Archive | June 2012

Banana Bread

One of our favorite breakfast items is homemade banana bread.  I’ve been making it for years, tweaking the recipe and messing around with it changing out the bananas for other fruits.  It has become a family favorite and my husband requests it for the guys at his office every now and then.

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Gather together all your ingredients and grab a big mixing bowl and your favorite wooden spoon and let’s make banana bread!

I have found a fantastic new use for my potato masher….mashing bananas! This wonderful tool pictured below was a gift from my thoughtful friend, Tonya.

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One of my “secrets” to having plenty of bananas ready for baking at any given time: freeze those overripe Produce Manager’s specials. You know, the ones where you can buy a whole bag of bananas for 99c! Every time they are on sale at the market, I buy 1-2 bags and peel them, lining them up in a large freezer bag. Lay the flat and you’ll have bananas ready at any time!

Here’s the recipe that I have used:

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Preheat oven to 350F

1/3 c. shortening – note: I do NOT use shortening, substitute canola oil, extra virgin coconut oil or safflower oil – cup for cup

3/4 c. sugar – I cut this back to 1/4 cup

2 eggs – I half this

1 3/4 cup flour – I take the 3/4 cup & change it out to whole wheat pastry flour

1 tsp. aluminum free baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt – I use kosher salt or sea salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 c. mashed bananas – as you can see from the picture above, I pour the thawed bananas and the juices in all together, plus I use more than a cup…..makes it extra good!

1 cup chopped walnuts – or your favorite nut – pecans are good for this too.

3 tbsp. milk – I use unsweetened soy milk – you can use whatever you want

In a large bowl, cream together milk, oil/shortening and sugar; add egg and beat well. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda and add to creamed mixture.  Stir until well mixed. Fold in bananas and nuts, blending well. Pour into greased loaf pan.

Bake for 50 minutes or until golden brown and pick inserted comes out clean.

Remove from pan and cool on a rack. Wrap and store overnight.

Or as we do in our house….slice it up hot and chow down!

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Cutting back on the sugar works okay for this recipe if the bananas are super ripe. If you are concerned about any bitter taste, make sure that your bananas are just spotted, not super black. But if they are that ripe, a couple little scoops of stevia will help adjust the flavor and allow the sugar amount to be cut in half or more.  Pure honey also works well as a sugar replacement in this recipe. You’ll need to reduce the oil/shortening amount to compensate for the extra moisture that honey provides.

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Won’t you pull up a chair, have a cup of tea and a slice of banana bread with me? I’d like that very much!

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June Garden Delights

There hasn’t been much rain, but watering almost every day has really helped my garden. Here are a few views of it as of this morning. Enjoy!!!

These marigolds are from seed pods from last season.  I collected as many as I could before digging up the dead plants.  Many more pods dropped into the soil of the garden and came up as soon as the weather warmed! An annual that is working like a perennial!

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The catnip has come up! Can’t wait to dry it and make some kitty toys!!!

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The parsley and sweet basil is also growing well.

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This is the first time I’m trying Brandywine tomatoes.  They are looking pretty good!

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These cosmos are all from last season’s seeds that fell into the garden soil. They work with the marigolds to help keep horn worms and other bugs at bay. This allows me to keep my garden pesticide free for the 3rd season in a row.

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The Big Boys are really doing well! Can’t wait to pick these and have them in salads or piled high on sandwiches!

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Gladiolas have always been one of my favorites! Needless to say, when a different color pops up every season, I get so excited! It’s almost like Christmas!

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Smile, You’re on Jeffery Camera: The Ocoee

When we first began dating, one of the things we loved to do was go to “The Ocoee” and spend the afternoon watching and photographing the antics of white water rafters and kayakers. Just about an hour east of Chattanooga, the Ocoee River meanders alongside State Road 64 all the way east into North Carolina.  If you’ve not been there, you must take the drive. It’s a beautiful, winding road with gorgeous views of the Ocoee River.  Not too far away is the Nantahala which offers loads of fun for rafters and kayakers as well.

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We stopped at the spot where the 1996 Olympic Summer Games held the water sports competitions. There is ample parking and flags from participating countries line the roadway. You can’t miss it! The roar of the rapids and coolness of the spray makes this an awesome place to hang out at, even on the hottest summer day.

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Swirling, roaring water rapids sets the scene for an exciting afternoon by the river.

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Some of the best views are from the rocks. Climbing out onto the very edge of the water makes for an up close and personal view.  Great for video or camera shots! Just get there early enough to get your spot! The best perches are snatched up in a snap!

