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!

Rustic Scalloped Potatoes…

1DD6926D-75EC-4B8A-BCBF-0C07F639E406Scalloped Potatoes are equally at home at Sunday Dinner, a Covered Dish Supper, Bereavement Buffets or a Glamourous Holiday Meal. And let’s not forget- Scalloped Potatoes could play a supporting or starring role on one of our famous Vegetable Plates. Perhaps not a strictly southern dish, scalloped potatoes make a regular appearance as a satisfying side dish any time of the year. Not limited to just potatoes, I honestly believe southerners could scallop almost anything! After a quick glance through some of my reliable cookbooks, in addition to potatoes, I found- Scalloped Shrimp, Scalloped Oysters and even Scalloped Scallops! Scalloped Seafood is almost always combined with a subtly spiced cream sauce topped with bread crumbs then baked in a large flat scallop shells, sold by the stack for just such occasions. Vegetables are a southern favorite to scallop- Tomatoes may be at the top of the list to scallop (after potatoes) yet watch out!  Any vegetable that can be sliced into rounds can find themselves buttered, creamed and baked- Onions, Summer Squash, Eggplant, Zucchini, even Sweet Potatoes are often scalloped.42F7C380-BA3B-4558-9A8C-AC121E138B09

Okay. What is the difference between a Casserole, Au Gratin or Scalloped Potatoes? It’s the design and the cooking method. Sliced rounds- arranged in an overlapped manner create the scallop design, then the dish is baked using some sort of thickening sauce which doesn’t disguise the scallop design.  Some use the term – Escallop (my grandmother did!) instead of Scallop, yet it still is the same design and cooking method. Still. There’s always an exception to the rule… some experts use the verb – to escallop or to scallop as a cooking method of chopped meat(chicken is good example) or vegetables (corn is too small to create a design)- which is covered with milk or a cream sauce, dotted with butter, seasoned- often topped with cheese or a sprinkling of bread or cracker crumbs. In it’s simplest explanation- scalloped potatoes are a casserole with potatoes layered in a scallop design. Whatever it is- I have to admit, I’ve loved everything I’ve ever tasted which has been scalloped and served- hot!

5C1BEE43-713D-4F86-912F-BC53269015B3This week, at the last minute I realized I needed to send a covered dish to a potluck supper- no time to run to the store, I realized I had everything I needed to make Scalloped Potatoes! I added bits of chopped ham to the mixture- *this is often suggested in many southern recipes as a variation. Bacon or even Sausage is also added to many types of escalloped vegetables- just remember you’re not making hash! You’re adding flavor.  I chose to use chopped garlic chives instead of my usual finely sliced green onions.  I also wanted my Scalloped Potatoes to be a rustic version, so the potatoes weren’t peeled and weren’t thinly sliced as I would for a finer presentation! Now, let me stop here and explain- some recipes call for uncooked potatoes to be cooked in a thin cream sauce , however- I needed a quicker more reliable method that only works for Scalloped Potatoes, not other vegetables. My potatoes were cooked in advance; I didn’t make a cream sauce, because as my grandmother so wisely pointed out many years ago- ‘Potatoes have enough starch in them to create their own sauce!’ To her, adding flour created a flavor akin to paste- not good at all.  Oh, how I do run on… just let me tell you how I made:

1DD6926D-75EC-4B8A-BCBF-0C07F639E406Camellia’s Rustic Scalloped Potatoes

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Butter a 9×9 glass baking dish.
  • Microwave 3 medium size russet or Idaho potatoes. (slightly under baked is fine- overbaked is awful- throw them out and start again if that happens!)
  • Allow potatoes to cool down a bit, do not peel- slice into 1/2- 3/4 inch rounds.
  • Arrange potato slices in a scalloped pattern in prepared baking dish.
  • Meanwhile, chop a handful of baked ham (I used Smithfield® sliced ham)
  • Chop a handful of garlic chives. green onions or chives- *add a bit of chopped garlic- maybe one small clove- or a teaspoon of garlic powder mixed with green onions or chives- if you don’t have garlic chives or if you’re in a bind.DBA3B7AC-3A0E-484C-BDF9-D9D0DB4C819F
  • Dot with a generous amount of butter- maybe 12 pats or half a stick cut into slices.
  • Sprinkle ham and chives evenly over the potato slices.
  • Add a grind or two of black pepper and a pinch or two of salt- be careful, the ham is also salted!
  • Now, this is not an exact science, but pay attentionPour whole milk more than half way up the potatoes.  This probably close to 2 cups of whole milk.
  • Run the whole thing in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until most of the milk is absorbed. (Don’t overbake!)
  • Turn oven off.
  • *While potatoes are baking, you will need to finely grate- 1 cup of Sharp Cheddar Cheese. (Okay, I usually add more! But not so much that the scallop is hidden when it melts!)
  • *Some purists insist cheese must not be added to scalloped potatoes- I’m not a purist when it comes to Rustic Scalloped Potatoes!
  • With oven off but while it’s still very warm, top cooked potatoes with grated cheese- allow the heat of the oven to gently melt the cheese.
  • Serve immediately. 9 generous servings, 12 buffet servings.

*If sending Rustic Scalloped Potatoes as a covered dish, immediately cover tightly with foil. It’s also a good idea to surround the covered dish with clean dish towels to retain the warmth- though I have to say… even cold- oh my! it’s still good! Now, I don’t want you to think I don’t know how to make prettier designs or a finer, more glamourous dish of Scalloped Potatoes. Thinly sliced, artfully designed it is a beautiful dish. Great for anything other than the finest of food displays- Rustic Scalloped Potatoes are perfect for almost any occasion- offering extra fiber, more color and texture, and best of all- I’ll bet you have everything you need to make them on short notice and with very little effort you get great taste!  By the way- don’t you love reading… ‘ I need to send a covered dish to a potluck supper.’ ? You can hardly get a more southern sentence than that!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine.

 

Comportment…

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Minnie Holman Grammar School

Her name was Miss Badeaux. She was dramatic. No, wait! She was theatrical… When Miss Badeaux strode across the front of the room, her long flowing scarf trailed behind her like Loretta Young. She didn’t aim to look like the dark haired Loretta Young, I think she wanted to look like Marilyn Monroe, in chiffon shirtwaist dresses, platform high heels, flowing scarves, red lacquered nails with matching lipstick and yes, blonde hair, ‘straight from a bottle’, our mothers whispered.

5A635FDB-7321-4F5B-B20B-79F3D5772626I should clarify that Miss Badeaux didn’t look like Marilyn Monroe- her facial features weren’t soft, angular is a better word; she had a look about her that was distinct…her eyes sparkled with either mirth or fury; her eyebrows were arched a bit too high with a very liberal use of eyebrow pencil  which made her eyes as dramatic as her full red lips, which were pursed in displeasure, wide with laughter or shaped in a perfect ‘O’ when she was shocked by her students’ behavior.

Miss Badeaux was my fifth grade teacher at Minnie Holman Grammar School. I was rather frightened of her theatrical ways; yet I liked her, was fascinated by her. Still.  Miss Badeaux wasn’t like anyone I’d ever known, peculiar seems a good word to describe her. Completely different from my other teachers who wore sensible shoes, freshly starched shirtwaist dresses of modest length and straightforward eyeglasses; with the exception of Miss Collier- my second grade teacher wore fitted worsted wool suits and silk bow blouses and who was always kind. She was a terror with her wooden ruler. Rapping either our desks or our wrists as we practiced cursive writing, Miss Collier meant for our penmanship to be a work of art. (No, this was not a private boarding school- it was one of many Birmingham City Schools. At the time, they were considered high quality schools until the urban sprawl changed the landscape) I still find it hard to believe that-

  •  We were graded on Penmanship,
  • We had Auditorium once a week to train us in the art of Public Speaking and Drama.
  • We were offered weekly Art Classes.
  •  Advanced Art, Piano and Dance Classes were also offered for a small fee.
  • And we had teas for special occasions.

573E875A-3CB1-4503-AC0F-C797FD1C4543Miss Badeaux, my fifth grade teacher dramatically taught her awestruck students- Greek Mythology, Literature, History, Geography and yes, Grammar. Every morning, Miss Badeaux stood at our classroom door until every student had arrived- she was insistent that we stand by our desks until she entered.  Dramatic, with flowing scarf, long strides gesturing theatrically. she spoke

  • ‘Boys and Girls! Place your hands over your heart while we pledge allegiance to the Flag!’
  • ‘Now! You may be seated!’
  • ‘Feet and eyes forward- heads up! straight backs- no slouching !’
  • ‘Your attention please!’

