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

Beaches of Alabama

8CE602A6-47CD-47EE-988D-3AD9CD5D388DMaybe it’s the to and fro of the tide that pull us south to the Beaches of Alabama… Our hearts yearn for it. Perhaps Southern Saltwater flows in our veins; we need the Gulf’s infusion every now and then. To stand in the sea casting a line or in solitude as the ever patient Egret watching the horizon…

The ancient rhythm of the tides echo the soul’s heartbeat. White Sugar Sands gently scrub our bare feet of ordinary workday cares…

Gulf Breezes clear our heads to dream of sandcastles again; built in a day- gone the next.  Yet always worth the temporary wonder…4280158F-0438-4EBA-B088-1ACE439CBE38

‘Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should be empty, open, choiceless as a beach- waiting for the gift from the sea.’ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

A sunrise walk. A perfect shell. Tiny sandpipers chasing seawater…running out, scampering back on twiggy feet while the ocean plays it’s foamy game. Beaches of Alabama- the jeweled land of Royal Reds, Brown Pelicans, Crystal White Sand, Sapphire Skies and Emerald Water.

We are like Boats waiting…Rocking our silent lullabies. Tethered, waiting to be set free- to sail away to the Beaches of Alabama. 04687649-5A23-40C6-B25F-A010BF0E832A

Stunning sunsets, breathtaking colors- then gently the air, sky and water turn to shimmering priceless Twilight’s Gold.

Take a child, a sweetheart, old friends or heartache to the Beaches of Alabama… patiently wait for the enchantment to begin…

‘Alabama just breaks my heart- it’s so pretty, it just breaks my heart into little pieces’ Michael Lee West

Here in our Sweet Home Alabama, summer vacations, we know- the Beaches of Alabama have their own special magic- a tonic all year round. Salt Air, Sunlight and Gulf Waters- refresh, renew, heal and restore…

Love y’all, Camellia

*All of these glorious stunning photographs are the sole property of Jeremy Miniard. We are perpetually grateful for his generosity in sharing them with us! Find Jeremy at jeremy.miniard.fineartsofamerica.com

*Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s quote is from her landmark work- ‘Gift of the Sea’. * The absolutely true quote…’Alabama is so pretty… it breaks my heart in tiny pieces’ by Michael Lee West is from her wonderful and zany book set in Alabama…’ Mermaids in the Basement.’ Both would be tremendous beach reads this summer!

*Beaches of Alabama was first written here on Camellia’s Cottage in July 2017 and has been slightly edited and updated. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

 

5 Fun Things To Do in Colorado Springs…

5DBF9478-2C7D-4941-8FBA-602F3BA62033Now, y’all- I live in a coastal southern state- the beach is just a few hours from where I live at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, and we’re talking foothills … not a mountainous terrain by any stretch of the imagination. Alabama is one of the lowest in terms of sea level in the nation…that means any place above 500 feet in elevation is …well, it’s way up there. For instance, Colorado Springs starts at 6200 feet above sea level!  Still. Even with all of that thin air, after several trips to Colorado Springs, I’ve decided that some of the best things to do in Colorado are literally seeing America the Beautiful.

BF9D8F52-D53B-4222-87D2-8F58AE27455DWhere else, but Colorado Springs, could you go where the deer and the antelope actually play, where a schoolteacher named Katherine Lee Bates stood atop Pike’s Peak inspired to write ‘America the Beautiful’ ; where you can actually stay in one of Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite hotels, built by his friend Spencer Penrose; Colorado Springs is where Gymnasts, Swimmers and Skaters have trained for and won Olympic Gold Medals and where you can view a flyover by the famous Thunderbirds at graduations from the U.S. Air Force Academy, and my goodness, somewhere in them thar hills… folks track the movements of Santa Claus every Christmas? Yes, some of the best America has to offer are found close to Colorado Springs. 3F8674CD-3231-4401-8A6B-3BD129951C78

Here’s my top 5 Fun Things to Do in Colorado Springs and best of all, it’s great any time of year!

  • 1. Garden of the Gods– this area is magnificent with red rock formations so huge and so amazing…it’s unforgettable! A man named Perkins left the area to the City of Colorado Springs with the wish that it would be maintained and open to the public! Rock Climbers climb, horseback tours are a sight to see and of course there’s always just a drive through with a stop or two just to gawk at the magnificent Red Rock Formations!4E57252A-A1D7-4692-BB0B-CA1A78E81417
  • 2. The Broadmoor Hotel– if you’re headed to Colorado Springs, to my way of thinking there’s no where else to stay for the full experience of Colorado Springs than the Broadmoor. When you drive up to the portico, look up! (The opening photograph) Blue Stars just say- America! Welcomed by the most outstanding staff anyone can imagine, your Broadmoor experience is just beginning! Built by Spencer Penrose and his wife, they opened the doors to 200 of their friends in 1918, for over a 100 years now…they’ve been offering guests more than the imagination can offer…wonderful views, genuine Remington sculptures are casually on display in the main building- you know the fella whose work is iconic of the American West. CAEC40E1-DE78-4337-A329-4AAF7A47C5D9There’s even a museum on the grounds which hold even more memorabilia. All throughout the hotel, the décor is luxurious. Oil paintings on the walls, a theatre, a bowling alley- even the children have their own concierge! The Broadmoor has continually maintained 5 diamond status since the award has been given over 40 years ago. Over a dozen restaurants including a pub called The Golden Bee is so authentic- the interior is an actual English Pub which was dismantled and brought piece by piece, then installed with precision- every night a piano player plays as song books are handed around and beer is sold by the pint or yard whichever you think you’re able to consume and it’s not your imagination- when you leave you’ll have little golden bees stuck to your clothing too!AC89855A-04B0-4532-92E7-5F7FCBA5E07E At Julie’s, a French inspired patisserie, chocolatiers are behind glass in a climate controlled working- small wrapped chocolates are delivered to your room with the turn down service every night! A five star spa which even has an oxygen bar- for folks who are having a bit of trouble with the altitude! The list is almost endless, if you’re not inclined to ever leave there- The Broadmoor will show you a wonderful time!
  • 3. The Royal Gorge. Just a short hour’s drive from Colorado Springs down to Canon City is one of the most magnificent train rides in the whole of America!  In the 1870’s miners of lead, silver and gold (yes, there are still working gold mines near Colorado Springs! ) The miners inspired a 50 mile long railway pass along the Arkansas River…it winds along the same way even into six mile long gorge with sheer rock walls so high they plunge into the river- it makes me dizzy to think about it! 47857B6A-C591-4902-ADBF-7EEA24AE1948This narrow 30 foot span is where a hanging bridge was built in 1879…anchored to the walls with girders, Royal Gorge Hanging Bridge is still maintained to this day! A trip through the Royal Gorge is a can’t miss – it’s a must, to see the awe inspiring scenery!04E76755-ED3B-4F44-94F2-0AADA4A90B3E
  • 4. Seven Falls is a waterfall maintained by the Broadmoor- but open to the public. If you’re brave enough to climb well over 200 steps to the top, there’s a hiking trail on up from there. I took the old mine elevator halfway up to the viewing deck! And an unexpected treat was a restaurant called-  Restaurant 1858, where you can enjoy the falls at lunch and dinner… the menu has things like wild boar and even vegetarian options. What impressed me, was the rugged terrain going back into the Seven Falls area, as you take a short hike or tram ride into the cavern… there’s a western style log cabin that honestly looks like Ralph Lauren just left! Navajo Rugs, nailhead trimmed leather chairs and perfect prints inspired during the 1858 era. A great place to warm up or catch your breath!E4C1B47B-F837-4805-ABB0-6A0C053E7932
  • 5. Pike’s Peak-  is that enough said? Well, if you’re going to Colorado Springs, this is a not to missed experience, rising over 14,000 feet above sea level, the Pike’s Peak mountain range is stunning… there’s always snow at the top and the best donuts in the world rise high above the clouds! Ok, it’s freezing up there and the guides will tell you, the chances are you may not make it to the top but on the way- you’ll stop in the Crystal Lake region and get a chuckle of the Sasquatch Statue- otherwise known as Big Foot; where it’s maintained that the first sighting of Big Foot was reported.

