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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Barefoot Home Essentials Giveaway

Comments closed. This give-away has ended. Thanks!

OHMYGRANNY. Do y'all love to smell yummy things like I do? Nothing makes me love my home more than when it smells all clean and fresh and pretty. I mean, I like it to BE clean and fresh, too, but OH how I love to walk through the door here at FriedOkra Manor and be met with a schnoz-full of loveliness.

Which is why when the lovely and talented Lora of Vita Familiae emailed to offer me some free samples of her wonderful line of natural cleaning products in delicious scents like lavender and cinnamon, I practically tripped over my keyboard trying to get back to her with an all-caps YES PLEASE followed by forty-leven exclamation points. And man, she shipped me some of the best smellin' stuff I've ever lain my nose upon, too. I got a 16 oz. bottle of lavender disinfecting spray and a 16 oz bottle of cinnamon All-Purpose Cleaner.

I immediately FORCED myself, after one levitation-inducing sniff of the All-Purpose Cleaner, to put it aside for y'all, and I laid claim to the lavender disinfecting spray. ALL FOR ME, people. Sorry! I hotfooted it upstairs to my STANKY master bathroom, which Al denies is stanky but my pregnant nose finds grody-to-the-total- max just hours after I last cleaned it, and I sprayed down every surface with my lavender disinfectant and wiped it all with a clean cloth. Then I sprayed the towels and rugs. Then I marched myself out of the bathroom and into the master bedroom and I stripped the sheets and blankets off in a mad frenzy and I sprayed more lavender disinfecting spray on my mattress and headed downstairs with my sheets and mattress pad, which I tossed into the washing machine on HOT and washed 'em to within and inch of their lives. When they were all clean and dry, I put them back on the bed and doused THEM with lavender spray, too. And DANG people, for the next 3 days when you walked into the master suite (I know -- La di dah!) it was like walking into a field of wild lavender, which is a vast improvement over the locker room/portapotty combo I had goin' on. I am HOOKED on this stuff.

I love that it's made with all natural ingredients - "safe for the tiniest feet" as the label reads (and the label also has the cutest picture of a sweet little baby footy that makes me get all squooshy inside when I look at it, even though right now BABY FEET? MY FRIENDS? NOTSOMUCH! Hello, solar plexus!)

I love it so much that I feel compelled to share with you all the fresh yummy natural cleanliness. It'd be a crime to keep it all to myself, and I, people, would make a lousy criminal. (I have an overactive guilt complex and the inability to ever do anything on the sly. Heck, I'd like to plan a surprise party for Al's 45th birthday this year except WHOOPS! See what I mean? GEEZ!)

So I'm ready to give away the bottle of cinnamon All-Purpose cleaner to one lucky commenter, this coming Tuesday morning.

Y'all go check out the barefoot home essentials online catalog and come back and tell me in the comments of this post which of their products looks like it'd make YOUR nose the happiest and home the naturally cleanest. That's all you have to do to be entered for a free 16 oz. bottle of All-Purpose Cleaner. Make sure there's a way to contact you online included in your comment PLEASE!

Friday, May 30, 2008

I've Never Made You Laugh Harder

Happy Friday, y'all. I'm over a Chic Critique today, takin' you step by step through my daily make-up routine. And there's a picture of me without a lick of anything on my face, which, as you know, is like unto showin' up at the County Fair buck nekkid on Saturday night, for a Southern gal like me, so if you could just hie yourself hither on over there and lend me a little support in the comments, I'd probably feel much better, and you'd get a good chuckle. And who doesn't need a good chuckle on a Fri-dee morning?

Come on, who?

Go on now, git!

Also, the second installment of cancer answers is up at Ms. Karen's place! Thanks again, Karen, for providing us all with some very very valuable information.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

In Which She Makes Me Unspeakably Proud.

Neighbor Nicki, to Bean - You know what, Bean? Buddy called his blanket O when he was little. Sorta like Bubba calls HIS blanket Na. Just O.

Bean - No, Nicki. Not just O.

O - KR-A-A-A!

(If you're here for the sandwiches, they're down there.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lunch Actually: A Collection of My Favorite Sandwiches, Which Were Hard to Narrow Down and We May Have to Do This Again.

(Sorry I'm a little later than usual with this one! The second half of the day yesterday kinda got away from me and I'm playing catch-up this morning -- F. O.)

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WHEEEEEEEEE! It's sandwich day, y'all, and I woke up hungry. Which is nothing new. But lemme tell you I am PINING for some pumpernickel bread slathered with butter. And the whole week of thinkin' about sandwiches has led me to eat things I from which I might normally demure, like a diner Ruben sandwich Tuesday after my dental appointment and a homemade muffaletta stacked high with ham, salami, cheese and olives yesterday. I can't wait to see your favorite sandwiches and I'm hoping someone will share some authentic regional specialties like po' boys, muffalettas, Louisville Hot Browns, Philly cheesesteaks and the Chicago staple, the Italian beef. If nobody does that one, I have a recipe I'll share sometime soon.

Now sandwiches aren't really a recipe-box staple around here, because they tend to be very "eyeball it" vs. precision-measurement foodstuffs. So in my (loosely-defined) recipes below, you're likely to need to adjust quantities to suit your own tastes. Me, I like my sandwiches gooey and drippy and messy with stuff falling out and mayonnaise, sauce and juices running down my elbows. That's just who I am and I've grown to accept this in myself. Others tend to prefer a sandwich to be drier and more controllable, and that's okay too. So adjust my recipes as you need to get to the perfect State of Goopiness for you. I can live with that.


Classic Summer Damater (Tomato) Sandwich

This sandwich, y'all. OHMYGRANNY. I put it in the Number One spot because it is truly Numero Uno in my opinion. There is no sandwich better than just a plain ol' tomato sandwich, provided, and this point cannot be overstated! that you've got yourself some REAL tomatoes, fresh out of the garden, not the produce department.

Homegrown, ripe red 'maters, right off the vine and still warm from the sunshine
Hellman's Mayonnaise (or Duke's, if you're in the South)
Fresh, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth white bread

Carefully peel the tomatoes and slice them in about 1/2" thick rounds. Spread a goodly coating of mayo on one side of each slice of bread. Stack plenty of tomato slices on one slice of bread and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Slap on the lid.

Open-Faced Soupy Pizza Sandwich (Toddler Pizza)

1 can tomato soup
1 soup can grated cheddar cheese
White bread, toasted

In a small saucepan, heat soup, undiluted until hot. Stir in grated cheese and mix until melted into soup. Spoon soup and cheese sauce over toasted white bread. Cut into small pieces for tiny toddler fingers. (Big kids, including 40 year old kids, love this one, too. Instant comfort food.)

Cucumber Sandwiches

For every day sammies, just use whole bread like you would any other sandwich. For fancy finger sandwiches, use a pretty cookie cutter to shape the bread in fluted circles or flowers, hearts or diamonds, etc. and then proceed with the spreadin'.)

3 oz. cream cheese, softened (the whipped kind works great, too)
1 Tbsp. Ranch dressing mix
2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced very thinly (like see-through thin)
mild flavored wheat bread
dried dill weed (optional)

Mix dressing mix into cream cheese and let stand for an hour or so. Spread a nice layer of the cream cheese on one side both slices of bread. Layer cucumber on top, to about 1/2" thickness. Sprinkle cukes with dill, if desired, and top with lid, cream cheese down. Keep chilled until eating.

Egg Salad Sandwiches

6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and grated
Hellman's Mayonnaise
1 tsp. yellow mustard
2-3 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish, plus 2 tsp. juice from the relish
fresh prepared horseradish
salt and pepper
bread

Mix mayo, mustard, relish and juice, horseradish and salt/pepper into eggs gently. Start with about 1/4 cup of mayo and add more until salad reaches your desired consistency. Spread on bread. Top with lid.

Pimento Cheese Sandwich

I cheated a little. My Mom's recipe and an entirely-too-comprehensive tutorial, with pictures, here.

Sausage and Pepper Sandwich

My parents used to make these at home when I was a kid. Don't think I really liked them much until I hit my teenybopper years, but now on occasion I just get a total hankerin' for them. So simple, so bad for you, so so soooooooooo good. The trick is to use really good sausage, of course. And load on the mayo. (She said guiltily.)

1 lb. hot Italian sausage (mild would work fine, too) in casings
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
olive oil
Mayonnaise
baguettes

Brown sausage in 1 Tbsp. oil until done. Remove from pan and set aside. Cook pepper and onion in pan drippings over med-low heat until tender. Slice baguettes in half and toast lightly in broiler. Spread mayonnaise on each side of sliced baguettes. Cut sausage into bite-sized pieces and return to pan with peppers and onions to reheat. Place sausage, peppers and onions on bottom halves of baguettes and top with baguette tops. Slice and serve.

Summer Veggie Sandwich


My mom made these for us in the summer time, when the garden was going CRAZY and we had too much of everything and needed to use it up however we could.

Thin sliced yellow squash
Thin sliced zucchini
Thin sliced onion
Peeled, sliced tomato
baguettes or other hard sandwich rolls
mayonnaise
ground oregano
salt & pepper
Monterrey Jack or Pepper Jack cheese, sliced or grated

Turn on broiler. Layer bottom half of sliced baguettes or sandwich rolls with mayonnaise then fresh veggies and onion. Sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper and oregano. Cover top halves with cheese and leave separate. Place tops and bottoms of sandwiches on oven safe pan and place under broiler until cheese melts and is gooey and golden. Remove from broiler and marry tops to bottoms. Slice and serve. (This is also good with a simple vinaigrette or bottled Italian dressing drizzled over the veggies before broiling.)


Hot Ham & Cheese Roll Sandwich


This one's from the Garden Club Cookbook from my home town, circa 1986, which was illustrated by my long lost Junior High art teacher Ms. Jeanes. Oh how I LURV this cookbook. I'd say it's among my 5 favorites!

2 pkgs. Pepperidge Farms Dinner Rolls (These were originally made on the little tea-rolls by Pepperidge Farms, but my friendly local Pepperidge Farms rep, whom I hassled unmercifully at the supermarket last year around Superbowl Time, says they stopped making those years ago and where have I been? So just get some GOOD dinner rolls that are in a rectangle shape and still all connected together. You'll see why in a minute. Just hold your horses, Gertie.)

