Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Crafty Fun in Tulsa

I flew to Tulsa for Memorial Day weekend to see Amby and Nathan. I had a great time. I stayed in her study/guest room. It is her very own room with a day bed, her sewing machine, crafts, etc. She had these beautiful flowers in the room for me:

We did several projects while I was there. One was homemade candles. We went to her local Hobby Lobby, where traditions are started, and bought candle-making supplies. We bought containers, wax, essential oil for fragrance, and of course, Chocolate Riesens, which are a necessary component for any project, or really, just for life in general. We bought soy wax, which is supposed to burn more efficiently.

Amby used a disposable container and melted the wax for us in the microwave. I dipped the metal part of the wick into the wax so that it would adhere to my container:

The hot wax will cool fairly quickly, so you don't have to hold it in place for very long.

Once the wax was completely melted, I added the essential oil. I chose lavender. You could also add color or pieces of dried lavender to the wax.

Then I poured the wax into my container:

It helps to lay a pencil on top and wind the excess wick around it to secure it while the candle cools:
Amby's candle turned out prettier than mine. When it cooled, it was perfectly smooth on the top. Mine wasn't. Whatever. Hopefully she will post her technique. This is Amby's flawless, banana nut fragranced candle:

(Mine made it safely home. It smells wonderful and it became smooth on top once I burned it):
Isabell and Sherman are brilliant kitties and they did lots of tricks for me. One was their fancy diamond formation:

On Sunday, we had Nathan's family over for lunch. We did salads. Amby did chicken salad and pasta salad. I did shrimp couscous salad. It was fun.

Amby bought a new sewing machine and I helped her make a skirt. It turned out really cute. I don't know if she could have done it without Sherman's help:

The best part about the trip was being together. The worst part was having to say goodbye.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Coconut Chocolate Chip Muffins

These muffins are easy to make and incredibly moist and delicious. You could substitute macadamia nuts for the pecans and use milk chocolate or white chocolate morsels instead of semi-sweet.

Coconut Chocolate Chip Muffins

2 cups flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1-6oz pkg frozen coconut, thawed
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup sour cream
1 stick butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped pecans

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and blend well. Spoon into a muffin tin lined with paper baking cups. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Yield: About 20 muffins

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Shrimp Couscous Salad

This is a Cooking Light recipe that I adjusted and changed a little. It is a unique and wonderful combination of ingredients. I am craving more now while I am posting this. I think it's mostly the sesame oil, vinegar, and fresh cilantro. Or maybe the couscous and the peanuts. Well, give it a try, and you be the judge.

Shrimp Couscous Salad

1 lb medium shrimp, peeled (and deveined if desired)
1 box Near East Parmesan Couscous
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1- 1/2 cups romaine lettuce, torn into small pieces
3/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped peanuts

Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add shrimp and cook, about 3 minutes, or until done. Drain and rinse with cold water. Cut shrimp in half. Prepare couscous according to package directions.
Combine vinegar, oils, soy sauce, pepper, peas, and cilantro. Add couscous and shrimp. Sprinkle with peanuts.
Yield: 4 servings

Monday, May 21, 2007

Italian Pasta Soup

This soup is quick and easy to make. You can use any pasta you prefer.

Italian Pasta Soup

1 lb ground chuck
1 cup chopped onion
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
1 carton chicken broth
1 10 oz jar spaghetti sauce
1 cup frozen shoepeg corn
1-1/2 tsp basil
1-1/2 tsp oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1 pkg fresh mushrooms
2 1/2 cups cooked pasta

Brown ground chuck with onion, bell pepper, and garlic until the beef is browned and the onion and bell pepper are tender. Drain. Add broth and remaining ingredients except pasta. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add pasta and heat through.
Yield: About 6-7 servings

Brown ground chuck with the onion, bell pepper, and garlic:

If you want it to be thicker, mix cornstarch with water and add to boiling soup:

Simmer for about 20 minutes:
Serve with crusty french bread:

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Sweet Tea - A Southern Tradition

I love sweet tea. It is soothing and refreshing and it goes with any meal. And what's even better, studies now show that black tea has many health benefits. Brewed tea, both black and green, contains 150-190 mg of flavonoids per cup. Flavonoids are potent antioxidants, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers, and boost the body's immune system.

My favorite tea is made by Red Diamond. Founded in 1906, Red Diamond Coffee & Tea is one of the three oldest coffee and tea companies in the nation that has been continuously operated by members of the same family, for four generations. It is really good tea, and I love to support local businesses. If Red Diamond is not available in your area, Luzianne is good, too, and my second favorite. I buy the quart size tea bags. I have made 3-4 gallons of tea each week since I've been married, which has been almost 28 years. That means I've made over 5,800 gallons of tea. Too bad there's not some kind of prize for that.

Sweet Tea

8 cups water
2 quart size tea bags
1-1/2 cups sugar

Bring water to boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat, place teabags in water and cover. Allow to steep for at least 30 minutes, but longer is fine. Remove tea bags. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Pour into a gallon-sized pitcher and fill the pitcher the rest of the way with water. Stir and chill.

Bring 8 cups of water to a rolling boil:

Add tea bags:

Cover and steep.

It tastes best after it has chilled for a few hours, and it is wonderful with lemon. If you have never had sweet tea before, try it. It will change your life.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Kairos Kafe

The other night, Gil and I, along with our friends, Randy and Belinda, were very honored to be invited to the dedication of Kairos Kafe/Katering. It is located here in Birmingham at the old Ollie's Barbeque location. The address is 515 University Blvd. The owner, James Jones, is a friend of Gil and Randy's.

