Whatsoever Things are True, Pure, Beautiful and Worthy of Praise…
Think on these Things… Phillipians 4:8
Here’s what’s Blooming at Camellia’s Cottage… Have a Blessed Lord’s Day!
Love y’all, Camellia
Rich in Turtles Species, about three dozen are native to Alabama. Now, this doesn’t count the eccentric Turtlin’ Southern folks, we just accept the quirks…
Southerners love eccentricity. If something odd, embarrassing or the Lord forgive- immoral happens- we’re eccentric- we don’t usually call it by a harsh label Depending on the severity of the situation,
You’ve caught me, I’ve been Turtlin’ – it’s a condition closely aligned with hibernatin’ – not actually going to sleep for a long stretch of time but a slowing down, a pulling in, a staying put, close to home- some might call it idlin’, I call it Turtlin’. It’s an eccentric thing to do, but highly enjoyable- reading or letting my mind wander. Aunt DawDaw who was an eccentric herself, once brought a distant cousin to a family gathering- this cousin had acquired the nickname of Turt. Her real name was Gertrude. Cousin Turt. Smart as a whip, pretty as a picture- Turt was also talented- she emitted whistlin’ sounds and birdsongs intermittently while fluttering her hands like small birds and rolling her eyes toward the sky. If someone told a funny or strange story, her little rosebud mouth would form a perfect O and she would giggle from behind her hand- the next minute she could recite a whole passage from…who knows? Shakespeare. We didn’t have upper case letters to describe her condition. We liked her, she made an event interesting- when Turt’s mind would wander -DawDaw exclaimed, ‘She does that, she’s just turtlin’ …When I’m turtlin’ myself… I pull inside my shell, read for days on end…preferably old cookbooks… my favorite form of rich literary history. If you’re lucky, I’ll test drive a recipe and share it.
This time- I was turtlin’ in cookbooks and found recipes that filled me with fear, trepidation and abject horror. I’m not heavy into Wild Game cookery, the ex-otic sort of roughin’ it in my cookbook. My idea of roughing it is this: I will cut up a chicken for an Emergency Batch of Fried Chicken, I will peel and devein Shrimp- however Cleaning or Skinning anything is outside of my comfort zone… doesn’t mean I won’t eat it, just that I won’t cook it. Southern cookbooks, the real ones- generally include Wild Game, captured by Sportsmen which abound in the South. In this last turtlin’ expedition I found:
Then I ran across a Soup…which I have eaten a fair amount of times in my long and varied life. It was so favored by Winston Churchill when he was staying in Williamsburg Virginia, he called room service after a fancy banquet and asked for leftovers, when told there was plenty, Churchill had the whole terrine brought to his room! This same soup is eaten at fancy restaurants and apparently was all day picnic fare by the river and of course, some of our best Southern cuisine came from pore folks who scavenged local creeks and streams. I’ve never thought about how this soup was made- I’ve eaten it in fine dining establishments, at country club luncheons and quaint restaurants on cobbled lanes and a few years ago, at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. Their version was very good, had a distinct flavor with little bits of meat floating around. If you haven’t noticed, I’m taking this slow. I’m working up to it, trying not to draw into my shell. Remember Cousin Turt? She earned her nickname when Uncle Eldred brought home a turtle he found in the middle of the road- he said he liked to never got it in the cardboard box- and it wasn’t a common Box Turtle either. Cousin Turt was fascinated – stuck her hand in the box and boy, was she in a fix! That Snappin’ Turtle, grabbed her finger, she was whistlin’ Dixie- loud! Uncle Eldred laughed his sides off, the startled turtle drew back in it’s shell and forever afterward, Gertrude bore the shame and became Cousin Turt. I’m guessing you know by now, the soup in Churchill’s terrine was Terrapin Soup or by it’s common name- Turtle Soup. I have no less than 6 cookbooks with either dainty versions – like ‘Open two cans of Turtle Consomme’ , or the clinical and neat version which just says- 2 pounds of cleaned turtle meat. (I ran that to ground when a friend told me Turtles are actually farmed now- then cleaned and packaged and sold by the pound- who knew? I would personally like to meet a Turtle Farmer!)
