Monday, November 22, 2010

Who Says Diet Food Can't Taste Good?

Another confession.  I have gained too much weight!  The high life has to stop.  I joined Weight Watchers at the worst possible time of the year.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are the biggest eating seasons on the calendar.  In an effort to stay "on program" as they say in "WWese", I have been searching for recipes that use ingredients that we love and are diet friendly, too.  I think I found a winner.  I have prepared this dish three different ways, but finally hit on the version that we like best.

Poisson en Popillote

4  (6 oz.) fillets of fish ( I have used catfish and drum)
4 Tablespoon olive oil
Sprinkles of : parsley flakes, dried basil, Italian Seasoning, black pepper, coarse salt
Paprika (enough to cover fish lightly)
4 onion slices
4 tomato slices or several halved cherry tomatoes
4 teaspoons butter
Juice of a lemon

1.  For each fillet, layer on your counter top, a piece of  foil, shiny side up, and a piece of parchment paper on top of the foil. Place one fish piece on each "packet"
2.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
3.  Whisk together the parsley flakes, etc. with the olive oil.
4.  Sprinkle each fillet generously with paprika.
5.  Brush each fillet with the olive oil mixture.
6.  Place tomato slices and onions on top of the fillets and top with a tiny pat of butter and lemon juice.
7.  Fold the packets to seal across the top and on the ends.  You don't want them to leak while cooking.
8.  Bake on a cookie sheet at 425 degrees F for about 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and let the packets sit for about 5 minutes.
9.  Serve the fish in the packets and be careful opening them because of escaping steam.  Serves 4

Enjoy this dish and don't feel guilty about overeating.  It's  a treat that will make you feel that the meal is very special!  I have also tried it with artichokes and black olives.  Another version featured fresh lump crab meat.  You can prepare the packets early in the day and refrigerate them until baking time.  If you do this, you should increase the baking time because they will be cold when they go in the oven.  Let me know if you have other ideas on this French classic!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanks, Aunt Audrey!

When I was about 12 years old, I wanted to learn to sew.  My Mom, bless her heart, was not talented in this area.  We owned a sewing machine, but Mom's talents lay in the culinary arts and not the art of creating clothing from fabric and thread.  My Aunt Audrey was the expert with thread and needle.  Her specialty was not clothing.  She owned a business at home and made slipcovers and draperies for homes all over the Baton Rouge area.  Her clientele were referred to her by interior decorators.  Out of her converted garage, she created beautiful home furnishings for years.

I was persistent in wanting to sew.  I viewed the skill as a vehicle to an expanded wardrobe.  I was sent to Aunt Audrey to learn some basics.  She gifted me with scraps from slipcovers and draperies.  Most of the time her clients were not interested in keeping left over snippets of fabric.  Some of the pieces were large enough for me to make a skirt and that's where the instruction began.  She taught me to design, cut and sew  with those scraps that the wealthy ladies of Baton Rouge were casting away.  We decided on making box pleated skirts.  After all,  I was on the chubby side and gathers were not slend-ah-rizing!  (Thanks to cousin Mitzi, for this term!)  A lot of skills can be learned from making a skirt.  Measuring, pleating, sewing on a waist band, matching patterns, working with the grain of the fabric, etc....

To finish off my ensemble, she taught me to make simple blouses of solid colors.  That way I could mix and match my skirts.  I also constructed long ties to be worn around the neck to "pull" the outfit together.  I was so proud of myself.  In hindsight, I wonder how I really looked wearing those clothes from drapery fabric??

In high school I signed up for the Home Economics classes.  I excelled at sewing.  When I went to college I wanted to major in English and my professor told me in my freshman year that I had no talent for writing.  I had a roommate who was studying Home Economics and she persuaded me to do the same.  Luckily I also selected a second major, Science.  Those of you who know me are aware that I taught Science for 25 years.  The Home Economics training has served me well over the years.  People used to tease me and say that I had learned to bake huge cookies by majoring in Home Ec.   These days folks depend on the cooking channel and the home and garden channel on cable tv for their Home Ec training.  Same information, but different source of  instruction.  Here I am, rambling on again...

Back to the subject.  Over the years I sewed.  I made my wedding dress and the bridesmaid dresses.  I sewed ties, shirts and jackets for my husband and clothing for my children. At one point I earned extra money by doing alterations for a dress shop.  (That was an eye opening experience!)  I even made slipcovers and draperies.  Then I put my machine away for about 15 years.  I had grown tired of sewing.

Then the grandbaby arrived.  I have dusted off my machine and begun to create again.  I found this really cute idea to make dresses with onesies.  For those of you who don't have babies,  a onesie is a bodysuit for babies.  There is a neat website that gives detailed instructions on converting onesies to dresses for infants.  It's  I have never met this blogger, but have bookmarked the site and recommended it to others.  If you can't or don't want to sew a onesie dress, you can purchase them from my friend's Etsy shop, Squirrelly Girl Boutique .  She takes custom orders.

I have also found that sewing dresses for special occasions is exciting and even economical.  In addition to the onesie dresses I have made a Christmas dress for my granddaughter.  What pleasure this new obsession with sewing has brought me!  I am including some photos of my creations thus far.  I have become a sewing fool and can't stop!!!

