Corn Casserole

I can’t believe we’re almost to the end of the year. Next week kicks off the holiday season, and as the years have gone by, I’ve dived deeper and deeper into it. For the last few years, I’ve gotten up at dawn on Thanksgiving, participated in a charity 5k downtown with my daughters, then come home and cooked a huge meal for my husband, children, mother and grandmother. Then I spend the weekend decorating. The first day, I put up a village that I’ve been collecting at a rate of one or two houses per year since my daughter was eight.  Here’s a picture from last year.

Christmas Village

The second day goes to decorating inside. I have a nativity scene that my father gave me years ago. It’s absolutely beautiful, and now that he’s gone, it means even more to me. That goes up, along with the tree and some table decorations that I scatter around my living room. The third day is spent outside. My neighbors across the street are wonderful people—a 94-year-old widow and her late-fifties daughter who never married and moved away from home. They open their living room curtains and watch us install the decorations, then when we turn them on at dusk, the daughter always comes outside and tells us how much her mother enjoys the lights. For the rest of the season, they open their curtains every night when we turn them on.

But this year, I have a Milo. He’s eight months old, and he’s something of a tornado. Here he is--isn't he cute?

Milo

Milo is twenty five pounds of lovable, curious, happy-to-be-alive bull in a china shop. He loves new people and greets them with a flying tackle that would take down an NFL quarterback. He doesn't bark a lot, but when he has something to say, he'll sit down in front of me and speak his mind (he was on a roll one day, and I took a video which I posted here). He plays pranks on my other dog, a seven-year-old Bichon-Poodle named Bear:

Bear

He'll lay on top of the bed and wait for Bear to walk by, then pounce on him from above. When Bear looks away, he'll swipe whatever toy Bear is playing with and run off with it. While Bear is trying to eat, Milo will lay down near him and bump the bowl with his paw. Bear loves his little brother, but his patience starts wearing thin when he can't even get a bite of food from his bowl. I don't really blame him.

But with all the cuteness that comes with a sweet, fuzzy goofball like Milo, there has to be a dark side. He chews. Everything. Socks. Shoes. Glasses (he LOVES glasses). Boxes. Papers. Leaves. Ice. Bark. The list goes on. And with right at a week before I usually put up the decorations, I haven’t figured out how I’m going to manage, because he will literally eat, break and shred everything that’s waist high and below. He’s going through obedience training for the next month (well, actually, I’m the one she’s training), but we’re not even close to ready to resist the temptation of a Christmas tree yet.  So I might have to tone it down this year. Either way, I have to put up my outside decorations. I can’t stand the thought of disappointing the lady across the street.

But before I can get to avoiding the Black Friday crowds by staying home with my decorations, I have to cook Thanksgiving dinner. This recipe is a family favorite, passed down to me by my mom's mother who is, coincidentally, almost the same age as my neighbor (grandma is 93 and still lives at home by herself). I've written about both of my grandmas in previous posts. Dad's mom was the old school country cook who could make some of the most amazing meals out of a few simple ingredients. Mom's mom...well, not so much. It was her sister's fault. I posted that story here.

This recipe is a delicious and easy exception to the rule. It's a staple at our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and a recipe that I frequently get requests for whenever we take meals to holiday parties. My stepson even made it for a work potluck last week. I hope you enjoy it as much as we have.

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Easy Corn Casserole

Easy Corn Casserole

1 stick butter

1 can creamed corn

1 can whole kernal corn

8 oz. sour cream

1 box Jiffy cornbread mix

 

Melt butter in microwave for thirty seconds. Add remaining ingredients and stir till well blended (do NOT add ingredients called for in Jiffy cornbread instructions).  Grease 8 x 8 casserole dish and pour in mixture. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Squash Casserole

Happy Halloween!! My husband and I usually have a party around this time every year, but we took the year off this year. That means a little downtime (yay!), and regular menu. We’re both on diets, which is fantastic going into the holidays, so no treats tonight. It’s fall-ish (I have the air conditioner running and I’m wearing shorts today), and I’m angling for gluten free, low carb, fall food. So I’ve settled on squash.