    Just the hairpin turns make this a very exciting tour any time of year. The first time we went, some poor soul took a family photo of us- I had it printed in black and white photos made into the ‘Ugliest Family Christmas Photos’ and actually mailed them! Oh my!41758AF8-C4D9-46C9-BB4D-FA84B70FB404 If you take a small bag of Cheese Curls on your trip be prepared to watch in amazement as it swells up with the altitude change which is significant! Pike’s Peak might be best known for the patriotic song…‘America the Beautiful’ which was written by schoolteacher Katherine Lee Bates, who was so inspired by the sight she saw from Pike’s Peak and I ask you- Would you have wanted to miss that beautiful song? Yes, Pike’s Peak should have been Number One on the list…but there’s always building up expectations to high- just know the journey is worth it whether you get to the top or not! We’ve been 3-4 times and have only reached the Peak once! But the breathtaking views were well worth the risk of not making it!ED9374A4-54AD-4AB9-968A-E3CB4D19E520

  • Cheyenne Mountain Zoo This is a bonus fun thing to do! Guests of the Broadmoor have been enjoying the highest elevation zoo for years and years! The giraffes are a can’t miss area- the zoo has placed walkways up high so you can feed them! Look at that long black tongue! There’s even a bronze statue of Will Rogers inside the zoo, Rogers was a friend of Spencer Penrose too. These days, the zoo is maintained separately from the resort, however, guests of the Broadmoor do enjoy a free shuttle service that takes them right to the gates and believe me- it’s a real time saver! The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of the most popular activities in the region…get an early start!

122F5FF3-16F4-4CB1-B9B8-111CC0402028Okay here’s a few bonuses! There’s the need-to-see Downtown Colorado Springs and nearby Manitou Springs which are fun drives too! Both have charming shops and restaurants too. BD0D3E73-0063-47FE-8692-98AD5167C769

One restaurant I can highly recommend is- Carlos Miguels. It’s a reasonably priced white table cloth Mexican Restaurant just a short drive from the Broadmoor and is truly excellent! Then, there’s the somberly beautiful U.S. Air Force Academy, The Cave of the Winds is awe inspiring as well- where the inside temperature is a steady 53 degrees year round, regardless of the outside temperature! If you are real thrill seeker, the Broadmoor has a Zip Line Course that is ranked in the top 5 in the world…I’ll let you experience that one and tell me about it later! And, near Manitou Springs,there’s an area that can be explored of very early cave dwellings. And!

The very inspiring U.S. Olympic Training site where Paralympics also train and please don’t miss the beginning slide show inside the center, watching those gold medalists brought tears to my eyes! Athletes who were not trained to ‘come in second place’ have lived, worked, healed and trained to be the very best they can be actually seen training on this large campus!

E4C1B47B-F837-4805-ABB0-6A0C053E7932These are my Top Five Fun things to do in Colorado Springs and a few more ‘can’t-miss-if you have time’ locations! One stunning thing: Pike’s Peak is almost always in view with the distinctive snow cap… and when I see it I must admit…I start humming if not outright singing…

‘Oh beautiful for spacious skies… for amber waves of grain…for purple mountains majesty…’  

If you’re looking for a Spring or Summer- or anytime of year trip- check out Colorado Springs. Every time I’ve come back down closer to sea level in my sweet home here in Alabama, I’ve come back in awe of just how beautiful America is!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine! *And there are of course other fine hotels in the area! And wonderful dining options as well!

Camellias,Chocolate and Love…

If there’s one thing about February that always delights me- it’s that camellias are in bloom, chocolate is on the menu or in a heart shaped box and love seems to be in the crisp cool air. This year, the red camellias are showing out, a bumper crop of ruffled blooms, and this tickles me because they’ve taken their own sweet time about getting to a point of consistent blooms- the shrub was chosen for it’s double ruffled petite blossoms- in honor of my mother in law- who I loved with all of my heart- who was petite, beautiful and …well, it just seemed fitting to plant a camellia to honor her life with our state flower, the Camellia.

Valentine’s seems to be an oddly conflicting  holiday. Oh yes, it’s supposed to be all about flowers and chocolate and romance, yet it’s often a disappointing holiday, even with all of the gift ideas, hearts and beautiful sentimental cards- disappointment often stands in the shadows. Still. Love itself comes in many forms- romantic love, yet also love of family, love of friends and yes, love of place. Other than my own home- there is possibly no place on this earth that I love more than a beautiful historic hotel in Point Clear, Alabama which combines all kinds of love… camellias bloom profusely and a certain form of chocolate stole my heart many years ago.

The Grand Hotel is her name. Close by is Mobile Bay and  a quaint town called Fairhope; just down the road is a beautiful small town named Magnolia Springs…now if fair hope, beautiful sunsets, camellias, magnolias and a grand old lady doesn’t give you a clear point of view… I don’t know what possibly could. The pace is slower, Afternoon Tea is served every afternoon, the grounds are filled with huge live oaks that have long gray beards of Spanish moss- under their spreading branches- camellias, azaleas and all manner of distinctly southern plants bloom in profusion around a mossy lagoon. I have visited there during every season of the year, yet February is the time of year I’ve probably enjoyed most- in the lower coastal south- it might get chilly but never so cold as to discourage the camellias or the guests. I’ve been there in formal dress several times in February- it seemed to me, the most glamorous place anyone could be!

Yet, my best memories of the Grand, are of the ones when my children were young and truly learned the exquisite art of dining and dressing for the occasion at a champagne brunch with live music playing softly- tunes like ‘Stars fell on Alabama’ or the more lively- ‘The Alabama Jubilee’. And if there is ever a place on earth for ‘jubilee’ it’s on the shores of Mobile Bay where that amazing phenomenon happens when it’s least expected!

