» August 2011 «


Tomatillo Avocado Dip


If you haven’t figured it out yet, there is no method to my kitchen madness. I sort through buckets of recipes and after “getting the gist” of the ingredients needed, I just go at it. Sometimes I substitute ingredients because I’m curious, and other times simply because I don’t have an ingredient. Really, it is only through great pains and a lot of luck that I am able to produce something resembling a recipe for you each week.

Why am I telling you this?

I made this dip. It was fantastic.


However, I didn’t measure all the ingredients.

The recipe I’ve written below should be very close to the original, but be sure to taste as you go and adjust if needed.

I know many of you have never used tomatillos before, but trust me they are worth the gamble. Tomatillos are delicious when mixed with the right ingredients. They are responsible for the tart flavor in many Mexican green sauces. I encourage you to give them a try and add a new ingredient to your family meals.

Tomatillo Avocado Dip

Ingredients:

2 tomatillos
1 avocado
1 tbsp half and half
1 tbsp lemon
2 tsp garlic
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt

Instructions:

Remove skin and pit of avocado. Chop tomatillos into smaller chunks. Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Use the half and half to smooth out the dip.

Serve with your favorite chip or a plateful of fresh veggies and enjoy!


End of Summer + Start of School


For those of you who know me well, you know how, shall we say, “unmotivated” I am when it comes to school. It’s not that I don’t like to learn, I just like to “do” more. I am a practical application kind of gal.

After graduating from high school, I made the “mistake” (my mother hates it when I refer to it as such) of taking a year off from school to work in Ukraine. Despite being a worthy cause, that one year of actually doing something worthwhile made going back to school to learn about doing something worthwhile much more difficult. It didn’t help that not long after my return, Jack and I were engaged and soon living in Tennessee. Before the wedding I attended a community college in order to incur as little debt as possible while working my way through a psychology degree. After moving to Tennessee and finding that very few of my credits were transferable, I decided to switch majors.

And here we are, present day, I am now a nursing major, not a place I ever thought I would end up. I used to picture myself as a sophisticated New York business woman carrying a leather briefcase, rocking the power suit, and running all around town with 4-inch heels. Now I am a disheveled Tennessee student carrying a 40 lb bag of nursing books, rocking my sweats, and running all around the hilly campus in my $2 flipflops.

Why am I giving you this snapshot of my college life? If you haven’t guessed yet, this was my first week back in class. This is the second time in my college life that I have been classified as a junior (that’s as far as I made it last time). Although I am still young I feel very old and very behind where I would like to be. When I go to class, I look across the lecture hall at the new generation of college students filing loudly into their seats, and although our ages are not too far apart, our worlds are. Their fashion choices confuse me and I constantly find that I have no knowledge of the media icons they imitate or the bands that ring out from their fancy iphones. It seems our worlds are worlds apart.

All of these factors contribute to my lack of motivation to be in school. However, I am officially on the downward slope, provided there are no more unexpected surprises up ahead, and attempting to constantly remind myself of that fact. Despite being a married, bill-paying, car constantly breaking down, working three jobs while going to school adult, I have successfully completed my first week back and I find myself still smiling.

I believe I owe Jake much credit on the smiles. You see, Jake thought I needed to get away before the chaos began again (for him too as he continues his Master’s degree). [![](jekyll_uploads/2011/08/chocolate-pie-quesadilla-bruschetta-lake-199-325x229.jpg "Jakie")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/08/end-of-summerstart-of-school/chocolate-pie-quesadilla-bruschetta-lake-199/) So on Tuesday (my last day of summer), we went out to the lake at Watauga Point. It was an absolutely gorgeous day here in Tennessee and we decided to take along a picnic. After our yummy turkey sandwiches we played a grueling game of catch with our fluorescent Nerf football followed by a bit of trail exploring and finally, cooling off in the water. Of course, I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to snap a few photos to share with you all. [![](jekyll_uploads/2011/08/chocolate-pie-quesadilla-bruschetta-lake-113-575x368.jpg "The Lake")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/08/end-of-summerstart-of-school/chocolate-pie-quesadilla-bruschetta-lake-113/)

Suffice to say, I think our little excursion was just what we needed to rejuvenate our souls as we prepare to buckle down for another fall semester. I hope you enjoy these pictures from our day at the lake.