I’ve talked about my husband in prior posts. As a refresher, he’s awesome. I’ve told him more than once that our marriage was a better deal for me than it was for him. He always disagrees. That’s one of the things that makes him awesome. When it comes to cooking, like pretty much everything else about our marriage, he’s almost painfully easy to please. He’ll eat almost anything. In fact, when we got married, he told me the only things on the “no” list were tofu and squash. One of his step-daughters liked tofu. He said his step-daughter found some tofu in the refrigerator once that was missing a single bite, and she became irate. “Who would take a one bite out of my tofu and put it back?” My husband’s response: “Someone who didn’t have enough sense to not eat it in the first place.”

Knowing that about him, I’ve never tried to make anything with tofu. I’ve never eaten it myself, but I figure if my husband won’t eat it, it must be pretty awful. This is the man who considers unusual food to be a challenge. We saw avocado popsicles at Steel City Pops in Birmingham, and he just had to try them (they were actually really good). The beer milkshake? Must have it. Donut hamburger? Bring it on. But he draws the line at tofu. Therefore, so do I.

Squash, though…

I love fruit, but I’ve never been much of a vegetable person. I’ll eat them, but other than onions, I have to work at it to enjoy them. Still, my sister-in-law made some squash one time that smelled so heavenly that I had to try it. It tasted every bit as good as it smelled.  That was many years ago, before my husband came back into my life. And now that he’s eating low carb, that means meat and non-starchy vegetables. The list of non-starchy vegetables I really like is short--brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and maybe a salad here and there (my favorite involves spinach, feta cheese, strawberries and infused balsamic vinegar). That puts everything in short rotation, and we get tired of it pretty fast.

I remembered my sister-in-law’s squash and decided to give it a go. She’s not much of a cook, so I figured if she could make it taste good, I could probably make something my husband would eat. A smarter, more patient woman than me would simply text her sister-in-law. My sister-in-law is like a real sister to me, so we chat fairly often. However, she’s a terribly busy woman who designs websites in the seven-figure range. And she has a small child. Yeah, sometimes my texts go unanswered for a few days.

Instead, I tried to remember something about her dish and then typed those search terms into my search engine. This is what it spit out. I knew by looking at it this was going to be a hit. My husband loved it (ta-da!!!) and so did my step-son. So did I. My step-daughter is a picky eater, so I didn’t expect much there. Three out of four ain’t bad, right?

Squash Casserole

Squash Casserole

6 cups sliced squash

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

Salt, to taste

1 cup chicken broth

1 garlic clove, minced

3/4 cup shredded cheddar

 

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add squash and saute until lightly browned. Place squash in casserole dish. Add diced onion and butter to skillet and cook till onion is clear. Add garlic and cook another minute, then add contents of skillet to casserole dish. Add chicken broth to casserole dish and top with shredded cheddar. Cook in oven on 350 until hot and cheese is melted.

Greek Meatballs

The family just got back from a vacation to Cozumel. Woohoo! Ten of us hopped on a cruise ship and set sail for territory that's hotter than it is here. The water's a lot prettier, though. A lot.

My family is pretty close, and we have a lot of fun together. I mentioned in a post last June that I took a cross-country trip with my youngest brother and his family. I usually spend at least two weeks a year with them.

My husband doesn't get away much (he works too hard!), but I can usually talk him into a getaway at least once a year. I take my two daughters to Disney once or twice a year. And my mom has tagged along with me on most of my European trips. But everyone in one place? That doesn't happen but once every four or five years.

So anyway, the worst part about a vacation is readjusting to life back home. You're tired. You have (substantially) less money than when you left. The work has piled up while you were gone.

Yeah, I know. Boo hoo, right? I get it.

On the bright side, I don't know of two dogs who have ever been happier to see a person than my dogs were when I got back. I actually spent half of my vacation feeling guilty for leaving the pups at home. Bear got to stay with my husband's stepdaughter, which meant kids to play with and car rides. Milo, on the other hand, spent the week alone in the kennel getting neutered.

Ouch.

Still, when I walked through the door, they were equally happy to see me. Milo got so excited he pelted me under the chin with his head. I was delighted to be home.

It's doesn't get any better than that.

Of course, we got home at noon, and routine took over quickly. So I owed the family a dinner, and we'd been eating out for a week. I texted my daughter and got her favorite meatball recipe, then matched it with some homemade dill sauce.

Greek Meatballs

Greek Meatballs

1.3 lbs. of ground beef

1 egg

1 lemon, zest only

1/4 c. fresh parsley, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. oregano

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/8 tsp. allspice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray baking sheet with non-stick spray. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and blend well. Divide into equally sized balls (about 1.5 inches in diameter). Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until done.