The first time I ever tasted- Flourless Chocolate Cake was at the Grand Hotel, and I recall thinking- ‘What an elegant dessert! Surely, someone could have come up with a more decadent name!’ Somehow, over the years- I was given their recipe for this decadent chocolate dessert. For years, I’ve thought I couldn’t recreate it- and the truth is? Without the backdrop of the Grand Hotel it would no doubt ever taste the same. So! I took the recipe and tweaked it to make the recipe my own – and while our camellia’s are blooming their fool heads off? I decide to try my hand at making it and decorating it with those festive red blooms! So, it was only  appropriate to name it- Camellia’s Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake. It’s way easier to make it than I’d ever have thought- and decorated with red camellias grown right here at the cottage- it was downright gorgeous and…well, it took me back… Here’s how you make it-

Camellia’s Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake...

A dense rich dark chocolate cake, made with baking chocolate and cocoa, a mere 1 cup of sugar, no flour at all, and- to deepen the flavor- espresso powder is added. A small slice garnished with whipped cream is an elegant dessert. 

Ingredients

  • 2 Sticks Butter Cut in pieces- plus more for pan
  • 1/4 Cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder More for dusting pan
  • 2 Teaspoons Instant espresso or coffee granules
  • 1/4 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 8 Ounces Unsweetened Baking Chocolate Chopped
  • 5 Large Eggs
  • 1 Cup Granular Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Powdered Sugar As needed for dusting
  • Whipped Cream
  • Fresh Mint Leaf, Berries or flowers For garnish

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 9 inch springform pan (or a 9 inch cake pan lined completely with parchment paper) Butter pan and dust with cocoa powder. Set aside. In a heavy medium saucepan, melt butter on medium low heat, add baking chocolate pieces and carefully stir until melted. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together large eggs, add granulated sugar, espresso powder and cocoa powder until fully combined. Carefully incorporate melted chocolate and butter until th batter is blended well. Pour batter into prepared pan lightly smooth batter. Bake at 350 degrees on center rack until puffed and set, approximately 35 minutes. Allow cake to cool for a full hour in the pan. If needed run a knife around sides of pan (if a baking pan is used, lift out of pan and fold down parchment ) unmold cake on serving platter. (Cake may be wrapped well after cooling and stored for up to 2 days before serving.) When ready to serve, dust with powdered sugar, add whipped cream and  garnish as desired. This is a very rich dense cake, small slices are preferable. 12-16 slices. 

And while we’re talking Camellias, Chocolate and Love… here’s a few ideas to make Valentine’s special:

  • Give or plant a camellia shrub, a special rose even a gardenia to honor a loved one or to beautify your landscape.
  • Bake a special dessert, cookies or a cake to give to friends and loved ones.
  • And, since the Grand Hotel has a spa that has been named one of the best in the country- why not make Spa Water for yourself and loved ones- decorated with rose petals?
  • Or give a spa certificate to a loved one, a friend or even treat yourself to a manicure or pedicure? Maybe find some seasonal flowers (like Camellias) and give a bouquet?

I know. I know. We tend to think of Valentine’s Day as just for couples in love…. I’ve come to believe- love, the sweetest kind is love that’s spread around a bit… so my best idea this year- Determine in the next few days to find folks who could use a hug or a bit of extra love and care- make a card, send a goofy text, write a note, give a call or just visit for a while? Sometimes the best thing of all is to say-

. Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine. *The photograph of that gorgeous sunset was taken by me at the Marriott Grand Hotel several years ago- I’ve been reassured the sunsets are still glorious! *Choose flowers to decorate food or water that are organically grown or that you know the source. *The dark chocolate flourless cake can be made ahead two days before it’s served- so you’ll have plenty of time to make it this week!

Health and Beauty tip: Tea Tree Oil is an amazing oil for skin treatments and comes from the same family as the Camellia. And did you know? Dark Chocolate has been known to soothe a cough more readily than hot tea or chicken soup? Of course, that a bite of dark chocolate that slowly melts in your mouth! And, if the weather permits at all- the best health advice I can give you this week- is to try to spend 15-20 minutes outside everyday- it lifts the spirits and fresh air is a total body treatment!

Southern Pecan Pesto…

3B6B2351-DEC0-47E3-B82E-63610434FED8We seem to have had a bumper crop in most of the things we’ve planted in the garden this year… I love to plant some basil to use in cooking, to dry and I’ve even been known to cut a big bunch and put in a vase just to enjoy the fragrance. This year, while vacationing in Virginia- we went to a restaurant on the York River- fittingly called Riverwalk Restaurant. Though it was terribly warm for most of the trip, on this particular night- with the breeze coming off the river out on a patio, it was pleasantly cool.  We watched a tall ship taking it’s own sweet time sailing by and could hear the sounds of a festival getting geared up. The restaurant was busy, our server brought our orders of iced tea and water… and to our surprise she also presented us with a platter brushed with Pesto and a whole loaf of fresh bread- our table of five finished it off quickly and it was one thing I knew I’d want to try to recreate later.

Recently, we were about to watch an Alabama Football game- we’d decided to get a pizza. I thought, why not make a salad, spin up some Pesto, bake a loaf of bread and present it just like we’d had on vacation!

5C020523-CD91-45C2-8AF0-450F4066CF7EI had all of the ingredients I thought I’d need…lots of basil, garlic, parmesan cheese, olive oil and …oops! no pine nuts or even walnuts. I literally put a Southern Spin on the Pesto. If I do say so myself, it turned out very well- I substituted Pecans. (Okay for all you non- southerners, please don’t say PEE-Cans… nope, that’s not how to pronounce it! For goodness sake who would even want to eat something that sounds so dreadful? Slow down now… here’s how you say it… Pah- cahn.  Don’t even think of making a long E sound!) Alright let me get right down to how you can make Pesto with a Southern Spin!

Camellia’s Southern Pecan Pesto 

You will need 3-4 large handfuls of fresh basil leaves- rinsed and shaken or spun dry. Just the leaves now- not the stems. Fill up the bowl of your food processor, generously.

74413BE2-4BF9-4D7F-A18F-ABE91915702BOne reason I love making pesto is that it is a recipe that isn’t precise! Spin the basil leaves until they are a rough chop, add one or two or three garlic cloves- I used one large clove and one small. Add a pinch or two of salt and spin again. Add 1- 1 1/2 cups of grated parmesan cheese. Spin again. Add at least 1 cup of chopped pecans- I added 1 and 1/4 cup. Spin again.

3D38E6F6-647F-47F6-A2C2-88D2F690378ANow remove the spout cover of the food processor and pour in enough good olive oil to make a paste, then add about 1/4 cup more! Pour Pesto in a sealed container and chill unless you plan to use it right away. It seems to keep fresh in the refrigerator for a good while.

70C96E0F-D8D0-47EE-B824-6970047F40F1I brushed a long platter with a generous amount of Pecan Pesto and topped it with a loaf of fresh baked bread (Now that is the important part- make or better yet, make it easy on yourself and do like I did- buy frozen bread dough and bake it yourself! It really does make a difference!)

