Well, the baby Beagle that we rescued turned 2 over the weekend. She had a perfect day with her sister (Jackie), cousin (Honey), and her besties, the twins. Maw-Maw made her yummy apple-shaped cakes with vanilla icing, and we enjoyed a picnic in her honor Sunday night.

I tend to go above and beyond for my kids’ birthdays, but Jo’s are special. I know she probably doesn’t remember that first month of life spent eating from dumpsters and trash cans, but I’m trying my hardest to make sure she never does.

We love you, Jo Jo! Here’s to many more birthdays with you.

Growing up, I wasn’t a fan of potato salad. I think it was the yellow mustard that turned me off; but as I grew up, I found that the more you put into the mix, the better it is. Also, I found that Creole mustard is the only way to go with potato salad. Recently, we went to New Orleans and brought home a jar of Arnaud’s Creole mustard. YUM!

Potato Salad

2 pounds russet potatoes

2 pounds red-skin potatoes

4 eggs, boiled and mashed

1 ½ cup mayo

3 tablespoon Creole mustard

½ cup celery, chopped

1/2 cup bell pepper or banana pepper, chopped

½ cup sweet pickle relish

½ cup green olives, sliced

2 tablespoons green onion, chopped

Salt and pepper

Begin by boiling the potatoes in salted water until the skin begins to peel and they can be easily pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes and remove the skin.  Place in a large bowl with the boiled and mashed eggs, mayo, and mustard.  Mash all together leaving the potatoes chunky and well combined.  Fold in the celery, relish, olives, peppers, and green onions.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Let chill overnight before serving.

If the potato salad is dry the next day, add a hefty spoonful of mayo to the mix.

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So, I’ve got a new fascination — stove top popped corn. I know. This is how it was done before that thing called the microwave was invented; but for us “millennials”, microwave-style popcorn is about the only way to go unless you go to the movie theater, hardware store, or bank regularly for a bag of the real stuff.

It’s pretty fantastic since you get to control your butter and salt topping (or any topping for that matter). You are able to control the serving size to a degree. I still am working on what serving size works for me. Last time, I made too much; however, it does hold up well in a Ziplock in the pantry.

The kind I ordered is Mississippi grown and made, too. When I was visiting in the Delta, my friend Allie had a bag of “Crop to Pop” on the counter; and I was intrigued but didn’t think about it again. Then, my sister comes home from Mississippi Wholesale Market with the card for this “Crop to Pop” business. She said it was good, so I gave it an order. Give it a try if you like crunchy, sweet popcorn that you can feel good about popping on the stove. The directions are easy, but be sure to constantly shake the Dutch oven with the lid ON. Otherwise, you’ll be finding popcorn all over the kitchen for days. Those things fly everywhere!

I have yet to meet anyone who is not a fan of fried okra. Let’s be honest. It’s delicious and the best way to enjoy that violent little vegetable. The way my mom fries it up is the only way you should in my opinion. It’s the recipe my grandmother used; and more than likely, it’s the way her mother fried it, too. It’s crunchy without being fully coated in batter. It’s salty with just the right amount of sweet from the okra. It’s not sticky and slimy on the inside. It’s perfect.

The Only Way to Fry Okra

1 mess garden fresh okra, chopped

1 egg, beaten

Yellow cornmeal

Vegetable oil

Salt to taste

Once the okra is chopped into similar bite-sized pieces, salt to taste. Pour the beaten egg over the okra and mix. Cover the okra with cornmeal and toss until all is coated. Fry in batches in hot vegetable oil until crispy. Remove to a paper towel-lined platter.

Last week, while attending the Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast, a family friend was leaving the room to head back to the office and said, “Enjoy the Heat!” while dashing out into the humid June morning. I’d never heard it said quite like that. Most people say, “Stay cool” or “Don’t get too hot out there.” But putting this positive spin on an inescapable heat like the one we are having this summer seemed the only way to make it through. Well, that and a good sno-cone.

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I’ll be honest; I’m the first one to complain when I start to sweat. It’s just not for me. My hair isn’t a fan; I can’t stand the tacky feeling you get after you cool off; and to be honest, no one looks good wilted from sweating. Yesterday, on my way back from Baton Rouge, I stopped in St. Francisville to get some work done before heading back home. I got so hot getting in and out of the car several times in an hour and a half span that my knee caps were sweating. I’m used to sweating behind my knees and such, but for the actual top-of-the-knee cap to be perspiring seemed a bit much. When I saw the sign for “shaved ice snow cones” I did a U-ie in the middle of the road and dared anyone to stop me from getting to that counter and ordering up a clear strawberry concoction for the ride home.

So, enjoy the heat. It’s here to stay.

Have I mentioned that the tomatoes are coming in in droves at the Guido house? Every summer, we try to come up with a new way to enjoy those little boogers, and this past week we gave bruschetta another try. Our family friend, Nancy Kuehnle, told us about the bruschetta method she uses by toasting the bread with a layer of cheese before topping with tomatoes. So we gave it a try. Let me tell you. That’s the way to go. You don’t end up with the entire topping hanging off the toast on the first bite that way. It’s much easier to navigate and gives it a better taste, too.

 

Garden Fresh Bruschetta

6 – 8 large tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped

1 loaf fresh French bread, sliced

Olive oil

Parmesan cheese

Fresh basil, chiffonaded

Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and finely chop the tomatoes. Allow to drain the excess juice in a colander while preparing the bread. Salt and pepper the tomatoes at this stage. Slice pieces of the loaf and brush both sides with olive oil. Top each slice with about a tablespoon of Parmesan and toast in a 350 degree oven until slightly crispy. Remove the bread from the oven, top with about 2 tablespoons of the tomatoes, dress with fresh basil, and a sprinkle of Parmesan. Run back into the oven until the cheese on top is melted. Serve warm.

I’m not sure if you’ve been keeping up with the Netflix original movies lately, but they are killing it with new content this summer. I love to spend my weekends binging all kinds of Netflix original series, but this weekend I went for the Netflix original movies. Unlike the Disney Channel original movies of my childhood and teen years, these aren’t sappy and G (sometimes PG) rated. These are a little scandalous with a side of the “F” word. Enjoy.

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Brain on Fire

Based on a true story, this one has me worried now every time I have a brain “freeze” or headache. It really brings a new light on getting second, third, and possibly fourth opinions when you know something just isn’t right going on inside of you. Give it a watch and know that you are not one of the thousands that suffer from this rare autoimmune disease.

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Ibiza

I don’t know if I liked this because of Vanessa Bayer or because I just don’t see how they went so long without showers and sleep at their age. I feel like if I went on this trip, I would have to cry “uncle” a couple of hours in because they just don’t give up. They get shit faced each day and night without naps or sleeping in. They get on planes non stop and ride around in what looks like un-airconditioned cars while hungover or coming off of a high. I’m not sure I ever saw one of them brush their teeth. My point is I was amazed at how much I kept willing on this behavior scene after scene in order to find this mythical DJ.

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Set It Up

This one is a good old fashioned rom com with an update. The update to the plot being that online dating and “ghosting” are both referenced in this one versus blind date set ups and such. I really liked this one because of the realistic characters of the over-bearing bosses and the over-qualified assistants. Plus, who doesn’t love it when the two characters who hate each other in the beginning (SPOILER) fall in love at the end? I mean, who didn’t see that coming from the first second of the trailer?

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We are up to our elbows in tomatoes. Dad picked 50 ripe ones on Wednesday and added them to the already heaping countertops of about 75-100 already ripened tomatoes. However, what we aren’t seeing loads of this year is a bumper crop of cucumbers. Usually, mom can’t make batches of pickles fast enough. This year they are few and far between.

And we are Bread & Butter Pickle people. We eat them on burgers, sandwiches, and on a fork. We chop them up for potato salad, chicken salad, and deviled eggs. Mom keeps jars and jars of relish she’s processed from the pickles in our pantry for use throughout the year.

