Camellia’s Favorite Cheese Ball Recipe…

49653C9F-73D3-498D-8708-B1D4F2827009This Cheese Ball recipe is a real time saver. I love it because it keeps well chilled, is able to take on different shapes, even freezes like a dream! And ! A Cheese Ball  seems welcome at any occasion! After school goes back in session, football season begins, then tailgating and fall gatherings and holidays seem to come one right after the other! We all know we’re going to need ‘something to take’ or serve! And let’s face it- hardly anybody passes up Cheese and Crackers! This recipe lends itself to as many variations as you can think of! Change up the variety of cheeses, add walnuts instead of pecans, even add dried cranberries- it’s all up to you! now, you have to admit, these cheese balls shaped like big apples would be fun in the Fall! And while you’re at it- make up several types of cheese balls, logs or rings and save a few in the freezer!7C3C2ED8-11B4-4882-A204-2F35408015F5

Here’s how you make Camellia’s Favorite Cheese Ball-

  • One Pound Sharp Cheddar Cheese- grated
  • 8 ounce package Cream Cheese – softened
  • 1 small onion- finely grated with juice
  • 1 Tbs. Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

In  food processor, mix cheeses. Add in Worcestershire, salt and pepper- blend well. By hand, add in pecans until well blended. Shape cheese mixture into 2 large balls and chill. May also shape into logs or into a ring. Chill.

  • Mix together 1 1/2 teaspoons mild paprika and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne. With a fine mesh strainer, sift over cheese balls or logs- even small appetizer size balls served with toothpicks! Serve with assorted crackers. If shaped into a ring, fill with strawberry, cherry or fig preserves. * Strawberry is my favorite!

*For variation, roll cheese balls in finely chopped pecans. Or as another variation- use 12 ounces of Sharp Cheddar and 4 ounces of Cheddar Jack and proceed as above. **These cheese balls freeze well, however- wait to sprinkle with paprika mixture before serving for a prettier presentation.0B3B06E0-84E5-4D1A-BCA1-8A2D2D828C32

One of my favorite ways to serve these cheese balls, is to roll them into apple shapes and cut small branches with a leaf or two attached- just make sure the branch is safe and pesticide free. Cheese balls are wonderful all year round on charcuterie boards,  though especially good for fall gatherings, tail gating, a Halloween buffets and all the way through the holiday season!

Love y’all, Camellia

*photographs are obviously mine!

 

 

Maybelle Turner’s Blonde Brownies…

0CEBA9D8-A454-4781-B693-1EB9B355C514I never knew Maybelle Turner. She might have been a friend of my grandmother’s double first cousins, since this recipe was tucked in their cookbook and on the same page as Nellie’s Wicked Brownies…which I’ve never had the nerve to bake. I don’t know whether Maybelle was short or tall, young or old. Whether she had blonde hair, was a redhead or had salt and pepper hair wadded up in a bun, it really doesn’t matter- Maybelle Turner must have been a generous soul; must have loved doubled recipes (because this one certainly could be halved!) and she had to be a creative cook since she gave a variation. Or… maybe one day she was making these Blonde Brownies and ran short of chocolate chips! Whatever… I do know this is an old recipe- why? Because it was in one of my oldest family cookbooks and nobody says- ‘Blonde Brownies’ anymore!

E8157407-54E2-47DE-B2E5-351B9CF537FBHere’s how you make- Maybelle Turner’s Blonde Brownies 

  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs – beaten
  • 3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 cups chopped pecans
  • 1 (12 ounce) package semi sweet chocolate chips (variation- 8 oz. chocolate chips plus 4 oz. butterscotch chips)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 8×8 glass baking dishes- lightly butter, line with buttered parchment paper. Set aside. Melt butter, combine with brown sugar, beaten eggs, vanilla and salt. Stir in flour and baking powder- do not overmix! Fold in pecans and chocolate chips. Divide dough in half and spread lightly in the 2 prepared baking dishes. Bake for 25 minutes. Do not overbake! Allow to cool in baking dish. Cut into small squares and serve. These are very rich.B943EB76-94F4-4382-A911-28CF222CE0D3

I’ve hung onto the recipe for Maybelle’s Blonde Brownies a while now… why? I don’t bake bar cookies or brownies very often! These are moist and very rich. I used her variation of adding butterscotch chips, though I’m sure they would be good either way! And, please don’t overbake- who wants a dried out blonde brownie? Also, they are truly rich- I cut mine in small bars and truthfully if you’re as generous as Maybelle, a bar is rich enough to share! So… I’d like to say- ‘Maybelle, wherever you are- your Blonde Brownies are delicious, darling!’ Who knows maybe closer to Halloween, I’ll get up the nerve to bake Nellie’s Wicked Brownies!

C2AACC1C-5F49-4BDD-8698-B7F8294BDFCBSchool’s back in session, the garden is headed into ‘curl up and die’ time and I’m beginning to see fall fruits in the grocery store…these Blonde Brownies tasted awfully good with apples, and they sure would make a wonderful addition to a lunch bag or as an after school snack!

Love y’all, Camellia

* All photographs are obviously mine!

