Shortbread…

DEB56360-6FD2-450F-9C32-4E96D2E133A6I remember the first time I tasted Shortbread, my grandmother opened a package and gasped- ‘Oh! Tea Biscuits!’ Imagine my surprise when there were no biscuits inside! Mimi told what sounded like an exotic tale about real shortbread; she said the young Queen Elizabeth liked Scottish Shortbread served with Afternoon Tea! Small Square Shortbread in a distinctive red plaid tin was a delicacy to my grandmother-  who didn’t waste time making cookies of any sort that I recall- with the occasional Southern Tea Cakes which are a totally different thing in the South. If Tea Cakes aren’t baked just right they  ‘stick in your craw’ -they’re heavy and tend to have baking powder in them.  However, fine Southern bakers did make Sweet Tea Biscuits or Butter Cookies which are interchangeable with traditional and variations of Shortbread.5EE297AB-F84B-444C-B2DF-A90FC4991676

Without a doubt, Shortbread is my favorite cookie- it’s not too sweet, it’s rich and it lends itself to shapes and variations. Pecan Shortbread is wonderful and has a distinctly Southern flavor, add Orange Zest to Shortbread dough and it’s elevated to new heights, the plain dough can be iced, sugared or dipped in chocolate. Filled with jam- strawberry, apricot or raspberry between shortbread and it even has a name… Linzer Cookies, which could often be found on Southern Tea Tables. Cut into the traditional squares, triangles or rectangles or my favorite rounds, cut like little Scottie Dogs and hearts of different sizes are sweet too. Savory Shortbreads are wonderful as well, but then I’m getting off on a tangent…

65F0A5AC-9298-4D9E-9910-91E4A6C8811CShortbread is a great choice throughout the year, though I tend to make it for the Winter Holidays because it is rich in butter. The truth is- add an extra cup of sugar, another stick of butter and 6 eggs, why you’d have Pound Cake batter! Shortbread is just that rich! The dough can be made in batches and put in the freezer for at least two months. If you make the dough now you’ll have plenty throughout the Holidays. Baked off fresh, Shortbread will mellow and keep for a good while in airtight tins. Packaged up, Shortbread is great for small favors or gifts. Here’s how we make it:

Camellia’s Cottage Shortbread

  • Ingredients-
  •  3 sticks of salted butter – room temperature
  • 1 cup of sugar – * we call it pure cane sugar, y’all
  • 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups of sifted all purpose flour

*Southerners tend to use salted butter, if you use unsalted add a pinch or two of salt to dry ingredients.  *Also have on hand a tablespoon or two of granulated sugar to sprinkle cookies warm from the oven.

  • Method: In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together- do not overbeat! Add vanilla and blend.
  • Add all purpose flour to butter/sugar mixture just until a soft dough starts to come together. Scrape and dump dough onto a piece of lightly floured parchment paper or plastic wrap, using a piece of plastic wrap, pat dough into a round. Wrap well and chill.
  •  *At this point, you may want to freeze the dough for future use.
  • If using right away- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Roll chilled dough 1/2 inch thick and cut in desired shapes.  *For decorative purposes, use a bamboo skewer to poke holes in the dough.*You may need to keep portions of the dough chilled throughout this process.
  • Bake at 350 degrees on parchment lined ungreased pans for 20 minutes. If cookies are larger you may add up to 5 minutes longer. When cookies are warm sprinkle with sugar, unless you intend to glaze or fill. CEF8908D-E556-485C-8006-C6FC1E385AA6
  • Cool completely.  Yield approximately 2-3 dozen, varies according to size and shape.

No matter if you make Shortbread for gifts, to round out Holiday Dessert Tables or to serve with coffee or tea for drop in guests- one thing’s for sure… it’s always delicious! Love y’all, CamelliaDEB56360-6FD2-450F-9C32-4E96D2E133A6*All photographs are obviously mine. *The little plaid tins of Shortbread are made by Walker’s® and can be found, literally, around the world.

Trail of Ironwork…

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It’s no secret that Southern women guard their grandmother’s Cast Iron with the same zeal as the family silver, both were used to feed their families. Cast Iron actually helped settle this entire country. Ironworkers fed their families with hard work born in fiery furnaces. I grew up under the watchful eye of the original Ironman- the god of the forge, Vulcan. We sang Vulcan’s Song in grade school… ‘High on mountaintop am I, I look o’er the valley from on high…’  The statue stood atop Red Mountain beribboned with rich iron ore.  Nighttime drives through the city of Birmingham were ablaze with the sights of furnaces pouring molten lava into molds that created all manner of necessary steel and iron. Perhaps a higher than normal amount of iron runs through my veins and maybe- just maybe, that’s why I love the Ironwork throughout historic Sea Soaked Cities of the South.

