Saturday, July 24, 2010

Strawberry Lemonade and Politics

This lemonade will ruin you for all other kinds of lemonade. From here on out, other lemonades will be lacking...they'll be too tart. They won't have that oomph. They will never....measure....up. Ever. You have been warned.

Another warning: have this recipe at the ready each time you serve this to a group. Because you will be asked to share it. Probably at least five times per gathering. I kid you not. It's probably become my most requested recipe. Yet it's not mine - not really. I mean that I did not come up with it, but I have tweaked it a few times. I've even come up with a sugar free version, which you can find below. For years I've made it with orange slices and it's delicious - I mean truly delicious - as in, people have always asked me for that recipe. But this summer I was privy to a conversation in which someone noted that the recipe can be made with strawberries INSTEAD. Oh! I thought. What brilliance! I must try it. And I've made it that way all summer long. For friends, for a campaign brunch, for a bridal shower. It's stunning and colorful - and if a lemonade could be called charming, well, I want you to know it's downright charming. 

It is the perfect special thing to serve in the sweltering southern summertime, when all you want to do is lie in a hammock by the pool, a breeze stirred up by the fanning of oversized palm fronds. Oh, alright. You caught me. I don't have a pool. Or a hammock (except a cheap one that's seen its day and is no longer allowed to see the daylight). Or anyone to fan me with palm fronds. But it doesn't keep me from daydreaming about such an experience. Most often, I just flee back to the air-conditioning. It's quite lovely as well. Especially when you've just gotten a new dose of freon because your holey unit leaked out the rest. (Isn't homeownership just a real blast?) 

If any of you have known me for years, you know that I haven't been so much into politics. I'm more into cooking, as evidenced by the above paragraphs. (As if making lemonade is understand, though.) I have big problems with our big-picture political system as it stands now. I believe in term limits and all that jazz - I do not believe in career politicians because I believe it's entirely too easy for a cushy job to push one extremely out of touch with the general public. All of that being said, I always vote. Always. It's a right that I would not ever want to give up. And I vote for the people that I think would make a difference and not just want a high-profile job in the spotlight. Our county is lucky this time in that we have several good options for mayor. 

And I am lucky that I got to help cater a campaign brunch for one of these fantastic mayoral candidates. I worked with Patricia Jones when I was the director of the Chamber of Commerce here. She's been on the Chamber board for years and she is a tireless worker for the good of our county. I've seen it time and time again. Her motivation is her passion for this place we call home. When I first heard that she had decided to run for county mayor, I knew it would be a perfect fit. 

I could foresee her visions of economic development, a huge buzzword in the Chamber world. A phrase that I didn't really understand until I had worked for the Chamber for a while. It's a complicated phrase with many variables, so I'll try to break it down a bit. Economic development is integral to the success of a city or town or county. If mayors and officials and the Chamber and businesses aren't working together to increase our standard of living - by supporting established businesses, opening new businesses, and hiring employees - things can move backward. There is no new revenue or perhaps, a reduced revenue. And less money comes in, tax-wise. Which means that when a city or county needs more money for fixing roads or buying a new garbage truck or implementing a new program in the schools...well, sometimes then it must come from increased taxes (wheel tax or what-have-you) directly from its citizens. The best way for a city or county to avoid extra taxes on its citizens is to implement a full-out campaign for encouraging economic development in their area. It works. And Patricia Jones knows about it. She's been a part of the economic development scene for years, partly from running their family business, Jones Lumber - but also partly because of taking an active interest (by attending conferences, seminars, meetings, etc.) in what the Chamber, city, and county can do to promote our area.

(I completely meant to - and then forgot - to add this important note. We've been very blessed to have had some excellent mayors already, both in the city and the county. Current Henderson City Mayor Bobby King is doing a great job with keeping his eye on economic development. End of important note.)

As I mentioned before, Patricia recently invited some ladies to a campaign brunch at the Hardeman House and our ladies group - the FHU Associates - catered. We served cream scones with blueberry butter, sausage cream cheese bites, savory cucumber sandwiches, fresh fruit, coffee...and strawberry lemonade. Oh, yum. 

I think it's safe to say that everyone enjoyed it. =) I got lots of 
recipe requests for the strawberry lemonade.

Even those of us in the kitchen...

Photo courtesy of Bramblett Group
After eating brunch, Patricia took the time to really talk - and listen - to these ladies who attended...area business owners, female county commissioners or commissioners' wives, and the mayors wives were invited. They talked for a loooong time, which I was pleased to see. It meant that everyone there cares as much as Patricia does about the future of our county.

Photo courtesy of Bramblett Group

Go find her on Facebook - go to her website. The Bramblett Group is doing a smashing job with her PR for the campaign. I love it! And put one of her signs up in your yard...I did.

And contact Patricia herself with any questions. She wants to hear from you.

Early voting lasts until Saturday, July 31st. Go do it. And make yourself some strawberry lemonade to celebrate!

Strawberry (or Orange) Lemonade

For 1 gallon:
6 scoops of yellow Country Time lemonade mix (amount for 3 quarts)
2 scoops of pink Country Time lemonade mix (amount for 1 quart)
1 c. sugar
Water to make 1 gallon
1/2 lb. - 1 lb. sliced strawberries - OR - 1 or 2 oranges, sliced

Mix together and add orange slices or strawberry slices. It's best if you let it sit overnight. It's pretty to add some of the fruit to each glass when serving.

Strawberry (or Orange) Lemonade - Sugar Free Version

For one gallon:
2 tubs Crystal Light yellow lemonade mix
1 tub Crystal Light pink lemonade mix
water to make one gallon
1/2 lb. - 1 lb. sliced strawberries - OR - 1 or 2 oranges, sliced

Mix together and add orange slices or strawberry slices. It's best if you let it sit overnight. It's pretty to add some of the fruit to each glass when serving.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

We FINALLY Started 24: Our First Impressions

Last night Jeremy and I were discussing what to rent from the local Movie World. (You know, the place that also has tanning beds and various tanning lotions/oils. And purses. That's what kind of world this is, not just "Movie World.") They have TONS of seasons of TV shows lined up on their shelves, as far as the eye can see. I kinda wanted to rewatch the beginning of Alias...I watched it years back and the beginning was awesome, the middle just O.K. - and the end was horrendous. I fell asleep in every episode toward the end. But I was nostalgic for it and I was in the mood for something spy-like. Jeremy wasn't too keen on the idea, though, so he suggested two other, um, suggestions: 24 or Heroes. I mulled it over and nodded cautiously. We'd heard great things about both shows. But we'd most likely get addicted. We were walking into it with our eyes open.

We chose 24. (Did I really have to write that sentence? The title was a spoiler...sorry.) We watched the first three episodes.

Here are our first thoughts:

1. The first episode didn't grab us immediately. What immediately grabbed me was, "Hey, is that really the Allstate guy?? Yeah, yeah, that's really the Allstate guy! If he ran for President in real life, I might vote for him. He seems like such a nice guy on those commercials." (By the way, I think Allstate is making a huge misstep with those new "Mayhem is coming" commercials. They are unsettling to me.)

2. Jack and his wife don't exactly look like they go together.

3. The bad guy - can't remember his name - just looks like a bad guy. He's very believable. He creeps me out.

4. I can't decide whether or not I like Nina's hair. Or Nina. She's bad, right?? Wait! Don't tell me.

5. So during the middle of the first episode, we kind of look at each other and Jeremy said something like, "It's riveting." But neither of us were truly riveted. Until the last 10 minutes or so. After the clock beeped to signal the end of the episode, I said, "Well, we've got to find out what happens!"

6. After the second one was over, I looked at the clock. It was 9:45. Jeremy always tries super hard to be in bed by 10:00 (even though both of us would rather not go to bed early) because he has to get up so early for work. I was ever so surprised when he said, "Do you want to start another one?" So we had a discussion about whether or not he was really serious...turns out that he was. And we watched the third one.

7. To sum up the craziness going on with Jack's daughter and friend Janet...I had to laugh (and agree) when Jeremy said, "Those little girls need to stay at home and watch Nickelodeon." I mean, seriously! Wow.

I know all of my 24-loving friends are sooo happy that we finally jumped on the bandwagon. I don't think we're "in love" with it yet, but we both enjoyed it. And will watch more. Probably tonight. ;)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Here's What Happened...

I haven't gotten enough sleep this week. I've been getting up at six-something every morning to teach the children's Bible classes at the Christian Training Series at FHU. It's been so much fun and very rewarding, but I am having the hardest time making myself go to bed earlier to compensate for getting up earlier.

I say all that to explain why I have been saying stupid things lately. Well, that and my husband is threatening to break into my blog and post the following conversation in particular. Let me set it up for you. I was standing in the kitchen, in deep thought - about dishwasher unloading probably. And Jeremy was at the other end of the room and had opened the bi-fold doors behind which our washer and dryer reside.

Jeremy: Hey, come here and smell this.
Kristen: (yanked from deep in thought) You? (I shake my head) I mean, me?
Jeremy: (incredulously) Who else is in here?? Yes, I'm talking to you.

Short and sweet. And no, we don't know what the smell was.

Is it Friday yet?

Friday, July 9, 2010

John Deere Chicken and Rice

No, I'm not a farmer, nor the son of a farmer. (By the way, my parents gave me this pot of zinnias. My dad picked the color. Pretty!) I'm fairly sure little patches of vegetables and flowers do not a farmer make, even if it's more like farming than, say, blogging. Anyway, Jeremy and I have gained a great respect for REAL farmers while we've been trying to grow things in our yard. I'm telling you - it's kinda hard work! There are pesky bugs that loooove to eat the leaves on 60% of the plants in our yard...I cannot lie...I think I've killed about 10 caterpillars in the last 2 days. Grrrrr! (Meanwhile, I've decided that dragonflies are the most awesome insect - they are beautiful and just plain cool-looking - AND they don't eat our plants. They just hang out in the garden with me. Oh. I just had a horrible thought! What if they DO eat our plants?? I'm going to feel sooo guilty for bragging on them. I must Google this.)

Also, there are birds. They ate ALL of our strawberries this year. We got two (TWO! Yeesh.) teeny-tiny ones that we snatched before they were spotted by the berry bandits. I was not happy. And Jeremy makes sure to remind me that the very baby birds (we've had 5 nests of them this year!) that I oooh and aaah over are the ones who, most likely, did all of this damage. Sad. I am so torn about this situation. Look below...take note of their adorable fuzzy eyebrows. Sigh.

Anyway, I deadhead all of these plants in various flower beds and check for bugs and make sure everything is fertilized and watered. And I love it. I really do. It's intriguing to think you're partnering with God in this gardening endeavor. Plus, both of my grandparents gardened in this very yard. I love catching a breeze while I'm working in the yard and stopping to think about these traditions we're continuing.

I really love when we get a tomato or a green pepper growing on its respective plant and I watch it get bigger every day when I go out to water.

Fried green tomatoes, anyone?

As pale as I am year-round, I'm even getting a bit of a farmer's tan. But I'm still not a farmer. You know what the biggest tell-tale sign is?

I don't have a John Deere tractor.

But now I have a recipe with John Deere in the title. I'm kind of excited about it. It was adapted from a Creamy Lemon Chicken and Rice recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod. I had made the recipe, as is, a few months back, when I first got on my lemon kick. Man, I love cooking with lemons! It gives everything such a bright flavor. I'm addicted.

We liked the recipe but decided (even me) that it used a little too much lemon. But the recipe was such a great idea that I knew I'd be pulling it up again on my computer and tweaking it later. Last night was the night. I had picked our first green pepper from the cedar garden and I was not about to let it waste away in the fridge.

And we had some saffron, I've gotta admit something. I really enjoy eating saffron rice - I love the taste and the spice and all that. But it's soooo yellow that it's kinda comical to me. Like a cartoon or something. So I don't serve it often, because it's difficult to take it seriously. Everything else on your dinner plate looks like it's supposed to be there and then...BAM! "Hey, look at ME! I am cuh-razy yellow!" One of these things is not like the other, you know?

So last night's dinner menu was inspired by color. The yellow from the saffron rice and the green from the green pepper = classic John Deere colors. I couldn't help laughing when I realized it. And I knew I'd want to share it with you. So, here it is...enjoy, y'all!

John Deere Chicken and Rice
Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
4 Tbsp. butter
2 garlic cloves, minced (or garlic powder)
2 green bell peppers, diced
1 c. cream
salt and pepper to taste (or Carl’s All-Purpose Seasoning - doesn't that sound like it'd go in this dish??)
Saffron rice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the chicken breasts in an oven-safe dish; drizzle a little olive oil and squeeze juice from half of the lemon on top of them. Sprinkle chicken well with salt and pepper – or Carl’s All-Purpose Seasoning, which has extra spices in addition to salt and pepper. Place chicken in oven; bake for about 30 minutes or until chicken is completely cooked.

Prepare saffron rice according to the directions on the package.