Now, you have to know this is coming… The older cookbooks- where Delta Debutantes, Socialites and even Church ladies- our Matriarchs collect their best recipes for philanthropic purposes have full blown recipes for Turtle Soup. I had to wonder…really? The white gloved actually did this? Apparently they did though one did name her Turtle Soup after the cook! This portion should carry a warning- *Contains graphic material, not suitable for weak stomachs or the faint of heart. Listen in to some of the instructions:
All of the old recipes call for highly seasoning the broth, adding often an entire pound of butter; some soups (not clear broths) are topped off with half and half, chopped egg yolks – chicken I presume, a dusting of cayenne pepper and salt- and this: no measurements- Just the ingredient is listed- Madeira Wine. And most call for a small wine glass of Madeira to either pour into the soup before eating or just sip alongside. I presume this was the distinct flavor at Commander’s Palace. For a teetotaler like me, knowing what I know now? I might have to have a very large glass or even the whole bottle of that Madeira! Okay this has taken a lot out of me… I’m heading back into my shell, Turtlin’ again, but before I go, let me say- ‘Like all good Southern tales, this one is part truth, part myth and part outright lies!’
Love y’all, Camellia
*I do not have a bowl of Turtle Soup for you- sorry, I just did not have the courage to try it- in any form! *Jeremy Minard was a sport to provide the wonderful photographs of the non-endangered freshwater turtles right here in Alabama! Find him at http://www.jeremy-miniard.fineartamerica.com
I must admit, the last few months have been difficult. When Life gives you Lemons, well- you just try to make the best of it…right? But when a Southern kitchen has lemons, there’s no doubt you will get some of the best dishes in the region! With our close proximity to Florida’s citrus crops- oranges, key limes and lemons! And let’s not leave out Texas! We love to get those Texas Ruby Grapefruits! Lemon is a key ingredient in elevating our abundant seafood, lemon juice is prominent my favorite seafood cocktail and barbeque sauces,. Lemon perks up poultry too! My grandmother made a chicken stew that she called Lemon Butter Chicken- which relied on very few ingredients, in fact if you change just one ingredient- it changes the whole thing! She often used a whole hen or plump chicken salted and peppered, then surrounded it with peeled and quartered potatoes, squeezed the juice of at least four lemons, poured about a quart of water in the pot and added chunks of a whole stick of butter and ran it in a 350ºoven until the chicken was ‘falling off the bone tender’! Mimi claimed it would cure anything! After years of making this chicken- I can attest that it does make us all feel better! And in the last few months, it surely made me feel better! My only substitution is bone in, skin on chicken breasts. The ultimate comfort food.
And my, my, my! who can imagine Life without Lemon desserts! Meringue Pie, Lemon Ice Box Pie, Lemon Curd filled Shortbread, Lemon glazed Pound Cakes are wonderful and of course we always add a bit of lemon juice to Key Lime Pie when we substitute Persian Limes for Key Limes! My great aunt Mary Sue made a cake that we all knew as Lemon Cheese Cake, you might find this cake in very old cookbooks but it will be a rare find- this is a moist white layer cake, filled and coated with Lemon Curd. It is truly delicious. Then, I must add- Lemon Squares- literally from the cradle to the grave- at almost every important occasion you will find these moist, sweet, tangy bites at afternoon teas, wedding and baby showers, birthday parties, on dessert buffets and of course, funeral food- we love our Lemon Squares. Best of all they are truly easy to make with no special equipment or ingredients.
Preheat oven to 350º *Lemon Squares have two steps of baking.
Combine crust ingredients- do not overwork but do mix well and mash into an 8×8 square glass baking dish. Bake 15-20 minutes, checking after 12 minutes- do not overbake! This is a half baked crust.
While crust is baking- make Lemon Filling_
Mix Filling ingredients well. Pour into half baked crust. Bake at 350º-18 to 20 minutes until settled-(may take longer) Bake until no fingerprint remains when lightly pressed but be careful not to overbake. Cool. *Some sprinkle with powdered sugar while it hot, some wait until it is cooled, but I find it is better to do both! Sprinkle powdered sugar while it is hot. Let cool completely. Then dust with another round of powdered sugar. Cut into squares- for parties or teas cut into small squares- think tiny! Or if for family- cut Lemon Squares any size you like! Enjoy!
Do you remember that part about – when Life gives you Lemons? Well, we try to make the best of it- right? No one wants to be around ‘whinin’ and cry-nin’ all the time! However, since the citrus color is certainly right and since I did ‘graduate’ last week, I wanted to share a little news with y’all. In mid January, a tumor was found on my carotid artery. The size of the tumor and the location made surgery risky for a person of a certain age… a-hem, like me. I was relieved by two things,
One of the reasons I am sharing this with you, is that I want you to know that my writing might not have been up to par every time, however, writing for Camellia’s Cottage- has been a wonderful diversion. It has kept up my spirits to think about fun, funny and lovely things to share with you! And…I am so very thankful for my husband and family who were so supportive and for so many who prayed for me without fail for the last four months. I wrote a prayer or two and shared them with you during this lemon-y life experience, which included the loss of two very dear friends, illness and hardship for some who are so dear and my own precious mother is in a difficult recovery from a stroke and fractured hip.