I suppose this blog is turning into a confessional/brag/informational one.  Thanks for reading and thanks to my wonderful Aunt Audrey, who is no longer with us.  I hope she is smiling from heaven as she knows I am thinking of her each time I take a stitch!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Bluebird Day

My husband has a saying.  If the weather is cool, crisp and sunny, he proclaims it a "bluebird day."  Today was one of the first bluebird days of the fall season, such as it is in southern Louisiana.  Not wanting to pass up an opportunity to enjoy good weather, we headed to New Roads, Louisiana.  We drove to St. Francisville and took the ferry across the Mississippi River.  The ferry is operated by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and is free for cars.  I did, however, see the operator collect money from truck drivers.   On the St. Francisville side there is always a person selling homemade pralines.  I have found this to be a very entrepreneurial endeavor!  We bought some today and they did not disappoint.  The praline vendor has gone high tech in recent years and has added a label to the candy with information about phone orders and mail-outs for those who can't get enough sweetness.  Emily's Southern Pralines is the business name. The phone number for orders is 225-635-3377 if you are dying to taste these treats and can't get to the ferry departure site.  I recommend buying some pralines while waiting for the ferry.

The trip across the river takes just a few minutes.  Today the view was enhanced by seeing the progress of the construction of a new bridge connecting the two sides of the river.  It is said that it will be the country's longest suspension bridge. Another year will pass before it is finished and I am sad to think that the ferry will be closed when the bridge opens.  After all, driving across is much faster and more convenient that the ferry, but not as much fun!

Once on the Pointe  Coupee' side we drove into New Roads and to Ma Mama's Kitchen.  The restaurant is owned by the chef, Donna Ewing.  An interesting note is that Donna is also an artist.  Her work is exhibited in the restaurant and can be purchased.  The decor of the restaurant is very appealing.  It is adorned with carved arches, corbels and stained glass salvaged from old homes in the area.  For those who like antiques, the restaurant is a treasure trove.  We were very taken by the architectural accents added to the very old building.

We arrived at the end of the lunch service, but were greeted warmly and offered hot fresh bread that had just come from the oven.  I wondered if they knew we were coming!  We expected sandwiches and fried food and did see those items on the menu, but were pleasantly surprised to find some gourmet delicacies from which to select.  The waitress suggested we order  Creole Shrimp and Jalapeno grits, but we decided instead on their special version of Caprese.  The standard mozzarella salad was topped with a creamy dressing that tasted of blue cheese.  The garnish was Calamata olives.  Delicious!  What an interesting twist on this favorite.  She also suggested a Spinach Salad that we did try.  The Spinach leaves were tossed with sundried tomatoes and tomato basil vinaigrette with shrimp, mushrooms and bacon.  The garnish was a hard cooked egg.  This was a meal in itself, but we ordered something else, too.  We tried the Shrimp and Eggplant Casserole that was superb.  This generous portion was baked in a ramekin and hot from the oven.  The melted cheese topping made it irresistible and very filling.

Then there was dessert.  I spied the tall cakes in a cooler just off the dining room.  The cakes were about eight inches high and frosted to perfection.  We chose one slice of Strawberry Cake.  It was enough for four people, so we brought some home.  What began as a quick lunch turned into a feast!  We have some special occasions coming up this month, so we plan to go back.  Our waitress was so friendly that we felt welcome and felt that we should return again, soon.  The address is 124 W. Main Street in New Roads.

From the restaurant we traveled a little further down the highway to Bergeron's Pecan Company.  Bergeron's has been selling pecans in the area for many more years than I can count.  These can be purchased locally in the grocery stores, but they have a very special variety that has to be purchased at the company home in New Roads.  This is the Elliot variety.  Each pecan half is about one inch in length.  These are perfect for pies and for toasting with spices for the cocktail hour.  They cost about a dollar more per pound than the normal size nuts, but are worth it.  I had to laugh at the sign on the door of the store.  It read:  "Eat Pecans,  Millions of Satisfied Squirrels Do."  Too funny!  The pecans from Bergeron's come from pecan groves in the area.  The story is that people harvest their pecans and make a good bit of money selling them to Bergeron's for processing.  They do mail them out if phone ordered, but they do not have a website.  I asked for a  brochure to learn that prices were going up and they would mail the new list to me very soon.  I feel that I got a bargain by buying mine today.  I stocked up.  The pecans freeze very well.  I have enough to last a year.

On the return trip, we missed the road to the ferry, so decided to travel the River Road aka  La. 1.  I felt transported to another time as my iPhone could not make a connection to the internet, so I could download a quick route back home.  I decided to abandon the internet and enjoy the scenery of the levee on my left and almost ready to harvest sugar cane on my right.  I knew eventually we would end up in civilization, but this day would be almost gone by then.  So glad we enjoyed the bluebird day to the fullest.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New Baby in the Neighborhood

Our first grandchild was born last week.  Her name is Olive Marie.  Olive's parents are our daughter, Gretchen and her husband, Jeremy.  She weighed 7 pounds 15 ounces and was 19 1/2 inches long.  She's a cutie!  Indulge me by taking a look at some of her first pictures.

Olive was born at Woman's Hospital in Baton Rouge.  The care was phenomenal!  Thanks to the doctors and staff who made the occasion an unforgettable experience.  I will be back at my regular blogging in a few days.  I have been consumed with an infatuation for this precious bundle of joy.  Thank God for his blessings and this precious life.  