Pecan Blue Cheese Crackers

My husband and I love comedy shows. This restaurant near us used to have comedy shows every Thursday, and we went to one and made the mistake of sitting up front. Oh, boy.

I don’t know if you’ve ever sat up close at a comedy show, but if you don’t want your entire life on display, don’t do it. You will be made fun of. And if the comedian is good, it will be hilarious.

This particular comedian made the mistake of asking how many children we had. I had to stop and think, then gave him an answer that was the comedian’s equivalent of the best Christmas gift ever: “It depends.” You could see it all over the guy’s face. He didn’t even know where to start.

The math goes something like this. I have two children from my first marriage, one of whom died as an infant. My husband also has two kids from his first marriage. We share our kids with each other. His kids were 10 and 13 when we married, and my husband and I had full custody. I raised them. They’re mine, too. My daughter was 17. Her father passed shortly afterwards, and my husband took care of her. He even walked her down the aisle when the time came. She’s his, too.

But does that mean we share the one he never met?

Then it gets interesting. His first wife had two daughters, neither of whom had any relationship at all with their father. He raised them for twelve years, and they both considered him to be their dad. When he divorced, they decided to keep him. And when we married, they adopted me as a stepmom. Neither of them are legally or biologically tied to either of us. But can we still consider them our kids? I hope so.

When my niece was seventeen, we took her in because of problems she had with her stepmom. We finished raising her and got her through high school. Do we count her? In our hearts we do.

And then there’s my son-in-law. He’s awesome, and I adore him. He and I share a lot of the same interests, and we have the exact same education--a bachelors in communications and a law degree. We talk about minute points of law that make my daughter’s eyes glaze over. He's like a son to me. Do we count him?

Well, yes.

And don’t even get me started on my dogs.

That means we have eight kids. Sort of. And we love them all as though they each belonged to both of us. My youngest, my husband’s bio-daughter, recently asked me to figure out how to make these crackers for her. My husband’s mother used to make these before her health declined. She had lung cancer several years ago, which she survived but came out of it with a condition so rare that only 250 people per year in the U.S. get it. And, if I have my facts right, because it’s attached to lung cancer, the survival rate for it is non-existent. My bio-daughter (the doctor) told me when she studied the condition in med school that my mother-in-law is truly a walking miracle. Unfortunately, since the condition is so rare and so often fatal, the medical community doesn’t quite know what to do with her.

So, would I be willing to make Nana’s special crackers for my youngest because Nana can't do it anymore? Is that even a question? I searched around until I found a recipe that sounded right, then tried it out earlier today. I gotta say, I think I nailed it. These are dead simple to make and have the added benefit of being gluten free. I don’t like blue cheese, and I still love these.

Here’s to you, Nana.

Pecan Blue Cheese Crackers

Pecan Blue Cheese Crackers

1 1/2 cups pecan halves

1 large egg

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/2 lb blue cheese crumbles, softened

1 cup all-­purpose flour

In a preheated 350 degree oven toast 1/2 cup pecans, about 7 minutes, and cool. Set remaining pecans aside. Chop toasted pecans into a meal-like consistency. In a bowl with a fork cream butter and blue cheese until smooth. Separate egg. Add egg yolk, stirring until combined well. Set whites aside. Add flour and chopped pecans and stir until mixture just forms a dough. Halve dough and on separate sheets of waxed paper form each half into a 12 by 1 1/4 ­inch log. Freeze logs, wrapped in waxed paper, just until firm, about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease 2 large baking sheets. Cut logs crosswise into 1/4 ­inch thick slices and arrange slices about 1/2­inch apart on baking sheets. Top each cracker with a remaining pecan half, pressing lightly into dough. Brush tops of crackers, including pecans, with lightly beaten egg white. Bake crackers switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden brown, about 12 minutes total. With a spatula transfer crackers to paper towels to blot and transfer to a rack to cool.

 

Eclairs

My seventh anniversary is coming up. In honor of the occasion, I'd like to introduce you to my husband. He's one of the most awesome men on the planet-part saint and part Prince Charming. My grandfather was a WWII vet, a sailor who served on a ship in the Pacific. Grandpa was a prankster--he'd move your glass while you weren't looking and was always ready with a joke. But he took his duty to his family seriously, and he worked hard to make sure no one ever did without. I've often thought he was the greatest man I've ever known. I miss him every day.

