goodbye 13... a different kind of year.

     I noticed a few blog posts with an end of year wrap-up as theme. So, here's my take on 2013... Whew, I'm glad that's over and we all survived.
     It has been at times both good and bad. Simple one minute and difficult the next. And guess what it is called... LIFE. That's it, just life. Crazy, wonderful, happy, sad.
     My computer's photo-log tells a visual story of our year. 2013 began with sadness as we said goodbye in January to one of our faithful companions, the favorite canine of many... our sweet Sophie girl.
     February saw one daughter get her first real, grown-up job and move away from our little nest to a shining metropolis miles away. And my little baby turned twenty-one!
     I've sure done a lot of cooking... surprise, surprise. I've really been a hit and run blogger in 2013. As you've seen from the lack of posts, I've been flitting between work and home with little time for lighting on a chair to write. That's a fact I don't love.
    It's been a year filled with a bit of travel, a smidge of renovation and a ton of food. Spending time with friends and family is always my favorite part... and I'm so blessed to be surrounded. People you love just make everything better, don't they?
     All in all, God has remained faithful... whether or not I take time to stop and pray. If I remember to thank him or if I don't. Even when I miss church services on Sunday for weeks at a time due to an illness in the family... He still calls me His child.
     I celebrate that every day. It's not about me... I'm thankfully not in charge of anything but my own attitude. I'm called to love God and love people like Christ loved the church. Period. The end.
     He gave His life for every single one of us, (whether we believe in Him or not,) when we deserve absolutely nothing. We're not called to judge. Or hate. Or change people... just to love.
     My world is crazy and filled with drama and I'm sure many of you can relate! Health issues and situations have changed in the blink of an eye. People move in and out of our presence when we least expect it... So hey, don't get too comfy. Change is inevitable. And still, God is our one constant..." Draw near to Him and He will come near to you." James 4:8.
     Here are a few of my favorite 2013 images:
Happy New Year! Thanks for staying connected.

toscana rustica revision

      It is nasty and cold outside... all of a sudden! The weather has gone from yesterday's rain and muggy temps to cold, gray and blustery, overnight. The kitchen smells like Thanksgiving. I'm one happy chick!
     While trying to keep everyone's fingers out of the Thanksgiving pie, I threw together one of my faves... This hearty soup will hit the spot tonight. All I need now is a roaring fire!
     I used Publix Greenwise chicken Italian sausage this time, but have also made it with turkey or traditional pork Italian sausage. If you're a spicy person, try the hot Italian, but omit the red pepper flakes until you taste the soup. It still has a bit of heat the way it is written. Proceed at your own risk!
     I love, love those itty-bitty, golden potatoes they sell in most food stores. Have you found them? I roast them in the oven quite a bit, but decided to try them in soup. I cut them in half to speed up the cooking time. If you can't find little potatoes, use about five regular-sized bakers. I didn't peel the babies, but you might want to peel large, thicker skinned potatoes.
     I bought the kale that was already chopped, washed and ready to cook. It really saves time, but you could wash and chop your own bunch, if that's how you roll. Kale is one of the most popular greens these days. I've even seen baby kale among the salad fixings. It is very, very good for you and unobtrusive in a soup... Give it a try!
5 chicken Italian sausage links, casings removed, hot or mild
1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced
2 slices bacon, cut up
1 tsp red pepper flakes (you can omit if you used hot sausage)
3 cans fat free chicken broth or 6 c. homemade stock
2 c. Dutch Baby gold potatoes, halved
2 t. salt
1 t. pepper 

2 cans of evaporated milk, (I used fat free)

4 c. Kale, chopped and ready to serve
In a large, deep pot on medium heat, brown sausage and bacon with onion, garlic and red pepper flakes. Break up the sausage chunks as it cooks. When onion is translucent and meat is cooked through add a splash of broth and scrape the browned bit off the bottom of pot.
Add remaining broth and potatoes, salt and pepper. Cook on medium low for  about 20 minutes until potatoes are tender. Add evaporated milk and simmer for another few minutes. Toss in the kale. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Let cook another 10 minutes on a low simmer.
Serving idea: Serve along-side a salad made of sliced tomatoes, basil leaves and fresh skim mozzarella drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette.
Weight Watchers Points plus value: 4 per 1 c. serving. Makes 10-12 servings.

a time to purge: living with less...