Summer Tomato Cobbler…

28BCE555-D761-4B22-93D9-A97676BAA990Summer Tomato Cobbler is a new take on an already fabulous Tomato Pie! Last year, I shared with you how to make my sister’s tomato pie which has been declared by me and many others as the very best recipe for this unique delicious savory pie which is probably specific to Alabama! So why make a Summer Tomato Cobbler? Well…a classic tomato pie is juicy, oozing with cheese and the sour cream filling is amazing; so I wanted to see if making the same recipe into Cobbler form would make it easier to cut, hold it’s shape and also be served to a crowd. The result was the same flavors, yet with a taste all its own and I’ll admit- I want y’all to try both of these delicious pies! The Summer Tomato Cobbler is a bit easier to assemble and rustic- my sister’s Tomato Pie is a more refined and luscious one crust pie, yet both are sure to please especially when summer tomatoes are available! Actually, I’d never make either pie without vine ripe tomatoes!

87C53B8B-A4F9-4E6F-B41B-9A045CA737B5Here’s how you make Summer Tomato Cobbler- You will need:

  • 3 Summer Tomatoes- I used a mix of one ripe Chandler Mountain* Tomato, one under ripe tomato (even a green tomato would work) and one Roma Tomato. Cut these into at least 1/2” slices.
  • One single crust pie crust dough (I used prepared dough for test purposes which was flat and round to fit a regular 9” pie.)
  • 8 ounces of sour cream
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup of a good mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup of green onion tops
  • 8-10 fresh Basil leaves
  • 2 cups of finely shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 1/2- 3/4 cup of finely shredded Pepper Jack Cheese
  • Fresh cracked pepper and sea salt

To prepare Summer Tomato Cobbler-

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • You will need a 9×9 square glass baking pan.
  • Combine sour cream, mayonnaise and green onion tops, for the filling.  Set aside.
  • Blend together the finely shredded cheeses. Set aside.
  • On a lightly floured surface or marble surface- roll out prepared pie crust very thin- approximately 1/4 inch- into a flat round approximately 12” in diameter.  Cut center of dough into an 8×8 inch square. Save scrap dough to layer the Cobbler.
  • In the bottom of the baking dish, place half of the tomato slices to cover the bottom. * In a bottom crust tomato pie, the difference is that the tomatoes are peeled and drained- there’s no need to do this with the Cobbler.
  • Evenly place half of the Basil leaves over the tomatoes, lightly sprinkle tomatoes with cracked black pepper ( do not salt the tomatoes, the cheeses and filling add enough seasoning)
  • Dollop tomatoes evenly with half of the sour cream filling and 1/2 of the blended cheeses.
  • Top this layer with all of the scraps of pie dough.
  • Next, repeat second layer of tomatoes, following the same order as the first layer- yet topping with the 8 inch square crust carefully placing the dough right on top of the cheeses.
  • Press this square dough topper slightly to make contact with the cheese. *This is an important step! The cheese and dough bake together to make a wonderful top crust!
  • Lightly spread top crust with butter. Cut slits in the top of crust, then lightly sprinkle the dough with sea salt.
  • Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 45 minutes or until top crust is a beautiful golden brown and cheese is bubbly. May take up to one hour.
  • Allow Summer Tomato Cobbler to cool slightly before serving in squares. * Makes 9 generous squares.

1E2D4303-3A40-4451-858D-DFE1AAAC6149Take a look at that upper crust! It’s flaky yet dense with cheese flavor! And the tomatoes took on a roasted flavor! I’ll admit, I couldn’t stop at just one serving!

So, what did I serve with this Summer Tomato Cobbler? Fresh field peas, slices of mild sweet onions and jalapeño cheddar corn muffins! It was a take on the south’s famous vegetable plates! If you must have meat- this Summer Tomato Cobbler would go well with grilled fish, baked pork chops, stuffed peppers, meatloaf or a cool slice of ham! Other sides which would be a wonderful wilted spinach salad, a mixed green salad lightly dressed, even stuffed eggs would be delicious too!

28BCE555-D761-4B22-93D9-A97676BAA990Summer Tomato Cobbler would be at home for Sunday dinner, a ladies luncheon or on a summer buffet table! It’s also wonderful at room temperature! If you want to have a variation- Feel free to add crumbled bacon or finely chopped ham to your tomato cobbler! The main thing is to enjoy summer’s best bounty- the fresh tomato! And never forget- the closer you live to a Tomato Vine the better your Life will be!

Love y’all, Camellia

* I used prepared dough for testing purposes and because not everyone has the time or inclination to make pie crust from scratch- can I make my own pie dough? You bet I can! And I do feel it would be wonderful! I also think this cobbler might be absolutely fabulous made with green tomatoes too! * Chandler Mountain Tomatoes are highly prized- grown specifically in a mountainous region of northeast Alabama- right here in our own county!8B47A286-B10D-44F4-A499-9D1A73B5FD39

4 Tips for planning a Short Vacation…

3AC94B00-68DB-497D-95FE-D1EF438F96D7We’ve been planning and taking good trips for over two decades now…. Okay, I’m enough of an old dowager to admit that I would love to pack a heavy steamer trunk when we go anywhere; loading it up with everything that I could possibly need… I’m getting better about traveling lighter- yet the best short vacations consist of 4 tips for what I call a  LITE vacation.  Almost as light as these almond meringues at Croissant L’ Or in New Orleans! No, really…It’s really a formula –

  1. L – for Location, location, location!
  2. I  – for Inspiration and Interests.
  3. T –  for taking Tours
  4. E –  for Entertainment and Eating!

