Gardenia Elixir …

Just the thought of Iconic Southern Scents and my mind drifts to sweet honeysuckle, exotic jasmine, the faint lemony magnolia and deeply fragrant gardenias. To me, Gardenias are the glamor girls of southern flowers, they don’t wear out their welcome and we remember them long after they’re gone. There may be no greater mood lifter than floating a few blooms of camellias, a big magnolia or several gardenias on water in a cut glass bowl or better yet- floating on top of the warm water of a bath, which is unbelievably soothing.

Honestly, just those thoughts can fling on me a full blown case of a Magnolia Fever. And, the cure might be as simple as a Gardenia Elixir. Southern ladies, like many other cultures tended toward using what they had to make amazing extracts for use in all manner of ways, especially when more expensive extracts weren’t readily available, much like Rose Or Orange Blossom Water. Gardenia Extract is similar to those and must be made when gardenias are in bloom. Recently my friend, Rebecca from the great state of Louisiana, posted two ways to use gardenia blooms- one is an infusion of the blooms into heavy cream for her No churn Ice Cream . Rebecca’s blog is called Why I Baked a Cake, a must read. And if you’re on Instagram- follow her making gorgeous cakes! @Whyibakedacake

Another recipe in her post, is an infusion for steeping gardenia petals in a simple syrup- which I’ve dubbed Gardenia Elixir. Here’s how you make it:

  • Mix 1 cup pure cane sugar to one cup of water in a saucepan, heat until sugar is completely dissolved.
  • Add the petals only of 4-5 gardenias.
  • Allow to steep at least 4-5 hours (I steeped mine over night)
  • Strain flower petals. Pour into airtight containers.
  • I keep any extra elixir chilled. When used, the fragrance is amazing. And, I made several batches to offer as gifts.
  • Rebecca told me she loves Gardenia Elixir in Tea, Lemonade and her favorite is to add the elixir to Prosecco. I also love it in Limeade. I found having this unusual fragrant elixir on hand, certainly makes any occasion a very civilized event.
  • Gardenias bloom in June, the season of love. Often a suitor would give his sweetheart a corsage of gardenias. Brides have requested gardenias in their wedding bouquets, a gardenia was pinned to the pillowcase of new mother or near bedsides of infirm dowagers; and it was not uncommon for gardenias to grace blankets or wreaths of a beloved’s casket or to discover large evergreen shrubs planted in cemeteries. From the cradle to the grave, southern ladies do love their gardenias. Gardenia Elixir is just one more layer to add on the sweet gardenia’s history.
  • Love y’all, Camellia

    *All photographs are obviously mine.

    Treasures, Tools and Talents…

    img_5014Pastels, pens and pencils. Watercolors, canvas, easel and brushes. Chisels, angles or whisks. Mirrors, lens, makeup or muffin tins. Wood, stone, seeds or soil. Old roses, lace, a box of photographs. Violins, a garden stroll, vintage love letters.

    img_5021What tools do you possess? Your wisdom, your talents, your joy. Still. Tools and talents only represent potential. Unless you use your tools and talents, nothing to treasure ever happens. Blend your skills, tools and talents, even your limitations – combined with joy, the results are nothing short of miraculous.

    img_5025Let me prove it with a storyOne of the greatest storytellers of all time, as a child actually wanted, to build cardboard castles. He had scissors, paper and glue- the problem ? He was limited by his thumbs which had one joint. His physical defect enabled him to draw illustrations and to write… just not build cardboard castles. He said-

    ‘It was this that forced me to write. I longed to make things, ships, houses, engines. Many sheets of cardboard… I spoiled, only to turn from my hopeless failures in tears. I was driven to write stories instead… You can do more with a castle in a story, than the best cardboard castle that ever stood…’

    As a result of using the tools he had, the ability to write and draw, Lewis blended those with a stellar imagination. the great C.S. Lewis wrote the ever classic children’s fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia. Certainly far more than cardboard castles!

    img_5015Don’t fret over your limitations, do not neglect the gifts within you… it’s ultimately your treasure. What’s in your treasure chest is the sum of your personality, talents, tools and imagination.

    img_5018Approach your talents with love, awe and appreciation- for talents are your unique means of expression to the world. Something no one else can do quite like you!

    img_5031Be careful and wise as to how and when to offer your treasures. When you do, give the full measure of reverent abandon, humility and lavish joy, within your power to employ. Do not fear being fabulous. For as much as we may enjoy the shy muted approach of a sunrise, who wants a halfhearted sunset? Give us the blazing glory; the majestic marvelous magical you.

    Love y’all, Camellia

    *Quote by C.S. Lewis- from his amazing book- Surprised by Joy

    A message from Brenda

    * Several months ago, I was asked to help with some updates for an online class I was taking. The question was posed- ‘Do you ever reuse content or photographs?’ My answer was, ‘Yes. My photographs are my treasure chest. Something I dig into over and over again.’ Photographs can be edited to use an ingredient, color or focal point, then reverted to the original. I also have used a photo on a solid white background adding a quote.

    And while I rarely reuse content, I have re-blogged a favored or timely post. I have used the feature offered by WordPress, called ‘Sticky’ which enables me to use a seasonal post, a recipe, an inspirational piece to stick to the front of my blog, as the opening post. I also wrote a book published in 2013, from which I occasionally use quotes. And, often I’ll use almost all of the content of a blog post in a corresponding Instagram post. I think of reusing content and photography as an expansion of the ‘tools I’ve been given’ which are unique to me. Artists, photographers, food stylists and content creators often send a sample of their work to prospective buyers, editors of food or travel publications, as a way of generating passive income. And, it’s not uncommon at all, to take a series of stories, poems, even recipes, then compile that series into book form. Reuse of your own material is the best and most efficient use of your time.

