Saturday, July 18, 2015

Invasion of the Giant Squash

The giants, with the little Roma.
The garden is coming along nicely. It still surprises me a little bit every year. I plant seeds, and things grow. Usually much more abundantly than I dared to hope.

The squash and zucchini are growing like crazy. I suspect the tomatoes will be in another week or so. The peppers are lagging behind, but they do that every year.

One thing I’ve noticed about the squash and zucchini is that they seem to go from being tiny, not quite ready to pick little darlings to absolute giants almost overnight. I try to pick them when they’re medium size, but that doesn’t always work out. 

The normal size!
It’s a little hard to tell how huge these were from the picture, so I took a picture of more "normal" sized squash and zucchini in the same basket to give you some perspective. Also, the little tomato on the left? It’s this year’s first Roma. It’s a little on the small side, but that should give you a little more perspective as to the size of the giants surrounding it.

So what about you? Did you plant a vegetable garden? Are you being invaded by giant squash?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Green Tea With Blackberry & Mint

It’s finally blackberry season here in western North Carolina (also in the upstate of South Carolina). The roadside stands are open, and blackberries are on everyone’s mind. They’re just perfect right now; so plump, sweet, and juicy.

Blackberries also happen to be my friend Crystal’s favorite berry, so of course we had to visit a roadside stand to get fresh blackberries. Some of them went into the meringue cake experiment, more than a few were eaten fresh, some made their way into the freezer, and some became part of this incredible tea.

Crystal loves tea at least as much as I do, maybe even more, so we tend to drink a lot of tea when we’re together. I was getting ready to start another batch of sweet tea during her last visit when I decided that iced (sweet, of course!) green tea might be good. Crystal agreed, and suggested adding blackberries since we had so many. I thought that sounded great, and thought mint might also make a nice addition. Mint grows wild all over our yard during the warm weather, so we have plenty available. We thought it all sounded good and decided to give it a try.

Here’s the recipe:

1 gallon of water, divided

6 green tea bags

1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, shredded

2/3 cup fresh blackberries, crushed with a fork

1 ½ cups sugar

Place tea bags (any tags/papers removed) and six cups of water in a medium sauce pan over high heat. Bring to a boil. Cover and remove from heat.

In a small bowl, combine blackberries (along with all of their juice) and mint. Pour the mixture into the pot with the tea. Cover and allow it to steep for 4 - 8 hours.

Place sugar in the bottom of a gallon pitcher. Using a fine mesh strainer, slowly pour the tea mixture into the pitcher. (This should prevent any chunks of berries or mint leaves from ending up in your glass of tea). Stir well. Add hot water to fill the pitcher, stirring constantly. Stir for another minute. Cover and leave the pitcher on the counter for a few hours, until the teas has cooled back down to room temperature. Refrigerate. Serve cold, over ice.

This tea was absolutely delicious! We used (and I highly recommend if you can get it) Charleston Tea Plantation Wadmalaw Island Green Tea. Otherwise, just use your favorite green tea. It’s a great, refreshing summertime tea.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

An Update On Emma

As I mentioned before, Emma has recently been diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease. We’ve been working on getting the right dose of medication for her, which has involved lots and lots of blood work for her. She is definitely over going to the specialist and is very over having blood drawn and getting shots once she gets there. It’s almost an all day process, and involves multiple blood draws, so I can definitely understand why she doesn’t like it.

Fortunately her last round of blood work showed really good results! The higher dose of medication seems to be working for her. Her last cortisol level was 3.9. They vet said they want it to be between two and five, so Emma’s was pretty much perfect.

We go again for more blood work on the 22nd, and are hoping for similar results. If her results are good then we’ll be able to reduce the blood work to about every three months instead of basically once a month. Here’s hoping!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

This Is What Happens When You Watch Too Many Cooking Shows


I enjoy watching cooking shows.  I never really watched them until a few years ago.  Nick likes a few on PBS that I started watching with him.  He used to watch some cooking shows with his grandmother when he was younger, so it makes sense that he enjoys them.  My dad also started watching cooking shows.  I’m still not sure what’s up with my dad’s cooking show obsession.  He’s not particularly into cooking, and finds the whole idea of cooking for himself to be a major ordeal.  He did develop the habit of emailing me recipes from the shows.  They were usually sent in the guise of “I saw this and thought you might like it”, even though some of the recipes were for things I don’t like, but that my dad happens to love.  He’s into subtle hints like that. 