Friday, July 16, 2010

Boston, MA Second Installment

Today we hopped on the “T” and headed to the Museum of Fine Art.  I love using the “T”.  I get a sense of freedom that comes from not having the burden of a car and parking.  It costs less than $2.00 for each ride and you can buy a card that is swiped on the gate or the ticket machine on the train car.  There are even special rates for senior citizens, but an application must be completed before that rate is granted.  The card can be “loaded” at several locations in town including convenience stores and kiosks in the stations.  What a way to get around!

On our way we stopped and had a tasty lunch at La Verdad Taqueria.  It’s across the street from Fenway Park and I can just imagine that it is packed on Red Sox game days.  A sign in the restaurant touts that it is “like  a night in Tijuana.”  The tortillas are made fresh each day and the sauces are authentic and home made.  We ordered guacamole and chips and were served a trio of sauces and warm chips seasoned with a grated soft white cheese in addition to the freshly made avocado dish.  We also ordered an assortment of soft tacos that included some traditional flavors such as pork and fish and an unusual one made of tongue.  All were excellent. 

We then set out on foot for the MFA.  It’s just a few blocks away and the walk is very pleasant.  Boston is very much a walking town.  You don’t see very many obese people on the streets.  I think it must be very healthy!  Greg has a membership to the museum and we didn’t have to purchase tickets, so we entered at a rear entrance near the Japanese Garden.  I have been to the museum several times, but had never seen this portion of the grounds.  It was designed to mimic serene sites of Japan.  The sculptures and plantings combined to create an inviting setting for reading, relaxing and meditating.  It was an amazingly quiet space in the otherwise hectic background of the traffic noises from the street.

Once inside Greg showed me some of his favorite paintings and galleries.  Since he purchased his membership he spends quite a bit of time walking around and exploring.  I loved seeing the Talouse Lautrec’s Paris exhibit and the Egyptian exhibit.  The Egyptian exhibit included mummies, but also gave the history of how the tombs were excavated.  Amazing stuff!  In the gallery with Impressionist art, I was treated to viewing Van Gogh’s The Sower  displayed adjacent to Millet’s similar painting.  The Van Gogh piece is on loan from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam as part of the museum’s Visiting Masterpiece project.  Van Gogh knew of the Millet painting and created his own version of the idea many years after the original painting.   This is the first time that the two paintings have ever been exhibited together.  It was impressive.  I am now wondering which Visiting Masterpiece will be next. 

I have always loved the work of the Impressionists and the MFA has a wonderful collection including Monet’s painting of his wife, Camille, dressed in a kimono while wearing a blond wig. It's entitled La Japonaise.  Monet was fascinated with the art of Japan and many have said that this painting was his way of creating art that Europeans would like while using an Asian theme.  It’s a very large canvas and one of my favorites.  In the gift shop, I purchased a miniature stained glass reproduction for my office at home.  I love the way the sun shines through it to remind me of the lovely visit to the MFA with my son. 

Sauntering back to the “T” stop we walked through the Back Bay Fens.  The Fens was once a swampy area and over time was transformed into a park area.  It is maintained by the Emerald Necklace Conservancy in cooperation with the Boston Parks Service and includes a beautiful rose garden.  I had seen the Rose Kennedy garden downtown the day before and was impressed that this site has also been maintained for the public.  The Kelleher Rose Garden features over 200 varieties and 1500 plants.  There are walking paths and benches.  The summer is a great time to see the garden as most of the bushes were in full bloom. 

We had a full day, but decided to go back to Greg’s place and rest up for an evening in the North End.  We had dinner at Nico Ristorante on Hanover Street.  Hanover Street is on the Freedom Trail route and is a very busy tourist destination.  The restaurants were packed and we were sans reservation, but were able to find a nice table at this place.  The food was very traditional and satisfying.  I really enjoyed the seafood risotto. We enjoyed the ambience and the service was good.  No visit to the North End is complete without tasting some Italian pastries.  We made our way to Modern Pastry which is on Salem Street.  Modern and Mikes are the standards for the area.  We stood in line for several minutes, but it was worth the wait.  The cannolis and strawberry napoleon were delicious and a perfect way to finish our North End dining experience.

What a day we had!  Next time I will detail the third day of my Boston visit.  Greg is quite a tour guide.  It’s another one of his undiscovered talents!  

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Boston, MA First Installment

I visited my son, Greg, in Boston for five days.  It was not my first visit and he and I were considering some of the sights we should see.  Of the offerings we found we had already done the Freedom Trail, the "Pru" and the Common, so finding new things to experience was the challenge.  Even shopping on Newbury Street and seeing the JFK Library had been accomplished in past visits, so we really had to dig deep!

