Strawberry Salsa: A Walk in the Park

Sadly, I have never really been a runner. My knees rebelled at an early age, around 14, and by the time I was 30, they made a clicking sound with every step. (I can never sneak up on anyone, dang it.) The good news is that there's no real pain, just occasional stiffness in those now mid-century joints, and I'm able to walk, both literally and hopefully, to my heart's content. I don't take that privilege for granted. 

Liberty Bridge

I walk with two dear friends almost every weekday morning. We walk when it's dark, and we walk when it's cold. We think we're tough because unless it's below 18 degrees or raining hard, we walk. We walk for a scant hour, about three and a half miles. Our feet work hard to keep up with our mouths as we solve the world's problems, admonish one another to let some stuff go, commiserate, and encourage one another. 

Reedy River walk

We don't always get to walk on weekends, but about once a month, we meet on Saturday morning, changing our regular route to head to downtown Greenville. It's a beautiful walk through Cleveland Park along a bit of the Swamp Rabbit Trail and into Falls Park, crossing the Reedy River via the Liberty Bridge, with a view of the waterfalls.

Reedy River Falls

It's pretty quiet in the early morning, although plenty of dog walkers, runners, and other folks are about starting their day. All the coffee shops do a brisk business, and we always reward ourselves at the West End Starbucks. This past Saturday, we headed on up Main Street to the Saturday Market. It was busy with local vendors selling everything from salad greens and strawberries to cheese, bread, and sausage. Open from May through October, the Saturday Market is one of my favorite summertime treats.

Saturday Market

Fresh flowers, local honey, homemade cakes, herbs, and ornamental trees rounded out the offerings. I was sad that I only brought my coffee card. My walking buddy generously treated me to a pint of Beechwood Farms strawberries before we headed home.

Local strawberries

The berries were so fragrant; I knew I needed to do something with them right away, so I concocted my own recipe for strawberry salsa.

strawberry salsa

I looked up recipes online, but they were all so different, I decided to just make up my own version. That make-up-my-own-version hasn't always worked out for me, but this time it turned out rather well.

strawberry salsa and chips

Town and Country Strawberry Salsa

one pint ripe strawberries, washed and hulled
one-half pint grape tomatoes, washed and halved
five green onions, chopped whites and green parts
one-half red onion, diced
one-half red pepper, diced
4 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar or Stevia

Mix all ingredients together and let sit in refrigerator overnight or for at least eight hours. Serve with tortilla or pita chips or as a condiment for chicken or pork.

We enjoyed the salsa the first night with chips, but the second night I served it as a relish for pork tenderloin medallions, and that combination earned two thumbs up from the whole gang.

Do you shop at your local farmers' market? Have you ever made your own salsa? Did you watch the Mad Men finale? (Sorry, I just can't believe that show is over.)

Hold that Tiger! Graduation Day

Yikes! I can't believe it's almost the middle of May and this is my first post of the month. It's been a busy month for us, highlighted by our oldest son's college graduation. Big broke the news last summer that he wouldn't be able to graduate in December as he'd originally planned unless he took a 22-hour course load this past fall. That didn't really seem feasible, especially considering most all of his classroom hours are matched by hours in labs. 

So way back in February, I began to scheme on the best way to celebrate this milestone. I wanted our plan to celebrate Big while accommodating the comfort of older grandparents with mobility issues and friends and family members, including siblings, who just wanted to hang out and have fun. I thought renting a lake house might be just the ticket. Thankfully, the Mister agreed, Big liked the idea, and the grandparents were game, too.

I searched the VRBO website for lakefront rentals near Clemson University, sleeping 12, and came up with this beautiful house on Lake Keowee. Although this view shows lots of steps down to the lake, the selling point was that the house had two master suites only one step up from the driveway. Part of the Cliffs Keowee Vineyard neighborhood, the house sits on a small cove with a stunning lake view.

I spent a good amount of nonworking time planning our meals and a few fun surprises for the weekend. Everyone planned to arrive Thursday evening, the graduation itself was Friday, leaving all day Saturday to relax before heading to our respective homes on Sunday morning.

In case you're wondering, I needed eight meals for at least 12 adults. The closest grocery store is not close. I took a page from the Boy Scout Handbook and decided I'd best Be Prepared!

I wanted the weekend to be festive and celebratory in spirit. School spirit calls for Clemson orange, of course. It is amazing how much  junk  paraphernalia one can accumulate during four five years of tailgating.

I started with grocery store flowers from Publix and the Fresh Market. The selection was especially good, probably because of Mother's Day.