When I use this formula of a mere 4 tips, we’ve come back from a fabulous trip! Now, most southerners love a relaxing beach trip and here, we generally don’t consider our life complete unless we’ve gone to the Alabama Beaches at least once a year! Then again, lots of us head for the hills when it’s hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk. These two types of trips aren’t the sort of trips I’m talking about! And, of course you can book a cruise or an all inclusive vacation. Still. I’m talking city travel, because y’all know we do love the bright lights of New York City, the Golden Gate of San Francisco and has anyone ever turned down a trip to New Orleans? I don’t think so! We just got back from a 5 day 4 night trip to the Big Easy… and if I do say so myself…it was a perfect example of traveling LITE!AC60639D-DD65-46E7-9C1A-A708C5968BF7

Here’s what I’m talking about!

Location! It really doesn’t pay to try to find the cheapest place to stay – If it’s way out on the outskirts of town,  you’ll spend most of your time figuring out how to get to and fro and waste valuable time doing it! If you rent a car, pay for parking or use other means of transportation- by the time you pay the fares, you probably haven’t saved too much!  When we go to New York, I try to book a hotel near the Rockefeller Center or Times Square. San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel puts us at the crossroads of the cable cars going in both directions. In New Orleans…drumroll- the big name hotels aren’t as centrally located as the Boutique Hotels! Those quirky small places will save so many steps, it’s crazy to stay anywhere else! Here are the Cornstalk Hotel and Hotel Royal:

Inspiration and Interests Never underestimate these two things when traveling! Better than any trinket or souvenir you can bring home! Buy small, lightweight items only, if you can’t resist- any heavy items should be shipped and many times the shopkeeper or your hotel will make arrangements for you! I personally love to bring home something specific to an area, like a box of pralines or these wonderful masks! 39778971-34ED-4F56-8E45-C0A530BA57AC

Or… dried herbs, spices and specialty blends, sea salt or pink peppercorns. Even a piece of jewelry or a small work of art. 3A6720FA-8B77-4E27-A83C-7D1F7D19765F86D42B22-6A79-4C96-AC84-7159DEE25C63

The best thing of all is to bring back photos taken with your phone! Take lots, yet always ask permission and- if photos are forbidden- postcards or tourist maps will have landmark photos and are easy to save for future reference. Let’s face it- who wants to lug around some huge package or take the time to go back to the hotel to drop off something you may regret buying later….okay, I passed up the masks and jewelry though I do wish I had bought a small piece of art!! The art in New Orleans is wonderful!

Tours Don’t turn your nose up at the hop on hop off tours…if you’re short on time or energy, this is the best way to see a city! I try to plan for this, especially if we haven’t visited the city before or if the weather isn’t going to be ideal. *Tip: Ride one full round to get a feel of the city, then with your tourist map- mark places that you’d like to come back to and explore on foot!

Next on my list of tours has to be specialty tours… for instance in New Orleans- there’s an historic walking tour called the Cocktail Walking Tour. The photos above at the Old Absinthe House on Pirate’s Alley by St. Louis Cathedral seem to be a very popular stop on the Cocktail Walking Tour. Since New Orleans claims to have invented the cocktail, even a teetotaler like me enjoys this one! Now, keep in mind this isn’t a pub crawl! You are given the historic significance of the location, the cocktail invented there and if you do decide to imbibe or share a drink with a few of the other tourists you may do so! I love Antoine’s, the Carousel Bar at Hotel Monte Leon- and at the quiet end of Bourbon Street is Jean La Fitte’s Blacksmith Shop where the fruit juice based – Hurricane is said to have been invented.  Most cities offer culinary, history and carriage tours! These tours always seem to be taken in small groups with a knowledgeable guide and lots of fun too! A must have on my LITE formula is always Tours!9F44BD58-3914-4742-817B-39788475E0D4

Entertainment and Eating! One of my favorite parts of travelling LITE! We generally plan one or two main entertainment options- a Broadway Play, a Museum or specialty tour… perhaps to the Wine Country from San Francisco! Then we plan one or two upscale dining experiences- *Tip- to save money, go early- either at lunchtime or close to Happy Hour when there are usually  specials or less expensive entrees. We enjoyed eating Brunch at the Court of Two Sisters with it’s canopy of wisteria that’s over 100 years old!91A547D4-45D1-4C1C-BEE8-A7A606B6141A

And the first thing we did- was go to Drago’s for their famous chargrilled oysters! Amazing!

We also choose a food truck or a food cart meal and don’t forget that some delis or grocers have food to go…one of my favorite things is to go to Central Grocery in New Orleans and share a Muffaletta! These folks ought to know how to make them- they invented them! And I do love a food cart with hot dogs, there’s a place in Sausalito making hamburgers on a revolving grill who take orders through the window! Art museums often have small dining areas and the food is generally very good- the Metropolitan Art Museum in NYC comes to mind!  We’ve saved money on meals by eating brunch and an early supper instead of trying to eat three meals a day! Let’s face it… not only will it save money, the lure of a praline or a beignet- that big pretzel, or your favorite French pastry won’t seem like such a diet buster if you’ve only eaten two meals a day!

Now, in addition to these 4 tips- I have to add … Free and low cost things to do on almost any trip! The two of us bought a day pass for a total of $3 and rode the street car to the City Park and Museum, the trip and grounds were worth this! Yet, that wasn’t all, the trolley also goes the other direction down to the beautiful Garden District where large homes and quaint restaurants are charming and there’s even a big old mansion which holds an upscale grocery store! It’s fun to talk to other riders, often they will point out areas of interest! And the Garden District Streetcars, like those in San Francisco are moving national historic landmarks! Who could ever forget the Streetcar named Desire?AC60639D-DD65-46E7-9C1A-A708C5968BF7

And, that one day pass was good on any type of public transportation! I do try to find at least one self guided walking tour- this time from the New Orleans Visitor Center- ask for one! It’s Free! There are also numerous art gallery openings, street musicians, and always incredibly interesting religious sites, public parks, specialty art or handmade shops- the cigar factory has experts, the cathedral is gorgeous, the mask makers are incredible too!