52F225E4-4A87-4D53-A924-244AA5AFA5FBThe presentation is lovely and just like the pesto and fresh bread in Yorktown- this too was a hit! For an appetizer, an accompaniment with a platter or Italian sliced meats, cheese and assorted fresh fruits and vegetables, you know one of charcuterie boards- Pecan Pesto would be beautiful alongside one of those and…of course it’s great alongside a spaghetti supper or as an addition to a spread of tailgate food even if it’s at home!  Southern Pecan Pesto is a new Cottage favorite. Okay- if you have pine nuts or walnuts- that would be great too! Here are few Annabelle Hydrangeas from down near the York River- quite a beautiful spot! 4D324BC7-B05A-49A9-AB7C-7C77AC5597C1

For more photos of some of our trip to Yorktown and Williamsburg check us out Instagram (just tap that little icon at the bottom of the page) Right now, we have an historic vegetable garden with heirloom vegetables and a bee skep! I would highly recommend any part of Virginia for a nice Fall trip!  And of course there’s nothing like watching SEC Football! Hope your team wins unless they’re playing mine!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine. *You can find out more about Riverwalk Restaurant at www.riverwalkrestaurant.net.

Blue Ridge Apple Cake…

7ECB0501-3C50-43AC-B545-D905918E6B0EIt might come as a surprise that the Appalachian Region is apple growing country. Settlers from Scotch Irish descent brought apple seeds with them to grow in the new land… with the help of Cherokee Indians apples became widely grown. With temperatures dipping into the 20s and highs in the 80s – the plateaus produce apples from late July on into late fall. Some heirloom varieties grown in the Appalachians are still considered excellent. My home county is at the tail end of the Appalachians and almost all old home places had at least one or two apple trees, it was encouraged as a way to make property more valuable and of course as an extra food source! The uses for apples is legion, from-

  • Feeding livestock (especially our beloved pork!),
  • Jams and jellies, brandies and butters,
  • Pies and cakes, stuffed and baked or tucked around a pork roast,
  • Dried for use in the famous mountain Apple Stack cake, a simple pan of Fried apples and one of my personal favorites- Fried Apple Pies.
  • And of course, as an afternoon snack!D295386C-0568-431E-915C-0729DD474408

The beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, in the southern part of the Appalachian Region, is one of those apple growing regions. In the upper western corner of Georgia, the entire area is a popular tourist attraction and apple picking territory. Beginning to ripen now, a few days ago, I bought some Blue Ridge Apples; I was especially glad to find these. The skins aren’t tough and thick, this current crop of apples aren’t overly sweet, have good texture and are a beautiful deep red- just perfect for a quick breakfast, a lunchbox treat or an afternoon snack.

Fresh Apple Cakes are legendary in the South, the mere mention of one is followed by swoons. Any southerner I know loves a snack of apples and peanut butter; a nutritious lunch for almost any school kid is a peanut butter sandwich and an apple!  I couldn’t resist coming up with an easy apple cake- snack size with the addition of peanut butter…well, let’s just say I surprised myself! These Blue Ridge apples don’t even require peeling, the whole cake can be made from common pantry ingredients and from start to finish, in about an hour, including bake time, you’ll have a Blue Ridge Apple Cake!

7ECB0501-3C50-43AC-B545-D905918E6B0EHere’s how you make-

Camellia’s Blue Ridge Apple Cake

You will need:

  • 2 cups of Flour
  • 2 cups of Brown Sugar (firmly packed plus more for topping)
  • 1 teaspoon of Ground Cinnamon plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 stick of chilled Butter cut in small pieces
  • 1/2 cup of Creamy Peanut Butter (plus more for topping)
  • 1 cup of diced apples (Blue Ridge if possible) plus more (thinly sliced) for topping
  • 1 carton Sour Cream (8 oz)
  • 1 teaspoon of Baking Soda
  • 1 Large Egg lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Cut in small pieces of Butter until crumbly. Add Apples and Peanut Butter- this mixture will continue to be crumbled in texture. E965B79B-25D5-45C4-B348-E0DFEA7838FB

Press half of the mixture in the bottom of a glass baking dish (9×9) as you would for a crust. Combine baking soda and sour cream. Mix well. Add in the slightly beaten egg. Add this mixture of sour cream/baking soda and egg into the remaining crumb mixture. Stir gently to combine. Pour this mixture over the top of pressed crumbs. Decorate the top of mixture with thinly sliced apples. Sprinkle additional cinnamon and brown sugar. Put small dollops of extra peanut butter on some of the decorative apple slices. Here’s how it comes together-

*Variation: Add a sprinkling of chopped peanuts if you want to guild the apples! Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Cool then, cut into squares.

Yield one nine inch square coffee cake- approximately 9-12 luscious squares.

I know I said to cool the cake, but it is very good slightly warm! Cover tightly. Blue Ridge Apple Cake keeps very well,  and retains it’s moisture. The Appalachian region continues to be one of the poorest regions in our nation, it is wonderful to be able to support the farmers there in such a delicious way!  And… Alabama is a state where George Washington Carver’s research has provided many folks, like me! with a love of parched peanuts, roasted peanuts and oh yes! Peanut Butter! Blue Ridge Apple Cake seems like a match made in heaven with the combination of Apples and Peanut Butter!A406F262-7E0F-4C7D-9EA5-7BCB288C33DA

Love y’all, Camellia

*all photographs are obviously mine! September 14 is also National Peanut Day! You have permission to eat all the peanuts you want!9805E26D-6241-459B-8DEE-F5B1A2AFBBA0

Bighearted Gulf Shrimp…

EFC3C453-03A8-46F1-A586-5FD8D90EACF0Anyone who has ever seen the Blessing of the Fleet, especially a fleet of Shrimp Boats has seen a very moving sight. Folks in the Coastal Southern States have relied on Big Hearted Gulf Shrimp as a wonderful part of our economy, so of course we love the ever versatile shrimp, our own if possible! In secluded Bon Secour Bay, Shrimp Boats still haul in beautiful shrimp from the Gulf waters of Alabama- the very translation of Bon Secour is French for good help, assistance or comfort. I can attest shrimp is a good comfort food! The best way to buy shrimp- is right off the boat, wrapped with ice and butcher paper; since fresh shrimp freezes very well- most is frozen right away, as soon as possible off the boat or even frozen on shrimp boats!