And still, I wanted to write, in this sweet territory, Camellia’s Cottage. For the Radiosurgery, I was fitted with a special mask for these treatments. When I laid on the table for a treatment, the mask was snapped securely to the table. Since I am claustrophobic, I was worried about how I would endure- I repeated a special Bible verse from 2 Thessalonians 3:18 ‘Now the Lord of Peace Himself shall give you peace always by all means…’ And very often, I would think of y’all, what I would write next or better yet what you would comment back to me! I am in the waiting period now- in six weeks, I will be tested to see how successful the radiation has been. I have every reason to believe it will be! I am very thankful for the doctors, technicians and staff of UAB Medical Center, Kirkland Clinic and the Hazelrig- Salter Radiology Center. Right here in Alabama we have a first class Medical Center and University! I agreed to be photographed for teaching purposes, since this type of vascular tumor is seen only about 5-6 times per year at UAB and less than 50 in the entire Southeast. It gave me a sense of purpose that perhaps my tumor would help in future treatments. I came away from this rich life experience with a new appreciation for the quiet courage of the patients and families who are going through their own radiation treatments. Last Friday, the staff presented me with a graduation certificate, the mask is mine to keep.
They snapped my photograph and I left the center to the applause and congratulations of the staff ! I felt like a star! I wanted to celebrate with one of my favorite desserts, the Lemon Squares! Today seemed like the day to share my news with you, maybe you need to make a pot of Lemon Butter Chicken or a batch of Lemon Bars to celebrate the lemons in your life. Oh me, what can I say except…. * All photographs are obviously mine, please excuse my typos, you have my permission to gasp, giggle or even laugh outright at my Neon Citrus Mask! And, I have every reason to believe I will be writing for years to come! Always remember …
I Love y’all, Camellia
When Spring arrives, the Earth is renewed, the Resurrection is celebrated and you have to believe something good is about to happen. But Spring is a fickle lady… some days are beautiful and some days are filled with dark clouds, nowhere is that more true than right here in Alabama- the third wettest state in our nation. Alabama Public Television debuted the documentary a few months ago- America’s Amazon and guess where it is? Right here in Alabama the Beautiful! As we commemorate Earth Day, our opportunity to be good stewards of the world we live in- it is our hope that whether this is your home state or not, you will appreciate this amazing place filled with Oaks so ancient they’ve grown beards or wear gray veils, a place with dozens of species of oaks, pine forests so fresh, Cypress swamps, whole stands of magnolias, and endangered species of delicate pitcher plants, wild orchids and Cahaba Lilies. Magnificent waterfalls, rushing streams, sugar sand beaches, the Delta’s own region including Mobile Bay- from top to bottom earthborn beauty abounds! There is enough water running through Alabama rivers and streams to encircle planet Earth five times!
Alabama prides herself in Wild Shrimp, Blue Crab and Royal Reds. And… the Spaniards nicknamed Mobile Bay- ‘the Bay of the Holy Spirit for a phenomena known as the ‘Jubilee’, which happens only one other place on earth- and it is said not to be exactly the same…the oxygen level goes down in the bay and the fish start jumping! All sorts of delicacies rise to the top for the taking- crab, shrimp, fish- folks wade out into the bay with nets and fill coolers with the bounty! The conditions must be exactly right, the timing is never predictable though folks who live there say that there are some who can sense a Jubilee is coming!
For all of this bounty and beauty- there is a downside… water runoff from at least four states runs through Alabama which includes our own and others’ industrial wastes, construction site waste and pollution, this is our opportunity to do our part to preserve America’s Amazon. Sadly, we are not a state full of tree-huggers or of lawmakers who have passed strict environmental laws but there are a significant number of folks who have decided to do their part –
The map alone inspires me to do my part to preserve Alabama the Beautiful! Camellia’s Cottage wishes all of you a blessed Earth Day, something good is bound to happen this Spring!
