Celebrating Togetherness

You may already know that I am a sucker for certain things. These things include: books, ladies night, book clubs where books are actually discussed, excellent food, and adorable decorations. Evidence of such love can be found here, here, and here.

Sometimes when you are very lucky you are able to combine all of your favorite things in one delightful evening. This month was the one year anniversary of our little, lovely book club. It was an anniversary that went mostly unnoticed but it was wonderful to realize that our group was still going strong. Previously I’ve been in book clubs where wine trumped the book but each time I am pleasantly surprised to find that everyone has read the book and everyone genuinely wants to talk about it. My book club email chain is basically the only reason I read my personal email. Except to obsessively enter giveaways, but that’s another story.

Another one of the perks of our group is the food. It’s been a fantastic, unexpected perk that everyone likes to cook or bake. Even this week when we were “only having pizza” (delish!) the side dishes included kale chips, a fantastic kale salad (recipe here), breadsticks (be still my heart!- make your own), fresh fruit and NUTELLA STUFFED COOKIES. Since you will die unhappy without this recipe, I will provide it for you. You have been warned though- a cookie coma is possible.

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This past Monday book club was elevated to a new level when Mel of Tabled sent us some goodies to perk up our table. You may remember reading about Mel when I described how I want to live vicariously through her. Even though I only met her and her fiancé, Carson, briefly for a weekend it was such a wonderful encounter and I’ve been lucky to stay in contact with them. When Mel kindly volunteered to share some of her wares with us, I couldn’t have been more excited!  Her table accessories are all handmade by local artists and craftsmen from throughout the country. Tabled’s philosophy comes down to every meal being a celebration. I couldn’t agree more.

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Photo credit: Chrissy Hennessy

Meal times are special, whether there’s an occasion to celebrate or not. My husband and I sit down for dinner together most every night because that is our time together. It was the same with my family. Whether it was when my parents were together or after their divorce, it didn’t matter whose house I was at- we always ate dinner together. It’s also the hardest part of living in Wilmington. Our weekly supper club was family night. It was a meal time that could be fancy or could be pretty basic but it was a celebration of our friendship, of new friends and of being together.

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Having Tabled’s little touches to our book club dinner was a fun and special touch that we all really enjoyed. I’m excited to incorporate them into my every day dinners too!

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Even nacho night is looking extra fancy!

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Dogs and Gardens

One of the disappointing parts of moving when we did, in the early fall, was that we weren’t able to see our garden through to the full season. We left green tomatoes and ripening peppers and a basil bush just waiting for pesto. We invested a lot of time and money into a project we weren’t able to see all the way through. Despite that it was still a good experience and we learned a lot. Mainly we learned there is a learning curve in gardening. A big one.

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Beware squirrels.

This year we’re approaching things a little differently. I refused to consider the possibility of an in-ground garden after the insane amount of weeding I did last year. Also, we thought our old yard had sandy soil but we might as well be at the beach in this house. In the end, after a lot of back and forth, we decided on two 8′ x 4′ garden beds. I was talked down from making them 24″ high like the ones we built at LINC last year for Work on Wilmington. Those were some awesome garden beds. When I actually saw how high 12″ is though, I was on board.

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These are not the exact boxes we built but we did base ours off these. Photo Credit: K.J. Williams 

We lined the boxes with weed cloth and put a layer of leaves in before we piled in our compost/top soil. We bought it all mixed up already from Seaside Mulch. We bought it in bulk instead of bags which saved us a lot of money.

What we should have done differently: Our very next action after building the beds should have been to protect them from their number one enemy- our dog. Clara was delighted to leap through the bed on her way to the fence where she chats with other dogs and also to dig up my seeds and freshly planted baby broccoli plants. So much fun!

After SOMEONE insisted there was no way Clara was going to dig in the garden again after she’d gotten in trouble for it, she did it again many more times. I won, he built me a fence. It’s pretty basic, just plastic mesh zip-tied to rebar poles. We* used sod staples to secure the fence to the ground.

*Please note when I say “we” in the same sentence as “build” or something similar I typically mean Tyler. “We” built garden beds, “we” used sod staples, etc. On the flip side when I say “we” planted or “we” weeded, I just mean me. 

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Fence Day!