     

    5 Principles of Good Design…

    Why is a gate standing ajar or roses along a fence so inviting? How does a change of pillows or adding a house plant lift the mood? A clean open room or a swath of colorful flowers pleases the eye. Why are we drawn in with a touch of wonder, a bit of mystery or whimsy, just from reading words upon a page? And, what is it about the morning sunlight, a cheerful window box, open shutters, finding an unexpected sculpture, even overlooking a greening field? Emotions are stirred, inspiring the click of a camera, the swath of a paintbrush, the writing of poetry.

    img_4608Whether you’re writing a novel or a blog post, making a garden plan or creating a room… producing artwork, planning an event or marketing a product or service- Good design is essential. Here are my 5 Principles of Good Design:

    img_49181. Structure– This sets the boundaries, writes the outline, establishes the parameters. Structure in creative design includes entryways, walls, fences and paths.  Windows, enclosures, doors even garden gates all offer a view from beyond. Structure is  the size of a canvas or even the frame of great artwork. Good placement of structure, allows for taking advantage of natural or planned views. Outbuildings, barns, sheds, greenhouses, even porches are good examples, too. Structure is very much like the plot of a story, the layout of a room, setting the stage, doing a first draft or an initial sketch- even a basic recipe. Everything depends on the planned or existing structure.

    img_48652. Light and Color. Whether muted or harsh, light is an amazing tool, that’s why we have phrases like ‘… shed light on a subject.’  Words, fabrics even paints are really absorption of light. Twilight in a garden, dark passages, shady fern glades opening onto a patio’s splashing fountain, glistening droplets cool down a sunlit space. Light highlights form. Color can be compared to a main theme, prompting a response. Color draws the eye and keeps it focused. Shades of color massed together are more pleasing than bits here and there. All good storylines have a main theme, color is way to establish theme. Keeping color consistent is important, with the occasional exception of an accent color, always best when used sparingly.  Do you enjoy reading about colorful places, delightful folks or being enlightened? Remember that phrase and you’ll do alright.img_4924

    3. Focal Point– a focal point draws you in. Into the garden, into a story, into a work of art. A focal point has the effect of pausing, just as a curved path slows the pace. Focal points can be compared to deciding which type of frame best suits a painting. And, a focal point is very much like punctuation, exclamation mark or even a main character. img_4855

    4. Emotion. This might be the most important principle of all. How does the design make you, your reader, your audience feel? Is it the scent, is it the shape, the shadows? Is it the sense of comfort or being home? It might even make you smile or be inspired. Never underestimate the value of mystery, curiosity, serenity, anticipation or a bit of whimsy. And always leave room for serendipity. The unexpected twist. Emotion is movement, memory and motivation. Change structure, focal point even light and color and you experience new emotions. Adding whimsy to a serious garden, home or story always brings a smile.

    5.  Abundance and Restraint. There is a place for both in great design. The abundance of roses, a single flower, each has a message all its own. Generally in a garden or a home- abundance is highly desirable, a huge bowl of fruit, a flower arrangement, an overflowing bread basket, a mass of single color. Often in a painting, a marketing plan,architecture even in writing – restraint is often best. Remember, if the restrained design of a room, a work of art or a garden looks easy, it’s not.  Nature teaches us the best lessons-  dew drop says something far different than a generous spray from a watering can.

    Tell me your story, don’t leave anything out. Take a photograph, set the scene, put color and emotion – use restraint or abundance to its best advantage and if it’s a recipe… well, you know I want you to do everything except scratch and sniff the spices, vanilla or lemon! Spark my imagination, let me feel the emotions.  Let the colors in your art or garden lift my spirits, thrill me with color combinations, set boundaries with a fence, gate or beautiful frame.img_4471

    If you design a beautiful room, add a focal point or a pleasing outdoor view, maybe a charming window box. Literally, frame the view of your amazing work of art and it actually visually expands the experience. Give me abundance or show restraint, it’s like editing– often what you take away is more important than what you leave in.  And, hey! In the South, we like a bit of whimsy, humor and often we tilt to the morbid side of things. We put our crazy eccentric sides out there and relish being different, maybe we could use a bit of restraint. Oh me, how I do run on…

    Love y’all, Camellia

    *This is a larger subject than one blog post can contain. Still. I think to have these principles in place builds a framework on which your creativity can thrive.

    • Build the framework with structure. 
    • Light and color are much like adjectives or spices.
    • Add a focal point as your main character.
    • Use emotion to its best advantage, this is the active part of your design.
    • Stir in restraint and abundance and you have a winning combination.

    Take the Stairs…

    img_4343In 2016, we were taking a tour of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the site of new beginnings, expansive ideas, critical decisions and unbounded courage.  What sprang forth was- yes, a new nation. Still. These new ideas could bear a high cost. They were Taking the Stairs to form something new. The first steps to form a nation, were taken in this building. The Declaration of Independence was crafted on this site. A period of turbulent challenge and change followed those decisions.

    img_4346Life changed, forever. Families were separated. Lives were lost. Travel became difficult. Reputations were ruined. Businesses failed. Fortunes were lost.

    It wasn’t easy to take -The Steps to Form a New Way of Life. What would happen to-

    • The Cooks, the Candle and Candlestick Makers?
    • The Churches, the Bakers and Undertakers?
    • The Taverns, General Stores and Lodging Houses?
    • The Farmers, the Livestock, Dairies and Glassblowers?
    • The Carpenters, Brick Masons and Ironworking Forges?
    • Curtain, Furniture Crafters, Clock Makers, Shutter and Cabinet Makers?
    • The Millineries, Munitions, Wig, Wagon and Map Makers?

    Okay. Wait a minute. You get the picture, no need to go overboard here…Folks were worried about keeping house, home and business together, right? And while I’m at it- what about that Staircase? The detail, the craftsmanship and my two favorites in the scene… Light streaming in the window and Paint Color! Amazing.