So between Nick and Dad I started to enjoy watching cooking shows.  Some of them get on my nerves for various reasons, but there are a few that are really, really good.  Some of my favorites are Pati’s Mexican Table (her food looks delicious, and I love how enthusiastic and creative she is) and Lidia’sKitchen (her food looks great, I like her no nonsense, no waste approach, and I love it when she talks about her grandmother teaching her to cook).  I also enjoy America’s Test Kitchen (Julia Collin Davison is my favorite chef; she always seems like she’s happy to be in the kitchen and is having a good time).  And I planned my Sunday evenings around The Great British Baking Show when it was on PBS.  I think I’m actually suffering withdrawal from that not being on! 
I had strep throat at the end of June, and spent almost a week at home.  I watched a lot of cooking shows during that week.  I had no idea how many cooking shows come on during my usual work day! 
It tasted much better than it looked!
Normally I don’t actually make anything from the cooking shows.  There are some things I plan to make and just never seem to get around to.  Most of the time, though, I just use what I see on the cooking shows as a place to start from, or I combine a few different ideas for recipes from a few different shows.  After hours and hours of cooking shows I decided it was time to actually try a recipe from one.

I chose this meringue cake from Pati’s Mexican Table.  Please click on the link to see what it’s supposed to look like.  Hers was beautiful.  Mine was described as “the leaning tower of goop”, and “it looks like you made a giant mud pie”.   It tasted great, but I clearly need to work on my assembly and presentation. 

The filling called for strawberries, but I used blackberries instead.  They’re in season for us right now, and absolutely delicious.  We bought them from a roadside stand, and they were perfect; ripe, sweet, and juicy.  They were delicious in the filling, but I think the substitution definitely added to my cake not looking anything like the one from the show.  I also realize it’s probably not the best idea to go making substitutions in a recipe you’ve never made before, but I’m not really a “follow the recipe exactly” kind of cook. 
I’ve also never made any kind of meringue before, and I don’t really have much experience working with egg whites.  However, I’ve never let a little thing like not knowing what I’m doing stand in my way when it comes to trying a new recipe. 
My "slice".  Clearly it needs some work.  Still delicious though!
I think my meringue needs some work.  I think it came out fairly good for the first try, but there’s definitely room for improvement.  I learned from my Mother-In-Law that meringue turns out a little better when the air isn’t so humid.  It was crazy humid the day I made it, so that may have caused some trouble. 
Over all, the cake tasted good.  We had some trouble cutting it (I think that goes back to my meringue needing some improvement), and it totally fell apart when we were cutting it.  It sort of looked more like a herd of wild animals had torn into it.  But it was really good.  I will definitely try making it again.  It didn’t keep well at all in the refrigerator, so I think the next time I make it I will make sure I have a larger group of willing tasters. 

So what about you?  Do you have a favorite cooking show?  Have you tried making a recipe from a cooking show?  How did it turn out? 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The South Carolina That I Love


Angel Oak
Ideas sometimes come from unusual places, or from an unusual combination of places.  At least they do for me.  I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a post about South Carolina for a while now.  I just wasn’t entirely sure what to say.  People far more eloquent than I will ever be have pontificated at length about the goings on in my home state.  I wasn’t even sure if there was anything more to say. 
Then I read this post.  I know it’s a bit of a leap, and I won’t try to explain the whole, long process that got me here.  The short version of it is that Pinky lives in Australia.  I’ve never been to Australia.  I know nothing about it, except that they seem to have the coolest accents in the world, what I’ve seen on TV, and the tiny bits I’ve gleaned from reading Pinky’s blog.  I enjoy reading her take on current events there.  I think it makes for a much more realistic picture of a place to read about a real person’s day to day life there.  It’s at least more interesting than just news stories. 

I believe Pinky has mentioned visiting the US, but I have no idea whether or not she visited any part of the South in general, or South Carolina in particular.  That’s probably one of the biggest reasons I’m writing this post.  I can’t stand the idea of people who’ve never visited South Carolina thinking that recent events are normal, or that we all hold to certain beliefs.  If you’ve never been to South Carolina, I hope I can give you a little glimpse of the good things about us since you’ve certainly had ample opportunity to read the truly horrible things about us.  (I just want to clarify that Pinky said nothing derogatory about the US in general, or South Carolina in particular.  My mind doesn’t always make sense, so I don’t have the clearest explanation for how her post tipped the scale in favor of writing this post.  It just did.)

Table Rock, SC
This paragraph: I know it was naïve of me but the day Barrack Obama was elected president of the United States I went to work, whistling in joy, thinking… well that’s it then folks, no more race problems; the mostpowerful job in the world has just been given to an African American, no onecan be racist now, can they? Hmmm. didn’t quite work out like that didit? I'll bet you cheered that day though, Ms Harper.” especially made me want to write this post.  Yes Pinky, it was very, very naïve of you to think that no one could be racist after that election, but it was a beautiful thought.  Some of the things I heard the day after are things I’m just plain not comfortable writing.  The flip side of that is that he was elected, and so many people celebrated. 