So, in hopes that pickling cucumbers will magically appear on our door step, here is our recipe for this delicacy.

Bread & Butter Pickles

4 quarts medium cucumbers, sliced

6 medium white onions, sliced

3 cloves garlic

1/3 cup salt

5 cups sugar

3 cups cider vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric

1 1/2 teaspoons celery seed

2 teaspoons mustard seed

Do not peel cucumbers; slice thin. Add onions, garlic cloves, and salt. Cover with cracked ice; mix thoroughly. Let stand for 3 hours. Drain well. Combine remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Pour over cucumbers. Heat just to a boil. Seal in hot, sterilized jars. Yield: 8 pints.

Ok. I’m falling into a podcast black hole. I’m listening to ones that I’m hearing about on the news or in other podcasts, but they just don’t seem to be doing the trick. One that I came across was My Favorite Murder. The reason I’m not a fan is because these 2 girls really don’t have any sense of the “too soon” concept when talking about murder or dead loved ones. It wasn’t for me, so I gave up on them an episode in.

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What I did come across was The Last Podcast on the Left when I was listening to that one episode of the aforementioned podcast. While it’s pretty crude, rude, and socially unacceptable, it does dive deep into some things I’ve been listening to all year — murder, serial killers, and the strange parts of history. So far, I’ve listened to a little bit about the Jonestown “Death Tape,” which will give you nightmares and keep you up at night. Some of ole Jim Jones’ voice comes through pretty demonic and filled with crazy talk. I doubt I listen to each episode because … well … it may be too much for me.

My main point is that I need more podcasts. I like history. I like true crime. I like weird and strange stuff. So, give me your suggestions. Please. I’m begging of you.

It’s my favorite part of summer. Finally, we have enough fresh vegetables to live off of them for the foreseeable future. So, here is a family favorite that we’ve enjoyed for summers as long as I can remember.

I know, it’s not the prettiest; but wow is it good. We talked about it last night; maybe try it over egg noodles. That would be delish.

Eggplant Casserole

3 – 4 eggplants, peeled, cubed, and boiled

1 pound lean hamburger meat

1/2 onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

1/2 bell pepper, chopped and seeded

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 teaspoon Cavender’s Greek seasoning

1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

After boiling the eggplant, drain them and make sure all the excess water is removed. Brown the hamburger meat with the onion, celery, and bell pepper. Mix with the eggplant, soup, and greek seasoning. Pour into greased casserole dish and top with cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes.

Yes. You read that correctly. I’m going through a bit of a ghost phase right now. As you know, I’ve taken to the podcast world full steam ahead and have been looking for some type of paranormal (slash) creepy ghosts (slash) true haunting story. However, the only ones I was finding were kind of cheesy; and after a few minutes, I would find myself changing the “channel.”

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However, a few weeks ago, I found one that was pretty amazing. It’s called Family Ghosts, and it tells a different story each week about a story that haunts a particular family, including two stories that haunt the host. I was hooked and quickly devoured it. Thankfully, Season 2 will be out this fall.

While ghosts are in the title, it’s not really filled with ghost stories. It’s more of things that plague you or gnaw at you from your past. Give it a listen if you like deep dark secrets with a side of gossip.

Another key point in my ghost phase took place last weekend here in Natchez. With the help of the Mississippi Paranormal Society, we at the Natchez Garden Club were able to host a paranormal tour and ghost hunting evening at Magnolia Hall. If you are familiar with Magnolia Hall’s history, you know that the home’s builder, Thomas Henderson, died in his bedroom on the first floor and still haunts it today. What I didn’t know is that more than just Mr. Henderson haunt this mansion’s halls. We met several children figures Friday night who seems to be in rather playful moods. They were playing with the light devices we had in the rooms, coming through the speakers we were using, and telling us about themselves in little broken phrases and words. I will say that I was thoroughly creeped out in the beginning; and by the time I left, I was ready to plan my next ghost adventure.

 

If you missed out on our first hunting experience, we’ve got a plan to have the team down again in the next few months. So, follow Natchez Garden Club on Facebook to keep an eye out for that event.

Well, the parents went berry picking this week and came home with quite the bounty. Luckily, Mom is good at experimenting; so we enjoyed Blackberry Cobbler for supper.

Blackberry Cobbler

4 cups blackberries

1 2/3 cups sugar (divided)

Juice half lemon

2 cups Bisquick

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups milk

Cook down the blackberries in water with 1 cup of sugar and the lemon juice. Mix together the Bisquick, vanilla, sugar, and milk. Pour in the bottom of a greased baking dish, spoon in the blackberry mixture, and top with pads of butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until bubbly and the “crust” is golden brown. Serve warm with a heaping spoonful of vanilla ice cream.

Delta Brick

This past weekend, I was able to spend time with some of my favorite people from those college years. They are the people that met me as a shy freshman, molded me into what you see today, and keep me coming back to the now bustling Mississippi Delta over and over again.

Not only did I get to see some of the Tri Deltas that I spent many a day and night with drinking too much, staying up too late, and sometimes talking about absolutely nothing with, but I also spent some time Friday afternoon with my best friend’s two little girls.

When I was in graduate school, Addelyn was born and was the perfect little baby doll that we all got to play with, teach things, and learn things from. I taught her about The Family Stone while reading the classics to her, and she taught me that no matter how many times I crawl around on the floor for her, she’s not going to crawl herself until she’s ready. A few years later after I moved home, her little sister Avery came to play. This past October I got to spend a little time with this adorable blond haired, blue eyed girl. She’s sweet as pie and loves a good snuggle. Basically, I couldn’t drive fast enough Friday to get to Cleveland so I could see these two (and their mom and dad).

So what did we do on Friday? We baked a chocolate pie. Addelyn went to Kroger with us to pick up all the ingredients; we picked up Avery from daycare; and we headed home to get to work in the kitchen. They were eager to help; and somehow, I was patient enough to let them. Addelyn slowly stirred the chocolate and butter on the stove while Avery helped measure out the sugar and vanilla and even cracked an egg for me. They both helped me temper the eggs with the hot chocolate and pour the mixture into the crust. While they weren’t as patient for the baking to finish up, they did love the outcome that night after dinner.

To date, it’s one of the sweetest chocolate chess pies I’ve made; and I didn’t even have a bite.

A La Mode

I’m halfway to the Delta and can’t wait to see some flat land. I’m going to get to see some of my favorite people, have a fantastic day with my first borns (i.e. my best friend’s kids), and possibly find my way out to McCarty’s in the process.

However, let me share a little recipe with you for the weekend to give a try. We had some extra apples lying around (a.k.a. my Costco fetish paid off), so mom concocted this fabulous pie for us.

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Quick Apple Pie

10 – 12 small apples, peeled and chopped into bite size pieces

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 stick butter

Pre-made pie crusts

Line a pie plate with a pie crust, add the apple pieces. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and top with pads of the butter. Top with another pie crust and cut vents in the top. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes at 350 degrees (or until the crust in golden brown). Serve warm with ice cream.

So I’m podcasting away on my weekly drives and have gone through MANY true crime series in the past few weeks. However, I’ve been on the lookout for some more conspiracy-theory based or paranormal based series that would not be too creepy to keep me up at night. Luckily, one of my lovely co workers shared a couple of options with me, one of which I started this morning.

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Limetown

This fiction-based podcast is one that seems to be taking a turn towards The Giver. I’m 3 episodes in and rather hooked. Give it a listen, I’m sure I will have follow ups as I get further in and make up my own mind if this actually is fiction or not. You just never these days what people in the backwoods of the south are up to.