     Today, it is muggy and drizzly outside, dusty and cluttered inside... but just my bedroom and closet. Why do master bedrooms serve as a dumping ground for stuff you don't know what to do with??? I need a force field or an electric fence to prevent all of the stuff from entering.
the finished product. neat and pretty
     I began early, after the Master himself got out of there, and started by stripping the bed. While the cozy, light gray flannel sheets launder, I'm planning to dust, vacuum and purge.
     Let me stop first and talk about sheets. Specific sheets. Solid Hemstitch Flannel from Ballard Design. They're aMAZing and velvety soft. They're I'm-not-EVER-leaving-this-bed soft. These sheets feel like you'd imagine a bunny's ear would feel. The more you wash them, the softer they become.
     I ordered them when they went on sale, which they frequently do. I may never stop sleeping on them until they completely wear out. (It may involve a super high air conditioning bill in the Southern summer, but we'll see.)
photo courtesy of Ballard Design
     So, back to purging. I gathered a few laundry baskets and filled one with things for donation to a clothes closet. In another, I placed gently loved clothing that could be sold to a designer consignment in town.
     The third, I placed paper items to be moved to my office for sorting at a later time. I also had a very large trash can ready to fill with paper items that did NOT need to move from one place to another.  
     I removed all hanging clothes and shoes from the closet. I then dusted and vacuumed the entire little room, including shelves. All summer shoes were place on high shelves and winter shoes, including boots below, within reach. (A couple of seldom used things, like a basket of ball caps and visors, and my hiking boots leftover from life in Tennessee, were relegated to the rafters as well.)
     Shoes are required (by moi,) to be in some type of box. It can be the original shoebox or a plastic one. This way, they stay dust-free and don't fall off the shelf or go wandering around and get lost from a mate.
     There's nothing so annoying as one lone shoe, is there? I currently own two pair of rogue, un-boxed boots... I'm trolling the shops for suitable containers.
wall of shoes
     The same organizational reasoning is behind the order of hanging items. Warm weather gear and light colors toward the back wall and cold weather things in the front near the divider. I looked over purses, totes and belts, and dug through my large basket of sheets, removing things not recently used. Items not worn in the past year are placed in or next to baskets to discard. When purging, you must be tough and brutish. Show no mercy. Get rid of it!
hanging wall
      I usually hang the lighter weighing, shorter shirts and caridgans on top of the divided side. Group colors together and place all patterned items near the front. Sweaters in the middle, shirts near the front. (My chef shirts take up the rear.)
     On the bottom are short jackets and coats, skirts and a few blazers. The long-hanging side is organized by season, then item and length. A stylish wicker hamper hold small washables.
     I placed my three scarf and hat boxes on the shelf. Two baskets on the shoe wall hold linens and purses. Two large, pewter hooks hold hats, a couple of belts and a few aprons.
behind the door...
     This took me quite a while to do, but I was rewarded with dinner out, a clean room and a beautiful closet NOT filled to overflowing. I'm ready to snuggle in the cozy sheets. The master suite is once again SWEET! And clean sheet night is my favorite night of the week!

