Fellowship at Fatz


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Some ladies at my church and I were invited by some sisters from another church in our district to have a fellowship lunch at Fatz. It was really as enjoyable occasion. We talked, laughed, shared our stories, and just had a really good time.

I rarely eat out unless I'm out of town, so going to Fatz was another special treat. You know I had my camera stashed in my purse (not my professional one, of course) so I was able to get a couple of snapshots of some of the dishes we had the opportunity to try.

Firecracker Sticks - Appetizer (We all halved this and tried it. It was really good. So good in fact that my mom ended up ordering it for her entree. She ate two and brought the rest home to daddy. Isn't that romantic!)
Check out this hamburger presentation! This was someone else's entree!
This was my choice: shrimp cakes on a bed of stoneground grits. This was really an appetizer that I made my entree. Oh my goodness, the sauce was amazing with this!
Another person's choice - the sampler platter.I think this was probably the healthiest platter of all - grilled salmon, steamed veggies.Again, I had a really great time. And no one laughed when I whipped out my camera. They were glad that I had remembered to bring one. Everybody else forgot. So, even though it's not included on this blog, the group of us ladies took a picture together before we left. Fellowship is a good thing.

Gift Giving Tips


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One reason I believe that people of all walks of life enjoy the Christmas season is because of the gift-giving. I really don't know anyone who doesn't appreciate a good gift or even just being thought of in a way that manifests itself in the form of a gift. I love giving gifts, year-round, and I love this particular holiday. But one harsh reality to be faced is that Christmas is such a commercial holiday. Some where, some how the message got mixed up and people all over these parts of the U.S. will go to extremes to give gifts - even when their pocketbooks, checking accounts, and credit cards scream, "You have reached the limit." It is my belief that giving gifts is more about taking the time to show your appreciation for someone or fulfilling a need, rather than the price tag of the item. For that reason, let's begin to think of gift giving in a new light.

I encouraged my students to show their appreciation for their parents by making them something or doing something for them. Don't worry them about high-priced presents and such. I was going to do the same, I told them.

In this present economic crunch (which is probably an extreme understatement to say the least) one of my financial goals is to pay off the extra bills. That meant I was going to have to think creatively about giving gifts, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Here are some tips:
1. If you have a particular craft, share your love by making something for your loved ones (i.e. knit/crochet them a scarf, personalize ornaments [I've seen wonders worked with lightbulbs and felt! Kids can be creative.])

2. Make a collage of pictures of your friends or loved ones from different times in the year and give it to them. The memories will last forever and it gives you a time to reminisce about those days!

3. Scan old pictures from those photo albums your grandma won't let outside of her house. Surprise your parents with their grade school pictures.

4. Spend time with someone. Go for a walk with them or help them bake cookies. It doesn't matter what you're doing (just make it legal) as long as you're spending *quality* time with them.

5. Study the person you're giving a gift to. If you choose to spend some money, buy them something that goes to a specific interest of theirs. Even if it costs $2 but it's something they need or really like, they'll appreciate it. (For example, my aunt who is a seamstress noticed my interest in sewing and bought a few small items that people who sew ALWAYS need like needles, basic colors of thread, interfacing. Another example is this. Mom mom bought some blank sheet paper and guitar pics for my cousin who is fascinated with guitar. He really enjoyed that gift.)

6. Buy group gifts, don't personalize so much. So in essence, buy a present that the entire family can use or enjoy.

7. Do a gift swap. Draw names and buy only one present for the person's name you drew.

* Numbers 6 and 7 will work particularly well if you come from a big family such as I. My dad is one of 17 children, so you know I have hoards of cousins. And that's just my dad's side.

Seven represents completeness so I won't post any more tips.

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Now I'm off to finish cooking these three heads of collards that were given to me for Christmas from a family from church. Now that was a good gift!

(BTW, that pocket book up there was made by my friend Mary from neck ties. How genius!)

Dinner with Andry


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Last night my friend Andry came over to my house for dinner and for studying. This time I had the opportunity to introduce her to some southern style cooking. The meal was simple for the sake of time. I cooked for her some collard greens and barbecued chicken wings. She made the rice, Peruvian style which basically was sauteed garlic and rice and then simmered in water. It was good. I just wanted to watch the expression on her face to see if she liked collards. It was her first time tasting them.

At first she tried to see if she could find a similar taste to something from her country. Then she said, "These are not bad, I'm just trying to see if I like it." Then she moved on to the chicken wings. She didn't tell me until after I put the sauce on the wings and served them up that she and her husband didn't like the flavor of barbecue sauce. I thought I was in for trouble. But I noticed that she sucked the juice and everything else from those bones just like the rest of us and that she had cleaned her plate so well that there was nothing left but those bones. I knew it was alright because she is very forward and would just say, "No, I don't like this but thank you."