Love y’all, Camellia
*the photographs of Live Oaks are posted in loving memory of our own Delta girl, Denis, who chose to live in Magnolia Springs and lovingly shared her expertise and these amazing photographs with us- we will always love you. The sunset photograph is by our own Jeremy Miniard, posted again in memory of Denis who adored sunsets just as we do. For more information and stunning photographs go to: http://www.al.com/americas-amazon/ To download the map- go to Alabama Water Watch
Sometimes I think Fresh Mint is a stepchild in the world of Herbs. An informal survey revealed very few use Fresh Mint often, but most Southerners grow it. Truth be told, give Mint a soggy spot in the garden and it can be invasive- yet if you smell fresh cut mint- there is something so refreshing about it. I was out in the garden checking to see what was coming up and found a vigorous patch of Fresh Mint. I grabbed a big handful, stuck it some water; my hands smelled good and the kitchen had a nice fragrance. I began thinking of new and long neglected ways to use garden variety fresh mint. Mint, in the herbal remedy world is known to lift the spirits, aid in digestion, ease the stomach and sinuses; some say it helps improve circulation too. A small vase of mint on a bedside table or even in a bathroom would lend a soft fresh fragrance. I generally dry my garden mint by tying it in bundles and hanging it upside down to dry. Mint Tea is refreshing as a winter tea, and it is nice to have a sprig of mint to decorate an Irish Coffee-but what of the rest of the year? Well… Southerners are known for their love of Sweet Tea. My grandmother made Sweet Mint Tea. You cannot make Tea sweet without making a Simple Sugar Syrup- (one cup sugar to one cup water heated until the sugar dissolves) Mimi added a packed 1/3 cup of fresh mint leaves to her Mint Simple Syrup. Strain the mint leaves before using. Simple Syrups when chilled will last a long time. I still make it up from time to time. Look at my Mint Tea!
Brew tea as you would normally, adding Mint Simple Syrup while the tea is hot. There’s no harm in gilding the lily– Rim those glasses when you’re ready for a glass of Mint Tea!
Before you know it- the Kentucky Derby will be here and a whole lot of folks grow mint to make Mint Simple Syrup to use in their Mint Juleps, and of course the Spas and fancy places are making up flavored waters- so why not do it at home? Southerners have always loved ‘to take the waters’ at Natural Hot Springs, now the spas have all manner of ways to mimic that experience! Make up a pitcher of ice water- throw in slices of lemon and cucumber- add mint leaves and stir. In the Southern humidity, we need all the hydration we can get, a pretty flavored water is great incentive …or, you could entertain the idea of bringing back the old fashioned Ice Water Teas and do it in style.
Several years back, we went to the famous restaurant, Serendipity in New York City with some wonderful friends- the girls and I ordered their famous Frozen Hot Chocolate! I made my own version here at the cottage and admittedly, it is messy but oh so good… Chocolate Ice Cream (Chocolate Mint would be good too!) scooped into a coffee mug, my version has Marshmallow Crème on top instead of whipped cream. To add to the fun…I brushed some mint leaves with melted chocolate and chilled. Chocolate-coated Mint leaves are an old trick as a palate cleanser but awfully nice added to a plate of shortbread cookies too! In the case of my Frozen Hot Chocolate, as a garnish-a chocolate mint leaf along with a stem of fresh mint skewered a maraschino cherry! I dare you to try this as a quick and easy dessert!
Basil is a member of the Mint family of herbs, if you ever find yourself short of basil but long on mint; it makes a decent stand in for basil and some even swear by making Pesto using fresh mint, olive oil, walnuts and parmesan cheese. Of course there are mint jellies and mint sauces for Spring Lamb and when fresh Early Peas are in season – do like the French do- add shredded lettuce, a pat or two of butter then steam… for a twist on the classic French Spring Peas, add a bit of chopped Mint to garnish, careful not too much! Fresh Spring Peas with mint- a truly refreshing side dish. I love to chop up whole bunches of Parsley, add a generous handful of chopped fresh Mint, add chopped romaine, sliced green onion tops, cucumber slices and the twist on this salad is adding chopped salami. Dress with lemon and lime juice, garlic and olive oil. Now, that is one refreshing and healthy salad!
Perhaps my favorite use of Fresh Mint in homekeeping, is a filler in flower arrangements- Mint is generally so plentiful and sturdy enough to hold up in bouquets. I wish I knew how to make these into scratch and sniff photographs!
The fragrance of yard flowers- Fresh Mint and Rambling Roses is …well, amazing! But really, ain’t that pretty? I hope I’ve inspired you to try Fresh Mint. If not? I guess you could stand around smacking peppermint candy or popping that Spearmint gum like a Scalawag. Oh me!
Love y’all, Camellia
* all photographs are obviously mine.
