Obsessed with Charcuterie

Obsessed with charcuterie.

A friend and her husband came over for cocktails on our patio last week. I told her beforehand that I was going to make us a special summer cocktail, and she said she would bring a charcuterie board. I told her it wasn’t necessary, but secretly, I was excited about it!

I’ll get the cocktail information out of the way first, because I know you’re wondering. Back in March, I traveled to Miami with my teenage daughter and some of her friends for Spring Break. A friend of mine met us there with her daughter, and a good time was had by all. On the last night of vacation, we dined at a restaurant called Ocean Grill at The Setai. The atmosphere was lovely at this beachside restaurant, and when I looked at the drink menu, I was thrilled to see a Frozen Bellini. Of course, I ordered it, and it was fantastic. I remembered that when I was thinking of cocktail recipes, and I looked it up. I found the recipe at orwhateveryoudo.com. You can see it here. I went exactly by the recipe, but when I served them, I added a little more ginger ale when I added the prosecco…just to sweeten it a bit more. And they were almost as good as the ones at Ocean Grill.

So my friend and her husband arrived with a giant charcuterie board in tow! I couldn’t believe it when she walked in! She had made a lovely arrangement of cheeses, meats, crackers, fruit, and chocolate. Wow! I couldn’t dig in fast enough! We sat out by the pool, enjoying our Frozen Bellinis and the charcuterie board (and watching the parade of coyotes!).

And as usual, I became obsessed.

My friend told me Crate & Barrel has a large assortment of charcuterie boards, but I didn’t have time to go there last week, so I ordered one from Amazon. To see the one I ordered, click here. While I waited for it to arrive, I went grocery shopping. My friend said she gets great ingredients at Trader Joe’s, which is just around the corner from my house, but I can’t bring myself to go, because the parking is so bad, so I went to another local grocery store that has plenty of parking. I wandered around the store looking for the perfect ingredients…cheeses, crackers, bread, nuts, meats, fruits, olives, and chocolate.

As usual, my life should be a sitcom, because here’s what happened: I got home with all the groceries and put them away. My husband and I decided to go for a walk. We often go for walks in the evenings…usually just two miles, but it’s something we enjoy. We got about a half mile from our house when one of her friends drove up. I asked, “What are you doing here?” And she told us she was on her way to our house. What?!?! Apparently, our daughter was still out with other friends but told her friend she could go on to our house. No big deal, but we cut our walk short, got into the car with her, and went back home. It was then she told us two more friends were on their way. We love having our daughter’s friends over, so that was absolutely fine with us.

The other two friends arrived and promptly announced they were hungry. One asked, “Do you have any pepperoni and cheese?” They know I usually keep that as an easy snack, so I got out some of the pepperoni and cheese I had purchased for my soon-to-be-made charcuterie board. Another one opened the pantry and grabbed the nuts and crackers. The third girl? She grabbed the prosciutto and mozzarella I had purchased. My husband, knowing I had just purchased everything for the board, just looked at me and laughed. The pepperoni supply was completely depleted, and the cheese? Well, there wasn’t enough left to work with.

I didn’t even get to make my planned charcuterie board, but I was thrilled the girls enjoyed everything I had purchased. There’s nothing I love more than having my daughter’s friends over. Young energy is a good thing. I remember when my own mother loved seeing my friends arrive at our house. Even when my friend, Angela, came over to her house when we were both 50, my mother thought the laughter we shared was the greatest sound ever. Since our daughter is a teenager, I totally get it now.

I’m still totally obsessed with making charcuterie boards. I will make another trip to the grocery store later today. I know my daughter will have friends over at some point this week, and I will be prepared with a beautiful charcuterie board. It will have all those same ingredients I know they love, and hopefully, they will devour everything.

I will stand back and smile while trying to think of new ingredients for the next charcuterie board.

My Food/Beverage Guilty Pleasures

My food/beverage guilty pleasures.

I don’t know if everyone has food and beverage guilty pleasures, but I definitely do. There are some things I simply cannot pass up…and some things I crave. I have some guilty pleasures that are labeled as guilty pleasures simply because of the calorie content. But I have other guilty food and beverage pleasures that are guilty pleasures because they are trashy and cheap.

When I was pregnant in 2003, I craved birthday cake. No, not expensive birthday cakes. I craved the, as we called them, “el cheapo” birthday cakes from the local grocery store. I don’t know if it was the cake part or the frosting, but I craved them…and I treated myself once a week. Actually, my husband would pick up a small birthday cake, labeled a “patty cake,” once a week when he went to the store. He was a regular at the grocery store, so we used to laugh and laugh at the conversations the employees likely had every time he walked out with another cake…they probably thought he had a whole house full of kids. Nope…just one pregnant wife.