Middle, our younger son, and himself a rising sophomore at Clemson, went to the lake with me about two hours ahead of everyone else, giving me enough time (and muscle) to load in groceries, set up tables, start dinner, and even assemble gift bags. Thanks, Middle! Meanwhile, Big stayed at home to welcome grandparents and to pick up Little and bakery treats. Thanks, Big!

I should've waited until the table was completely set before taking photos, but the clock was ticking! 

Middle helped me put together gift bags with sunscreen, playing cards, stadium cups, booster pins, Lindt orange chocolates and delicious Tiger Paw cookies.

My favorite neighborhood bakery made these delicious buttercream paws. I think sometimes it's money well spent to have that little extra something special.

Everyone arrived after a long day of travel, and I served a simple supper of baked spaghetti, green salad, and garlic bread. Easy peasy. After supper the Mister's sister and Big helped me assemble a couple of signature sandwiches for our pre-grad lunch. 

For breakfast the next morning, I served these tasty little mini casseroles with a fruit platter.

Here we are ready to load into three vans and head to Clemson, about an hour's drive away. This is when my stress level was at its peak as we weren't sure where we were going to park annnnnd we needed to meet up with some more family members annnnnnnd we hoped to all have a picnic lunch together, which was packed in my van along with chairs borrowed from my kindest friends.

Although we didn't get to park in the section where I'd hoped (It was both paved and shaded), we did manage to park in an area that offered plenty of shade from 11 am until 1 pm, when we headed into the coliseum for the ceremony. Here Middle and Little along with their beautiful Cousin check out the tailgate picnic offerings.

Although, it not visible in this picture, the paper boats were in Clemson colors of orange and purple. We had turkey and ham sandwiches with Havarti cheese, basil mayonnaise, stone ground mustard, and lettuce and tomato or turkey, ham, and salami sandwiches with provolone and spicy mustard, lettuce and tomato. We also had wild rice salad and chopped Mediterranean salad (both Ina Garten recipes and both excellent). I added a colorful napkin, striped straw, fork, handwipe, and Clemson mint.

And, of course, we had more of those Tiger Paw cookies. The primary goal was for everyone to enjoy being together and enjoy their lunch. The secondary goal was to not carry a lot of dirty serving dishes and storage containers back to the lake house. Having a "boxed lunch" definitely made that possible, and we only had one small bag of trash.

Clemson holds three graduation ceremonies--one at 9:30 am; one at 2:30 pm; and another at 6:30 pm. Big's was at 2:30 for both the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Science and the College of Education. Big's major was Wildlife and Fisheries Biology, so he fell kind of in the middle of the ceremony. Sadly, the photo on the jumbotron turned out better than the photo of Big actually receiving his diploma and crossing the stage.

Afterward, it was kind of a mob scene, and I thought this was a funny picture of the Mister and me trying to herd all 17 in our party and get some decent photos.                                                                                                         
Where the Blue Ridge yawns its greatness,
Where the Tigers play,
Here the sons of dear old Clemson
Reign supreme alway.

Afterward, we all returned to the lake. Our graduate had requested a "Southern supper," so we had ham, macaroni and cheese, green beans, spinach salad, biscuits, and, for dessert, sweet potato cake, a gift from my dear friend and walking buddy, BK.

Saturday, we spent the day visiting, swimming, fishing, talking, and playing a rambunctious game of Pictionary. We also had two dear families make the trek out to visit, one by boat. All the Florida family members were excited to get a boat tour of a mountain lake.

To close, I'll share a fun graduation gift from a family friend. Big was more than pleased with this handsome leather and monogrammed Dopp kit. He was delighted when he opened it to discover it was full of "diplomas!" So clever!

Mother's Day? I celebrated that with a nap.

Inspired by Charleston: A Flower Box Project

The Mister threw down the gauntlet this past weekend: Create a flower box for our tiny and underwhelming side porch. I willingly accepted his challenge. I knew I'd draw my inspiration from the amazing flower boxes and container plantings I'd seen in Charleston a few years ago and several times this past year as well.

Charleston window box
One of my inspirations
We headed to Lowe's where we found a suitable container that would fit over the porch rail. We agreed that because our house is quite shaded and we weren't sure of flower box success, we didn't want to spend a lot on something custom. Thankfully, we found a rectangular box that looks as if it's been painted flat black. It's actually molded plastic, of course, but my hope is that once plants are trailing over the sides, no one will notice its plasticity. We also purchased three miniature boxwoods as I knew that's what I wanted as the foundation planting of the box.

caladium in Charleston flower box
Another inspiration
The next morning I headed to a locally owned nursery to see what was available for shade plantings. Quite a bit, actually. Although I longed to wander all eight acres of shrubs, trees, water garden features, and perennial plants, I tried to stay in the annuals department.

bedding annuals

So many colors tempted me, but I decided to keep it pretty simple with green, white, and the smallest bits of deep, bluish pink.
boxwood and caladium