I do not have in my possession- a Southern cookbook that does not have multiple recipes for the classic French soufflé – sweet and savory, for dessert, a side dish or even a main luncheon dish. The Classic Cheese Souffle, is a true high wire act of
Well, who wants to go through all of that? And though soufflés are stunning- they must be served immediately. The truth is though, most Southern cooks who make souffles regularly will tell you they are not hard, the base can be made hours ahead and chilled- it’s all of that whipping egg whites and folding right before baking that makes souffles seem high wire and in danger of falling flat! Even so, Cheese Souffle seems to have been considered part of a Southern cook’s repertoire to the extent that quite a few cookbooks even have a strong suggestion that Bless-ed is the Bride who can pull off at least one soufflé for her new husband! I would go a step further and say- Bless-ed are the guests who are served at least one soufflé! Recipes abound for Bride’s Cheese Souffle, some are blatantly named Mock or Fake Cheese Souffle, just in case poor Audrey Virginia Wallace-Calvin needs to see can’t fail in black and white print!
‘Darlin’ we know you bragged to John Wesley Calvin III, that you could actually cook, but believe me, you can fool him with this one!’
It has literally been decades since I have even attempted to make a real soufflé, yet in Spring with eggs in plentiful supply, milk and sharp cheddar cheese on hand; I decided to make a Faux Cheese Souffle. I assembled the ingredients the night before. The Faux Cheese Souffle was surprisingly easy, it is light and fluffy with full flavor, holds very well and can also be re-heated. Let me tell you how it was done:
Faux Cheese Souffle
Layer half of the buttered, quartered bread in the bottom of buttered soufflé dish, making sure bread is buttered side up. Cover with half of the grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese. Repeat this with more buttered bread and the other half of the grated cheese. In a bowl-
Whip the 4 large eggs well, add salt, then whole milk and spices mixing well. Pour this mixture over the layered bread and cheese. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours. Preheat the oven to 350º uncover faux cheese soufflé mixture and bake- center rack of oven for 45 minutes to one hour. The soufflé will be puffed, golden brown and bubbly, with the center of the soufflé set. * The addition of bread is what helps the soufflé hold up, the overnight soaking keeps the soufflé light and fluffy. You may serve immediately or allow to cool for a buffet table, a meatless meal, a light luncheon or with Baked Ham or Roast Beef or Petit Filet Mignon.
A side salad is wonderful or crudites of fresh vegetables. Serves 6-10. This is a light but rich dish! I hope you’ll give it a try- impress yourself, your family or even your guests and only you will know it’s a Faux Cheese Souffle!
Love y’all, Camellia
*photographs are obviously mine. Recipe was gleaned from several cookbooks I own- I adjusted seasonings to my liking, some do not call for dry mustard, some call for more or less Worcestershire sauce and others (though rarely) omit cayenne pepper.
Spring is a time of renewal and hope…there is nothing quite like nature to inspire us here at Camellia’s Cottage. The use of natural materials for Spring table settings, home décor and even in the garden brings the Earth’s best inspirations. As the Earth renews and indeed is resurrected, the arrival of Easter coincides. I was inspired by Easter’s proclamations…
for our natural Easter décor here at our humble cottage. Now, we don’t believe in scavenging a real bird’s nest unless it has been abandoned for several years, however we love tucking a moss tufted nest in flower arrangements, filling a bare spot in potted plants or even a resting in a natural wreath, but the use of a Nest itself, though hand wound…brings a sweet whimsy to home and garden. We hope you will be inspired by a few of ours and try them too! We’ve used a large nest of grapevine, angel vine, mosses, twigs and well, whatever we could find to make an oversize Nest! This oversize Nest can be left in place for birds who are feathering their nests now!
The oversize Nest was also laid in a Bird Bath and among some Bearded Iris, down low like this- it would be fun and whimsical for an Easter Egg Hunt.
We wound wicker baskets with vine and other dried materials to make up cute Easter baskets with faux eggs and added a touch of Easter by the front door.
Twist up a big handful of angel vine- tuck it into an iron container, add natural shred around egg shaped soaps to enhance a small Easter gift or use some excelsior in a whimsical container like our White Chicken bowl.
Turn a hanging basket base over a moss nest like ours propped against a lamp base for the look of a houseplant but easy care!
All of these projects took very little time, even little hands can help scavenge for natural materials. One of our favorite real nests is also one of our most pinned photographs- we call it the Empty Nest!
It was found abandoned more than four years ago. Nature is like that- It gives… a reminder of Easter’s Promise… ‘For God so loved the world that He gave…’ We are so grateful for The Resurrection and the blessings of Springtime!
From our Nest to Yours… we wish you all a beautiful Spring and a blessed Easter!
Love y’all, Camellia
*photographs are obviously mine!