I arrived early in the afternoon on a somewhat on time flight and after getting rid of the car we loaded our T passes with money for riding and headed out!  After a simple lunch of Pizza at Upper Crust on Harvard Street at Coolidge Corner we sauntered down to Serenade Chocolatier for some chocolate.  Serenade is in Brookline Village and is known for  hand made confections in the Viennese style.  We went in for a "piece" of candy and were tempted by the idea of a chocolate dipped Oreo ice cream bar.  It was explained that the ice cream was that of a local purveyor, JP Licks.  Decadent is the only way to describe this treat.
We then hopped on the T and went to the harbor area.  A walking tour included seeing Faneuil Hall and the somewhat new Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy. The Greenway, as it is known to the locals, is a mile long strip between the city and the harbor in the downtown area.  When the elevated highways of the area went underground in the Big Dig project, the area was renovated by the Conservancy.  It is 15 acres in size and rambles for a mile.  The goal of the the Greenway is to bring together the diverse neighborhoods of Boston with a public space to be enjoyed by all.  There are festivals and parties throughout the year.  The landmarks include a carousel, a rose garden and a unique fountain where kids of all ages can take off their shoes and frolic in the Boston sunshine.  It was entertaining to watch the children play and enjoy the space.
The highlight of the day was a sunset harbor cruise.  There are several companies that offer these adventures, but we selected Boston Harbor Cruises which operates from revamped Coast Guard vessels. The ninety minute excursion was narrated by a loquacious guide.  He pointed out the buildings of interest and told us several historical anecdotes about the harbor.  On this day there was a Spanish tall ship anchored in the harbor and we were able to get some great photos.  The tall ship is on a training maneuver and will be in the harbor for most of the summer.  What a beautiful sight, indeed!  Another exciting part of our cruise was watching and listening to the retirement of the colors on the USS Constitution that is docked in the harbor year round.  Our vessel stopped close enough for us to hear the bugle and hear the commands.  I was interested to know that every day at sunset on every US Naval vessel this same ceremony is observed.  A cannon is fired and the display is spectacular!
The sunset cruise left us hungry.  There must be something about a cool breeze on the water that stimulates the appetite.  We walked to Legal Seafoods where we shared a large stuffed, baked lobster.  Side orders included the polenta and broccoli with cheese.  A lovely bottle of wine complemented our meal.  Good thing that we shared as we had a hard time consuming this gastronomic delicacy!  I passed on the clam chowder  but normally I like to order that, too!  Legal Seafood has been serving fresh seafood in Boston since 1950.  Fresh is the key word here.  I try to get to Legals at least once when I visit.
It was a day filled with new experiences, delicious food and excellent company.  I always enjoy my time with my son.  This is the first of several posts about my trip. I am sharing more of the photos here.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

At the Beach

It was a mid-week outing for three friends.  We had not seen each other in a year, but when we were together, it felt as if we had never been separated by time.  Our destination was Gulf Shores, Alabama and the beach.  We had several beach trips during the years that we worked together as teachers, but it had been many years since our last trip. Needless to say, there were lots of things to discuss.  Rain was predicted and the Alabama shore was threatened by "The Worst Oil Spill in History," but we didn't care.  Our trip was more about friendship and total relaxation. The rain and the oil held off long enough for us to enjoy our time together.  We were lucky!

On the way we made a couple of stops that were tradition to us.  First, there was the stop in Loxley, Alabama for the Burris Farmer's Market.  This is where we picked up tomatoes and fruit for our leisurely "at the beach" dining.  We made mental notes of which veggies were available and planned to stop back by on our way home.  The market is on the highway and a huge inflatable peach marks the spot.  Behind the market is a bakery and they also serve plate lunches, but the real appeal for us is the produce that is stocked fresh daily.  Silver Queen corn, Kentucky Wonder green beans, Yellow Crookneck squash and Calhoun County peaches were the outstanding picks of our stop.  We hoped they would be available when we returned a few days later. I purchased some of the peaches on the return trip and made a delicious cold peach soup this weekend.  I am posting that recipe.

Another traditional stop for us is Dick Russell's Bar-B-Q Restaurant.  We decided to have lunch there on the way back home.  The menu changes a little each day, but there is always a plate lunch that includes barbecued pork or beef, two sides, bread and dessert.  The price is less than $6.00.  When we did stop on the way home, I ordered a vegetable plate of turnip greens, fried okra, a baked sweet potato.  It was accompanied by corn bread and a slice of luscious bread pudding.  My bill totaled $5.45. I don't know anywhere else that has such good down home food and cheap prices as Dick Russell's.  It's not a fancy place, but if you like fried dill pickles you can find them on the menu.  The service is friendly and quick.  People are normally lined up out the door waiting for a table at lunchtime.

There is also a huge outlet shopping mall on the way to the beach.  We each picked a store that we would like to visit, but we did not linger since the beach was calling us.  We did manage a bit of retail therapy, but....we could always stop by there on the way home, too!

Our condo was conveniently located just off the main highway into Gulf Shores.  We rented it through Brett-Robinson Vacations and were pleased with the location and amenities of Island Winds East.  There was ample parking close to the building.  Unloading our stuff was easy as there were carts and luggage racks readily available.  We were also happy that our "premium" rated unit was clean and stocked with hotel sized toiletries and a starter kit for the kitchen.  We had brought paper towels, garbage bags, etc.  but there were some there.  This is good to know the next time we book through this company.  For our short stay, we could have avoided bringing all the extra stuff since it was provided. We had a two bedroom/two bath apartment that was furnished tastefully, was very very clean and it overlooked the beach.    Good friends and a good place to stay...What more could one want from a vacation?