    At any point of dramatic change- conflict, war or plague… the toll is incredible. We are at a pivotal moment in time. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this- Whenever, I’ve read sensible instructions to get in physical shape- there’s always been the simple advice- ‘Take the Stairs’ Instead of riding an escalator, it’s far better to take the stairs. One Step at a Time has always been sage advice.

    img_4349May I tell you something, you may not believe this- yet it’s true. It’s far easier to climb the steps than to walk down a flight of stairs. Anyone, including me! who’s had knee surgery will tell you- it’s far more difficult to descend rather than ascend. The problem in times like this is our mental state, taking a downward spiral…img_4350

    It’s normal to be concerned, even anxious… still.Once you’ve accepted the situation, done all you can for your safety- you do have a choice- Accept the new normal. Accept that things may never be the same. Next choice? You can either- Spend too much time wishing things were the same as before and being frustrated. Or. You can… Embrace it as a New Start and an Opportunity. img_4347

    State of Mind might be the most important and best First Step. Then…Ask yourself these things-

    • What are my unique gifts and talents to offer the world, right now?
    • What would I be doing for my business, this time of year? If someone had given you a week or so to close your business, I’ll bet you would have done some spring cleaning, perhaps re-painted, had carpets and floors cleaned. Reworked the layout of your business. Do all you would normally, just do it better and smarter.
    • And, you would have made sure your base of support had the pertinent information concerning your business, while making sure that base knew you would be there for them.
    • You may never know, your call or contact could mean the world to someone, especially in your core base of support. And! they may have ideas you’ve never considered.

    There are no easy solutions, to get back- your health, your life, your finances and your business. A free standing small business or side income, including a blog. After securing yourself, your family, finances and staff if you have one- What do you do? Take the stairs. It might be slower to take it one step at a time, yet this is has always been the best way to start getting in shape and to shape up your life and business.

    If you have a business and are in danger of losing sales, readers, advertising? What do you do, now? First understand that technology is going to play a larger part in your life and business. It’s your way of keeping touch with your base of support– especially during times of social distancing. If you need to upgrade anything- let technology be the first step and learn the skills to use it. There are a whole lot of free and low cost courses out there! Use these resources as your own personal Library to get your mind focused.img_4348

    You will need to adjust your plans from last year’s business model, yet this doesn’t have to mean major changes. Some cost little to nothing. Do those first best steps. The best advice from a retail training I took was this-

    ‘If you want business, find a need and fill it. If you don’t have customers, make a list of everyone you know. Support and encourage them in their current endeavors. Let them know where you are and what you have to offer. If you don’t have sales, add a free service. If you still don’t have sales or to increase the sales you have- add a low cost service. If you still don’t have sales, maybe you didn’t really find a need that needed to be filled.”

    What are you doing right now to reach out to your base of support? If they are following you on any platform of social media- follow them back! Leave a nice comment every now and then. Believe me, they will pay attention to your messages, if they feel they have a personal connection to you!img_4356

    • If possible, reach out to your core supporters with a phone call or a post card. Start now, if you haven’t already, building an email list. Social Media advertising is still one of the best values out there. Be authentic and unforgettable!
    • If you currently have a website, add a blog. Write authentically, short updates of what your family is doing during this time of isolation. What you had for breakfast, a funny story about your children or pets- even show what you actually wear to work at home. Add any updates you’re making to your place of business- safety measures you plan to put in place. Behind the scenes is always a winner, just do it in good taste.
    • For awhile now, folks have been leaning into support businesses that give them a personalized shopping experience.  The businesses that are actively seeking ways to provide a service with their physical products are the ones most likely to weather this crisis. And service based businesses are finding now, that adding a product or a free service are too!
    • You may have to accept a smaller profit margin for a while, though some profit is better than no profit at all, right?
    • And while it may seem counterproductive, give. Many in times past, in serious financial difficulties found a way to ‘make sure no one who came to them hungry, left that way.’ Giving does have a way of multiplying and coming back to the giver. And, at the very least builds good will. Support local businesses, if they stay in business it helps yours!
    • New and future businesses must have a social media presence and ways to interact with their customers. I repeat– If you are a product based business, it is essential that you add as many services as possible. If you are a service based business, now might be the time to add a few products, even add how to instructions or videos.
    • Start now brainstorming ideas to make sure you have streams of income, rather than depending on just one.

    This is a long post, which began with a beautiful staircase, the scene of brave folks who risked everything and still managed to forge ahead, build on what they had started and accomplish great things in less time than anyone would have imagined. They did it by taking those beautiful stairs one step at a time– each bringing the best of who they were as they began the long climb. This country was never a perfect union, they just had a hope to build a ‘more perfect’ place decade by decade, generation by generation of  determined folks – who despite the odds, the setbacks just kept coming back one step at a time.

    Love y’all, Camellia

    *A message from Brenda: We are keenly aware of the high unemployment numbers and are heartbroken about the economic hardships on so many. This post is essentially for small business owners and individuals who currently need ideas and encouragement to do what they can to keep their businesses going. If you are unemployed- often cottage industries have been started during times of great need and financial hardship. If you fall in this category, start small with great ideas- one step at a time. And! please don’t do anything that would interfere with the aid you are receiving in any form – governmental, grant or supplemental. Apply for it if you haven’t and take it one step at a time. Do whatever you can to take care of the basic needs of yourself and family, including staying as hopeful as you can.  Camellia and I will still be putting out lighthearted content yet- we feel the need to shift our focus to sending you serious content to help others. We welcome your suggestions too! We all hope for a safe sensible way to see the ‘Open’ sign on our favorite businesses again. Great love and prayers for you all, as we move through this unprecedented time in the history of the world. I’ll see you on the Stairs!img_4353

     

    Taking Care of Your Beautiful Mind…

    img_4155This image captured my imagination a while ago. At first I thought I would write about the joys of a glass room or starting seed in a greenhouse, even on a window sill. For some reason known only to the angels, those were never written yet the image remains. When all but the most essential businesses closed, this image took on a whole new meaning of – Stay at Home or even ‘A Room of My Own’ Those also would have been good subjects. (I’m winding up here to tell you something important!) I’ve realized that as this situation continues-

    • The number of emails,
    • The number of individual posts on social media increases,
    • The recorded calls increase
    • And my stress level goes up by the same measure.