Please don’t ever insult this Majestic Crustacean by comparing someone or something to a shrimp! Shrimp come in all sizes- from salad shrimp which are tiny to extra large or jumbo that are almost as big as a man’s hand! Southern cooks have a way of using whatever size we can get! Most of us can’t imagine a Southern cookbook without recipes for Shrimp! Shrimp are among the most versatile of ingredients- not just in southern cuisine but many other cultures too. Bighearted Gulf Shrimp tend to be sociable, enjoy the flavors known as Italian, Greek, Asian and of course Creole! Shrimp is equally at home in-

  • Casseroles or Chafing Dishes
  •  Appetizers- tiny tart shells to large impressive Shrimp Cocktails
  • Swimming around a mound of rice in Gumbos and floating gracefully in creamy Bisques gumbo
  • A mere garnish on the rim of a Bloody Mary or added to a Garlic Butter Sauce atop a juicy steak
  • Pickled in a big jar or  chilled-gracing a cool Summer Salad
  • A hearty Poor Boy piled high, tossed with all manner of Seafood Sauces for Pasta
  • Cozying up in a big Spanish paella, having a big time in Indian curries and
  • Low Country Boils or rolling around in a sticky pile of Asian Stir Fry…

We have to admit Shrimp is internationally beloved and Bighearted indeed! I decided to look into just three of my vintage Junior League Cookbooks- in-

  • Jubilee! of Mobile, Alabama fame… there were in excess of 40 recipes! Including Coquille St. Jacques-  which combines scallops and shrimp in a delicate sherry laced cream sauce which would be perfect for a Dinner Party. A robust Jambalaya with a note that said ‘Keep adding seasoning until you’re afraid to add any more.’ Don’t you love that? B6FB9A66-776D-4AA7-9E85-5DE6E6341B84
  • There’s even instructions in Jubilee! for Boiling Shrimp in Gulf Water- you can’t get anymore fresh than that; in fact, when buying shrimp… the rule of thumb is that the freshest shrimp smell like that fragrant blend of sea air, marsh grasses and fresh salty gulf water. When boiling shrimp, a word to the wise… the worst thing you can do is overcook! Bring highly seasoned lemony salted water to a rolling boil, drop the shrimp in for two minutes…no more! Turn the heat off and by the time you’ve removed the shrimp…they’re pink, beautiful and done!
  • In Morgan County Alabama’s Junior Leagues’ Cotton Country… again there are close to 40 recipes which either feature shrimp or include a combination such as Connie’s Curried Shrimp which includes a comment- ‘Once tried, you’ll make it over and over again’, Shrimp Florentine, Shrimp Etouffee and one I loved the sound of… Shrimp Le Maistre, with this notation- ‘The prayers of many a hostess are herewith answered. Mixing time is almost nil, frozen shrimp works beautifully (though of course, if you’re up to peeling it, of course fresh may be used). This casserole may be served on rice, wild rice, in patty shells or individual scallop shells with scattered crumbs. Too, Shrimp Le Maistre is good for the cooks who like to play with ingredients. Try adding a glug of sherry and sliced water chestnuts- then leave the eggs in the refrigerator.‘ Okay y’all, Shrimp Le Maistre is the very definition of Bighearted and a Casserole to boot! Morgan County’s Cotton Country tickles me with the comments! For Shrimp Etouffee- the comment says ‘Straight from the Louisiana Bayou’.8D1D429C-2177-4F8A-AE08-666E821604FA
  • Speaking of Louisiana… from Monroe, Louisiana’s Junior League’s Cotton Country there are 45 recipes for shrimp including a shrimp mousse, a shrimp pate (similar but not exactly shrimp paste), Shrimp Croquettes, Barbequed Shrimp- which aren’t really put on a grill at all! Don’t miss- Shrimp Sizzle- for shrimp which are– after they’re marinated- the shrimp are ‘sizzled’ on a charcoal grill. The Shrimp Sauces range from Butter to Herbed, a White Sauce and the range of sauces which use peppercorns are Black, Pink or Green.

EFC3C453-03A8-46F1-A586-5FD8D90EACF0Of course, in all of my southern cookbooks- there are always renditions of famous southern Shrimp Cocktail sauces. Truthfully, I just want these sauces to be simple- Red Chili Sauce (a thick ketchup- Heinz® is my favorite), lots of fresh lemon juice and as much horseradish as I think folks can stand… I personally want Cocktail Sauce to make my eyes water- it’s tears of happiness! There are many ways to prepare Bighearted Gulf Shrimp…however, the best of all may be – ‘straight off the boat’ or as near as possible- quickly boiled with a bag of Old Bay® or Zatarain’s® shrimp and crab boil (a bag of dried spices- the fragrance makes the whole house smell good!) add a couple of big fresh lemons cut in half and plopped in the water! ‘ Peel and Eat Gulf Shrimp’ is bighearted enough to be eaten with drawn butter and lemon and of course spicy Cocktail Sauce.

4D36E9B4-0CCE-4533-9D0A-F85438585693Now that your appetite for Bighearted Gulf Shrimp is whetted… I’ll leave you with an old standby here at Camellia’s Cottage- now, it’s served with rice- so get that cooked before you start- it’s so quick and easy…when the shrimp’s done, you’ll be ready to serve it with the rice! Spicy Shrimp doesn’t call for fancy ingredients and I’m still not sure why it works, yet it’s almost no fail. So here goes…

Camellia’s Bighearted Spicy Shrimp 

  • You will need one pound of 36-40 raw shrimp- peeled, deveined with tails left on to make it pretty.
  • In a large pot- melt one stick of butter.
  • Add 2 cups of a zesty Italian dressing (this is important! do not shake the bottle to blend- instead pour off most of the oil that rests on the top! then measure out 2 cups of remaining dressing. * For you purists- make up your favorite Italian dressing, just reduce the oil called for in your recipe)
  • Next, add 1/4 cup of Lowry’s® Seasoned Pepper- not seasoned salt!
  • Add 2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes if you dare! Adjust to taste. I do not add salt while cooking Spicy Gulf Shrimp. Adjust salt if necessary after it’s cooked.
  • Last add 2 heaping Tablespoons of chopped garlic. * I generally add a Tablespoon of Paprika for a pretty color, but unnecessary. 87509402-57E8-4CE9-BE66-0C143DDC170A
  • Stir and bring this spicy mixture to a bubbling boil. Put raw shrimp in the mixture and gently stir until shrimp are pale pink in color… they will continue to cook even as heat is turned off.
  • * Warning- do not leave the pot, do not answer the phone, do not glance away… Spicy Gulf Shrimp will not take more than 4-5 minutes if that!!
  • Turn heat off- put a generous squeeze juice from a whole fresh lemon into the mixture and gently toss shrimp.
  • To serve: Surround a mound of rice with the shrimp and sauce. I always chop a few green onions tops for a garnish.

Dip garlic bread into the spicy sauce, it’s wonderful- we southerners call that sopping! A big fresh salad is great alongside in spring or summer- or in fall and winter… steamed broccoli is a very good side dish. Serves 3-4 hungry folks. This recipe may be doubled. *If there are any leftovers, mix the rice with sauce- mix with salad greens; cube leftover garlic bread and toast lightly for croutons! Oh my, it’s so good! Here’s how it came together…

Bon Secour Bay is on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay, I hope some day you get down there to experience it. Stay at the Grand Hotel just up the road, past Magnolia Springs in beautiful Point Clear, Alabama. And whatever you do, please give Gulf Shrimp a try at least once in your life- found from down around Galveston, Texas all around the Gulf of Mexico, even down to Key West! Nothing could be finer than Bighearted Gulf Shrimp! Love y’all, Camellia

* all photographs are obviously mine. *We acknowledge that some folks have sensitivity to shellfish or outright allergies to it; and that some cultures have dietary restrictions.