Our view from our Gulf Front home away from home was breathtaking.  The beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama are some of the prettiest in the world in my opinion.  The clear water and powdery white sand is the stuff of memories.  When our children were small we spent many summer vacations on these beaches and those of the nearby Florida panhandle.  Our all-time favorite spot was Navarre Beach, Florida.  Navarre was a very small community with out -of- the- way beaches before it was discovered.  Many years ago there was one Holiday Inn with a covered swimming pool and an arcade for the kids.  There was also one apartment complex, Navarre Towers, and a few ramshackle beach houses.  Now Navarre is dotted with motels, tall apartment complexes and luxurious beach homes.  Hurricanes Gustav, Ivan and Katrina made their marks on these beaches, but all have recovered nicely.

I have digressed.  My friends and I rented chairs and umbrella for our time in the sun.  We basked in the pure glory of sun, sand and friendship.  We reminisced and laughed as though we were children.  The relaxation and togetherness are to be treasured.  We brought food so we would not have to take time to "go out." I brought creamy enchiladas  that I had learned to prepare in a class at Beth Burleigh's Simply Southern Cooking School.  With Beth's permission, I am posting it for you. I promise that it will become a favorite if you try it.

We also feasted on peach daiquiris (with and without alcohol) made with the Calhoun County variety, fruit salads, guacamole, warm bean dip, sliced tomatoes and Pretzel M & M's.  We also had cheese spreads, sandwich fixins' and breads...but we couldn't eat everything! This trip was also about the food, in case you haven't gathered that!

We hated to leave on the third day, but the rain was rolling in as we pulled out of the parking lot.  That was on Thursday.  On Friday morning, news reports stated that oil had arrived on the Gulf Coast.  What a disaster for such a beautiful spot!  Hopefully, this won't be the last time we get to enjoy Gulf Shores.  I am praying that the spill will not cause lasting damage.  We have vowed to take more beach trips in the future and not to let time and distance prevent us from enjoying our valued friendships.

Simply Southern Cooking School Creamy Enchiladas

1 pound cooked chicken in pieces (may use deboned rotisserie chicken)
8 oz. sour cream
2 cans cream of chicken soup
small can chopped green chiles
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
4 green onions, thinly sliced
12 to 14 soft round 8 inch flour tortillas
2 cups grated Pepper Jack Cheese

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together sour cream, green chiles and soup.  Add chicken, cumin, cayenne, salt, pepper and 1/2 of the green onions.  (May add a bit of milk if the mixture is too thick.)
3. In a baking dish spread 1/2 cup of the mixture over the bottom.  Place about a 1/3 cup of the filling on a tortilla, rollup and transfer to the baking dish with the seam side down.
4. Repeat the process for the other tortillas.  Pour any remaining mixture over enchiladas, spread to coat all of them.
5. Sprinkle with grated cheese over the top.  Prepare up to this point if you desire to prepare in advance.
6. Bake for 25 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Sprinkle with remaining chopped green onions and serve warm with tortilla chips.  8 generous servings.

Cold Peach Soup

1 pound ripe peaches, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 Tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons cinnamon
dash grated nutmeg
1/2 cup sour cream (not low fat variety)
1/2 cup cream sherry

1. Combine first four ingredients in a medium size saucepan and heat through.
2. Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until smooth.
3.  Chill.
4. Before serving, fold in the sour cream and cream sherry.
5. Garnish with mint leaves and cinnamon. 4 appetizer servings

Friday, May 28, 2010

Signs of Summer Foods

It has been too hot to get on the road, so I have been staying at home for a couple of days.  I have been doing the obligatory laundry, dusting and vacuuming and lots of cooking.  Today I prepared a couple of old favorites:  Stuffed Green Bell Peppers with Cheese Sauce and Vidalia Onion Pie.

When I was pregnant with my second child (1980), I entered a recipe contest sponsored by a local newspaper.  To my surprise I won the summer vegetable category for my Bell Pepper recipe.  The dish had its beginning in a huge paper sack of the largest bell peppers I had ever seen.  My husband, an Exxon employee at the time, bought the peppers from a colleague who had a garden.  He purchased them for $1.50.  Thinking back on this makes me sad that I had to pay $1.00 for two peppers at the grocery yesterday.  My chore was to "do something" with all those peppers!  Thus the recipe.  I even had a picture of myself in the newspaper for winning the contest!  I am sure there was some sort of prize, but I can't remember what it was.  What I do remember is a feeling of accomplishment.   I usually double this because it is just as easy to make 10 stuffed peppers and freeze some for consumption during the cold winter ahead.

Dot’s Stuffed Bell Peppers

4 or 5 large bell peppers (cut in half and parboiled for 5 minutes
½ pound ground pork
½ pound ground beef (or use all ground beef)
chopped onions (use as much or as little as you like)
minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
2 cups cooked rice (I use leftover rice)
1 8oz. can tomato sauce
chopped parsley
one handful of chopped raw spinach leaves
one handful of grated raw carrots
about a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
about 2 tablespoons catsup
salt and pepper to taste
Italian seasoning to taste
Parmesan cheese to taste
1 egg

1.Brown the meat and add vegetables.  Cook until vegetables are wilted.  Stir in  all other ingredients and mix well.  (Use enough bread crumbs to bind the ingredients together.  The egg will help with this, too.)