My dad was like him in a lot of ways. They were both stoic men, born of generations that were more strong than affectionate. Dad had a sense of humor, just like his father, but dad's was stealthier--it popped out when you least expected it. He also took care of his own. I took care of dad through his final battle with cancer. That made my list of the top three hardest things I've ever done, although of the three, it's the only one that was as rewarding as it was difficult. I was in the kitchen one day when I cut my finger with a knife. There was a lot of blood, and I couldn't get it to stop. Dad called me over to the couch, where he spent most of those final weeks laying down, and insisted on helping me bandage it. As weak as he was, he still wanted to take care of me.

My husband is a lot like both of them, with even more of a sense of humor and less stoicism. He never met my grandfather, but he has said he takes it as a compliment to be compared to him, which my dad and I both did. And he could not have cared more for my dad through his final days if that had been his own father, which says a lot about both men. My husband is affectionate, considerate, caring, funny, intelligent, and he treats me like a princess. To hear his friends and family tell it, he's never once had a negative thing to say about me.

And I will admit that I give him a fair amount of material.

Like all good heroes, my husband has flaws. Because he is such an amazing person, I find his flaws every bit as endearing as he is. My sweet, even-tempered husband’s patience evaporates when he gets behind the wheel. He tends to misplace things, mainly because he is an unfortunate combination of busy and disorganized. He has a collection of “somedays” in the yard—a firetruck, a car, a couple of motor scooters, a bicycle, and a boat that he wants to fix up when he has the time. The fire truck is my favorite of the collection because he beamed like an excited little kid on Christmas when he drove it home. And, other than his friend who’s a fire captain, I think his friends might be a little jealous at his life-sized toy.

You might have picked up on the fact that I still adore him every bit as much as I did when I was a teenager. My husband and I are a real-life second chance romance story. We dated for almost two years when I was in college, then broke up because a jealous friend interfered (every good story has a villain, I guess). Twenty-three years later, we came across each other again and had our first re-date at a fondue restaurant. He joked that he couldn't believe, after so many years, that he'd taken me to a place that required me to cook my own food. I loved it.

We got married a year and a half after that. So life really does imitate art. My girlfriends think it’s sweet, and even my husband’s guy friends have told us we’re "too cute." With only a little bit of sarcasm. As they tried to steer their wives away before they got any ideas.

In honor of our upcoming anniversary, today's post is one of his favorite desserts. I went looking for this one a few years back when I wanted to make something he would really like. He did, but any time I make something just for him, he says it seems like I'm going to a lot of trouble for him. Is it any wonder I adore him?

Despite what he said, this recipe is pretty easy. I'm not sophisticated enough to keep a pastry bag around, but if you snip off the corner of a gallon storage bag, it works just as well and you can throw it away when you're finished.

Eclairs

Chocolate Eclairs

For the pastry:

1 c. water

1/2 c. butter

1/4 tsp. salt

1 c. all purpose flour

4 eggs

For the filling:

2 1/2 c. milk

1 5.1 oz instant vanilla pudding

1 c. heavy whipping cream

1/4 c. confectioners sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

For the frosting:

2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

2 tbsp. butter

1 1/4 c. confectioners sugar

3 tbsp. hot water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 1 cup water, 1/2 c. butter and salt to a boil. Add flour all at once and stir until a smooth ball forms. Remove from heat and let stand for five minutes. Add eggs to flour mixture and beat well. Using a pastry tube, pipe dough into 4 x 1.5 inch strips on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from oven, split open each pastry, and scoop out any soft dough that remains inside. Set aside until cool.

Beat milk, pudding mix, and whipping cream until peaks form. Add 1/4 c. confectioners sugar and vanilla and stir till blended. Fill pastries with mixture.

Melt chocolate and butter in microwave, stirring at least every thirty seconds. Add remaining sugar and water. Stir till smooth, then frost pastries.

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

They opened a new amusement park in Gulf Shores, which is about an hour from my house.

I’ve mentioned before that I love Disney World, although that’s a bit of an understatement. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been, but I know it’s been over twenty, possibly over thirty.

My daughter and I used to run half marathons together, before med school took over her life, and one year, we decided to go for the coast to coast medal-which means you run a half marathon at Disneyland and then one at Disney World. We did. Two weeks apart. That was a lot of traveling, a lot of training, and a lot of money.