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S Town

This one. I burned through it quickly. I’ve also done some research to see what these people from backwoods Alabama looked like. Wow. Not what I had in mind while listening. I don’t want to give anything away, but what you start listening to and hearing turns quickly and becomes much more intense. You really have to listen to this one. It’s perfect for the dark and twisty.

Y’all. My mom can make a birthday cake. While the actual cake may be a box version of whatever yellow cake she likes, that icing is what makes it sing. It’s creamy, sweet, and perfectly chocolate.

This week, we celebrated my sweet cousin Kari’s entrance into her thirties. But, with two days in Baton Rouge this week, baking wasn’t in the cards for me. Thankfully, Mom came to the rescue and whipped up her signature cake.

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Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

2/3 cup Crisco (butter or regular)

1-pound box powdered sugar

2 – 3 heaping tablespoons cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 cup water (for mixing)

For a lighter chocolate, use 2 tablespoons of cocoa. For a darker chocolate, use 3 or 4. Beat all ingredients with a hand mixer until smooth.  More water can be added if needed.

I’ve been on the war path with Netflix and Hulu lately. I’m running out of series and finding myself diving deeper and deeper into the black whole of crime documentaries. I’ll be able to apply for a job as a profiler if I don’t take a break and find something light and funny to watch for a while.

However, here are a few good ones that I think you should add to your queue if you’re looking.

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Evil Genius (Netflix)

This one is dark. It’s about a crime back in the early 2000s involving a neck-brace bomb and a pizza guy. Trust me and watch it as soon as possible and then follow up with an episode or two of something like Sex and the City or replay the Royal Wedding from this past weekend. It will help lighten the mood.

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Marcia Clark Investigates The First 48 (A&E App)

What I liked about this show is that it went hand-in-hand with my previous binge experience of all things O.J. Simpson a couple of years ago. When the first season of American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson came out, I found myself devouring that miniseries and them eating up each and every documentary about The Juice that I could find. So, when I saw that the Marcia Clark was gearing up for her own series, I knew I would be hooked … and I was. Between the Casey Anthony story and the Billionaire Boys Club, I learned a good bit about crimes I heard referenced in news and other shows over the years. Give it a watch and see if you can solve these (mostly) unsolved mysteries.

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The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

This show is unbelievable. I was counting down the days for season 2 after binging through season 1 in about a week. Wow. All I can say is wow. I have been nauseous, horrified, pissed off, and peeking between my fingers through the majority of season 2 and we are 5 episodes in. I appreciate the slower release so I can’t go through them all in a day’s time; however, by the time each episode ends, I’m mentally drained but I could take the beating of another few episodes just to find out what the hell is going to happen to June/Offred.

Ok. Let’s be honest. I’m currently preparing for the BIG royal wedding watching event of the year tomorrow morning. I’ll be rising and shining well before sunrise and flipping between E! and HBO to watch the big event. I will be curled up with the Beagles and a cup of tea.

However, if you want to jazz up your viewing party, try these delectable cucumber sandwiches that we had last weekend for the Mother’s Day Tea. They are pretty tasty and fit for a queen or princess or your own royal highness still in pajamas.

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Cucumber Sandwiches

2 cucumbers, thinly sliced

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

6 tablespoons sour cream

1 2-ounce package dry ranch dressing mix

1 loaf white bread

1/2 stick butter, softened

Lightly salt cucumber slices and put on a paper towel to drain. With a mixer, beat cream cheese, sour cream, and ranch dressing mix until combined. With rolling pin, lightly roll bread slices. Cut bread into rounds with 2-inch round cookie cutter. Spread each round with a thin layer of butter (to keep bread from becoming soggy), then with cream cheese mixture. Place a cucumber slice on each bread round and garnish with fresh dill.

 

Yes. The bathroom project is finished, and I finally have use of my carport again. However, there was one little project we completed during that renovation that I don’t think I’ve covered yet.

Outside of that bathroom (and the other bathroom and every other room in my house) sits a square hallway of sorts that houses my fantastic closet I claimed for myself, a floor furnace, and a utility closet that holds my vacuum cleaners (Yes, I have 2.). When I bought the house, there was very little overhead lighting throughout. Only one ceiling fan was present, and (let’s be honest) there was no way I was sleeping in that house without fans. There was little to no insulation in the attic; and since we have started renovating rooms, we’ve learned there is no insulation in the walls. So basically, this house was an easy bake oven before I moved in. Since, I’ve added a fan or two to each room (Yes, my living room has 2 ceiling fans.) and had insulation blown into the attic.

I mention all of this because this hallway also has a large, full-length mirror on one wall which I use to get ready each morning. I have a little stool in front that I perch on while fixing my hair and makeup and catching up on whatever episode of Fixer Upper I haven’t seen in at least a week. However, the only source of light in this room was a single wall sconce with a 60-watt bulb coming through a muted glass shade. It was brass, too, and not in a good-brass way. So, after adding all of this fabulous overhead can lighting to the bathrooms, I knew that one needed to replace this sconce so I wouldn’t leave my house looking like a MAC counter makeup artist on steroids.

You may have noticed the fixture in this before picture I posted last week:

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Before (Sconce in Hall)

See. It’s small.

I also went through to find a photo to show just how much (or how little) light it produced:

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There weren’t that many options; but if you look in the top right corner, that will give you an idea of the lighting I had before.

But now with the addition of the can light and covering up the hole from the sconce, I’ve got a pretty nice hallway if I do say so:

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After

Artwork:

Top print by Catherine Herrington of Hi Y’all! Made in the South

Bottom print by Ketchings Company of Natchez (I found this in my grandmother’s house. She worked for Ketchings in the 60s and 70s, so this particular print is out of print.)

Paint color: “New York City Winter” by Valspar

 

I’m going to Foodie Friday it a little differently this week. Instead of sharing a recipe with you, I’m going to invite you to come do some taste testing this weekend.

In case you didn’t know, it’s Mother’s Day this Sunday; and we are gearing up for our second annual Mother’s Day Tea (click that link to buy those tickets) at Magnolia Hall in downtown Natchez. Bring your mom, bring your sister, your brother, your best friend. We don’t care. We are celebrating mothers of all kinds.

From 2 pm until, we will be serving up a classic Southern spread of a high tea-worthy sandwiches, homemade bite-size cookies, cheese wafers from Over the Garden Wall, and MORE! With hot tea and cool lemonade, you and mom (or whoever) will have a grand ole time.

Here’s a snapshot of last year’s event:

Exactly 2 years and 1 day after finishing the master bathroom, we finished up the guest bathroom. I do need to brag on my contractors, tile gods, and design assistants (the parentals) for a second. They worked hard and long hours to put this room together. I am one lucky little girl to have them both and put up with my picky ways. Thanks for understanding my need for two matching bathroom and helping me keep the original character with the tubs and wall-mount sinks. Both bathrooms are exactly what I wanted, and I’m glad there is only one room left – the kitchen (insert slight panic attack). However, it’s nice to be a two-toilet house again.

Here’s a little play-by-play of before and afters:

Paint color: “New York City Winter” by Valspar

Shower tile: “Taupe” subway tile from J & J Carpet & Natural Stone

Floor tile: “Greenwich Village” brick tile from J & J Carpet & Natural Stone

Toilet and Shower Baskets: Southern Pipe & Supply

Shower Door Package and Shower Faucet Package: Delta Faucet

Artwork: “Portrait of a Juke Joint” by Will Jacks

This recipe for One Hundred Cookies was shared with us just this past Christmas, and I can safely say we have baked these enough to call them a part of the Guido family repertoire of recipes. Originally, we got the recipe from Annette Burns when she made them for a Christmas Open House. They are crunchy, yummy, and easily taken out in one bite. Watch them closely in the oven; they bake quickly.

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One Hundred Cookies

2 sticks margarine

1 cup cooking oil

2 cups sugar

1 egg

1 cup rice krispies

1 cup oats

1 cup coconut

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cream of tarter

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 1/2 cups flour

1 cup nuts

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix together the first 5 ingredients; then add the rest. Roll into small balls. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees

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Well, I did it. I joined Costco. I mean, why the hell not? I’m in Baton Rouge at least every Monday, and who doesn’t love buying toilet paper and plastic wrap in bulk?

I made my first official visit as a member on Monday saying I was only going in to “check it out.” Thirty minutes later I was pushing a cart filled with cereal for 20, Vitamin Water for 40, and enough Ziploc bags to completely organize a small village’s produce for the freezer this summer. I think it was a fantastic investment of my time and even found a few favorites to pass along.

Apples Wrapped in Plastic

Duh! Why hasn’t Wal-Mart and the locals been offering this for fresh produce? I can’t wait to fill the area around my trash can under my sink with these contraptions to be used at some point in the future for God knows what. I can promise there will come a project when I get to say, “I have the exact storage container for that. Let me grab the 20 plastic apple crates I have in my cabinets.”

Corn Popped by the Thousands

This bag the size of a large L.L. Bean backpack is home to the best organic and lightly salted popcorn there is. It’s better than Skinny Pop; Orville can step aside; and I have no need to throw a bag in the microwave again. I am one of those people that considers a bag of popcorn a meal; so finding Popcornopolis’ Organic Nearly Naked being passed around as a sample was like hitting the actual $195 million lottery. Plus, it was only $3.47 for a 14-ounce bag. Your average microwaveable option is a little over 2 and a half ounces with most of that being left in the bottom of the bag as hard kernels. So far, this bag of goodness has provided one meal on the road; and you can barely tell I’ve made a dent.

You know those events you go to and there are plates and plates of pick up foods to munch on? Well, in Natchez, cheese straws, cheese wafers, and cheese rounds are a huge hit. Whether you like them on the spicier side or want a mild crunch with a pecan on top, these will be quite the crowd pleaser and an easy treat you can whip up and share with friends.

This particular recipe that my mom famously uses (Let’s be honest; she keeps a stock pile of these rolls in the freezer.) comes from Over the Garden Wall, the now out-of-print Natchez Garden Club cookbook. We are in the planning stages of having them reprinted; but until then, enjoy this snippet.

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Cheese Rounds

1 stick butter, room temperature

2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

Tabasco or red pepper to taste

Dash paprika

Pecan halves, for garnish

Blend ingredients (minus the pecans) together. Divide mixture into two balls, then work each ball into long rolls about one inch thick. Wrap in wax paper and chill. Slice very thin. Place pecan half on top of each. Place on uncreased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Rolls keep a long time in the refrigerator or can be frozen and refrigerated the night before slicing and baking.

 

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Our view from The Water Campus Friday night.

If you’ve been keeping up with our little bathroom project, you know I’ve been waiting for the pretty to get installed. This past Saturday, after a whirlwind trip back and forth to Baton Rouge for Country Roads’ amazing “Dinner on the Docks,” we put down the bathroom’s brick-esque floor. Not to mention, the subway tile in the shower was grouted last Wednesday to perfection. To be frank, I think it looks pretty damn good.

Today is the Foodie Fridays to end all Foodie Fridays. Not only is it our second annual Press Day Potluck at the Country Roads office, but also it is our second round in the Spring Series of Country Roads Supper Club in Baton Rouge. It will be a day filled with yumminess, and I get to play Instagram-maven at the Dinner on the Docks. Be sure to check out @countryroadsmag later to see what we are up to.

In the mean time, here is the treat I’m taking along with me for Press Day Potluck. I tested it out on my “squad” earlier in the week. It was a hit.

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Easy Peach Pie

1 pie crust

1 can sliced peaches, well drained

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 stick butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

Line the pie crust with peaches. Mix together the eggs, sugar, flour, butter, and vanilla and pour over the peaches. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour until brown, depending on the oven. Let cool, slice, and enjoy.

We are getting there with this guest bathroom project on Auburn. With the shiplap finished and painted and the tile hung in the shower over the weekend, it’s starting to fill up with the pretty and look like what we’ve been planning since we finished the other bathroom 2 years ago. The floors are waiting; the grout is next; and with the shower door and toilet waiting patiently to be installed, I’ll be ready for guests sooner rather than later.

Let’s let the pictures tell the story instead of me. Take a look!

I love carbs. They are wonderful things that do awful things. But delicious, YES!

While I lived in the Delta, I came across a love for pasta salad that I had never really explored before. Most of the pasta salad recipes I had before college were of the rotini variety and doused in Italian dressing. In Cleveland, Mississippi, each lunch spot had its own recipe for pasta salad that made it hard for me to pick a destination for lunches outside of the campus cafeteria. Whether the lighter version from Crave, the walnut-studded tortellinis from A La Carte, or the tastiest thing I’ve ever eaten from The Warehouse, I left satisfied and wishing for a to-go container for my mini fridge.

 

While still living in Cleveland, I decided to break down that pasta salad recipe from The Warehouse and create my own version to make at home for the roommates. Once we figured out how simple it was, I put my own twist on it and made it almost weekly. It made for a quick and easy lunch between class and my graduate assistantship on campus. Now, I whip out this recipe every now and then for a trip down memory lane for my tummy.

Tortellini Pasta Salad 

2 packages Buitoni tortellini pasta

1/2 bag baby spinach, chiffonaded

1/2 bottle Ken’s caesar dressing

Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring pasta to a boil, brain, and cool. Chiffonade the spinach, add to large bowl with the pasta. Toss together with dressing, cheese, salt, and pepper. Refrigerate overnight and toss again with more dressing before serving.

 

So, I’ve been taking a break from podcasting to listen to some audio book versions of actual books on my shelves. While I love an actual hard-back book with actual pages to flip, I haven’t quite figured the safest way to read and drive to Baton Rouge on Mondays. So, through my stereo will have to work for now.

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Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill

This one has been on my Kennedy-designated book shelf for years. I keep overlooking it and finally decided to give it a download when I had a free credit on Audible. Written by Jackie Kennedy’s secret service agent while in the White House, Mrs. Kennedy and Me tells the deep and dark of the Kennedy tragedy and also the brighter moments the family shared while living in Washington. I learned a lot about my first born’s namesake and found myself extremely sad by the ending. Even though I knew it was coming, it just didn’t seem right; and it made me hate history. Give it a listen or read; it’s nice to see another side of Jackie O.

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Man Repeller by Leandra Medine Cohen

Now this one I happened across because I follow the Man Repeller account on Instagram and didn’t really know its back story. However, anytime that a blurb about a book involves fashion, blogging, and a 20-something, I’m probably going to like it. It’s kind of funny I started this one right after a Jackie Kennedy biography of sorts, but they kind of fit together perfectly. Maybe Leandra is a modern-day Jackie with style that catches on and no one knows why. Maybe it’s like another version of He’s Just Not That Into You, and all women can equate singledom with what’s in our closets. Whatever the connection, I loved this book. She tells it like it is and has experienced some of the exact same issues I’ve faced over the past ten to fifteen years while in high school, college, and the beginnings of the working world. Hey, if blogging about what made her single worked for her, why can’t it work for me?

 

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We recently celebrated our inaugural edition of “Press Day Potluck” at the Country Roads office, and I decided to get industrious. I went for it with a recipe for baked Lemon-Blueberry Doughnuts. They were a hit. I haven’t tried again because, frankly, I think it will be a bad move for my waistline; but they are semi-easy and scrumptious. They came from a cute little blogger called “The Recipe Rebel.” She goes into detail about donut vs. doughnut, which I appreciated, and even included a video.

Baked Lemon-Blueberry Doughnuts

For dough:

1/4 cup unsalted butter melted

1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 – 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, depending on your tastes

1 cup buttermilk or substitute regular milk

2 2/3 all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup fresh blueberries

For glaze:

2 cups powdered icing sugar

1 – 2 teaspoons lemon zest

7 – 8 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, and grease your doughnut pans with butter or non-stick spray. In a large bowl, combine butter, oil and sugar and whisk until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add in eggs, vanilla, lemon zest and buttermilk and whisk until smooth. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and whisk just until combined. Stir in blueberries. Batter will be thick. Spoon batter into a large disposable piping bag or freezer bag. Pipe batter once around each doughnut hole – the batter shouldn’t quite fill the hole as they’ll expand and rise. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes before removing from the doughnut pan to cool completely.

For the glaze, in a medium bowl (not too deep as you’ll want to be able to dip your doughnuts), combine sugar, zest, and 6 tablespoons of juice or milk. Add an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons of liquid if needed. You want your glaze to be thin enough to evenly coat your doughnuts, but thick enough that it will set and become dry to the touch. When doughnuts are completely cool, dip tops of doughnuts into the glaze and overturn so the glaze runs down the sides. Set aside for the glaze to set.

It’s a sad day in my world. Fixer Upper’s series finale airs, and I just don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve been a faithful follower from the beginning and was actually tipped off on the series long before it showed up on HGTV. A producer for High Noon Entertainment was doing some research in Natchez after recently finding and signing the Waco power couple to their series. She told us to be on the look out for it; and sure enough, there they were on prime-time design TV. Ever since, I’ve been glued to every episode, followed Jo’s blog, read her magazine cover to cover, and been a regular shopper on their e-commerce site for Magnolia Market. I guess I’ll just have to venture to Waco soon and get a full sensory overload at the Silos and the new diner, Magnolia Table. Who’s going with me?

In the mean time, my owner fixer upper project is moving right along. With the plumbing finishing up and the new can lights installed last week, we are moving quickly through the shiplapping process. Our version of shiplap isn’t the typical type you see on the show, however. I’m on a budget remember and can’t afford the tongue-and-groove version you can buy new at the hardware store or the antiqued version you can find from pickers. What we do is very simple, and I applaud ole Paulie for coming up with this solution. We simply use a router tool to create a “faux” tongue-and-groove effect on the edges of each board. When butted together and nailed in place, you get the same exact look for less. After a couple of layers of Kilz and another couple of layers of “New York City Winter” by Valspar, we have shiplap!

I also strongly believe that this is not a fad that will go out of style anytime soon; but I’m sure when I’m dead, gone, and the newest owner has moved in, my shiplap and subway tiles may be history. So, I left a couple of hate notes under the shiplap and backer board for those idiots of the future.

FINALLY! We are finished up another Lenten Season; and I have to tell you — I made it a whole 3 weeks before giving up on my Lenten promise. You try going to New Orleans and have a fresh, hot loaf of bread placed in front of you and say no to it. That’s what I thought. However, we did get inventive with the fish Fridays. Here is another way we used some of the Red Stick Spice ingredients I’ve been collecting.

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Grilled White Perch

10 – 12 white perch fillets

Ya-Ya’s Seasoning Blend

Blood Orange Avocado Oil

Non-stick spray

Salt to taste

Warm your griddle over medium heat. Spray with non-stick spray and lightly drizzle with avocado oil. Season and salt each fillet on one side, and place that side down onto the griddle. Sear for 2 to 3 minutes or until each fillet looks halfway cooked through. While cooking, season and salt the other side of the fillet. Gently flip the fillets and good through. Serve warm over rice.

It’s on to round 2 of bathroom demolition, and we were off to a good start on Monday. With almost all of the old shower surround, lauan paneling (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look here.), and sheetrock removed, we will be moving towards filling in the gaps with new lighting and (if I can contain my excitement) shiplap in no time.

I think I’ve mentioned before that patience is not a virtue for me, so waiting to get to the pretty part of renovation work in my house is difficult. However, we came across some interesting finds.

First, my bathrooms have the original wall-mount porcelain sinks. They are very unique and in perfect condition. They are definitely something I will not be replacing in my lifetime. Now, these sinks are not light by any means. I can’t lift them, and I’m sure Dad shouldn’t have carried it out of the house my himself. BUT, what we did learn is that this particular sink in this guest bath was just kind of hanging onto the lauan paneling and not firmly anchored into a stud. It’s a miracle that thing was still attached or even still exists!

Next, after removing a large amount of sheetrock that was under the paneling, Mom and I came across a little creature who had been spending his or her eternal life within my bathroom walls. Poor Jackie O; she’s always wanted to catch a squirrel.

Lastly, we came across a shipping sticker on the back of a piece of lauan paneling that wasn’t dated but still interesting. The paneling was shipped to Natchez from a hardware store in New Orleans called Tulane Hardwood Lumber Company to R. Scudamore, Jr. AND it was written in pencil. It was like when we demo-ed the “master bath” and found that the toilet was the original from 1953.

Don’t worry. I’ll keep you posted on how things are going as we get further along.

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Most friends know that us Guidos have a thing for our spaghetti and meatball recipe. We make it by the gallons at Christmas time to share with family, enjoy on Christmas Day, and store away to last the entire year. Last year, we made well over 400 meatballs in two shifts. The process for a batch of 200 takes a full 2 days, so we devouted quite the time to this recipe last year. But it’s that good. We can’t get enough of it. When mom asks what we want for supper, I could always go for spaghetti. And when we have it, if a stray meatball is actually left over, it’s not hard to find space for it. No meatball left un-eaten! That’s our motto.

This past year, we did start storing a few extra bags of meatballs that weren’t cooked in the sauce. They were reserved during the cooking process so we could have them in brown gravy over rice. Now that’s a perfect way to have this recipe. If you’re not a fan of marinara, stop reading this and never contact me again. Just kidding (maybe). Really, if you don’t care for marinara, try this recipe with a brown gravy. They are delicious that way!

Of course, the ingredient amounts are vague. We’re Italian. This recipe is from the old country. Think Sophia Petrillo. Do you think she would tell you how much salt, pepper, and garlic powder to use? I didn’t think so.

Guido-family Meatballs

4 pounds hamburger meat

2 packages hamburger buns, processed to bread crumbs

6 eggs

Salt and pepper

Onion tops

Parsley

Garlic powder

In the food processor, finely chop the meat. Mix all ingredients by hand in a large mixing bowl. Shape mixture into golf-ball-size meatballs and bake at 350 degrees until done. Use a meat thermometer to check the core temperature. It should be around 165 degrees. Let cool. These can then be stored in the refrigerator or freezer to later be added to a marinara or brown gravy.

I’ve been binging again. I mean, it’s all for research for blog posts. Right? Either way, I’m finding some really good stuff on and off TV.

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Waco (Paramount Network App)

I think I’ve mentioned that I’m a fan of cult anything. Not that I want to be in a cult, start a cult, or have been in a cult; but you have to admit that it’s really interesting how people can be brainwashed to leave their families, give up all of their money, and live on compounds (especially those without running water). My co-workers suggested I try Paramount Network’s 6-part miniseries about the tragedy in Waco, Texas.

First of all, it was amazing. I was hooked from the first few minutes. It never dragged and the whole time I was wondering how they would fit this into 6 episodes. I mean, you have to watch it for several reasons, but the main one is that this has a Culkin brother in it. Like Kevin McCalister’s younger brother. Those are some strong genes by the way.

Second, ever since finishing the series over a rainy weekend, I have had Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” playing over and over in my head. I think you will see it for yourself. Those religious folks may have had some strange ideals, practices, and were stock piling guns like end times were headed their way; but all of that tear gas started that blaze.

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Divorce (HBOGo App)

Luckily, there are two seasons of this SJP show for you to binge. The episodes are short. The love triangles are entertaining. I think Robert wasn’t supposed to live in New York. I think that Frances is fantastic and giving me all of the suburban Carrie Bradshaw feels that I need in my life right now. And Molly Shannon! She’s fantastic and like a grown-up version of Mary Katherine Gallagher.

This show may not be for everyone, but I love it. Just give a couple of episodes a try and you’ll be watching for Mr. Big and hoping for an encounter with Aidan.

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Here and Now (HBOGo App)

This is a weird one. It looks at mental illness, race issues, and some pretty deep family problems. It’s new and only a few episodes in, but I think that it’s worth the wait to see what happens next. I’m kind of in love with the dad character, which is played by Tim Robbins. He calls it like it is and takes no bull shit. I’m also happy to see Grey’s Anatomy’s Dr. Stephanie Edwards again. She is so different here, and I love it.

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The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

Now here is a show to binge. I waited to start this one until right before the release of season 2. I finished season 1 in about three days. I thought from the previews and images online that it was set in the past. Hell no! It’s a post-apocalyptic type of society that takes place after the second “American Civil War.” It’s like a blend of The Scarlet Letter and The Hunger Games.

Here is a cult for you. These religious freaks are a special kind of messed up. Their crazy practices and beliefs made me root for the army of handmaids trying to take back the country one “no” at a time. You have to watch this one. Season 2 comes out on April 25. I’ll be glued to the TV again.

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Santa Clarita Diet (Netflix)

I love this show. It’s like The Walking Dead and Dexter had a comedic and sarcastic baby. The way the husband handles his newly un-dead wife is exactly what I want in a man. Understanding. Calming. Always ready to discard of a body. (Just kidding. Sort of.) The first season went by in a day for me. They are 30-minute episodes that are quick witted and leave you hanging to see who she kills (and eats) next.

Season 2 comes out on THIS FRIDAY, March 23; and I’m sure I’ll have it finished before Saturday is over.

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This is the dip recipe to end all dip recipes. It’s yummy. It has veggies. It has cheese, mayo, and sour cream. It has ranch seasoning. It’s served warm. It’s perfect for any gathering at any time of the year. We had it originally at a baby shower and quickly decided to find a recipe and try it as soon as possible. Thanks, Pinterest.

Black-eyed Pea Dip

1 medium onion, chopped

2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil)

2 16-ounce cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed

1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup sour cream (or Greek yogurt)

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 envelope buttermilk ranch mix

1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Chop the onion and sauté it in butter until translucent. Mix the sour cream, mayo, and ranch mix in a large bowl. Then, add everything else to the bowl and mix in your sautéed onions. Pour into a baking dish, and bake at 350 degrees for twenty minutes. Serve with tortilla or pita chips while warm.

 

 

Yesterday on my trip to Baton Rouge, there wasn’t much of a view during the drive down. It will still darkish from springing forward an hour in the wee hours Sunday morning; and to be honest, I was a little caught up in the final episode of season 1 of Serial. But on the drive back to town, the sights of spring were everywhere. I went towards campus before leaving Baton Rouge to pick up a little lunch, and the azaleas blooming were so perfect. As I made my way around St. Francisville, it was amazing to see just how far ahead an hour south of Natchez can actually be. Most of the bushes are completely open already and some have actually started to tinker out. What I did notice is how each patch of azaleas is treated different. Some yards have precisely manicured hedges of the same color bush all throughout the yard. Others let them grow wild almost around the bases of huge Live Oaks. My favorite are the houses that treat an azalea hedge as a 6-foot fence of sorts around the property so you only get a glimpse when passing by. I actually pulled into Afton Villa Gardens to take a few pictures of the driveway. It looked like something straight from an episode of The Joy of Painting with a bunch of happy little trees, bushes, and sky.

When I bought my house, I added a row of azaleas to the front of my house; and last year when I chopped down my 100-foot pines, I added a few at the foot of my driveway. I plan to add more this year and really make a mound of blooms in the future. Even though it’s a tad cooler this week, it helps liven up the senses when so much color is surrounding you.

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I love a strawberry; and by that, I mean that I just like strawberries. I usually don’t care for strawberry cake. I have a hate for strawberry ice cream. I don’t even really care for strawberry flavored candy. Just give me the actual berry.

That all changed this week when my mom made this strawberry cake she found on Southern Living’s Facebook page. It’s light but decadent. It’s sweet, but you can taste the fresh lemon juice throughout it. It’s perfect in every way possible. It needs to be on your Easter menu (or your weekend menu) now.

Strawberries and Cream Sheet Cake

For cake:

1 cup butter, softened

2 cups sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups cake flour

2 tablespoons strawberry-flavored gelatin

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1 cup buttermilk

2/3 cup chopped fresh strawberries

Shortening

 

For frosting:

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

2/3 cup sugar, divided

2/3 cup chopped fresh strawberries

1 drop pink food coloring gel (optional)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating 4 to 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Beat in lemon juice and vanilla.

Stir together flour and next 3 ingredients; add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended. Stir in strawberries.

Grease (with shortening) and flour a 13-inch by 9-inch pan; line with parchment paper, allowing 2 to 3 inches to extend over long sides. Lightly grease paper with cooking spray. Spread batter in prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 30 minutes. Lift cake from pan, using parchment paper sides as handles. Invert cake onto wire rack; gently remove parchment paper. Cool completely (about 1 hour).

For frosting, beat cream cheese and 1/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer until smooth; add strawberries and food coloring (if desired); beat until blended. Beat cream and juice at medium speed until foamy; increase speed to medium-high, and slowly add remaining 1/3 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold half of cream mixture into cheese mixture; fold in remaining cream mixture. Use immediately.

I can remember that the months of March and April always gave me hives in high school and college. Everything in Natchez seems to sandwich into those two months and leaves very little time to breath; however, we are used to this lifestyle. So, we take it gladly each year that tourists still come to town and want to know more about our little hamlet.

Luckily, this year will be condensed into about a two full weeks of balls to attend, pageants to watch, and hunts to perform in for this Guido family. While Aimee and I may not be in the Tableaux anymore, my two kids sure are. This year, we are also extremely excited to welcome our “little sister”, Julia Rachel Kuehnle into the royal family since she will be serving as Natchez Garden Club’s queen this year. My how time is flying!

So, between cocktails parties before Tableaux, seating guests into the boxes each night, and wrangling the Beagles before their showtime, I’m going to be one tired puppy come April.

I feel like we have tried every way imaginable to cook fish. Lucky me when I was proofing the March edition of Country Roads that I found a new recipe that seemed simple and all of the ingredients were a quick trick to Red Stick Spice away.

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This recipe for Cast-iron Catfish worked perfectly with the fresh Alaskan Halibut we had in the freezer from our great-white North friends. The recipe called for some interesting ingredients that I’m excited to try in other recipes, too. The blood orange avocado oil will soon be used when roasting Brussels sprouts. The Chackbay seasoning blend will go great in the flour mix for other fried fish dishes to come.

Follow the link above in “Cast-iron Catfish” to see this easy recipe and head over to Red Stick Spice’s site to order some yummy treats!

I think everyone knows I’m a fan of HGTV. I’ve always been a follower of Trading Spaces and While You Were Out; but now with Fixer Upper, Hometown, and Property Brothers, I’m pretty much glued to that particular channel.

Luckily, I have quite the fixer upper of my own and have slowly been going room by room and inch by inch changing, re-changing, and changing again the look of my house. Some rooms were easy: paint, floors, lighting. However, some rooms needed (and still need) some elbow grease and a budget. Two springs ago, we tackled my “master” bath. Since there isn’t a master suite in my house on Auburn, I dedicated one of the two identical bathrooms (the one with actually 6 more inches of width) as my own. After shiplapping a wall, subway tiling the shower, and bricking the floors, I had a bathroom that Joanna Gaines would gladly call her own.