Thank you all for your continued support and encouragement. Please be patient as I attempt to figure out a posting schedule that works with my new class schedule. And be sure to keep us in your thoughts and prayers and we attempt to finish these last few semesters strong.

A Birthday Wish: It’s my sister’s birthday today so I just wanted to take a second to wish her the very best birthday! She is my best friend and I would be absolutely lost without her. Kendra, I hope today you are surrounded by those you love and who love you. Sending you all my love today. Happy Birthday!


7 Links Project


There’s a fun little project moving through the blogging community which asks individuals to weed through their posts and rank them. Rank my posts!?! After choosing the best post for each of the 7 categories, the individual then tags more talented bloggers to continue the thread of “7 Links.”

Although I have found these posts entertaining, I have secretly been hoping no one would tag me because the thought of weeding through all of my posts and only being able to choose 7 seems overwhelming to me. However, thanks to Meghan at Scratch-Made Wife, I am now officially a part of the 7 Links community. Don’t worry Meghan, I forgive you. Please be sure to head on over to Scratch-Made Wife and show her some love.

Without further ado, here are my 7…

MOST BEAUTIFUL POST: White Wedding Bridal Luncheon or to stay in the food realm…Mini Blueberry Pies

Along with the recipes at The Kitchen Curtains, I post a lot of pictures from working out at Aunt Willies Wildflowers. So, although this project mainly emphasizes food, I couldn’t resist including one of my all-time favorite bridal luncheon posts.

I also included the mini blueberry pies because I just LOVE the final two pictures I settled on for this one. They are by far my favorite food-related pictures so far.

**MOST POPULAR POST:** [Gyro Pizza](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/05/gyro-pizza/) I couldn’t decide whether to go off of my stats or off of responses. Since I love this pizza SO much, I chose responses. I have had numerous individuals email me their praises for this recipe. It’s so simple but still so delicious.

MOST CONTROVERSIAL POST: Ramekin Baked Eggs I write about food, crafts, and flowers–to be honest there isn’t much controversy there. I decided, like most food-bloggers before me, to take a different spin. I chose these baked eggs as most controversial because I feel like everyone has some personal slant on the way they like their eggs, so trying something new could stir up some deeply-rooted convictions.

MOST HELPFUL POST: How to Hem Jeans This post was a no-brainer for me to choose. There are numerous ways to hem jeans and this one works. Really! I received many comments about how simple this hemming process was for the beginner seamstress.

**SURPRISINGLY SUCCESSFUL POST:** [Frosted Banana Bars](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/06/banana-bar-recipe/) I think the mere fact that they tasted great was the surprise. I love all things sweet and adding the frosting was more of a personal preference than what I thought others would enjoy. However, the feedback on this recipe was fabulous.

[![](jekyll_uploads/2011/02/misc-2-325x243.jpg "Honey Ginger Shrimp")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/02/honey-ginger-shrimp-with-rice/misc-2-2/)

POST THAT DIDN”T GET THE ATTENTION IT DESERVED: Honey Ginger Shrimp with Rice Granted, there is not a whole lot to this post, but it was one of my very first on The Kitchen Curtains and I was SO proud of it and my pictures but unfortunately received very little (no) feedback. tear Ok, I’m over it. Really.

POST I’M MOST PROUD OF: Caribbean Shrimp Cups This was a very hard decision to make. I love all my posts and although I love seeing how much better they have become as we progress, I still love those first few that barely qualify as a real blog post. I also had a hard time because I feel as if the craft-related posts are some of the ones I am most proud of, like Rosette Tote and 15-Minute Dress. But in all matters food related, hands down the Caribbean Shrimp I most love. I love the idea, the photo, and the taste.

Now to pass along the 7 links love, if you have already been tagged I truly apologize.

Kira at Kira Noble Photography for her beautiful of everything from weddings to morning coffee.