My husband is a very patient man.

Most of what I love about Disney is the atmosphere. The other part is the roller coasters. I’ve loved roller coasters ever since I can remember. My youngest brother and I are twelve years apart and I can remember taking him on coasters when I was a teenager and he was just barely old enough to meet the height restrictions.

And then they opened and an amusement park near my house. Like I was going to pass that up. We spent the day out there about a week ago and, while it was no Disney (what is?), we had a great time. We stopped for lunch at this restaurant in the park, and they had delicious homemade pickles. My grandma used to can pickles, but she made the gross kind-bread and butter. Grandpa loved them. I mentioned in a previous post that grandpa loved peanut butter and sweet pickle sandwiches. I guess the sandwiches wouldn’t have been as good with dill pickles, but that’s hard for me to say.

I think they would have been just as bad either way.

Anyway, she didn’t can dill pickles when I was growing up, but the process isn’t that much different—there’s just a lot more sugar involved in sweet pickles. So I’d seen it done before, and I knew I could pull it off. Once I had the ones at that restaurant, I wanted to make my own. I couldn’t find their recipe, but that didn’t matter. Homemade dill pickles are good no matter how you make them.

And these refrigerator pickles are so simple, there’s really no reason to buy them in the store. One of my most popular recipes is my mayhaw jelly recipe. I love that stuff, but by the time you wash, juice, sterilize, boil, can, and process, you’re in the kitchen most of the day. Refrigerator pickles take about ten minutes to prepare, then all you have to do is pop them in the fridge and let them soak for about a week. I cut them thick and eat them straight out of the jar, but they’re also amazing on my husband’s jalapeño pepperjack burgers.

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

2 cucumbers

2 cups water

1 cup white vinegar

1 tablespoon salt

1/tsp sugar

1 bunch fresh dill

2 cloves minced garlic

Wash and trim dill, then place inside a quart jar. Wash and slice cucumbers to desired thickness and place in jar on top of dill. Add minced garlic to jar. Place one cup of the water in a pot and bring to boil. Add sugar and salt, stir until dissolved and remove from heat. Add remaining water and vinegar to water/salt/sugar mixture, stir, then allow cool completely. Pour cooled brine over cucumbers and seal jar tightly. Allow to stand in refrigerator for one week. Eat within 4 to 6 weeks.

Tiramisu

Whoever said herding cats was hard has never tried to herd my two dogs. My 7-year-old, Bear, is supposed to be my good boy. I can turn him loose in the yard without a leash, and he will stay within eyesight, then come when I call. Milo isn't quite five months yet, so he still gets the leash, which he usually wraps around both my legs and his in the 50 feet it takes to get me across the yard and into my office.

Today, I had just gotten my shower and was headed for my office when I made the mistake of stopping at my car to get my water bottle. Bear LOVES to go for rides. So, of course, the second I opened the door, he hopped in the car. Milo followed. I got the water bottle and told Bear to come, and he, instead, jumped over the console and into the driver's seat. Milo tried to go after him, but his leash was hopelessly tangled by then. I leaned into the car, which has a black interior that was about a million degrees in our 97 degree summer heat, picked up a protesting Milo, and told Bear again to come.

He refused.

I went around to the other side, Milo squirming hard enough that I almost dropped him. And the second I opened the driver's door, Bear hopped the console and headed back to the passenger side. Milo was losing his mind. Bear was looking me dead in the eye and refusing to budge. And I was wondering how I suddenly lost control of two fifteen-pound furballs.

After I swapped sides two more times (so did Bear—he's obviously a lot smarter than me), I got into the car with him. Not only did I burn the back of my leg on the seat, the sauna inside undid the shower I had just taken thirty minutes before.

Bear still refused to move.

I hauled them both out, one squirming under each arm, and kicked the door shut before they could escape back into the car again. And I actually found myself wondering why these two couldn’t be as well behaved as our cat, Frisbee.

Anyone who has a cat knows you don’t own a cat—they own you. You don’t tell a cat what to do. When they want something, they’ll let you know. Otherwise, you’re supposed to leave them alone to manage their own life. Frisbee does a fine job of that. She’ll rub against my leg and purr once or twice a week (as long as Milo isn’t jumping around her head), but other than that, she keeps to herself. I’ve never had to fish her out of my car. And I’ve probably gotten some open rebellion from her a time or two, but let’s face it, you kind of expect that from a cat.

