Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I want 'everything' on my bagel

Bagels make me happy, but everything bagels make me exceptionally happy. When I worked as the opinion page editor at the Bristol Herald Courier, I wrote a Thanksgiving editorial (2009) listing some of the great things in Bristol. Mentioned then was the Manna Bagel Co., in Bristol Tenn., and its everything bagel.

I stopped in the shop this morning and bought a baker's dozen -- strawberry swirl, blueberry, plain and my favorite, the everything bagel. Sesame seed, poppy seed, onion, garlic, salt -- they all make me happy. And I still have two more to enjoy. If you live in the region and can visit Manna Bagel, be sure to stop in. But leave me an everything bagel or two. I hate running in on Friday afternoons and finding "my" bin empty.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rosemary and mint herbal bath

Today I came across a treasure trove of recipes I used 10 or more years ago. No Bake Cookies. Classic Pecan Pie. Amish Friendship Bread (which quickly can become a curse since the starter multiplies so rapidly!) And an old favorite I used to make as gifts for friends: Rosemary and mint herbal bath.

Perhaps 15 years ago, I received a similar tonic as a gift. I loved the herbal bath and quickly used it up. It smells terrific and helps soothe achy muscles. But I was was dumbfounded when I wanted to buy more and saw the actual cost. Using rosemary from my dad’s garden and purchased mint extract, I came up with this inexpensive substitute.

Rosemary and mint herbal bath

4-5 sprigs fresh rosemary or about 3 tablespoons dry rosemary, crushed
3 cups water
¾ cup mineral oil (baby oil)
½ teaspoon mint extract
3-4 drops red food coloring (liquid)

Fill a quart canning jar with the rosemary, then pour over 3 cups of boiling water. Let cool until you can safely handle. Cover lid with plastic wrap and a rubber band. Let mixture stand for two days. Pour mixture through a sieve to remove the rosemary. To the infused water, add ¾ cup mineral oil, ½ teaspoon mint extract and 3-4 drops of red food coloring. Pour into small jars for gift giving. Yield: One quart. Add ¼ cup to ½ cup to bath water.

The small jars that diced pimentos are packaged in are the perfect size to use for this herbal bath. Recycle them into a great gift, or save it for yourself. I have a hardy rosemary plant in my herb garden -- later this year I will use several sprigs to make a batch for myself.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Family home turned antiques shop

This is the house where my maternal grandmother was raised. It was built in 1896 and is located along Wears Valley Road in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. The house and the surrounding property were then known as Twin Bridges Farm.

Today it is an antiques shop: Yesterday's Antiques. It seems odd to visit what once was a family home and now is a store. But considering all the demolition and development in Pigeon Forge/Sevierville/Gatlinburg, Tenn., I am grateful the building still stands and that I have a chance to see it at all.

My grandmother, Grace Clabough Fakler (1903-1996), was one of six children raised here. Yes, six children were raised in a two bedroom house that did not have a bathroom at all. The bedrooms were upstairs and the three boys were in one; the three girls in another. The parents slept downstairs. My great-grandmother, Priscilla Roberts Clabough, lived here until her death in the 1950s and in her memory the two adjoining streets bear her name:

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit earlier this month. It was like stepping back in time to browse antiques and collectibles in a house that has such importance to my family. My mother and aunt spent summers there, visiting their grandmother.

Today, visitors can see beautiful linens and vintage clothes:

There are two rooms that are full of books:

And a room full of kitchen wares, gadgets, cutting boards, an old stove and everyday dishes:

I was particularly drawn to glassware on display, including milk glass and Depression glass in pink, beige and green.

It was a treat to visit this shop and share some of these memories with my husband. My parents, brother, neice and nephew will head to this part of the world later this summer. A stop to this shop is sure to be on their itenerary.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chicken in red wine, in the slow cooker

My house smells delicious right now because a huge pot of coq au vin has been cooking all day in my slow cooker. Coq au vin (chicken in wine) is a French staple and something I normally equate with being involved and time consuming. If you want a full version of the traditional recipe, use Julia Child’s method.