DayDreamer Desserts because she makes delicious looking desserts like Blueberry Cheesecake Martinis.

Rachel at My Naturally Frugal Family, because she is all about health and happiness.

Michelle at That’s So Michelle, because she takes beautiful pictures of her food.

And finally, Runs With Spatulas, because I love the name and she posts nutrition information on all of her recipes.


Apples and Globe Graduation Party


Living far away from home has never been our ideal situation. Although Jack and I have our rough days being so far away from home, time and time again we have have found comfort in our friends. One of these dear friends, Kristin Waite, received her very first teaching position this week. In May, Kristin graduated with a master’s degree in teaching and threw a fabulous “Teacher-themed” graduation party. I asked Kristin a few weeks ago to write a post about her party and I figured, in honor of her new job, this week would be most fitting to share it with you.

So without further ado, I give you the fabulous Kristin Waite…

“This Apples and Globe theme would make a great party for a teacher in any phase of life: graduation, wedding, baby, new job, or retirement.

I planned this party to celebrate graduation with my friends and family that traveled to celebrate the occasion with me. Below are a few of the online places I found inspiration and what I finally settled on.

This pencil vase from Simply Staci became one of the most expensive non-edible features of the party. Buying that many pencils begins to add up, but the upside is that teachers always need more pencils!
Photo Courtesy of ohmigoshblog.

Bakerella the cake pop queen made these adorable apple cake pops. I wanted to use them to decorate the cake. I therefore used toothpicks to dip them in the red candy coating.

The cake recipe I found on Bakerella. It just seemed too decadent not to attempt. It is a beautiful cake, while not being unapproachable to those who eat it. I saw the recipe and as I was thinking about the party theme, realized this would make a great notebook paper design if the stripes were blue and not brown. This became the central goal of the party: successfully complete this cake. I substituted white chocolate instead of chocolate in the glaze and added blue food coloring.

Another idea I found was to use books as centerpieces. You can use them to raise the height of vases or candles on a table. I used them here to raise jars of cookies to different levels. This allowed them to mimic the serving plates on the other side that created a stair step on the opposite side. It would be incredible to have many older books that would make a perfect neutral centerpiece, but I don’t have those type of books. In their place I used my favorite history and education books that have gotten me through my education thus far.

One original idea was to decorate the cookie jars with composition notebook design. I used this website to create the labels that identified what type of cookies were on the cookie bar.

I used free maps that I had collected from rest stops over the years to decorate the walls and create map bunting. Never underestimate the free resources available in the brochure walls at rest stops. I know I never will.

I also borrowed globes from friends and checked a few out from the university library to decorate my home. Along with rest stop brochure walls, never underestimate the resources of area libraries.

I hope this encourages you to let your party ideas marinate for a while. It is the small inexpensive details that make the party.”


Almond Vanilla Pound Cake


One of our regular farm ladies, Jane Mullins, has kindly shared her sour cream pound cake at two farm workshops now. One taste is all I needed, I’ve been raving about the cake for months. It is very moist with subtle hints of almond. Seriously, SO amazing!

I made the pound cake this weekend for a going-away party and unfortunately was too cheap to buy a bottle of almond extract so my cake was nowhere near as delicious as Jane’s. All that to say, don’t be cheap like me! Spend the $3.

Since I don’t believe I could ever come up with a better tasting pound cake, Jane has graciously allowed me to post her recipe for you all. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Ingredients:

3 cups sifted All-purpose flour
6 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon Vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon Almond extract
3 cups sugar
8 ounces (1 cup) Dairy Sour Cream
1 cup real butter

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan and set aside. Combine flour, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Set aside.

Cream sugar and butter with mixer until fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and almond extract. Alternately beat in flour mixture and sour cream, beginning and ending with flour (Don’t over beat).

Pour mix into prepared pan. Bake 1 hour 15 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 30 minutes in pan. Turn onto wire rack to cool completely. Eat alone or with berries and whipped cream. We used a Farmer’s Market raspberry sauce and whipped cream. Yum!