And don’t forget! The free samples of local specialty food! Pralines are never safe around me! Walk around New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah and more…you’re sure to enjoy peeking into the public and private gardens most with very historic backgrounds!1507D461-5D64-420B-8412-A2470DE3BA92

You would be amazed how much you are able to learn about a city sitting near a River Park watching big tankers or walking across a famous bridge, taking public transportation ferries or looking at the old and beautiful government buildings! * Hint- often very good local food is close to public buildings – it’s where locals eat! Always get district maps as you walk around a big city! I’m a huge fan of historic parks and architectural elements, it doesn’t cost a cent to gaze upon, take a photograph and there’s plenty of it to amuse me in New Orleans!

So there you have it! 4 Ways to travel LITE! And don’t forget to check out the free or low cost bits of fun! If you truly want to save money or avoid the crowds…travel on the edges of the off season- late spring, early fall are typical. Now, don’t forget, if you’re longing to head South? We’ve basically got two seasons you’ll want to work around… Football Season and Hurricane Season! Have fun and plan those trips the LITE way!

Love y’all, Camellia

*This is not a compensated post!! All photographs are obviously mine! Now, really don’t you love that photo of the trumpet player? yes, I do too- it’s my new favorite thing to do- apply filters! Here he is again- just for fun! 9F44BD58-3914-4742-817B-39788475E0D4

Puttin’ Up the Garden…

88720A63-524D-4A26-A6F4-B2F025138F29It’s that time of year when everything planted in the spring seems to be ripe now! Folks used to say- ‘everything’s comin’ in at the same time!’ When it comes to Puttin’ Up the Garden’ if you get a minute to sit down, you’re shellin’ beans or shuckin’ corn or lookin’ through bushels of fruits and vegetables to cull out the ones with bruises or bad spots! Those bits and pieces are used to make up meals during ‘Puttin’ Up the Garden’ time… And every single able body is put to work!

Why, my mother used to go to a beauty parlor where while the ladies’ waiting to get permanent waves or get a cut and curl… were snapping green beans or shelling lima beans! And… the men weren’t off the hook either! Years ago, my husband’s barber must have had a bossy wife because the men were also pressed into shelling peas service! They wanted everything ‘right ready to put up’ ! When someone bought a deep freeze,  it was an occasion and if you had more than one? Well… it would be full too! Canning and freezing were necessary chores! More than one lady would have a horror story about a pressure cooker explosion or a canning disaster… yet they pressed on. One of my favorite things about ‘everything’s comin’ in at the same time!’  is how creative folks got with the bits and pieces of vegetables-EF54ADD3-9EA8-4F51-ABD4-140551DAE2EC

  • Mixed fruits were either canned together, or my favorite frozen!
  • Thick soup mixes were made from extra corn, beans, onions, okra and tomatoes; onions and bell peppers were diced, bagged and frozen;
  • Let’s not forget all kinds of vegetables were either processed into Pickles or Refrigerator Pickles- cucumbers, green tomatoes and even Peaches!
  • Some things were dried too!  I have a friend who told of a bumper crop of peaches… the kids would either have to stand over the peaches laid out on big tables and fan the flies or they’d spread a sheet in the back of her daddy’s big station wagon! Don’t you know that car smelled like heaven?
  • Pecans are often shelled, then frozen (I keep them in my freezer all the time! They stay fresh much longer!) When pecan are needed- I toast them with butter and salt to bring out the flavor. Delicious!
  • Peanuts are either boiled.. yes! or dried in an even layer then ‘parched’  which is another way of saying…roasted in the shell.

Anyway, the point is, nothing was wasted- if something stood still long enough it was gonna be used up in one way or another!   Generally, because the season is warm and we don’t get heavy frosts, folks plant leafy greens and root vegetables to be harvested in the fall. I know I’ve got some spring lettuce seeds that I’ll be sowing as soon as the mornings are cool.66E21BDD-14CF-4E99-8DF2-521DFDEB8B89

Now, keep in mind- with all of summer’s flurry of activity – meals still had to be put on the table! As hot as it always is… cool salads and sandwiches are often made up for the midday or evening meal. Potato Salad stuffed scattered with cherry tomatoes along with saltine crackers is still one of my favorites; cool and easy pimento cheese, egg salad, chicken salad or our famous tomato sandwiches were easy to prepare and eaten quickly. Even soups or salads topped with Crumbled Bacon is quick and easy with no long cooking time to heat up the kitchen or take up valuable stovetop space!35CD2C7C-CA07-4DD2-8ED9-534B04E9E5D4

 

55A44958-63F9-4523-90DB-9DC8384D3029Combinations of extra vegetables were cooked, roasted or used for toppings. Grilled meats nestled with roasted and fresh vegetables are a new take, still with the thought of making use of every bit of garden goodness!

To this day I love my grandmother’s quick and easy combination of Zucchini, tomatoes and onions. She was ahead of her time using zucchini- her favorite vegetable stand was run by an Italian family- I recall the very day he convinced her to try zucchini! Here’s how she made Mimi’s Zucchini and Tomatoes

  •  One or two small zucchini, a tomato or two and thick slices of onions layered in a skillet or a glass bakcing dish with no water
  • Just covered loosely with a lid or foil.
  • Steamed with salt and pepper, then topped with shredded Cheddar Cheese while it’s hot-
  • You will not believe how this simple dish is so loaded with flavor!
  • This is a family favorite and one of the best examples of using small amounts of garden vegetables while the big lots are processed for the winter months.

