In the soup

Work hard.  Play hard.  Get sick.  Seems this pattern is a familiar one at our house.  This week, it was my turn.  Thankfully, a new friend shared her chicken soup with me only a few days earlier.  I try to avoid using too many convenience (processed) foods when cooking, but if you’re not feeling well and making your own chicken soup, this recipe is a winner.  It would be great for a quick weeknight dinner, too.  In fact, I might add it to my Cinco de Mayo menu.

You’ll need:
1 lemon-pepper rotisserie chicken from the grocery (free-range is great, if available and affordable; I just used the basic deli variety), shredded into bite-size pieces
1 16 oz carton of chicken stock (again, organic, if possible)
1 16 oz container of fresh salsa from the grocery deli (Garden Fresh is the brand here)
2 or 3 cans of white beans of your choice
1 8 oz block Monterrey Jack cheese (peppers optional), grated 
Add the stock to the pot and put on medium heat.  Add the remaining ingredients and heat through.  Allow to simmer on low.
IMG_1923 I’m feeling better already!

Little by Little

So, it’s come to my attention that babies don’t stay babies.  And, for the most part, that’s okay with me.  Please don’t misunderstand,  I do miss that tender time of mothering. If you have honest-to-goodness babies, then nuzzle those fuzzy heads and savor those toothless drooling grins. As you may have heard, the days go by fast.  On the other hand, if you’re up to your elbows in laundry and spit-up and you-know-what, it won’t always be like that either.  Infants and toddlers are absolutely amazing gifts from God.  And they are also exhausting.  As the Mister and I are fond of saying, some of the nights were long, but the years seem mighty short. 

Our oldest baby turned 18 recently, and, thankfully, he’s still pretty affectionate.  Do I miss the days when he sat in my lap and we read Good Night, Moon? goodnight-moon1 Oh. Yes.  But just the other day, he came home from school and told me in great detail about a film he’d watched in Economics.  The movie was Food, Inc. and my darling brown-eyed boy told me every detail he remembered about U.S.  farm subsidies and the rise of processed foods and our addiction to fructose.  foodinc   He went on to tell me what he thought about this in light of what he had seen in Peru earlier this year.   No, it wasn’t as cute as Good Night, Moon, but in its own way it was just as wonderful.
Another wonder happening before my eyes is watching my daughter discover that she can be a girl as well as a tom boy.  Having two older brothers has inspired her, no doubt.  She is as competitive as the day is long.  From the get-go, she’s wanted no pink.  No purple either (which was just fine with me).  Dresses on Sundays only, thankyouverymuch.  Her tastes in interior design are quite similar—plain and simple, utilitarian even.

I was pretty surprised when she told me she’d like to re-decorate her room.  She needed something “modern” and “appropriate for middle school.”    I told her I was not painting this spring; she’d have to live with the babyish blue.  She was undeterred.  Lime green works with everything, she told me.
IMG_1872 After she’d chosen her quilt, she wanted some shams.  I tried to steer her toward some paisley ones in lime, pink, peach, and blue.  She wanted something bolder, so she found these Ralph Lauren ones at Home Goods.  She was right to want something bolder.  Her room, when it is picked up, looks quite sophisticated.  Thankfully, her collection of Silly Bandz still has a place of honor.IMG_1875 And, of course, Bunny, who also turned 18 this month.IMG_1876
Good night, Moon.

Dancing With My Stars

Back-to-back events left Middle and me with time on our hands, or rather, on our feet as the Mister and Little kicked up their heels at our church’s annual Sweetheart Father-Daughter Dance.  IMG_1906
Little sported a vintage, also known as a hand-me-down, Lilly dress for her night out with Daddy. IMG_1908 They started the evening with dinner out and then danced to beach music, the cha-cha slide, YMCA, and Hannah Montana—a school girl’s dream playlist. 
    The following night, Big  and Lovely Girlfriend set out for Big’s senior prom amid April showers that unfortunately turned out to be a relentless downpour.IMG_1911While Big and Lovely were posing for countless pictures, Lovely’s sister and her beau returned from turkey hunting!  I thought the couples made a cute contrast.  And don’t I wish I could look that good after returning home from being in the woods all day!  
IMG_1916IMG_1921After photos, we headed to a neighbor’s house for more pictures and for what was supposed to be dinner in the garden for about 25 seniors and their dates.  The rain prevented the garden setting, but the unflustered hostess and her corps of parents had moved everything inside and it looked as if it were meant to be.IMG_1922   IMG_1918CIMG8480 Happy Prom 2010!