I didn’t have a tube pan like the one Jane used so instead I used my bundt cake silicone which is much more shallow. If you too have to use a more shallow pan be sure to reevaluate your timer setting. I only ended up cooking mine for 40 minutes instead of 1 hour 15 minutes.

This cake freezes well. Be sure to double wrap and thaw completely before serving. And, as always, enjoy!


The Best Banana Bread Recipe


Last night Jack and I went grocery shopping. Or as many here refer to it, we went to “the grocery.” We are attempting to find a weekly meal plan for our upcoming semester. The goal is to prep healthy meals for two weeks at a time in order to eliminate the decision-making process from our busy schedules. Let’s face it, after a long day of work and school, the last thing we want to think about is cooking before we start in on homework. Last night, I prepped food for three hours. Sometimes being an adult is fun. Yes, you heard me…it was fun.

In the midst of prepping and cleaning, I discovered yet another banana bunch gone bad, and instead of tossing it, I decided to whip up a loaf of banana bread. Normally I stick with an old family recipe that is super moist and delicious but I did not have sour cream so, as usual, I made do with what I had on hand.

The finished result was spectacular. Seriously. Incredibly moist and light inside, dark and shiny on top. It was perfect. And now, I am sharing it with you. I hope yours turns out to be just as tasty.

Ingredients:

5 very ripe bananas (mashed)
1 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mash up your bananas and combine in a large bowl with sugar, eggs, shortening and vanilla. Be sure to mash up the shortening well so there are little-to-no clumps. Once combined mix in remaining dry ingredients. Butter your loaf pan. Pour mix into pan. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Tip: I noticed the top of my bread starting to look pretty brown around 40 minutes. I immediately put foil over the top and it didn’t brown any more throughout the baking process. In fact, when I was finally able to pull it out of the oven, it was browned perfectly. I would recommend allowing the bread to cook for 30 minutes and then place foil over the top.

If you are worried about burning in the last 10 minutes and the bread seems so close to being done, pull it out early as it will continue to cook while the pan is hot.


Why Can’t All Bugs Be Butterflies?


Thursday on the farm was the annual “Teapots & Tablecloths” workshop with 15 lovely ladies who were bold enough to brave the humidity. Unfortunately, I left my memory card in Linda’s computer, so the new farm photos will have to wait until after the weekend to be posted.

I did manage to procure this butterfly photo from my day of cutting on Friday. This lovely butterfly and about 100 of his friends made cutting in the heat a bit more enjoyable. Maybe it was the heat, but I found myself apologizing profusely to the butterflies for stealing their flowers. I also found myself wishing that all bugs were butterflies.

Although Linda may disagree with me, I feel like I have come a long way these past 2 years in my interactions with, reaction to, and knowledge of farm critters. I no longer scream like a 6-year-old girl when an unexpected banana spider makes its presence known. I also finally realized that…
a.) buzzing does not necessarily equal bee
b.) stinging is not a bee’s sole purpose.

I have learned that the rustling noises in the field are, in fact, not the aliens from Signs. Although I’ve still never actually seen the devious rodent(s), so I suppose it’s still a possibility. Moving on…cows are good listeners and being able to distinguish between a snake and a black hose can be a tricky task (Hint: It’s a hose).

I’ve learned that hornworms (see below) devour an entire tomato plant in 4 short hours. Although I found him on my porch and not on the farm, I thought this creepy crawler deserved a shout out as one of the many bugs I wish was a butterfly. Apparently there are two varieties, one for tomato plants and one for tobacco plants. They have a black “horn” out the back, grow to be about 4 inches, and appear suddenly to devour your plant in one day. Not my favorite garden guest.

Last notes on farm critters…Tennessee mosquitoes are much more aggressive than Oregon mosquitoes. Dead wood should be kicked before picked up or you may quickly find your arm covered by ants. In the spring, don’t look up into the trees while under them or you’ll likely catch a gypsy moth larvae with your face.

And of course, butterflies are the best bugs!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my farm critter post and pictures. Be sure to check back soon for pictures from Thursday’s “Teapots & Tablecloths.”