I can’t speak for outside of the South.  I’m not well-traveled, and I’ve lived my entire life in southern states.  I’ve never been “up North”.  But if you’ve visited my blog much at all you know that I’m a South Carolina native, and that I love my home state.  I live in North Carolina now, but still consider myself a South Carolinian.  Nick is a North Carolina native, and we engage in a lot of good natured banter about who comes from the “better” Carolina.  I still love South Carolina, and always will. 
I’m not trying to defend what has happened, and what is happening in South Carolina.  Some things are just indefensible.  But the South Carolina that I love doesn’t consist solely of confederate flag waving racists, and that’s the part I want to share with you.

Folly Beach, SC
Please, please, please do not think for even one moment that I am saying there aren’t problems, and that there isn’t hatred fueled by prejudice.  I know those issues exist.  I’m just saying we don’t all feel that way.  I was fortunate enough to be raised by parents who taught us to see people, not color or ethnicity.  Not all children born and raised in South Carolina are raised this way, but I’d like to think it was more common with my generation than it was with my parents’ generation.  Throughout my life I’ve had the good fortune to meet and befriend a wide variety of people.  I have no idea who my first friends of other races were.  My mom knows this for herself because she started off in segregated schools.  Let that sink in for a minute. 
Most people consider me to be fairly young (I’m in my early 30s, so teenage cashiers never bother to check my ID for anything since I look like an old hag to them, but most adults seem to think of me as being on the younger end of the spectrum), so it’s scary to think that one generation before mine lived part of their childhood with segregation.  The more positive way to look at that is in noting how much has changed just in my parents’ lifetime.  Their children grew up in a world where we didn’t necessarily have to think about race at a young age. 

We’re not all obsessed with the Civil War.  I know there are a lot of Civil War reenactments throughout the South.  There are also a lot of Revolutionary War reenactments.  Personally, I have never understood the appeal.  The noise is deafening.  Every summer you can hear distant cannon fire at my parents’ house (I think that’s actually from a Revolutionary War reenactment).  The noise gets old fast.  I can totally understand the lyrics to ABBA’s “Fernando” when they sing about how “The roar of guns and cannons almost made me cry”.  It gets old.  Fast.  I promise we’re not all issued confederate flags, and that many of us believe their proper place is in museums and history books. 
Now I’m not saying that I don’t find the history of both wars to be fascinating.  I love museums, and I’m a sucker for Civil War movies and Revolutionary War movies.  I just happen to believe they’re history, not something to be re-hashed on a regular basis. 

I feel like I’ve somehow spent a long time talking about the negative aspects of South Carolina when I’ve told you I wanted to write a post about the things I love about my state, so here are the good things:

It’s a beautiful state.  We have gorgeous beaches, beautiful mountains, and great places in between.  In a day’s drive you can easily make it from the mountains to the ocean.  I love the variety.  We’re also home to the Angel Oak, the most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen.

Biscuits & Gravy
We have great weather.  I realize this one is largely a matter of perspective, but I think we have really great weather.  We have fairly mild winters, we mostly stay home when it does snow, and we have long, hot summers great for growing tomatoes, peaches, tea, and lots of berries.  In the spring, summer, and fall we have lots of roadside stands with locally grown produce and hot boiled peanuts.  The opening of the first roadside stands is a much anticipated harbinger of spring. 

Sweet Tea!
Some of the things we’re taught as “Southern Good Manners” are actually really good things.  We grow up being taught that any time anyone in our community (neighborhood, church, work, etc.) has a death in their family we must deliver a casserole and/or baked goods to their home.  It’s mandatory.  It doesn’t matter how much food is already there.  We must deliver ours.  We’re secure in the knowledge that we will always be well fed in times of crisis.  It’s not quite as mandatory, but strongly encouraged, during illness or after surgery, or when someone has a new baby.  It’s just what we do.  We also wave.  A lot.  At everyone.  We wave any time we see our neighbors coming and going.  We wave anytime we pass someone we recognize from pretty much anywhere.  We wave if we think we might recognize someone.  And they wave back.  It’s friendly.  A smiling face and a wave can go a long way toward brightening someone’s day. 
Southern Food and Sweet Tea:  I realize that South Carolina isn’t the only state with southern food, but it’s a huge part of my life.  I love cooking, and I love enjoying things like biscuits and gravy, hush puppies, and of course sweet tea.  You also may have noticed if you’ve visited much before that I really like to end blog posts on a positive note.  For me, sweet tea is a very positive thing.  And South Carolina just happens to be the birthplace of sweet tea.  So yes, my home state has some very serious flaws, but it can also be a place as sweet as our tea.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Month of May

I planned to take a little blogging break after finishing the A to Z Challenge in April, I just didn’t plan to take a break for almost the entire month of May. I’m still not sure how it went by so quickly.