But I got excited when I saw a much easier version in one of my favorite slow cooker books: “Make it Fast, Cook it Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking.” The book, by home cook and mother Stephanie O’Dea, is the result of a year’s worth of slow cooker cooking. In 2008, O’Dea resolved to use her slow cooker every day of the year. She chronicled her recipes – the successes and the failures – on a website called A Year of Slow Cooking. You can access that site here.

If you want to read more about O’Dea, her popular shortcuts and her cookbooks, check out this link.
If you want to get a copy of “Make it Fast, Cook it Slow” go here.

My sweet husband got me a copy last year, and it is terrific. I especially love how she included popular take-out recipes that can be made at home easily and inexpensively.

Photos to come soon on my version of coq au vin – gotta finish cooking it first.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Something funny for a Friday

Had to post a link to the "off road" Red Robin burger ad in honor of my husband. He was similarly inclined when I pointed out the Mexican buffet sign at El Mesquite in Sevierville, Tenn. Read my post about that restaurant here.

Happy Friday, friends!

Rotten wood out, recycled stone in

Since elementary school I have been taught the importance of recycling. In most cases, that means rinsing and sorting plastic and glass containers or sorting newspapers and cardboard. But last month I did a recycling project on a different level. My husband and youngest son demolished an old stone flower bed and we reused the rocks to edge the flower beds out front.

I had grown sick of the decaying landscape timbers that lined the beds, including my small herb garden. Seriously, they had to have been in place for decades. I pulled them out and my youngest dragged them to the street. (Yes, I am running a work camp here, people.)

Using sledgehammers, the boys broke up the old flowerbed. In some cases the stones separated at the mortar lines. I used a chisel and hammer to break many others apart. (Yes, it was tiring and sweaty work, but well worth it.)

We hauled the stones and lined the flower beds with the recycled rock. It’s actually permastone, that favorite from the 1950s – a concrete compound poured into molds to set. The stones are whitish and most are about 10 inches long. The finished look is not perfect, but I am so glad we found a way to get rid of those rotting timbers and replace them with something for free. And we kept several hundred pounds of rock out of the landfill. That’s the best news of all.

(I've got basil, Thai basil, thyme, parsley, cilantro, tomatoes and cukes planted along with the flowers!)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Can't beat cornflakes and cheese

Hot chicken salad: Every family in the South (and perhaps elsewhere) has a version of this recipe. It’s a great way to use up leftovers and turn them into something special. Most all the variations I have seen use crushed potato chips or corn flakes as a crunchy topping.

I recently bought a rice cooker and despite Alton Brown’s edict to avoid one-purpose devices, I love mine and have used it many times. I measure out the rice and water, turn it on and get on to other things. (It is cooking rice right now, while I work on this post, btw.) Last week, I had all the basics for this dish on hand – chicken, rice, cheese, corn flakes, so I set to work.

In a 9x13 dish, I combined 2 cups cooked chicken, ½ cup of mayonnaise, 2 cups of cooked rice (thank you rice cooker!), 1 can of condensed cream of mushroom soup and a ½ cup of milk. I sprinkled it with salt and pepper…

…then added a cup of green peas, straight from the freezer.

In a medium bow, I mixed 1 cup of crushed cornflakes and ½ cup grated Cheddar cheese. I like mixing the two, then adding it as a topping -- it blends completely and the cheese helps brown the crunchy top, without adding more butter or margarine.

Bake the casserole 20-30 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Delicious!