2. Spoon mixture into peppers.  Freeze at this point or bake for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees.  Add a little liquid to the bottom of the pan to keep peppers from drying out as they bake.  Cover for the first 30 minutes with foil and then remove foil and finish baking.

Cheese sauce: (Simple Bechamel with a little cheese stirred in)

Melt 2 tablespoons butter and stir in 2 tablespoons flour.  Gradually add 1 cup milk and stir constantly until thickened.  Add cheese (whatever type you like) Prepare this at serving time.  Don't freeze.

Serve sauce over baked bell peppers.  This recipe seems like a lot of trouble, but it is worth the effort!  

Another sign of summer in Louisiana is the appearance of Vidalia onions in the grocery store.  These onions are a large, sweet, white variety grown in Georgia. They first made an appearance on the market in the 1930's.  In 1986, the Georgia State Legislature passed a law that only onions grown in certain counties of Georgia can be called "Vidalia Onions." The brand I selected was Bland Farms, the producer responsible for about one third of all Vidalia Onions marketed in the states.  ( I normally buy a large package and use them for several weeks in my summer suppers.  My friend, Jo, gave me a recipe many years ago for an onion pie that was very simple and easy to whip up as soon as the Vidalia onions made an appearance.  Over time I have doctored that recipe until I had the seasonings adjusted just right for me and my husband.  Here is the latest incarnation of the Vidalia Onion Pie that I prepared for tonight's supper .  It can be served as a main dish or as an accompaniment.  It would even be good for breakfast!

Vidalia Onion Pie

1 baked pie crust, in a deep dish pan
2 Vidalia Onions, sliced very thin into circles
2 Tablespoons butter
2 beaten eggs
3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
¾ cup milk
1 cup sour cream
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon McCormick Salad Supreme seasoning
dash Tabasco
2 slices cooked bacon, crumbled

1.    1.  Sauté the onions in the butter until they are clear and golden in color.
2.    2.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. 
3.    3. Place onions in the prebaked pie crust.
4.    4. Combine remaining ingredients except for bacon and Paprika.  Whip with a wire whisk until bubbly.  Pour mixture over onions.
5.    5.  Top with bacon and sprinkle with paprika.
6.    6.  Bake for 23 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.  Cool slightly before slicing into 6 servings. 

      No summer meal is complete without sliced fresh tomatoes.  We are growing some in pots on our patio, but those are not ripe, yet.  We were able to purchase some Creole Tomatoes at a local produce market. They were from Liuzza Farms in Tickfaw, LA. ( The Creoles are an heirloom type that are medium in size and large on taste.  These are only grown in Louisiana and in 2003 the State Legislature declared them the Louisiana State Vegetable.  I have fresh basil growing, too, and I love to serve the sliced tomatoes with julienned fresh basil leaves.  It's also tasty to serve them Caprese style where they are sandwiched with fresh water mozzarella and a dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  I have a cherished bottle of Vanilla Fig Balsamic Vinegar and it is my favorite.  I also have a bottle that we bought in Florence, Italy last summer.  We use it sparingly.  It's evokes such good memories.  When purchasing balsamic vinegar, look for the Modena type.  Aged Balsamics are the best tasting and they can be pricey. Such a small amount is needed for taste that it is a good idea to get a good one that you like.  Think beyond the supermarket on this purchase.   Fresina's Italian Specialties ( in Baton Rouge has some excellent choices in Balsamic vinegars. I recommend the varieties that they stock.   

 T   If it's too hot to get out on these summery days, stay home and try the recipes above and think:            SUMMER!  


Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Remarkable Woman

I am honored to be counted as a friend of Mildred, a remarkable woman.   Recently, I received an invitation to her birthday party.  This was not an ordinary party.  It was a commemoration  of 85 years and 40 years cancer free living!  I arrived early and had the privilege of congratulating the honoree and meeting her family members who came in for the celebration.  It was a lovely party.  I am including some pictures of the refreshments and the flowers that graced the serving tables. 

Initially I was surprised to learn that "Millie", as she is affectionately known to many, has her 85th birthday this year.  If you met her, you would also be surprised.  She is the youngest looking and youngest acting 85 year old I have ever seen.  I have played many bridge games with her and she is smart and funny.  Her positive outlook and busy schedule belie her chronological age.  

I wanted to know more about her than I could find out at a bridge table where concentration on the game is mandatory, so I conducted a "cyber" interview with her.  Here, in part, is what I discovered:

Mildred was born in Alsfeldt in Ontario, Canada and lived in Canada until she married.  As a young person, she was selected to represent her church at a youth conference in Oslo, Norway.  En route, her passport and money were stolen, so she never got there.  However, her luggage was not held and it went by boat to Norway without her.  She joked for years about her clothes that had a wonderful trip!  She was a teacher for five years.  Her marriage to husband, George, was 62 years ago and is going strong!  He is a retired LSU professor.  Mildred earned a degree in psychology and sociology in 1976 at the same time as one of her daughters!  

She is the mother of four living children.  There was another child, a son, who died in infancy.  She has eight grandchildren  and she is very proud of all their accomplishments.  Among the children there are two attorneys, a journalist and a CPA.  One of the attorneys decided to become a teacher.  Her adult grandchildren are also very accomplished.  I met a few of them at the birthday party and found that they have also have a zeal for education.  All are devoted to her.  