Balconies with lacy ironwork, parks and cemeteries surrounded by ironwork fencing are distinctive in Charleston, Savannah, St. Augustine, Old Mobile and of course, Ironwork is iconic in New Orleans.

There is literally a Trail of Ironwork in New Orleans, not derived of French influence but from Spanish architecture. After wooden columns and homes went up in flames, it was Spanish inspired Ironwork, reminiscent of feminine black mantilla lace installed on balconies and more…ah, the romance of it all still lingers.

It might surprise you to know, this frilly Ironwork was added during the Victorian era, not before. Most Coastal Southern Cities experienced floods, scourges of yellow fever, social upheaval, war, natural disasters and fire. Ironwork Architecture represents to me, the will to prevail come what may. 9E508902-71C2-46EE-85FB-E86E65230DF1

Hundreds of years later, the ancient words in Deuteronomy ring true – ‘…but the Lord hath taken you out of the iron furnace…to be a people of inheritance as ye are this day..’   Whenever I visit an historic city, one of my favorite pastimes is sign up for Walking Tours.  In fact, strapped for time…guided tours may be the best way into the spirit and sense of an old city.

  • The Garden District Tour of old mansions near Tulane,
  • The Spirits and Ghosts Tours,
  • The Culinary Walking Tours,
  • The Cemetery Tours and probably my favorite, even though I’m a teetotaler, is-
  • The Cocktail Walking Tour which includes a revolving Carousel Bar, an authentic Blacksmith Shop, Pirate’s Alley where the mysterious Absinthe is still served- illegal in many states, it is amazing to watch a cocktail being made!
  • Fine old restaurants, like Antoine’s, where the rich and famous dined are included too. (And no requirement to imbibe though time is allowed).
  • A self guided walking tour of the French Quarter in pamphlet form, is provided by the Louisiana Tourism Office on Jackson Square which is challenging, no cost except for a bit of perspiration and direction!
  • Then, last but not least- along Royal Street around Jackson Square and beyond -is the photogenic French Quarter Ironworks Trail.

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I hope you enjoy this collage from my own traipse through the Trail of Ironwork in the Crescent City. This fall, if you take a last minute trip or long weekend to an historic city- sign up for a Walking Tour, if there’s old Ironwork and Architecture all the better!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are mine. *Verse from Deuteronomy 4:20 speaking of the Hebrews being brought out of great difficulty and slavery in Egypt.

*We continue to be very concerned about the wildfires in California, thankful for the brave firefighters and heartbroken for the residents who have lost their lives and so many homes.

Sweet Potato Pecan Pie…

680035E3-8099-4889-9B75-6F27484528E7Yes, you read that right! Two iconic Southern Pies in one glorious crust! The first time I tasted Sweet Potato Pecan Pie coincided with the first time I visited New Orleans… Paul Prudhomme was an up and coming chef whose Blackened Redfish was becoming all the rage. Spicy and delicious- Prudhomme put New Orleans on the top places to visit for the food alone! He was invited to the White House as chef for an international summit and became a household name. Lines formed early at his restaurant – K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen. Out of his kitchen came not only wonderful food, there were also chefs who would become famous in their own right.

I stood in that line more than three decades ago- the food was amazing, the experience delightful- made so because Chef Paul was sitting in a huge chair like a throne- with a tasting spoon. We sat mesmerized as he stopped waiters to inspect the presentation and even taste the food. We were rewarded by seeing him actually send back a dish or two! K-Paul’s Kitchen is still a wonderful restaurant, updated it seems to have lost something in rustic charm but the food…ah yes, the food. It is a must stop on my restaurant list in New Orleans!48CA3121-ED56-4810-835E-3DB77FB4767A