Heat medium skillet over medium-low heat and melt butter slowly. Mince garlic and dice green peppers; add only garlic to heated skillet first. Saute’ for about a minute  or two before adding the green peppers, which need to saute’ quickly and gently so that they stay as bright green as possible but still get cooked. Squeeze the rest of the lemon juice into the skillet, taking care not to get any seeds in the mixture. Add cream and salt/pepper (or more Carl’s Seasoning). Simmer for at least five minutes, stirring occasionally. Can keep mixture simmering until both the chicken and rice are done. Remove chicken from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

To serve, place a bed of rice on each plate and top with chicken breasts. Ladle the lemon cream sauce over the chicken and rice. Great served with a green salad or another green vegetable. =)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Delight which is Blueberry Crisp

It's been pretty busy around these parts lately. So busy that my blog topics are stacking up and leaving me further and further a cloud of dust, if you will. I have loads of recipes to share with you and details from our medical mission trip to Nicaragua and a fun mayoral campaign brunch I helped cater and so on and so on! Plus, our Family Bible School at church was last week and I've had good friends come back home from teaching English in China for the past 10 months, so stir all that together and we've had some good times lately. Just busy!

I thought I'd start back with a super easy but ridiculously delicious dessert recipe. It's blueberry season, people! And that makes me happy. So far I've only bought blueberries once this year, because they are stinkin' expensive at the grocery store. But! BUT! I've just found out (thank you, Facebook friend Genie) that a place down the road (in Finger, TN - it's a real place) has a pick-your-own operation going on. I think she said it was $7.00 for a gallon bucket of them. Woo hooo! I plan to go there soon. 'Cause you can freeze blueberries - did you know that? My mom does every year...and subsequently has blueberries at the ready for topping oatmeal year-round. Or making this blueberry crisp, which she and I and Betty Crocker came up with together several years back. If you have an original Betty Crocker cookbook, the recipes for crisps and cobblers should be found on page 177-78. We made the topping from the apple crisp recipe found there.

You are not gonna believe how easy - or delicious - this is. And as far as desserts go, it's pretty healthy. Bonus!

Here's what you do:

Let your oven begin preheating to a nice 350 degrees. Grab a pie plate (or other oven-safe dish), spray a tad of Pam in it, and fill it with washed and patted-dry blueberries. During this process, be sure to pop a few in your mouth. After all, you must make sure that they're fit for human consumption. But they will be. Oh, they'll be little sweet bursts in your mouth! Well, maybe. I mean, I don't know where you buy your blueberries. They could be awful tasting. And that's why you taste-test. On to the next step!

Then. Well, then you mix up some brown sugar, all-purpose flour, oats, spices, and butter to make the stuff that causes the name "crisp" to be found in this recipe. Let me stop here and tell you something I recently learned. You can make brown sugar at home. Seriously. YOU can make it at HOME. I have done so several times lately and it's like a little science experiment. It's so quick, too. Of course, you have to have regular sugar and molasses, but that's it! Well, a bowl and a fork will help, too. You dump some regular sugar in your chosen bowl (no need to measure) and then drizzle some molasses over the top. Stir, stir, mash, and stir with your fork until it's incorporated. Add some more molasses if you want it darker. Stir again. You're done! It looks, smells, tastes, and performs like store-bought brown sugar. Now you know. And it's pretty cool. =)

You sprinkle this topping over the blueberries, making sure to get your hands dirty in the process. I strongly feel that a streusel or crisp topping is best mixed con las manos...(or "with the hands" if you speak no Spanish). But I suppose you could use a fork or something...sin manos. You'd disappoint me, though...

That's it! That's all you do, besides slipping the pan in the oven and letting it bake for awhile. Twenty to thirty minutes or whenever your topping is nice and brown and the blueberries are bubbling. Oh! By the way, I've also made this with sliced peaches and blueberries together and it's muy delicioso as well.

Top with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and you've got yourself a lovely summery dessert. Let me know if you try it. Huh. I suppose I should give you the exact measurements for this recipe in case you want to make it yourself...

Blueberry Crisp

1 lb. blueberries, rinsed and patted dry (or a mixture of peaches and blueberries)
2/3 c. brown sugar (packed)
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. oats
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice, if either strike your fancy - or just a little more cinnamon!
1/3 c. butter or margarine, softened

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease pan and pour blueberries into it. Mix up remaining ingredients by hand (con las manos!) and sprinkle over the blueberries. Bake 20-30 minutes or until blueberries are bubbling and the topping is golden brown. Serve warm with lightly sweetened whipped cream (or Fat-Free Redi-Wip - it's seriously delicious) or vanilla ice cream (Blue Bell Light Homemade Vanilla is our very favorite).

Happy Berry Season!