These days, if I crave a quick and easy cake, it’s more likely to be one from Nothing Bundt Cakes. Holy smokes, those things are good! We joke at our house that they must put some secret addictive ingredient in them, because once you have one, you keep craving them. If you haven’t had one, you should. They have store locations in lots of places. We are fortunate to have a couple of different locations in the Charlotte area, and one is just a few miles from our house. We don’t go often, but when we do, we stock up! Our personal favorite? The chocolate/chocolate chip with cream cheese frosting. We also like the Raspberry/White Chocolate. Oh, who am I kidding?! We wouldn’t turn down any of them! To see the website for Nothing Bundt Cakes, click here.

But I am a little ashamed to say I crave some cakes that are even cheaper than the regular grocery store cakes. Cheaper than a grocery store cake? And more embarrassing? Yep. Here’s my embarrassing cake guilty pleasure: Hostess Birthday Cupcakes. You likely remember the Hostess Chocolate Cupcakes with the white swirls you’d see in stores as a kid…they came in packs of two. Well, Hostess also makes Birthday Cupcakes. They taste, to me, like Twinkies with cheap frosting on top…but I’m not gonna lie…I’m completely addicted to them. I think about them all the time, but I only buy them once every few months. Each little cupcake in the two-pack has 180 calories, so I must refrain on a regular basis. But sometimes…I give in and go buy some. I’m not going to tell you where I buy them locally, because well, I want to be able to find them when I want them, but you can look on the Hostess website here. In truth, when I browse the Hostess website, I see there are lots of Hostess brand treats I’d love to try. But since I only allow myself to have those treat every couple of months, it will likely be a while before I can try them all. Does anyone else remember having Honeybuns as breakfast or snacks as a kid? Hostess makes them!

My cookie guilty pleasure comes from Tiff’s Treats in Charlotte. I discovered this place when someone sent me a box of them a year or two ago. My daughter and I couldn’t stop eating them! These cookies are yummy! My favorite flavor? The M&M cookies…they take me back to my childhood when my aunt used to make them. What makes Tiff’s Treats even better? They deliver! If you join them as an “elite” member, you even get free delivery and monthly specials! And if you send them to someone, you can also send cold milk or ice cream! I highly recommend this guilty pleasure. Check them out online here.

I also have a fried food guilty pleasure. All my friends know what it is, because I order it any time we go to Ilios Noche. If you haven’t visited Ilios Noche on Providence Road in South Charlotte, it’s high time you did. And when you do, order this guilty pleasure: Zucchini and Eggplant Chips. You’ll thank me later. They are lightly breaded and fried and served with tzatziki. You’ll keep going back for them, no doubt. See the Ilios Noche website here.

Other food guilty pleasures? Chips and salsa from Paco’s Tacos and Tequila in Charlotte, The Bento Box from Cowfish in Charlotte, soufflés from a favorite restaurant, and the Hazelnut cookie from a favorite restaurant. I could tell you where they are, but then they’d likely disappear before I could ever get them…some guilty pleasures should remain a secret, I suppose.

Now I’m likely to really disgust some of you with my beverage guilty pleasure. No, it’s not Mountain Dew or any other super sugary soda. It’s not Kool Aid, Hawaiian Punch, or Hi-C. I will readily admit I loved Kool-Aid as a kid. Everyone did in the 70s…if your mother allowed you to have it. Ours definitely did. In fact, I drank so much grape Kool-Aid that…embarrassing as this is…my poop turned blue. It’s true. Yikes! But back to the topic at hand…my embarrassing guilty beverage pleasure is a drink called Verdi Sparkletini. You likely haven’t heard of it, and that’s because it’s not something you’d likely buy. It is sold in the wine aisle, but the label calls it a “malt beverage.” It’s usually less than $6 a bottle. Go ahead and laugh. I know it’s cheap and trashy. And I think you are supposed to chill the bottle and serve it. However, I was introduced to it last summer when someone I know (I won’t let her secret out) served it to me over ice. Now, I’m not a beverage snob, so I didn’t care, and I was happy to try it…lucky for me! That day, we had the watermelon flavor, but they also make a yummy raspberry flavor and a peach flavor. In all seriousness, served over ice, they taste like spritzers. I offered one to a friend last summer at the beach, and she turned her nose up at it, telling me, “That cheap stuff gives me headaches.” I begged her to try it, and after we finished the bottle, we were both really relaxed…and neither of us ever got a headache! In fact, my friend ended up liking it so much that she secretly purchases a bottle every couple of days! Check your local grocery stores in the sparkling wine aisle (even thought I’m not sure it’s really wine). And it won’t turn your poop blue!