classic springtime supper

At about 5 o’clock, put down your book and come in off the deck. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. potatoesTake about two pounds of new red potatoes and scrub well, but do not peel.  Place in pot and cover with water and bring to boil.  Once water is boiling,  set timer for 20 minutes.cedar-plank-grilled-salmon-recipe-6-29-07While you are waiting for the water to boil, take a pound and a half of salmon, wild if available and affordable.  Rinse well and pat dry.  Spread on a thin coat of good mayonnaise (Duke’s or homemade).  Mix together about a fourth of a cup of brown sugar, a tablespoon of dried rosemary, and a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper.  Press dried mix into mayo.  Bake at 375 about 20 minutes—you may have to adjust the time depending on the thickness of the salmon.
Next, take a large bunch of fresh asparagus, wash and trim tough ends.  Place in shallow baking dish and drizzle with good olive oil.  Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and black pepper.  Place in oven to roast while salmon is baking.  You should have about 10 minutes left, if you haven’t had a phone call or been otherwise distracted.  Check the potatoes for doneness.  Drain water, toss in two tablespoons of real butter and about a half cup of milk. Mash with an old-fashioned potato masher.
This is one of our favorite meals, every bite tastes better than the one before.  The carmelized sugar crust on the salmon is incredible; the smoky roasted  flavor of the asparagus is delicious; and the mashed potatoes?  C’mon, they’re real mashed potatoes—even Jamie Oliver would approve.  When this is dinner, there’s never a forkful left on anyone’s plate.
“Recipes” courtesy of my dear sister-in-law, K; Ina Garten; and me.

And when we party,

Well, truthfully we’re pretty low key.  Big did seem to enjoy his 18th birthday—the food was plenty hearty, and I think that for fellows his age, hearty food is key.  The weather and setting were perfect.  The guests were polite and appreciative, and the Mister and I enjoyed the afternoon as well.
IMG_1881Here’s some of the gear, ready for loading into the van.  IMG_1884 The centerpiece featured an old picnic cooler rescued from my great uncle’s garage.  It is always a hit at casual parties.
IMG_1889Here I am with the birthday boy and Lovely Girlfriend, who was a big help with the invitation list and setting up.  IMG_1887 Big is crazy for Magnolia Bakery cupcakes, so I made several batches of the vanilla with chocolate buttercream frosting to create his 18 “cake.”  We replenished these all afternoon and still were able to send some home with Lovely to share with her roommates.IMG_1883I bought this bread board years ago, and I have loved serving from it.  Usually I use it for cheese and fruit, but I thought the cupcakes worked well, too.Cheeseburger-Made-In-A-Rice-Cooker Cheeseburgers, grilled to perfection by dear friend Old Bean, were a big hit.IMG_1886We put enamel plates of fun-sized candies on each table.  The cloth was a heavy muslin with a blue-and-white ticking overlay in the center.IMG_1900 Some of the gang.IMG_1897 Good friends (Old Bean and the Redhead) gave Big a new tire for his Jeep.  The Mister and I gave the other three.  When Big unwrapped the tire, the boys let out an audible and collective “oooh” of appreciation while the girls exchanged glances.  Who knew tires would be such a hit?IMG_1896     Our recyclables, about halfway through the day.  Don’t worry, the brown bottles are from root beer.  
IMG_1904With all the planning and cooking, my gift wrapping skills sank to a new low—I didn’t want to get “caught” wrapping Big’s other gifts, so instead of going downstairs for boxes, gift wrap, and tissue paper, I just snagged some bags and newspaper ads.  I don’t think it’s going to be a trend.
For more birthday fun, check out Suburban Princess and It's a Golden Day.  It’s a big week for birthdays!