8 oz. sliced Swiss cheese
8 oz. thin-sliced deli-ham
1 stick butter, melted
1 1/2 Tbs. poppy seeds
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. prepared mustard
1 Tbs. grated fresh onion

Do not break the rolls apart. Instead, slice them ALL in half together through the center, separating the tops from the bottoms. One huge dinner roll, sliced open. Got me?

Okay now, mix the butter and the next four ingredients together til they're all smooth and saucy. Kinda drizzle about 1/4 of that mixture over the bottom half of your giant roll and spread it around with a knife or a spreader or your clean finger if nobody's looking, then layer on the ham and cheese evenly over the whole thing.

Next, put another 1/4 of the sauce on the inside of the giant top and spread. Plop the giant top atop the ham/cheese on the giant bottom and then pour the remaining sauce over the tops of all the rolls. Wrap in foil, sealing edges. Refridgerate overnight. Prior to serving, bake, still wrapped in foil, for 15 minutes at 350°. Remove from oven, unwrap and slice into individual rolls and serve warm.

The next two recipes are a couple of my favorites from The Coach Factory Cafe, a beautiful little restaurant on the site of The Peace Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Greenville, South Carolina. I got a job doing the desktop publishing and marketing for the Peace Center just out of college at Furman, and on top of rubbin' elbows with famous entertainers on a daily basis, one of the best perks of the job was the occasional lunch in this beautiful old restored three-story brick building where, yes, stage coaches had been built back in the 1800s (if memory serves). I also loved being able to get to know "Chef" and the staff at the restaurant, and watch them create and serve the culinary delights for the Center's patrons and the downtown lunch crowd. If being raised in the South wasn't enough to make me a die-hard foodie, that gig at the Peace Center and those afternoons at the Coach Factory served well to push me right over the edge. The original cafe has long since closed and recreated itself several times, and the three-story building and kitchen now (well, at least the last time I was there) serve as a catering outlet and banquet/party space for Center functions. I'm glad I was there to experience that little cafe - it remains a favorite, even if just in my memories.

Monte Cristo Peanut Butter Strawberry Sandwich

Thick sliced white bread
Peanut butter
sliced fresh strawberries

2 eggs
1 Tbsp. cream or half and half
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

butter
powdered sugar

Spread each slice of bread with a layer of peanut butter. Layer sliced strawberries over the peanut butter on one slice, then top with another peanut-buttered slice. In a shallow bowl, whisk eggs, cream, cinnamon and vanilla together until eggs are well-beaten. Heat butter in a skillet until melted and bubbling. Carefully dip sandwich in egg mixture on both sides and around edges, then drain off excess egg. Place sandwich in skillet and brown on each side as you would French toast. Remove sandwich from skillet and place on serving plate, sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar, slice and serve warm, with gooey peanut butter and strawberry juice oozing out onto plate.

Smoked Turkey Salad Sandwich

1/2 lb. delicatessen smoked turkey, in 1/4" slices
1/2 cup grated fresh zucchini
1/2 cup grated fresh carrot
1/3 cup red onion, finely diced
1/3 to 1/2 cup Mayonnaise
1 tsp honey
Good quality curry powder (yellow)
garlic powder
salt/pepper
hard sandwich roll, pumpernickel or dark wheat bread


Cut turkey slices into julienne strips and then cut strips in one-inch segments. Mix mayo, honey, curry powder, a dash of garlic powder and salt/pepper together. Place turkey, zucchini, carrot and onion in a mixing bowl and pour dressing over. Mix well. Chill. Serve on sandwich rolls or dark bread. I loved alfalfa sprouts on mine. Also makes a nice chilled salad plate, over mixed greens with vinaigrette on the side. Oh, and if you are feeling really adventurous, throw in a handful of raisins - they add sweetness and variety, as well.

Alright, it's your turn! Make me a sandwich, y'all. I'm starved.

Link to your sandwich recipe post below.

Watch This Space: A Blog About How I Will Blog Later. About Blogging.

Bleedfest '08 continues apace.

Bean and I were up and att'em today for a trip to the OB, where I got my inevitable list of burning questions answered, heard Peanut's heartbeat, was complimented on my lack of stretchmarks again, and then unceremoniously bled like a stuck pig.

Yeah. Gave my three vials worth and THEN got a Rhogam shot for good measure.

YEOWCH.

Aw, it's not that bad. I mean, compared to the gettin' weighed part, right? You know, the part where the nurse takes one look at me and moves the BIG WEIGHT AT THE BOTTOM up 50 lbs. before I even step on the scales, and I proceed to blush until my eyes water? That part.

The OB/GYN office -- Humility's Favorite Pick-up Joint.


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I will blog again today. I just wanted to get that OB stuff out, you know, because it was WEIGHING me down. But later I'm going back to the Reader Mail Bag (which, by the way, I love more than Fannie Mae Mint Meltaways right now. I DREAM about these questions at night, and come up with all these clever, expository, witty replies, which of course I've completely forgotten by the time I wake up the next morning) and answering some questions about blogging.

But in the meantime, can y'all tell me something, honestly? I'm thinking of going through my entire make-up routine, complete with product information, on Friday's Chic Critique. Just lay it all out there in the order I apply it, with some detail on HOW I apply it, and maybe add a picture or two.

Does that sound even remotely interesting to you?


Y'all don't forget about our big Lunch Date tomorrow. Go claim your copy of the Cutest Bloggy Button ever and post it today, then be back here in the morning with a link to your post about the best sandwich(es) in your repertoire!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Almost Better than Cute New Shoes. NO, SERIOUSLY!

I wasn't planning to reveal this until Thursday, but it is SO UNBELIEVABLY CUTE AND FUN AND WONDERFUL and has elevated my pitifully low spirits so very much today it occurs to me that Y'ALL must see it NOW.

And also, if you love it and want to pinch it and put it on your blog today, rightthisminute you certainly may. Be my guest.

Check this out, y'all.

No WAIT! First let me tell you what it is!

It's a button. To promote this Thursday's Top Ten Recipes list, topic: SANDWICHES! Because EVERYBODY loves sandwiches and knows how to make at least ONE really awesome one. And they're easy and fun and even portable! (SQUEAL!)

So I thought I'd talk about some of my own favorites, including a few regional specialities from hither, thither and yon. And I want y'all to join in and post recipes for your favorites - the bold and unique or the simple, comfortable favorites you make every day, or your region's famous native bun, er, son, of sandwiches. Seriously!

And because I'm feelin' woozy generous, I'm gonna let the definition of sandwich include anything made with a bread-like substance and a filler, like tacos, burritos, quesadillas, burgers, dogs/sausages, barbecue sandwiches or what-have-you.

Y'all spread the word on your blogs and let's do lunch on Thursday -- all of us. (Oh! Wouldn't it be fun to all do lunch for real? Maybe one day we will!)

Okay, NOW, look at this ADORABLE button:

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<a href="http://friedokra4me.blogspot.com/2008/05/almost-better-than-cute-new-shoes-no.html"><img src="http://s23.photobucket.com/albums/b381/mamabean/lunchactually.jpg"/>

Smaller, for your sidebar:



<a href="http://friedokra4me.blogspot.com/2008/05/almost-better-than-cute-new-shoes-no.html"><img src="http://s23.photobucket.com/albums/b381/mamabean/lunchactually-1.jpg"/>




Karen (Does Karen mean "genius" in Latin? It does, doesn't it?) at simply amusing designs made it for me. I said, "Can you make me just a simple little graphic for my blog, kinda like a movie poster, with Hugh GrAHnt eatin' a sandwich?" and she made THAT! Man, to have that kind of talent and creativity. Karen, you spanked it out of the park, girl! Thank you!

Anyway, y'all can grab the code for this button above and post it at will. You may have to resize it to get it to fit, because it's nice and big.

To accomodate all of its cuteness, you see.

Thursday at FriedOkra: Sandwiches. Get your, um, buns in gear, y'all.

But We Did Get New Toothbrushes. And Princess Tattoos.

Shew. It's been a rough day, y'all. Nothing I didn't fully bring on myself though and nothing a good evening of mindnumbing TV and sleep won't fix.

I'm not going to the Cubs game.

I know. I hear you. It's sad. I can't BELIEVE I'm gonna miss it. Don't make me discuss MY FEELINGS about it because most likely very few of us would get out alive, or at least get out without weeping uncontrollably.

Without getting into the finer details, I'll just say I felt this was the best decision for all concerned, based on scheduling conflicts and familial (and otherwise) states of mind and body, and based on the tremendous weight that was lifted from my Puh-syche when I finally MADE the decision and discussed it with Al, it was the right one.

Doesn't make the whole not-actually-going part any less of a complete BUMMER, though.

Let's just not talk about it for a few days, okay?

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Bean and I went to the dentist this morning. Do you have any idea how much blood pregnant gums can produce when jabbed with skinny, pointy, metal devices of torture?

I do. Hint: If Jaws creator Peter Benchley could've witnessed this scene, he'd have wished he'd thought of it first.

Yeah, THAT gory. And BONUS! Painful, too! And? Lying down flat on your back with your head lower than your feet? Not the ideal position to be in when your blood volume is that of a rhinocerous. On iron therapy.

I came home and took an involuntary 2 hour nap, sideways across my bed. And still, 7 hours later, I'm feeling a bit odd.

But it was Bean's first time getting her teeth cleaned and she did GREAT. No crying, only a little bit of "I'm SCAY-ERD!" and a LOT of smiling and laughing and asking of questions.

That kid makes me so proud.

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And... they didn't show the first pitch at the Cubs game on TV. Boo. He said it was low and outside, but maybe would've gotten a swing. Good job, honey.

Oh, and Michael Johns sung the national anthem, too. I wonder if Al stood near him on the field?

Monday, May 26, 2008

And If It Turns Out There's Ice-Cold Watermelon Involved, I May Have to Hyperventilate a Little

Oh! We have such excitement goin' on around here I can barely stand it, y'all.

For one, tomorrow is the big Cubs game! Al's still unrelentingly blasé about it, and I'm still completely, ridiculously atingle. It starts at 6 PM Central, in case you are interested in tuning in to see if they'll show the first pitch. I'll try to capture it on home video, but you know how these things go.