Oh, how I love my guilty food and beverage pleasures! Did I mention Guthrie’s chicken fingers that I have to pick up and bring home in a cooler any time I drive through Opelika, Alabama? Yeah…that’s a little embarrassing…I run into the restaurant (it’s co-branded with a gas station) and order the big bucket of chicken fingers. Then while they’re getting those ready, I run over to the gas station section and purchase a bag of ice and a styrofoam cooler. I fill up the cooler with the ice and put them in my car before I run back into Guthrie’s to get the chicken fingers. I put them on ice and drive the rest of the way to Charlotte! My daughter meets me at the door for those Guthrie’s chicken fingers every time! See their website here.

Now I’m feeling the need to drive to Opelika…

Fluffernutter Sandwiches

Fluffernutter sandwiches…the glorious blend of peanut butter and Fluff brand marshmallow creme on white bread.

My friends in New England have known about Fluffernutter sandwiches their whole lives, so they might be surprised to know people in other parts of the country have never heard of them. Well, I can’t speak for people in the midwest or west, but I know lots of people in the south are unaware of the Fluffernutter.

How do I know that? Well, after I posted about Fluff and Fluffernutters on my personal Facebook page this week, I got lots of comments from friends, saying they had never heard of the Fluff/peanut butter combination. One friend emailed me, saying, “I had no idea marshmallow fluff was such a thing! I’ve bought it for a recipe. But never just to eat!” Yet another friend asked me if Jet-Puffed brand marshmallow creme works the same. Short answer? No…it doesn’t spread the same way. Only Fluff will do.

Want the recipe? It’s simple. Spread peanut butter on one slice of bread (I always use white bread for Fluffernutters). Spread Fluff on another slice of bread. Put them together for a Fluffernutter! FYI: I don’t use as much peanut butter or Fluff as shown in the top photo, but maybe I should!

I learned about Fluff and Fluffernutters years ago, because I had the good fortune of meeting a friend who had grown up in the Boston area. She became one of my closest friends ever for lots of reasons, and yes, maybe the fact that she introduced me to Fluff made me love her even more! She loved Fluff and had been eating it since she was a little girl. In fact, she said that when she was a child, her grandmother would often make her Fluff sandwiches…sans peanut butter…because that’s what she liked! We would laugh when we talked about it, because she was basically eating a sugar sandwich. My daughter loves a Fluffernutter…even now that she’s in high school, I put them in her lunch every now and then.

If you’ve never tried a Fluffernutter sandwich, it’s high time you did. You will wonder how you managed to live so long without knowing about this glorious treat! I was probably close to 40 when my friend told me about it. In fact, I included it in a list of simple sandwiches in a post a couple of years ago. You can see that here. Peanut butter is good with lots of things…bananas, chocolate, apples…the list goes on and on. So should it be any surprise that combining it with marshmallow Fluff makes a great combo too? Trust me. Once you’ve learned this hack, you’ll never go back. I have a friend in Alabama who says she gained 20 pounds after I introduced her to Fluffernutters.

My Boston friend also introduced me to the deliciousness that is Dunkin Donuts iced coffee, because that’s something else New Englanders have known about since the beginning of time. Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee is hard to beat. When our kids were little, we would vacation with my Boston friend in Maine every summer, and every day, we would get iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts. It’s a sweet memory. And try Dunkin Donuts iced coffee with your Fluffernutter…one sweet, joyful experience!

And recently I learned that some people toast their Fluffernutters! I had no idea that was a thing, but I’ll be trying that today too! How did I never think of that? Does anything sound more like comfort food than a toasted Fluffernutter?!?

So if you are a parent or grandparent who has never tried a Fluffernutter or served one up to your child or grandchild, now is the time. You can be a hero at home if you make them this treat! *Disclaimer: Of course, if they are allergic to any of the ingredients, do not serve it.* Kids gobble up this treat! I have a friend in Alabama who is a grandmother, and she questioned me about it after my Facebook post. I told her the grandkids will love it!

If you have trouble finding Fluff in your grocery store, you can order it from Amazon here. I recently ordered it after I couldn’t find it in grocery stores in Charlotte. I used to get it in Target, but I haven’t seen it there in a while. (There’s nothing wrong with Jet-Puffed, but it just doesn’t spread the same way.)