let's review: green truck pub

     I've been meaning to tell you about a great, little place in Savannah. Since the weekend is here, you might want to hurry on down there...
     Gail and I stopped in at Green Truck Neighborhood Pub for an early lunch. We needed fuel... lots and lots of energy for combing through the eye candy at Habersham Antiques, located across a parking lot from the Truck.
photo compliments of GreenTruckPub
     We had our hearts and taste buds set on a big, juicy burger... and this is surely the place to find it. We settled into a booth and looked over the menu. Here's the item that tickled my fancy: The Rustico; Goat cheese, balsamic caramelized onions, roasted red peppers and fresh basil.
     Oh. My. Goodness. The one-third pound, grass-fed-beef burger is locally sourced from Hunter Cattle Company, (one of my favorite farms.) This beautiful creation arrived still oozing a combo of meat juices, homemade ketchup and melted goat cheese.
     I tried not to make a spectacle... Once you take that first bite, the blend of flavors will make you smile really big, totally ignoring the fact that you have caramelized onions hanging out of the corners of your mouth and basil in your teeth. You just. don't. care.
      Go ahead. Let it run down your chin and onto your arm as you bury your face in it. The server will bring extra napkins. Or a hose. They may even set up a partition around your table so you can be alone with your burger, if you ask nicely. Or if you repulse enough other patrons. Whatever.
     Finishing my meal was similar to coming to the end of a really good book. A mix of sadness and wonder plays with your emotions. I thought about heading for the kitchen to hug the chef, but instead used those happy endorphins for some retail therapy.
     Someday, I'm going to be really brave and order the Whole Farm burger: A burger and bacon and cheddar AND a fried egg. Sigh.
photo compliments of GreenTruckPub
     I have to confess that I've been back a few times since that first day with my antiquing girl, Gail. I finally introduced my hubs to the place. And, btw jsyk, the Hot Rod burger is just as amazing as the Rustico.
     I've also enjoyed the Green Greek and the Farm Truck salads. The Farm Truck is my fave with spiced nuts, crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, crispy apples, balsamic caramelized onions, dried cranberries and drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette. You can order it as a side with any sandwich. They make all salad dressings in house. And ketchup. And pickles. I just love that!
     The only tiny, little negative thing I can find to say is that the fries I had should have been crispier. They seemed like they had been sitting for a few minutes and had cooled. I rarely eat things that are fried. If I'm going to order french fries, I want them to blow me away with their crispy, salty crunchy exterior and steamy, hot potatoe-y insides. They need to work on their delivery.
     A recent tweet (@greentruckpub) announced that they're now serving Chocolates by Adam Turoni... Hmmm, I'm checking my calendar to see when I can go back.

Green Truck Pub on Urbanspoon

a little snl video

Here is how I feel about ignoring Thanksgiving...

just. stop. it.

vintage post: thanksgiving, the rodney dangerfield of holidays

Note: This post was originally published in November of 2010, year One of the blog. It is one of my favorite early posts. I thought it would be fun to dust it off and trot it out for everyone to see. Again. 

      Just as the Halloween frenzy fades, Christmas decorations are allowed to blatantly take over the world. Visions of sugarplums are dancing well before the beginning of December.
     The overhead speakers in every store chortle a selection of distorted carols. And my favorite of all the holidays, the humble, loveable underdog is again, getting NO respect.
     As I contemplate the menu, count tables and chairs and pencil out a guest list, retail stores are exploding with holly and ivy. Even a few of my friends are mulling over the question, "Is it too early to put up the tree?"
     I am horrified by the thought of putting up a Christmas tree in early November. I just want to stand up as tall as my five foot-three frame will allow and shout, "This is the Thanksgiving police. Step away from the tinsel!"    
     What about the Pilgrims and the Indians? The endless types of pie, the savory stuffing and the rice and gravy?? It's not just any gravy. It's TURKEY gravy, people. Pure gold!
     What about deep, red cranberry relish with grated orange peel, tiny brussel sprouts sauteed with garlic and whole fingerling sweet potatoes, oven roasted and sprinkled with brown sugar, cinnamon and sea salt?
     We should be reminiscing about smiles on the faces of beloved family around our table. Or mulling over which orphaned friends have no one to dine with. We should be pondering our gratefulness to God for just one day, before we get sucked into the great commercial vortex of holiday shopping.
     Seldom do we stop and smell the turkey. We forget to be thankful on a daily basis. Thankful for our health, of getting up one more day and breathing in air. Thankful for our disfunctional families that alternately drive us insane or fill us with joy and wonder.
     Thankful for the country in which we live, for freedoms purchased with the blood of many brave souls. Even thankful for our seemingly inept government officials, which WE, the people put in places of power.
     So, in spite of what the rest of the country is doing, I will be here organizing acorns and pinecones, stacking firewood, ironing napkins, picking pecans and calling people I love.
     I will light candles, get out the serving platters, fill bowls with candy corn and whole hazelnuts. I will bathe the dogs, shake rugs, fluff pillows and get out folding chairs.
     I will eat too much, talk a lot, listen more, play in the yard with the kids, take a little tryptophan induced nap, and say, Mmmmm too many times to count. I will be very, very thankful for one whole day... before heading to the woods on Friday to pick out my tree.
     It's Thanksgiving season, y'all... Santa can wait;)