Here’s the complete recipe


2 cups cooked chicken
½ cup mayonnaise
2 cups cooked rice
1 can cream of mushroom soup
½ cup milk
Salt and pepper
1 cup green peas, frozen
1 cup crushed cornflakes
½ cup grated Cheddar cheese

Mix all ingredients except cornflakes and cheese together and spread in a 9x13-inch casserole dish. Top with the cornflakes and cheese, which have been mixed together. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 20-30 minutes, until browned and bubbly.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In love with El Mesquite

This is the real reason my husband wants to go back to Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tenn. He quickly fell in love with the food at El Mesquite, located on the Parkway in Sevierville, Tenn. Have you seen the new Red Robin commercial with the two guys driving/riding in a car? The passenger spies a Red Robin restaurant and the driver loses his mind, floors it like a maniac and basically crashes into the parking lot of the Red Robin.

That is nearly what my husband did last week, as we were following our noses and looking for a place to eat lunch. Me: “Hey, there is a Mexican place that says buffet.” My husband: “Seriously?!” (EEERrrrkk! Squealing tires and brake slamming.) My husband is a fiend for Mexican food and often asks why Mexican restaurants don’t offer buffet service (like Chinese, Indian and American restaurants often do.) Years ago, there was a Mexican place in Norfolk we loved that offered a lunch buffet on weekdays. It closed and was replaced by a Gold’s Gym (perhaps appropriate, considering how high in fat and calories Mexican food can be).

El Mesquite was casual, had friendly staff and plenty of parking. The buffet featured all kinds of Mexican selections -- tacos, burritos, nachos, salsa and more. Even the locals love it. We are already talking about making a trip there on our next visit to that part of the world.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A few days of fun in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

We spent a few days last week in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tenn. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with some family members and to have plenty of vacation fun. I needed a reminder that Gatlinburg is less than two hours from Bristol. We had so much fun we are already looking forward to our next extended trip, or even a day excursion.

It had been more than 10 years since I had been to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, so plenty of offerings were new to me. But here are some things we did during our visit and truly enjoyed.

SPACE NEEDLE: The Gatlinburg Space Needle is located just off the Parkway and about a block from the Gatlinburg Convention Center. It is an all steel observation tower that is more than 400 feet tall. Visitors ride a glass elevator to the observation deck, which offers 360-degree views of the city (what a great photo my husband took of the city!). I must admit I had a bit of vertigo on the observation deck. As in, I did not come within about 10 feet of the railing and was more than happy when the others wanted to go down. There is a large, printed history of Gatlinburg on the tower and I entertained myself reading it, while glimpsing at the spectacular views from a safe distance away from the edge. The cost for this event is $8 per person, but you can go a second time for free, within 24 hours. The Space Needle is housed in a massive arcade (warning to cash-strapped parents!) and you must walk through it upon exiting the elevator to depart. This attraction is open 365 days per year.

RIPLEYS AQUARIUM OF THE SMOKIES: The aquarium is a must-see attraction that features a clear tunnel where visitors can view various types of fish, sharks, sea turtles and other marine life. It also features a stingray exhibit where visitors can don wet suits and swim with the rays, and an elaborate penguin habitat (sure to be even more popular with the summer release of the movie Mr. Popper’s Penguins.) This was a spectacular family outing and there is an enormous city parking lot behind the aquarium. Visitors can park, tour the museum, then hit Gatlinburg on foot or by trolley. (Cash only to pay for parking in the lot.)

BUBBA GUMP SHRIMP CO.: Yes, this is one of a chain of restaurants themed around the 1994 movie Forrest Gump, and his friendship with Bubba, who loved to eat shrimp prepared every imaginable way. The gift shop is full of movie-themed items (T-shirts and stickers that say: Run Forrest Run; Stop Forrest Stop; Bubba is my good best friend, etc.) It was a fun place to stop for lunch and we enjoyed excellent seating and a charming, funny waiter.

My youngest son dug in to the Shrimper’s Heaven – a combination on coconut shrimp, chilled shrimp, fried shrimp and Japanese-style tempura shrimp. One of the funniest elements? The food is served on fake newspaper pages from Greenbow, Ala., with stories based on scenes from the movie. We all raved over the “hush pups” – which are hushpuppies with added fish, shrimp and corn, and served with a spicy remoulade sauce. Super delicious! See the menu here.