Now, about that Sweet Potato Pecan Pie… Without the crust, Southerners add sugar, nuts and butter to an humble Sweet Potato Casserole and with a straight face call it a Vegetable! Our renowned Southern Sweet Tooth created the Sweet Potato Casserole in two forms…one topped with Marshmallows and the other iconic Thanksgiving side dish topped with a Crunchy Topping of Butter, Brown Sugar and Pecans…oh my! Chef Prudhomme had the genius to combine it all into a dessert.  His Sweet Potato Pecan Pie was served plopped on top of a white mass of Chantilly Cream, whipped cream with Cointreau, an orange flavored liqueur… On top of the intoxicating Chantilly Cream that Tall Slim slice of Sweet Potato Pecan Pie made me swoon…

Let me stop right here…my grandmother often scooped out orange shells, filled them with spiced, sugared and mashed sweet potatoes warmed in the oven with tiny marshmallows on top-so to me, Chef Paul’s blend of Orange, Pecans and Brown Sugar are a match made in culinary heaven. One of my favorite Praline recipes calls for these same flavors!  Over all of these years, decades really- I have never forgotten my first slice of K-Paul’s Sweet Potato Pecan Pie. Here’s how you make my adapted version-

Camellia’s Cottage Sweet Potato Pecan Pie

  • You must have an 8 inch cake pan, this is a deep dish pie!
  • Line the cake pan with a prepared pie crust at least 14 inches in diameter.
  • Bake a couple of nice plump sweet potatoes.
  • For the Sweet Potato Filling– Scoop out one cup of pulp and mash sweet potato while it’s hot with one tablespoon of salted butter..
  • Preheat oven to 300º
  • In a medium size mixing bowl, combine mashed sweet potato, 1 Tbs. Pure Vanilla, 1/4 cup of packed Light Brown Sugar, 1/4 teas. Ground Cinnamon, 1/4 teas. of fresh Grated Nutmeg, 1-2 teaspoons of fresh grated Orange Zest and a pinch of Ground Cloves, 2 Tbs. Granulated Sugar, 1 Tbs of Heavy Cream and 1/2 of a Beaten Egg
  • (Yes, you read that right-one half of a beaten egg! Chef Paul decreed it- his recipe doesn’t have orange zest- mine includes it because I’ve never had the pie sit still long enough to get the Chantilly Cream made!)
  • Whisk until Sweet Potato Mixture is well blended and smooth.
  • Spread into the bottom of uncooked pie crust.
  • Sprinkle evenly with 1/2 cup of rough chopped Pecans.
  • Top with Pecan Filling. In a small mixing bowl combine 3/4 cup sugar, 2 beaten eggs, 1 1/2 Tbs. melted Salted Butter,  3/4 cup of Dark Brown Corn Syrup, a pinch of Ground Cinnamon and 2 teas. pure Vanilla Extract.
  • Mix well and pour over chopped Pecans/ Sweet Potato filling.
  • Bake Sweet Potato Pecan Pie in 300 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours until set. Cool.62519FAE-8F04-48CC-B050-E5C069974B9C

*It will cut better if chilled, but you may not be able to wait that long! *Chantilly Cream is heavy cream whipped with the addition of 2 Tbs of sugar and 1 Tbs. Cointreau or Cognac- my adaptation can be eaten without Chantilly Cream. You may add whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream is fine. Eaten plain? Just as delicious. Sweet Potato Pecan Pie deserves a place  on your holiday dessert table- but why wait? Practice makes perfect!

If you are in New Orleans, stop by K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, buy Chef Prudhomme’s Cookbook and don’t forget to buy a jar of his famous Spice Mix to make Blackened Fish, Shrimp, Chicken or even Beef! There’s nothin’ like N’Awlin’s Cooking!

Love y’all, Camellia

* A short list of my favorite places to eat in the Big Easy also include Commander’s Palace for fine dining, Ye Old Coffee Pot for Callas and Lost Bread, Café du Monde on one corner and Café Beignet for Beignets. Casamente’s anytime except summer for Po’ Boy’s, Corner Grocery for real Muffaletas, the Brennan group of restaurants- think Breakfast at Brennan’s,  Red Slipper for breakfast anytime, Galatoires for steaks and seafood, Drago’s for chargrilled oysters and replacing our favorite hamburger at Yo’ Mommas which closed, is St. Peter’s Port, with French Market Seafood Restaurant for seafood of all kinds at reasonable prices. If you want to chase down a real hurricane- skip Pat O’Brien’s fake red juice and like a whirlwind- move all the way down to the quiet end of Bourbon Street to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar- where reputedly the Hurricane was first served- reputation has it that four real fruit juices like grapefruit, orange and lime juice (maybe passion fruit?) is freshly squeezed over crushed ice, a bit of grenadine, then it’s all topped with an orange wedge and maraschino cherries- with or without a generous amount of Rum…it’s the real deal! I haven’t included the website information because this isn’t a paid list of recommendations and certainly not complete! *All photographs are obviously mine. My recipe is an adaptation of Chef Paul’s – his version is currently found on http://www.cooking.nytimes.com