    I realized that taking care of, limiting what comes into my mind is essential. Now, my background is in retail and marketing, even owning my own business years ago… I know that there’s a tipping point when good information becomes an irritant – regardless of how pertinent, important or even good news is offered. Sending out too much information leads to less business rather than more. Believe me on this one thing if nothing else.

    *A word to any size business, when it comes to sending emails- less is more. This applies to how much you send out. An urgent message is an exception. Let me tell you this-

    • This morning I spent about an hour unsubscribing from businesses who aren’t relative to my current situation and who are flooding my inbox too often.
    • I set filters on how often I receive emails from local businesses and my personal favorite sites. Also, business owners, your need to filter emails just went way up.
    • You need to filter and minimize emails from coming into your business email account.
    • Don’t overthink this, just do it. In fact stop thinking so much, being sidetracked and unclutter your business accounts and, therefore your clear your mind.
    • These are a few ways I’ve chosen to take care of my beautiful mind concerning email messages.

    For other social media, individuals and businesses would do well to take a look at filtering the number of posts received from accounts that are putting too many posts out daily. Believe me when I tell you this- During this isolation we are all on information overload. acs_0140

    • Posting too often makes you look desperate.
    • It makes you look as if you don’t have enough to do.
    • It might even make you an irritant. And!
    • It will lead to a drop in followers. Posting less will help you retain them.

    Why do we do this?  When you are in a panic to get more fans or business – you put more out there, thinking it’s the best thing to do! Right? No, don’t do it– help your friends, followers and associates by posting meaningful content less often and take care of their beautiful minds. There is no way, even a few hundred followers can absorb more than one post per day. (*Posting on stories in IG is a way to post more often- your most loyal fan base is there. And, Facebook might be a place to post more often, since it’s based on friends, family and opinion- still, I think it’s best to post less often) Of course, if you aren’t in business, don’t really care about whether you lose influence- go ahead and post to your heart’s content! Bless your heart.

    *Bloggers- when you’re first starting out- you may need to post a few times a week. As you grow- it’s best to post once a week, maybe less often depending on your readers. I received a very important tip from an enthusiastic reader when I first started out- she told me – as much as she loved reading everything I wrote, that she simply couldn’t keep up with every post.  And guess what? I had a bit of a personal polling done- the majority said to post less often. This doesn’t mean your folks don’t love you, they just don’t have the time or attention span, not to mention eye strain.

    In this time when we are all either working remotely from home for our regular jobs, in an essential worker category or even keeping up with family needs, you will do yourself and your readers a favor and at least think about upgrading your content with your most beautiful photos and your very best words-  then send it out less often.

    img_4195And! While I’m at it- less is more when it comes to word count. Whether you post for business or pleasure, great content in fewer words is well received any time, most especially when folks are on information overload. So, if you have a business and are in danger of losing sales, readers or advertising ? What do you do?

    • Limit information.
    • Limit how often you post.
    • Set limits on how much you, the business owner, allows into your own beautiful mind.
    • Think about what your customers need.
    • Find a way to give it to them in small bites.
    • And always remember your business isn’t about you, darlin’ , it’s about them. Find out what they need and find a way to get it to them.
    • Also, don’t forget to leave a comment on sites you follow, it creates connection and community.
    • And perhaps most important for taking care of your beautiful mind…If you think of this time as an opportunity instead of a calamity- it will show up in everything you do.

    And find a way, a time, a space to clear your mind often…even if it’s in a virtual dream room of your own. like mine… it’s pretty isn’t it? Find a space, a way, a time. Everyone, including your own beautiful mind will thank you for it.

    Love y’all, Camellia

     

    Camellia’s Chicken Casserole…

    It’s a time for comfort food, for making good use of what’s in the pantry, even freezers and fridges, for limiting trips to the grocery store. You’re probably like me and keep a few things stored, just in case. One dish meals are always a boost, especially for the cook! Personally, I’ve always loved a good casserole and I think we all would do well to have a few in our repertoire.

    Chicken casserole, and there are many, is good all year round, though it seems I tend make this rendition in early Spring, when there’s still a nip in the air on up through Easter and when the weather warms up. I’ll admit this casserole lends itself to substitutions, is a good one to double up- cook one right away, then freeze one just in case you need to send a meal or would love to have a ready to bake meal on hand. And, this chicken casserole is old fashioned, uses pantry staples and can be assembled quickly too!