Mobile Bay-point clear* This beautiful sunset was taken from the Grand Hotel, an historic hotel which is operated by Marriott® See how beautiful it is? the whole area is sheer coastal beauty…Fairhope, Point Clear, Magnolia Springs and Mobile Bay!

Contemplatin’ Freedom…

408E9F09-38B0-4454-B5EB-16462BF5C81BI was feeling contemplative about the Fourth of July- okay, I was peeling potatoes for the potato salad- a mindless task… that’s when contemplating is easy. We had just gotten back from a last minute trip to Washington D. C., a city that is filled with more  profound history and symbolism than perhaps any other in this nation. It’s a white columned marbled and statuesque city- some of the marble was quarried right here in Alabama! Of course I’ve been to DC several times in my long and storied life- yet I always come away with a sense of awe and wonder; always learning something new…or something I knew seems to come alive in my mind.  For instance, the expanse of the sky overhead is startling for a major city- there are no skyscrapers- by law. Why?

E2F13F06-B017-41B7-8FDD-73C0CC7D0E9CLook at the statue that crowns the dome on top of the US Capitol Building. Her name is Freedom.

  • No building shall rise above Freedom.
  • Nothing in our nation’s capital is allowed to cast a shadow on Freedom.

Pause and contemplate that! Profound, especially when you consider that Freedom was commissioned in bronze when our nation was divided- literally by civil war and unrest. The pediment that Freedom stands on is embossed with the Latin words E Pluribus Unum, out of many one.  The center part of the capitol building had been destroyed during the War of 1812.. it was being rebuilt; the new plans included the iconic dome…made of cast iron weighing 1000’s of pounds… President Lincoln insisted that work continue on the building despite the war that had torn us apart, so the American people would be encouraged that our nation would once again be united and whole.

F7C6A780-B268-464D-BB94-1E223DA6F00BWhen we last visited Washington D.C. renovations were being made to the interior of the dome, now completed, it is once again a masterpiece.  I couldn’t help being reminded of one of my favorite Scriptures…

‘Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses who have  gone before us, let us throw aside every encumbrance and run with patient endurance the portion of the race set before us…’ Hebrews 12:1

George Washington figures strongly in the painting- he is flanked by Liberty and Victory within the dome and each symbolic creature seems to be looking down from the heavens…other figures represent aspects of American life and industry that helped forge our freedom. For instance, Mercury is offering a bag of gold to Robert Morris- the financier of the American Revolution, the war which defeated tyranny and the power of a monarch.  Americans prize freedom; historically, we’ve been willing to fight and struggle to remain free. Now, I know most of you are thinking…

‘Wow, that’s pretty heavy stuff to be thinking when you’re peeling potatoes.’ Well, yes, I guess it is-  however, even Southern girls can contemplate things like this quicker’n whipping up a bowl of potato salad!  After all, it was the Fourth of July- it’s not all about fireworks and barbeque- though I must admit to lovin’ the tastier aspects…. George Washington loved pit barbeque- even gave a few barbeques himself! A tall athletic man, Washington was also endowed with amazing leadership skills, wealth and an impeccable reputation- wouldn’t even lie about cutting down a cherry tree as any school age child is taught. The cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin evoke his memory. George Washington was honored as a Revolutionary War General, the First US President and also called The Father of our Country. Washington was named a national icon in the 1800’s when the new capitol dome was being designed. The dome’s design includes a feature that bathes the entire Rotunda in light. Light is symbolic of Truth and Goodness… the two virtues that our government and her people should always strive to attain.

Anytime you’re going on vacation to an historic city- there’s so much to see and do…it’s good to have a few goals. For this trip to Washington DC, the purpose of our trip was to attend an award ceremony at the Pentagon and take the tour, which included the location in the building where an airliner struck the Pentagon on 9/11- the damaged section is now a chapel with  an honor anteroom, including a window looking toward the frightful path of the weaponized plane and overlooking a memorial garden for the 183 lives lost that fateful day. Also we wanted to see the newly renovated dome, eat a lobster roll at Luke’s near the National Portrait Gallery, eat at Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace in Georgetown and we had plans  to watch the somberly beautiful- Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. CD31FDD7-D9A1-44C7-BD8D-23B97C0FDEB3

The day we were there, four funerals were to be held. As we waited for our tram to take us back- everyone became quiet and with hands over heart- we watched as a caisson slowly passed by- with 6 saddled black horses- the horses on the left had riders…the horses on the right were riderless adding to the  beautiful yet haunting sight. No photographs were taken out of respect for the slain veteran. The architecture in the cemetery is astounding in its masterful detail.

I had finished making our Fourth of July potato salad… A thought had occurred to me- Just how long had it been since I had actually read the Declaration of Independence and why among all of our national holidays had I not made a tradition of reading it? We read the Thanksgiving stories of Pilgrims and Indians, we read the ‘Night before Christmas’ to our bright eyed children…of all the traditions we have in this great nation…why not read the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July? Oh, I think we all know some of the beautiful phrases-

  • ‘When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary…’
  • “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’
  • ‘And…with a firm reliance on divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.’

Yet somehow the whole declaration and its history isn’t dwelt upon annually. For instance, when you read the whole document- just the reading of the indictments of the monarch, King George III- are extremely informative. The time frame of it’s writing is also interesting… the Revolutionary War was already underway  when the declaration was written and ratified. Even more pressing and dramatic to contemplate- British war ships were bearing down upon New York Harbor!

In June of 1776, the colonies had become increasingly united concerning the need to declare independence from the Crown and Parliament. The delegates appointed a Committee of Five, which included Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson- Time was of the essence…

Jefferson was assigned the task of writing the declaration…he had a little over 2 weeks to write what would become one of the most important documents in human history. After consulting others who edited the document… Jefferson wrote that they ‘mangled it’  even as he exclaimed in his later years that the edits to sentence structure and removal of a full fourth of his original produced ‘the majestic document’ we now know as the Declaration of Independence…it was accepted on July 2, 1776. With that, the colonies had officially severed ties with Great Britain. John Adams believed that eventually Independence Day would become a day of celebration for generations.