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There’s never a dull moment! The rapids sometimes gives everyone a heart-stopping experience whether it’s hanging off the edge of a rock or crashing right into the whirlpool…

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However, this experienced guides made sure that everyone stayed upright and in the raft!

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The absolute joy on every face and the screams of pure adrenalin rush makes me want to jump in and ride the rapids, too!

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Come soak in the sun, feel the spray of water and bring your picnic! You’ll return to the busy week completely refreshed….guaranteed!

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Coconut Curry Tofu with Brown Rice

It’s been a while since I last posted anything about food.  Things have just been too crazy and we’ve been super busy.  My full time job changed and while I adjusted to that, I am still keeping the part time job for a while yet. And we’ve been working on the yard little by little each season and this year we’ve been able to get the most done than we’ve done in past season’s.  It’s all very exciting to us as things are starting to take shape and our personality is starting to really show!

Here lately I have been craving some of my Mom’s cooking. Vietnamese curry is a little different than Thai curry, but I have my own version that is slightly influenced by both.  I don’t put a lot of heat in my curry, although I do love a good, flaming curry once in a great while!

Since brown rice takes longer to cook, that’s the first thing that gets put into the cooker.  On my last trip to the Asian Market, I picked up some new crop Brown Jasmine Rice.  I grew up on Jasmine white rice and love the aromas that fill the house while it’s cooking.  True to my memories best recollection, the Brown Jasmine did fill our house with aromas that made me super hungry!  I’m so excited to be able to get it in brown rice!

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My rice cooker can thoroughly cook brown rice in about 25-30 minutes depending on how much is in there.  I put enough for 3 servings and with brown rice, you add a little extra water as it is chewier. After rinsing it to get it nice and clean, I got the rice cooking.

Next I gathered all my ingredients together and chopped all my vegetables first.

Since I didn’t have any snow peas in the refrigerator, I decided to do zucchini and cauliflower with the coconut curry.  I used a extra firm tofu, good canned coconut milk, curry powder, garlic powder, onion powder, a whole medium sweet onion, green onion stalks, shallots, clove of fresh garlic, bay leaves, sea salt,, basil and a little extra virgin olive oil.

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Here’s the recipe:

Cyn’s Coconut Curry Tofu with Brown Rice & Veggies

*Keep in mind that I don’t measure when I cook. These are approximations. So you may have to adjust a little for taste.

1 medium sweet onion, half of it diced small, the other half sliced into thin wedges

1 clove garlic, minced

2 small zucchini, quartered into thick bite-size pieces

1/2 head of cauliflower, sliced thin014

1 block non-GMO tofu, sliced thick

3 tbsp Curry Powder

1 tsp Garlic Powder

1 tsp Onion Powder

1/2 tsp. Sea Salt

1 can Coconut Milk

4-5 Basil leaves, sliced

or if you don’t have fresh leaves, use 1 tsp dried basil

2 Bay leaves

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In a medium saucepan, add 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and the onion slices.  Sauté until the slices soften and become translucent.

Add to this the sliced cauliflower, sliced green onion and cubed zucchini.

Let these cook together until the zucchini is soft. I like my cauliflower to be a little crunchy, but you can let yours cook longer before adding the zucchini to the pan. Once the cauliflower is to the desired consistency, set aside.

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Meanwhile, take the thick, sliced tofu and place it in a warmed pan with a little extra virgin olive oil and brown each side.

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While the tofu is cooking, I start the curry sauce. Sauté the diced onions and shallots in a little of the extra virgin olive oil until translucent. Add the minced garlic. Add the whole can of coconut milk, the basil leaves, the bay leaves and the sea salt.

Let this mixture come to a soft boil.

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Pour this over the vegetable mixture.  Add browned tofu that has been cubed.

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Once thoroughly heated, plate and serve.

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Enjoy!

Where the Rhododendrons Bloom

High above the clouds sits one of the most picturesque places I have ever been in recent months. If you’re looking for an afternoon of hiking in one of the most breathtaking places on earth in our little corner of heaven, then you need to see Roan Mountain State Park.

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Located between Johnson City, TN and Asheville, NC, it’s just a short drive from Morristown. It is quite literally in our backyard! One of the big draws is the gorgeous rhododendron gardens at the top of these “hills.” But be warned! You will need a jacket and good shoes! We have been experiencing unusually warm weather and didn’t think twice about wearing shorts, sandals and having no jackets! With the windows of our car rolled down and the wind whipping through my hair…as our car crawled to a higher and higher elevation, we suddenly realized that we were not dressed appropriately!