Um, I’m kind of busy here . . .

We’re having a party.  My oldest baby will be 18 tomorrow.  He didn’t ask for a party, and I suspect I have planned one primarily to distract myself from the unavoidable fact that my oldest baby will be 18 tomorrow. IMG_1879 So, I’m gathering the picnic items, buying flowers, ice, drinks, and taking care of a dozen other details all in order not to think too much about my oldest baby turning 18 tomorrow. 
So far, it’s working really well.

So long, Swoozie’s

If there had been a club called “I Swoon for Swoozie’s,” I would have been a member.  Truthfully, I’ve fed most of my paper addiction (stationery, cocktail napkins, invitations, wrapping paper, ribbon) at a couple of little local shops or in fun places I’ve found while traveling.  And, of course, there’s the random score at TJ Maxx.  But Swoozie’s, well, Swoozie’s had it all.  It was light and bright; the merchandising was clever; and the music was such a great compilation of tunes that you couldn’t help thinking about planning  a party. But. For complicated reasons I’m sure, Swoozie’s 44 stores have been sold to a liquidator, and, apparently, everything must go, down to the bare walls.n101474348222_6775So, today, I headed over to see what was left.  It was a bit of a spur-of-the-moment decision.  Little was at her acting class, and I had 45 minutes, which only gave me about 25 minutes in the store!  Still, I was able to find a few things that will go into the future gift stash—or not.  First some Lilly P. labels and stickers for gifts or for shipping or for Little’s lunch bag.l00074_multibamboopatchstationery_plthumbThen some Lilly pencils because somebody will enjoy having these on her desk next year.l00087_multibamboopatchstationery_plthumb A Lilly pen for me because none of the men in my life will walk away with this one!


Naturally, I found some cocktail napkins and some stationery and correspondence cards for Little, too.

Despite their difficult circumstances, the Swoozie’s girls were as cheerful and helpful as always.  One of the women tending the cash register told me that of the 44 stores, “our” store was 3rd in sales, making the loss especially painful for her.  She also told me that they still had 300 unopened boxes to put out and sell, so to stop back in soon.  I promised her that I would, and I will--  because I still swoon for Swoozie’s.

See! The winter is past

It rained most of Thursday night, but this weekend the sun was bright and warm—both outside and in!  awardfromk Many thanks to blogger Kris at Kristopher K Design for sending me the Sunshine Award from Queensland, Australia!  What a cheerful surprise!  Please take a moment to visit Kristopher K .  I promise you’ll see beautiful, fresh fabric designs all done by the talented Kris!
Spring is really here!

11 See! The winter is past;
       the rains are over and gone.
12 Flowers appear on the earth;
       the season of singing has come,
       the cooing of doves
       is heard in our land.  Song of Songs 2:11-12

What a spring in the Carolinas!  Sure, there’s pollen and plenty of it, but let’s keep our perspective.  On my five-minute drive to work downtown this past week, I noted the following flowers, trees, and shrubs in bloom: azaleas, daffodils, tulips, phlox (pink and purple), viburnum (snowball) bush, cherry trees, red bud trees, dogwood trees (pink and white), wisteria, weeping cherry, crab apple, pansies, hyacinths, candy tuft, quince, forsythia, and at least four or five  that I can’t correctly name!  Not to mention, in the shady gardens, you can practically see the hostas shooting up through the ground.  All this color against the brilliant green of budding trees is breathtaking. DSC_1870_Dogwood_Spring I love to garden.  No, wait, that’s not right.  I love to think about gardening.  Yes, that’s more like it.  And I love to draw landscape plans and go to the nursery and choose the plants.   And I like to set the plants where they’re meant to go.   Then, I bring the Mister cold drinks and compliment him on his fine work.  And, rub his back at night, which is and gunEmily Whaley’s garden as updated by daughter Marty Whaley, Garden & Gun
Emily Whaley, perhaps Charleston’s most famous gardener, wrote that she let her husband tell her who to vote for in every election, in order to get the plants and landscaping she wanted.  I’m not condoning that, but if you, like me, aren’t that great with a shovel, then you might want to come up with your own particular bargaining chip like backrubs.  Pies work well, too.  mrs whaley
If you haven’t read Mrs. Whaley’s book, you must!  She’s been gone several years now, but the book, written by William Baldwin when she was 85, is timeless.  It’s not a technical gardening book,  unless you happen to live in Zone 9, but it is an insightful one.  She offers advice and opinions on gardening, of course, but also on good manners, dancing, tennis, and entertaining.  mrs whaley's garden  I read it afresh every spring, and I believe that on this Mrs. Whaley and I would agree:
So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  1 Corinthians 3: 7