When you try it and love it, say a little prayer of thanks and tell God to give a thumbs up to my friend, Wendy, in Heaven. She passed away in June of 2018 after battling cancer for years. But I think of her every time I have a Fluffernutter or Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee.

Bring on the Fluffernutter!

Lemon Cucumbers? Yes, Please!

Lemon cucumbers? Yes, please!

Back in the spring, when we were first “sheltering in place” because of the COVID pandemic, I decided to order the seeds for my summer garden online. As soon as I searched a couple of different sites, I realized I was not the only person with that idea. With the pandemic, lots of people decided to grow their own food this year, so I had to pick from what was available…and the “pickings were slim.”

I ordered my usual varieties of sunflowers and added a few new varieties I had never grown before…more about those later. And for veggies, I wanted to order squash, zucchini, and other things I like, but because they were all sold out, I ordered a few regular green cucumbers…some “slicers” and some “garden sweet hybrids.” I ordered some corn to plant (which was terribly unsuccessful)…and watermelon seeds. And then I saw something I’d never seen before…seeds for growing Lemon Cucumbers, or as Ferry-Morse labeled them, Cucumber Lemons. In reality, they are cucumbers, so I prefer to call them Lemon Cucumbers. According to Health Benefits Times, it is also known as a Yellow Cucumber, an Apple Cucumber, or a Crystal Apple, but I prefer Lemon Cucumber. It’s part of the gourd family, and despite the lovely yellow color of the skin, it is not a lemon in any way. These unusual cucumbers are round and bright yellow, and they are slightly sweeter than a traditional cucumber…with a slightly earthy flavor. It also has health benefits…offering Vitamin C, potassium, and fiber…and they look really summery in a cucumber salad. You can see more of the health benefit and recipes here.

So way back in March, I seeded lots of flowers and vegetables, starting them in the pool house, but eventually bringing them into my very own dining room, where I had a little more space and could get to them more easily. When I felt it was warm enough outside, I transferred all my seedlings, and I was absolutely shocked at how many of them actually made it this year! Usually, I have about a 50% yield on transplanted seedlings, but this year, it was closer to 85% or even 90%! You might have read my piece titled Welcome to the Jungle earlier this year…and now you know why my backyard looks like a jungle.

The plants were prospering, it seemed, but the vegetables were late to fruit. But at the beginning of July, things started picking up. The green cucumbers started fruiting like crazy, and I noticed small yellow cucumbers on my Lemon Cucumber vines. The plants have become quite prolific, and I was able to slice my first Lemon Cucumber earlier this month…after watching a YouTube video about when to harvest them.

As it turns out, they are as tasty as I had hoped! I’ve shared some with my next-door neighbor, a friend across town, and a friend who lives in Alabama. She sent some tomatoes, eggplants, okra, and peas from her garden, and sadly, all I had to offer in return was a few Lemon Cucumbers, but hopefully, she will enjoy them as much as I have. There is no way she will enjoy them as much as I’ve enjoyed what she sent me, but maybe I can make it up to her next year, because I plan to grow them again! So far, they’re growing like crazy cakes, and I love to grow anything that produces like these things do!

I’ve been making lemon cucumber sandwiches and cucumber salad. I’ve been putting lemon cucumbers in my water and in my salads. Does anything taste more like summer than fresh cucumbers? I’m hoping my plants will continue to produce for another month or so, because I’d love to keep enjoying these delicious yellow cucumbers as long as possible. For cucumber salad recipes, click here.

If you’re intrigued and want to plant them next year, I’m guessing you’ll be successful, because I do not have a green thumb. If I can grow them so well, I think anyone probably can! In the meantime, I’m sharing lemon cucumbers with anyone who asks! And when I share a lemon cucumber, I feel like I’m sharing some joy…because gardening has brought me great joy this summer, and the lemon cucumbers are a surprise, tasty treat.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day.

It’s more than just a day to gather for a picnic with family and friends. It’s more than just the beginning of summer. It’s more than a day off from work.

Lots of folks think Memorial Day is a day to honor all veterans. Nope…that’s Veteran’s Day, observed in November. This federal holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, is for honoring and memorializing military personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country…they died while serving our country.

Don’t get me wrong. there is nothing wrong with gathering with friends and family on Memorial Day weekend. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the beginning of summer. But the actual purpose of this particular holiday is to remember and memorialize those made the ultimate sacrifice to make freedom possible and keep it possible in this country.