I do love to make a batch of pico de gallo, yet my favorite mix might be an Italian style mixture made of basil, tomatoes, green onion and bell pepper with red pepper flakes for a bit of heat-mixed lightly with red wine vinegar and olive oil.. Top a warm batch of spaghetti and meat sauce with this mixture seems to cools it down for fresh flavor and summertime eating!  56A31DA8-D2FD-443E-B394-6BB755FDAC13

And while I’m at it- we generally have a bumper crop of hot and mild peppers. I make up pepper sauce with the slender hot types yet also love to dry them for my own red pepper flakes! E86E4D33-A76C-45C7-8B52-B7076A637023

And! If you love Stuffed Bell Peppers try this-

  • Don’t blanch the peppers-
  • Rinse and pat dry. Seed, core and slice them in half lengthwise…
  • Fill with a fresh ground meat mixture, similar to meatloaf – or any mixture you enjoy- an all vegetable mixture with rice would be wonderful too!
  • Place the uncooked stuffed peppers in a single layer on a sheet pan and freeze them! Place the frozen Stuffed Bell Peppers in a freezer safe bag and store for a few weeks.
  • No need to thaw, place them in a baking dish- at 350 degrees…
  • When the juices are flowing and the filling seems almost done- a squiggle of tomato sauce or ketchup on the top finishes them off.
  • From freezer to oven,  in less than 45 minutes you have a wonderful meal!
  • Hint: I often shred cabbage into the bottom of the pan and nestle the stuffed peppers in so they stay upright while cooking …the resulting cabbage is amazing!

EDD7042D-FD0B-4547-901D-B602B167B97F  And last but certainly not least is Shoe Peg Corn Salad… Simply made with several ears of corn cut from the cob, chopped or cherry tomatoes, purple onion, bell pepper and cucumber all small diced is a no cook salad that’s sure to please anyone! 3C813151-0A79-4973-A1A2-3F2FD7A9D150

Dressing Mix is easy-

  • Six or eight ounces of sour cream
  • Several tablespoons of mayonnaise with the zest and juice of a lemon
  • Cracked black pepper and salt to taste.

You can make up the dressing made right in the bowl- it’s a cool and easy side dish or even on it’s own with saltine crackers… it’s amazing! And the best part is- you don’t even have to turn on the oven to make it!

Here’s hoping while you’re putting up the goodness of your vegetable gardens, you’ll enjoy cool, fresh meals along the way! I know we are!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine!

Summer Tomatoes in the South…

70853A62-5688-42A3-8CFD-C0DAE8E348BFWe wait all year long for summer tomatoes. We long for them all year. There’s no end to what we do with summer tomatoes-

  • We put them in canning jars, freeze them and preserve them any way we can think of for winter soups, warm red sauces and hearty stews, so of course we’re trying  keep the memories of summer tomatoes alive.
  • And yes, we make fresh tomato soup with thin slivers of cool cucumber, snips of green onion, crumbled bacon and a drift of shredded cheese.6450DC56-D19F-4397-BB09-69BDFD262117
  • We consume vast quantities of summer tomatoes alongside Fried Chicken, Pork Chops and a personal favorite- Fried Catfish.
  • Who would turn down a vegetable plate of butter peas, steamed yellow squash, corn muffins, macaroni and cheese alongside thick slices of summer tomatoes?
  •  We stuff summer tomatoes with shrimp salad, egg salad, tuna salad or chicken! And it must be summer tomatoes or the taste just isn’t there!
  • There may not be a better savory pie than Summer Tomato Pie, my sister’s is the best I’ve ever tasted- a flaky pie crust oozing with fresh summer tomatoes, a sour cream and onion filling topped with thick and melting sharp cheese- well, I’m drooling just thinking about it!A2E3C53C-B1DF-4E1F-8726-FF4FE037F9F3
  • Let’s not forget mile high Club Sandwiches, grilled Hamburgers and of course the all time favorite Bacon, Lettuce and Tomatoes… as long as there’s a summer tomatoes on there- any of these are near perfection!E38C9809-2B2C-46E9-8DDB-338336A88517
  • Of course, we love Fried Green Tomatoes- now you may be able to get hot house green tomatoes all year round…yet, if they’re made with summer green tomatoes they’ll have that extra special flavor!E2C9EC81-455C-4901-89C7-EB479A3E1320

We consume all of these wonderful things and more… almost any mixed green salad is elevated by summer tomatoes, even the humble potato salad with cherry tomatoes is a cool refreshing lunch! 6A0BF5E2-9057-46E1-9489-B0B7C797DA8BBereavement buffets almost cry out for scalloped tomatoes and tomato aspic which are amazing made with summer tomatoes!

C5B80D0A-75AB-4CCC-9716-B9E97D59347BNow, if you’re from the South… and I mean truly from the South- there’s one particular delicacy which is the real reason we wait all year for Summer Tomatoes… Tomato Sandwiches! If you add anything more than loaf bread, mayonnaise, summer tomatoes with salt and a bit of black pepper- then you don’t really have a Southern Tomato Sandwich! I’ll let you all fuss and discuss which mayonnaise is best- to me as long as the ingredients include lemon juice on the label you’ll have good mayonnaise and no, we don’t call it mayo – say that and it might put you under suspicion!