She told me that the barbecue sauce that she and her husband had was in some restaurant. She liked mine because it had a little sweetness to it. I just re-make my sauce like my mom taught me: simmer vinegar and pieces of red pepper; add ingredients like the store-bought barbecue sauce of your choice, ketchup, and a little honey or sugar; the longer it simmers the less tartness you have. I know you can make it totally from scratch, but let's face it, who has the time these days?

My mom stopped by and gave Andry one of her famous miniature sweet potato pies and I gave her some of the best sweet potatoes I know that are grown from a farmer-friend of ours. They are better than anything storebought. I felt safe that Andry would find ways to use these sweet potatoes because of being from Peru, the potato capital of the world! Some friends from church stopped by and gave me three heads of collards for Christmas and even more sweet potatoes. I told Andry to just say the word and I would cook her up some, which is what I'm doing right now.

I just love spending time with people and making new friends. I have to agree with Andry, that you can learn so much about a person's culture through their food. And now, if she decides to go back to teaching in Peru, she can now tell her students, "Yes, I've had collards before!"

* We sort of took care of all of the evidence, but this is the best of what I could muster up!

I've Been Tagged


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Ok, I've never done this before but I have been tagged by Just Be Happy. I am supposed to write 6 random things about me, so here goes:

1. I have one sibling - a brother who is 36 (4 years older than myself). We weren't the kind of kids who fought over anything more than the remote control, but we've gotten closer as we've gotten older. Sometimes I still wish I could have had a big sister, and he used to wish I'd been a boy! :-)

2. I am a fifth grade teacher. This is my 11th year of that. :-)

3. I learned to crochet from my pastor's wife. They have 4 daughters and when we had slumber parties we always had to learn something wholesome so we wouldn't spend our entire evening talking about boys!!! My first project was a granny square. I made a blanket for myself because I loved crocheting so much. I also learned latch hook, cross-stitching, and sewing at those parties. But guess what, we still found time to talk about boys!!!
My first afghan - dusty rose and Williamsburg blue

4. I hoping that Mr. Right will come in the near future and that I will be able to use my crafts in my home and be able to stay home with the children that I don't have. :-)

5. I always say that my favorite color is purple. Royalty. But I don't know why. I've grown to appreciate all colors, and I have very little purple in my closet.

6. Although I have a "career" there are so many other areas I'd like to explore: online teaching, owning a craft store with classes in the back (I know it's done, but mine would be a little different), having a photography business or at least sell my prints on notecards or something. I could go on, but there is so much more!

Oh yeah, here are the rules:
Here is how it goes:
1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

I know I'm supposed to pick six people, but I'll just pick two. I'd like to learn more about:

Alhana

Preppy Peach

I've Started on Another Blanket


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I went to Michael's craft store to purchase some more yarn for my other cousin's blanket. I wanted to use a new pattern because I got tired of making this other one that everyone else likes. Try something new, right? So anyways, I found this transitional boucle yarn at JoAnn's that I thought was beautiful. The problem was/is that I'm not experienced in using this kind of yarn and it was very hard to see my stitches, so I scratched off that pattern and that yarn. That's how I ended up in Michael's.

I found a baby blanket book that had enough patterns in it that I liked to warrant a purchase, so I got it and some really soft baby yarn. I made a few wrong turns when I first started the blanket that I didn't realize until I had gotten further into the blanket, but I humbled myself and took all those rows out and practically started over. I still have a ways to go because this pattern is so detailed, but here are a few pictures of the beginning rows.

I'm Finished!


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I'm so excited because I FINALLY finished this hat. It's my first hat and it doesn't look exactly like the pattern, but I was just glad to be finished and to have something that I'm not ashamed to actually wear! lol I was inspired by my Flickr friend who just finished up a blanket, and although I'm working on another crochet project, I felt compelled to finish this one, so I did tonight. Thanks Alhana!

Old Treats


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At my place of employment we're having a holiday luncheon on tomorrow. Everyone was asked to bring something. Usually I sign up for a pie or congo bars (some people call them blonde brownies), but this time as I was a little late signing up, I decided to make an old treat - date nut balls.

The last time I made this dessert I was still living with my parents, but the recipe is so simple that it's almost fool-proof.

Recipe:
Ingredients:
1 cup of chopped dates (pitted)
1 cup sugar
1 stick of margarine or butter
1 egg beaten well
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup chopped nuts
2 1/2 cup rice krispies

Directions:
Cook butter, sugar, dates, and egg over LOW heat until dates are cooked to pieces. Remove from heat and immediately add vanilla, nuts, and rice krispies. Stir well. When cool enough to handle, shape into long or short fingers or into balls. Roll in grated coconut.

Enjoy!