She is a member of University United Methodist Church and is proud to be a member of this close church family.  The church "adopted" a school and Mildred volunteered as a mentor, a prayer partner and a teacher encourager at the school.  She has also had several positions of leadership in the church during the years. 

In 1968 she was involved in a train accident.  The signals were not working and she hit the engine.  Her car was totaled and she was trapped in the vehicle. The policeman and firemen who came to her assistance remarked that she must be a "church lady" to have survived.  It was not her time.  She had lots of living to do!

Since I met Mildred through a bridge club, I asked her about this hobby.  She admits to playing in seven groups that play regularly.  No wonder her mind is so sharp!  It's so fun to be around her that I suppose she is invited to play for her good company and her excellent card skills!  When Mildred hosts the bridge party, she always has wonderful desserts and snacks to serve.  A couple of her recipes are shared below. 

She also loves to garden and feels close to God in her flower bed.  She is also a bird and butterfly enthusiast.  Added to her talents is singing.  She has, in the past, been a soloist for her church.  

Mildred was honored by Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center as the Outstanding Volunteer for 2005-2006.  She volunteered there for 25 years.  As a cancer survivor she could relate to patients receiving treatment for the dreaded disease.  

I wanted to know the secret of her full life and this is what she said: "It  probably is no secret that my faith has brought me through the wilderness--the loss of a baby, colon cancer, a Down Syndrome grandchild--each one of these experiences help me to get things into perspective and to get my priorities in order.  Each moment is a gift from God--given to me to spread His love.  I thank my wonderful parents, salt of the earth people, for bringing me up in the Christian tradition."  She added that her friends are an important part of her life.  She is very happy to be living in St. James Place where "every one here falls over backwards" to take care of the residents and sees to it that each is living life well.  

Mildred is a beautiful person...inside and out! As I left the party, there was a huge crowd of people gathered to celebrate this special life. What a tribute to a wonderful lady! Happy Birthday, to a truly remarkable woman!  

Mildred's Olive Surprise Appetizers (Mary Lou's recipe)

1 large jar of pimento stuffed olives
1 small jar Old English Cheese Spread
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 stick butter

1. Using a knife, cut cheese spread into the flour and add melted butter to form a dough.
2. Shape balls of dough around individual olives.
3. Freeze for best results. 
4. To Bake: place balls on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.  These are convenient to pull out and bake for Happy Hour.

Nancy's Black Forest Cherry Trifle 

1.  Bake a brownie mix.  Let cool and cut into cubes for layering in a trifle bowl.
2.  Spread  one half of a can of cherry pie filling over half of the brownie cubes.
3.  Mix one small package instant chocolate pudding according to package directions.  Chill for a few minutes.
4.  Spread half of the pudding over the cherry layer.  Top this with half of an 8 oz. container of whipped topping.
5.  Repeat the layers.  Grate some chocolate to sprinkle on top!  Pretty and delicious make ahead dessert and perfect for a bridge party.  

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Relaxed Afternoon at Avery Lane Salon and Spa

Today I went to Avery Lane Salon and Spa to have my hair cut and colored.  I love my new stylist, Lauren, and she and I decided to make some changes to my hair.  I had been collecting pictures of styles that I liked and had even snapped a picture (with permission) of a lady in the grocery checkout line who had a haircut I admired.  Lauren worked on the color to add some "dimension."  Dimension is the term used to describe visible highlighted streaks of color.  That had to be explained to me and now I know the lingo.   Anyone who has ever had his or her hair colored in a salon knows that there is a waiting period for the color to "process." My eyeglasses have to be removed so they will not be stained by the chemicals that are applied to my locks.  I normally spend the waiting time in a fog since I can't see well enough to read anything or even browse a magazine without my glasses.
 I was enticed to spend the time wisely and treat myself to a Dreamsicle pedicure.  The waiting period would be a pleasure.  Avery Lane is a hair salon but they also have a lovely spa.  Their spa menu includes facials, nail and makeup application services.  It's an Aveda Salon and most of the products are of that brand.  I climbed the two granite steps to immerse my feet in a warm whirlpool bath scented with an orange fizz ball.  I knew I was in for a real treat.  The setting is beautiful and zen-like.  The monogram on the pillow of the chair is "serenity" and that is the way to describe the spa. It is very private and closed off from the main salon area.  There is soft music playing and after I chose the OPI color for my toes I began to experience relaxation enhanced by the smell of oranges.  The pedicurist clipped, buffed, shaped and polished my toes to perfection.  She also massaged my old achy legs as she and I kept up a pleasant banter.  To my utter surprise and delight I was also served a Dreamsicle cocktail in a martini glass.  A combination of ice cream and some liqueurs were blended together.  It was possible to sip it slowly all during the pedicure.  How decadent can you get without breaking the law??

I must admit that this was not my first pedicure at Avery Lane.  In February they offered a Godiva Chocolate pedicure.  I was not served a chocolate martini for that service, but the aroma of the chocolate masque that was applied to my dry skin was heavenly.  Each month, it seems, there is a special pedicure and I got on the email list so I could find out what surprise is planned for the spa.  This may sound like a commercial or testimonial,  but I love this salon.  It is Zachary's one-stop place for hair, nails and complexion.  The rates are reasonable and I feel that there is real value for their offerings.  The staff is friendly without being pretentious.  They seem genuinely happy that you are there.