So anyway, twenty minutes later, water bottle and dogs in hand, I finally made it out to my office.  My dogs are now at my feet, pretending to be little angels. And now it’s lunch time. I’m reluctant to disturb them to go into the house. It was enough of an ordeal last time that I’m seriously considering skipping the meal just to keep from having to fight my way through the yard again.

Except I made Tiramisu for dinner last night. Yeah, that’s a pretty big motivator. My daughter studied abroad in Florence, Italy, so naturally, I went over for a visit while she was there. I took a cooking class from an Italian chef who taught me how to make the best Tiramisu I had ever had in my life. No joke. I’m not a huge coffee person (don’t tell anyone around here I said that—I think they can blackball you from the South for not drinking coffee), but he told me I could use amaretto instead of espresso. The trick is to dilute the amaretto so the flavor doesn’t completely take over.

Okay, I’ve talked myself into it.  I’m going back inside.

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

4 fresh eggs (room temp)

1 lb Mascarpone cheese

Lady fingers (to make gluten free, use gluten free vanilla wafers--just soak them a bit longer)

12 teaspoons sugar

Unsweetened cocoa powder

1/3 cup amaretto

2/3 water

Separate eggs. Beat whites till soft peaks form and set aside. Combine sugar with yolks and mix till blended, then fold in Mascarpone. Fold whites into yolk, sugar and cheese. Spread half of the mixture across the bottom of an 8 x 8 casserole dish. Mix the amaretto with the water, then dip the cookies into the amaretto mixture, one by one, and lay across the cream mixture. Spread the other half of the cream mixture on top of the cookies, then dust with cocoa powder. Chill for two hours to let the flavors soak in together.

Contains raw eggs, which can increase the risk of food borne illness. Use fresh eggs (if you drop the egg into a bowl of water, it should sink), and eat within 2 days.

Sophie’s Lemon Cookies

My youngest is one of the most outgoing people I know, next to my husband. She definitely got that trait from him. She has friends all over the world, all of which she met online. As a parent, you can bet this made her father and I a little edgy. Maybe more than a little.

So anyway, last summer, my oldest had to spend a month in New York working in an emergency department in Flushing. My oldest traveled all over the place with me before I remarried. From the

time she was twelve, I taught her how to navigate airports because I knew that was a skill she would one day need. We went to New York, L.A., Atlanta, Dallas, Fiji, Mexico, St. Maarten, the Bahamas, Italy, France, Spain, Orlando, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Belize, and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few. She even studied abroad in Florence for six weeks.

So you would think the child would have some skills when it comes to navigating strange cities. Not so much. I was raised all over the place, since my dad was what they called a “job shopper” (which meant he did short term, independent contractor work). I’m fairly comfortable wherever I am, especially since they invented GPS. Those little guys are soooo much better than trying to find your way around Orlando with a road atlas. I did that once. Do you have any idea how many streets in Orlando are named Buena Vista? I mean, seriously.

My children, on the other hand, were all raised in the South. The oldest was born in Puerto Rico, but I brought her home when she was three, and she’s been here ever since.  Even with all the travelling we did, she never had to find her way around on her own. I handled cabs and subways. Her six weeks in Florence were carefully coordinated by a professor. So, for a slight young woman who’d spent very little time out of the South, the New York City transit system was a complete mystery. Even at twenty-five, the thought of having to navigate the buses at midnight worried her. A lot.

Welcome to culture shock. She asked if I would go with her and spend a couple of days helping her figure out the bus routes. Sure. Why not? That’s what moms are for. I grabbed my youngest daughter and my mom and we made a vacation out of it. We studied up, spent a day riding buses, and I got her all settled. As an aside, I overheard someone on the bus talking about a friend who had a car. “She’s spoiled. She can just go anywhere she wants whenever she feels like it.”

Yeah. Like I said, culture shock.

So anyway, this is where Sophie comes in. Considering how completely unexposed my children are to life in a city bigger than Birmingham, I would never, never let my youngest, then sixteen, loose in New York City by herself. However, as soon as we got settled into our room in Queens, she asked if she could go into the city to meet a friend she’d been chatting with online.

Ha! You’ve got to be kidding me. Not only was I not going to let her roam New York City unsupervised, I wasn’t about to let her meet up with some random person she had met on the internet. Naturally, that made me insanely overprotective. Sixteen-year-olds know everything, and apparently, I had missed the memo. But, being the reasonable person I am, I agreed that her friend could go with us to the museum.