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Finally these plants can rest easy. Whew. 

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There’s the culprit now, eyeing her prey…

Now we’re down a few broccoli plants (but how much broccoli can you really eat anyways?) and I’ve planted new spinach and beet seeds, along with tomato, pepper and herb plants. We’re trying not to plant so many different things this year. Trying is very hard for me.

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Whoops. 

Domestic Goddess Over Here

At some point since I started blogging recipes and posting an insane amount of meals and food on Instagram some of my friends and family started acting like I know what I’m doing. It seems ridiculous I know, but it keeps happening! I don’t want to dissuade anyone from this incredible idea that I DIY well but… let’s be honest here. I just look to my trusty resources.

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This stawberry rhubarb pie is by far the most attractive pie I have ever made. 

Baking Go-Tos:

Minimalist Baker is vegan but I love her style. She does not post any recipe that has a lot of ingredients or can be remotely connected with the word complicated. Thank goodness!

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Girl versus Dough’s blog is an awesome resource for both staple recipes and more adventurous forays. Her sourdough recipe is my fave!

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The Kitchn is my number website for baking and cooking. Their recipes always provide a lot of instruction that’s aimed at the beginner. Whether I’ve made a similar recipe before or not, I appreciate the very plain-spoken, foundational steps.

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Canning Go-Tos:

With canning, you need to really trust your sources. For example, I’ve found a lot of recipes for canning pumpkin butter but if you go on USDA’s website, they state that it is unsafe to can pumpkin better. You see what I mean?

A Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking is a great website and book for canning (along with other domestic things). I was fortunate enough to take part in Kate’s fruit butter canning class in Austin which gave me the confidence to make our apple butter wedding favors last year.

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Food in Jars is very reliable and has a great selection of recipes. Some may be too adventurous for you (me too!) but after making her peach jam, I totally trust her judgement.

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Ball Jars website has a good list of basic recipes. It may seem boring but for the beginner, it’s probably all you need.

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When in doubt you can always refer to USDA Canning Guide.

Pinterest: For me wanting to do a lot of DIY requires a lot of time on Pinterest (it’s research, not an addition). These are the Pinterest Boards I’ve created to sort my edible projects and adventures.

Eating is My Number One Hobby: It’s true.

Make Ahead Cooking: For your crockpot and freezer meal exploration

Breakfast is Best!: This is by far my favorite meal of the day.

Party Foods!: I love to host!

Boozin’: Clearly a very important board

Breads, Sweets and Treats: Sometimes the lines between breads, sweets and treats get blurred so let’s just mix them up.

Happy baking and creating!

 

Ice Cream is the Best Thing

Once upon a time, in a state about half a country away I decided to fulfill a life long dream and visit the Blue Bell Ice Cream Factory. It was only a short drive from Austin and I took three ice cream lovers with me to round out the experience.

Best ice cream pals ever.

Best ice cream pals ever. 

It was a beautiful day. We were very excited to take a free factory tour and sample to our hearts’ delight.

I cannot say anything bad about the experience. Our tiny, young tour guide obviously thought we were silly (sort-of) grownups but gave as good of a tour (if not better) than you can expect from someone who can’t drink legally. The ice cream samples were plentiful and the giant scoop I enjoyed as part of my tour left me more than fulfilled afterwards.

This makes me really happy.

This makes me really happy.

The tour did; however, completely change the way I approach ice cream now. Our tour guide enthusiastically showed us a room where milk (or cream?) was shooting through pipes and getting prepared for deliciousness when she mentioned the number of cows needed for to make their cold sweet treats each day. In my memory she said 100,000 cows were milked within 200 miles of Brenham, Texas and shipped to the factory. The Internet tells it’s more like 60,000. Either way it’s a lot. All I could think when she said that was, “That’s a lot of cows. Probably not a lot of happy cows.”

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Let me be clear. I have absolutely no way in knowing how Blue Bell’s dairies/dairy partners treat their cows…but the realization of how many animals have to be involved to make Blue Bell or any large ice cream producer really bothered me. For an ice cream addict like myself, it also really affected the way I shop. Now I deliberately seek out small batch and/or organic ice cream. This may seem like an obvious choice to some wise shoppers but my love of ice cream had always outweighed my ability to shop environmentally.