When I was growing up, we gathered with family and friends on Memorial Day, often at my grandparents’ house, but my parents always made sure we, at the very least, talked about the meaning of the holiday. My grandfather served in World War II, but we were fortunate he came home safe and sound, as did his brother. I can’t remember hearing of any family members who lost their lives in the line of duty, but my parents always made us aware that our freedom “wasn’t free.” People lost their lives so we could be free.

I think, this year, with the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have learned a little something extra about freedom. It has forced me to spend a lot of time thinking about freedom and how fortunate we are to live in a country where we have freedom. Sure, it has been limited in the last couple of months, but we know this is temporary. Can you imagine what it would be like if these limitations on our freedom were permanent? If we risked arrest for leaving our homes without permission? Or if we risked living out our lives in a work camp for speaking out against our government? I don’t claim to understand all the other cultures and governments of the world, but I know that in this country, if we aren’t happy with the government, we can, at the very least, vocalize our unhappiness. Remember, people in North Korea can’t do that. If they speak out against the government, they can be killed or sent to work camps.

Several years ago, I read a book called Escape from Camp 14, by Blaine Harden, based on the life and journey of a man named Shin Dong-hyuk, the only former prisoner known to have escaped from an internment camp in North Korea. It was eye-opening and disturbing. In fact, I’m going to read it again, just to revisit the details. It truly made me thankful that I live in the United States, but I think it will be especially meaningful now. If you’d like to read it, you can order from Amazon here.

While Memorial Day is always meaningful to me, this year, it will have more meaning. I will sit down with my family over breakfast Monday and talk about the meaning of the holiday. Weather permitting, my husband and I will take a walk through a cemetery near our home. Unfortunately, we don’t have any small flags to place on the graves of those who lost their lives in the line of duty this year, but we will remember those who lost their lives while fighting for our country’s (and the world’s) freedom.

Happy Memorial Day to you and your family.

 

 

 

A Different Mother’s Day

A Different Mother’s Day…

It’s almost here. We’ve never made a gigantic deal about Mother’s Day at our house, but we do celebrate it. My family usually goes out for brunch on Mother’s Day. We don’t do big gifts or anything, but my husband usually orders flowers or one of my favorite treats. We  normally have the freedom to make a reservation where we want to dine. But not this year.

Honestly, I look at Mother’s Day the same way my own mother used to look at it: I’m just thankful God let me be a mother to my daughter. There is no job more difficult or more rewarding. The job description is always changing, and I love it. I really do. When I was in my twenties, long before I was a mom, I thought having a child was not important to me. One of my coworkers, who had two children, once said to me, “It’s the meaning of life.” And she was right. My daughter teaches me a lot more about love and life than I teach her, I’m sure, and I love growing with her.

I always tell people motherhood gave me an opportunity to have a third childhood. My first childhood was my real childhood. Then, college was the next one. And once I had my baby, when I was 33, I got to start enjoying another childhood. She will be going off to college in a couple of years, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy that too! My neighbor, when she came over for social-distancing cocktails on the patio last week, told me and my daughter, “My daughter’s time at The University of Alabama were the best four years of my life!” She loved visiting her daughter in Tuscaloosa and got to enjoy another “childhood.” Motherhood is a great experience.

No one enjoyed motherhood more than my own mother. This is my third Mother’s Day without her in the world. I won’t cry this year like I did that first one, but I still miss her. I’ve just found ways of coping with the fact that she’s not here anymore. Lots of times, during this pandemic and isolation, I have wondered what she would have thought of it. Since she was a nurse, she would have known the importance of social distancing, but she wouldn’t have liked it. My parents were always big on “living life.” They loved the movie, Shawshank Redemption, and one of their favorite quotes from the movie was, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Since this isolation started, my brother and I have speculated about what our parents would have said about the disease and the stay-at-home order. Neither of us truly knows what they would have said, but I know I would have spent a lot of time on the phone with them talking about it.

Unfortunately, I don’t have my mother. I can’t call her and ask her about it this Mother’s Day…the Mother’s Day in the age of COVID-19. If you still have your mother, think about that…once they’re gone, you can’t call your mom to ask her about a recipe or a story she told you about her life or how to handle a sick child. And I can’t ask mine what she thinks about COVID-19. I know it sounds like a little thing, but I’d love to know her thoughts on it all. In the 1950s, when she was in nursing school and studied in Louisiana for a while, she was exposed to tuberculosis and leprosy, both infectious diseases. Sure, they were infectious, but as a medical professional, she did what she needed to do to help the people. Later, when I was in elementary school, she worked for the health department and had to visit an area that reportedly had several cases of tuberculosis…a highly contagious respiratory disease. I would love to hear her opinion of the whole COVID-19 crisis….but I can’t.