    Camellia’s Chicken Casserole

    • 2 sleeves of party crackers such as Ritz or Town House- roughly crushed
    • 1 stick of melted butter (cooled) plus more for preparing the baking dish.
    • 2 cups of fully cooked, roughly chopped or shredded chicken breasts
    • 1 can of cream of mushroom soup (may substitute cream of chicken) low sodium if possible
    • 1 1/2 cups of chopped fresh, frozen or canned asparagus- drained. Remove any woody stems.
    • 1/2 cup of water or chicken broth
    • 1/2 cup of sour cream
    • Salt and pepper to taste.
    • *May add 1/2 cup of chopped or sliced mushrooms, often shredded cheddar is added as a variation in the topping
  • Melt butter and cool. Add butter to crushed party crackers, press half of mixture in the bottom of a lightly butter 9×9 Pyrex dish. Reserve cracker mixture for topping. In a mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients- chicken, canned soup, sour cream, asparagus, liquid and if desired mushrooms or grated cheddar. Salt and pepper mixture to taste. Mixture should be thick. Carefully pour chicken mixture on top of crushed and buttered crackers in prepared dish. Add remaining topping to finish assembling the casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until browned and bubbling. Allow to cool 5 minutes before serving. This recipe may be doubled. *Feel free to substitute fresh or frozen early peas, broccoli is good also, though you may need to steam a bit first and please don’t use big chunks. For a bit of extra crunch, I have substituted sliced celery, which adds a subtle flavor. And if you don’t have cream of mushroom soup- cream of chicken or even cream of celery works too! Baked Turkey Breast is also a good substitute for the chicken.One ingredient I wouldn’t feel comfortable exchanging is the party crackers, since they have a unique and satisfying flavor that cannot be duplicated. This casserole, since it essentially uses fully cooked ingredients freezes well. Enjoy!
  • Casseroles have been the mainstay of southern Cooking for…a whole lot of years! They are a great way to stretch food to feed the masses or can be made up in batches or single servings. Give a Southern cook a ‘situation’ we can come through with a casserole. New baby, surgery, new home, sickness, dinner on the ground, holiday gatherings and sadly, even death- there’s a casserole for any and all occasions. There’s something about a casserole that fills a basic need for comfort in trying times. This one? Let’s just say- I could start at one corner and go in for a dip…come back later and even it up. Still later, heat it up… dish it up and then run a spoon around the edges. You get the picture. Waste not, want not, right? I’ll bet you have most of the ingredients without even having to go to the grocery store! Stay home. Stay well fed. Stay healthy.

    Love y’all, Camellia

    * A few tips during this pandemic: I have had good results buying larger cuts of meat – chuck roasts, turkey breasts and bulk ground beef which currently are more available. I plan meals around using leftovers or dividing these meats, preparing them ahead for meat loaves, hamburger patties; dividing a roast into two smaller roasts, stewing or roasting some of the chicken and making a stew, soup, casserole or chicken salad so that food preparations is minimized. Remember meat is protein and generally has zinc- which aids the immune system. (Be careful of serving sizes, though) And the bonus of dividing larger quantities of meat into several meals is- I don’t feel like I’m slaving in the kitchen, instead of reading, writing or doing Spring gardening or clean up! And while I’m at it- the pollen this year is unbelievable! Though, I’m so thankful to have a yard! Until next time… glad you stopped by!

    Photographs are obviously mine.

    Take Care of Yourself…

    img_3870I’m gonna talk southern to you a minute before I get carried away here… Southerners will do or say almost anything rather than say ‘goodbye’. Do I hear a sigh of relief? Not so fast there, I’m not going anywhere, I’m just trying to tell you something you might not know. A lot of us, okay, most of us, have a superstitious streak and saying goodbye is just one of those unlucky things we try to avoid. For instance, I always end these missives with ‘Love y’all’ because it seems nicer than saying – ‘That’s all she wrote.‘ Though we do say that when it’s appropriate. Many of us say at the end of conversations- ‘Take care of yourself.’ Isn’t that a nice way to say goodbye? And that’s not all, southerners say- ‘Y’all come back now’ even if we hope you won’t- at least not very soon or for very long; it’s just the nicest thing we can think of, when you’re leaving. We also prolong the actual farewell… We do it by walking you to the door, on out to the car, truck or tractor, then we stand outside waving until you’re out of sight. (Even if you live less than a mile away.)

    Southerners tend to drag out the process of letting you go… Uncle Grady, who wasn’t a big talker said, whenever anyone was leaving- (the long lost relative or his next door neighbor) Uncle Grady had this charming sing song- ‘Oh don’t go, we’ll miss you so!’ You knew it was coming…and the truth is- things just didn’t feel right when Uncle Grady wasn’t around anymore to say it. Unforgettable.

    Now, don’t get me started on funerals. Let’s just say, we have an aversion to saying… ‘he died.’ No, instead we say – ‘she passed away.‘ or ‘we lost him.’‘now that Grandmama’s gone.’ Or… ‘Can you believe it’s been 10 years since Daddy left us?.’ It’s confusing, though please don’t ask ‘where did you lose him? or why did he leave? Because- these phrases, might provoke a sinking spell or worse. The phrases are just the most delicate ways of avoiding saying the actual word- ‘Death‘. There are many, maybe hundreds of ways southerners avoid saying ‘Goodbye.’ Whether going home or to the grave… It’s just so final, you know. Okay! Since that’s settled, we’ve got this Crisis going on and we don’t want you ‘falling out on us.’

    So, it occurred to me while I was compiling this missive- that one of the kindest and sweetest ways we end conversations is to say… ‘Take care of yourself.‘  which is always important and never more important than now.