In Wilmington I have access to a couple good options. Front Porch Carolina Churned Ice Cream is sold at my local Harris Teeter (although I wish they had more flavors there!) and for a scoop on the town I can stop by Tar Heel Creamery. A pint of the strawberry is in my fridge now and I tasted the apple pie flavor. Both delish. I definitely wish there were more options (mainly because I specifically NEED Peanut Butter Chocolate ice cream almost daily) but beggars shouldn’t be choosers when they’re still eating tasty cold treats all the dang time.

When I traveled in Europe after my semester abroad, we decided we could eat a scoop of gelato every day. Yes, I did get to my heaviest weight ever. It was totally worth it.

When I traveled in Europe after my semester abroad, we decided we could eat a scoop of gelato every day. Yes, I did get to my heaviest weight ever. It was totally worth it.

Lessons From the Garden

1. Starting the day with productivity instead of a snooze is a recipe for success. I’ve been getting up early before work, pouring a cup of tea, turning on some easy wake up tunes, and putting on my gardening gloves. With the heatwave (it’s called summer) and the humidity (my welcome back to the South) it’s the only time I’m willing to weed and work out there. Regardless it sets the tone for my day. I feel happier and kinder when I start the day surrounded by the beautiful things we’ve worked so hard to grow. To date we’ve eaten spinach, peas, arugula, two tomatoes (the squirrels ate two beautiful ones too), a beet and there’s a zucchini in my refrigerator that I’m about to cook up.

Oh look a delicious treat.

Oh look a delicious treat.

A delicious treat for squirrels apparently

A delicious treat for squirrels apparently

2. I am a very small part of a very big world. Even in my 15 x 15 little garden plot I don’t have a very firm grasp of what occurs nor a lot of control. If I did the spinach, peas and potatoes wouldn’t have disappeared. Our pea vines have yellowed, wilting from the heat. Our spinach supposedly drowned. Our potatoes have slowly vanished from nematodes. Constantly in life I am reminded that most of the time I am seeing only a very small picture of the world. I have to work hard to understand my garden and I have to work hard to understand why so many tough things are happening in the world right now. I don’t think I’ll ever figure out either.

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3. I think a lot about my grandmother when I’m out in the garden. I am told that she spent a lot of time in her yard working on her plants. I’m sure she never grew vegetables because she was a terrible cook but I imagine if we knew each other now we would enjoy talking about it. I started wearing garden gloves recently to keep dirt out from under my fingernails. My dad told me that my grandmother drank gelatin to strengthen her nails. It’s such a small thing but I think of her when I wear my gloves. I never met her. I’ve heard a lot of things about her, positive and negative, but I would have really liked to know her. Gardening is one of those things that just makes me feel more connected. 

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4. It’s a process. The peas withered from the heat but I can try again in the fall or earlier next spring. Next time we plant potatoes we’ll know to take action earlier. We have learned and we can try again. There’s no one and done.

Success!

Success!

Southern Coastal Living at Its Finest: Crab Cake Hush Puppies

Oh yeah, it’s a real thing. Crab cakes and hush puppies have combined to make your life complete.

Where do you find such an incredible concept? Duh, Southern Living magazine. Y’all aren’t from aroun’ here, are ya?

Here’s how to make this happen:

First, start your day on the ocean completely seasick while your husband (or boating companion) fishes for crab bait. Thank the heavens that he caught one immediately, took a look at your face and agreed to turn towards calmer waters. That could have made for a very long day.

Then, take one million pictures when he pulls up his very first crab pots of the season. Fourteen keeper crabs!

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Before you steam your crabs (for about ten minutes) on your porch (because there is no way that mess is coming in the house) cover them in an insane amount of Old Bay Seasoning.

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There is no such thing as too much. Top it off with a beer (we were drinking New Belgium Slow Ride IPA so that’s what went in). If your pots had more crabs than ours, think one beer per dozen crabs.

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Now for the picking. Be sure to have an beer nearby for yourself during this process as it is a slow one. Be patient and try not to eat too much. You’re supposed to be saving it. If it’s evening time and the music’s on and you can smell the fresh cut grass of your neighbor’s yard, it might just feel perfect.