0CC775ED-48DD-488F-98E7-CFCCDCBC6CF8Now, if you’re a true believer in a pure Tomato Sandwich- then you’ll know there’s a secret wish we all have had from time to time… to have one beautiful slice of tomato which will cover the whole slice of bread… Big Boy Tomatoes move over.. the new one to try is – ‘Mater Sandwich’ ! Of course it is! I’m here to tell you this one is a winner… never mealy or bland tasting… the ‘Mater Sandwich’ variety of home grown tomatoes is one you’ll want to try!  We’ve been picking and eating these for weeks! Now, if you’ll excuse me- I’m gonna fix me a Tomato Sandwich!

Love y’all, Camellia

All photographs are obviously mine! *Mater Sandwich tomato plants may be a registered trademark!

3 Easy Summer Desserts…

AF2E721F-68DA-41F7-BB06-8841C9A8AAD5Summertime… and the livin’ is easy…’ except when you need to show up with something in your hand for a picnic or a gathering. Or maybe it’s too hot to cook! Or you’re having unexpected company… or you just want to add a dessert to a simple meal and really who wants to miss out on the summer fun slaving away in the kitchen? A lot of folks say- no matter how wonderful the meal is- what guests remember most is the dessert!

Here’s 3 Easy Summer Desserts that will be easy to assemble and unforgettable, I promise! Salted Caramel Popcorn Cupcakes, Fresh Strawberry Trifle and Tropical Grilled Pineapple will have your guests raving and you’ll be cool, calm and collected! 458AC00D-643F-4A97-93B7-84AC680F5496

Salted Caramel Popcorn Cupcakes. Now really, who can resist that? And it’s really just an easy assembly of vanilla iced cupcakes from your favorite bakery (or make them yourself), microwave kettle corn and good quality caramel sauce (I found several high quality brands in the ice cream topping section)  Finish with a light sprinkle of sea salt and you’re done! An easy-to-carry dessert- just surround cupcakes with extra popcorn to keep them steady- assemble when you arrive and you’ll have an easy irresistible dessert!66D45DF0-3D87-447C-B32A-8CE71E9AC240

Fresh Strawberry Trifle. If a show stopping dessert is what you need- this is it! You will need a good quality pound cake, at least a quart of fresh strawberries and for this- I would recommend whipping the heavy cream yourself! Cut up 1/3 of fresh strawberries, then sprinkle with 1/2 cup of sugar, let stand until strawberries have absorbed the sugar; drain the liquid (this strawberry juice is wonderful added to iced tea or lemonade!) Fold softened strawberries into 2/3 of the whipped cream (that’s the pink cream you see in the photograph)

6DCEDB17-C2B0-4CD8-9970-B151A32C2835Assemble Trifle by layering pound cake, fresh cut strawberries, pink strawberry cream; repeating until the Trifle bowl is full. Spread the remaining whipped cream over the Trifle and chill until ready to serve! Beautiful, delicious and easy!1C00C736-953D-4964-B77B-836240B1BAEB

Tropical Grilled Pineapple.  If the grill is already fired up, you’re more than halfway there to this luscious dessert. You will need fresh pineapple, vanilla ice cream, sliced almonds and grated coconut- feel free to guild the dessert with pineapple preserves found among most ice cream toppings at your local grocer. Most grocer’s sell fresh pineapple, peeled and cored, or cut and core your own. Slice pineapple into 3/4 to 1 inch slices, brush with honey and grilled 2-3 minutes or until slightly caramelized (don’t over cook) Lightly toast 3/4 cup of grated coconut and 3/4 cup of sliced almonds. That’s all the cooking required! Assemble by placing a slice of grilled pineapple on a plate, top with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream, pineapple preserves and finish with toasted coconut and sliced almonds. A tropical paper umbrella is also festive and fun!

I’ve loved having a few recipes for delicious, easy desserts in summertime or anytime- I hope these 3 will become a few of your favorites! And who knows you might be singing…’Summertime… and the livin’ is easy…’ and be cool, calm and collected too!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine. * Feel free to make substitutions with homemade or purchased items!

The Glory Bower…

22B6237F-FFBE-463B-8F4A-1D051176A07FJust when the heat of summer slows me down to a southern drawl… a miracle happens. It sneaks up on me every year. When hydrangeas blossoms look like tight pincurls, and roses sit and sulk- fed up with the humidity; the porch ferns whine for church fans and ice water, even the impatiens lay down their heads and weep… that’s when the Glory Bower Trees quietly begin to bloom.

Hummingbird wings whir around her. Butterflies flitter on her pale green shoulders. Fat Bumblebees stir slowly around like plump fairy godmothers- coaxing the lacy summer ballgown onto Glory Bower. Her ladies in waiting, the crepe myrtles, have on raspberry or shocking pink corsages. When every other flowering thing closes up shop for harvest, the Glory Bower is just getting started; dabbed with a faint honeysuckle fragrance. Glory Bower is the real southern belle, never breaks a sweat, not one bead of perspiration. Glory Bowers put down deep roots- they’re my sweet homebodies, staying close to my windows so I can chaperone and gaze as the miracle unfolds.7E302FAB-3BE8-4229-9FF8-189F4DB356BF

If you ever find yourself wondering if Mother Nature stills performs miracles, just look to the Glory Bower- which blooms as fresh as spring, cool as a cucumber, sweet as honeysuckle in the scorching heat of summer. Wishing you a day filled with sunshine, the faint fragrance of gardenias, magnolias and honeysuckle and if you’re really blessed a faint whisper of butterflies, bumblebees and hummingbirds circling around a Glory Bower and who knows? Maybe an evening’s worth of a gentle rain…

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine. This post in a very edited form was first published as ‘Glorious July Miracles…’ right here on Camellia’s Cottage in July of 2016, photographs for this version have been edited as well and new ones added from this year’s Glory Bower. The proper name for Glory Bower is Clerodendrum, which we pronounce ‘Clair O Dendrum’. Since I live in St. Clair County, it seems to me… as much as I love this precious tree that it should be the official tree of my home county! The lacy blooms which attract butterflies, hummingbirds and bees in the heat of summer… fruits in the fall as a dark blueberry seed surrounded by magenta petals literally cover the Glory Bower then provides much needed food for the birds during our hot dry late summer and early fall. My original tree was rooted and given to me by an old gardener and I wouldn’t take anything for the ones who have sprouted around the cottage.