We met Sophie at her subway stop, and she turned out to be a nice, normal teenager. Her mom let her roam New York City with strangers. I guess I am a little overprotective. Or maybe Sophie is just better equipped to handle the jungle than my daughter would be. Either way, we liked Sophie. So we decided to let her come to Alabama for a visit this summer.

If anyone ever tells you that New Yorkers can handle anything, they lie.

I don’t think Sophie had ever been out of New York, but if she had, she sure as shootin’ had never come to the South. Turns out, culture shock works both ways. My daughter took her to the Gulf. Sophie had never been to a beach before, and she got so excited that she ran right in, clothes and all. And, oh yeah, she had her cell phone in her pocket. The phone was toast. Oops.

She had a great time, though.  As a thank you, she made a batch of these cookies. And I ate one. Or two. (Take that, doc). I don’t like lemon cookies/cakes/candy as a rule. But, Holy mother of pearl, these were amazing. They have a tart flavor that’s perfect for summer. So give these a shot when it's hot outside and you want something sweet and refreshing. Add a glass of sweet tea, and you'll be in heaven.

Sophie's Lemon Cookies

Sophie's Lemon Cookies

2 1/2 c. flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

3 tbsp. lemon zest

1 egg

3/4 c. sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. butter (softened)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the glaze:

Confectioners sugar

Lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350. In mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt, and set aside. In a separate bowl, combine zest and sugar and rub together until fragrant. Add butter to sugar/zest and blend on lowest speed until combined. Add egg and vanilla, blend, then slowly add flour mixture, blending as you add. After all flour is added, knead until completely blended and dough forms a smooth ball.

Separate dough into 1.5 inch balls. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, then remove from oven and allow to cool for 10  minutes before glazing.

In a separate bowl, start with 1 cup of confectioners sugar and slowly add lemon juice a teaspoon at a time, mixing until the glaze has a thick, frosting like consistency. Add just enough more lemon juice to make the glaze thick but still drizzle-able, then drizzle the glaze liberally over each cookie. Make more glaze, if necessary.

Chicken Apple Sausage

After six months gluten free, I finally had my blood work yesterday. I’d be a lot more excited about it if it weren’t for the fact that nothing changed. Nothing. Antibodies are still exactly where they were before. The doctor’s advice? Do it again.

Seriously? I’m not sure if this falls into the “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” category or the “insanity is when you keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” category.

Whatever. Either way, I have six more months of quizzing unsuspecting waiters about what gets fried in their oil and whether my food might have sat downwind from something with wheat in it. That’s the nasty thing about gluten intolerance--staying away from wheat and barley isn’t enough. You have to stay away from anything it cozied up to, as well.

Fortunately for me, other than the obvious problems associated with having to play twenty questions with a guy that just wants to get you up from his table so he can collect his tip, clock out and go home, there’s not a lot of suffering involved in a gluten free diet—a lot of inconvenience (and I do mean a lot) but not much suffering. In fact, having a butcher shop at my disposal is the perfect way to plow through a gluten-free diet. If I can’t have bread, I can take the edge off by eating a really good steak. Of course, if you go overboard in the wrong direction, there’s always the possibility that you can swap gluten intolerance for gout. My mother has both. Bless her.

On the other hand, my grandmother will be 93 years old in three weeks, and she swears the secret to long life is baked chicken. First…ew. While I’ll admit that I can find a way to bake chicken that doesn’t taste like flavorless shoe leather, I’ve mentioned in past posts that my mom’s mother isn’t much of a cook. So she can’t. I don’t think I want to live to be 93 if I have to eat baked chicken every day—especially if she cooks it. And, as an aside, if I do live to be 93, you can bet I’ll eat whatever the heck I want, and it won’t be baked chicken. I mean, let’s face it, by the time you reach that age, should you really be worried that a pork chop is going to kill you? The grim reaper is just around the corner no matter what you do. You might as well enjoy your life.

Second, I fall into the category of picky eaters that can’t even eat the same category of food two days in a row. If I eat Mexican food of any variety today, it’ll be three days before I want it again. If it’s Chinese, it’ll be at least a week. If I ate chicken every day of my life, I’d want to throw myself into a swamp after a week.