Here are a couple of pictures. I'll upload the process a little later...



Dinner At Andry's


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Oh, my. I was invited to attend a dinner at the home of one of my new found friends from Peru. Andry. She invited a small group of us to her home to taste some of her Peruvian cuisine. She warned us beforehand that she was not a chef, but I don't know why people throw out comments like that when they know that they can really cook.

She and her husband spent the afternoon cooking these wonderful dishes. If you haven't figured it out by now, Spanish culture is fascinating to me. As I mingle amongst people from different Spanish-speaking or Portuguese-speaking countries, I'm learning how they are similar and how they are very different - especially when it concerns food and spices.

Tonight we ate in courses. Our first course was Papa de la Huancaína. They were sliced Yukon Gold potatoes served on lettuce leaves, topped with a sauce and a slice of boiled egg. As Andry served us this dish, she explained the history of the dish and how it got its name. Very informative.
The next course was Lomo Saltado. The plate was filled one side with rice and the other side was layered with fried potatoes, beef, and vegetables.
After that, we had some Arroz con leche. Very much like rice pudding. There were golden raisins inside.
There wasn't room to eat anymore. (I was the only one who didn't finish what I had anyways. I have lots of "doggie bags".) But, Andry and her husband served us a huge slice of Peruvian Panneton, very similar to the Italian Pannetone. Since I stayed a little after the others left, Lucho (Andry's husband) made me some café con leche to take home.
I almost forgot that during dinner, although there were sodas galore, everyone tried the Chicha Morrada - a drink made from blue corn. It was delicious!!!
I had such a great time tonight. I'm glad I didn't let my headache from earlier stand in my way from coming to this special dinner. We shared lots of our personal stories, laughed, laughed, and laughed some more!

Something New


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No, not that movie with Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker where "Kenya" realizes that interracial love is ok. I'm talking about deveining shrimp.

I've been waiting for a certain shrimp to go on sale for about two months. I've never had to wait that long for shrimp sales! Anyways, in the Wednesday circular there was an advertisement for shrimp. I went to a store that I do purchase from, but never for shrimp, and bought two bags. In my haste, I didn't process what I had purchased. I just remember reading that the shrimp was wild caught in the U.S. and it was fresh frozen. Ok, I had a certain meal in mind, but after I reread the bag, I realized that the shrimp wasn't deveined! I always buy E-Z Peel shrimp (shell-on, deveined). This wasn't E-Z Peel. Needless to say I had to change my recipe.

The internet is a blessing. I googled "deveining shrimp" and was fortunate to find this really simple video on deveining:


Deveining was a tedious task and I'm so glad I only bought two bags. I'll be a little more careful next time. E-Z Peel all the way!

As my meal plans changed, I decided to use some of the rice I purchased at the Old City Market in Charleston, SC. The recipe was written for chicken and rice, but I converted it to use shrimp and I used the Old Bay Garlic and Herb seasoning as the main accompaniment. I sauteed some onion and garlic in butter then sauteed the rice mixture before adding the water. I can't tell you the spices that were in the rice, but I can tell you that they smelled delicious cooking up. While the rice was going, I seasoned my cleaned shrimp with some of the same Old Bay seasoning and put it in the fridge. When the rice was almost done, I re-seasoned the rice and then added the shrimp. Since there was no salt in the rice mixture, I added a little Lawry's Seasoned Salt.

If it hadn't been for the deveining process, this meal would have been done in no time. I'm eating while I'm blogging and you'll have to take my word for it, but this dish is good. Don't worry, I'll get my veggies in. I've got some of that cooked salad from grandma's in the fridge that needs to be reminded why it was picked in the first place!

Something Hot


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I love hot chocolate. Not the watered down kind like Swiss Miss, but rich, thick hot chocolate - made from milk. I've tasted some really good hot chocolate, some that I enjoyed but can't afford on a regular and some that I can. One in particular is Nestle's Abuelita Mexican Hot Chocolate. What makes Mexican chocolate unique is that it has cinnamon in it. This chocolate comes in disks that have perforations. Each section spells a letter in the word "abuelita" which means "grandmother" in English.

Making this hot chocolate is real simple. You just warm the milk on the stove. Grate the chocolate in the milk. You can add about 1/2 tsp. of sugar and 1/2 of cinnamon if you like. I didn't add any more sugar because there's some in the chocolate, but I added a little more ground cinnamon. Once I poured the hot chocolate in the mug, I stirred it with a stick of canela - Mexican cinnamon stick. No, this cinnamon stick isn't like the ones you buy on the regular spice aisle. You have to purchase it in the "Latin Foods" section of your grocer or go to a tienda or mercadito that sells them. These are much more inexpensive, but the flavor is slightly different as well.

Go ahead. Give it a try!