I ended up with boxwoods, caladiums, purplish wishbone flower, and white torenia, all recommended for shade or part shade. I kept in mind the recommendation to choose a filler (boxwood and wishbone flower), a thriller (caladium), and a spiller (torenia).
planting directions

My total spent on plants was about $40.

flower box in progress

First, of course, I filled the container with potting soil and then placed the boxwoods in the center toward the back.

flower box with boxwood and caladium
Then, the caladiums, which I kind of angled slightly, so they would spill over the edge of the box.

flower box with green plants

Then, I stuffed in the smaller plants, making sure to cover their roots with potting soil. The Mister drilled holes in the bottom of the flower box so that the plants could drain easily.

I am hopeful that it won't take long for the torenia and the wishbone flower to grow and trail and spill over the front. Although it was fun, making a Charleston-style flower box was harder than I'd thought, and I welcome any tips or advice on making it look a bit more posh. Maybe some ivy? Or do I just need to be patient?!

Let me know your thoughts!

A Day in the Country, Downton Abbey Style

Although our destination was only an hour's drive away, we began planning months ago to make a trip to the incomparable Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. We juggled work schedules, volunteer commitments, care for aging parents, and carpools to make this day trip happen. Finally, after weeks of waiting and 10 days of downpours, we hopped in BK's car and headed north to visit America's largest home, the majestic Biltmore.

Biltmore House and Garden
source: Biltmore Estate
We had all visited before; most of us had been several times. This remarkable 250-room house is known for its incredible furnishings, artwork, winery, and gardens. Built over six years' time, beginning in 1889, this French Renaissance chateau sits amid 8,000 acres of formal and informal gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in New York City.

Here we are, ready to tour the house and to see the exhibition Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times, which features 45 costumes from the television series Downton Abbey.

loggia source: Biltmore Estate
view from Biltmore
Appalachian spring from the loggia of Biltmore House
Remarkably, thanks to the brilliant siting of the house by Olmsted and the thoughtful and painstaking stewardship of the Vanderbilt descendants in cooperation with the city of Asheville, the view shed surrounding the Biltmore House remains undisturbed, making it seem as if you have truly traveled back in time.

Dowager costume

We had about a half hour to spend before our timed entry into the house, so, of course, we perused the wares in the gift shop, where we spotted our first Downton costume--a dress worn by Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham. If you're a fan of the show, you've no doubt noticed that the Dowager Countess usually wears some shade of violet, which I wrongly assumed was an affectation of hers because of her name. Instead, she wears violet because she continues to mourn her late husband and her family members who were lost when the Titanic sank. 

Biltmore Estate doesn't allow photography inside the house itself, so the pictures that follow are all courtesy of the Biltmore website.

costumes at Biltmore

The exhibition was quite well done, I thought. The simple mannequins were placed in rooms much like those in Highclere Castle, where the "upstairs" portion of the series is filmed in England. Here, sisters Mary and Edith wear styles that reflect the latest trends, including a handbag for Lady Mary and for Lady Edith, a coat dress that reflects the influence of the Arts & Crafts movement in England.

Here, Lady Mary's spectacular beaded firework gown contrasts with her maid Anna's pinafore.

Downton Abbey costumes

In the upper left, Mrs. Hughes's silk dress signifies her authority over the house and contrasts with the more simple maid's costume. In the lower right, a footman (Barrow, Jimmy, Alfred, et al) stands near a valet (Mr. Bates) with protective apron and sleeves. The footmen were known as the "peacocks" of the great houses.

Downton Abbey costumes

Here's a driving uniform for Tom Branson before he was a member of the family. To the right is a belted dress for the lovely and thoughtful Sybil.

After about two hours in the house, which included a thrilling and secret elevator ride because sometimes I'm just at the right place at the right time, we had a tasty lunch at the Stable Cafe and then headed out to see the gardens.

Biltmore conservatory
conservatory: image Biltmore Estate
Azaleas, wisteria, tulips, irises, and daffodils were all blooming. Unfortunately, the tulips had taken quite a beating by the rain and weren't really looking their best. This photo from the Biltmore website shows the walled garden in its glory.

tulips Biltmore
source: Biltmore Estate

Biltmore formal garden

All the formal gardens and the rambling, woodland gardens were beautiful. I hope to visit again in a month or so with the Mister to see the roses.

Inside the conservatory, we were rewarded with stunning displays of orchids grown for the house.

Biltmore orchids

While on our way back to the real world, we drove past fields that were blooming vibrant yellow.

canola field Biltmore

We had no idea what it might be. Turns out, that vibrant yellow is the blossom of the canola plant.

And, now I wish you all a wonderful weekend.


Whatever that is.

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