2E54E24D-A800-45F0-AD06-31F7BF2B987D

Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake

3AF218EB-F82A-4832-9094-8DAD05EB30A5My Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake was not a cheesecake, it was not a very well behaved cake nor was it a particularly beautiful cake. Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake was… a special occasion cake for our family, it was a cake we dearly loved and  a unique cake that frankly I have only found three other recipes for Lemon Cheese Cake! Believe me- I have tried! Lemon Cheese Cake may be specific to my home state, Alabama. All four recipes were recorded by Alabamians! Two famous chefs, who originated in Alabama-  Scott Peacock and Virginia Willis, fondly recall this delicious cake and included it in their cookbooks; then- I found a very similar cake named White Moon Cake in an obscure church cookbook that was compiled by church mothers, fairground workers, military cooks and domestic cooks.

So, what is Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake? It is a white layer cake, filled and frosted with a thick Lemon Curd. I fully believe the ‘curd’ was exchanged in terms- to ‘cheese’ since this recipe is well over 75 years old, perhaps older than that! Now, Aunt Mary Sue was actually my great aunt, she was my grandmother’s younger sister. I loved her, she was fashionable and had an incredible sense of humor- she was also the keeper of this recipe and the designated baker of Lemon Cheese Cake.  Mimi also, in a rare departure of recording recipes, actually wrote down the recipe for the Lemon Cheese Filling  and added my aunt’s shortcut of using a white layer cake mix – with a few tweaks Mary Sue apparently made. You need to know that Mimi was a purist when it came to her own baking, the recipes she wrote down rarely were recipes she never intended to use, and believe me- she never planned to bake a Lemon Cheese Cake herself! That was Mary Sue’s specialty. And! Here’s what I know for sure… Mary Sue’s recipe for the Lemon Curd or Lemon Cheese Filling has never failed, not even once! I’ve used it to make Lemon Curd without even baking the cake! So! Here’s how you make-8B48E839-FBE5-4F59-8592-2C4A16D68DB1

‘Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Filling’

  • Butter – 1/2 cup or 2 sticks
  • 2 cups granulated Sugar
  • 6 Egg Yolks (use large eggs)
  • Zest of 2 Large Lemons
  • Juice of 2 Large Lemons

In a double boiler, mix all ingredients over hot water (not boiling) until thick. Stirring often. This process may take up to 30 minutes. Lemon curd will generally thicken at 200 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Store tightly sealed until chilled.

* For filling and frosting a Lemon Cheese Cake, up to one extra stick of butter may be added, while Lemon Curd is still warm- cut butter into small cubes and add gradually. This recipe may be doubled, yet it takes a good bit longer- therefore I generally make two batches. To use the lemon curd or filling as an icing…it is enough to spread on two 8 or 9 inch layers and I suppose because the egg yolks were used in the filling- the cake was always a white layer cake. 425E2FAD-E423-4103-AE8E-F03A1C2D29A3

To assemble the Lemon Cheese Cake is a matter I’ve struggled with and apparently so did Chef Peacock and Chef Willis- they say to insert wooden skewers on the cake as it tends to shift and that is oh so true! And Chef Willis may have altered it a bit for a more stable cake.

What I did differently was- I put the two 9 inch layers of white cake in the freezer and actually iced the frozen layers with the lemon filling still chilled slightly.

Why did I freeze the layers? Well, my Uncle Charles had an ice house… his sister Mary Sue would keep the Lemon Cheese Cake in the ice box at home and if the special occasion was at Uncle Charles’ house- the cake was held in the Ice House until we were ready to serve it. I recall that the cake didn’t languish on the sideboard- it was cut into slices waiting to be served and I still recommend it that way. (It might also be wonderful made into one layer cakes as well, to avoid the landslide effect! )

Lemon Cheese Cake was almost always served with a seasonal fruit- strawberries or peaches were a summer favorite, in the winter when citrus fruits were available, Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake was served alongside a simple citrus ambrosia of orange sections with fresh grated coconut; this cake and my grandmother’s pound cake were our family’s favorites. I have to say, my grandmother kept a tight rein on who added dishes to the meals, so I strongly suspect that Lemon Cheese Cake was a recipe she and my Aunt Mary Sue may have learned from the cooks in the childhood home. How and why this cake hasn’t survived to become a southern classic may be due to the difficulty of leaving this wonderful cake on a sideboard to be admired otherwise it is a mystery to me! I’ve seen variations that come close, yet with the exceptions of these two wonderful chefs and the church ladies’ cookbooks whose recipes are very close to Aunt Mary Sue’s this is considered by me to be an heirloom recipe and one I’m thrilled to have. If you don’t make the cake- at least hang on to the Lemon Filling…it’s the best Lemon Curd I’ve ever tasted!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine! *Some recommend straining the lemon curd after it’s made- I personally enjoy the lemon zest in it!