Still not convinced? Check out this video. Um, yeah, it's in Spanish!

One of My Meatless Moods...


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I cannot deny the fact that I am a meat eater. The thing is, I don't always eat meat with every meal and when I do eat meat it's usually small portions. Sometimes I get where I can't stand the sight or thought of eating meat. But then that passes. I've been asked why I don't just go ahead and become a vegetarian or at least a pescatarian, but you know I think one of the hardest parts of making that type of commitment is that you're doing just that. The fact that you are telling yourself that you will not eat certain things. There's something about the human mind that rebels when it is told that it can't have certain things, even if it wouldn't have them ordinarily. So for now, I'm just content eating meat...in spells and in moderation. If one day I change my mind, like I'm prone to do, then know that I did just that - changed my mind. :-)

Today I am without a voice. My throat was a little scratchy over the weekend, but after a long day of talking at work (my job is virtually impossible to do without talking) my voice went out. Earlier today I whispered or wrote tons of sticky notes, smiled, and used hand gestures. So, when I got home I knew I wanted something hot to drink and eat, but I was in one of those meatless moods and also not in a mood to do any heavy cooking.

I've been craving sweet potatoes lately. Isn't that odd? Who craves a sweet potato? I decided to bake a few: eat one for dinner and save the rest. I also took out a small package out of the freezer of my grandma's cooked salad that she gave me over the Thanksgiving holidays. I love her greens! By the time my sweet potatoes were done (and sprinkled with a little brown sugar and cinnamon), I had thawed and heated the greens through and made a cup of peppermint herbal tea. Peppermint tea works wonders; maybe it'll help my voice come back sooner.

I don't know if I'll get hungry before the night's up. Probably I will. But at least I can say that I got some good nutrients in and loads of potassium!

(Grandma's delicious cooked salad. Yum Yum!)

A Day of Discovery


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I went out to take care of some business in a neighboring county this morning and I made my quick to-do list so that I could make the most of my time. In my going and comings I decided to stop by the Fresh Market. That store rocks! Everytime I go in that store I feel special. It's okay to walk slowly and browse with your basket on your arm. (In all fairness I guess you would have to because the aisles are very narrow and crowded.) But even still, there's a certain ambiance in that place that makes you feel really classy, even if you're just buying a box of tea or a loaf of bread.

I was buying neither of those items, but I did want to check out and see if they had the Spike seasoning in. And they did. I had to look behind some other spices to find it, but it was there. I wonder if someone put it there (like I do sometimes) to hide it until they could get back. Well, there were two and I got mine. I also purchased some Chinese 5 spice seasoning. I saw Sunny Anderson from the Food Network's Cooking for Real using it in one of her dishes. Even from my kitchen looking on the t.v. it looked as if that spice was good. I'll give it a try. I purchased some fresh ginger (I want to add a little fresh ginger to my lemon and ginger tea to kick it up a bit) and some cocoa and caramel macchiato coffee packages. They'll make nice little gifts for the holidays.

I finished my errands in the other stores and headed home. I decided that it was time to clean out the refrigerator. After everything was nice and clean, I heated up a bowl full of that stew beef I made in the crockpot a little while back. Earlier I had put two servings in the freezer and left one serving in the refrigerator for a more recent time like today. Let me tell you, that stew beef was even better. I guess sitting in that fridge just helped it marinate. I don't know, but I do know that I'm licking my spoon!
(See, I didn't even take the time to "pretty-up" the picture by wiping off the sauce from the sides of the bowl. There just wasn't enough time for that!)

Will It Make Me Better?


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Soup's done and it was rather tasty. I hope it's healing powers work. I think I'm going to bed early tonight for a change.

Sweet dreams...

It's That Time of Year AGAIN....


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I was at work and I felt that tickle in the back of my throat. Right then I knew I was in for trouble. That's how those sinus troubles begin...with that tickle. I left work as soon as my time was up and went to the neighborhood grocers to see if they had any chicken on sale. I didn't feel like messing with any frozen chicken. I just wanted to make some homemade chicken noodle soup and I needed a few veggies.

When I got home I got right to it. Thank goodness for that locking pot that makes everything cook faster. The recipe that I was using is from, you guessed it, Allrecipes.com. There's a simple Quick and Easy Chicken Noodle Soup recipe that I like there. I made a few modifications in order like boiling my boneless skinless chicken breasts (yes, there was a sale at the store) in chicken bouillon cubes to make a richer broth. Then added the sauteed onions, celery, and carrots to the broth after I removed the chicken so I could shred it. The rest is basically from the recipe mentioned above.

I haven't eaten the soup yet because it's still cooking. But it smells so good though. I hope those rumors about the cure-all effect of chicken noodle soup is right. Or maybe my mom's right - you need to get some rest!

Until then...