Having said that, I do eat a lot of chicken. My mother used to raise chickens. I hated those birds. Whoever said they crow at dawn didn’t know that they were talking about. Those spiteful little featherheads used to strut around outside my window at two in the morning, crowing their fool heads off. I was happy to eat them. It felt like revenge.

But, if I’m going to eat a lot of anything, I have to find a way to give it some variety. This is one of those ways. This sausage is amazing. I make a big enough batch to freeze leftovers for later, but my stepson usually doesn’t let it get to the freezer. As you can see, it browns up nicely, just like regular sausage. But it’s a lot better for you, especially if you skip the bacon. Which I don’t, because, well, it’s bacon.

Chicken Apple Sausage

Chicken Apple Sausage

1 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breast

1/4 pound bacon, cooked

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter

2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, grated and squeezed dry

2 teaspoons black pepper

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin

2 tablespoons olive oil

Place chicken, in small batches, in a food processor an pulse until coarsely ground. Transfer to a large bowl and add bacon and butter to processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Add to the chicken and combine by hand until blended. Add apples and spices, then stir by hand until well blended.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat, then pinch off a small amount of the meat mixture and heat it in skillet until brown, flip and brown the other side and cook until no longer pink on the inside (don't overcook or it'll be dry). Sample to ensure spice mixture is to taste, then add more spices, if necessary, and blend again.

Once mixture is to your liking, pinch off portions of the meat mixture and pat into patties. Heat the patties in the oil, flipping as needed, until brown on each side and no longer pink in the middle.

Guacamole

I just returned from a week and a half long road trip from Oregon to Texas. I don’t know if you’ve ever taken a road trip that long, but if you haven’t, you can take my word for it that your own bed starts looking good after three or four days of staying in hotels.

I had a great time, though. I haven’t driven through the western US since I was very young. I went by my old house in Southeastern Washington State, cruised through mountains, deserts, red-rock cliffs, and plains and spent a day hiking around the Grand Canyon. Wow.

I mean seriously. I had forgotten how beautiful the scenery is out that way. I shared the trip with my brother, sister-in-law and seven-year-old niece. Believe it or not, after a week and a half on the road together, we all still love each other. We took three separate cars in a caravan, though. That might have something to do with it.

Anyway, about six days into the trip, my sister-in-law, my niece, and I stopped at this little roadside stand in New Mexico that sold Native American Artwork. When my sister-in-law got out of her car, she mentioned that she had spilled her drink on her shirt. I look down and noticed for the first time that her shirt said something on the front about avocados.

And just like that, I was jonesing for some good guacamole.

I’ve seen avocado decorations in several places lately. Seems like everyone’s getting into them. Including me. If you’ve read my previous posts, you may have noticed that I’ve always had an aversion to green stuff. Avocados are no exception. Something about green mushy food was such a turn off that I was never even willing to try them. I was in my 40s the first time and I tasted guacamole. My husband and I were on our honeymoon in Jamaica, and I had caught some kind of bug that gave me a fever and made my stomach a little queasy. So, while my husband sampled the local cuisine, I ordered a plate of plain corn chips. The chips came with a side of guacamole, which I promptly scraped to the side. Some of it stuck to one of the chips, however, and when I bit down, I was unexpectedly met with green gooey goodness.

I was hooked. Not too long after, I noticed that avocados had become trendy. Hence the avocado on my sister-in-law’s shirt. Well, why not? They’re good for you, and if you can get past the baby food like texture, they taste amazing. As in, I want to crawl in this bowl of guacamole and take a bath amazing.

Here is the perfect recipe. And, holy guacamole, this is it. The sundried tomatoes make this recipe different and a little bit awesome. I like mine with a little extra lime juice and salt, too. Serve it with some street tacos. You'll feel like Harry Potter when he found the perfect wand.

Guacamole

Guacamole

2 ripe avocados

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons minced red onion

1 clove minced garlic

1 tablespoon cilantro

2 tablespoons sun dried tomatoes, diced

Salt and pepper, to taste

Mexican crumbling cheese for garnish

Combine lime juice and red onions in a bowl and allow to sit until onions have soaked up the juice. Remove skin and pit from avocados and add to onions, then add remaining ingredients. Add another splash of lime juice, if desired. Combine until blended, mashing avocados until desired consistency. Garnish with Mexican crumbling cheese. Serve with corn tortillas.