This Mother’s Day will be different. That’s for sure. Because we can’t go out for brunch, we will likely cook at home. Sure, it will be different, but we will make it fun. It’s supposed to be a beautiful day, so I’m guessing my husband will cook on the grill. I’ll give him a grocery list today. Since the high is supposed to be around 70, we’ll have lunch outside. I won’t require my family to spend the whole day doting on me, but I will enjoy some time with them. Gifts? I don’t know if they will shower me with gifts, and it’s just fine if they don’t. I’m just thankful we are all healthy and can spend some time together.

This Mother’s Day, I’ll be thankful for my healthy little family. I’m thankful my own parents gave me a good life. I’m thankful for my brother and nephews…my cousins, aunts, uncles. And I’m thankful for great friends.

I’m just thankful. God bless mothers.

 

What a Motley Crew!

Over the holidays, I traveled to the Los Angeles area with my teenage daughter, her friend, my 20-something nephew, and his friend. So that’s five travelers, ranging in age from 16 to 52…that highest number being mine.

We came together for meals while we were there and just a few other activities, but we did our own thing a lot. During the final dinner of our trip, I asked my fellow travelers to go around the table and tell what their favorite part of the trip was, and I expected to hear lots of different answers, but they surprised me.

They all answered the same thing…our day in Malibu. The day we were in Malibu was also the 2nd anniversary of my mother’s death. It was the one day we all spent together, and I was thrilled to know everyone enjoyed it. While we were in Malibu, we dined at my very favorite restaurant…on the deck, right on the beach, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Those of us who were old enough had some fun cocktails. We drank a toast to Mother, and we took lots of photos. After leaving the restaurant, we walked down to Malibu Pier…a favorite landmark and another great photo op. The walk was only about a half mile, but we laughed and talked all the way to the pier.

Like I said, before I asked, I thought they would all have different answers. Throughout the trip, we had seen lots of celebrities! We had eaten great meals. We had shopped till we dropped. My nephew and his friend had never been there before, so they did more sightseeing…I thought that might have been their favorite part of the trip. But nope…they all enjoyed the day we were all together. As a mother and aunt, it made me very happy. And knowing it was the second anniversary of my mother’s passing made me more grateful for the time we all spent together. She had to be smiling down on us as we laughed and ate and drank and walked and laughed some more.

My daughter is 16, and I always think she just wants to be away from me. She loves me, but I remember 16…I remember wanting to have more independence. She certainly enjoys any independence she has, but it warms my heart to know her favorite day was the day she was with her old mom and her cousin and their friends. We were a motley crew…the conservative-looking 52-yr-old mom/aunt, the two 16-yr-old girls who are too cool for school, and my 20-something hippie-looking nephew and his girlfriend. No one would have put that group together in a million years, but that motley crew had a great time!

It was a great way to celebrate my mother’s life, and it was infinitely better than the first anniversary of her death. It’s much better to spend days like that with people who are important to you…people you love…people who always have your back. So if you ever find yourself facing this kind of “anniversary,” remember to spend it with people who will wrap you in love. Avoid people who won’t.

It warms my heart to know they all enjoyed being together. I can hardly wait for the next trip!

Portion-Controlled Desserts? Yes, Please!

Portion-controlled desserts? Yes, please!

If you’re anything like me, you have difficulty knowing what a real “serving” of cake is. Big slice? Little slice? What is the perfect slice? And then…how do I keep myself from eating more than I should?

Hungry Girl to the rescue!

Everybody knows I love Hungry Girl. Not familiar with Hungry Girl? I’m happy to introduce you! When you get to the website, sign up for daily emails, click that you heard about them from a Hungry Girl Ambassador (me!), and enter my name (Kelly Mattei). I’ve loved Hungry Girl for years, and I’ve promoted Hungry Girl for years, but now they know I’m promoting them! I don’t promote anything I don’t believe in, so you can bet your sweet bippy I believe in Hungry Girl.

On to the good stuff…

One of my favorite finds on the Hungry Girl website? Portion-controlled desserts…specifically, single serving desserts in mugs and cups. Sounds awesome, right?!? That’s because they are awesome!

I’ve made a couple of them, and my teenage daughter loves them as much as I do! They are all super simple and fast!