Then, as only Miss Badeaux could do-  she called roll, using our full names, no nicknames- pursing her lips as she marked the roll call book- one by one we said ‘present’ or were marked ‘absent’. I had the impression this was a teacher who really could see in any and all directions, must have had eyes in the back of her head; she brooked no foolishness- a good conduct grade in her class seemed to be near unachievable. She had a way of pausing… as if waiting for our full attention. When Miss Badeaux was sufficiently satisfied that her class was willing and ready to learn- Rapping her  wooden talking stick on her desk with a flair, dramatically say-

  • ‘Merriam! Webster! May I have a word?’ She would cup her hand over her ear as if she was listening to the huge dictionary which stood on the library side of the room. ‘Ah, yes- comportment! Did you hear that class? Comportment! What a word! Thank you!’ She proceeded to write COMPORTMENT on the blackboard, did I mention she was theatrical? Yes, that’s how Miss Badeaux did everything. ‘Is anyone able to decipher this very important word- Comportment?’ There were sighs and giggles; no one seemed able to give Miss Badeaux a definition – of course she sent a student to Merriam-Webster for the answer.

‘The way or manner in which one conducts oneself’, Rosemary, the teacher’s pet, read. ‘A little louder, please- what is the meaning of Comportment’. Then, calling on Tommy, forgive me- Thomas. ‘Thomas, would you endeavor to use comportment in a sentence?’ … To be fair, the young boy tried but it was a monumental failure. Miss Badeaux sighed, then instructed Thomas to use his best penmanship and write the word comportment in his notebook while she used ‘comportment’ in a sentence-

‘The ambassador’s comportment was a reflection on his country.’ Students! Do you realize the ambassador’s entire nation would be judged for good or bad, depending on his personal comportment?’

She asked the unfortunate Thomas, who sat at the front of the class, to write the word ‘ambassador’ on the blackboard for all the class to see- ‘Use your phonics and sound it out!’ Somehow, Thomas got the word ‘ambassador’ on the board, while Miss Badeaux launched into a very dramatic explanation of how important our comportment was- We are ambassadors of our homes, our neighborhoods and the reputation of Minnie Holman Grammar School depends on our comportment!  An all encompassing word, comportment meant more than mere a conduct grade- Comportment included:

  • Our Bearing- how we held ourselves with good posture or a slouch. Bearing was very much related to-
  • Our Carriage- how a person carried oneself reflected comportment!
  • Our Grammar -whether the words we used were civilized or uncouth – courteous or rude!
  • Our Demeanor depended on good manners or bad, either poised or filled with fear, Whether we treated others with courtesy or not, even our facial expressions showed a pleasant demeanor or not!
  • Comportment included Habits- fidgeting or biting fingernails were not  good habits!
  • Comportment showed forth in our personal style and distinctiveness- this was a tricky one! One must conform, yet be sure to add that special something to make ourselves unique. Miss Badeaux certainly had her own personal distinct style!
  • Comportment showed up best in how we presented ourselves to the world-27C903B4-2D89-4B87-8B00-B54A7F316BBA
  • Were we going to have our hair hanging in our face or neatly combed?
  • Would our clothes, be neat and clean or wrinkled and dirty?
  • Would our papers and books be neat and tidy or a wadded up mess?
  • Comportment was all about our actions-  Actions speak louder than words.

Comportment was a running theme throughout my fifth grade year! Yet, curiously, after she had drilled the word into our little heads and tested us on spelling and meaning… the word was rarely spoken. Miss Badeaux, instead pointed to our history books- she said we would find out how peoples of the world had acted for the good or evil of society; she pointed to Geography books and told us we would discover which countries thrived and which did not.  Even the great myths or fables from ancient cultures, taught important lessons through action and reaction!