For two, we finally bought the office furniture we've been needing, on major SALE, even! Plus we ordered upholstered occasional chairs with RED POPPIES all over them and a drum table for the sitting area of the master bedroom along with a wonderfully comfy RED rocking recliner for Peanut's room. We've been looking around for most of these things since we moved here two years ago.

(Tangent) I cannot WAIT to get all of our files and other assorted office-related junque out of the PANTRY, where it is takin' up precious storage space, thus preventing me from fulfilling my life-long dream of owning industrial-sized cans of shoepeg corn and very small young tiny baby peas and 20 lb. bags of rice from Costco. And OH! The excesses of bathroom tissue! That Mama could store right where that fax machine's sitting! That alone is worth the price of a hutch, desk and even even the coordinatin' return, ya'll.

To know one's household's replete with -- yea, even stocked to its ultimate capacity of bathroom tissue - well, that is to have finally ARRIVED as a homemaker, don't you think?

Okay, yes. I should also get my sister to teach me how to make my own mixed-berry jam, too. But then, when I have the bathroom tissue and the jam jars lined up, stacked to the ceiling side-by-side in my pantry? THEN I will have arrived. Nothing will convince me otherwise, people. (/Tangent)

Where was I?

The excitement in the household. OH YES! THE CHAIR, Y'ALL! The chair for Peanut's room! Which reclines and rocks with a smooth and steady motion, like gentle waves along the Carolina coast, and which sports a fabric so durable, so cleanable, so lovely and luxurious and RED that just to think upon it brings a tear to mine eye. Dare I say that I am almost looking forward to the midnight feedings? And the 1 AM, 2 AM, 3 AM, 4 AM and so on feedings, on and an ad infinitum, for each of which I will be enthroned in The Chair, my people, The Goddess of All Seating (and Lying, and Anything at All My Heart Should Desire Between the Two, Hallelujah!) Vessels, The Ultimate Comforter of Backs and Buttockses. It's the stuff chair dreams are made of, it is. And it's mine. All mine. (Contented sigh.)

In 4 to 6 weeks, with free delivery, offer void where prohibited.

And today!? Well, today dawns a glorious, sunny, brilliant Memorial Day after yesterday's plant-and-fertilizer-fest and last night's nothing-but-providential rip-roaring thunderstorms accompanied by several solid hours of steady rain. And the husband's got a bike ride in the works for our Bean, who will finally get to make her highly-anticipated christening voyage in the new-to-us bike trailer I got for $15 at a garage sale last week.

He's also already planning a hot dog feast on the back porch later today.

OHMYGRANNY!


Everybody have fun and stay safe, okay?

Five Thousand Words Worth

Whew!

Twenty-seven petunias, another 12 to 15 more assorted annuals, about a million weeds (mean, angry, class-bully hardened criminal weeds. They grow 'em NASTY out here on the prairie, folks. Kudzu's got nothin' on these weeds. These weeds have barbs and thorns and spikes and they ARE OUT FOR BLOOD, people), 48 gallons of potting soil, one husband passed out in the bed beside me, one Bean zonked out in her room, and the air conditioning happily taking the place of the heat not even 12 hours later, and we're feelin' a bit more like Memorial Day weekends of yore.


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Thinking of y'all and hoping you're makin' a few happy memories of your own!

Your pal,

FriedOkra
(& Family)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

He's Also Convinced She'll Have a Wicked Jumpshot

Saturday morning sleepy conversation:

M: Has anyone ever questioned that Bean's yours or mine? Most people who know us well say she's very obviously a blend between you and me."

A: She looks like you. She's cute like her mother.

M: Yeah, and she looks like you. She's cute like her Daddy.

Pause.

M: What stereotypically white character traits does she have? I mean, she hates mayonnaise so we know she's got some black in 'er."

Long pause. He's thinking.

A: She's kinda bossy -- That's The Man in 'er.

(Don't worry, I punched him.)

M: You know I'm bloggin' that, right?

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Al felt his Georgian interests went unrepresented after I posted yesterday's video ode to Carolina.

Here you go, honey:



(I think it's safe to say we're both feelin' inexplicably homesick this weekend. Something about havin' the HEAT RUNNING on Memorial Day weekend, maybe?)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

I Think We Can All Agree, No Matter Our State Affiliation or Loyalty, That It ALL Smells Like Heaven While It's Cookin'

Well, y'all! Thanks for coming to my rescue with your encouragement and support as I adjust to my new hair-do. I don't know why I'm struggling with it because, as my sister pointed out last night, it's really not all that different from the last time I got it cut by my friend and neighbor Maha. It's just that when I leave Maha's salon (in her basement) I always feel beautiful and amazing, and when I left the new salon Thursday I felt like an egg on two legs, wearin' Aunt Gladys's wig.

(Shrugs.)

An egg? you ask. Yes. I've hit the stage in pregnancy where when I'm standing up, I look like Humpty Dumpty with skinny pretzel legs (skinny at least in comparison to the rest of me). It's no better when I sit down, really, because I've already got that whole bullfrog look going on, wherein my belly sits on my lap, my boobs sit on my belly, and my chin sits on my boobs. And I can still put my pants on one leg at a time like anybody, only I can't just pull my knees straight up toward my chest and ploink them back down. Oh, no. I have to lift mine waaaay up and jut them FAR out to each side, around my watermelon belly. See? Bullfrog. Not that I'm complaining. I'm just sayin'.

*BROOOOOOAWP.*

What Questions Do You Have for My Answers, Part, What, Like Six or So?


AndiK's interested in some real Southern thangs, y'all.

I second the votes for top-ten boy baby names and the story of why you started blogging.

Did the boy names. Kinda did the why I started bloggin' but will do more next week.

And have you ever tried North Carolina BBQ? Thoughts?

M'kay. First, well of course I have! Don't be ridiculous. (And I meant that in a very loving and good-spirited way, AndiK.) Mama grew up in the Golden Cawner of SC (after a brief stay in Georgia), which is that northwestern Carolina-the-Lower sweet spot from which you can drive up into the North Carolina mountains in the bat of a pretty little eyelash. In South Carolina, we call it "Carolina Barbecue," and take full ownership of it like it was OUR idea, just as we also say, "Why James Taylor's from Carolina!" all puffed up and proud as if we formed him in our own two hands and breathed life into his lungs and inspired him our-very-own-selves to write "Carolina in My Mind."

For those of you who aren't from around those parts and aren't familiar with Carolina Q, allow me to 'splanify. To me, the Carolina modifier attached to barbecue indicates less sweet sauciness, in fact I'd characterize Carolina's version of this roasted porcine delight as downright tangy. I went and looked it up though 'cause y'all know me, my descriptions tend to lack grounding and specificity, and tend to lean heavily on ephemeral metaphor and whimsical imagery, which is all well and good, but even I know when you're tryin' to compare and contrast something as illusive as two different ways of cookin' up a little pig meat, it's best to employ some actual, you know, tangible facts. Here's what I found on eHow.com:

North Carolina barbecue is one of the most famous and beloved regional cuisines in all the fifty states. NC BBQ, as locals call it, cooks pig meat at quite low temperatures for up to 18 hours at a time. The barbecue style, which evolved over generations of tradition, uses little sauce and flavoring and instead brings out the flavor of the meat and fire.

Hmmm -- I see they got a completely unbiased North Carolinian to write that.

But despite the unmistakable and glaring prejudices implicit in this definition, it will do for my purposes. Only when I think of Carolina Q, I also tend to include mustard in my vision. If you buy you some Carolina BBQ sauce at a roadside stand in the mountains of North Carolina, it's quite yellow, and handsomely flecked with black pepper. But that's yet another log on the tangy fire, isn't it? So I won't quibble.

Now other regional BBQ-styles most definitely employ very slow methods of cooking like smoking and pit-roasting, so I'd question North Carolina claiming that as their own unique crowning glory. I would say that Carolina Q distinguishes itself most honestly by being less saucy and sweet, and more tangy and spicy than its cousins to the South and West, and that's what helps to spotlight the meat's flavor and smokiness. I am CERTAIN that there are Carolinians both Top and Bottom who would like to add their own perspectives on this matter, and those comments are WELCOME. Let us just remember to be kind and respectful, and let us also remember this certain, undeniable fact:

North Carolina may lay honest claim to great barbecue and even to James Taylor, but South Carolina's got the best football.

And what do you call those bugs whose bottoms light up? Fireflies or lightning bugs?

I call 'em lightnin' bugs. What in tarnation's a firefly? Sounds dangerous, to me.

Mama can't ever listen to this one without her own silver tear appearin'. That's some talent you got there, J.T.

Friday, May 23, 2008

How NOT to Communicate with Your New Stylist -- Updated w/ Photos

Which part of my trendy Target® maternity capris, wrap-front lilac maternity top with purple silk side-tie, sassy kitten-heeled kicks and funky-fresh Mama-blogger banter said to her, "What I really want is to look like Aunt Gladys on her way to the Shuffle-Board-and-Bridge-A-Thon down at the local senior center?"

All that's missing is the blue dye and the rain bonnet.

Can you smell the Rive Gauche and Wrigley's Spearmint from where you are?

Because they're so strong here my eyes are watering.

Sigh.

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Hiya.




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What do y'all think? I think the bangs are too short. Or something.





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Look Mom! Mary Higgins Clark!

Pardon the glow. And I'm not showing you the back, which looks like a haystack right after a hot windstorm.

Had a major hot flash in the middle of trying to blow-dry this badboy. Do you think it's possible to be pregnant and goin' through the change at the same time?

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GARSH! I hope not!

(Though it might not be a bad thing to get 'em both over with at once, come to think of it.)

Crows Feet, Crunchy Hair and Chocolate - Gotta Take the Bad with the Good, I Reckon

I'm over at Chic Critique today talkin' about wrinkles, frankincense and M.C. Hammer. You won't get to be the first commenter because Mari's already been there, done that, but you could be a respectable second or third or eleventh if you hastened on over right now.

I got my hair cut yesterday, NOT by my Maha, and it's just okay. I went WAY short this time and I feel like I look old and perhaps like I'm wearing a bad wig, but maybe it'll grow on me -- you never can tell what your hair's actually gonna look like it when your stylist puts in too much waxy, weird product and then dries it into a ceeee-ment helmet. I'll try to post pictures for y'all later after I've had MY way with it. Corey, I still owe you pictures of Bean (we didn't get around to it yesterday while she had on her little seersucker dress, unfortunately). She's mighty cute right this very moment in her hand-me-down jammies from cousin Maura-Katie, right here beside me, her hair all disheveled, with a sleepy smile on her face, sucking those two middle fingers of her left hand while twiddling her belly-button with the other hand. She's a creature of habit, just like her parents, this one. And Peanut is too, is just that right now all of his habits center around his resolute determination to CRUSH ALL MY VITAL ORGANS.

I left OUT a chocolate recipe. One of the BEST, actually. Can you believe that nonsense? In the words of Dr. Pheeyul, "What was I THINKin'?" I'll try to get that added this weekend. Sneak preview: There's actual Nutella™ involved. And there are already 13 lovely cooks linked up with their own chocolate recipes there, too. Well, a dozen, anyway. Thanks, everybody! They all look s'good I don't know which one to try first. I know need to try all the great brownie recipes though, and see which one's best. The category for next Thursday's Top Ten recipe post is gonna be sandwiches, so be thinkin'.

Cancer Q&A
The cancer answers are back from last week's question session for the Texas Oncology doctors that Karen brought together at her Simply A Musing Blog. Go read those! They've answered the skin cancer questions first, so I know many of you will want to go read about that, since summers on the way and there have already been some sunburns to beat the band. TRACEI.

I'll be back later, hopefully, with pictures of this hair and more answers to your questions from way back when.

Y'all have a good Fri-dee mornin'.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

FriedOkra's Top Ten Oooey-Gooey Chocoliciousest Chocolate Recipes

Happy Chocolatefest, y'all! I hope everybody ate salad all day yesterday because this post? Is ALREADY going straight to your thighs. Or your hips. Wherever the really good stuff goes on you is right this very minute getting bigger and bigger and BIGGER. But I promise it's all gonna be worth it.

PhotobucketAnd we can all go out for a long walk run when we get done gorging ourselves. Well, y'all can go, anyway. Looks like I'm gonna be stuck here lickin' out all the bowls doing the dishes. Ahem.


Hang on tight to your cup of coffee or your glass of ice cold milk, y'all, you're now entering the Decadent Zone.


Jell-O™ Peanut Butter Chocolate Parfaits

Some boy made these for me a long time ago. Not the one who kissed me, though. It was easy enough for a boy to make, and it has chocolate and peanut butter in it. What more do I need to say, really?

3 Tbsp. milk
3 Tbsp. peanut butter
1 cup thawed COOL WHIP Whipped Topping
1 pkg. (4-serving size) JELL-O Chocolate Flavor Instant Pudding & Pie Filling

ADD milk gradually to peanut butter in medium bowl, stirring with wire whisk until well blended. Add whipped topping; stir until well blended. Set aside.
PREPARE pudding as directed on package. Spoon half of the pudding evenly into six parfait glasses; top with peanut butter mixture. Cover with remaining pudding.
REFRIGERATE at least 30 min. or until ready to serve. Store any leftover desserts in refrigerator.

Super Easy Saltine Cracker Toffee Bars

My mom makes these for the holidays. They're so darned easy and incredibly delicious. The saltine cracker disappears, really, but lends a nice crunch and a tiny bit of balancing saltiness to the sweet, rich, chocolate-toffee goodness.

1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
40 saltine cracker
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup pecan or walnut or almond, coarsely chopped (optional, of course)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line cookie sheet with foil. Place 40 crackers in one layer on cookie sheet. In saucepan on low heat, combine butter and brown sugar. Heat until blended. Boil 3 minutes. Pour mixture evenly over crackers. Sprinkle cracker centers with chocolate chips. Place in oven until chips melt. Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Cut while warm. Store on wax paper.



Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

I love the texture oatmeal adds to my favorite cookie of all time. To be honest, y'all, I've been known to double up on the chips. The best feature of this recipe, to me, is that the cookie itself has plenty of great flavor, too, whereas many chocolate chip cookies just let the bland cookie be a vehicle for the chocolate chips.

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (plus about another 1/2 tsp unless you use some seriously potent vanilla)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325° In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; stir into the creamed mixture until just blended. Mix in the quick oats and chocolate chips. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 12 minutes in the preheated oven. For giganticus cookies like I like, make golf-ball sized globs of dough, allowing lots of room between then so they can spread out. Then bake for more like 18 minutes. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.


German Chocolate Turtle Cake

1 boxed German Chocolate cake mix
1 bag caramels
1 stick butter
1 can sweetened condensed milk (reserve 3 Tbsp for frosting)
1 bag chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans

Frosting:

4 Tbsp cocoa
3 Tbsp sweetened condensed milk
1 stick softened butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Prepare cake according to box instructions. Put 1/2 batter in greased 13 x 9. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 350°. Melt together caramels, butter and condensed milk. Pour over cooked cake. Sprinkle chocolate chips and then pecans over it. Top with remaining cake batter. Bake 15-20minutes. Mix cocoa, remaining condensed milk, butter and vanilla together. Turn off mixer and add powdered sugar. Mix on low speed until well-blended and thick. Cool cake completely and frost.


Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake


1 c. butter
1 c. sugar
3 eggs
1 c. sour cream
2 1/2 c. flour, sifted
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp vanilla


Topping:
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
6 oz chocolate chips


Put 1/2 batter in greased tube or bundt pan. Mix together sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle 1/2 of that mixture over the batter and then 1/2 chocolate chips. Put remaining batter on top of that and then remaining sugar topping and chocolate chips. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes.




This is great served warm with ice cream.


Earthquake Cake


1 c. coconut
1 c. chopped pecans
1 boxed German Chocolate cake mix
1 stick butter
8 oz cream cheese
1 box powdered sugar


Mix up the cake batter according to the package directions. Combine coconut and pecans and place in bottom of greased 13 x 9. Top with cake batter. Melt together butter and cream cheese. Add powdered sugar. Pour over cake. Bake at 350&DEG; for 45 minutes. Serve inverted.


Chocolate Icebox Cake


I almost always asked for this to be my birthday cake growing up. If not this, then Key Lime Pie. Either way, you can't really lose. Anyway, this one is sooooooo gooey and sweet, kids just devour it but adults with more discriminating palates may only like a very small portion with a huge cup of coffee to wash it down.



I'm just sayin'.



1 stick butter, softened
6 eggs, separated
2 cups powdered sugar
4 squares melted semi-sweet chocolate
Vanilla wafer cookies
Cool Whip®

Cream eggs, butter and 1 cup sugar together. Pour hot melted chocolate into egg mixture slowly while beating. Beat egg whites until stiff, fold in remaining 1 cup sugar. Fold chocolate and egg white mixtures together. Layer bottom and sides of a round casserole with vanilla wafers, round side out. Carefully spoon in chocolate mixture and smooth top. Chill until set. Top with Cool Whip® or real whipped cream.

Grandmama FriedOkra's Easy and Ridiculously Rich Chocolate Pie



Another one so rich it kinda hangs there on your uvula for awhile before making its way down your throat. But OHMYGRANNY (literally, this time!) this one is so fudgy and cool and mouth-wateringly good that having it hang out in your throat a few extra seconds feels like an honor and a privilege.

1 can Eagle Brand® milk
2 squares semi-sweet chocolate
1/4 cup water
Dash salt
Frozen pie crust (or you can make your own, if you are so inclined), baked and cooled
Whipped topping
Hershey™ bar

Melt chocolate in double boiler. Add milk, water and salt and cook, stirring for 10 minutes over med-low heat. Pour into defrosted, pre-baked pie shell and chill several hours. Top with whipped topping and grated Hershey™ bar shavings.

Chocolate White Chocolate Cheesecake

You didn't think you were gonna get out of here today without a cheesecake recipe, did you?

Crust
2 1/2 cups chocolate wafer crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

Filling
2 1/2 lbs. cream cheese
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. vanilla
5 eggs, plus 2 yolks
8 oz. white chocolate, broken
1/4 cup half-and-half

Glaze
1/2 lb. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup light corn syrup
3 Tbsp. water
2 Tbsp. butter

Combine wafer crumbs with sugar. Stir in butter. Press crumbs into bottom and sides of an 11 inch springform pan. Refrigerate crust until ready to use. Preheat oven to 250°.

Cream the cheese with sugar, flour and vanilla. Beat well on low speed, do not whip. Add eggs and yolks slowly, beating well. Add white chocolate pieces and mix well. Mix in half-and-half. Pour filling into crust. Bake for 1 1/4 - 1 3-4 hours, until filling doesn't wiggle if you shake the pan. Let cool for at least 2 hours. Refrigerate overnight before removing from pan.

Pour corn syrup and water into saucepan. Cut butter into small pieces and add to pan. Place over medium heat and stir often until mixture boils. Remove from heat. Immediately add chocolate chips and stir until melted. Beat well with a wire whisk. Pour glaze over cheesecake and spread evenly. Garnish with white and milk chocolate shavings.

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Y'all still with me? What'd you think? Enough chocolate for one day, or still craving more?

Huh?

WHAT!? Only nine? Seriously?


Waitaminute. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 ... Um. Er. Hmm.

Oh. Well, okay, take a look at the list, though. Y'all see what's missing, don't you? There's a huge gaping hole in my chocolaty repertoire. See it? Right in between the cookies and the cakes? Yep. You've found my chocolate dessert Achilles heel, yes indeed you have. (Hangs head in deep, humiliating shame) In all my forty years of feasting on chocolate and loving chocolate and living in my kitchen, I STILL haven't found a decent brownie recipe.

'Tis true.

Someone, for the love of all that is gooey and rich and dense and moist and milk chocolaty, help a girl out. Please.

(But if you don't have a brownie recipe, I still want to see your favorite chocolaty dessert recipe. 'Cause if I can't learn to make good brownies, I'm gonna be needin' somethin' to drown my sorrows in.)









Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What Questions Do You Have for My Answers? Part Four

Here're some interesting questions from Heather at Desperately Seeking Sanity.

I'm new to your blog. Tell me all I need to know about you in 5 sentences and tell me the top 5 posts that I HAVE to read from your archives. Then you can curse me and pray that I never return to your blog.

You know what though, Heather? I LOVED these two questions and I hope you return to my blog any ol' time you want. You may be new around here, but you still had the insight to LIMIT my answer to five sentences. Now, the people who've been reading me for awhile may scoff at your newby innocence in choosing to limit my SENTENCES instead of my WORDS, because they know all about my penchant for writing sentences so long and convoluted you need a trail of breadcrumbs - no, make that a trail of steel ball-bearings, because they'll last longer - to get back to my original point, if I actually had one to begin with. I am hoping the next time I solicit questions you will have stuck around and been my bloggy friend for long enough to know that you need to limit my actual WORDS, because that's the only way to guarantee I won't keep you sitting here reading long enough to grow 12 inches of pretty hair for Locks of Love. Am I right, Corey?

Okay. Me. In five sentences. (Oh, the PRESSURE.)

1) I'm a big old squooshy, loving, vulnerable heart on legs, and everything that goes along with it -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.
2) I don't hold onto my own opinions particularly tightly -- because I recognize how much I don't know about life, God, this crazy world, or the motivations or trials of other people -- unless you try to FORCE me to change my mind, and then I will stubbornly dig my feet in and NEVER see things your way, period.
3) I am much more deeply fulfilled by the work, pace and home-spunny nature of the role of homemaker, but wish I could still maintain some of the "glamour" involved in my old career(s).
4) I pretty much live in my kitchen, which is the heart and soul of my family's home life.
5) I have a family -- a husband, a daughter, and a son on the way -- who make me love, laugh, cry, hope and believe, and I pray one day God will finally be able to turn me into someone good enough for them (and for Him,) but for now, I just remain in total awe of the miracle this motherhood and wifehood truly are for a flawed, imperfect girl/woman like me.

Posts You Should Read:

How I Feel About Me
How I Feel About Al
A Post That Makes Me Cry Happy and Sad Tears at the Same Time
My Life as a Pregnant Mama, in a Nutshell
In Case You Ever Come to Wonder Who Priscilla Maude Sybil Is

I don't know. Maybe those are the right ones? I just looked and this is my 301st post. And I only got to pick FIVE! I hope they do sump'm for you, Heather. I don't wanna lose you, man.

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My dear, lovely, friend-who-likes-to-antagonize-me, Julie (who is the female version of Al, by the way), would like to know:

At what age did you experience your first 'grown up' kiss?
I want details too!
xoxo Julie


Okay. I'm gonna level with y'all up front here. I don't know, for sure, which of the two earliest kisses I can recall was actually my first, because large chunks of my brain, apparently those that happened to be storing memories of my teenage years and the combination to my locker at the YMCA I worked out at while I was pregnant (and I bet the wet swimsuit stuck in there is smellin' MIGHTY good by now, sorry Y people), were delivered shortly after my placenta when I had Bean. But I THINK my first real grown up kiss was perpetrated by the guy featured in my sad, woeful Senior Prom Story, which is conveniently located under #13 in this post.

The trouble is, I don't know if it was a serious kiss or a mock kiss, because this guy, George, was completely inscrutable when it came to his real, honest intentions and remained so years later when I had a couple of dinners with him. We were both in our thirties by then. But on the evening in question, he may have been teasing me for fun because it'd come to his attention at some point, in the FOUR SOLID YEARS leading up to the moment that I'd been unable to eat, sleep, think or talk without his name escaping my lips in an aching, pining, wrenching, keening hopelessly-devoted-to-you wail, that I might have a slight little bit of a tiny crush on him. (Eyeroll.)

Now George was older than I was by three years, and he was tall, athletic and handsome(to me, anyway), a big-shot in his class because of his completely tasteless but infectious sense of humor, and I was this little gawky nerdlet who weighed 85 lbs. soaking wet, with a bad perm, purple store-brand jelly shoes and a passionate but unfortunate fondness for my late grandmother's extensive plastic costume jewelry collection. So at the time of this maybe-it-is, maybe-it-isn't first kiss, I was so stunned to find my shy, scarlet-to-the-roots-of-my-hair-with-embarrassed-apprehension self alone in the front seat of George's car with him that I may have lost consciousness for a moment or two, and during that time I may also have either made up, embellished or dreamed any or all of what I believe to have transpired.

A group of us, including George, had all gone to the movies after a birthday celebration for one of my girlfriends. At the movies, I'd somehow lucked out and found myself seated next to George, with my friend, the birthday girl, on the other side of him. While I held my breath and remained completely motionless for fear of doing or saying something completely inane (which has always been perfectly characteristic of me at any age), George reached out and HELD MY HAND. I sweated and hyperventilated quietly to myself through a large portion of the movie, until several people, including George, got up to go the the restroom, at which point I moved a seat over (into George's seat) and squeaked to my girlfriend, "George was holding MY HAND!?" At which point my girlfriend said, "I know! Mine too!"

Blink.

Later that night, George drove us all home. Being the skinny little stick that I was, (thank God for my non-existent bummy!) I got to ride in the middle of the front seat next to him. And oddly, although I lived on the other side of town from most everyone in the car that night, including George himself, he dropped everyone else off first and then returned to MY side of town to drop ME off. Which is how we ended up in the car alone, making very VERY small talk, which amounted to him joking away animatedly and my teeth chattering in answer.

When we got to my driveway, he stopped, put the car in park and threw an arm up over the back of the seat so it was ALMOST around me, but not quite. And then he said some more stuff, and my teeth chattered in response, and then he leaned over to me and our faces sortof slammed into each other, and maybe our lips touched? I can't be certain, because I was not in my right mind by this point. And then I think when my reaction was not exactly what he was hoping for, seeing as how I was completely comatose with shock, confusion and gratitude, he reached across and opened the passenger side door for me from the inside and said, "Good night, fair maiden" and I said, "ARGHLADDALADDAAWAAGGLWIGGADOO," exited the car in silence, floated into the house past both of my parents, and fainted dead away, fully clothed and shoen, on my bed.

So you tell me. WAS that my first kiss?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What Questions Do You Have for My Answers? Part Three

These questions are SO MUCH FUN, y'all. I'ma quit thinkin' up my own original blog fodder and just solicit questions once a week or so from now on. Keeps me busy, and I know at least one of you has theoretical interest in the subject matter, which is probably better odds than when I'm writin' what I choose to write about.

Come on, let's dig into the ol' mailbag and see what kindof trouble we can get into today!

Crooked Eyebrow loaded me up good!

Since I'm new to visiting the lovely FriedOkra, how did you pick the blog title, how long have you been blogging, what is your favorite drink and when not pregnant, where do you love to buy clothes from?

Let's see. As some of my dearest blogging buddies know, I blogged at Diaryland.com for several years as Mama-Bean, starting about 17 weeks into my first pregnancy, and then I created the "original" FriedOkra over there when Bean wasn't quite a year old. I needed a place to write the un-baby-related thoughts I'd started to have, finally and re-connect with myself after those first all-consuming months of motherhood. I loved that diary (it was a blog, I suppose, but I still refer to both of those Diaryland blogs as diaries) for its simplicity and the role it played in lightening my mental and emotional loads on occasion.

I named that second diary and this blog FriedOkra because I really wanted a title that summed me up and made me happy just to read it myself. And I think it does both pretty well. Okra's a bit of a bizarre little vegetable, but once you get past its weirdness and give it an honest chance, it's homey and down-to-earth and, well -- wholesome. Unassuming.

I love that when I think of fried okra, I also think of crisp line-dried sheets and deep, sleepy shady afternoons with a book from the library, the low hum of crop-dusting planes circling overhead, red slices of fresh, warm tomatoes and homemade, hand-churned coffee icecream on the back porch. Really, those are some of the best things about where I've come from, and the things that most readily explain who I am.

Also, I LOVE me some fried okra.

I've blogged here since July 2007, so not even a year yet, but I love this place and I see myself sticking around for many, many bloggiversaries to come. This current FriedOkra feels like a big old wrap-around porch to me, with an old swing painted coat after coat of shiny white, a lazy brigade of rocking chairs, a rag rug or two and cold, sweet tea served in Mason jars with lemon and a sprig of mint. I have my dear, wonderful, encouraging, brave friend and former college roommate Lainey (Blog In My Eye) to thank for bringing me to this more public blogging forum, despite my initial protests that it'd be too much work for too little reward, and I'll be indebted to her for it forever.

Turns out that blogging was made for this reflective, slow-thinking but fast-typing girl/writer-wannabe who enjoys the spotlight despite an awkward inability to confidently express herself verbally, except in writing. I've longed for an outlet like this my whole life, and it's blessed and fulfilled me in ways I never would have thought possible. To me there's no greater gift (besides family) than warm friendship and laughter, no matter the setting. No greater gift at all.

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My favorite non-alcoholic drink - Let's see. Fresh-squeezed lemonade from Chick-Fil-A.
My favorite adult beverage - Jack Daniels. Neat. There, I said it. Don't click that unsubscribe button, y'all.

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My favorite place to buy clothes when I'm not pregnant. Hmmm. Let's see - How about Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft?

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Cassandra of CJ's Chatter wants to know about my cleaning routines:

I would like to know more about your daily / weekly house cleaning schedule? Do you always do the same things (a routine)? How long do you spend cleaning on a daily / weekly basis? Hope that's not too boring of a question!

(Snicker.) Not boring at all. I laughed until I almost cried when I read this question. The ANSWER may be boring, but the question's quite ironically funny, particularly these days. There's another one that made me laugh that hard too, but I'm saving it for later because every time I go to answer it I get tickled again and giggle so hard I have to put my head between my knees so I don't hyperventilate and pass out.

But I'll answer this one for you.

Lemme see. Yes, yes, Cassandra, I guess I do a few things on the same days every week. Here's what members of my household can pretty much count on, in terms of housekeeping services, from day to day and week to week:

Every day - Make the beds (Bean's learning right now to do her own) and wipe down bathroom countertops and mirrors if needed. Cook meals and keep kitchen sink and counters cleaned up and free of dishes. I also try to straighten rooms up (with Bean's help) as we leave them throughout the day, so I don't have one colossal mess on my hands 15 minutes before Al gets home.

Sunday - I do all of the family laundry in the afternoon when we're all here together and wearing our relaxation duds. I like Sunday for this because I am all about starting the new week off with all the laundry baskets empty and the drawers and closets full. Also, Monday morning is just not the time to be scrounging around for that illusive last pair of clean undies. I wash, dry, fold and put it all away before bedtime, and I am STRICT with myself about getting it ALL DONE that day. No excuses. Monday's garbage day, so on Sunday I clean out the fridge and get rid of all the expired yuckies. I also package any remaining edible leftovers and freeze them for Al to take to work in a big cooler Monday morning. He puts them in his office freezer and eats them for lunch all week long.

Monday - Monday is meal planning and grocery store day. I also try to do my phone-calling (which I approach with fear and loathing because I am a total phone-a-phobe) and bill-paying and general corresponding on Monday.

Tuesday - Supposed to be floors and dusting day but isn't, usually. Right now I do the floors about a week after I find myself doing the "wipe the bottom of one foot on the top of the other" shuffle to get the crud off my bare soles. Floor-cleaning is much too tiring for me right now. Sometimes I dust, but what's the point in dusting if the floor's still filthy?

Wednesday - Humpday Washday. I do one load of towels, undies and kitchen linens. I also empty all the trashcans again. I can't abide trashy trashcans.

Thursday - Supposed to be Big Project Day - like for organization or gardening and stuff. And it's bookmarked to someday do some artsy things for my walls. Lately, not-so-much with the Big Projects.

Friday - Clean sheets and bathrooms day. YUM!

Saturday - Hair Day for Bean. If you have seen my child's hair, you will understand why it requires a day of its own. I wash, deep condition and comb out her curly little tresses, and every six weeks or so, I trim off the ends. After all that, I'm completely wiped out and need the rest of the day to recover. NOT KIDDING! She gets dampened, conditioned and finger-styled daily, but Saturday is the day for Serious Hair Management and Upkeep.

Jack Daniels. Neat.

Oh, I'm kidding, y'all.

Move AWAY from the Unsubscribe button.

We also run the weekly errands on Saturday - fill up the cars with gas, pick-up/drop-off dry cleaning and refill prescriptions, take cars to have 'em serviced, what have you. Same things everyone else in America's doing, which explains all the stinkin' traffic out there.

I probably spend a grand total of 90 minutes a day on the duties I've described above. My philosophy is this: Stay on top of it before it gets on top of you. I am NOT a fantastic housekeeper. I'm mediocre at best. But on most days you could stop by and I'd let you in without being terribly embarrassed. And so far, no one has been infected with salmonella or e. coli or what have you while under my roof.

And we all have on clean underwear.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I Feel For You -- I Think I Love You.

Early in the morning of the day I found out I was pregnant with Bean, a few short hours before I'd done any calendar-related math in my head, before I experienced the inexplicable soft, velvety stirring of her inside myself, I drove myself to work in the cold, bright February dawn, and heard this song by Elton John:

Hey you, you're a child in my head
You haven't walked yet
Your first words have yet to be said
But I swear you'll be blessed

I know you're still just a dream
your eyes might be green
Or the bluest that I've ever seen
Anyway you'll be blessed

And you, you'll be blessed
You'll have the best
I promise you that
I'll pick a star from the sky
Pull your name from a hat
I promise you that, promise you that, promise you that
You'll be blessed

I need you before I'm too old
To have and to hold
To walk with you and watch you grow
And know that you're blessed


-- Lyrics by Bernie Taupin


And I cried. Huge, welling tears of joy and wonder. With no idea where they'd come from or what they meant, I cried my first Mama tears for the beautiful daughter I'd begin to suspect I was carrying just a few hours later. And in that moment, I bonded with Bean - she and I became who we still are today. I absolutely cherish that moment and all the ethereal months of my pregnancy with her. The song remains my anthem of sorts for Bean.

Fast forward to the equally cold bright days of last November -- the days leading up to the moment we found our Peanut. Crazy busy with Thanksgiving festivities, having the house painted, and kicking into high gear with Christmas preparations, my mind and body pulled in a million different directions, I'd little chance of recognizing a similar set of stirrings within myself. The day Peanut's presence finally dawned on me I was running around frantically, keeping Bean out of the neon red kitchen paint, addressing Christmas cards and ticking a million other little tasks off my holiday to-do list. By the time I actually slowed down long enough to take a test it was past bedtime on a Sunday night, and within an hour of discovering his little budding self in those two pink lines, I'd heralded the arrival of Vomitfest 2007 by being the first member of the family to sound the almighty porcelain gong.

And since those moments, everything about Peanut's pregnancy has been almost a 180° flip-flop of Bean's. I've been sick and distracted, tired and reclusive as I've carried Peanut. And those of you who've labored through my pregnancy blog with me know I've also struggled with pre-natal depression. I've missed the peaceful, blissed-out moments of bonding with him - the instant connection and overwhelming rightness of his new self growing to perfection right here inside me.

Saturday morning, I began my twenty ninth week of this pregnancy. For twenty-eight weeks now I've carried this tiny but very active child. Always wondering when he, himself would dawn on me. When I would feel for him what I felt for Bean that crystalline morning more than four years ago. Not feeling it scared and unsettled me, and I prayed and pleaded with God to make it happen. But it wouldn't. It didn't. And so while intellectually I've known that at least at the moment of Peanut's birth, my seemingly closed eyes and soul would open to him and I'd feel myself flooded with maternal love, emotionally I've struggled and twisted and feared.

Until Saturday morning. A rare moment by myself in that same car, racing along prairie highways under the brilliant sunshine and clear blue sky of a spring that's waited much too long -- seemingly forever -- to arrive. Me, alone with my thoughts and some music. Except not alone, because there was Peanut, rolling and kicking and prodding with his usual strength and urgency. As I settled in for the 15 minute drive, I felt a gentle unwinding of my busy, frantic mind, and a calmness replaced the tension I've grappled with for months. And the most unlikely song began playing on the radio, one I hadn't heard or thought of in years.

Chaka Khan, singing I Feel for You. Yes, that one.

And right then, I knew I had my anthem for Peanut.

I suddenly realize now the mistake I've made for 7 months. I've expected everything about my experiences with Peanut to mirror those I had with Bean, and been disappointed and afraid when they didn't. But in an instant, with Chaka Khan and Rufus blaring in the background, the beautiful, clear explanation hit me.

Peanut isn't Bean. He won't BE Bean. He is already himself, created for his own unique role in God's world, and already stubbornly refusing to follow in his sister's footsteps. And you know what? Go for it, Peanut. Show your old predictability-lovin', gotta-have-it-all-planned-out-and-know-what's-around-every-corner Mama a thing or two. She needs it, and you're just the little man to do it.

Okay, my sweet, crazy boy. I get it now. Praise God and thank you both very much, I get it. And it's our little miracle, yours and mine. And now, finally, the Mama tears come, especially for you. Unpredictably, rather bizarrely, to the strains of Chaka Khan, but also right on the money and perfect in every way, just like you.

I have a feeling we're all in for quite a life together, my little wild child.




Do y'all have special songs that symbolize the bond between you and your kids? Your "anthems" for them?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

My Mind is a Patchwork Quilt Today, Apparently

I suppose that's a shade or two better than it being a braided rag rug though, isn't it?

Y'all had some good guesses on yesterday's post about baby names! Nobody's guessed it yet - not all the way, anyway. That list contains both Peanut's first AND middle names, by the way. At least, as they stand now. There's a bit of klugeyness still in my mind, though Al is completely 100% sold on the names we've chosen. And of course Bean continues pushin' hard for Hoppy Feet. I must say, based on the information available to me at this particular time, Hoppy Feet's the most suitable name in the lot.

For a three year old, the child exhibits some shocking perspicacity.

(You have no idea how thrilled I am that I found an even vaguely appropriate use for the word perspicacity in this post.)

The FriedOkra family's had a darn fine weekend. I shouldn't build this up like I have done on Twitter, but wheeee-dawgies, I had myself one of those rare but truly meaningful "moments of clarity" in the car on Saturday morning. See, like most of y'all, I don't get much time alone in my car anymore, in fact the only time I really ever do is if we have to take one of the two in for some kind of service, which means we have to drive two cars to the point of service. And Al always takes my car with Bean in her car seat and I get to take his car, which was my car when we were childless, and drive it all by myself out over the prairie on the wide open country roads, where inevitably I find myself steadily adding volume and bass as I go, and by the time we're halfway to our final destination I am SANGIN' away at the top o' my lungs, dancing in my seat and drumming on that steering wheel like I think I'm 17 again. And that is good stuff, y'all, as long as it's brief and doesn't actually involve widely-belted Esprit sweaters, Jellies® shoes, or floofed-up crusty radio-tower bang configurations.

Anyway, moment of clarity for the Mama -- AND: It involved Chaka Khan, much to my own personal shock and wonderment.

But you will have to wait your lil self right there on those proverbial pins and needles until tomorrow, when I will share with you exactly how the Chaka Khan Moment of Clarity transpired.

Also, I believe we dined next to none other than Ms. Sally Struthers, who was eatin' a big stack of blueberry pancakes, by the way, at one of our favorite breakfast joints. And at that very same breakfast joint, I had a big bowl of cheese gree-yuts. I know you will understand completely when I say that particular outing turned out to be a precipitously high point of the weekend, indeed.

(No, I honestly have no idea why Sally Struthers would be hanging out in far-surburbian Chicagoland on a random Sunday morning, eating blueberry pancakes for all the world to see, but that doesn't mean she wasn't really there. I can't think of a rational reason I'd have dreamed that up, can you?)

Have y'all clicked on the FriedOkra in the Kitchen Where She Belongs link over there on my increasingly junky sidebar which reminds me of my basement and makes me nearly as nervous and fidgety? If you have, have you also checked out and been sadly disappointed in the paltry offerings made available under the Dessertish Things of Love, Chocolate & Guilt category?

Because I will tell you right now that every time I find myself on that page, I am deeply shamed by the paucity of chocolaty desserts provided thereupon. And I just want to humbly apologize and promise you that ALL WILL SOON BE MADE RIGHT IN SWEETSVILLE. Because this week, on Thursday, I'm gonna lay down for y'all my Top Ten Oooey-Gooey Chocoliciousest Chocolate Recipes and once again I'll be providing a Mr. Linky doohickey so y'all can REEEEEEEE-CIP-RO-CATE with YOUR favorite chocolate-laden goodies, baked or otherwise.

THIS THURSDAY. CHOCOLATEFEST. AT FRIEDOKRA.

And people? I know that every single one of you has a good chocolate dessert recipe, so don't even TRY holding back on me. Bonus points if there's caramel involved, too.

I'm just sayin'.

I'll also continue pulling questions from last week's Grill-the-Okra Fest and answering them in my own inimitably long, rambly and competely-unrelated-to-the-matter-at-hand style. The comments to that post are still open, so if you've come up with a question you want to ask -- one like, ARE YOU SERIOUS? SALLY STRUTHERS? WHAT WAS SHE WEARING? WAS SHE WITH THE MEATHEAD? or WHAT WAS THE HOT TOPIC OF DEBATE BETWEEN MEGAN AND AL SUNDAY NIGHT AS THEY WERE DRIVING HOME FROM THE GREEK JOINT AFTER PUTTING AWAY A COMBINED TOTAL OF 10 LBS. OF GYRO MEAT? AND WAS THERE ANY SPITTING OF OLIVE PITS OR SMEARING OF TZATZIKI SAUCE INVOLVED? -- it's not too late.

Hope y'all had a great weekend too!

Friday, May 16, 2008

What Questions Do You Have for My Answers? Part Two.

Plum near wore m'self out with that looping, somewhat ponderous and melancholy essay answer to Mari's question in Part One of this little series. Time for some short answer questions. Well, short as possible, given my strict adherence to the More than anyone ever, EVER, needed to know, EVER, about ANYTHING policy of blog-writing.

Vintage Dutch Girl asks: What do you do for fun without the kiddos (assuming you have the energy and time to do so!)?

And lemme tell you, that parenthetical caveat's a real party pooper lately. We have ourselves a bit of a baby sitter quandry here, as the lovely young lady we trust most with Bean (and the one she adores most, and the one who also happens to live next door with her parents, BUH-LESSED ASSURANCE) has a "real job" and can't get here to sit for us on the weekend until 8 PM, which means there are exactly 59 minutes between the moment she knocks at the door and we entrust Bean to her gentle care, and the moment my eyes involuntarily begin closing. So whatever we do for fun lately has to have an extremely low time:fun ratio. Which means, in short, well. We eat. Somewhere close by. I know. Boring. But that's what we do - we go out to a grown-up restaurant and enjoy a meal, just the two of us, in which we have actual prolonged and uninterrupted conversation and blissfully forget the very existence of chicken nuggets and ketchup for a entire meal.

On week nights, after we get Bean in the bed, we spend an hour at our respective laptops, where Al studies and I do important work on my blog. Then we turn out the light and watch a Frasier re-run or two until we're asleep.

I know. Pathetic. We used to hike, and work out together, and go to baseball games and movies and fantastic concerts and take fabulous trips. Now, we watch Frasier.

But I wouldn't change a thing. Not a darn thing.

-------------------

Shelli wants to know the extent of my okra addiction:

You probably have answered this somewhere already, but I'm new here and have to know...do you like pickled okra? That is my favorite way to eat it, pickled, on a salad, haven't had it in forever!

Shelli, my advice is to rectify that situation post haste. As in IMMEDIATELY. Girl, if you can't get you any pickled okra where you live, you let me know, and I will send you some. Because a life devoid of pickled okra is not worth livin'. And yes, I do love it. I keep a jar in my fridge at all times. Here... want one?

-------------------

Amanda of The Sarasota Grapevine is pregnant, too!

Dearest Fried Okra,

I know you are pregnant, but I can't remember for the life of me when your lil guy is due... I am due in late September. I would like to know:
What do you drink while pregnant? I feel like I'm pretty creative with my bevvies, but I adore the usual suspects (water, milk, and even the sugary stuff like Gatorade and juice). Lately, I'm a fool for a milkshake of any kind. I've even had a few N/A beers in the past week since a few of our sports teams are rockin' it nicely.
What do you love?


Oh, Amanda, my soul sister. I think about beverages ALL THE TIME. Do you? I've hit the lips-constantly-stuck-to-my-teeth phase of this pregnancy a bit earlier than I did with Bean, and when I read your question, I just got thirstier! Right now I go about my days with a large tankard glass of Gatorade®, the original lemon-lime flavor, with plenty o' ice, attached to my right hand. I LURV Gatorade® when I'm pregnant. I drink it all day long and dream about it at night and my first thought every morning is Please pass the Gatorade®. I don't love water, but I'll drink it. I love ice cold milk, but I limit my intake of it to mornings. I love and crave but VERY rarely drink Cherry Coke®, lemonade (fresh squeezed, please), and rootbeer. For a special treat as it gets much hotter this summer I'll be whirring up ice and apple juice in my blender to make an apple juice slushy-type thing. YUM.

Oh, and Peanut's due date is 8/8/08. Neat, huh? Good luck to you and your lil Peanut - keep me posted, okay?

-----------------------------

My good friend Julie is still trying to crack me on the baby name thing:

How about you answer a question about baby boy names. If you don't want to give it up, maybe you could list like 10 names and have ONE of them be the right one?

Well, okay. I don't think that could hurt, could it? Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Roman, Thomas, Reggie, London, Keaton, Micah, Jonah, Ishmael, Abraham, Isaac, Gabriel, Sidney, George, Daniel, Peter, Paul, Mary, or David. Or Edward or Edmund.

Yeah, that was twenty-something. What can I say? They just kep' a-flowin'!

Which one do y'all think it is? Any guesses?

---------------------

I'll be back with more tomorrow or so. Enjoy your Saturday, people!

For Ladies Only. No, Seriously, Men, Turn Back Now. You Will NOT Enjoy this Post.

I have a couple of pretty nasty phobias. One phobia I won't even tell you about because another phobia is that someone will find out about the first phobia and use it against me. (I know, also? I'm slightly paranoid.)

But up at the top of my phobia list is a phobia I inherited from my Mom. It is the fear of cancer. And I don't just mean I have a healthy respect for cancer as a dangerous but increasingly treatable disease. I mean, I flat out break into a big ol' cold sweat when I contemplate having it myself or watching a loved one deal with it (one of which is all-but-guaranteed to happen to me, based on statistics, by the way, isn't that a cheerful thought?). And any little thing that goes "wrong" with my body, or seems out-of-the-ordinary at all will send me immediately into a tailspin, because I am CERTAIN that this time, it is cancer.

It all started back when I was ten, and the certain body parts of a 10 year old girl that begin to ... er... surface at that age did in fact begin to surface. Did I do a girly little happy dance and begin pestering my mother to take me down to the local Belks store to buy me my first 32-triple-A training braziere? Oh no indeed I did not. I quietly went about the next six months of my already-fraught-with-budding-teenage-angst life convinced that my budding teenage chesticles were the first stages of breast cancer, which I had of course, with my usual dumb luck, contracted BEFORE I EVEN HAD BREASTS. And so it has gone through my entire life even up until 7 months ago, when things weren't quite right with the female portions my 40-year-old body and I was certain I had ovarian or uterine cancer, or BOTH, for good measure, and lo and behold, I had neither. I had a Peanut. But that did not stop me from spending a solid week weeping silently to myself in abject terror.

Let me assure you, I may be writing this post with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek tone, (since the last post I wrote leaned heavy on the weepy and may have left you feeling as though I need the name of a good therapist), but I take cancer very seriously. I have a good friend battling lymphoma right now, and although he and his lovely wife are handling his diagnosis and treatment with courage and strength that only comes from God, I am still scared, and still humbled, by the power of this disease.

And so many's the day I have wished to myself I could just have access to an oncologist, whom I would ply with daily questions and free myself from the eternal and probably unnecessary anxiety I had surrounding cancer and its causes, symptoms, treatments, diagnoses and survival rates.

When out of the blue I got an email from Karen at Simply A Musing Blog, offering to provide me, and y'all, with at least a one time opportunity to do just that. Because of her own direct experience watching family members face cancer, Karen's taken on a proactive role in fighting it on behalf of all of us. She's worked to gather a team of doctors from Texas Oncology to address the cancer-related questions of the (female?) blogging community.

So do you have questions? Concerns? Anything you'd like to have addressed directly by a specialist in the field of cancer? If so, now's your chance. Go to Karen's blog and ask. She'll gather the questions and provide them to a team of doctors who have volunteered to provide answers. In about a week, Karen will post the questions and answers in another post. I'll make sure to remind you when the answers come back. Easy as that. Go ask.

Cancer Q&A

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What Questions Do You Have for My Answers? Part One

The questions y'all have asked me have been so completely surprising, and inspirational, really. It's going to take some time to get through them, but I'm gonna love the process, and I hope y'all will too. I'm just poking through right now, picking the ones that really speak to me, call me to address them in that moment. Bear with me, I'll get to all of 'em, eventually.

Mari, from My Little Corner, and one of the sweetest people I've met in Bloggityville so far, asked me about what I was like as a kid. Her question really pulled hard at me, as I have a tendency toward nostalgia, you know, and I am just in such a reflective place right now, in general.

I think I know quite a bit about you, but I am wondering what you were like as a kid. Did you drive your Mom and the teachers crazy, where you angelic or maybe a bit of a mix? I'm betting on the mix. I think you were a class clown, but a sweet one!

Well Mari, I s'pose it'd all really depend on who you asked and when you asked 'em. My Mom currently says she THANKS HER LUCKY STARS that my sister and I were both very good, obedient children who never gave her a moment's trouble. Well. That is not perzackly the way I recall it. I remember that my Mom referred to me as a "stubborn, strong-willed child," and what's more, I believe that she was pretty much dead on. I am still right stubborn and strong-willed, which you may have guessed already.

Here's another little secret. No, I was not a particularly funny kid. I was painfully, achingly shy, for the most part, unless someone really took the time and put in the effort to push, pull and drag me out of my little shell. I was one of those kids who probably seemed scared of my own voice around strangers, and my poor mother spent the first 16 or so years of my life saying, "Speak up Megan, he/she can't hear you." Ironically, though, at home, my gums flapped constantly, and I recall many times when she would sigh in exasperation and say, "Child, do you EVER stop talking?"

Me, I was a walkin' contradiction.

I have loved writing since I was a very little girl, too. I wrote volumes of poetry and short stories and notes. Mom encouraged that part of me, and had me keep a journal starting BEFORE I could even write. I'd draw a picture and tell Mom what it was about and she'd write down what I said - I still have that journal somewhere, I think.

One of my first poems, written in pink marker on a piece of tiny loose leaf paper from a little black three-ring binder I got in my stocking from Santa one year, I wrote about a beautiful solitary oak tree that stood on a little hill in the median of I-85 just across the Georgia/South Carolina border. We drove past The Tree about a hundred times a year, headed from Atlanta, where my family lived, to Clemson, South Carolina, where my Grandmama and Grandaddy FriedOkra lived. Went up there for every home Clemson game, for family birthdays, holidays and summer weekends on the Lake Hartwell, to be with my Aunt, Uncle and my two cousins who were as close as sisters to my sister and me.

The Tree, to my sister and me, was the first sign we were "almost there." When that Tree came into view, after what'd seem like forever and a day in the car (it's barely a 2 hour trip), I'd get butterflies in my tummy and start putting on my shoes and packing up all my car-travel paraphenalia and sit up TALL in my seat so I could watch the road carefully for the rest of the trip - watch as we passed each subsequent landmark, watch as we passed the South Carolina Welcome Center, watch as we crossed over the beautiful and winding expanse of Lake Hartwell, one, two, maybe three times, watch as we pulled off 85 onto the Clemson exit, watch as we roared out across the countryside and then right up and through the Clemson campus, past Death Valley (the Tigers' football stadium), past the old Esso Club where we'd buy candy the next morning with the dollars Grandmama would shell out to us, fresh and clean and full of promise, and on up to my Grandaddy's house, perched high above the sweetest part of the lake. Oh, and when our tires scrunched to a stop in the gravel on the road above Grandaddy's front yard, I'd be overcome with excitement to see my Aunt and Uncle's car there too, and to know that my cousin, only two weeks younger than me, was already waiting inside -- my best pal, my confidante, my very first little soul-mate.

And it all started with The Tree, which, in itself, regardless of what it symbolized to my little mind, also already triggered in me a distinct feeling of loneliness and isolation that was painfully familiar to this shy, quiet child - this stubborn, introverted pixie of a girl:

The Tree

The tree stands so lonely
in its place
It makes tears
come to my face.


-- FriedOkra, circa 1972

That's who I was, Mari. It's who I still am, deep inside, too, I suppose. Time and experience have coaxed me out of my shell and I've even found I can be happy and comfortable (sometimes a bit too comfortable) and even loud, in a spotlight. But I don't think that lone oak and I have ever completely parted company in our deepest souls.

The Tree still stands in the same place, too. I've pointed it out to Al and Bean as we've made that same drive, from Atlanta up I-85 and into the easy, rolling foothills, through somewhat misty eyes. It's not so alone anymore, either, as a growth of brush, saplings and smaller oaks now encircle its base.

Sigh. Talk about poetic.

Top Ten Sizzlin' Summer Recipes a la FriedOkra & Family

Top o' the mornin' to y'all. Or the afternoon or evenin'. I'm flexible.

Oh, I have been lookin' forward to THI-YIS! Because who in the world DOESN'T need an instant seasonal dinner repertoire shot-in-the arm from time to time? Hallelujah-and-pass-the-chilled-cucumber-salad, I sure do. And I know my family, long about mid-July, will appreciate whatever inspiration Y'ALL can afford ME in this arena. They'll be gettin' darn tired of grilled chicken and rosemary garlic potatoes and oven-roasted asparagus and corn on the cob by then.

(Although that is hard to imagine from where I'm sittin' right now, I will not lie to you.)

Without further ado, I give you my Top Ten Sizzlin' Summer Recipes. From various sources, but all taste-tested by yours truly and pronounced "Mmmm-mmm, Blogworthy!"

Gazpacho

A cold, crisp, fragrant bowl of fresh summery goodness. Use your own home-grown veggies or go get them at your local farmers' market and make this soup that same day. The vitamins in this one will leap right out of the bowl, course through your veins and out your EARS, people.

5 Tbsp. olive oil
4 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 large cucumber, peeled and diced
2 avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
3 stalks celery, diced
5 scallions (green onions), sliced
1 green pepper, diced
3 tomatoes, peeled and diced (plunge them in boiling water for one minute to easily remove skins)
4 cups V-8 juice

Mix all together gently. Chill and serve.

Tortellini and Turkey or Ham Salad (from my sister, Jackie)

So very tangy, but rich with cheese and meat, this one makes a great take-along for picnics or potlucks.

1 lb. cheese tortellini, cooked according to package directions and cooled
1 small jar (maybe 3/4 cup total) stuff green olives (or black olives, or even marinated artichoke quarters, yum!)
1/2 lb. julienned ham or turkey
1 cup grated fresh parmesan cheese
1/4 cup finely diced red onion

Place in large serving bowl.

Dressing:

3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. sugar
4 Tbsp. fresh basil, torn or chopped
1 clove fresh garlic, minced

Mix together well and pour over salad. Stir well.

Easy Enchilada Casserole (from my Aunt Joy)

2 lbs. ground beef
1-15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 can mushroom soup
1-10 oz. can mild enchilada sauce
8 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
8 oz. mozzarella cheese, grated
12 corn tortillas

Brown and drain ground beef. Stir in tomato sauce, soup and enchilada sauce. Heat through. Cut tortillas into small pieces. In 9 X 13 pan, layer 1/2 the tortilla pieces, 1/2 hamburger mixture and 1/2 cheeses. Repeat layers (end with cheese). Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.


Summertime Risotto, courtesy Emeril Lagasse, 2003

2 ears sweet summer corn, kernels removed and cream pressed from the cobs
6 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup finely chopped sweet onion
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper, seeded
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup finely chopped tomato
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions, green tops only
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/3 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh basil chiffonade

With a sharp knife remove the kernels from the corn cobs, then run the back of the knife down the cob pressing out the cream and reserving it with the kernels. Cover the cobs with water and bring to a boil and let simmer for at least 30 minutes. Keep water warm.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, thyme and corn kernels and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the arborio (without rinsing) and cook, stirring constantly, until it becomes opaque, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice has completely absorbed all the liquid.

Begin adding your corn stock in 1/2 cup increments, stirring constantly and letting the rice completely absorb the liquid between additions. After 15 minutes add the shrimp, tomatoes and green onions. Cook about another 5 minutes, until rice is al dente. (You should use about 5 cups of corn water.) Add 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, heavy cream basil and stir well to mix. Season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with remaining Parmesan at table.

Creamy Linguine with Zucchini

1/2 cup olive oil
2 large zucchini, diced
1/4 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 oz. linguine pasta, cooked according to package directions
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Warm olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini, onion and garlic to pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook, turning occasionally, until zucchini are well browned on all sides, about 20 minutes.

Stir milk into zucchini and simmer until it is reduced by about half, about 10 minutes. Add pasta to skillet, and stir well. Sprinkle parsley and 1/4 cup Parmesan over the top, and toss. Garnish with remaining Parmesan to serve.

My Aunt Willie's Squash Casserole

1 lb. yellow summer squash, cooked to crisp-tender and drained
1/4 cup butter
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup Ritz® crackers, crumbled, mixed with 1/4 cup melted butter

Mix all ingredients together stirring gently. Pour into buttered 1 1/2 quart casserole. Top with buttered cracker crumbs. Bake at 350° for 30-40 minutes.

Thai Chicken Pizza

Next time you grill chicken, throw on a couple extra breasts, then dice and freeze them. You can thaw them later and use 'em on this delicious pizza.

Dough for one pizza crust, any recipe
2 cooked chicken breasts, cubed
5 Tbsp. soy sauce, divided
3 tsp. sesame oil, divided
3 tsp. red wine vinegar, divided
2 Tbsp. peanut butter
1 tsp. honey
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1 cup Monterrey Jack cheese, grated
1/2 cup cucumber, diced
Handful fresh cilantro, coursely chopped

Spread dough onto greased pizza pan, or sprinkle corn meal on non-stick pan and place dough on top. In one bowl, mix together 2 Tbsp. soy sauce, 1 tsp. sesame oil, and 1 tsp. honey. Pour over diced cucumbers and allow to marinate.

In another bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, brown sugar, fresh ginger, 3 Tbsp. soy sauce, 2 tsp. sesame oil, 1 tsp. red wine vinegar until smooth. Spread this mixture over the dough. Top "sauce" with chicken, onions and grated cheese. Bake in preheated oven at 425° for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool briefly. Remove cucumbers from marinade with slotted spoon and sprinkle over pizza. Top pizza with chopped cilantro. Slice and serve.

My Guacamole

10ish small or 5ish large ripe avocados, peeled and diced
2-3 cloves minced garlic
Juice of one lime (2 Tbsp.)
Juice of 1/2 orange (4 Tbsp.)
1/4 cup finely minced red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
salt & pepper

Carefully stir all ingredients together, mashing lightly but leaving guacamole lumpy with chunks of avocado. For a tiny bit of kick, add finely diced jalapeno or a few drops of hot sauce.

Coconut Shrimp

2 egg whites
1 1/2 cups Panko crumbs
1/2 teaspoon cumin
3/4 cup flaked sweetened coconut
1 garlic clove, minced
pepper
24 large shrimp, peeled, deveined, butterflied

Preheat oven to 500°F. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray.
Beat egg whites in a shallow bowl. In a small plastic bag, mix Panko, cumin, coconut, garlic, and pepper. Dip shrimp in egg whites, then shake them in the plastic bag to coat. Place shrimp on baking sheet and bake about 6 minutes per side or until golden brown. For an easy dipping sauce, combine 1/2 cup apricot jam with 1 tsp. chili oil and 1 tsp. red wine vinegar.

Chicken Aioli

1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt or coarse sea salt
1/4 to 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. dried ground oregano
4 boneless chicken breasts, prepped for the grill.

In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise and garlic. Whisk in the oregano, lemon juice and soy sauce until the mixture is smooth. Slowly whisk in the olive oil, a few teaspoons at a time, until the mixture becomes thick and smooth. Pour into zippered plastic bag. Add chicken breasts and allow to marinate, refrigerated, for at least an hour.

Grill or broil chicken about 7 minutes per side and check for doneness. If necessary, grill or broil evenly until chicken is cooked through.

(You can use bone in chicken, as well, just be sure you adjust your cooking time accordingly.)

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Those are a few of my favorites, y'all. I hope you find some you can use this spring and summer and in the years to come! If you do use one, let me know what you think. I'm into that validation thing.

Now it's time for you to strut YOUR summertime culinary stuff! Share your favorites by linking your Sizzlin' Spring and Summer Recipe post below: