anna even more disgusted with Woods because he would have disappointed Grandpa.
So what’s the lesson in this? What do I want Anna and her brother to learn from Tiger Woods’ “indiscretions”?
I want them to find role models close to home. I want them to remember how much their grandpa loved their grandmother. How he dressed her and made her meals and drove her places as long as his body and mind would let him. And how after that, he sat on the sofa beside her and held her hand and told us over and over how much he loved her, how she was still his sweetheart.
I want them to think of their paternal grandmother, who was widowed almost 40 years ago, who dated some afterwards but never found anyone else to replace the beau of her youth.
I hope they’ll emulate their great aunts and uncles, who are in their 80s and still looking after each other, the next door neighbor, who still pines for her husband more than 10 years after his death.
And, of course, their own parents. I hope my husband and I can serve as the role models they deserve. I hope by talking to them about our opinions on infidelity that they realize their dad and I are devoted to each other and have no intention of breaking our marriage vows.
In the long run, I think we all must realize that celebrity “heroes” are human. We have no idea what goes on in their lives once the camera’s glare is turned off. So instead of looking to them for some sort of model to live our life, we should look at those we really know for guidance. They are the people who won’t let us down.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Plenty of cakes in this cookbook

"The Cake Mix Doctor Returns" by Anne Byrn. Workman. 502 pages. $15.95.

Over the years, I've cooked many cakes and whipped up quite a few frostings courtesy of Anne Byrn.

Byrn is the author of the "The Cake Mix Doctor" cookbooks. And her latest, "The Cake Mix Doctor Returns," is packed full of recipes that made my mouth water just reading them. There are 160 new cake recipes and 23 frostings. That's a lot of dessert! If you're still looking for a Christmas gift for the cook on your list, I highly recommend this book.

As with the other titles in her series, this latest book starts off with a small color photograph of each of the recipes in the book. So before I even got to the first recipe, I was wishing I could taste Fresh Orange Birthday Cake, Toffee Cake, Pink Lemonade Party Cake or perhaps something pretty called Houdini Bars.

As with her other books, Byrn gives suggestions for making better cakes from how to choose a cake mix to choosing a substitute if you're all out of buttermilk.

She also talks about making her desserts healthier. Over the years, Byrn has been trimming down the fatty, high-calorie ingredients in some of her creations, all of which start with a box of cake mix. Now she finds herself using low-fat or no-fat cream cheese for some recipes and cuts the amount of oil in others. Some recipes in this book are lightened versions of old favorites.

Byrn's newest book is divided into several categories with recipes for Bundt cakes, sheet cakes, layer cakes, bars, pound cakes, brownies, cupcakes, muffins, cookies and frostings. There's even a wedding cake!

Cooks should have no trouble choosing a cake for the family, one to take to a church gathering or a fancier cake for a special birthday.

How about Tiramisu Cake, Cookies and Cream Cheesecake, A Better Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcake or Cake Mix Cinnamon Rolls? The cinnamon roll recipe came for Byrn's media escort in Minneapolis when the author was on tour with her first cookbook, which was published 10 years ago.

I had a hard time choosing which cake to try first, but I decided on Chocolate Chip Layer Cake. Only recently have I overcome my fear of layer cakes, so I was ready to impress my family with this effort. And impressed they were. Everyone in the house loved this cake and begged me to make a second one this weekend. I obliged. The second one wasn't as pretty as the first one, but no one seemed to mind.

My daughter, Anna, suggested we warm each slice of cake in the microwave for 6 seconds before eating. This leaves the chocolate chips gooey and the frosting the perfect creamy texture.

I opted to use a different recipe for my cake, which I've included here.

Chocolate Chip Layer Cake
  • 1 package (12 oz.) miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 package (18.25) yellow cake mix
  • 1 package (3.4 oz.) vanilla instant pudding mix
  • 1 cup milk (I used 1 percent)
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
Place rack in center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly mist two 9-inch round cake pans with vegetable oil spray, then dust them with flour. Shake out the excess flour and set the pans aside.

Measure 1/4 cup of the miniature chocolate chips and set these aside for garnish, if desired.

Place the cake mix, pudding mix, milk, oil, vanilla and eggs is a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until the ingredients are incorporated, 30 to 45 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until combined, about 11/2 minutes longer. Fold in the remaining 11/2 cups chocolate chips. Divide the cake batter evenly between the 2 prepared cake pans, smoothing the tops with the rubber spatula. Place the pans in the oven side by side.

Bake the cake layers until they are golden brown and the tops spring back when lightly pressed with a finger, 33 to 37 minutes. Transfer the cake pans to wire racks and let the cake layers cool for 10 minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edge of each cake layer and give the pans a good shake to loosen the cakes. Invert each layer onto a wire rack, then invert it again onto another rack so that the cakes are right side up. Let the layers cool completely, 20 minutes or longer.

To assemble the cake, transfer one layer, right side up, to a serving platter. Spread the top with a generous portion of the frosting. Place the second layer, right side up, on top of the first and frost the top and side of the cake, working with smooth, clean strokes. Sprinkle with reserved 1/4 cup chocolate chips over the cake, when the frosting has just been spread so that the chocolate chips will stick to the top of the cake.

Chocolate Frosting
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
Stir or mix butter and cocoa until well blended. Add milk and vanilla and stir. Gradually add in confectioners’ sugar for desired consistency. Frosting should be thick but spreadable.

“The Cake Doctor Returns”
(This is how I prepared it, using my frosting recipe.)

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature (don’t use low-fat or no-fat versions)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Place the butter and cream cheese in a medium-size bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until combined, 30 seconds. Stop the machine. Add the cocoa powder and confectioners’ sugar, a bit at a time, beating with the mixer on low speed until the confectioners’ sugar is well incorporated, 1 minute. Add the vanilla, then increase the mixer speed to medium and beat the frosting until fluffy, 1 minute longer. Use the frosting at once.

“The Cake Mix Doctor Returns”
(This is the frosting Anne Bryn uses with her Chocolate Chip Layer Cake)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I always buy more turkey than my family can possibly eat for Thanksgiving dinner.

You know why, don't you? I want the leftovers.

There are few meals I enjoy more than hot turkey and gravy served on toast. And if there's some leftover cranberry relish and sweet potato casserole, then I'm even happier.

Quite often I cook a turkey breast in my slower cooker*, and during the last few months have discovered two new leftover recipes I want to share. One is a simple turkey salad; the other is a turkey soup filled with vegetables and noodles.

I made the turkey salad in late summer and have fallen in love with it. I started with a recipe from Food Network Magazine and adapted it. I don't have measurements, but the ingredients are simple: chopped roasted turkey or chicken, chopped celery, light mayonnaise, dijon honey mustard, sliced red grapes and toasted, slivered almonds.

I adapt how much I make according to who's eating it. Often, I'll make just enough for my lunch. I love to eat the salad on bagel chips or reduced-fat Wheat Thins. I don't include dijon honey mustard, grapes or almonds in my chicken salad, so this recipe has been a wonderful change for my tastebuds!

Turkey Noodle Soup is also different from other soups I make with lots of egg noodles and a splash of Worchestershire sauce to perk up the taste. My usual after-Thanksgiving soup uses up the vegetables from Thanksgiving dinner, but this recipe includes carrots, onions and celery. It doesn't take long at all to mix up this soup, which my family really enjoyed.

* Cooking a turkey breast in the slow cooker couldn't be easier. Rinse the thawed breast with water (I hold mine over the trash can so I don't have to clean the sink after rinsing) and pat dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in slow cooker; I always use a slow cooker bag to line the crock. Put about a teaspoon or two of butter on top and close. Do not add liquid to the slow cooker; it's not necessary. Plenty of broth will accumulate in the bottom of the crock. Cook on low for about 8 hours.

You do have to use a smaller turkey breast if you cook in the slow cooker. If it's a little too large for your cooker when frozen, it will usually be a bit smaller once it's thawed.

Turkey Noodle Soup
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup sliced carrots
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 14 oz. cans reduced-fat, reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups uncooked egg noodles (I use No Yolks)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Splash Worchestershire sauce
  • 2 cups shredded turkey
Heat large saucepan or soup pot and coat with cooking spray. Add carrots, onion and garlic and saute about 5 minutes until onion slightly browned. Add celery and pepper; saute 3 more minutes.
Add chicken broth, egg noodles and Worchestershire sauce and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Add in turkey and cook another 3 minutes. Discard bay leaf before serving.

Adapted from Cooking Light

Tasty Turkey Salad
  • Roasted turkey, chopped
  • Celery, chopped
  • Reduced fat mayonnaise
  • Dijon honey mustard
  • Sliced grapes
  • Slivered almonds, toasted
Combine turkey, celery, mayonnaise and mustard until desired consistency. Gently fold in grapes and top with almonds.
I do not have specific measurements for this. I just mix in ingredients until it looks and tastes like I want it to.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Not your ordinary pumpkin pie

If you're like me, you have a set menu for Thanksgiving and very seldom change it.

I make the same vegetables (corn, butter beans, field peas and mashed potatoes), the same sweet potato casserole and the same cranberry congealed salad that mama always made for us. We also must have crescent rolls at my son's request. I've experimented with dressing the last several years but have settled on a favorite recipe, although my children still want me to also make Stove Top stuffing for them. I do it because that means Reggie and I get more leftovers of the homemade stuff.

I also make pumpkin pie for dessert. It's a simple recipe from the pumpkin can. Nothing hard about it. My family loves it with whipped cream on top. We've actually eaten it for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. We're stuffed after supper, so why not enjoy it while we're hungry? In other words, we love this pie.

So why change things? Well, why not? I've always wanted to put a different spin on my pumpkin pie, so over the weekend, I experimented with Pillsbury's very simple Streusel-Topped Pumpkin Pie. I basically followed the recipe, except I divided the topping between the bottom of the pie and the top, and I used a graham cracker crust instead of a traditional pie crust.

The pie is delicious. The nutty topping and the graham cracker crust add a delicious twist to the pie. The topping is also very pretty, and makes you think a pecan pie is underneath!

If you're up to something new on your menu next week, (something different but not radical!) give this pie a try.

Check back next week for some ideas on what to do with your turkey leftovers.

Streusel-Topped Pumpkin Pie

1 graham cracker pie crust (can probably fill the two-extra serving size because I had extra with the regular size)

1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin (no pumpkin pie mix)
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk (1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

Heat oven to 425 degrees.
In large bowl, mix filling ingredients until well blended. Pour into pie crust.
Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F; bake 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in small bowl, mix streusel ingredients.
Sprinkle streusel over pumpkin filling. Bake 15 to 20 minutes longer or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely, about 1 hour.

Adapted from Pillsbury

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Like stuffed peppers?

I must warn you for future columns. I'm in a soup-loving mood. And this week's recipe is a good one; I promise.

I love stuffed bell peppers. It's been years since I made my own because my family and I really enjoy the frozen Stouffer's version. I serve them with spaghetti topped with cheddar cheese. It's a favorite meal at my house.

Imagine those wonderful flavors in a soup. It's as delicious as it sounds.

I read several recipes before deciding how to make my soup. You can certainly do the same to fit your family's tastes.

The recipes I read used anywhere between 1/2 pound of ground sirloin to 2 pounds of ground beef. I opted for 1 pound of ground beef (it was on sale).

A few recipes used tomato sauce. I chose tomato soup.

Some called for onions and 1/2 cup of chopped bell pepper; others suggested 2 cups. I used 1 cup and didn't add onion.

Most recipes used water and beef bouillon. Some used chicken broth. I used a can of reduced-fat beef broth.

I also added a little bit of brown sugar, as suggested in one recipe, and I added the cooked rice at the end of the cooking time rather than letting the rice cook in the soup. The rice was the perfect texture that way. And to make the process even easier, I used a bag of microwave rice.

I was also lucky enough to have locally-grown bell peppers for my soup, thanks to farmer Tom Griffin's Saturday morning vegetable stand on Ward Boulevard.

To make this delicious soup even better, we sprinkled grated cheddar cheese on top, once it was poured into our bowls. The cheese melted beautifully and stuck to the spoon. Just the way I like it!

Stuffed Bell Pepper Soup is really delicious, and it's so easy to make. The entire process takes less than an hour. Serve with some bread and fruit, and you have a complete meal.

Stuffed Bell Pepper Soup
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 141/2 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 103/4 oz. can tomato soup
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup chopped bell pepper
  • 1 14 oz. can beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 cups cooked rice (I used Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice in the microwave bag)
  • Grated Cheddar cheese
Brown beef, drain and rinse.
In soup pot, mix beef, tomatoes, tomato soup, salt and pepper, bell pepper, beef broth and brown sugar. Let come to boil; reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until peppers are tender. Mix in cooked rice and stir to blend.
Pour into bowls. Sprinkle with cheese (about a tablespoon).

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sweet treasures

Foy Allen Edelman has assembled quite a collection of stories and recipes in "Sweet Carolina: Favorite Desserts and Candies from the Old North State" from the University of North Carolina Press.

For more than six years, Edelman traveled across the state collecting recipes for cakes and pies and all sorts of goodies. Along with the recipes, she also recorded stories not only about the recipes but about a way of life generations back.

Edelman calls her cookbook adventure a treasure hunt. "I've been seeking out local cooks and recording their recipes, cooking experiences and stories."

She tells about a man who mixed cakes with his hands until he bought a mixer, about celebrations that wouldn't be special without a glorious cake, about families who used fruits and nuts from their yard to make cakes and pies, about mothers who made collections of their recipes to pass on to the next generations.

Edelman talked to 104-year-old Nollie Ridenhour Zimmerman of Rowan County about her recipe for Chest Pie. Zimmerman got the recipe while listening in on a conversation on a telephone party line. Edelman also explains that chest pies are named for pies that were kept in a pie chest.

Lu Ann Thompson of Granville County shares her recipe for Grandma's Pie. "The recipe was given to me as a wedding gift. When she gave me several pie recipes she prefaced them by giving me a quote that said, 'Love is eternal. Let's keep it that way.'"

"She loved to cook. When she made pies, she might make ten. It was quite a day's ordeal in that she would make the crusts," Thompson continued. "After she would bake them, she would put them on cooling racks, and they would stack up four, five, six high. There was always pie on the stove for anyone to eat, because it was a home that people were in and out of a lot -- neighbors, family, whatever..."

If you enjoy the traditional recipes of your mother or grandmother, you would enjoy reading the little stories that accompany these recipes. And if you cook, you can recreate some of Granny's favorites, including Blackberry Cobbler, Scuppernong Grape Pie, Fried Apple Pies, Black Walnut Pound Cake, Lena Belle's Seven-Layer Chocolate Cake and Icing or maybe Pecan Divinity or Grandma Davis' Blueberry Biscuits.

Edelman plans to put together more collections of main dishes, vegetables "and everything else good that lands on a North Carolina table."

Brown Sugar Pie

“This was one of Grandmama’s (Kate Capehart Bell’s) recipes, but I believe the handwriting to be that of her dear friend Louise Sandridge of Windsor. I’m sure Grandmama tried the pie and asked Louise for the recipe. It tastes somewhat like a pecan pie and was probably carried to many after-church lunches and covered dish suppers.”
  • 1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat the eggs well. Blend in the brown sugar, butter and vanilla extract until the filling is smooth. Fold in the pecans. Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust. Bake for 35 minutes or until the filling is golden brown and set.
Serves 6 to 8.

Mary Charles Pawlikowski

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Caramel corn

Although caramel popcorn is good all year long, it’s around Halloween when recipes start popping up for the delicious snack.

I've made it a few times, but I had never seen a microwave version of the recipe that incorporates a paper bag! Yep, a paper bag.

What makes the paper bag so wonderful is that you throw away the ooey, gooey mess that's left behind when the caramel popcorn is ready to eat.

I air-popped my own popcorn, but you can also use bagged microwave popcorn if you prefer. Make sure you pull out any unpopped kernels before mixing in the caramel.

The caramel sauce mixes up quickly and cooks in the microwave in under five minutes for a quick and easy treat.

The original recipe suggests transferring the cooked popcorn into a large brown bag, then pouring the caramel sauce over the popcorn. After reading reviews of the recipe, I decided to mix mine in a bowl before transferring to two small bags (I didn't have a large paper bag.) My way worked fine; I'm sure the other way would, too.

If you have a Halloween party or fall carnival coming up, I encourage you to try this treat. And don't hesitate to mix in some other goodies, including peanuts and chocolate chips.

Microwave Caramel Popcorn
  • 4 quarts popped popcorn
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 lunch-size paper bags
Place the popped corn in a large bowl.
In another large, microwave safe bowl, mix brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, salt and vanilla. Cook for 3 minutes in microwave; remove and stir. Return to microwave for another 1 1/2 minutes. Remove from microwave and stir in baking soda; this step is not optional.
Pour syrup over popcorn and stir to combine.
Place half of popcorn in a paper bag. Fold down top. Microwave for 1 minute; take out of microwave and shake. Return to microwave and cook for another 30 to 45 seconds. Be careful not to let the popcorn burn during this last cooking time.
Pour popcorn on cookie sheet lined with waxed paper or buttered. Let cool.
Repeat with remaining popcorn.

Adapted from Allrecipes.com

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fruit of the Spirit

As I read through White Oak Hill Free Will Baptist Church's new cookbook, "Fruit of the Spirit," I kept thinking of recipes I could make for homecoming at my own church in a few weeks.

The 160-page, three-ring binder book is packed full of casseroles, salads and desserts like the ones I'll find on the tables of the Free Will Baptist church I attend. And that's a compliment.