In Miss Badeaux’s class it was understood that her students would not just receive a conduct grade. Our grade would be decided by our overall comportment! I can still hear her say- ‘Young man! watch how you comport yourself!’ She impressed on students that we were transitioning in fifth grade from children to young adults. At the end of the year, if our comportment grade had been a B or higher… we would be recommended to attend a special course called- B4Hi.  Miss Badeaux and Mr. Wright – the principal of Minnie Holman Grammar School would have to approve.  B4Hi, was extracurricular social graces and deportment classes. Okay, we’ll have to wait on Deportment Classes and B4Hi, just know that we learned about comportment with a bit of etiquette thrown in for good measure! Then on to Charm School! 9C2672D0-37BF-47BC-90B8-4270314AB971

Now, y’all… I know all good southern tales are part truth, part myth and part outright lies- however… I cringe to admit, I actually did attend B4Hi and Charm School! I learned invaluable lessons like how to walk as if gliding… how to enter and exit an automobile gracefully- how to serve punch, form a receiving line, pour tea or go through a buffet line.

ECB2FDA6-3C89-4293-967C-2FB82BD509C6So many social graces and invaluable lessons were taught; I’m sure I’ve forgotten half of them. What I know for sure is that social graces were considered an important part of our education and upbringing.

As students start a new school year, we hope they will have a wonderful year of learning and growing! I’m thankful for good teachers. We pray our children will have at least one unforgettable, animated, even theatrical teacher like Miss Badeaux! I had many other wonderful teachers who came in different forms – and some unforgettable children who’ve taught me quite a few profound lessons in life!

Love y’all, Camellia

*I wish I had a photograph of Miss Badeaux, she was certainly unique and unforgettable. The photograph of Minnie Holman Grammar School was found on Pinterest and could be subject to copyright though none seemed to be exerted on it or the actual Girl’s Tea held at Minnie Holman. The photograph of Loretta Young also did not credit a photographer or exert copyright. I would love to give credit to these photographers if you know who they are. *

I have no idea who Minnie Holman was- however, my older sister told me that Minnie Holman was buried in the large front planter shown in the photograph! After telling me that if I stepped on a sidewalk crack I would break my mother’s back! I am ashamed to say my comportment at that moment was not poised…I was terrified! Then- tearfully upset when I learned she was just kidding me! God bless her, she is my Sailor Girl and my North Star!

*Merriam Webster online (www.merriamwebster.com) was a great resource for this piece of writing! *Other photographs were from the Ash-Clairma school annual from 1961- no copyright is exerted and some photographs I used throughout were edited for content or made into a black and white photograph.

 

Mapping the Stars…

3A869F57-07D9-43FC-9044-D6F6B40D9AF8Stars… we all love them. Songs have been written… Ships have found their way.. Poems have been penned. Wise Men found a Savior. Proposals have been offered. Sacred Vows have been made. Lullabyes have been softly sung… It seems mankind has been starstruck from the cradle onward through musical scores, love songs, hymnals and anthems across life’s precious moments, star strewn sidewalks, storm tossed seas and flag draped coffins.  What is it about stars that fascinates, inspires and moves us? Pinpoints of light in the dark night sky- constellations traced with chubby fingers, comets eagerly awaited and falling stars amaze. I’ll admit it- I love the stars and do watch in awesome wonder; I like nothing better than to describe someone with starry eyes or recognize something special in a young child and say- ‘A star is born!’

7FD3AE7D-373D-44EC-B313-6AD08B43563EWhen Star Mapper and artist, Jennifer Beck, contacted Camellia’s Cottage about her amazing star maps at Modern Map Art and asked us for a review of her star strewn maps, I didn’t hesitate as I often do, since we do very few product reviews.  One look at her website’s ‘astronomical software used by a planetariums that generates the actual sky at a particular time or place’ from the past or even the future- well, I was starstruck. And it didn’t hurt that they had been on NBC’s Today Show promoting their wonderful designs! When I accessed their website, I had so much fun putting in important dates- birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and more. I thought how impressive a whole wall of family birthdays would be; I imagined a dorm room with a star map entitled ‘Reach for the Stars’ , now that would inspire a young college student! And what fun it would be to give an engaged couple a futuristic sky map of their wedding night- my imagination was in overdrive.