Bighearted Grits…

582010E0-2105-441C-8EEF-D9D6D3C38561Grits. Simple. Unadorned. In the South, if you truly grew up here, there is a primal instinct to crave Grits. People, outside of this region of the country, don’t understand it. In fact, grits aren’t commonly sold in grocery stores- much less in foreign countries. Oh you may be able to find stone ground yellow cornmeal or grits- those just aren’t the same as our hominy grits. I have friends who actually mail a bag of grits to family members in Los Angeles or New York City from time to time. Why? ‘Well she must be homesick, she’s begging me to mail her some grits!‘ is always the answer.

Now, to be fair, some of the great chefs have taken low class food like grits and elevated them to a delicacy. Grits- hominy grits were once known as breakfast grits for fishermen or laborers; this is now considered a fancy dish called Shrimp and Grits. Yet, if a poll were taken I would be willing to bet these same chefs in major cities outside of the South would never eat plain old hominy grits for breakfast! Here, field hands to fine gentlemen want- no, wait- they expect Grits for breakfast! From nursery food to sick beds to hearty men’s breakfasts and yes, even at fine ladies’ brunches, you will always find grits- maybe in a stoneware bowl or in silver chafing dish, we do love our grits. Listen, grits are always served on the savory side of the menu! As Deborah Ford and Edie Hand say in their ‘GRITS Handbook’- ‘Grits are eaten with butter, gravy or cheese- never sugar.’ That’s the rule, if you eat grits with sugar? Well, even with that famous southern sweet tooth? Do not. I repeat. Do not even think about adding sugar to grits! Add it to your old Cream of Wheat and we won’t say a word. Just remember- ‘nevah evah sugah!’

Y’all, trust me on this one- true Southerners crave Grits from their bassinets to their deathbeds. Grits are the ultimate southern comfort food, considered a healing aid even a cure for the sick- ‘ I knew he was real sick, when he turned up his nose at a bowl of grits!‘  If my grandmother ever said that, folks would start prayer at circle meetings.AE8BBD57-DB9B-43CB-93FB-A76DDD663716

Grits are like kinfolks, we sometimes take them for granted- yet finely made hominy grits are the unsung companion to many a fine meal. Grits are the ‘bighearted, open to embellishment’ relative at the Southern Table. Always bighearted enough to welcome additions graciously- butter, cheese, shrimp, crumbled sausage, ham and red eye gravy, crumbled bacon even eggs have been poached right in a scalding casserole of hominy grits. And- bighearted grits is able to stretch to feed a crowd! (just remember never ever add sugar!) There’s a limit to even the most generous among us! You will never find Grits on a dessert table so why would you ever even think of adding sugar? We southerners love our food, we talk about it- pass recipes down and around… what we may have lacked in fortunes- was more than made up for in heavy laden tables- generously shared, eaten heartily without shame or daintily with lively conversation- grits sit there and say nothing yet would be terribly missed if not among us.

Southerners get downright biblical about our food- someone once asked-

‘How many people will that pot of grits feed?

‘Oh honey, it will feed multitudes.’

 

Grits have served multitudes, down through southern history- using the basic ancient elements of fire, water, salt and corn. Southern cooks have a distinct, almost unnatural fascination with ancestral food, like grits. We rely on family recipes, our grandmothers’ ancient potions and mysterious cures. When modern medicine fails us- we offer Grits along with other soothing foods, chicken broth, weak tea and toast, ginger ale, soda crackers, mashed potatoes, scraped apple and rice. This curative diet was almost devoid of color- and considered to be easy for the old and young to digest.  In my southern childhood innocence, there was no doubt in my mind that Goldilocks interrupted the Three Bears and ate their bowls of grits! (What was porridge anyway unless it was a bowl of grits? No one bothered to correct this misconception!)

When we cook grits- we are communing with our ancestors. Even when I’m alone in my kitchen- the mothers, aunts and grandmothers are with me- informing me. To make bighearted grits- is like taking care of a family- Grits have to be watched, tended to, kept moving, stirred gently with languid patience, especially when they’re absorbing the hot water of life.F3185BD8-B4EA-49AB-947D-F509ACDF0EFB

You learn these things when you cook, when you’re the nourishing caretaker of a husband, of a family or a community. You learn how much effort it takes to get it right- all from making a pot of Grits. The humble bowl of grits is proof that whether in a rundown shack, a double wide trailer, a cabin on the lake, a high rise beach condo ol liker a country club- in the South we are all linked by a simple warm bighearted bowl of Grits. You either like grits or you don’t- I’m going to be suspicious of whether you really know how to make them if you don’t! Here’s how you make Grits and how you don’t!

  • Buy Quick Hominy Grits! this isn’t Instant- please don’t buy that mess!
  • Follow the instructions to a tee on the bag of quick hominy grits-
  • For 6 generous servings, it’s generally 8 cups of boiling water to 2 cups of hominy grits and salt- (some add milk, I don’t)
  • Stir the grits and salt into the boiling water- if you mess this up? Start over! Cover grits, reduce heat to low.
  • Cook five minutes. Serve hot! with lots of butter, cracked black pepper and salt- or add in whatever you like- just not sugar!!
  • *Remember now, buy quick hominy grits- not instant (ick) and certainly do not add sugar- that’s a recipe for disastrous horrible grits!

Surely you can’t deny the allure of hominy grits- the generous bighearted food of the South is what culinary dreams are made of! Oh me, maybe what we all need is a big steaming hot bowl of grits!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine!