Sunday, June 29, 2008


Yesterday we had 54 people at our house for a get-together. I am really happy that it went well. We had lots of kids. It was very hot down here yesterday. It rained before everyone got here and after everyone left. I couldn't ask for better weather, except maybe having it a bit cooler! I tried to keep it as simple as possible. It seemed to work.

Here is what we did: B kindly grilled the hot dogs and hamburgers with the help of one of our neighbors. The guys were very hot but they were good sports and did a great job! The hot dogs were Oscar Meyer Naturals without nitrates or nitrites.

The day before I made pork and beef BBQ. I simply bought a large piece of beef brisket (6 lbs) and cooked it in my large slow cooker for 8 to 10 hours with a bottle of Jack Daniels original recipe barbecue sauce. The pork was an 8 lb. pork loin. I put some barbecue marinade over it and added some home made barbecue sauce along with a bottle of Jack Daniels Honey barbecue sauce. B said it was a bit too vinegary so when I heated it up for the party I added half a cup of brown sugar over the top. All 6 pounds of the beef were gone and about 6 or 7 pounds of the pork were eaten. Our guests all seemed to enjoy them. Some people even asked if I had the pork and beef catered!

As for side dishes, all I did was open a bag of potato chips but my mom made corn on the cob (super good). The other guests brought broccoli casserole, pasta salad, Chick Fil-A chicken nuggets, onion dip, fruit, veggies and so many other wonderful things that I NEVER would have thought of making.

For dessert I made some frozen funnel cakes from Market Day which I heard were wonderful. I never got to taste any which is a good sign. I also provided the kids with snow cones. I had one of those inexpensive electric machines along with my manual ice shaver from Pampered Chef. We ran out of ice but the kids were happy! I had about 8 different flavors of syrup for the snow cones. My wonderful guests brought yummy desserts. We had tandy cakes, fruit pies, jello desserts, cookies, Amish cinnamon bread and many other awesome treats.

For kid entertainment we had 4 water guns -- I mean the big Super Soakers, the ketchup and mustard game which is just a bunch of ketchup and mustard bottles (empty) from the dollar store filled with water that the kids use to get each other soaked. I also brought out D's swing ball which is an inexpensive version of tether ball. They had fun playing all the water games and swing ball, too.

Most of the adults found cool shady spots to sit in the back yard. I was in and out of the house most of the time enjoying some AC along with the shade outside. I would say that after all was said and done, it was a successful event!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Back from Vacation!!

We have been away on vacation and the last two weeks of school were brutally busy with all the year-end activities like the 4th Grade picnic and Play Day. We left for Tennessee the day after D's school ended. We visited Nashville and Chattanooga. We may be the only family ever to go to Nashville and NOT see Opryland. We never made it to either the new Opryland or the old Ryman Auditorium. I thought it would be fun to see the Ryman Auditorium just for the historic value but D was absolutely NOT interested. He did agree to come with us to two historic homes (which surprised me very much). The first was Belle Meade Plantation. It is one of the oldest horse breeding plantations in Tennessee. Several of the Triple Crown winners came from Belle Meade.

The second historic home was called the Belmont Mansion. The Mansion is located on the campus of Belmont University. Funny, but the security people had no idea that the Mansion was visited by so many tourists. They told us that they have only two dedicated parking spots for it but when we took the tour there were literally dozens of people inside. It was a beautiful mansion that had been owned by one of the richest women in the late 1800's. I don't remember her name but I do remember that she died during a shopping trip to NYC. I guess she died doing what she enjoyed most! I can relate to that.

We enjoyed a rainy day at Opry Mills which is a very large shopping center directly across the parking lot from the new and improved Opryland. We spent the afternoon playing Glow Golf, watching The Incredible Hulk movie, eating at The Aquarium Restaurant (very cool) and visiting the touch pool they have called Stingray Reef. We took a "behind the scenes" tour of the Aquarium Restaurant. The tour was well worth the $5.00 each that they charge. The food at the Aquarium Restaurant was surprisingly good. The view from almost any table in the restaurant of all the fish is amazing.

We drove up to Kentucky for the day and toured the Lost River Caverns. These were pretty impressive. I got a bit claustrophobic in the boat when we all had to put our heads down to get into the caverns. Once we got into the caverns I was fine. It was interesting to learn that there had been a tavern of sorts on the premises back in the 1930's during prohibition. Apparently, if you drink too much while you are underground you don't feel it until you reach sea level. The people drank way too much and passed out on the steps of the cavern. That is said to be the reason the tavern didn't stay open very long. The drive to and from Kentucky from Nashville had great scenery and was well worth the price of gas.

We ate dinner at another really good restaurant. It is called Demos'. Demos' is located in downtown Nashville. They serve Italian food. I scarfed down a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. B had a seafood dish and D had the kids meal of unlimited soup. One of their specialties is baked chicken rice soup. It is really "out of this world". We each ordered and enjoyed a bowl of our own. Yummo!

Our drive to Chattanooga was uneventful. B was worried that we would hit traffic because the music festival known as "Bonnaroo" is in the area and had just ended. We didn't have any problems at all getting to Chattanooga. It was also a nice drive. Chattanooga is a small quaint town from my perspective (an ex-NYer). In Chattanooga, we ate dinner at two different chain barbecue restaurants. We ate at Smokey Bones and Sticky Fingers. I enjoyed both of them but I think Sticky Fingers is probably my favorite of the two. We bought and brought home a bottle of their barbecue sauce.

One of the most fun thing we did in Chattanooga was see their aquarium. I think that the Baltimore Aquarium is great but I felt that the Chattanooga Aquarium was even better. They have a permanent showcase of jellyfish that was very impressive. I was also taken with their penguins and seahorses. The Baltimore Aquarium has had travelling jellyfish and seahorse exhibits pass through but nothing permanent. Nor do we have penguins. Baltimore Aquarium does have puffins and a fairly large frog exhibit.

They also have a natural wonder in nearby Georgia called Ruby Falls which is an underground waterfall. I couldn't believe how gorgeous the waterfall was. Yes, I know. You are probably asking yourselves how many caves or caverns can one family visit on a vacation. Well, we can visit quite a few. We think they are gorgeous and interesting. You have to admit that on a blistering hot day, a visit to an underground cavern that is between 50 and 60 degrees can't be too bad!

Another scenic touristy thing we did in Chattanooga was to ride the "Incline." The Incline is a railroad that goes up a mountain at a 72 degree angle. The trip takes 15 minutes each way up and down Lookout Mountain. At first, I wasn't sure that I could manage riding the Incline because I have a fear of heights (along with so many others). I just "bit the bullet" and got into the train. It really wasn't bad at all. I met another woman travelling with her family who is also afraid of heights. We chatted all the way down the mountain. We didn't even notice that we had arrived. The trip back up was not at all scary and I was able to enjoy the view.

I almost forgot to mention that we visited Rock City which is also located on Lookout Mountain. The picture of D was taken at "Lovers Leap" in Rock City. It is a very interesting place that was formed by boulders that fell off the mountain. The view is fantastic as you can see. They also have a few tight squeezes between the boulders and some lovely gardens.

Last but certainly not least, we drove up to Sweetwater and took another tour of a cave. The cave in Sweetwater is called The Lost Sea. It is an underground lake inside a cave. This time they stocked the lake with lake trout. The guides feed the trout and almost jump into your boat for a little excitement. This cave was cool and relaxing.

I am pretty sure that you probably haven't considered Tennessee for your next vacation unless you are a country music fan. Take it from me, you would definitely enjoy it. There is something for everyone. The restaurants are top notch. The prices are very reasonable, too.

The Creative Cook

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


I love artichokes. They are so wonderful and healthy for you. Last Saturday, my mom and I went to the grand opening of a local supermarket. Everything was so clean and neat and beautifully displayed. All the fruits and veggies were lined up perfectly. I was completely bowled over by the beautiful artichoke display! They were probably Globe Artichokes but the supermarkets in my area don't say what type of artichokes they are. I'm just happy to see lovely artichokes in the markets at this time of year. I had always eaten artichokes at Thanksgiving. My mom is a pro at cooking them. I have made them a few times myself. The boys don't or won't eat them. I hadn't thought much about them since last Thanksgiving. I bought just two because I knew I would be the only one eating them. I hopped over to one of my favorite food blogs by Susan of Food Blogga. She gave a completely perfect explanation of how to clean, cook and eat artichokes back in April. Susan also has a recipe for stuffed artichokes and baby artichokes on her blog. She lives in Southern California where most of the artichokes we all eat are grown. She is very lucky!

I used her method to clean the artichokes. It wasn't as easy as it seemed that it would be. I probably don't have the best knives in the world but I found that cutting the outer leaves was fairly impossible for me. I just left them "as is". I will be careful when I am eating the "chokes" so I don't pinch myself. When I was a kid, my mom made the artichokes steamed in oil, water and with garlic cloves pushed in between the leaves. She didn't clean them out or trim them. I am pretty used to avoiding the pinchies. Artichokes were one of the few vegetables I would eat as a kid. I am not sure why but they are so good when they are cooked right. Don't try eating them raw or semi-cooked. They are terrible that way. I used Susan's method to cook them. I rubbed them with a lemon and squeezed some of the lemon juice all over them. Then I put them into a pot. They were so huge that they just about fit into my pot. I put about a cup of water on the bottom and drizzled them with olive oil. I also stuck a few garlic cloves into the leaves and into the center just for good measure. If you cook them for about 45 minutes on the stove top at medium your artichokes should come out perfectly. Remember that the leaves themselves aren't edible. Just pull off a leaf (it should come out easily if the "choke" is cooked properly) and scrape it against your upper teeth. The flavor is amazing. The "heart" of the artichoke is, of course, edible and delicious. I just put a little salt on it but you can eat them plain (as long as you have taken off the "fuzzy" stuff) or even use them to make a dip.

Please don't just pass by the fresh artichokes next time you're in a grocery store. Grab a few and plan to clean and steam them for dinner. You won't be disappointed!

The Creative Cook