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Parking our car at the top, we saw everyone around us in long pants, covered shoes and putting more jackets on! Some even added hats or hoods! But we decided to take a short hike anyway and tried to walk briskly to keep warm! When the wind started whipping around, it felt like an iced knife! I lost the feeling in my toes, fingers and face! It was hard to keep from shaking! I think my legs even began to turn blue!

Despite the cooler weather, we managed to get off a few shots. Imagine how nice it will be in warm weather! Roan Mountain State Park has picnic areas all over the park and a really nice campground that will accommodate RVs and campers as well.  There is a community center and pool near the Visitor Center as well as trails everywhere. Also the 3rd week in June, the annual Rhododendron Festival takes place. However, we felt that with everything blooming early this year, waiting for the festival would mean the possibility of having no more blooms….

Grab a cup of tea, or whatever your favorite beverage is and get ready to feast your eyes!

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Start packing your bags and making your vacation reservations! You’ll want to revisit this area time and time again!

Garden Delights

Each year for the past 3 or so, I’ve started dabbling in the garden. I have many wonderful childhood memories of eating wonderful things from my parent’s garden. My mom has a green thumb like no other and it’s amazing how, even to this day, her zest and energy to work in the yard puts me to shame!

My childhood gardens were filled with cauliflower, 10-lb. cabbage heads, broccoli, sweet corn, green beans, peas and so much more. I remember mom used to chase me out of the garden for standing there and eating the peas! There is nothing as good as fresh peas straight from the garden!

I’m not as much a green thumb as my mother, but I sure try! My garden is much, much smaller than hers ever was, but the bounty from it is plenty enough for me and my husband. Last summer I came across this wonderful book at my local library and just had to take it home with me. The book is by Brett Markham, Mini-Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 acre.  It is a wonderful book for refreshing your knowledge or for explaining gardening and giving wonderful tips on how best to use up the space in a small yard. The book is through Skyhorse Publishing and you can click here to see their website: Mini-Farming.

My garden is just 3 raised beds that are 4-ft. x 8-ft. x 6-in. high.  We bought a composite board kit that we found at Sam’s Club. I wanted to use the composite boards for a couple of reasons…I didn’t want any treated wood around my garden, thereby decreasing the chance of having any arsenic leech into the ground and I didn’t want to have to replace the boards any time soon.  And since I am no longer allowed to lift anything over 10 pounds, using concrete blocks was out of the question.

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We started out by putting a scoop of mushroom compost in these boxes followed with some top soil and I added a big bag of Miracle Grow garden soil to each block. I strongly believe that this combination has resulted in a much healthier and bigger plant.  Last summer my tomato plants had stalks about 1.5-2 inches in diameter! My green pepper plants had stalks that were nearly 1-inch in diameter!

The plants you see to the left are all my volunteer tomatoes that have popped up from last year’s crop! Turns out we have 8 volunteers this year! Essentially doubling my crop this year. Because about 3 weeks before they pushed through, Jeff came home from the farmer’s market with 4-Brandywine and 4-Big Boy plants. I’ve never had Brandywine, so thought it would be a wonderful addition to the mix. I believe we have Beefsteak, Roma and Big Boy volunteers based on the location where they popped up.

To help control the hornworms and other pests, I have planted marigolds (also from the seeds I’ve gathered from seasons past) and cosmos in and around the tomatoes. Doing this for the past few years has allowed me to not use any pesticides of any kind on my garden.  This year, I’m afraid of some contamination because with the mild winter, the county has taken to spraying our neighborhoods with pesticides for bug control. We’ve already noticed how bad the pests are this year and worried about how it will affect the garden.

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I’ve also begun to plan my potted garden for this season. Since I’ve been including more fresh herbs in my cooking as well as drying and making my own herb seasonings, it seemed like having a garden near the kitchen would be a grand idea. We recently added a grill to our “outdoor kitchen” and I’ve started cooking outside during the hot summer months leaving the kitchen and house inside much cooler.  As these herbs grow, the pictures will follow!

At the end of the season last year, we purchased two peach trees. The dollar value was 2-for-1 at that time, so we were able to plant more by waiting until the end of the season when the prices get slashed.  The trees appeared to be about 2-3 years old, so I figured in about 1-2 seasons, we would start seeing fruit. Well, this year we have fruit! I wasn’t sure if I should cut them off and let the tree grow another year, but in the end, we decided to see what happens.

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For now, enjoy some photos of my garden as it stands now!

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It’s official…..summer has officially started! Here’s to happy gardening and warm, lazy days filled with family, friends and lots of good food!