How I Met Candace, and Why I Need to Give Her a Present

Yesterday morning, the Mister and I were synchronizing our watches, so to speak, and I was debating going to an event scheduled for that evening.  It was supposed to rain.  Hard.  The Mister helpfully pointed out that the event would be held inside.  It’s going to be kind of a young crowd, I sulked.  The chipper Mister replied that he felt pretty young.  Sigh.  It’s black-tie, you know.  (Why I thought this would dampen his enthusiasm, I have no idea.  I knew he had two tuxedos ready to go in the closet.)  Well, we’ll see, I muttered.  Reading me with his usual skill, he said, Don’t worry about what to wear.  Wear your black dress.  It’ll be fun, and it’s a good cause.  N (see N's Party)gave you the tickets, and she’ll want to hear about it.  Yes, I finally agreed, it would be a shame not to go.  And there’s an auction.  And then the Mister deftly played his trump card.  And chocolate.
s’more of flourless chocolate cake, toasted marshmallow meringue, graham cracker tuile, and hazelnuts.
Yes, with Easter and its candy barely four days past, what do the Mister and I (not) need to be doing?  Why, going to a Chocolate Soiree, of course!  We attend only few black-tie events each year, but this one is pretty, well, sweet.  (Sorry.)  It’s a fundraiser for our local children’s museum, a brand new, state-of-the-art facility.  The Soiree is meant to subsidize memberships and admission for families who otherwise couldn’t afford to visit.IMG_1856         from the chocolate tasting, the highest butter fat content
So, at 5, I picked up Little from her drama class (like she needs one!) and called the Mister to confirm the time he’d be home.  Then I headed upstairs to dress.  So I laid out my LBD, decided on some fun jewelry, pulled out the Spanx, and the shoes.  I debated going bare-legged, but my limbs are looking more like Rand McNally is my trainer, so I grabbed a pair of black stockings.  Only, they were tights.  After looking thoroughly I realized, you guessed it, no stockings.  Well, by this time, it is pouring rain, the wind is kicking up, and I have already put the hot rollers in my hair!  Going to CVS is not an option.  For me, that is.  So, of course, I called the Mister and explained the situation. Well, no, he wouldn’t mind picking up a pair of pantyhose.  I was kind of surprised, I have to admit.  He asked me what size, and I told him just to call when he was standing in front of the display.
IMG_1855             Grand Marnier truffles and rolled strawberries
A few minutes later, the phone rings.
Mr: Okay, I’m here.  What size?
Me: Well, first of all, I need black.
Mr.: Oh. (long pause) Okay.  What size?
Me: Are they sheer?
Mr.:  They’re hose.  Of course, they’re sheer. (Pause.)  What the heck is “barely black?”
Me: How much are they?
Mr.: I don’t know, four-fifty.  What difference does that make now?
Me:  The more sheer they are, the more expensive they’ll be.  See if they have some more expensive ones.
Mr.: Hang on a minute. 
Mr. (loudly):  I need a woman!
Then I overhear some laughing and talking.
Mr.:  Honey, meet Candace.  Tell her what you need.
Me: Um, hi, Candace . . . .
And so, with great patience and thoughtfulness, Candace, a CVS employee, listened to what I needed, found it, and sent the Mister home with the sheerest black stockings that can be found in a drugstore.
So, I’d like to get her a present.  Something you can’t buy in a drugstore.  I welcome your suggestions.
  IMG_1849         after the rain, before the chocolate
As for the Mister, definitely a keeper.  And, yes, we had a great time.