*We continue to be concerned for Americans caught in the devastation in Puerto Rico and wildfires in California

Vibrant New Orleans…

4787A1F8-9129-49B8-BF47-624D03E2E22FA mere half day’s drive from my sweet home in Alabama…takes me to a different world- Vibrant New Orleans. A distinctly Southern City yet…unlike so many which are sleepily content under bearded Live Oak Trees… New Orleans pulses with life every hour of the day with:

  • Pots of Hot Oil turning out sugared Beignets served with full bodied Chicory Coffee,
  • Po’ Boys are filled to the brim with fried shrimp and more…
  • Copper Pots turn out sumptuous Pralines,
  • The clink of Silver rings in a Palace called Commander’s, where the elegant meets for slow walked cuisine.

Food on New Orleans menus isn’t like other cities- there’s Lost Bread and Callas, Angus Roulades, Etouffee, Remaloude, Chargrilled Oysters, Muffelatas and Barbeque Shrimp which isn’t barbequed at all. You may think you’ve eaten food like this- unless you’re in Vibrant New Orleans, believe me it’s a cheap imitation. EA4FCD3A-8BDC-4C48-AAC9-D1E6A2E396A2

On Jackson Square, why- there’s art hanging out like so many sheets on the line to dry… Antiques, Galleries and Fashion prance up and down long streets, Lacy Cast or Wrought Iron graces fine mansions, boutique hotels, graveyards, parks and genteel poverty…all with the backdrop of lively street music. I hate to admit it, since I’m reasonably respectable-yet honestly, the vibrant New Orleans street sounds make me just want to move with a walking rhythm that’s distinct to the Crescent City. No matter what I show or tell you, there’s no adequate way to describe Vibrant New Orleans…

  • My drawl gets more drawn out,
  • My mouth waters,
  • My state of mind shifts,
  • My heart pulses to a different beat- and no one really cares how I walk or talk at all. There’ll be time later to regain my composure. D4BE42E0-A86C-47B2-B085-6A85CE82217D

When I think of Vibrant New Orleans-it’s a Collage of the well worn beauty, the bizarre and bazaar of senses that always fills my heart. I couldn’t resist sharing these impressions of my last minute trip first.

Stay tuned for more details about Vibrant New Orleans.

Love y’all, Camellia

*We are so thankful Hurricane Nate calmed down a bit before reaching our southern shores, but are heartbroken with the damage to our neighboring countries. This continues to be a year of turbulence.

*All photographs are mine, obviously. The last photograph, the scene in a Florist’s window seemed to be a throw away but somehow when I looked again- the picture captured a distinct piece of New Orleans. I hope you like it. The unknown violinist plays like an angel right in front of St. Louis Cathedral  and among other street performers, but y’all, the art, music, food and scenery puts me in a different state of mind!

Abundant Fall…

For the Beauty of the Earth… for Seedtime and Harvest…

 

for Fields and Farms…

 

for Vines and Orchards…

 

And for Those who heard and answered the Ancient Call- ‘Be Fruitful and Multiply’…we are grateful. To the Creator of All, for Your faithfulness to provide the Beautiful Abundance of Fall, we thank You.

Have a blessed Lord’s Day! Love y’all, Camellia

*all photographs are obviously mine

Cornbread Patties…

DB7A8595-A4AF-4EAE-A968-756E7AC144A4Even though Cornbread and Biscuits are made in every region, we Southerners always think ours are the best! Biscuits seem to be the higher culinary art compared to Cornbread’s rustic texture. And the truth is, Cornbread has it’s roots in poverty, yet often graces the finest tables.  French trained Southern Chef Virginia Willis said it best:

 ‘…cornbread and barbeque are close to religion in the South… cornbread was the primitive Baptist to the Episcopalian biscuit, the all night tent revival to the prayer luncheon.’

Give Southerners a sack of cornmeal and- if they’ve lived here  more than a generation or two… they’ll have at least a half dozen variations that are based on the simple recipe for Cornbread. There’ll be no looking up recipes, it will be second nature as the Southern cook will know exactly which one to use for which meal.