All of the food was wonderful and I was very impressed with his attention to detail. I read a very sweet tribute to his grandmothers on the back of his menu. He thanked them for teaching him to cook and for allowing him to make messes in their kitchens. I think that the best recipes are the ones that are passed down through generations within a family. One of his grandmothers inspired him to create "Kairos Spunky Hollow Cream", which he serves with his rolls. It was really delicious. You can read more about it on his website, which is listed below.

As you can see, Kairos offers a nice variety:

The hours of operation are Monday-Friday, from 10:30-2:30. They will be open for dinner on Fridays, beginning June 1. They also cater, and their web address is: Their phone number is: (205) 251-3101.

Go and try Kairos Kafe. I highly recommend it!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Coconut Cream Pie

This recipe comes from a Betty Crocker cookbook that I received as a wedding gift. I recommend this type of cookbook for the library of any aspiring cook because it is full of basic recipes like this one. This pie takes a few minutes to make, but it is well worth it. I recommend homemade whipped cream. It is a quick and easy process, and is in a different league from Cool Whip.

Coconut Cream Pie

1 All-Ready Piecrust
2/3 cups sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups whole milk
4 egg yolks, beaten
1 tbsp vanilla
3/4 cups shredded coconut (I prefer frozen)
2 tbsp softened butter
coconut for garnish

Place pie shell in pyrex piepan and bake according to package instructions. (450 for 9 minutes). Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a heavy saucepan. Gradually stir in milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute. Stir some of the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks quickly,with a whisk. (Note: This step is really important because the eggs have to be gradually shocked into combining with the hot mixture. If this is done too quickly, or not stirred while you are mixing it, the eggs can scramble and leave you with gross cooked egg pieces in your pie). Pour back into hot mixture, stirring constantly, and boil for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add butter, coconut, and vanilla. Pour into pie shell. Press plastic wrap onto filling. Refrigerate at least 2 hours, but no longer than 48 hours. Remove plastic wrap. Top with whipped cream. Garnish with coconut.

Whipped Cream Topping

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 -2 tsp vanilla

Chill bowl and beaters in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. Combine ingredients and beat until stiff.

Place piecrust in pyrex piepan. Trim and flute edges. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork:

Gradually add milk to the dry ingredients:

Heat and stir with a whisk until it begins to thicken and appear glossy:

Pour some of the hot mixture into beaten egg yolks and whisk quickly.

Boil and stir for 1-2 minutes after adding the egg yolks. Pour into baked pie shell.

For the whipped cream: Beat whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla in a chilled bowl.

Beat until stiff:

Top pie with whipped cream. You can just spread it on if you don't want to pipe it:

This pie is a wonderful ending for any meal. We had no leftovers.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Embracing Change

Over the past year, and particularly over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to make some necessary and beneficial changes in my life. There is a tendency, as people get older, to resist change and settle for the status quo because it feels safe and comfortable. I have decided to be on guard against that tendency, which I believe hastens the aging process. How quickly we age is often very dependent on how quickly we WANT to age. In other words, the speed at which we age, to a great degree, is voluntary.

Philip Crosby, in his book, Reflections on Quality, says, "Change should be a friend. It should happen by plan, not by accident". Too many times I have been slow to make changes that I knew would greatly benefit me, then found myself having the changes made for me in a way that I would not have chosen. Relationships, for example. Someone else's opinion of me does not validate me or determine my value as a person. It does not matter who the opinion belongs to. I have had a few self-appointed critics try to bully and control me when their own lives were far from shining examples. Not anymore. Sometimes relationships can seem good on the surface and be eating away at you on the inside. I have purged myself of those relationships. I question motive like I never have before. I know how to recognize a spin. Maybe I have become somewhat of a cynic. Maybe it's because I was forced into it.

I am making a change which is a bittersweet one, though. I am leaving my job to go to another hospital and a different area of nursing. I love the people I work with, but the stress level was more than I could handle anymore. We have worked together as a team for many years, and I will miss them, but I know that this change is the right one, and it will create many far-reaching possibilities for my future.

If you are dissatisfied with where you are because you have suggested changes that were not heeded, or if no matter how hard you try, you feel like you don't fit in, or if you are overwhelmed by stress, make a change. If those around you want to struggle or stagnate, let them. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, said, "Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do".

I purpose to be aware of how to change my present in order to prevent my past from holding back my future.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Orange Cauliflower

The cauliflower is considered a part of the family of cruciferous vegetables, which are plants with four-petaled flowers. The word "cruciferous" derives its name from the cross formed by the plant's flower prior to producing the vegetable. Other members include cabbage, broccoli, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts. These vegetables are high in anti-oxidants and contain substances that may protect against cancer.

The orange cauliflower, which may also be referred to as golden or yellow cauliflower, is grown for its bright color and abundance of vitamin A. It was developed by Cornell University breeder Michael Dickson. The main advantage to the orange cauliflower is that it contains 320 micrograms of beta-carotene per 100 grams, or 25 times the vitamin A in white cauliflower. Another plus is that it can be cooked without losing its color, adding to its decorative look when served.

I had seen the orange cauliflower in the grocery stores, and had been very curious about it, so I decided to try it and see if I could taste a difference. I chopped it into flowerettes and steamed it for just a few minutes. It did retain its color, and it was very good, but tasted just like white cauliflower. I will definitely buy it again, though, mostly because of how much more nutritious it is.

The smoked gouda cheese I melted on top of it might have had something to do with why it tasted so good.