  • On July 4 with a few more changes…
  • the wording was approved, it was signed and sent to the printer.
  • Two hundred copies were printed-

Now, this is important! President of the Continental Congress, John Hancock sent a broadside copy of the Declaration to General George Washington, who ordered that the declaration be read in full publically on July 9, 1776 to encourage folks to join the cause and to inspire his troops in New York City…wait for it…

  • The Declaration of Independence was read aloud… as 1000’s of soldiers on British warships were in New York Harbor!
  • This is profound enough, yet when you consider that 225 years later… the United States was attacked near the same location.
  • Standing overlooking the New York Harbor the Twin Towers were pummeled by those who would terrorize the American People.
  • Symbolism is one of our greatest teachers… Overlooking the same New York Harbor, rising up out of the ashes, in 2014 the new and gleaming One World Trade Center stands 1776 feet tall…

EA88D03E-E929-4DDA-BBB1-1CC5A50428C0May I be so bold as to suggest that-between July 4 and July 9 of each year… we make an effort to read the Declaration of Independence?After all, it ultimately became the spectacles through which the US Constitution is interpreted.   And in the reading of it, perhaps we will hear the echoes General George Washington’s voice , full of truth and goodness- as he declares Freedom from Tyranny and hear the inspiring words of the majestic document that still inspires generations..

The Declaration of Independence-  ‘…with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other- our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.’

Every thing they had was offered for the cause of Liberty- their lands, possessions and incomes, their very lives and the one thing these brave men valued above all- their honorable reputations.

E2F13F06-B017-41B7-8FDD-73C0CC7D0E9CRemember Freedom? Standing high above our nation’s capitol building? Contemplate Freedom, often. Let nothing overshadow Freedom. Let nothing rise above Freedom.

Independence Day is a wonderful national holiday, full of many reasons to be thankful for the protection of divine Providence – I hope yours was full of good food, fireworks, inspiration and contemplatin’ Freedom.

Love y’all, Camellia

*Please make note: The purpose of Camellia’s Cottage is not political opinion or commentary. Our purpose is to promote gracious inspiration and genteel conversations.

*All photographs are obviously mine. The photograph of the small American flag was near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I wondered if perhaps a young child had placed it there…

*Forgive me for not crediting sources…many are from tour guides and multiple resources from which notes were taken but no one source to provide a consistent resource.

Drop Biscuits and Cracklin’ Cornbread…

50189C19-5049-4A7B-BDFB-30F87F907DE8Biscuits and Cornbread are iconic Southern quick breads- made from scratch in a short period of time. Both lend themselves to wonderful variations. Drop Biscuits may have been the easiest of homemade breads, but cracklings added to cornbread- well, it’s from a time not all that many can recall, yet- Cracklin’ Cornbread was and is considered a delicacy.9D3D219A-5E5A-45DC-BF13-E7B27FC3AE79

The first time I recall eating a drop biscuit was when my momma realized she had forgotten to make bread for supper- which was well underway. Drop Biscuits in their purest form are made with a sticky biscuit dough and dropped from a spoon onto a greased sheet pan, then baked. The result is a unique biscuit with a bit more crunch than a normal biscuit due to it’s rough irregular shape, these Cheddar Chive Drop Biscuits are a double variation because ours are made in a cake pan; the result is a tender savory biscuit. Yet, they would be just as good dropped and baked separately on a sheet pan. Here’s how to make:

Camellia’s Cheddar Chive Drop Biscuits 

  • You will need 3 cups of baking mix- do not pack, just lightly filled measures. (I used Pioneer® Baking Mix) 1 1/4 cup of  milk 1 cup of finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese 1/3 cup of chopped chives or green onion tops and room temperature Salted Butter.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease pans with butter. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  • Gently mix milk into baking mix. Add grated cheese, again- stir lightly (add an extra tablespoon or two of  milk if the mixture is too stiff) 4959A54C-770A-467E-AEE1-1B2268802480
  • Lightly stir in chives or onion tops.
  • On parchment lined baking sheet, using a medium sized serving spoon, drop heaping spoonfuls onto pan leaving space between. You should have 18 biscuits. Sprinkle the tops with a bit of baking mix and put the sheet pan in the freezer for 10 minutes until firm but not frozen.
  • In greased baking pans, gently turn over and place floured side down. 9 drop biscuits in a circular design placing them close together and very lightly flour the tops. 9B92D247-D42D-4D06-A85D-52220A0D6303
  • Butter the tops of the biscuits.
  • Bake for approximately 15-18 minutes (time may vary- for dark pans like mine- baking time was 18 minutes) *I baked one pan of 9 biscuits and tightly covered the other pan to be used at another meal.  Biscuits will be light in color when done- please don’t over bake!A3C1112E-EF81-40AB-AE55-E7A76BB959CB
  • *Variations are endless- bits of cooked sausage or ham, different types of cheese, chopped jalapenos- or make them sweet with the addition of dried fruit or cinnamon and sugar. Baked in a pan these drop biscuits resemble scones or yeast rolls in texture but have the flavor of biscuits. Yum! Make smaller drop biscuits for luncheons or parties for a real treat.

*Travel Tip: Pioneer Baking Company was founded in 1851 by a German pioneer, C.H. Guenther, his baking mixes were a boon for working folks and pioneers since everything but the liquid was included and could be cooked in wood stoves or campfires.

D433D08E-A2B2-4F77-ACD0-4B6E90C9F298Today, if you go to San Antonio, Texas, make sure to go to the Guenther House on the grounds of the Pioneer Baking Company. The house is a restored treasure and the food- oh my! the food is wonderful- a must see and do in San Antonio! An American treasure, where you will find more than just his baking mix- there are waffle and gravy mixes that are wonderful too! Get there early, there’s always a line! Breakfast there is a real treat- just one of their light fluffy biscuits buttered with pepper jelly is divine. If you can’t go there, be sure and try their products!16953BAF-B469-4E9A-84B5-D4203F23BFE7

As a side note- in case you’re skeptical of the German contributions to Southern food, it is believed that Chicken and Dumplings were introduced by Germans who devised a chicken stew with a thin dumpling laid on top, then steamed. Early Germans who came to this country in the early 1700’s contributed in so many ways to American cuisine!  Who can imagine a more iconic dish than Chicken and Dumplings!

8727903D-325C-471E-80FD-1E353F2A0793Cracklin’ Cornbread may disappear if we don’t keep making lard in this country and saving the bits from the bottom of the rendering pots! I know folks who recall hog killings- and the big black iron pots in which lard was rendered from the fat and pork skins, tended mainly by the womenfolk, while the men were handling the larger portions- like hams, shoulders or sides of bacon.