Quite often, I'll get calls from readers who want to purchase a local cookbook, usually a church cookbook, for a bridal shower gift, and they want some direction on where to buy one. They want to be able to share recipes from our region. This cookbook has the variety of recipes that would get a young couple cooking or provide some variety for those of us who have been cooking for years.

I wanted to make a salad to go along with my easy Sunday lunch, so I made Earlene Pitts' Fruit Salad. I knew it was similar to another recipe I make, but this new one uses vanilla pudding instead of cornstarch and sugar. It was so easy! I also added something new to this salad: strawberries. It was a delicious addition to our meal and was also good as leftovers Monday.

As you read through the 478 entries, you'll find recipes for salads similar to the one I made and casseroles made with broccoli, potatoes, squash or sweet potatoes. There's even a turnip casserole in the book!

Many of the main dishes are simple meals you can make after work including Green Pepper Steak, Walking Taco and Chicken Honey Nut Stir Fry. Others, such as Country Style Chicken Kiev and Chicken and Broccoli Braid, you can save for the weekend when there's more time to cook.

Of course, there are plenty of desserts. I'd love to try Marie Dew's Blueberry Tart. Her recipe is marked with a cross, indicating the recipe was submitted in her memory.

Judy Alford's Crunchy Brownies have mini chocolate chips, butterscotch morsels, pecans and toffee bits mixed in. Don't you know that's delicious!

"Fruit of the Spirit" is a project of Women Active for Christ and costs $15. To purchase, call Teresa Medlin at 235-3287 or Sue Keeny at the Bailey church at 235-3868.

Proceeds from the book will benefit mission projects.

Fruit Salad
  • 1 (13 oz. ) can pineapple chunks (drain and reserve juice)*
  • 1 (6 oz. ) can mandarin oranges (drain and reserve juice)*
  • 1 (3 oz.) package of cook and serve vanilla pudding mix
Cook juice with 1 package of vanilla pudding (not instant) until the pudding clears, stirring constantly. Cool. Add pineapple, mandarin oranges and any other fruit in season (peaches, pears, melons, strawberries or grapes). Refrigerate.
*I used the next biggest size of both pineapple and oranges because I couldn’t find the smaller size cans. I used all the juice from each, so I had a lot of syrup to mix with the fruit. I added in two diced apples, a sliced banana and a cup or two of sliced strawberries.

Earlene Pitts

Chicken Honey Nut Stir Fry
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 large carrots, diagonally cut
  • 2 ribs of celery, diagonally cut
  • 1/2 cup peanuts
Cut chicken into thin strips and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine orange juice, honey, soy sauce, cornstarch and ginger; mix well. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add carrots and celery; stir fry about 3 minutes. Remove vegetables and set aside.
Pour remaining oil into skillet. Add meat; stir fry until chicken is no longer pink. Return vegetables to skillet; add sauce mixture and nuts. Cook and stir over medium high heat until sauce is thickened.
Serve over rice.

Pam Deans

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Season for soup

I love soup season.

I cook soup all year, but it's the cool days of fall and the cold days of winter when I really love the comfort that a pot of soup brings to my kitchen and my soul.

Although I have plenty of go-to soup recipes that my family requests, I also try new recipes.

A few weeks ago, when the temperature cooled down, I pulled out a recipe I wanted to try and started experimenting. The result was a delicious hamburger soup packed with vegetables and rice.

It was yummy.

This is one of those recipes you can easily put your stamp on, especially with your choice of vegetables.

I used onions, canned tomatoes, carrots, butter beans, garden peas and corn. The butter beans were frozen, the carrots were fresh, and the rest were canned.

You can also use brown rice, long grain rice or wild rice.

The original recipe suggested potatoes, but I didn't want both potatoes and rice in the soup, so I chose rice only.

If you like garlic, add that to the ground beef while it's cooking. A little oregano would probably be good as well.

I love the extra flavor the Worchestershire sauce added, so don't miss that. I also decided at the last minute to squirt in some ketchup. I remembered how Mama would sometimes add ketchup to her soup and always to her Brunswick stew. It added an extra zest, I think.

This is an easy soup to make and certainly a good way to warm up the family this fall.

Hamburger Vegetable Soup with Rice
  • 1 pound reduced fat ground beef
  • Ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 28 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
  • 3/4 to 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup butter beans
  • 8 1/2 oz. can garden peas, drained
  • 8 1/2 oz. can corn, drained
  • Two 14 oz. cans reduced sodium beef broth
  • 3-4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 cup uncooked long grain rice
Brown ground beef, seasoned with pepper, and drain fat. Pour into large soup pot and add remaining ingredients and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes or until vegetables are tender and rice is cooked.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dinner made easy

I enjoy cooking on the weekend and look forward to planning Saturday night's meal each week.

The menu usually depends on which family members will be eating at home that night.

Sometimes I do more complicated meals because I have more time to cook on Saturday and love to make yeast rolls or dessert to go with what I'm serving.

This past Saturday's menu was an easy one. It all started because I wanted a spinach salad. I ran across a new recipe for a fabulous and simple dressing a few weeks back, and Reggie and I loved it. I was eager to try it again. I had a quart of strawberries in the refrigerator, so it seemed like the perfect time for a spinach salad. So, what should I serve with it?

I knew chicken breasts were on sale at our favorite grocery store and decided on a simple chicken recipe my sister, Susan, gave me many years ago. I bought whole chicken breasts, which are much cheaper than tenders, and cut them into strips (or tenders) with my kitchen shears.

The recipe calls for the chicken tenders to be brushed with honey mustard and dipped in Italian bread crumbs. A sauce of apple juice and butter is drizzled on top. That's it. The chicken cooks under aluminum foil for part of the baking time, so it comes out tender and juicy.

I served it Saturday with angel hair pasta topped with a little butter and Parmesan cheese. This meal comes together in a short period of time. I made the salad and cooked the pasta while the chicken was cooking. The food was on the table in less than an hour from the time I started prep work.

The meal was delicious, and we had lots of leftovers.

I had only made enough salad for the two of us, so there was plenty of spinach and salad dressing for another meal. The chicken is very good in a sandwich or could be sliced and served in a leftover spinach salad.