spicy grilled shrimp

     I mentioned in the lettuce wrap post that you could fill your wraps with spicy grilled shrimp. Here is a simple and tasty recipe for you. If you are lucky enough to find fresh, locally caught shrimp, even better.
     I've made these for lettuce wraps, to top a salad or to make shrimp tacos... Get creative. What could YOU make out of them?
1 pounds large shrimp, washed and peeled
1 T. Jamaican Jerk seasoning (or less, if you want less heat)
zest and juice of one nice, fat orange
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
Wash and peel shrimp. Be careful not to let the little spear-thingy at the back of the tail gouge you. (I'm currently typing with a bandage on my right index finger. Ouch.)
Place the skewers in a sink of water. Or a bowl. Or a bowl IN the sink... you decide.
In a container for marinating, (a zipper bag, Tupperware or non-metal mixing bowl,) blend Jerk seasoning, orange parts and oil. Toss in shrimp and move them around in the sauce until everyone is coated and happy. Mmmm. Place covered in the refrigerator and marinate until ready to skewer and grill.
Drain the skewers and place four shrimp on each one. Set them on a sheet pan with sides or another comparable vessel. Discard marinade.
Heat the grill. Place shrimp on to sear. But, wait... Stop right there! Don't get distracted and mosey off... shrimp cook very quickly. Turn over to mark the other side, then remove to a nice platter. They will be bright pink when cooked through.
When slightly cooled, place desired amount of skewers on top of salad or in lettuce wraps. Serves five people, approximately four shrimp each. (These are large shrimp, 16-20 count.) Weight Watchers Points Plus value: 3, (four shrimp each.)
Leftovers on a salad, the next day for lunch... Lucky me!

the broccoli slaw project: chicken lettuce wraps

     Here's the next post in a series that asks the question,  just how many meals can we make out of broccoli slaw?
     Several restaurants won my affection with their versions of lettuce wraps. Dishes like this appear healthy and are much better than other menu choices, but may contain hidden fat, sodium and carbs.  
     I made my version for dinner with chicken and even my carb-loving hubs loved them! You could easily substitute spicy, grilled shrimp or as a vegetarian option, mixed wild mushrooms. These would also make an excellent appetizer, if you made them a bit smaller and bite-sized.
     First of all, these lettuce wraps were not only delish, but just plain beautiful. You know I'm all about the visual appeal. Several shades of green sprinkled with bright orange of the carrots and near translucent neutral of the sprouts made a soft place for the tender, golden chicken to land.
     Dark green cilantro and bright red chili sauce festively dotted the top. Textural elements of almond and crunchy noodles cascaded down, around and through.
     The first bite was, well... Boom. Pow. Mmm. Sigh. Fireworks and crunch followed by complete and utter loss for words.
1 t. sesame oil
1t. ginger root, peeled and minced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 T. ponzu sauce
2 T. fish sauce
2 oz. orange juice
Lettuce wraps:
6 chicken tenders, (approx 6-7 oz. raw chicken)
1 1/2 c. broccoli slaw
1 c. shredded carrots
1 c. bean sprouts
1/2 head, Boston lettuce, (6-8 leaves)
1 T. slivered almonds
1/2 c. chow mein noodles
2 T. cilantro leaves
2 T. sweet chili sauce
In a small bowl, blend marinade ingredients together and add chicken tenders. Store in refrigerator for several hours. Around thirty minutes before serving, remove chicken and discard marinade. Grill or pan-sear chicken tenders until done. At this point, I sliced each tender into three long slices so they fit better on the wrap.
Lay desired amount of lettuce on each plate. Top it with broccoli slaw, bean sprouts and carrots. Divide chicken evenly among the leaves. This makes approximately three servings. We each had 3 oz. of chicken on top of three leaves for each person. There was a couple of ounces of chicken left. Divide the chow mein noodles, almonds, cilantro and sweet chili sauce among all of the prepared wraps.
 Makes 2- 3 servings. Weight Watchers Points Plus value: 5 (This is for 3 wraps with 3 oz. chicken divided among them.)