    • Take care of yourself.
    • It’s not selfish, it’s smart.
    • Keep your spirits up.
    • Find humor in everyday life, while taking precautions seriously.
    • Physical distancing doesn’t mean- you can’t be social in safe ways- technology, phone calls and more!
    • Our grandmothers and mothers believed in food as medicine. They said things like- ‘An Apple a Day, keeps the doctor away.’
    • It’s important to do whatever you can to build your Immunity.
    • These foods aren’t a cure, it’s an effort to strengthen your body against disease any time. Here’s a few of my favorites:

    Beef– Alabama is a beef producing state. Beef is high in zinc and protein! I haven’t been able to find zinc supplements in over a month! Besides, sometimes I just want a good hamburger! Ok, maybe hold the fries!

    img_3822

    I’m thoroughly enjoying Tuna, canned is fine just get the best variety you can… with this nice spring weather we’ve loved a tuna salad! Also high in zinc, protein and those all important- Omega 3’s!img_3830

    Almonds are a wonderful source of Iron, protein, a bit of A and Zinc!

    img_3829I’d have to feel like something was wrong with you if you didn’t like Sweet Potatoes! a lifelong favorite- these are high in C,E and Beta Carotene! img_3831

    Yogurt is a power source, high in protein, a bit of A and Zinc! Add berries and you’ve got your Vitamin C and more!img_3828

    Broccoli is a favorite here…Kale is also good. Both are immunity building foods! And let’s face it- green vegetables are just good for you! Broccoli is high in Iron and A- lightly steamed with lemon butter- I think it’s delicious! A bonus with any ‘good for you’ food!img_3832

    Oysters are an acquired taste! In the sea soaked coastal cities and states, most of us love our oysters any way we can get them! We love them so much- why, even driveways are paved with them! Now, that’s a lot of  Oysters! High in protein, iron and my oh my! That wrinkle fighting collagen! (which is for another day and time!)img_3838

    Red Bell Peppers and Avocadoes are wonderful sources of immunity fighters too! And of course, there’s more…img_3870

    Rather than regale you with a long and boring list, which you might not even be able to find in the grocery stores… I thought I’d first talk a little southern to you… Just remember –  these aren’t Cures! Merely, foods that will help build Immunity and it can’t hurt to add them to your diet.

    I would add one more way we talk southern to you- ‘Keep your spirits up.’ A good state of mind, has been proven for better outcomes during any crisis, especially a health crisis. And, that’s exactly why we’ve written in a lighthearted way. Do whatever it takes to keep your spirits up. Practice this new thing we’re calling Social Distancing, Wash your hands every chance you get, Stay at Home, Save Lives, Stop the Spread and of course ‘Take Care of Yourself, darlin’.’

    Love y’all, Camellia

    Camellia’s Garden Party…

    img_2706I’m never really sure who’s going to show up at our Garden Party here at Camellia’s Cottage…it’s such a fickle dance. Who’ll show up early or be fashionably late? Will they be effusive and bring extra guests or volunteers? Or stand around halfheartedly, even look bored. Perhaps they’ll chat like magpies or huddle together shivering and complaining. Spring is more like a house party that begins in fits and starts- gets rained out, stalls or lasts for weeks on end. img_3846

    Even though I’ve gardened for years, I’m still an amateur. Though, I have tried to arrange things so that most years, everyone doesn’t show up all at once- rather more like a procession. Here in Alabama-

    • We always count on the Camellia Cotillion to kick things off early- since they always bloom when almost everything else isn’t. Camellias steal the show in late winter and very early Spring.
    • Back in those fickle February days, Flowering Quince showed up dress fit to kill, yet the Yellow Bells never rang out even once! We since found her in her brown house dress and she’s gone to the compost heap as we weep her passing.
    • The Daffodil Trumpets sounded early and to be honest, they’re almost played out; they’re exhausted really. The Tulips stayed completely out of sight, the Hyacinths barely bloomed- we suspect we’ll need to put in replacements. Those Wood Hyacinths are such nymphs! They came and went before we knew it- though we’ve always  been thankful for the sweet scent they bring. And the Snowdrops were weepy for a few weeks, though we all admit how charming they always are as guests.
    • The Judas Trees often make a poor show of themselves…they’ve shown up. Still. They’re weeping bloody tears on the driveway.
    • The roses had to be cut back severely, they shot up so high last year. And who knows if New Dawn will even stop by this year, I’ll have to remind them to send an RSVP.
    • Oh well, the Wood Violet Teas seem to be underway and underfoot! They’re sweet little things,quietly huddled in small groups for several weeks now, gathering strength and vigor, whispering among themselves. The purple hats seem to be outnumbering the more shy white ones.
    • Thankfully, the Bearded Iris showed up to chaperone, looking stiff and proper, though I must say they prefer to keep to themselves, at a safe distance and seem to multiply every year. I thought surely I could count on an array of Irises to keep things in check with their pale, piercing leafy stares. img_2712

    Even though the Spring Dance started early this year, wouldn’t you know? It’s been taken over by the Azalea Ball! To be honest, the younger Azaleas are being shy about showing off- maybe it’s the influence of Iris and the Chaperones? In years past, the older Azaleas show up dressed in somber green with tiny pink polka dots- sitting and sulking on the sidelines, a few shrinking Violets at their feet. Not this year! Oh, ‘no sirree bobtail cat!’ They’re showing their bloomers this year!img_2707

    I’ve decided Azaleas are subject to mood shifts- sometimes standoffish and almost rude. This year, they’re snickering and giggling like magpies- dressing in ruffled shocking pink! I’m half expecting to see’ dyed to match’ satin slippers beneath their outrageous gowns! Honestly, the mockingbirds are out in full force! I personally think they’re as shocked as I am at the Azaleas! Unpredictable. img_2708

    Spring is always unpredictable, yet she’s always missed, greatly desired, wanted desperately, dearly loved and truly welcomed to the Cottage Garden Party! It must be said, usually Spring in the South is flawed- by weather, circumstances beyond our control- like when frowning Jack Frost appeared as uninvited guest who didn’t even call ahead! Why, he’s even been known to throw hailstones as big as golf balls- honestly we try to avoid him at all costs!