7FEC38F6-B6BA-4253-8B5E-D776D1173DE6Ultimately, I created a Custom Night Sky of an important date to me- and had it titled ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’.  I could have added the constellations to the night sky with their amazing software, I chose the simpler night sky. Camellia’s Cottage is mostly traditional in design, though I do like a bit of contemporary art and had been looking for something different. I was so excited at the possibilities. When the Star Map arrived a few days ago- the paper was sturdy and high quality, the lettering and design is crisp and the border is a nice touch too. I couldn’t wait to try it in a few places even before it was framed! Now, the hard part! I need to decide where my Custom Night Sky will find it’s permanent home!

I hope you will visit their website- Modern Map Art . When you get to the site- go to star maps and just have fun creating your very own star maps of important dates! They have lots of options and while ours is the largest size at 24″ x 36″ – there are lots of sizes from small to large. The prices for custom art from Modern Map Art is very reasonable and would make great gifts for your family and friends. Christmas in July may be over…still.  It’s never too early to start thinking about the holidays and all of those stars in your life!

9855BCFF-92BD-4B1E-A675-6F2DC8BE143FWe try very hard at Camellia’s Cottage to recommend only those products or services we would personally use. Modern Map Art certainly met our standards! A huge thank you to Jennifer Beck and her team at Modern Map Art for creating our special poster! And, I’ll show it to you again when I get it framed and installed.

‘Stars Fell on Alabama’ might be a big band song, though it really did happen here, and the Saturn V missile was built right here in Alabama to take folks to the moon. Alabama is where Music and Movie stars are part of our history, yet every time a baby is born- we also believe in those tiny twinkling starry miracles!

Love y’all, Camellia

* All photographs are obviously mine.  The Star Map is, blush…of my wedding anniversary’s night sky. I’ll admit I have a hankering to order even more – the birthdates of my own children who’ve played a starring role in our lives and of important occasions when I might not recall the beautiful night skies! Modern Map Art is a wonderful resource for star maps, city maps, city skylines and more! The poster they provided to Camellia’s Cottage for review will have a starring role here for years to come!

Alabama Pralines…

F9BDBF25-017C-4D1F-89B0-402CBB61FA92If you’ve visited any great southern cities, particularly coastal cities such as Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans – chances are you’ve been drawn into a Praline Shop. We southerners call this sweet confection – Praw-leens,  we’ll know right away you aren’t from the south if you call them Pray-leens.  Since we’ve gotten the correct pronunciation out of the way, let me just say, however you pronounce Pralines, you will either love them or say- they’re too sweet!  Eat enough pralines in your lifetime and you will become a praline critic- I complain that some pralines are too grainy- the sugar isn’t smooth enough, or sometimes the pecans aren’t toasted quite enough to suit me, yet even as I criticize-  I  will stand there and eat a praline until all of the sugary morsel is gone… Every. Single. Time. Why is the South so famous for Pralines?

  • We seem to have a corner on the market of the famous pecan candy.
  • The infamous Southern Sweet Tooth- is on full display with pralines.
  • Perhaps it’s because we grow so much Sugar Cane and we do love our homegrown Pecans.

Still. Food historians tell us that pralines have been made for 100’s of years in the South- getting their start in New Orleans. According to John Egerton’s tome, called Southern Food– he quotes the Picayune Creole Cookbook written in 1901- Pralines are, ‘dainty and delightful confections that have, for upwards of 150 years, delighted…generations of New Orleans…’ Wait a minute! In 1901 they were saying Pralines had been made for 150 years? Crazy, now it’s over 250 years! Egerton goes on to explain that a  French diplomat named Cesar du Plessis-Praslin gave his name to a confection of ‘caramelized almonds and sugar’. Could we pause a minute.. I need to say a prayer of praise- ‘Lord, I’m thankful those Creoles swapped out toasted pecans for the almonds!’ Okay, let’s resume… I want to use my best words to describe pralines-

They are small puddles of caramelized sugar, rich with real butter and thick cream stirred in great copper vats. The fragrance of pralines spills out of candy shops onto sidewalks luring tourists As they watch confectioners with wooden paddles stir the roiling hot sugar to perfection before adding vanilla and exquisitely toasted pecans. On cobbled streets and sidewalks-folks watch in amazement as the hot sugary mass is carefully poured into small patties which become the delectable mass of Southern sweetness, we call Pralines.