If you don't live in Zachary, I recommend that you get yourself here before the end of the month of May and the end of the Dreamsicle pedicure. the cut and highlights are just what I needed for a summer do.  Thanks, Lauren!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Destination: St. Francisville, LA

Louisiana in the spring brings the blooming azaleas, beautiful mild days and an urge to get out of the city and into the country.  Last week Karen and I met Kaye in St. Francisville for some lunch and retail therapy.  Kaye is from there and was the perfect tour guide for some unique spots.

St. Francisville is a plantation town, but we were not interested in touring any on this day.  We were more interested in food and spending our green.  Kaye and her daughter, Shannon, met us at Magnolia Cafe near the center of town on Commerce Street.

The Mag, as it is called by the locals, specializes in original Louisiana cooking.  The original Mag was in a building that formerly housed a service station.  That building burned to the ground a few years ago and the owners relocated behind the burned-out spot.  The facade (and the interiors) are very rustic.  I was intrigued by the large golden pig statuary that greeted us as we approached the steps to the main dining room.  It was such a pretty day that we decided to eat on the screened porch. There were ceiling fans whirring and it appeared that the heaters are lit in colder weather.  The porch is used year round.    There was one empty table and we snatched it up.  The Mag is a very popular lunch spot. It is also a very popular night spot.   I have been to the Mag before on a Friday night.  That's the time when there is live music on the porch.  What fun that is!  My favorite band that I have heard there is Feliciana.  A friend of mine, Bob, is the lead singer and always dedicates a song to me.  How neat!

I love to sample poboy sandwiches when I eat lunch out.  The Mag has a soup and sandwich combination that was perfect for a lunchtime appetite.  I chose the shrimp and squash soup and a half Santa Fe Sandwich.  Even though the Mag specializes in Louisiana recipes, they have a sprinkling of Texmex items from which to select.  I have had their Taco Salad before and it is super!  The Santa Fe sandwich is toasted with turkey, Monterrey Jack cheese and bacon.  It was very satisfying.  The soup was a take on the ever popular shrimp and corn variety, but instead of corn there were slices of yellow squash blended with the creamy tomato base.

The other people at the table tried the Quesadillas with chicken and the Magnolia BLT on wheat toast.  The food was not complicated, but the taste was superb.  Our waitress was excellent and kept the iced tea glasses filled.  She was not perturbed by our request for separate checks, either.  Good food, good company and good service made for a pleasant experience.

We left the Mag with full stomachs and decided to walk it off at Grandmother's Buttons shop.  It is located in the heart of the Historic District.  They specialize in handcrafted jewelry featuring vintage and antique buttons.  They have been in business for a couple of decades and have developed quite a following.  They are located in an old bank building and have converted the old bank vault into a museum of buttons.  Very interesting!  In addition to jewelry, they have a selection of gifts, clothing and great shoes for sale.  I had to restrain myself from buying more shoes.  The prices were so good!  I did purchase a colorful shawl for myself and a necklace for my Mom for Mother's Day.  I saw some things I am thinking about purchasing, so I plan to shop online at

Shanty Too was our next stop.  It is also located in the Historic District on Ferdinand Street.  Shanty Too's owner told me they had been in business for twenty years.  They carry a huge selection of gifts for babies, children and women.  They also have some clothing, shoes and accessories.  My daughter collects egg plates and I was able to get a really unique one there.  Kaye knew the owners and we had a great chat while there.  I found out they are open on Sunday afternoons, so am planning to go back one weekend to browse again.

The highlight of the day was our final stop:  Kaye's house!  Kaye lives in an area deep in Audubon country called The Bluffs.  We drove through a heavily forested area to reach it.  The area has a golf course and is very secluded and is a lovely setting for homes.  Coffee and English Trifle awaited us.  As we enjoyed our refreshments, we were also served a taste of Irish Cream liqueur.  Kaye's grandmother had a tradition of having a small sip of liqueur with her afternoon coffee, so the tradition was passed down to us on our visit.  Good tradition, if you ask me!  Kaye shared her trifle recipe with me and I am sharing it with you.

I hope to be able to visit St. Francisville again and again.  There is so much history there dating to pre-Civil War times.  Look for more posts on the topic.  Maybe next time I will visit a historical site and leave the shopping off.....or then again, maybe not!

Kaye's Trifle

1 (12 oz.) carton Cool Whip
1 cup sour cream
1 prebaked angel food cake
1 (4 serving size) package instant vanilla pudding
3 kiwi fruits, peeled and sliced
1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced
3 bananas, peeled and sliced
1 (15 oz.) can crushed pineapple, drained

  1. In a medium bowl, blend the sour cream and pudding mix into the whipped topping.
  2. Cut the cake into thirds, horizontally.
  3. Line a large trifle or other glass serving bowl with kiwi and strawberry slices, reserving two whole strawberries and two kiwi slices. Place one layer of cake in bottom of bowl, top with 1/3 of bananas and pineapple, and 1/3 of whipped topping mixture. Repeat layering until all ingredients are used. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with reserved fruit.