    We try, we truly do- to schedule Spring Garden Parties…then find we have to scrap the actual outdoor human parties in favor of acting as bemused bystanders. Spring is anything but boring, like well planned parties- either the Guest of Honor doesn’t show up or an uninvited guest arrives. We lower our eyes at the overdressed Flamboyants or give the side eye to the underdressed- even the bedraggled and depressed. Now, that puts a damper on any party! Please, don’t tell- I actually prefer the Flamboyants, like this year’s Azaleas, with oversized personalities who offer our Garden Party endless amusement.img_2706

    The Azalea Trails are legendary in Alabama! We celebrate the beauty and bounty of Spring with irrepressible joy! Okay. We’d like a little more notice than the nightly weather report. Honestly the Farmers’ Almanac, the Barometer and the definite twinges of the Arthritic Chips on our Shoulders are more reliable than the Weatherman.

    But really, who am I to be judging the Natural World? Especially when I’m up on my High Horse sitting in a Climate Controlled Saddle? I’ve been late. I’ve been unpredictable. I’ve even been flamboyant a time or two. Okay- rarely… I’m just saying, maybe I’ve bloomed at the wrong time myself. After all, I’m a Camellia, I love me a good early Southern Spring-

    • Violets, Dogwoods,
    • Wood Hyacinths, Snowdrops, Bearded Iris,
    • Daffodils, prickly Quince and oh yes!
    • Azaleas

    Especially those flamboyant old girls out there having the time of their lives! Really, y’all, those Azaleas are going crazy! Swaying and sashaying! Before we know it- those stuck up Peonies will be showing off the Ball Gowns they’ve kept secret all year long!img_3678

    All of these and more…always throw a big case of Magnolia Fever on me… and I’ve decided I’m not quite ready to be thrown on that old compost pile. Thanks for stopping by our Garden Party!

    Love y’all, Camellia

    *All photographs are obviously taken by me. ** Judas Trees are commonly known as Redbuds- many call these trees with tiny buds and heart shaped leaves Judas Trees- even that famous southern author- William Faulkner. I’ll let you research that yourself!

    A message from Brenda- I wanted to write a bit of a lighthearted post because…It’s wonderful to have a garden, especially now in this current crisis. It’s hopeful to know that the seasons, especially Spring- can be counted on as we stay at home, waiting. And, also wonderful to be able to reach out to you virtually…sending great love to each of  you. Stay Home. Stop the Spread. Stay Hopeful. And! join me @brendawyatt_ on Instagram! We sharing posts or stories everyday! I’d love to see you there!img_2709

    3 Simple Spring Projects…

    As we do all we can to practice good health measures and shelter in place… I thought it might be good to have a few simple projects, easy enough to involve the children while they’re out of school and in need of a bit of fresh air.

    The Green Onion Project is one I practice all year round, in our mild climate. Save the root ends of green onions…they will dry in a small bowl on the counter or you can put them in the ground right away, your choice. If you don’t have a garden space- a container filled with potting soil will do just fine.

    They do better outside, though I suspect a very sunny spot indoors will do. Scoop out small holes and press the green onion root in firmly with no air pockets. Put as many as desired. An inch apart is just fine.

    Water in well and without just a week or so you’ll begin to see green tops emerge! I generally cut the tops when I need them leaving the root end planted. An easy project to do with children!

    Hint: you can thinly slice the root end of celery also, press firmly in the soil… you won’t get long stalks, yet before long, you’ll have the very flavor filled tops.

    The Ice Cube Project. I love to make pretty ice cubes. Shamrocks might be my all time favorite. Find smallish shamrocks or clover (pesticide free) Fill ice cube trays 3/4 full with water. Top with a shamrock and freeze. Feel free to add more water during freezing process if the shamrock isn’t submerged

    . Tiny wild strawberries work very well. Also, very thin slices of lemon or lime cut in quarters are beautiful in a glass of tea or lemonade.

    Cranberries and Blueberries should work as well. Experiment with various fruits. This is a fun project, if your choice fails… try again! Staying hydrated is always important- making it pretty is always good incentive!

    Spring Violet Tonic This project isn’t fool proof and it’s not for children to do alone. Pick a packed cup full of wood violets or violas. Flowers only, please and once again pesticide free. (The wood violets are coming into their own now in the South, violas work well too!) In a small saucepan, add one cup of cane sugar, one cup of water and one cup of wood violets.

    Simmer until the flowers and sugar have dissolved (don’t be surprised- it will look like a green sludge) Allow to cool, refrigerate if not using right away. Add a tablespoon of the mixture to the bottom of a glass. squeeze about a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, ice and top with club soda. The result will be a pale violet color! Violets are full of Vitamin C, this Spring Tonic is actually good for you!

    Here’s hoping you’re staying safe and well. We are all in this together, be kind and patient with one another and don’t forget to say your prayers.

    Love y’all, Camellia

    All photographs are obviously mine. *Always wash any produce and pat dry.

    Cookbook Therapy…

    img_3582Cookbook Therapy, I highly recommend it- all year round, though most especially when it’s cold and dreary. Most southerners put up with chilly days in a good natured way, some even going so far as to say- they love cold weather or that frost is a ‘good thing because it’ll kill off the bugs’. More than a few days? The novelty of wearing wool, goose down or cashmere has worn off- we put on Bermuda shorts with heavy socks and fake fur lined boots as if to defy the unwelcome visit of Jack Frost.