4CD9B390-63E7-4059-8A51-EDC222D010DBAlabama isn’t widely known for her pralines- the sweet confections of my youth turned sugar more often into Divinity, Peanut Brittle or a plate of Chocolate Fudge; all of which depended on the weather– for success. Humidity is the enemy of granulated sugar in cooked candies. Sugar will do weird things like turn grainy or stiff or sit there and sulk- weeping. I know this to be true- I’ve rarely found a perfect day and  have made enough mistakes to throw out whole batches of candy that wasn’t fit to eat.  Recently, I found, a yellowed and fragile newspaper clipping with a recipe for Alabama Pralines stuck in my grandmother’s cookbook. I don’t recall that she ever made them. Perhaps she was unskilled at candy making…though she did revel in making a white mass of sugar studded with pecans into Divinity, but only on a crisp, cool and dry day sometime before Christmas.  I can recall Mimi saying-

‘Edna Earle brought her divinity. It was hard as a rock- I almost broke a tooth trying to eat a piece! You’d think she’d at least check the barometric pressure before she tried to make divinity!’

Will you allow me to go off on a short tangent? I didn’t have a soft cuddly grandmother…no, she was funny, opinionated, had high standards and might have been the best cook I’ve ever known.  The women’s rights movement in the 1960’s never made much of an impression on Mimi. Why? She’d always been in charge of the men in her life.  Mimi was a spicy Southern Spitfire. Still. To find an unmarked recipe for Alabama Pralines in her cookbook intrigued me. I’ll admit I’m no stranger to making candy-

B3E430F2-2101-4333-A94A-CB3D14962C14Toffee and Caramel are two successful favorites…I’ve never attempted to make Divinity, for fear it might turn out like poor Edna Earles’s, I’ve tried to make pralines a time or two and failed. Anyway, when I decided to make these Alabama Pralines, it was on the absolute worst day for making candy. It was hot and humid- dark clouds threatened rain. I thought this recipe would surely fail. I made them because of one change from the other recipes I’d tried… the Alabama Praline recipe doesn’t call for granulated sugar! Okay, my sweet tooth had flared up too. It didn’t hurt that I had all of the ingredients and a bit of free time. I am happy to report- the recipe for Alabama Pralines not only worked but as most real deal recipes will tell you- pralines can be stored in the freezer. Now, that’s important because faced with a dozen glorious pralines? Let’s just say- they need to be frozen for health and safety concerns! I know you’ll want to make a batch of-

Alabama Pralines 

  • Toast 3/4 chopped pecans and salt. *Here’s how I do it. Put the pecans on a small baking sheet in a single layer- don’t be shy with the salt. Place the salted pecans in a cold oven, setting the temperature to 350 degrees- when the oven has reached 350 degrees- the pecans are toasted perfectly! Set aside and cool. Meanwhile…
  • Over low heat- Melt one stick of Butter- no substitutes; with-
  • 1/3 cup of light brown sugar- packed lightly.
  • Cook butter and brown sugar over low heat for 3 minutes- stirring constantly
  • Gradually add 2 Tablespoons of Half and Half- (you may substitute evaporated milk or heavy cream) Please don’t add milk to the hot sugar and butter mixture all at once lest it bubble up too much! Now-
  • Still on low heat, bring the butter/ brown sugar/ milk mixture up to a boil.
  • Remove from heat- add 1 Teaspoon of Pure Vanilla Extract stirring completely
  • Add 1 cup of sifted confectioner’s sugar-( I had to add another 1/3 cup to my mixture- feel free to do so) Beat confectioner’s sugar in well. If the mixture is too thick, you may add a tiny bit more milk
  • Add salted toasted pecans. Stir in well.
  • Drop from heaping tablespoon into glorious puddles on a cookie sheet lined with silicone mat or wax paper until cool.
  • Wrap in wax paper or parchment paper. Yield – one dozen. *When cooled and wrapped the pralines can be stored in the freezer in an airtight container. 59584917-77AD-42C6-8C31-48C5F515DC89