Here are some of my favorites!

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Mug. My mother used to make Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes all the time when I was growing up. There was always at least one at every family gathering, and they disappeared fast! This Hungry Girl version is simple and easy, and the recipe makes two portions, each containing 201 calories. Not bad for a yummy and beautiful dessert! It’s a favorite at our house. I’ve made it when friends have come over for coffee, and it’s always a hit! Did I mention it’s beautiful too?! Get the recipe here.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Mug

Red Hot Apple Pie in a Cup. Another “easy as pie” recipe from Hungry Girl, this one is fun for kids too! (Do not let children make this unaccompanied. The pie is HOT when it comes out of the microwave!) It has candy and graham crackers in it! ‘Nuff said! And fruit! It has fruit! At only 140 calories per serving, it makes for a great dessert the whole family will love! I think it even sounds good for a snow day. My daughter loves to have friends over for snow days, and I love to feed them! Get the recipe here.

Red Hot Apple Pie in a Cup

Chocolate Cake Mugs for Two. Who doesn’t love chocolate cake?! This one comes in at 199 calories per serving, and the serving size is not in question, because it’s cooked in the perfect portion! This is another one that sounds good for a snow day or for friends who come over for coffee. The ingredient list is short, and most of the ingredients are likely on hand all the time. Make yourself happy with a little chocolate cake! Hungry Girl tells you how this age-old treat without overdoing it! Get the recipe here.

Chocolate Cake Mugs for Two

This is just a sampling of what Hungry Girl offers in portion-controlled dessert recipes. Seriously, try them. Anyone can make them…even those “kitchen challenged” friends of mine. You can see more portion-controlled desserts from Hungry Girl here.

We are hoping for a little snow in Charlotte over the next couple of days, so I’m going to the store and stocking up on ingredients for these gems tonight! All kids who love to sled are welcome to join in the fun…and eat some yummy desserts too! Moms…come on over for coffee, and I will share desserts with you too!

*Please let me know when you try these recipes! I love to get feedback!*

***All photos courtesy of hungry-girl.com***

 

 

 

How Did I Miss Out on This?!?!

How did I miss out on this?!?!

Throughout life, there are times that I’ve thought, “How did I miss out on this?!?!” But by the time I reached age 52, I thought I had likely seen it all. Surely, unless it’s something new, there’s nothing that’s been going on for years around me that I didn’t even notice. Sure, at 40-something, I learned about the little tabs on the end of the aluminum foil box that hold the roll in place, but that was before I was 50. I wasn’t surprised about the flat tire icon on the car dashboard or the little arrow that shows which side the gas tank is on. If you don’t know all those things, you need to get busy Googling.

But earlier this week, I learned about something that is supposedly southern that I didn’t know about. That thing? Pineapple Casserole. Never heard of it till Sunday or Monday of this week, and as I type, it’s Wednesday. I grew up in Alabama. If it’s a southern dish, how did I manage to make it to 52 without ever having heard of it?!?

So I did what I do. I went to my personal Facebook page and asked my friends if they grew up eating/knowing about Pineapple Casserole, and if they did, where did they grow up?

I got lots of responses saying they grew up with it. Lots of folks from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and surprisingly (to me), Alabama…even a friend from High Springs, Florida, which is actually in the part of Florida that’s still “southern” had grown up with it! My people (an aunt and cousins) in the Florida Panhandle (a part of Florida that is still very southern) had not grow up seeing it, just like I’d never seen it. One cousin said she had it as an adult when a friend made it, but otherwise, my family had somehow missed out on Pineapple Casserole. Maybe it’s a familial thing??? I’d never even had it at my grandmother’s house in Birmingham, but according to a cousin who now lives in California, she had served it to her and her friends she referred to as the “soup ladies.” Even my friend, Amy, from Selma, Alabama (does it get any more southern than Selma?!?), said she did not eat it growing up. I promptly decided we must be related, since we both grew up in Alabama and had never heard of it. I now refer to her as Cousin Amy.

But just so you know, friends from Indiana, Philadelphia, and Delaware also had it when they were growing up, so now I’m wondering just how “southern” it is. But that’s beside the point. Everyone except one South Carolina girl gave it two thumbs up, so you know I have to try it.

I will make it later this week, and I can hardly wait! But for the holy grail of Pineapple Casseroles, I’m going to ask my friend, Crazy Jane, to make it for me when she visits. Crazy Jane is the best cook in the world, so even if we followed the exact same recipe, her version would be far better than mine. She just has a special touch.

I’ve asked several friends what I should expect. Some say it’s the perfect side dish with ham. Others say it’s almost dessert-like, because it does contain sugar…and not just a little of it. Plus, pineapple is sweet and a little dessert-like, right? It also contains butter, flour, cheese, and other stuff. Sounds disgusting, right? But my friends know good food, so I’m trusting them when they say it’s delicious. I thought the recipe for the Mississippi Pot Roast (click here) sounded disgusting too, but I absolutely love the stuff!

So I know you’ve been waiting for the recipe. I went to the Southern Living website for the recipe, because it’s a site I trust. If Southern Living posts a bad recipe, they hear about it from lots of southern ladies, so I think they’re pretty careful. You can see the recipe here.

If you’ve never had Pineapple Casserole and decide to make it, I’d love to hear your feedback! I’m starting to question my southern roots, since I’ve never had it! How did that happen?!? I’ve been to lots of church covered dish lunches and family potlucks, and I’ve never seen it. Or maybe when I was a kid, I saw it and thought it looked disgusting. That’s likely. I’ll let you know what I think after I make it.

I’m also wondering if I can get Hungry Girl to do some ingredient swaps and bring down the calorie count on this crazy sounding dish?!? Maybe I’ll send the recipe to their test kitchen!

 

 

Practicing My Spanish! (¡Practicando mi Español!)

Practicing my Spanish. (Practicando mi Español.)

When I was in ninth grade, I took Spanish. I don’t remember if a foreign language was required then, but I took it because I knew the Spanish teacher took students with her to Mexico every year, and I wanted to go on that trip. What I didn’t know is that I would love the language and the people of Mexico.

Of course, in the 1980s, we had no way of seeing the future. We didn’t know Spanish would be a hot commodity in the 2000s. Back then, everybody was telling us we needed to learn Russian and Japanese, because it appeared as if Japan would be an economic superpower. Maybe it is. I don’t know, but one thing I do know is that Spanish is something we can use every single day in this country.

So in 1982, I took Spanish just so I could do the Mexico trip with some of my classmates. I’ve written about it before. Five girls from the class went with our pregnant teacher and a friend of hers as our chaperones. The teacher was an awesome Spanish teacher, but we ran pretty unsupervised through Mexico City for days. Mexico City was our first stop, and to this day, I still love that city. After Mexico City, we visited Taxco and Acapulco…back when it was safe to visit Acapulco. I took more Spanish classes as a result of that trip.

I have visited Mexico City (and other cities in Mexico) numerous times since then, and I love it every time. I find that every time I visit, after a few days, my Spanish improves by leaps and bounds. I have friends in Charlotte who are from Mexico, Venezuela, and other Latin American countries, so I get to practice my Spanish some, but it’s a lot of fun to visit  other countries and speak Spanish.

This summer, we are taking several vacations, but the only place I will visit where Spanish is the first language is Puerto Rico. I’ll practice it some, but usually, I find that, in Puerto Rico, when I ask a question in Spanish, they answer me in English. I continue speaking my terrible version of Spanish till they usually humor me by speaking some Spanish back to me. So I have a long list of Latin American countries I really want to visit in the next few years. I’ve been to Costa Rica and Peru, but I have other countries I’d like to visit: Argentina and Panama top the list.

But for now, I’ll get to practice my Spanish in Puerto Rico and just hope some folks there will cooperate. I know a few words I will definitely use while I’m there. I’ll exchange the regular greetings, and then, pretty soon after we arrive, I’ll use this word: churro. Yes, you know that word, and if you don’t, you’re missing out. The hotel where we will stay has some fabulous churros, so I’ll be saying that word really early in the trip when I place my first order! Next word? Alcapurrias! Actually, I’m not even sure that’s a Spanish word, but I’ll be using that word, because I know the pool bar serves great alcapurrias. Not familiar? They’re beef-filled, fried fritters. I can’t make them, but I can eat them! And only one more food word: mallorca! Pan de mallorca is actually a sweet bread made in Puerto Rico, modeled after a bread made in Majorca, Spain. Restaurants make sandwiches with the bread, and my very favorite thing to order is a mallorca con huevo, queso, y jamón (egg, cheese, and ham).

Seriously, I don’t just speak Spanish to order foods. When I’m visiting a country where Spanish is the first language, I try to use my Spanish as much as I can, and I try to learn new words. I love to come home with an expanded vocabulary.

I’m excited about Puerto Rico waaaaay to early, and next year, maybe I’ll make it to Argentina!