    I admit it, I take cold weather as a personal insult, even blaming the Devil for a few days and for me that’s extreme. Okay, I said- ‘It’s as cold as the Devil’s Heart.’  Extreme weather calls for extreme blame. Fed up, I refuse to go out in it, settle down to soothe my nerves. Bundled up in socks, covered with a throw, I surround myself with highly prized books, especially southern ring bound cookbooks. You know the ones- that real folks in real communities have tested and written. I take perverse pleasure in finding the most difficult, unusual or even grotesque recipes with no intention of cooking any of it.  Well, maybe the sugar laden ones. Still. I need the therapy of reading cookbooks. Let me explain. These old cookbooks are story books to me. I’m a descendant of grandparents who loved crossword puzzles, folks who were readers and amazing story tellers- one was an amazing cook who clipped recipes from her beloved newspaper. Thus, I am a collector of words, sentences, phrases, stories and recipes. I want the cooks who tell a real story, these are my therapists!

    img_3574Cookbooks give me a window into other kitchens, other times and in most regional cookbooks there are stories, methods, hints and tips that are priceless. I do not buy these cookbooks new, oh no, I want the recipes with stars beside favorites, a note to improve it- even the ones who say- ‘This one isn’t worth the time to make it’  There’s something therapeutic about reading those notes. Here’s what I’ve found:

    • Mostly mathematicians are in the Baking Sections, the insistent precise folks.
    • Happy Socialites populate the Beverage and Appetizer Sections, though I do have to wonder about a non-alcoholic punch…the recipe called for a whole bottle of Almond Extract! Maybe she was in a 12 step program or belonged to a group of teetotalers and had found a way around it.
    • The Casserole Ladies are my favorites, they improvise, aren’t precise, give lots of options and also remind the reader that the recipe can be stretched to feed a crowd. Yes, they are a bighearted generous group. No doubt about it.

    Hovering over the Soups and Stews Section- are southern cooks whom I fear share my disdain for cold weather.  When I find one of those cooks on a cold dreary day- Cookbook Therapy begins to kick in.

    One fine example made me laugh, just at the title- NO PEEP STEW written in all caps. After a sketchy mixture of ingredients are put in a Dutch Oven, the recipe writer instructed- ‘Bake 5 hours at 250 degrees. DO NOT PEEP, REPEAT, DO NOT PEEP.’

    • I had to wonder, what would happen if some scalawag decided to go rogue and PEEP?
    • Who in the world wrote this recipe?
    • A former Drill Sargent?
    • Apparently, after that direction she decided to calm down and adds… ‘Serve with wedges of your favorite cornbread and a green salad.’

    In another cookbook, there was a recipe for this same stew written by a real comedian- she had a fun and much nicer title for hers. It was called- ‘No Peekie Beef Stewie’ … you have to love her! Then there was another sweet lady who got a bit bossy about when to add egg yolk and vinegar to Pig Stew… yes, you read that right! She did regain her composure at the end and said- ‘My grandmother’s cook made this every Christmas and it was served on the sideboard with the Turkey and Dressing. It’s very rich and not too good in warm weather, but it wouldn’t be Christmas without it at my home in New Orleans.’  Bless. Her. Heart. * If this has made you hungry for a wonderful beef recipe, using leftover roast beef- we’ve got one you can peep at called- Boeuf en Daube…

    Some recipes assume you know how to cook. One recipe I’m particularly fond of has simple instructions, yet no quantities-

    • Cook Chicken, cool and shred.
    • Save broth, Blanche Broccoli.
    • Make a White Sauce.  Add white wine and Grated Parmesan Cheese.
    • Brown Cracker Crumbs in Butter.
    • Assemble.
    • Bake at 350 until bubbly. Serve with Rice.

    That’s it. I made one recently. Sometimes, I need no nonsense and no mathematics cluttering up my mind- just clear directions – especially when it’s cold weather.img_2584

    Now, any recipe that starts with frying bacon can’t be bad, in fact- these are the recipes you know are winners! I found one recipe- no doubt submitted by a beautiful and fragile Southern Cook- it was so well written, I fell in love with her on the spot. img_2581

    I’m not sure about her recipe, though her gentle ways soothed me. Her southern charm, her impeccable manners won me over. She started out the recipe in such a precise and charming way…

    • Fry bacon in a heavy cast iron Dutch Oven until crisp- set aside. Pour off almost all of the fat leaving just enough to leave a thin film on the bottom.  *Please note there are no upper case letters shouting at you- implied was this- ‘Now darling, you better save that bacon fat, you may need it later!’ Then..
    • She gets fired up… ‘Heat fat to smoking hot, brown meat a few pieces at a time… if needed, add a little more bacon fat.’
    • Later on, when she finally finishes browning all of that meat and has removed it to a platter, she goes on…’add butter to the pot…onions.. then says- ‘You may need more bacon fat.’  I’m calming down already.
    • Alright, now she wants us to add Beef Stock, Spices and Beer. Yep, it’s winter stew for sure. Listen to how nicely she writes the last suggestion…
    • Return browned meat to pot. There should be enough sauce to cover, but if you’re a little short, add beer.’  Do you not love this woman???

    Please note how polite she is the whole way through! That alone settles my nerves. She says- ‘You may need more bacon fat… if you’re running a little short, you may need more beer!’  No unreasonable demands,  just reasonable suggestions. This lady may be almost as nice as the lady who is making Beef Roulade Sandwiches… who says from the outset.

    ‘Be nice to the butcher. Smile.’  

    Both of these ladies put me in a better frame of mind, it’s like they’re saying- ‘Bon Appetit, y’all.’

    img_3582Cookbook Therapy works! If you’re chilled, it’s dreary and damp- peruse the recipes in good Junior League or Church Ladies’ Cookbooks. What you’ll find are stories of real people making really good food. It’s the best therapy I know of…you don’t have to cook a single recipe- however, what’s better than a collection of stories that could end up as a feast on your very own table? The next time you need a lift- Read Cookbooks as Literature.

    Love, y’all!  Camellia

    *This is an updated and ‘not as long winded’ version as the first which was published in January 2018. All photographs are obviously mine.

    *Bon Appetit, Y’all, also happens to be the title of one of my favorite cookbooks by a French trained Southern Chef! Virginia Willis.

    Tips for Writers: I write best when I’m reading. My writing and cadence is better when I’m reading. Reading can relieve writer’s block. Pat Conroy had a goal of reading 200 pages per day and to write 5 legal pad pages per day! Now, that’s a lot of reading and writing yet no one can dispute his success!