From my kitchen to yours, best wishes for a very Merry Christmas! May you be blessed by the love of Christ.
Learning from History March 17, 2021
I’m a student of history. It always frustrated me in school when each year we would only cover the same time periods. We rarely made it to World War I and never beyond. I took it upon myself to read about the events not covered in class.
The magnitude of devastation the world has seen and survived helped to keep the events of 2020 in perspective. The “Black Death” swept through most of the known world in the mid-1300s and lasted seven years killing an estimated 200 million people. There was no known cure or treatment. This plague came on the heels of a famine about thirty years earlier, which is estimated to have killed anywhere from 30%-60% of Europe’s population.
Many of you have probably heard the statistics of the Spanish flu that began in 1918 as WWI was still grinding on. Somewhere between 20-50 million people died from this illness and again there was little doctors were able to do. Just over forty years later, in the late 1960s, my grandmother was stricken during the Hong Kong flu epidemic. Thankfully she survived but her lungs were damaged for the rest of her life. Treatments had progressed, though, and this outbreak’s death toll declined to between 1-2 million lives.
Most recently, in 2009, the Swine Flu swept across the globe creating panic and causing around 200,000 recorded deaths. My dad contracted this illness and was very ill. He survived, but again his lungs were damaged and he’s suffered breathing issues ever since.
Disease is not the only thing that has claimed lives through the centuries. Wars, famines, natural disasters, tyrannical leaders, unchecked gang violence, and everyday car wrecks have laid claim to millions of victims. When the media is bombarding us with one story all day and facts are evolving on a frequent basis it’s easy to get caught up in fear and become paralyzed, desperate for any action that offers protection.
I have family members and acquaintances that contracted COVID. Some were very sick, some died, but most were minimally ill. I have gone through the gut wrenching pain of watching loved ones die of incurable diseases. I don’t discount the suffering of those who have experienced loss. It took a period of anguish for me to come to terms with what my heart has known since childhood. God knows all the days of our lives. He knows when we will be born, all we will do and the day we will die. It’s an inevitable part of life none of us like to think about but cannot escape. Remembering that along with the lessons of the past helped me keep the year in perspective.
If you don’t know Jesus in a personal way, it’s difficult to see light or experience hope in this fear filled time. If you need hope, I encourage you to take time to read the New Testament of the Bible, the words of Jesus himself. Start with the book of John. If that is intimidating, watch Season 1 of The Chosen, which follows the calling of the disciples of Jesus. It makes the life of Jesus relatable, understandable, and real. Season 2 will begin streaming on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021.
Humanity has suffered great turmoil before and we will do so again until the day Jesus returns. What a glorious day that will be!
The Art of Tuning Out March 10, 2021
Before the pandemic, I worked in an environment with plenty of distractions. One wall of my office was shared with a busy conference room and another with the main breakroom for the floor. When the refrigerator door opened it would often hit my wall and threaten to shake loose anything hanging from it. People often hurried past the door or dropped in to see what was going on and my office mate being an extreme extrovert, people-pleaser, engaged them all in lengthy conversation. I became an expert at tuning out what was happening right beside me.
Transitioning to a home office stripped those distractions, but replaced them with new and, for a period, more interesting distractions. What time did the mailman come? How many deliveries did the neighbors receive each day? Would the construction across the street ever be finished? Who are the new neighbors moving in? Is the handsome new guy single? Yes, I became the one drawn to the window at any new sound or rumbling delivery truck. I’ve seen enough mysteries where the nosy neighbor gets killed, though, to know not to buy a pair of binoculars for a better view.
All I learned about tuning things out in the office started to come in handy at home. I didn’t need to see which children where playing outside or what the handsome young man was wearing when he left. I could have the TV on for background noise and when one of the podcasts I follow wandered into the now repetitive and pointless topics, I hit fast forward.
As the weeks passed, I started to see more families riding bikes or taking walks. I wonder how many of them were outside hoping to escape the pervasive doom and gloom. It was good to see families out together, enjoying nature and time together. There is a wonderful drive through a wildlife refuge a few miles from my house along with a maze of tiny dirt paths that meander along spits of land in the Indian River. I took these drives several times and saw more people enjoying them along with me than I have in all the years I’ve lived here.
It’s healthy and often necessary to tune out the noise in life. I don’t mean just the news and social media, but the things that nag at you and keep you from spending time with family. The house will always need to be vacuumed, the dishes or clothes will always need to be washed, there’s always another conference call or report to write. It’s important to draw boundaries and stick with them.
Keep work at work and home at home. Of course emergencies can arise with either, and those can be handled as needed, but other than that, focus on where you are and who you are with at that moment. Turn off the TV and computers. Put your phone on silent or Do Not Disturb and take a walk. Tell your kids stories they will roll their eyes at, but years down the road they will remember and realize how right you were.
Loving the DIY March 3, 2021
I’ve been pretty self-sufficient for as long as I can remember. I have put together all my furniture, even the Ikea stuff with the terrible directions. Watching HGTV demolition days always inspired in me a feeling of how satisfying it would be to take a sledge hammer to my kitchen cabinets.(more…)
Simply Southern April 7, 2016
Pimento cheese sandwiches are one of my favorite simple southern foods. As a child I would sit at the kitchen table watching my grandmother mash up a block of cheese then mix in the mayonnaise and pimentos. When I got older she let me do the cheese mashing and there was something gratifying about it. The sandwiches we made weren’t anything fancy. Sometimes we might toast the bread a little, but this was a simple meal served with an ice-cold Coca-Cola.
The past few years, I’ve noticed a number of restaurants making more gourmet versions of the sandwich. Probably the most unique twist was at the Little Switzerland Cafe, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, where the pimento cheese was served as a dip with grilled French bread and celery sticks. It was so good I wouldn’t mind making the two hour drive back to the cafe for another serving. A few weeks ago, I was in North Carolina taking some time to work on my new book, Virginia, and had the chance to visit a new restaurant in downtown Franklin called The Bowery. It opened last year and I’ve wanted to visit ever since I noticed it during my trip in December.
Once inside, I immediately liked the place. The decor is a perfect balance of elegant and rustic. The booths have high backs, made from boards that look like they were reclaimed from a barn, that provide a feeling of privacy. The chairs were plush and upholstered in a cappuccino suede. Bare light bulbs hung inside simple glass jars. The lunch menu was simple and there were the pimento cheese sandwiches again. One was served with fried green tomatoes and the other came with a bowl of soup. It was a chilly day, so I opted for the butternut squash soup and pimento cheese sandwich, while mom ordered the smoked chicken sandwich with pasta salad.
Our meals arrived quickly and I was impressed with the taste of everything. The soup was creamy and the sandwich was warm, the cheese melted just right. I wish I’d taken a picture, but it looked so good I couldn’t stop myself from digging in. I’m not sure why this simple sandwich is showing up on so many menus, but I plan to enjoy them as often as possible.
Not My Daddy’s Shrimp September 11, 2015
I grew up on the coast and I have many fond memories of seafood. My grandfather, Papa, would go to the beach several times a week and come home with loads of fish. One night I devoured eight whiting filets. I was off fish for about a month after that, but they were delicious at the time.
On of my favorite memories is of my dad trying to cook frozen shrimp. Mom worked the night shift at the hospital leaving dad our cook for evening meals. We had a lot of frozen pot pies and fish sticks. I still love a good pot pie. (more…)
Traveling in the Clouds July 9, 2015
I had the pleasure of spending my Fourth of July weekend in North Carolina. The weather was 20-30 degrees cooler than
Florida and I basked in every minute of reprieve from the heat. Usually when I go to NC I spend most of the time working on my next book, but this time I only had time to cram in a few hours of work time.
Another Florida friend was already staying with my family and we had made arrangements to drop her off with her sister in Banner Elk, NC on July 2. This should have been about a 3-hour drive, but it ended up being more like 5 or 6 hours. I’m beginning to learn to be wary of anything that says it’s 3 hours. One day I’m going to be on a 3-hour trip and become the next Gilligan! (more…)
A Cheesy Celebration February 9, 2015
I love cheese. I’m fascinated with how many different types of cheese there are and want to try them all. A couple of years ago, when it was just me and my parents for Christmas, we started a new Christmas Eve tradition. We went to Candlelight Service, came home to a spread of hors d’oeuvres-chocolate caramel popcorn, spinach dip, cheese, crackers, and glog- then watched a movie. It’s a nice quiet evening to reflect on what Christmas is really about.
This year, I noticed that the Aldi I shop at started having specialty cheeses a few weeks before Christmas. I bought up every one of them for our Christmas Eve nosh. We had Jarlsberg, Parmesan Regiano, Prima Donna, Tomato Basil, Jalapeño Jack, Fontina, and Cranberry White Cheddar. I’ve been wanting to try the Parmesan Regiano since I read about it in one of Frances Mayes’ books. It wasn’t my favorite as a stand-alone cheese, but it is great in cooking.
As you might imagine, with all of this cheese we couldn’t possibly eat it all in one night. Mom found a recipe that used the Fontina along with a Marscapone cheese, to make what is basically a fancy mac & cheese. The recipe sounded so good, I used it in the book I was working on, Spring Dawn, and when I finished the first draft we made a batch to celebrate. Shredding all of the Fontina seemed to take forever, but it was worth it. Next time I think I would add some bacon bits though, to give it a little more kick.
The left over Jarlsberg has made a wonderful evening snack and now I have three more varieties to snack on from Ireland, Wales, and Britain. I better have a few slices then get back to work.
Bakingpalooza December 20, 2014
We’ve had almost two glorious weeks of cool weather here in Florida. I’ve enjoyed having the windows open and a fresh breeze drifting through the house. It was on one these lovely days last week that I decided to crank up the oven and do my Christmas baking. I had several recipes I wanted to get through so I started as soon as I finished my coffee and bagel.
My parents have been staying with me since Thanksgiving, so mom offered to run out to the store to pick up a couple of items I didn’t have on hand. While she was out, I made the easy cookies, the ones from a mix that didn’t require anything extra. I found a pumpkin spice cookie mix that I have fallen in love with and I decided to add some chocolate chips. They were the perfect addition and I tucked some of the cookies into a tin for my parents’ drive back to North Carolina.
The house quickly filled with the smells of fresh baked treats. By the time I turned off the oven I had five types of cookies, gingerbread cupcakes, and vanilla-sour cream tea loaves. My kitchen is tiny, so having more than one person working at a time can be tight, but toward the end of the day, mom, dad and I were all working together to clean up the dishes and put everything away.
I hope you have a wonderful Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year with those you love.