I ordered the shrimp and grits – it was spicy, creamy and downright delicious. If you want to try this dish at home, here is a very similar version from the Food Network. Yum!

CHILLIN’ BY THE POOL: Most days, we visited some attraction in the morning, then spent the afternoon and evening at the pool. We stayed in a cabin at Clabough’s Campground, which is owned by my mother’s cousin. It was relaxing and quiet and located on Wears Valley Road, about a half mile from all the action in Pigeon Forge.

One of the favorite things I saw during our stay was a mother duck and her seven ducklings. She herded them around the camp, warning anyone who got too close. I looked for them every day, thinking of this wonderful book from childhood: Make Way for Ducklings.

We ventured briefly into the Great Smoky Mountains Park, visited a variety of restaurants and tourist traps and played plenty of rounds of mini-golf. And we have a list started for the attractions we want to see on our next trip. If you live near Bristol or Knoxville, Tenn., going to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg could easily be a day trip.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Grandma Grace's Strawberry Pie

Four gallons of strawberries is quite a haul, but that is what I was grateful to receive from my in-laws during our Memorial Day trip to Wise, Va. I washed, hulled and froze most of them, so I can use them in the future. But I had to make one of my favorite dishes from childhood, an easy strawberry pie recipe from my maternal grandmother, Grace Fakler.

On a scale of 1 to 10, my youngest gave this an enthusiastic 10.

Grandma Grace's Strawberry Pie

1 quart of strawberries, washed, capped and sliced
1 cup sugar
2-3 tablespoons cornstarch
One baked pie shell

I used a prepared pie shell, removed it from the freezer and baked it. Be sure to prick the unbaked shell so it will not rise.

Cool the shell and add half the strawberries to the crust.

In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining strawberries, sugar and cornstarch. Cook over medium heat until strawberries have cooked slightly and sauce is thick. This will take about 10-12 minutes.

Remove the pan from heat and cool nearly to room temperature, stirring regularly.

Pour the strawberry glaze over the fresh strawberries in the shell. Serve the pie with whipped cream or topping; refrigerate leftovers.

I always struggle getting the first slice cut cleanly, but refrigerating the pie helps. This recipe has delicious, fresh strawberry flavor and is so easy. Try it!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Fifth anniversary wishes by e-mail

Today is my fifth wedding anniversary and tucked in between caring for a sunburned child, getting the dog looked after, traveling today for a business meeting and trying to keep the laundry moving, we exchanged anniversary greetings by e-mail mid-morning. Honestly, I think we both forgot earlier, when we were still together.

Typically, for our anniversary we might go out to dinner, or I will prepare something special at home. Neither will be the case this year. He'll have to fend for himself and our youngest for dinner tonight; it will easily be 9 til I arrive home. Thankfully, neither of us puts tremendous weight on anniversaries. I am grateful to have a wonderful husband, who also is a good parent and my best friend. We'll aim to do something fun over the weekend, once we are able. If I make something yummy, I'll be sure to share it.

Now, back to the laundry and meeting prep!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Four gallons of sweet yumminess

My family spent Memorial Day in Wise, Va., with my husband's parents. They are up to their necks, almost literally, with strawberries. Like my parents, my in-laws are prolific gardeners and are eager to share with others. They sent us home with four gallons of the most delicious, juicy berries!

So far I have washed, capped and frozen two gallons of berries and made a strawberry pie. Time is working against me since strawberries are fairly fragile. I aim to get the rest of the berries frozen tonight, with maybe a few of the hardiest ones left in the fridge for snacking.

I used my grandmother's recipe for strawberry pie and got rave reviews from my youngest son. (On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best you ever had, what would you rate this pie? A 10, definitely, he said.)

Recipe and photos to come soon; got get the rest of the berries tackled first. Happy summer, friends!