Oh my, I hope you’ll try these Alabama Pralines. I would not double the recipe since candy making is a science and the cooking time may vary to get the right consistency. With this recipe using confectioner sugar- there was no graininess at all, the toasted and salted pecans offered a welcome relief to the oh so sweet praline mixture and  no huge copper kettle or wooden paddle required!  Amazingly, the original recipe also says you can pour the praline mixture into a buttered glass baking dish, cool then cut into squares like fudge! I didn’t try that, I wanted to see if I could actually pull off the dropping into buttery puddles! F9BDBF25-017C-4D1F-89B0-402CBB61FA92

I hope you’ll try making a few batches of Alabama Pralines…apparently they can remain fresh in the freezer for 6-8 months. Why, if you make them now… Alabama Pralines can be your effort toward Christmas in July! I’m guessing mine won’t last that long! Oh me…

Love y’all, Camellia F7AF9421-91F6-4B68-BC79-34C5BB48972F

* Because I know crushed pralines are a wonderful topping for ice cream- I want to challenge Alanna Rose of scoopsquared.com- to create an ice cream flavor using southern pralines! Alanna Rose is a young and amazing chemical engineer graduate and current food science graduate student- who writes an interesting blog about her scientific adventures creating unique Ice Cream flavors! She hopes In the future to work with a major ice cream maker and create amazing new flavors! Let’s see what she can come up with! Hop on over and check her out!

* John Egerton is a southern food expert, his landmark work- ‘Southern Food’ subtitled ‘at Home, on the Road, in History’ (copyright 1987) is one of my all time treasured books, find his remarks about Pralines on page 325.

*All photographs are obviously mine

Sister’s Tomato Pie…

1074E78D-FADF-4FD4-8E9B-B961C878D9EEOkay, you’re about to read one of the most delicious sentences I’ve ever written. I made a Tomato Pie. Those five words make my mouth water. Tomato Pie- and not just any tomato pie, my sister’s tomato pie is the best recipe. I use it every time I make one. I always say a prayer with that first bite- ‘Oh Lord, I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.’

Now, maybe you’ve never eaten a southern tomato pie and if you haven’t? You don’t have any time to waste because it must be made with the freshest possible summer tomatoes. There are about 6-10 weeks in the summer when this is possible.

Tomato pies aren’t new, I personally can’t recall the first one I ever ate, but finding a recipe for a real one isn’t easy; of the many cookbooks I own- I think I found 2 recipes for tomato pie. Southern Living® Magazine has published several with a few variations. I found myself asking- why are tomato pie recipes so hard to find? Here’s what I’ve come up with…

  • Tomato Pie is a very seasonal recipe.
  • Tomato Pie requires very few ingredients and none that are exotic.
  • Tomato Pie is like so many other southern recipes, as common to the southern cook as cornbread, fried okra, steamed crowder peas, squash casserole and fried green tomatoes.
  • The origins are obscure, some think variations of Tomato Pies began in the early 1800’s, others think it became more common in the 1940’s.
  • Still others think it was a ladies’ luncheon food, had to be served right away and then we’re back to the seasonal aspect- a short season for making them.
  • And there is this-  some Southerners have never even heard of tomato pies.

I’ve recently been told by a friend that at an upscale farmers’ market- she recently purchased a tomato pie. I’m told tomato pies seem to be too labor intensive, I personally think it just falls in that category of how much you want one and are willing to take the time to make a tomato pie. There’s even a few shortcuts that can help you make one a bit faster, like using a purchased pie crust and bagged grated sharp cheddar cheese.

Folks in South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama seem to know about tomato pies. Here’s the thing about a tomato pie that I find interesting… Tomato pies are equally at home on the brunch table, a ladies luncheon or Sunday Dinner; make one and put a simple salad on the side and it’s a full meal, or fry up some pork chops, steam crowder peas, slice up some fresh cucumbers and sweet onions- maybe add a jalapeno pepper on the side and it’s one of our famous Southern Plate lunches.

733A36A0-B1D7-463B-9C24-6080F0C165ADFor Sunday Dinner it’s equally good with fried chicken or baked ham, tiny yeast rolls and fresh cooked pole beans or baby lima beans. Tomato Pie has enough confidence to sit alongside  flash fried softshell crab, pickled shrimp or broiled red snapper for an elegant meal.  Crumble crunchy bacon in it or over the top and you have a delicious variation of Tomato Pie.