 

Don’t worry, I’ll admit that I was a bit of a design diva throughout the process. This was a DIY project that my entire family helped with in some form or fashion throughout the 2-month timeline. Dad was the “Chip Gaines” of it all with his crowbar and nail gun within arms reach at all times. I did throw him for a loop with the niche I just had to have in my shower. I’d seen them on all of the renovation shows and really thought it would be ideal in my shower. No harm, no foul. Right? No. Major harm. Major foul. We were able to tile the entire shower within a couple of days, but that damned niche caused weeks of turmoil. There was thinking. There was Pinteresting. There were times we were all thrown from the premises so that Dad could think it through on his own. I have to say it turned out perfectly, and every time I grab my shampoo I think “Hmm, that’s a might fine niche.” 

 

With bathroom two on the horizon by the end of March, I’m excited to get to tiling again and see what this version of shiplap, subway, and brick looks like. I have given up the niche in the guest bath. Sorry, future guests, baskets will have to do.

I tell you what. I love breakfast food. Any kind and any excuse, I’m going to go for it on a menu versus an actual lunch or dinner option. I’m known to order brunch when everyone else is ordering burgers. I’ll ask for a side of pancakes instead of bacon or sausage. I love my waffle iron and think that you can never have enough syrup on top.

Here is a hash brown casserole that is a go to for brunch menus we put together and special dinners that need a really gooey starch.

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Delmonico Potatoes

2 pounds Ore-Ida frozen Hash Browns (1 bag)
1 can cream of chicken soup (10 3/4 ounces)
1/2 stick butter, cut into small cubes
1 bag shredded cheddar cheese (8 ounces)
1/3 cup scallions, chopped
1 container sour cream (16 ounces)

In a large bowl, mix defrosted potatoes, sour cream, soup, scallions, and cheddar cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer ingredients into a casserole dish, and place small cubes of butter over the mixture. Bake at 325 degrees for an hour and a half or until golden brown.

Sprigs of Spring

I think we have all been a little skittish to say that Spring is finally here; but after several days of warmth, humidity, and a little pollen on top, I think it’s safe to say it’s here. Now, I know that we are due an Easter cold snap thanks to our thunder in early February, but that I can handle. It’s more ice, snow, and need for layers upon layers that I’m ready to get rid of. It’s time for a little sun on my cheeks and saying goodbye to sweater weather!

Japanese Magnolia

My rides to and from Baton Rouge have been tricking me lately to think that Spring has been here for weeks on end. The campus at LSU has been covered with Japanese Magnolia blossoms for weeks, and mine in the backyard on Auburn are just starting to burst open. It’s always been a late bloomer, but I’ve been waiting to see if the cold snap got it or not.

Unfortunately, my inevitable Spring sinus infection has hit this week, too. I spent most of Sunday doped up on Benadryl and Tylenol trying to make the pressure behind my eyes go away. I guess I’ll just have to live with it for a little while longer; I mean, the real pollen hasn’t even started to collect yet. I haven’t seen any streaks of missing yellow in my carport, so there’s still that to look forward to.

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Since I was a little dazed on my drive yesterday morning and I have a couple more days of travel this week, I decided to put the e-books to rest for a little while and try a new podcast. I’ve been told several times since I’ve started listening to different ones on the drive to give “Dirty John” a try. Well, after 4 episodes on my drive Monday, I’m hooked. I did do a little digging, too. I had to put a face to the name behind all of this craziness and was surprised how normal he looked. I guess that goes to show you that you just never know and to never judge a book by its cover.

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Wedding photo from December 2014

I mean, how much more normal can you get? She must have not been a fan of the Google search yet or didn’t use Facebook to the best of its abilities before tying the knot after a few months of knowing him from Match.com. Oh, well, I’m sure by the end of the week, I’ll be finished with this season and looking for more dirt. In the mean time, keep those suggestions coming! I’m new to all of this, remember?

It’s Lent again, and I can safely say that I will be eating quite a bit of white perch over the next 40 days. First of all, each Friday will be serving a fresh catch; but us Guidos are also giving up a bunch of good stuff for the season. I’m giving up bread of all sorts, which will only lead to an overload of carbs on Easter Sunday. Mom and Dad are also giving up bread but adding in sweets and fried foods, too. That should be really interesting. However, here is a recipe we tried a few weeks ago for Dad’s birthday dinner that I can’t wait to try again over rice instead of pasta.

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Baked Perch in Lemon Cream Sauce

4 fresh filets, skinless and boneless

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup heavy cream

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 tablespoon shallots or scallions, finely chopped

Fresh parsley and lemon slices, to serve

Preheat the oven to 390 degrees. Place fish in baking dish. Ensure the fish isn’t crammed in too snugly. Sprinkle both sides of the filets with salt and pepper. Place butter, cream, garlic, mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a sauce pan. Whisk together until thickened. Sprinkle fish with shallots, then pour the sauce over the top. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked. Remove from the oven and transfer fish to serving plates. Spoon over sauce, and garnish with parsley and lemon if using.

 

I’ve always been an avid reader and someone who religiously buys books versus online options, such as ebooks and so forth. However, when you find yourself in a car for about five hours every week, you have to give in and listen to a good book versus actually cracking open a hard back and settling into that papery smell.

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Enter, the Audible app. I know. I’m probably late to the party. Most people have been doing this for years; I just didn’t want to give in. Alas, I’m actually enjoying it. I like the little opening promo at the beginning of each book that sounds like an old-school advertisement for Paul Harvey’s radio shows or some type of infomercial for Citracal. I’ve already finished 2 audio books this year, and I actually think I may have retained more by listening rather than reading. Sometimes, when I read a book, I will come to pages later and realize I have to start over. When I was writing professionally, I had too many sentences, paragraphs, and themes floating around in my head fighting with the words on the page in front of me. This way, that’s all that’s floating around up there except for a few moments of road rage that can’t be avoided mid morning on the way to and from Baton Rouge.

Anyway, here is what I’ve listened to so far and started up on my way home yesterday:

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Scrappy Little Nobody: I love Anna Kendrick and have thought for a long time that we could be friends in real life. Well, listening to this book, it was confirmed. We are sisters from another mister, best friends forever, and (I can only hope) bound to run into each other while she’s filming Pitch Perfect whatever the next installment will be. She’s witty, sarcastic, and doesn’t have time for bull shit, which I appreciate.

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Grace: A Memoir: I love fashion anything. I’ve watched The September IssueIn Vogue: The Editor’s Eye, and The First Monday in May too many times to count. I love a good documentary on different fashion designers and house and who wore what and who is dressing who and so forth. I am addicted to Project Runway and House of DVF. I was sad when The Fashion Fund didn’t show up for another season on Amazon. I may not be able to afford it, but I damn well will know all about it in the mean time. Grace Coddington is a figure that shows up in most all of these documentaries, and (like Anna Kendrick) she doesn’t have time for nonsense. So when her memoir showed up on Audible, I snatched it up and started listening. Some people will find parts boring; but if you’ve spent as much time as I have watching endless documentaries on fashion throughout the ages, you’ll be able to plug faces with names finally and personalities with people who never really stood out before.

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The Wife Between Us: I started this one yesterday on the way home after finishing Grace. So far, it’s pretty good; and if it’s anything like Gone Girl like the reviews said, I’ll be hooked in no time.

Guess what. Next week, right after Mardi Gras, we celebrate Valentine’s Day. I’m not a fan; I’m sure that’s a surprise to all you happy people. I like to enjoy that particular day drowning in chocolate, sour candy, and red wine to top it all off. So, for all of those out there not celebrating Valentine’s Day with someone special, spend it with this recipe. They are basically glorified brownies, but I’m in full support of whatever they are. Mom recently made a batch that I took down to the Baton Rouge office for everyone to kick their Monday off with. I think they were a hit. When I left at noon, only a couple were left. Here’s a yummy hint; zap a couple in the microwave before gobbling them down.

Fudge Cake 

1 cup unsalted butter

4 1-ounce squares semisweet baking chocolate, finely chopped

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

Dash of kosher salt

1 cup toasted pecans, chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place butter and chocolate in a large bowl and microwave on high until completely melted, about 1 minute and stirring every 20 seconds. Add granulated sugar, and stir until combined. Cool 10 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, and stir until blended after each addition. Fold in the flour and salt. Stir in chopped pecans and vanilla extract. Coat a 9-inch square pan with cooking spray. Line the bottom and sides with parchment paper, allowing 4 to 5 inches to extended over the sides. Coat parchment paper with cooking spray. Pour cake mixture into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven until a wooden pick comes cleanly out of the center, about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Lift cake from pan using the parchment paper sides as handles, and cool completely. Cut into squares and dust with powdered sugar before serving.

 

(Featured in Southern Living from Elizabeth Heiskell’s What Can I Bring?)

I have lived in my little house on Auburn for a little over 5 years now, and I have slowly transformed as many parts of it into a smart home as I possibly can. For a house that was built in the 1950s, that’s quite the accomplishment and challenge all at the same time. Wiring is usually an issue. Door jams and locks aren’t usually ready for automated features to be added. Don’t even get me started on the thinness of my windows and what keeping heat in this house has been like this winter. But, for those looking to add a few of these smart features to your house, here are the ones that I’m using to help keep my home secure and download as many apps possible to my iPhone, too.

Nest Learning Thermostat

This one is fun for me. I recently upgraded my security system so that I could include one of these bad boys in my house and run it through my Vivint app. Now, I did download the Nest app, too, because I can study the schedules of my Nest Thermostat and help keep it at the temperature I want it to be. The best part about this is that if I leave the house in a rush and forget to turn the air up and kick the heat back down, I can easily get into the app and make that change. But this thing is so smart that it tracks my whereabouts through my iPhone’s GPS and can register when I’m not at home (or even in town) and go into energy-saving mode. When I start getting closer to my house, it will start to heat or cool my house so it’s ready when I get in the door. Also, if I wake up super cold at night (which rarely happens. I have two space-heating Beagles.) I can reach over and adjust the temperature from my comfy bed. Geniuses these days.

Keyless Locks

Now this one really helps in a pinch. I’ve had the keypad locks on my doors at home for several years now. Not only can I unlock my house without fishing for my keys but also can unlock my house from my phone. The ones I have on my doors are connected to my security system and work perfectly for when I’m out of town and need to let the parents in or if someone is visiting from out of town and needs to get in and out while I’m not home. Recently, we’ve had a bit of a crime spree around town, and we thought it might be a good idea to add one to my carport door where my laundry room is. I didn’t necessarily want to order another one through Vivint (They can get pricey that way.), and I recently have gotten onto the Amazon Prime bandwagon. (I know. I know. What took me so long?) So, I found a knob version of the keyless/keypad entry. It was here in two day and fairly (Thanks, Aimee, for the power tools.) to install. Once again, those geniuses.

 

Ring Security Light and Camera

This one is also new to the Guido smart home. I really needed another way to watch the house other than the security system with keyless/keypad locks, a smart thermostat, and (OH) wall-socket plugins that I can turn on and off from my phone. So, we ordered this security camera/motion light/Big Brother. Right now, I’m mainly catching birds that are ready for their close ups or neighborhood dogs and cats making themselves at home. Hopefully, the alerts I get saying, “A person was detected” never actually ends up being anyone besides Mom or Dad; but at least I can listen in on their conversations, take their pictures, or use the two-way speaker to tell them to “get off my lawn”.

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I’m a binger. I binge on Netflix. I binge on Hulu. I binge on iTunes. I binge on every app I can download and connect my DirecTV Now app to on my Apple TV. If it’s watchable, I’m probably going to binge it.

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Some of my favorite shows that I’ve watched (or am watching) are:

  • Breaking Bad: I started this series WAY after it had started. I spent all of college with no idea that this show was such a good show to get addicted to. I had spent most of those years watching Intervention or doing the snail-mail version of Netflix to get DVDs of movies that weren’t that great. When I moved home and started really getting into Netflix, I found Walter White and fell in love with it. Now, the version on Netflix has a little less editing than the AMC version. I actually started watching it right after the series finale aired, so the real reason I got into it was because I had read a review about the ending (SPOILER) and the death of Heisenberg. So, I watched it within a month or two; and now, I watch it anytime I happen to catch a marathon on Sundance or AMC. Sometimes, I open it up on Netflix and randomly scroll to an episode, watch the darkness unfold, and root for the meth chef. heisenberg-poster-irina-march
  • The Office: This, too, was a show that I started at the end of the series. It was in deed my first binge experience when I first bought my Apple TV in 2010.I actually timed my binge to where I finished all the other season and shows at the actual night of the series finale. I love Jim, and I want one of my own. I think that Michael is probably a real human somewhere. It’s something that I now follow fan pages on Facebook that play bloopers reels that I find too funny and laugh at a little too hard. flat,800x800,075,f
  • The Great British Baking Show: I’ve watched every season. I have LOVED every season. I’d watch them all again gladly. There is actually a spin off called The Big Family Cooking Showdown on Netflix that may actually be better than the original. (To be honest, I kind of fell in love with one of the contestants.) Watch them both. The-Great-British-Bake-Off-Illustration
  • Big Love: Y’all. This show is crazy. I have to admit though; I am big into watching anything that has to do with Mormons, polygamy, Scientology, or cults. Now, I’m not one of those that gets sucked in, sends all of my money to some crazy person, and ends up brainwashed. I find it hysterical that people can actually be brainwashed. So, the more I know, the more likely I am to stay like I am — a non-practicing Catholic that is thankful for Mother Mary. Big Love is on the HBO app, and the ending made me extremely sad. original
  • Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: Thank you, Netflix, for putting this show on my rotation. I started it over the latest ice storm to lighten the load of Law and Order: SVUBlue Bloods, and Chicago PD that my parents had playing nonstop. Quickly, I was into it. They are 15 minute episodes that are hilarious, lots of talking, and an opportunity for me to learn more about people that I love to binge on other shows like Sex and the CityMaster of None, and SNL. If you need something to watch in short spurts, add to your watchlist today. My favorite episode so far was with Sarah Jessica Parker in a station wagon.

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Yes. I’m a Beagle mom, and my two kids couldn’t be anymore different if they actually tried to be. Jackie, the eldest (and the one screaming in the above picture), is relatively laid back, well mannered, easy to handle, and minds to a T. At the same time, she is a hunter (of birds and squirrels), is upset fairly easily by passersby, hates all things healthy and only likes French fries and such, and has a very loud “bugle” that she enjoys singing. Now, Jo, the youngest, is quite the opposite. She doesn’t bark; and if she does, something is majorly wrong. She is pretty calm but still has puppy-spurts of energy, has no idea what manners actually are, has a large appetite, loves all fruits and vegetables, and never misses an opportunity to snuggle.

When someone refers to them as dogs, I’ll admit that I’m a tad offended. They are as close to children as I plan to have right now; and to be honest, they act better than any human child I’ve ever come across in a restaurant, store, or in the car. They don’t interrupt me while watching TV or talking with people. (Now, when I talk on the phone, Jackie tends to talk, too; but I can always let her outside to bugle it out.) They may wake me up in the middle of the night, but it usually only lasts for 10 minutes or so before we are back in bed. When we go to a pet-friendly restaurant, they both sit quietly waiting for little bits of whatever I’m having and never make a peep. They ride in the car with ease and usually fall fast asleep before we get to our destination.

No, I wouldn’t trade them for humans for the world.