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Time to get serious. Take a cup of your fresh picked crab and put it to the side for your hushpuppies. We took the other cup of crabmeat and used part of it for an omelet this morning with goat cheese and green peppers. The rest we’ll eat on crackers tonight. Life is hard…

Making hushpuppies is easy. The hardest part after picking the crabs is finely chopping your green onions and peppers. Southern Living calls for red peppers but all I had were green. Who cares.

You stir those up with your cornmeal mix, flour, sugar and salt.

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I didn’t have cornmeal mix on hand so I made my own as a substitute:

Stir up 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3/4 cup + 3 tablespoon yellow or white cornmeal. This will produce 1 cup of cornmeal mix.

Then drop in your egg, crabmeat and beer and stir until moistened.

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Let stand for ten minutes.

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Fry in two inches of hot oil in a skillet in batches until golden. It won’t take long so keep your eyes on them! You’ll have to turn them halfway through.

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Try not to eat them all. Fail. Eat them all. Southern Living says to serve with cocktail sauce but I doubt you’ll be able to take the time to dip them. Skip the extra step and deliver them directly to your drooling mouth.

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Recipe from Southern Living: Crab Cake Hushpuppies 

Ingredients:
1 cup self-rising white cornmeal mix
1/2 cup self-rising flour
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper (or green- be flexible!)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces fresh lump crabmeat, picked
1 large egg
3/4 cup beer (Whoops, ran out of Slow Ride. Had to put in a Rogue)
Vegetable oil
Steps:
Stir together cornmeal mix, flour, green onions, bell pepper, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in crabmeat, egg, and beer until just moistened. Let stand 10 minutes. Pour oil to depth of 2 inches into a Dutch oven; heat to 360°. Drop batter by tablespoonfuls into hot oil, and fry, in batches, 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown, turning once. Serve with your favorite rémoulade or cocktail sauce.

My So-Called “Living Simply” Lifestyle

First of all, are you aware that there is a playlist on Songza called “Angela Chase’s So-Called Playlist”? Be still my heart. If we have anything in common you might enjoy it. Or music from Daria. Just a suggestion.

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So, over the last year or so I’ve been trying to reduce the number of chemicals and processed stuff in my life. If I can make the ingredients in my life more simple, more real, then I love it all the more. Examples of my life changes:

  • I make my own laundry detergent now. It’s surprisingly effective! I make in bulk and store in a five gallon bucket. I keep a smaller portion in a beer growler that I disperse to each laundry load. Making detergent is incredibly easy and it lasts forever. Try it yourself.
  • Making granola bars. Recipe can be found here.
  • Making my own bread. We’ve stopped buying bread. Making bread takes time but very little effort. I find it incredibly satisfying to make and I can try different recipes every week.
  • Making my own deodorant– fail. It gave me a rash. I’ve been told to cut back on the baking soda and to use apple cider vinegar to prep my skin before applying. I’m going to try this in the future but I’m not up to at this point.
  • I’m trying to make my own kombucha again. My Dr. Pepper consumption has greatly increased since my world has lacked kombucha.
  • We’ve started a backyard garden plot. We’ve got potatoes, carrots, beets, spinach, and arugula seeds trying to grow right now!

All of it is a money saver but that’s not really what it’s all about.

  • I want to be more local. It bothers me that my food and household goods come from all over the world. It’s not great for the environment. It’s not great for the local producers I’d like to support. The farmers market begins next weekend and I will be there will bells on.
  • I watched a documentary about our use of plastic and its effect on the oceans. It was disturbing. I’m become overly aware of how much plastic there is in our lives. I want to limit it. I want to make things in bulk and try to eliminate all the throw-away plastic in my life.
  • We brew our own beer! This is particularly fun because I do very little to create the beer. I’m mainly a taster.
  • I just want to eliminate excess. Why do we have so much stuff? Then again, when you have to buy multiple items to make one thing it seems counterproductive.
  • It’s really satisfying. I get a lot of pride out of making my own bread. I love snacking on my own granola bars. Watching our little seeds sprout is fun. I want to eat my own beets!

The down side? It’s time consuming. It doesn’t always come out the way I want. These national suppliers have really got their formulas worked out. For instance, my store bought deodorant does not give me a rash. But it cost me very little to try. So what’s the harm?

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Are there things you do to live more simply?