If you’re tempted to make a tomato pie- you must use the recipe for my Sister’s Tomato Pie! I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard-

  • ‘I made your sister’s tomato pie!’
  • ‘I’m having company over, I’m not sure whether they’ll like everything I’m fixing but I’m not worried because I’m making your sister’s tomato pie!’

Really! I’m not kidding…her recipe is renowned- maybe I’ll help make it even more famous- that depends on  you! I’ve kept her original directions written out for me. Here’s how to make – A80034B3-7D49-42D4-946F-6E04CA75A3C0

Sister’s Tomato Pie

1 Deep Dish piecrust. Bake for 10 minutes at 400 til lightly brown. Peel and drain on paper towels 3-4 medium tomatoes. Cut and rinse and drain and julienne 5-6 basil leaves. Meanwhile, mix 1/2 cup of mayo with 1/2 cup of sour cream. Place drained tomatoes in layers in pie crust. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Then sprinkle with basil. Top with mayo/ sour cream mix- then top with 8 oz. of fine grated sharp cheddar cheese. Bake for 45 minutes at 350. It is so good, making me hungry. Great by itself with salad or with baked chicken, pork etc. Enjoy, Sis

*Note- I often add chopped green onion tops to the sliced basil. And because I’m not as good at making a tomato pie as Sis is, I put 2 oz. of the shredded cheese on the bottom of the hot pie crust – then allow it to melt as it cools…to keep mine from getting soggy- hers never is- but hey, she’s the expert! I also spread the sour cream mixture to the edges of the tomatoes and make sure the grated sharp cheddar also covers the entire pie! And because oven temperatures vary- I often bake it at 375 for 30- 40 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Allow to cool a bit before serving I used an 8 inch pie crust so mine makes 6 nice wedges.  Oh my,  Sis is right- it’s making me hungry…it’s so good! Here’s a pictorial of how mine came together…

 

I had some fresh grown tomatoes in our garden – our regular summer tomatoes and some very special San Marzano tomatoes, which we grew for the first time this year!  Some use heirloom tomatoes in various colors. The main thing is- use fresh summer tomatoes, peel and drain well! Others add a bit of finely chopped garlic and vary the herbs- but please don’t mess with it too much!  And as I mentioned before- feel free to fry several slices of good bacon and add to the pie or crumble on top before it’s served. This recipe also makes very good tartlets using very small tomatoes, like these cherry tomatoes and a cupcake pan- yield is about a dozen, great for serving a crowd! I did double this recipe to make two pies and it worked fine. 1074E78D-FADF-4FD4-8E9B-B961C878D9EE

A reminder, you don’t have much time left this summer to make a tomato pie, but if you do- I hope you’ll try my Sister’s Tomato Pie… it’s southern and it’s so good!

Love y’all, Camellia

*photographs are obviously mine.

Tomato Sandwiches…

We’ve had a good crop of tomatoes this year…and we’ve eaten more than our share of the most southern of all sandwiches…the Tomato Sandwich. I was reminded of this piece written back in 2016. My favorite line will always be – ‘the closer you live to a tomato vine, the better your life will be’ …hope y’all enjoy reading about Tomato Sandwiches , better yet I hope your summer includes some homegrown or farmers market tomatoes!

Camellia's Cottage

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Summer tomatoes are a delicacy. The closer you live to a tomato vine the better your life will be. There is nothing like the smell of a warm tomato on the vine, nothing. Here at Camellia’s Cottage-we not only hire a pet sitter, we hire someone to water our tomatoes if we’re gone on vacation!  We’ve even been known to bribe folks with tomatoes…‘If you’ll come by andpick up the mail, you can pick some tomatoes.’ Works every time.  We wait on the tomatoes , fret over them- we check on them, often. When we talk tomatoes- we say morbid things like –

  • ‘I think my tomatoes have blossom end rot’
  • ‘Well, the hornworms are going to get to the tomatoes.’
  • ‘I think a possum uprooted the tomato plants.’
  • ‘The birds are going to get all of the tomatoes if you don’t get them first.’
  • ‘This is the last year I’m going…

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