We did some projects around the house and yard. I uprooted two bushes in the front yard that I didn’t like. Have you ever uprooted an entire bush? If you haven’t I can’t say that I recommend trying it. If you have, why didn’t you tell me not to?!? Nick took down blinds that needed to be replaced and put up a curtain rod and curtains. It looks nice. We planted quite a few more things in the yard. Nothing terribly exciting, but all things that needed to be done.

She seems to like it here.
On the pet front, we foster failed and adopted Cookie. Dot never warmed up to us, and seemed very happy to leave us once the renovations at the shelter were finished. Cookie, on the other hand, seemed to like our particular brand of craziness.

We thought long and hard about adding a fifth cat to our household. We decided to foster her for a while longer to make sure she did alright with the other cats before adopting her. She fits in well enough, and seems happy here, so we made it official and adopted her last week. 

On paper, adding a fifth cat to our household, and a senior cat at that, probably isn’t considered a great decision, but it’s one we felt very good about. With kitten season upon us, we were really afraid that Cookie would be overlooked at the shelter. She’s gorgeous, sweet, and has a great personality, but the truth of the matter is that older cats seem to be practically invisible next to all of the kittens. We couldn’t let that happen, especially when Cookie seemed like such a great fit at our house.

I feel like I spent a huge part of May at various vet’s offices. Emma had some recurring health issues that popped back up. She had blood work that was way off, and just wasn’t acting quite right. Repeated blood tests showed that the problem was only getting worse, so our regular vet referred us to the specialist group.
Patiently waiting in between blood draws.

We went to the specialist group last year with similar issues and didn’t really get any results. I didn’t care for the vet we saw then, so I was a little nervous about going back there. We ended up with a different vet this time; one that one of my co-workers credits with saving her dog’s life, and who our regular vet says has a good reputation.

I immediately liked her better! She was better with Emma, spent more time with her, and seemed to listen more to what we had to say about Emma’s symptoms. She suggested pursuing advanced testing for Cushing’s Disease, which we did, and it turns out that Emma does have Cushing’s Disease.

You can read more about it here, but the short version is basically that Emma has the pituitary dependent kind, meaning that she has a tiny benign tumor in her pituitary gland that causes her body to basically overdose itself on steroids. Left untreated it can cause liver damage and other issues. The treatment for it is medication to regulate the production.

You can read more about the medication here, but the short version is that it takes a while to get the right dose. Too little doesn’t adequately treat it. Too much causes other, potentially very serious, problems. There’s a fair amount of blood tests involved in the beginning to help determine the right dose. We go on Wednesday for her first round of blood tests since starting the medication. My gut feeling is that her dose will have to be raised a little bit; there’s some definite improvement in her symptoms, but still room for a lot more improvement. We’ll see.

If I let myself think about it too much I get totally freaked out over the fact that Emma technically has a very small brain tumor. She’s been a huge part of my life for the past 12 years, and I hate to think about anything being seriously wrong with her. When reason returns, I’m grateful for the fact that it wasn’t some of the other, much worse things it could have been. And I’m glad it’s a problem with a medical, not surgical, treatment, since that seems like a better choice at her age. She seems happy and seems to be feeling better, which is wonderful.

So what about you? How has the month of May been for you?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Zoo Membership

I absolutely love going to the zoo.  Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens in Columbia, SC is my favorite.  I’ve been going there since I was a little kid, and every year Nick and I go on or near my birthday.  The zoo is one of my happy places.

Last year we decided to become members.  We bought a fairly low-level membership since it’s just the two of us.  Basically our membership pass allows us both as many regular visits as we’d like, one visit to the holiday lights, access to any members only events, and six guest passes.  It also gives us a discount (usually half off) if we choose to visit other zoos.  It’s good for one year. 
 
We didn’t go as much as we’d hoped to last year since we had a lot of unusual things going on, but we did go for one Members Night Out event, and we were able to use one of our guest passes when my friend Crystal went with me. 
 
After much discussion we decided to renew our membership at the same level when it expired earlier this month.  We anticipate being able to go a few more times this year, and we really enjoyed the Members Night Out.   
 
I think it will be good since we both love the zoo so much, and it’s a great excuse to go since we don’t want to waste our visits.
 
So what about you?  Do you enjoy visiting the zoo?  Would you sign up for a zoo membership?