Guest Post: Cookbook Reviews


This week I am welcoming back the talented Mary Jackson who recently updated you on Google Recipes. Today she is sharing a little bit about herself as well as a few reviews from cookbooks she has used throughout the years. I went ahead and included one of my own photos for you as well. Hope you enjoy!

I am Mary Jackson, wife of John Jackson, Milligan Bible/Humanities professor and mother of two teenagers, Quincy, 16 years old and Grace, 13 years old. I fortunately have a job I love as the Research and Instruction Librarian at Milligan. I work 30 hours of the week most of the year, but take time off in the summers and during holidays. All of that would keep me pretty busy, but I am also the fellowship coordinator along with other responsibilities at my church, Hopwood Christian Church, and teach an online course several times a year.

My hobbies are reading, traveling, internet fun and for purposes of this blog, cooking and baking. I was raised by a mother trained in all the traditional home economic arts, culminating in a Masters’ degree. Most of my childhood, she worked as a registered dietician. In another era, I think my mother would have chosen more of a science oriented path. While completely lacking in creativity, my mother knew how to do lots of things involving cooking, sewing, and crafts. More importantly she was willing to try just about anything. If she didn’t know how to do something, she was more than willing to find out how and buy the supplies necessary to do it. My childhood had plenty of art supplies, cooking ingredients, and sewing materials.

I lack much artistic ability and I am, at best, a very basic seamstress—I can usually get 75% of a project completed before the pattern completely baffles me and I just don’t enjoy it. But what I love is baking and cooking. I also married a man with very few cooking skills, but who was very keen on learning. We now cook well together. He took a great interest in yeast products, which I don’t enjoy, and has become an excellent bread man.

Baking is my favorite activity and baking in large quantities is my specialty. To give you some idea of what I consider “normal”. I make treats (usually two-three choices of cookies, bars or muffins) on test days for my husband’s classes. He has 100+ students most fall semesters. Needless to say I have some standby large quantity recipes and a good work routine. I have also been cooking for church groups and potlucks for most of my adult life. I’d like to blog on recipes/tips/strategies on cooking for large groups and as the owner of a large collection of cookbooks, I’d like to review a few that I love…

Since I work with college students, I get invited to a lot of weddings. Shortly after one of this year’s crop of weddings, one new bride posted on FB asking for recipe suggestions and cooking advice. This got me to thinking about what cookbook I would give to a couple just starting out.

Two classics deserve a bit of discussion. Back when I got married, 28 years ago (oh, my!), the traditional book for all new brides was The Joy of Cooking. I still have mine. The book went through a number of editions, some better than others. I used to refer to it occasionally as it is packed with lots of useful information. But with the rise of the Internet and other newer cookbooks, it is no longer my book of choice. Many of the recipes now seem dated.

Another of my wedding gift cookbooks, was The Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book in the three ring binder. It is truly a cookbook with only a little additional information. I love several features of this book. The inside front and back covers have one of the best equivalency charts (1 lemon = 3 Tbsp juice) and emergency substitutes. Very handy and I still use them. I like the three ring binder as the book lays flat, but now after all these years and several big moves, the pages are starting to fall out and have gone missing.

However, the book that I have gifted to many people and the one we most, is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. Bittman is a long time food writer for the New York Times. He just stopped writing his weekly column this year. We have both the original edition (falling apart) and the revised 10th Anniversary edition. I have given this as a gift to everyone from experienced cooks to beginners.

Most of the recipes are straightforward and use ingredients commonly found in U.S. grocery stores. If the ingredient is more exotic, he tells you and usually gives a more readily available alternative. What I enjoy most are his many ideas for how to change up ordinary foods. He includes snazzy boxes labeled: 19 Thirty-Second Ways to Jazz Up Plain Rice, 12 Alternative Toppings for Pasta, and lists over 20 ways to cook chicken cutlets. Who hasn’t looked at a package of chicken breasts in the fridge and hoped for some dinner inspiration? He provides basic information about fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans including buying, storing, preparing and best cooking methods.

My only criticism, and it is very minor, is the desserts section is weak. If you need a desserts cookbook, comment on this post or just keep reading as I’ll soon be submitting dessert reviews.