Hoppin’ Down the Bunny Trail

Despite the hectic pace of March, I did manage to put out a few decorations for Easter.  I love using old decorations that seem to blend with what we already have.IMG_1831 - Copy I bought these little chicks at an antiques fair years ago.  I think  Little was just about a month old, so, of course, I had to have three chicks.  Like my own brood, these chicks usually hang out in the kitchen.  It has become sort of a running joke in our family to re-arrange the chicks in funny little vignettes.  I always arrange them just so, and when I notice them next, they’ve been moved around to look as though they’re lost or gossiping (about their mother, of course).
IMG_1832 - CopyThese little bunnies can be found in the family room.  None of them are old, but they kind of look like they could be, I think.  My favorite is the one with the tinsel around his basket.  I found him when visiting a dear friend in Texas.IMG_1833 - CopyI put a few bowls of speckled eggs around on different tables in the family room and living room.  Sometimes I pour them all into two big glass hurricanes and use them on the dining room table.IMG_1834 - Copy The family room mantle gets a little taste of spring, too.
IMG_1836 - Copy
More speckled eggs, and I don’t remember where I got this bunny, but if you’ve ever read Robert Lawson’s Rabbit Hill, this bunny reminds me of Little Georgie, saying “New folks comin’”.  (And, if you haven’t read it, you really should!)IMG_1839 - Copy
Silver tray, moss bunnies, speckled eggs, and papier mache carrots that I purchased at a garden show in Atlanta quite a while ago.  Usually, this is on the sideboard, but I couldn’t get a good photo of it there.

So, nothing too over-the-top this year.  Next year, most likely I’ll be hosting the Easter brunch, and I’m thinking those little birds’ nests would make delightful place card holders!
I do love planning a party!

Blog, Interrupted

Ahem.  Yes, well, where were we?  Right, right, right.  A little business travel.   All went well.  Er, no, I got sick, the Mister got sick, laundry piled up, and next thing I knew it was March.  For those of you without children in three different schools, you might be mildly interested to know that March is when the end of winter school sports collides with the beginning of spring school sports.  (Basketball, meet Tennis.)  March is also the month when seniors, like Big,  make their final college decisions, and the money you’ve been saving begins to be spent at an alarming rate.  Then, there’s the Mister, starting a new business.  And finding a lump, which turned out to be nothing, but the part before we knew it was nothing, was rather, um, awful.  Let’s see, I’m leaving out some good stuff, too, Big and Little sang a duet, “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,” which required rehearsing. ted singingIMG_1801 - Copy I’m not sure why, as bickering seems to come so naturally to them.  Then, I had the staggering realization that I had a lot more time when I didn’t blog or read blogs, so I gave that a go, but it turns out that reading your blogs (and your comments) is rather enriching. So, all that to say, I’m back.  And many, many thanks to those who stopped by to check on me.
Now, as a reward for reading all that caffeine-fueled rambling, here’s a sampling of our spring and Easter.IMG_1808 - Copy Middle and Big, who has taken a job working for a candy store, until life guarding or some other summer job lures him away.  I keep hoping a local theatre will advertise auditions for Harvey, but so far, nothing.
IMG_1816 - Copy After church on Easter Sunday, we drove up into the mountains for brunch at one of our favorite places.  Gorgeous day, delicious repast, and cooperative and appreciative children made for a lovely day despite the fact that we had no family or guests.
IMG_1815 - Copy The Easter hams.  Big has already shed his tie, but it was a lovely Vineyard Vines bit of finery.IMG_1818 - Copy Hams and baloney!
IMG_1821 - CopyThe Mister and me—yes, I cropped out our dessert plate!IMG_1823 - CopyLittle relaxes lakeside while the boys play Frisbee, and the Mister dozes.IMG_1822 - Copy   Blessed Easter Day!
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