You simply cannot make authentic Cracklin’ Cornbread without genuine cracklings- recently I could only find one grocery store which stocked cracklings in my area. Cracklings aren’t bagged Pork Skins that we all enjoy. Here’s how they look –E6897CA2-3C66-43D5-94AE-B0D277EBAAC7

Cracklings need to be kept chilled or- if you don’t plan to use them often, cracklings freeze well. When times were hard, a pan of cracklin’ cornbread and a bowl of pot likker provided enough vitamins and minerals for survival. I like my cracklin’ cornbread on the thin side, not a big hunk, it’s crispier and has more flavor. The cracklings will become soft and chewy. Here’s how you make-

Camellia’s Cracklin’ Cornbread

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put an iron skillet with bacon drippings in the pan to heat while you’re mixing the cornbread.
  • You will need: 1 2/3 cup of cornmeal mix. *This is cornmeal pre-mixed with baking powder, salt and baking soda. If you don’t make cornbread as often as I do, keep the cornmeal mix in the freezer. 3/4 to 1 cup of cracklings 1-2 large eggs and enough milk to make a loose mixture- approximately 1 1/2 cup of milk or maybe more.
  • Carefully pour hot bacon grease into the mixture, then quickly and carefully return to the hot iron skillet.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cracklin’ cornbread is golden brown. Serve hot and buttered.
  • Great with soups, stews, vegetable plates-loaded with  candied yams, peas or beans and turnip greens- fried okra would be good too! Here’s what I served with my Cracklin’ Cornbread and Cheddar Chive Drop Biscuits- a variation of Jambalaya!8E0A9DE1-2969-4DE4-9B55-4C962B0EEFC8

We’ll have to wait for another day for that recipe! We learned how to make cornbread from Native Americans who were thought to mix up the meal with water and bake hoe cakes over an open fire. Leave it to Southerners to figure out how to make cornbread in all of its many variations! I never add any extra ingredients to crackling cornbread, but I do love Mexican Cornbread filled with cheese, corn and jalapenos. Imagine! Just the wonderful variations in Iconic Southern Foods named here- which had their origins in many different cultures- German, Native American, Mexico, Africa, Great Britain and Jambalaya? French Canadians!

Southern food is our history on a plate or in a cast iron skillet. History that is hard, devastating and  not ever easy to talk about… yet over stoves, sinks and community tables… our differences fade and our pasts come together like an amazing spice blend- each one adding an ingredient, method, heat or even madness stirred into a combination that’s not just fit to eat– it’s a  smorgasbord, an amazing feast for the soul and the senses. Southern Food is a melting pot of what we call- Home Cooking.

Love y’all, Camellia

*Pioneer® Baking Mix is registered product, as are Hormel® Cracklings. This is not a sponsored post by either of these fine companies. *All photographs are obviously mine.

Limeade with Roses and Mint…

89A1EE9D-7E5B-42D7-811B-7740D727B42EWhat a day this is! The Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs and Cinco de Maya…a perfect blend of Roses, Mint and Lime if you ask me. I know, I know there have been recipes for Margarita Juleps and Mint Margaritas…but really this seems to be a time to blend something special. I’m not just celebrating an important Southern celebration- none other than the Kentucky Derby, where you can certainly find some amazing and classic Mint Juleps! I’ve even picked my favorite to win the race! Yet, Cinco de Maya is a fun holiday too- I made it a treat with chili dogs and limeade for lunch today! Though some guacamole would have hit the spot, too. Actually- I’m in the mood to celebrate because the roses here at the cottage are just showing out! Can you believe it?

 

 

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So, after I had admired the garden which smells heavenly- I picked some rose petals and fresh mint. Mint, to be honest, is a bit invasive… though run a mower over some of it and the fragrance is…. well like a bit of fresh mint! Mimi often made Mint Iced Tea, so I’m reminded of her when the mint returns each spring- C20EBCCB-9846-4884-ABD5-0235DE0DF9E5

I like to make up a batch of mint flavored sugar syrup for the spring and summer iced tea! Later, while I was stirring up the limeade, I decided to make up something special… to celebrate all of it! Here’s what I did:

99D32BD2-25D3-4D1A-9660-D363A9F8486BCamellia’s Limeade with Mint and Rose

  • Mix your favorite Limeade concentrate according to directions, reducing the water by 1/4- *I prefer reduced water limeade concentrate to making fresh limeade for this particular drink.
  • Chill the pitcher of limeade thoroughly.
  • In another pitcher, muddle together a handful of fresh mint leaves, 4-5 limes quartered, 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and one teaspoon of rose water until thoroughly mashed and mint leaf and lime peel oils have thoroughly combined with juices, sugar and rose water. *Alcoholic version: add a jigger or two of your favorite Bourbon or White Rum to the muddled mix.
  • Invite your guests to ‘season’ their own glasses if this isn’t strong enough. Also it is wonderful to mix up sugar and salt and lime zest to rim the glasses! *I prefer the non- alcoholic version- but hey! some folks prefer a more celebratory drink!
  • Add Limeade to Muddled Mixture, chill very well. Top off each glass with a bit of club soda for fizz!
  • Pour into glasses with finely crushed ice. Load with more crushed ice if preferred.
  • Garnish with mint leaves, a lime wedge and of course a rose petal makes it extra special!

While Camellia’s Limeade with Mint and Roses was created for the combo of the Kentucky Derby and Cinco de Maya, it’s also a perfect drink for a Garden Party or a Bride’s Sip and See!  While you’re at it- why not mince a few clean and chemical free rose petals and a 1/2 teaspoon of rosewater to your favorite shortbread! Limeade with Mint and Roses is a wonderful refreshing drink for any occasion!

We visited Churchill Downs several years ago- the racetrack and grounds are amazing;  the whole Louisville area is beautiful, with bluegrass fields, horse farms and distilleries. We were there the week after Derby and the Roses there were beautiful! While at the racetrack, tour guides showed us a special area where very special racehorses are buried. Horses have been buried since ancient times for various reasons- however, at Churchill Downs, the horses, in the traditional manner of burial- just the Head, the Heart and the Hooves are buried symbolically…

‘The head for determination- the will to win, the heart for the spirit and courage of the horse and the hooves for the speed to run the race; oh, that humans would run the race with the qualities of champion horses… Religion often dictates the proper way to bury the dead. Devotion dictates how we honor that which has died….Wherefore, seeing we also are encompassed about by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily besets us; and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 ‘ from chapter 25, Cave Dwellers and Racetracks- from  Four Days- the Lazarus Principle by Brenda Wyatt.

I think whenever we celebrate life in all of it’s many forms, we have decided to live, really live. Do what lights you up, what makes your heart sing, what makes you run the race set before you with patience and joy!-  like Racehorses or these exuberant Roses. Find ways to celebrate life- and if you need refreshment?  Limeade with Roses and Mint  just might hit the spot!

Love y’all, Camellia

P.S. Now, ladies- I’ve lived in places where Blue Laws were in effect, and in dry counties if you get my drift… so, obey the law! If you decide to imbibe-You’ll have to drive well over two counties away to make sure no one sees you buying that liquor- so be sure to persuade a gentleman to procure it for you, just not on Sunday! And for heaven’s sake when you drink- no swigging from a bottle or can- drink from a julep cup or a fine glass; hold it above your waist, otherwise it’s trashy.

*Rosewater is available at most grocers or online- use it sparingly; a little dab on each wrist and behind each ear is nice too!

*All photographs are obviously mine. *Four Days- the Lazarus Principle was written by me- I gave myself permission to quote from it! Available on Amazon.com and other fine booksellers. *

My Derby Horse is number 13, I not a very good gambler but I liked the looks of him and had sort of a Cinco de Maya sounding name- Bravazo! I plan to lift a glass to the winner whoever it is! 99D32BD2-25D3-4D1A-9660-D363A9F8486B