Susan's Chicken Tenders
  • 3 chicken breasts cut into strips or tenders
  • Honey mustard
  • Italian bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons apple juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare 9X13-inch dish with baking spray.

Brush chicken with honey mustard and dredge in bread crumbs. Place in prepared baking dish.

Mix butter and apple juice and drizzle over chicken.

Cover with foil and cook at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Uncover and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until cooked through.

Serves four.

Susan Hoffman

Spinach Salad Dressing
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar, but balsamic or white vinegar would be a good substitute)
Mix ingredients in a covered bowl or covered cruet and pour over salad. Toss to coat. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes before eating.

*In our spinach salad, we use baby spinach sliced strawberries and toasted sliced almonds.

Let the graduation project begin!

My daughter, Anna, will graduate in 2012. That means she's in the first Wilson County Schools class required to complete a graduation project.
I moaned the first time I heard about the proposal. Just what we need, I thought, another project.
This child has used enough glue sticks and printer ink on school projects to supply a small school district. We are forever going out after dinner to buy supplies for such things as a scrapbook for Scout in "To Kill A Mockingbird" to Mod Podge or a bone folder (look it up; I'd never heard of it either) for an art project. Last night, we retrieved an old hairdryer and a white sheet from the linen closet at Mama's. I have no idea why she needs these things at school. She told me why she needed the hair dryer, which doesn't have to work, but I didn't understand the explanation. It involved wrapping something.
When I heard about the graduation project, I could only imagine the expense and the time element involved in such an undertaking. If you have a child in school, you are familiar with projects. We've done it all at our house: exploring the solar system; making papier mache masks; building dinosaurs from newsprint; researching poets; constructing a small-scale room; growing all kinds of plants. Right now, a crop of kidney beans planted in eight plastic cups is slowly wilting on my dining room table. Some projects are very elaborate and most are time-consuming.
This summer, Anna worked seven or eight hours a day (sometimes even more) on a summer IB art project. It consumed every waking moment for weeks with either the thought process, the purchasing of materials or the actual execution of the assignment in her sketchbook. She went about the project with a fierce determination and motivation to do it right.
She also spent several days with two Wilson artists who unselfishly gave their time to help her complete a requirement of exploring new art mediums.
The summer experience with IB art reminds me very much of what a graduation project will be. It will be time-consuming, it could be very expensive, and it will require the help of others. But it will also be a wonderful exercise in learning, and if it's like Anna's experiences this summer, it will stretch the student's imagination and broaden his knowledge. Perhaps it will even excite him, like it did my daughter when she learned how to properly change the lighting on a photograph and later made a black and white print in a photographer's darkroom.
Yesterday, Anna's English class learned more about the graduation project. Their teacher broke down the timeline over the next three years as they narrow in on a topic and work towards completion. At the request of her teacher, Anna asked her dad and me to talk to her about the project last night. She has already come up with three or four project ideas. They are all related to the arts and are all topics that are not taught in Wilson County Schools. If she finds a mentor willing to give 15 hours of his or her time, she will be able to learn more about print photography, Photoshop, silversmithing or hand-thrown pottery. The three of us talked about the possibilities the project offered and the people she could ask to help her. I'm so glad the schools already have them thinking about this project.
I hope other high school sophomores are having these same conversations with their parents. It's going to take not only the student and teachers to get these graduation projects complete, it's also going to take the parents and community, with volunteers willing to offer their time to teach their craft or share their occupation with students willing to learn.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"How's your Mama?"

Almost every day, someone asks, "How's your mama?" I appreciate the concern, I really do, but I don't always know how to answer the question.
Mama is not well. She's a frail whisper of her former self, when she was buying size 14 Alfred Dunner matching tops and slacks. At less than 90 pounds, even size small hangs on her thin frame.
She almost always has a sad or at least serious look on her face. Her smiles are saved for rare and special occasions: a visit with her sister, daughter from out of town and great-granddaughter, who, at age 10 months old, has the gift of making Grandma Helen happy.
During the summer, there were spells when Mama would eat less than a half-cup of food a day. She's had more of an appetite in recent weeks, but that doesn't mean she's eating heartily. I was thrilled to learn she had eaten one and a half chicken tenders and about a tablespoon of broccoli casserole I had cooked Saturday night. That was a huge meal for her, and I was happy.
At some meals, Mama will suddenly forget how to swallow. Of all the things I grow impatient over, this is at the top of the list. On a visit to the house to pay the caregivers Thursday morning, I watched milk dribble out the corners of her mouth. She made quiet grunting sounds and pointed to her mouth to let me know there was a problem. "Swallow it, Mama. Let it go down your throat." Blank stare. I rubbed her throat and repeated my request: "Swallow it, Mama." Sometimes this works, but not that day. I picked up a napkin and blotted the milk that was running down her chin. And forget about those last two pills. There was no way she would swallow those either, crushed or whole. So we gave up.
Walking is a challenge more and more each day, it seems. A hospice nurse told me months ago she was amazed that my mama could still walk. Her physical decline hasn't keep up with her mental decline. But her walking is so unsteady. She often crosses her feet when she walks, stumbling with each step. We hold onto her, guiding her moves the best we can. There are days when she walks with a slant towards the right. Other days, her walking pattern is definitely towards the left. Some days, one foot will lag, and one day last week, her left foot turned under with each step she took.
But don't try to stop her from walking. When she has the strength, she paces all day long, from one door to the next, looking for her family, who are busy at school or work. But she doesn't understand that. She thinks we are abandoning her with strangers.
I visit her as often as I can, but I know it's not enough. I drop by most days at lunch, and we sit and hold hands. There's not much talking. I ask her questions: "How was your night?" "Did you have a good breakfast?" She looks at me, puzzled, and has no idea how to answer. "I didn't do it." "Nobody told me." One day last week, I asked her a similar question, her answer was, "He's dead." She's still thinking of my daddy.
There are days when she talks. We don't understand much of what she says because she talks so quietly, and her words are a muffled garble. But sometimes she will tell us something that we understand. At her sister's house recently, she told us, "I don't feel good." It's not normal to hear a complete sentence that makes sense, so we paid close attention to what she was saying. Earlier this summer, again at her sister's, she told everyone present, "I love you," and followed it with a kiss. I cried. I cry a lot.
When I left her yesterday afternoon, after 30 minutes of just sitting and holding her hand, I kissed her goodbye. She reached up her right arm to hug me. She never does that. It was a tight hug, and she cried softly as we embraced. There's so much sadness inside that tiny body.
So, how is my Mama? My mama is frail. My mama is sad. My mama's not well.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cookies packed with goodness

There was a time when I seldom made cookies. They were messy, I reasoned, and not worth the effort. But I've changed my mind in the last few years, thanks to the purchase of a cookie scoop for the dough. (Actually, my sister might have bought my first one.)

So now, I think nothing of trying a new recipe, or pulling out an old one, so my family and I can enjoy fresh-baked cookies when we want them. With the help of the scoop, I can make relatively uniform cookies and don't have to form cookies into balls with my hands (which I hate). And if I happen to have parchment paper on hand, the whole process is even easier because there's no crusty cookie sheet to wash.

My latest effort was a variation of Flu-Fighter Cookies in the new Food Network Magazine. That recipe is jam packed with nuts and fruit and oatmeal and spices. The photograph showing the nuts and fruit on top made an enticing photo, so I made the recipe, with changes, of course. In fact, I made lots of changes.

My version of the cookie omits a few things, such as molasses, cloves, raisins, walnuts and dried cranberries. Instead, my cookies featured dried cherries and pecans, seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg. The big addition, however, was dark chocolate chips to complement the cherries.

Let me tell you just how good these cookies are, fresh out of the oven while the chocolate is still gooey! And the lemon zest adds the most wonderful, fragrant addition to the tasty treats.

My husband and I loved these cookies. I will be making them again.

Fruit and Oatmeal Cookies with Dark Chocolate
  • 2 1/4 cups self-rising flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 bag dried cherries (cut in half)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
Prepare cookie sheets either by lining with parchment paper or lightly coating with baking spray.

In a medium bowl, stir cinnamon and nutmeg into flour.

In a large bowl, beat butter and brown sugar until creamy. Mix in eggs, yogurt and lemon zest. Slowly incorporate flour and spice mixture. Fold in oats, chocolate chips and half the dried cherries and half the pecans. Mix together remaining cherries and pecans and set aside.

Using a spoon or cookie scoop, drop tablespoonsful of dough onto prepared cookie sheets. Place remaining cherries and pecans on cookies. While oven is preheating to 375, let dough chill (on cookie sheet) in refrigerator.

Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes. Don’t let cookies bake too long; cookies should be soft.
Makes about 30 cookies.

Adapted from Food Network Magazine

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dip into some spinach

I'm not one to make appetizers for meals. We're lucky to just get the main course and a side dish or two. Appetizers and desserts are few and far between as a general rule at our house.

But the photograph of a spinach dip caught my eye at the grocery store one Saturday morning a few weeks back, and I had to try it.

The recipe for Creamy Spinach and Red Pepper Dip was on the back of the box of Triscuit Thin Crisps that I was buying. I immediately thought how good it would be teamed with the grilled steak sandwiches we were having for supper. If I made that dip, plus my daughter's favorite pizza dip, I could also skip making a salad, I reasoned.

So I bought the Triscuits as well as the ingredients I needed to make the two dip recipes.

I very seldom cook with spinach. I don't know why, but I don't. But I was careful to drain the spinach the best I could, even using my salad spinner, as I had seen suggested in a review for another recipe recently. It only took a few minutes to make the dip, which I refrigerated until suppertime.

My family enjoyed our dips that Saturday night. It was nice to have some different foods on a table -- fun foods at that!

I'm glad I looked on the back of that Triscuit box. I'm always looking at those back-of-the-box recipes. Some of my favorite recipes come from the back of a box. Look for more in coming weeks.

Creamy Spinach and Red Pepper Dip
  • 1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed, well drained
  • 4 oz. (1/2 of 8-oz. pkg.) Neufchatel cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup chopped roasted red peppers
  • Triscuit Thin Crisps
Mix all ingredients except crackers; cover.
Refrigerate several hours or until chilled.
Serve as a dip with the crackers.

Kraft Foods

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tomatoes in pie?

If you have a garden, odds are good that there are still a few tomatoes, at least, clinging to those fading vines. I noticed several green ones on mine this weekend and will be watching them closely because I've got plans for them. I'm going to make another tomato pie.

I've seen recipes for tomato pie before, and this summer, a number of food blogs I read mentioned various versions of both tomato pies and tomato tarts. The photos showed pies layered with tomatoes and cheese with a golden brown crust; I was intrigued. My husband and I love vine-ripened tomatoes, and we certainly love cheese, so why not give it a try?

I didn't especially want to go by a specific recipe. Instead, I wanted to make my own. So I read recipes online and in a cookbook from my niece's former elementary school in South Carolina, where tomato pies are apparently quite popular.

I read the dozen or so recipes and imagined how each pie would taste. I decided right away that my first tomato pie would be meatless, although some use bacon or even pepperoni. Mine would be a side dish.

I also decided not to use cheddar cheese, although many of the recipes I read did use cheddar. I wanted more of the pizza effect, I guess, and decided on mozzarella and Parmesan.

At first, I didn't want to add onions to my pie, until I saw a comment with one online recipe where the cook had sauteed Vidalia onions for her recipe. That sounded delicious, so I tried it. But I opted not to use garlic. I did, however, use fresh basil from my patio plant.

I also took the advice of recipe reviewers and drained the juice from my tomatoes the best I could.

Here's how I did it: I cut the tomatoes into relatively thin slices, not paper thin, but thin. I placed them on a cooling rack that I positioned inside a jelly roll pan to catch the juice. Then I sprinkled salt and pepper on the tomato slices and let them drain. After an hour or so, I put the tomato slices on paper towels to soak up more liquid. If you only seasoned one side of your tomato, be careful to place it seasoned-side up on the paper towels so the salt and pepper won't rub off. Quite a bit of liquid was removed from my tomatoes, and my pie was certainly not runny. But I also waited to cut the pie until it had cooled for at least 15-20 minutes, based on a reviewer's suggestion, which also helped it firm up.

Those of us at home who love tomatoes, loved this pie. We agreed it reminded us of pizza, although the crust is a pie crust. If I can get the tomatoes, I will make this recipe another time or two before the summer's tomatoes are gone because it is truly delicious.

Lisa’s Tomato Pie
  • One frozen or refrigerated pie crust
  • 3 to 4 medium, ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped Vidalia onions
  • Olive oil
  • 3 or 4 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (I used reduced fat)
Slice tomatoes and season with salt and pepper; drain juice for an hour or so before using.*

Cook pie crust for 10 minutes at temperature recommended on package. Make sure to prick the crust before baking.

While the crust is cooking, saute onions in a little olive oil.

Once crust is cooked, remove from oven (adjusting oven temperature to 375 degrees) and sprinkle a little of the Parmesan cheese on the crust. (Keep in mind that the Parmesan cheese will also be used in the pie’s layers, so don’t use too much.)

Layer tomato slices over cheese. Add a layer of basil, sauteed onions and a little oregano. Repeat layer, omitting basil this time.

Mix mayonnaise and mozzarella cheese and spread on top of pie. Top with remaining Parmesan.

Bake in pre-heated 375 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes until top is lightly browned and juice is beginning to bubbe through.

Let sit for about 20 minutes before cutting.

* Here’s how I drained my tomatoes: I cut the tomatoes into relatively thin slices, not paper thin, but thin. I placed them on a cooling rack that I positioned inside a jelly roll pan to catch the juice. Then I sprinkled salt and pepper on the tomato slices and let them drain. After an hour or so, I put the tomato slices on paper towels to soak up more liquid. If you only seasoned one side of your tomato, be careful to place it seasoned-side up on the paper towels so the salt and pepper won’t rub off. Quite a bit of liquid was removed from my tomatoes, and my pie was certainly not runny. But I also waited to cut the pie until it had cooled for at least 15-20 minutes, based on a reviewer’s suggestion, which also helped it firm up.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Great visit with the Wolf

Great Wolf Lodge. Have you seen the commercials? I love the snappy tune, and when I hear it, I automatically think of the wonderful resort in Williamsburg that my family has visited several times now.
A week ago Sunday, we ventured there again. This time, we had four teenagers in tow. Yes, four, and only two of them were ours. You never know what will happen when you put teenagers together with rather boring adults, but our results were fabulous. Everyone seemed to have a blast. I don't know when I've seen such happy faces!
It had been three years, I guess, since my family was at the resort, and a number of changes had been made both in and outside the waterpark. Howling Tornado and Wolf Rider Wipeout were hits with our kids, especially Wipeout. The attraction is a surf simulator. One rider at a time gets a turn at the fast waves. Reggie and I sat at this attraction for a long time both days we were there. We watched little kids get tossed about and old folks like us get tossed about. But what we really enjoyed were the resort visitors who could ride the waves. I especially got a kick out of watching the teenagers with us as they jostled about in the fast-moving water. All four managed to stay on their surfboard (some longer than others!) What a great ride for those adventurous enough to try it!
While the teenagers were busy on water slides, the wave pool, lazy river or hot tub, Reggie and I most people-watched. The park was packed Sunday, so we had plenty of people to watch. Moms and dads with babies were joined by grandparents who also got in the swing of things. Kids ran from attraction to attraction, in a safe environment overseen by a herd of lifeguards. We especially liked watching the lifeguard assigned to the lazy river who constantly walked back and forth over the same area, scanning the water for bodies, I guess.
My family also enjoys the amenities outside the water. The kids spent a lot of time (and money!) in the arcade. Arcades aren't easy to come by these days, so they enjoyed a variety of games from Dance Dance Revolution to Deal or No Deal. Two of them played miniature golf, which they enjoyed.
We also had meals and treats from the water park snack bar. We tried to eat dinner at the poolside bar and grill, but a monstrous thunderstorm ran us inside. Next time we visit, we will try again. They actually cook the food on an outdoor grill, and my crowd was looking forward to some grilled burgers and chicken and pineapple skewers.
Our kids were too old to participate in another new-to-us attraction at Great Wolf, MagiQuest. For a fee, kids use a wand that activates challenges throughout the lodge. Little kids ran up and down the hallways with their wands, working on challenges and making things light up or open and close. They were having so much fun that we were tempted to participate!
My family loves Great Wolf Lodge, and I don't hesitate to suggest it to families. We love the laid-back atmosphere and the fun environment.
Williamsburg is such a quick drive — less than 3 hours — and is such a wonderful place to visit after the family grows weary of the chlorine and water!

Monday, July 20, 2009

A taste of Savannah

In one week's time, Reggie and I made two quick trips to Savannah: one to deliver our daughter to a weeklong workshop at Savannah College of Art and Design and one to pick her up.
I could tell you all about the historic buildings we saw, the shaded squares, the Spanish moss, the wonderful shopping, the beautiful silver ring Reggie bought for me, the view of the Savannah River from our hotel room. But instead, I want to talk about the food we ate.
Before our trip, Reggie and I read about dining and shopping and activities in Savannah. We both knew we wanted to eat at Paula Deen's Lady and Sons on our return trip, but we had to carefully choose what we wanted to eat during the few hours we were in Savannah the Sunday we dropped off our daughter. We chose Leopold's Ice Cream on Broughton, which turned out to be the street with wonderful shopping as well!
Leopold's was established in 1919 and was made famous for its homemade ice cream. The business closed at some point but was reopened in 2004 by a descendant of the original Leopold brothers. The current business uses the original ice cream recipe and some of the same fixtures from the original store, including the black marble soda fountain. In addition to ice cream, the restaurant serves sandwiches and salads.
The restaurant sounded like the perfect plan for the three of us, who were hot and hungry after driving five hours. Reggie and I each ordered a club sandwich with a side order of pasta salad, and Anna got a turkey sandwich with chips. We all three enjoyed our meal so much and still had room for some ice cream. I chose chocolate swirl; Reggie got his favorite butter pecan, and I think Anna got vanilla or maybe chocolate. The ice cream was truly delicious and was a good indication of the special homemade food we would sample in Savannah.
After eating, we drove around Savannah, taking in the sites and getting acquainted with the city. We made several stops at fashionable shops such as Marc Jacobs and Urban Outfitters before stumbling across City Market. We wandered in and out of shops and galleries and found Savannah's Candy Kitchen, where a worker was making taffy by the front door. The aromas from this business were heavenly! I literally felt like a kid in the candy store as I admired the chocolate covered pretzels (which I bought), pralines, caramel apples and other delights. I picked out some favorite taffy flavors and filled up a bag to take home.
That was it for our first quick trip. Reggie and I were in Savannah for less than four hours that day, but we did return!
Lady and Sons was certainly the culinary highlight of our second quick visit. For years I had wanted to eat at Paula Deen's famous restaurant and sample the fried chicken! It was worth the wait.
Reggie and I were quite surprised at the size of the restaurant. Lady and Sons is located in the 200-year-old White Hardware Building on Congress Street, a narrow street that's always crowded with tourists. The restaurant is three stories with dining on the first and third floors. We ate on the third story. Another diner told us the kitchen is on the second floor.
Doiles were set at each place of our antique table, which overlooked the streets below. We chose the buffet, which that day featured fried chicken, baked chicken and fried fish. The side dishes included lima beans, creamed corn, green beans, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, candied yams, grits, black-eyed peas and brunswick stew, which Reggie said was delicious.
I filled my plate with a little bit of a lot of things and wasn't disappointed. My favorites were the creamed corn and candied yams — and the two kind of chicken, of course. Instead of eating dessert, Reggie and I went back for seconds, and I ate both the cheese biscuit and hoecake that were delivered to our table. The breads were a highlight of the meal.
Our meal cost around $30, and it was worth every cent, not only for the tasty food but also for the atmosphere. We also loved it when we asked our waiter about the beautiful dining tables, and he said, "Miss Paula loves antiques."
If you plan to visit Lady and Sons, you must know that it's not as easy as walking in and asking for a table. People line up early in the morning to secure a seat for later in the day. The photo on this post was taken by my daughter early one morning on her way to class. Check out the Web site for details on getting reservations:
Reggie and I didn't get hungry again for hours after our buffet lunch, as we roamed the streets of Savannah. One of our favorite stops Friday was River Street, which is lined with many stores and restaurant, and another Savannah Candy Kitchen location. There was much more activity at this candy shop location, where workers were making gophers (think chocolate, caramel and pecan turtles) and more taffy. The guy making taffy was throwing out samples of the tangerine flavor he was making. I caught one; it was so good! Before we left, I got a cup of lemon gelato. Oh my! It was so delicious. I wish I could have tried every flavor.
Neither one of us was very hungry at suppertime, but when we did need to eat something before heading to our daughter's art reception. We chose a spot on River Street, Wet Willie's. Now Reggie and I are not drinkers, but we chose a restaurant famous for its alcholic drinks. The bar side of the restaurant features a wall of swirling drink machines (think Icee). We each got a sandwich and a Weak Willie, a nonalcoholic frozen lemonade, which we really enjoyed. We ate our meal at a table that overlooked the river. We enjoyed watching the tourist riverboats come in and out. If you ever eat at Wet Willie's, make sure you have cash; they don't take checks or credit cards.
Savannah was a lot of fun. There's so much to see and do, and we only got a glimpse, really. Anna loved SCAD, so I imagine we'll be back in town. Next time, we'll take a trolley tour and visit Tybee Island, I hope, and certainly try some new restaurants.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Road trip

First of all, I'd like to thank Margaret Maron, who saved my sanity Sunday on an I-95 road trip. Reggie and I listened intently for 7 hours and 15 minutes of our 12 hours in the car to Maron's book on CD "Shooting at Loons." Thank you for keeping me entertained and alert on our long day driving to and from Savannah, Ga. And thanks to the Wilson County Public Library for its wonderful collection of books on CD.
It had been a number of years since Reggie and I spent so much time in the car, and I have some observations from the road.
First off, why is the South Carolina stretch of I-95 in such awful condition? There were ruts and holes and potholes and more ruts and holes and potholes. The pavement was uneven and made the trip bumpy and loud. We had to keep the volume of CD player turned up high to hear over the road noise. Also, the roadside isn't as well maintained as the N.C. stretch we were on. The medians are overgrown. I imagine money is the blame for both problems, but I wish they could get the road repaired. On the way back last night, we noticed southbound traffic was reduced to one lane, and workers were putting out orange cones on one stretch of the road. Perhaps part of the road is being paved or at least repaired.
My next point might just refer back to the last paragraph. I promise you I'm not exaggerating when I say we saw at least 15 to 20 cars beside the road, mostly in S.C., with flat tires. Mile after mile, there were families huddled beside the road or in a ditch while someone changed a tire. There must be a reason for this. I've never seen so many disabled vehicles on a trip. We were so thankful our new tires held up well.
And why are there no Steak 'N Shake restaurants along I-95 in S.C., or N.C. for that matter? I really wanted a burger with fries for supper last night, but no luck. Just the same old boring fast food offerings we have at home. And why did I not see a single road sign for Starbucks while driving to Georgia? We did, however, see our share of South of the Border signs.
Yesterday, we also saw a rather large police presence. There were many patrol cars parked in the median or driving along with traffic. We saw several cars pulled. On some trips Reggie and I take, we don't see a single patrol car.
We were also alarmed at the number of roadside memorials on the interstate. I feel sure we saw more than a dozen crosses and flowers that marked where someone was killed on I-95. It's a sobering thought when you're going 70 mph and cars are flying past you.