  • Onion studded Hushpuppies are perfect with seafood,
  • Slender Corn Sticks seem to finish a big pot of chili or savory beef stew,
  • Long Pans of Cornbread Dressing must reside alongside a baked hen or roasted turkey…
  • a Pone of Cornbread goes with almost anything, though is true alchemy with our Barbeques,  Chicken and Dumplings and makes our Southern Vegetable Plates unforgettable.

It’s the lowly and quick Cornbread Patties which seem to enhance big steaming bowls of Vegetable Soup, Potato Soup or simple Lima Beans with true bliss.  Just a quick change in the amount of liquid to our regular Cornbread Batter, a spatula and a bit of oil heated in a Cast Iron Skillet as hot as the Devil’s Doorknob and before you know it…you’ll have a golden pile of Cornbread Patties! Here’s how you make ’em…5D35CC49-7912-42F0-BC0C-B9A7CE65F311

Camellia’s Cottage Cornbread Patties

  • In a mixing bowl combine 1 1/2 half cups of White Self Rising Cornmeal, 1 large egg whisked, enough water or milk to make a batter similar in texture to pancake batter except maybe thinner.
  • Vegetable Oil for frying (just enough to cover the bottom of the skillet)- these are not deep-fried!
  • Heat oil until very hot, with a small ladle pour batter into approximately 3 inch rounds.
  • Fry until there are bubbles around the edges of rounds and batter is set, carefully flip over and fry until golden brown, drain on paper towels.
  • Serve as soon as possible.  These are better when they are hot and crisp with a dab of butter.  Makes 18-20 small patties.

Now, I must say- I never heard Cornbread Patties called Johnny Cakes or Hoe Cakes (which I think of as a Yankee version with a heavier batter, y’all ) but I have heard Cornbread Patties called Fried Corn Pones. Now, bless your heart, call ’em whatever you want to, just don’t add one grain of sugar- these are meant to be savory!55E12AA3-EA48-4B2B-8305-4306291A8F49

The day I made mine, I sautéed some chopped baked ham and onion in a bit of bacon drippings, then steamed the fresh baby limas. Served warm in a bowl with cherry tomatoes, a baked sweet potato alongside and a sweet onion cut so thin you could see through the slices were extra good with these crispy little Cornbread Patties!

8DDA806A-5CC8-46C3-AE58-7BC4CC9F5616Oh my, I hope you’ll try a batch and substitute them for plain soda crackers when you make a big pot of soup this Fall!

Love y’all, Camellia

*Chef Virginia Willis is the author of a wonderful cookbook aptly named Bon Appetit, Y’all and has her own version of Cornbread Patties which she calls Cornmeal Griddle Cakes

*Photographs are obviously mine

Finding Peaceful Sanctuary…

‘Now the Lord of peace Himself give you peace by all means. The Lord be with you all.’ Second Thessalonians 3:16

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In this time of national tragedy in Las Vegas, the ongoing damage from flood waters in the U.S.Virgin Islands, and our beautiful island of Puerto Rico, our wonderful states of Texas and Florida as they continue to recover; there are also natural disasters and unrest around the world. When we observe these tragedies, it is human nature to feel a heightened sense of confusion and helplessness. It is important to find peaceful sanctuary in your faith, the verse from II Thessalonians has been a comforting companion for me, so often. I hope you will share your affirmations with me during these difficult days.

I also find peaceful sanctuary in nature, the roses have been uplifting and glorious. I find peaceful sanctuary in beautiful communal spaces, like St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans where we visited last week.

Acts of kindness no matter how small go a long way. When we extend understanding to one another, light a candle or two, share a meal, find language to calm and soothe others- we can stave off feelings of personal helplessness.

Here in this small public space we call Camellia’s Cottage -we believe in offering peaceful sanctuary whenever we can- a place of peace from the world’s upheaval.

  • We believe in promoting goodwill
  • We believe in community
  • We believe in the power of comfort food
  • We believe in lifting spirits whether by the old wise ways or gentle wit and
  • We believe in the strength of human kindness and the power of genuine prayer.

I hope you agree, it is important to find and offer peaceful sanctuary by all means humanly possible wherever you are.

Love y’all, Camellia

  • verse from KJV of the Bible
  • *photograph obviously taken by me in St. Louis Cathedral, on Jackson Square in New Orleans, Louisiana